Interview with Peter Verbruggen, author of two books on Elvis (and links to Belgium) and one book on John Wilkinson.
EN: To start things off, for those few who don’t know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and your "Elvis history"?
PV: Well, yes – I’d be glad to. But first of all, thank you ElvisNews for your interest in my work. And although I know that you don’t care too much for a pat on the shoulder, let me just say that your website is an asset to the Elvis World. I’m a daily visitor, and I’m not afraid to admit that you run one of the best informed news sites in the EW. There are others too of course, but yours ranks among my 5 favorites.
That said, here goes. I turned 40 last year (you may remember our little ‘Birthday Party’ in Eindhoven last year with a few Elvis musicians on stage), I’m married and the proud father of 3. My first recollections of Elvis go back to the weeks before to his death. I knew of him, but being barely 10 years old at the time, I didn’t quite ‘dug’ his music the way I do now. I published three books so far, and as a journalist I wrote over 200 Elvis related stories, including a 6 full page series in Belgium’s most popular news paper, Het Laatste Nieuws. I produced a radio show, met and interviewed almost everybody from the Elvis entourage (except for Lisa – but we’re working on that ;-)), I run John Wilkinson’s Website, and was asked to coordinate the upcoming “Elvis 2007” Fan club Tour in Europe, covering 10 cities in 7 countries. In 2003, a few friends and myself thought the time had come to begin a somewhat more ‘professional’ fanclub. I don’t want to put anybody down, but we saw room for improvements. That marked the start of the Belgian/Dutch fanclub ‘ElvisMatters’. By the way, that’s a name and a statement in one: Elvis still Matters!
EN: What got you started with Elvis, and what keeps you going?
PV: The thing that triggered me, of course was his voice. When he passed away, we had one album at home: ‘Flaming Star’, the 1968 LP. The very first vocal note of ‘Flaming Star’ did the trick: that deep, brown, pure, unmistakably Elvis voice got me hooked & I love every second of it. I still play that album now and then, and I know every skip and scratch by heart. The thing that keeps me going, like all other Elvis fans, is the love for him. The way he connected people, the way he touched their hearts across the boundaries of race, religion and language, how he always thought of the others first: that’s Elvis to me. A wonderful humanitarian, a good man, in a way – a friend to be proud of. And on top of that, world’s best singer and handsomest entertainer. How can you not love him? Yes, he wasn’t perfect – but his honesty outweighs the rest. It’s like that fan said at the CBS Special: He’s honest, and that’s the main thing.” Couldn’t agree more. Even when he’s singing, you can feel how he feels. My favorite Elvis line has always been “Here I stand like an open book”. Only Elvis could sing that line and mean it. And apart from that, I thoroughly enjoy talking to the guys from the Elvis entourage. John and I spent a few holidays together, James came to Belgium before, just to hang out, and recently Joe Guercio visited my hometown twice without having to do a concert. I know it sounds strange, but I feel completely at ease with them around. I remember the first time I met James, late eighties when he was touring with John Denver. My hands were trembling when I held my microphone (I’m a journalist, remember). And now, so many years later, James is going to teach my son how to play “Early Morning Rain”. Jerry, Ronnie, Glen, and all the Elvis musicians: they’re all first class people. Elvis couldn’t have asked for better ambassadors than his musicians.
EN: To get an idea of you as an “Elvis person”, what, in general, is your favorite Elvis stuff?
PV: I’m a seventies junkie. I like his fifties rockers, and I enjoy listening to most of his sound tracks, but give me the seventies any time. I like it all, from the big orchestra ballads over the powerful live rock to the soft, tender love songs, the heartfelt gospel, the funky Stax sessions – everything from 1969 on.
EN: Can you tell us your favorite, song, album and movie (and don’t say “Double Trouble”)?
PV: My all time favorite is “Loving Arms”, especially the Rhythm & Country version. Favorite album & movie: the Live in Memphis FTD, and “On Tour”.
EN: How long have you had an interest in Elvis and would you describe yourself as a fan of Elvis or as a business man since you appear to be very busy in the Elvis world.
PV: Well, my interest in Elvis goes back to the day I discovered ‘Flaming Star’ and it kept on growing ever since. I hate to be called a business man. I’m not, on the contrary. I don’t even wish I was. I’ve seen too many people in the EW turn from fan to business man. That’s OK, if they feel happy with that – but I am and will always be a fan with the highest respect for Elvis. It’s cool that people can make a living from selling Elvis stuff, but that’s their thing. But don’t get me wrong: whatever we do with our fanclub ‘ElvisMatters’, has got to have “quality”, be it books – magazines, shows, CD’s, whatever. We owe that to Elvis. Does that make me a business man? Don’t think so. By the way, Elvis is still my hobby. I’m sure I could have turned that into my “job” somewhere along the way, but thanks no thanks. There’s enough businessmen in the EW as it is already.
EN: Can you tell us something about your work and how you became an Elvis author?
PV: Sure. I work as a full time journalist for ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’, the Belgian news paper. Being a writer by profession, it was a small step to my first book. As long as I can remember, I contribute articles to magazines worldwide, but since ‘ElvisMatters’ came along, I devote my time and stories to that fanclub mainly. My first book came out in 1999 and explores the links between Elvis and Belgium (there are more connections than one would expect), then there was ‘Memories’ in 2003, which was actually John Wilkinson’s biography, and now there’s “Inside Double Trouble.”
EN: To the book. Your new project "Inside “Double Trouble" is finished. Where did the idea for this book come from?
PV: Double Trouble is not Elvis’s best movie – at all. It’s not his worst either, but somewhere in between. The strange thing about the script, is the Belgian setting, and that’s where the idea came from. I never understood why Elvis would come to Belgium for a movie. Of course he stayed in Culver City, unfortunately, but it’s funny to hear Elvis talk about Antwerp, Bruges or Belgium. When he does ‘City By Night’, you can even see some old advertisements for Belgian beers. Being a Belgian citizen, I have always watched ‘Double Trouble’ with special attention for details. But the researcher didn’t do a good job, to say the least. So, that’s the angle: the ‘Belgian’ virtual visit of Elvis to my home country.
EN: Can you tell us something about the book?
PV: It holds 120 pages, full color, hard cover. There are 200 illustrations, 9 chapters and 6 different ‘takes’. We had 1.000 sets made, and they’re going like hot pancakes. This set too, had to reflect the quality of our fanclub, thus we went for the complete package: the A1 color poster in three languages, the hard cover book, the full movie with the original trailer, the signed and numbered COA, the vinyl single with the 1967 radio commercial, the movie sleeve of Guy Lambert, postcards… the lot, really. I read in one of the reviews that: ‘the book is better than the movie’. I wouldn’t exactly put it that way, but in all honesty: the good reviews mean a lot and tell us to continue on this path.
EN: Does the book contain a lot of new material and photos that fans will not have seen before?
PV: Well, if there aren’t any new pictures, I wouldn’t have done a good job, would I? So yes: there are some new shots that have neve