Two months prior to the official release of the book "The Gospel Side of Elvis" by the Imperials's bass singer Joe Moscheo, Elvis Matters reviewed an advance copy.
2007 promises to be a historic Elvis year. It seems as if Elvis books are being released almost on a daily basis. “Inside Double Trouble”, “Tupelo’s Own”, “Elvis Straight Up”, “Still Taking Care of Business”, “Elvis Is Back, … all of them proof of the ongoing Presley Power. There’s nothing wrong with the flood of ‘new’ books, as long as we – the fans – pick the right ones, and leave the others untouched. After all, we can spend our money only once – right?
One of the books that has been announced for quite some time now, is “The Gospel Side of Elvis” by Joe Moscheo. I had the privilege of reading the advance copy. The actual book is scheduled for release on August 7th, for Elvis Week.
Let me start by giving you a brief introduction to Joe Moscheo, for those who don’t know who he is. Joe (Albany NY, August 11, 1937) joined the Imperials in 1964. Three years prior, he had already met Elvis at a Quartet Convention in Memphis, where Joe played piano for the Harmoneers. Joe recorded with Elvis in the studio (including the sessions for the Grammy award winning album ‘How Great Thou Art’) and on stage – from album recordings to the rockumentary “That’s The Way It Is”. Joe worked with Elvis for the better part of 4 years. He was one of the singers at Elvis’s funeral, and is still “working” for the Man, as backing vocalist for the screen shows. He travels all over the world to perform at Elvis and Gospel conventions. Joe was also the producer of the highly acclaimed DVD “He Touched Me” and the recently released live DVD “Elvis Lives”, featuring Elvis’s former band mates.
And now, he’s the author of “The Gospel Side Of Elvis”. For those who know him, it’s probably no surprise that Joe took the time to write this book. After all, he ís an authority on Gospel music – he still serves as a permanent board member of the GMA Board of Directors – and it was gospel that bound him and Elvis together.
One could expect that “The Gospel Side of Elvis” is aimed at the core fans only – the die hards that flock to Graceland at least once a year, and know every detail of Elvis’s career by heart. But it’s not. Joe wants to share his memories with everybody who is touched by Elvis’s voice – not ‘just’ the fans, but the millions of people who simply like Elvis’s music and want to know more about the gospel influence on Elvis’s music. Therefore, I wouldn’t call this an “in-depth” study of Elvis Presley’s gospel roots. It’s a journey through history, seen through the eyes of someone who was there. Well written, detailed and well-researched. But a ‘music bible’ it is not.
Everybody by now knows how much Elvis loved Gospel. Joe explores that influence: Gladys always made time for bible instruction, he illustrates how deeply religious Elvis was throughout his career, how he always found comfort in gospel music, and how it helped to ease his pain. At the same time, Joe tells his story: how he, as an ‘Italian boy’ discovered the joy of gospel music, and how that would change his life forever. First as pianoplayer for the Harmoneers, later as key figure in the world famous Imperials Quartet.
In his book, Joe shares several personal moments with Elvis: their first meeting 46 years ago, the night he was asked to back Elvis on stage in Vegas, or the evening he saw Elvis pray on his knees, asking God for strength to do the show. Joe fondly remembers the many nights that the Imperials sang gospel in Elvis’s suite until daylight, the ‘secret code’ Elvis and the back up singers shared – and even the fee they agreed to: 1,000 dollars per musician per week plus expenses. It’s these kind of details that make the book so powerful: the story is easy to follow, yet devoted fans find new information on almost every page. I for one didn’t know that Elvis, right before curtain time, would always ask one of the people standing nearby to lead him in a prayer for the show. The way Joe describes that scene almost gives you the feeling as if you were there with him: “With eyes closed and heads bowed we would join together to ask for the ability to accomplish successfully what we had prepared to do.” I mean – imagine: the world’s biggest super star, bowing his head and asking God for help. That too, is magic. Or, the night when Elvis, in all his generosity would hand out exquisite custom made wrist watches to the group. As Joe recalls, his didn’t run. “So I went down to E’s dressing room, knocked on the door, and I said ‘Elvis, this watch is beautiful and I really appreciate it and all that, but it won’t run.’ Without skipping a beat, Elvis said “I just give ‘em away, I don’t fix ‘em’.” Brilliant!
The Imperials stopped working for Elvis in 1971, and were replaced by JD Sumner and the Stamps Quartet. Although Joe wasn’t there with Elvis in the late seventies, he can almost feel the pain Elvis must have gone through. In the book, he writes that his deepest regret during that time was that so many who cared deeply for Elvis were unable, for various reasons, to reach out to him as effectively as they would have wished. The final blow came when his bodyguards published the gossip book “What Happened”. Joe recalls: “Elvis even lost his desire to sing gospel. This, in itself, indicates how great his misery must have been since even his beloved gospel music seemed to have little remaining value for him.”
The last time Joe sang for Elvis, was on August 18th 1977 at the funeral.
Undoubtedly, there are many more gospel links to be explored. It would be fascinating to hear Dolores Hart – ‘Mother Dolores’ – talk about Elvis through her eyes. Or Dixie Locke, who Elvis dated in 1953-55, before he climbed to stardom. Dixie is an assistant to the local pastor and deeply religious. She knew Elvis from church, and even accompanied him to his audition for the Songfellows Quartet. Her story of the ‘young Christian’ Elvis would have been a perfect addition to the book. But then again, that was not the goal of this book. The “Gospel Side” is not the Elvis Gospel bible – instead it’s a personal view on an extraordinary entertainer who never lost his belief in the Lord and who touched millions all over the world with his God given talent.
Elvis would have been extremely proud of this book, knowing that it was written with love and respect, with friendship and devotion for the man and the artist that he was. One sentence in the preface says it all: Let me state that I truly believe Elvis was the greatest Gospel singer of all time.
So, is this book worth buying? If you love Elvis, if you care for his Gospel music, if you want to take a closer look into the influence of Gospel music on his life and career – this book is simply a must.
The foreword of the book is by Priscilla Presley – the best possible indication of the appreciation for both Joe Moscheo and his book.