In the coming weeks our guest writer Pamela Mays Decker will share exclusive interviews with some good friends of her who have a forthcoming book, “The Genuine Elvis – Photos and Untold Stories about the King” which is set for release this summer at Graceland.
You’ve likely heard about “The Genuine Elvis,” which was announced in late February. The book, by Ronnie McDowell, Edie Hand and Joe Meador, will feature countless never-before-heard stories, candid color and black & white photos and special memories – compiled as a tribute to Elvis. Among the stories are touching anecdotes from Elvis’s high school pals, fond personal recollections of good friends and relatives, and memories from a lucky few who were fortunate enough to spend Christmases at Graceland.
Over time, many fans have become skeptical and jaded, and sometimes, rightly so. Because there is no other artist or performer who has had as much written about them as Elvis, some longtime fans are staunchly convinced they have seen and heard all there is when it comes to the world’s top recording artist and most recognizable name and face in entertainment. But I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty, there is more territory yet to be covered. In particular, I am very excited about one recollection in “The Genuine Elvis” that I know beyond any doubt that no one has ever heard, and that is the never-before-told story of the exclusive 1956 interview disc jockey Charles Watts recorded with Elvis and his mother, Gladys, and father, Vernon at the Tupelo homecoming concerts.
About the authors
Charlie hails from my hometown of Jasper, Alabama. A well-known voice and highly respected personality, Charlie was one of my co-workers and a wonderful friend who taught me so much. After many years in radio, he began serving in the late 1980s as a beloved co-host of the popular TV morning show, “Coffee Time.” It was there while working as studio producer of the show that I met Charlie. In fact, I filled in for him on the air whenever he traveled for his other position as longtime Congressman Tom Bevill’s aide.
When I first started working in radio, one of the very first things I was told was that Charlie had a taped interview with Elvis’ parents securely tucked away. This treasure has been a thing of legend and lore in our hometown for the past half century – discussed in hushed tones and awed whispers. Over the years, Charlie has been waiting for the right time to share his story of the interview with fans – and waiting for the right person to help him do it. As a Presley family cousin who also hails from our hometown in northwest Alabama, Edie Hand was that person.
An acclaimed author, lecturer, actress and multimedia professional, Edie has authored, co-authored and helped develop more than 20 books (including her celebrated novella, “The Last Christmas Ride”), starred in memorable national and regional television commercials and hosted a number of network broadcast cooking shows and heart-warming holiday themed specials. As if all this isn't enough, this busy, sprightly lady also serves as CEO of her own highly-successful advertising agency, which she built from the ground up.
In “The Genuine Elvis,” Charlie tells Edie the entire behind-the-scenes story of how the interview came about. “After it was broadcast live in 1956, the tape was safely tucked away in Charlie’s care,” Edie said. “He wanted me to help him share the story with the fans.”
The fact that he has taken such great care of the tape all this time and has never sought to profit from it in any way should illustrate to fans just what kind of honorable man our friend Charlie Watts is. When you hear his words, you’ll understand why we love him so much.
As many well-informed fans know, Elvis was blessed with a large family – on both the Presley and Smith sides – with deep roots throughout northeast Mississippi and northwest Alabama. Among them are the many Hood cousins sprinkled throughout the region. Elvis’ grandmother Minnie Mae’s surname was “Hood” before she married Jesse Presley in 1913. It is from this branch of Elvis’ family tree that Edie Hand sprang. Those who have read “Elvis: Precious Memories” know who she is.
This magnetic lady is a force of nature known for her positive energy and ability to unite and motivate people. Above and beyond all her professional and personal accomplishments, Edie counts her many friends as her biggest achievement. A three-time cancer survivor who has worked tirelessly to raise funds for the Children's Miracle Network, Children’s Hospital of Alabama and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, she has worked with and boasted deep friendships with many musical luminaries such as the late Buddy Killen - another Alabama native - who launched the careers of Dolly Parton and Bill Anderson, among others. Killen went to work for of Tree International Publishing in 1951 – and in 1975, became its president. In 1956, Tree had had its first #1 hit: “Heartbreak Hotel.” It was through Killen that Edie met Ronnie McDowell.
Best known for his vocal resemblance to Elvis Presley, Ronnie McDowell has enjoyed several Top 10 Country hits. In 1977, he hit international prominence with "The King Is Gone," his heartfelt tribute to Elvis, which was written immediately after the singer's death. Few fans will deny that this song captured our feelings perfectly during the shock and pain of that era, and gave voice to our grief. When it soared to the Top 20 in both Country and Pop charts, Ronnie was catapulted into in the world’s collective consciousness seemingly overnight. Since then, he has remained in the music business, performing with his band, The Rhythm Kings.
In 1979, Ronnie was tapped to provide vocals for the TV movie about Elvis, starring Kurt Russell. Many agree that Ronnie’s uncanny, haunting resemblance to Elvis was the movie’s major highlight. But his artistic talents - as well as his own unique way of honoring the King of Rock and Roll - aren’t confined only to making music.
But Ronnie’s artistic talents aren’t confined only to making music. It turns out that he is also a very gifted painter. His 2007 painting, “Reflection of a King” (featuring Elvis as young boy holding a guitar and looking into a mirror that reflects his mid-1950’s appearance) is on display at the Tupelo birthplace. This depiction graces the cover of “The Genuine Elvis.”
Along with Edie and Ronnie is co-author Joe Meador. A 30+ year music industry veteran, Joe is a songwriter, manager, producer and performer who has worked with artists such as Rick Nelson and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. He serves as president and CEO of Nashville’s Grand Entertainment Group www.grandentertainment.com.
In addition to dozens of beautiful photos by Al Wertheimer, the book features contributions from a host of other Elvis friends and family members. One such contributor is Louise Smith, widow of Elvis’ cousin Gene, who opens up to share rare memories. She also plans to appear at select book signing events with the authors. Fans who pre-order will receive autographed copies (from all three authors) of the book.
Edie confirmed that the official launch of “The Genuine Elvis – Photos and Untold Stories about the King” will take place at Graceland’s bookstore on August 14, 2009 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Look for the interviews with the author