A Note from Wolf…..
This is TradeBait’s first authored post – upgraded (at my insistence) from a comment he made on today’s open thread. I look forward to many more!
Time for a TB story as eyes roll. It’s OK, it’s your day off. Wolf said he looked forward to these in his other recent thread. The Elvis movie is currently the talk.
My direct connection to The King was from afar. Living in the Delta for a dozen years, he was an icon of course. In his later, jelly donut, porker years I saw him at a Showcase of the Stars charity concert in Memphis at the Orpheum. Thought he was going to split his sequined pants, but I digress. FWIW, Graceland makes for a good day spent if you liked him.
For a number of years I passed by a place on a state highway at the border of Arkansas and Missouri in the bootheel several times per week. After arriving there in the 70’s, I learned from the locals that during the late 40’s into the 60’s there was place at the state line called The Rat Ranch. It was still standing, but the only business still operating was a liquor store when I lived there. Apparently, things happened there every weekend for decades – partying, music shows, gambling (Illegal – including slots) and such. Use your imagination and you will probably be correct since there was also a rent by the hour fleabag motel there. The authorities looked the other way because they were on the take. One such sheriff during the period was even later convicted for his involvement by a future GOP Senator who was AG at the time. Said sheriff had an ownership interest it appeared, so he he could not claim he did not know. After a certain Missouri Democrat Governor came into power a couple of years later, he pardoned said sheriff through the efforts of a certain Lt. Governor who later became a Senator. Said conviction was set aside. Said sheriff later was overwhelmingly voted back into office and ran an illegal bookie operation in his well known (regionally) restaurant’s office. There are even connections with people who were reportedly involved in the planning of the MLK JR. assassination – which would not surprise me at all.
Said sheriff was a connected, Dem criminal. The neighboring Missouri county sheriff was a white hat at war with the criminal before his conviction. Originally from Texas, he ran a cleaner ship and would put you down if you did the things in his county that the criminal pushed in his. Unfortunately he died of natural causes in his mid-80’s in the mid 60’s.
I lived there – both counties at different times of course. I knew the criminal sheriff (long since deceased) and the bookie, even though I do not gamble. Past associations being what they are and all.
So what does all that have to do with The King? The King performed at the Rat Ranch on weekends in his younger days before “making it”. The locals told the story that he was a truck driver running a route from MS up and down the highway through the area into St. Louis. After his deliveries he stopped there on weekends to perform. The patrons of the Rat Ranch were all skin colors, but mostly AA locals. Do you now better understand the soul in his music and support from the AA community? He honed his craft there and at other places around the Delta until his “discovery”, Sun Studio and the rest.
But wait, there’s MOAR! Some dozen years later after I left the Delta and long after The King had died, I had the occasion to meet and get to know more deeply one of his former back-up singers and long term friends. This fellow had known The King as a young teenager who would attend his concerts. It was the great bass, JD Sumner of the Blackwood Brothers and later, JD Sumner & the Stamps fame among other groups. Elvis and JD were tight, so much so JD said Elvis was who got him through his own battles with the bottle, while he would be there for Elvis in his many personal struggles. For what it’s worth, these discussions with JD were just the two of us many occasions because he had moved to east TN in the years before he died. The place where he lived was owned by a friend and business associate. We had deep discussions about our faith (which was shared) and he would discuss The King often. He said a lot of what was reported about Elvis was bunk, but kept the interest levels up. JD said that personally he had left organized religion, that he felt closest to the Lord with his music and involvement with the Gaither Homecomings. Quite a remarkable man with much Americana in him to tell. I loved those hours with him.
I can still see JD tooling around the resort in which he lived and crossing the busy tourist covered highway in an imitation Rolls Royce golf cart our friend had bought him to use around town. Law enforcement had been instructed to just let him go where he wanted as long as he did not cause an accident. One final thought, most who heard JD were very aware of just how low his voice would go. During the primary years of his career, he was thought to be the lowest pitched bass in southern gospel music. Besides having this gift from God, he attributed being able to retain it to being a smoker. Which was probably related to his cause of death just a few days short of his 74th birthday from cardiac arrest since he had also dealt with lung issues.