Mention the late ELVIS PRESLEY and many folk immediately think of rock ‘n’ roll and all that is associated with this dynamic, hard drivin’ genre of music. Yes, Elvis was undoubtedly the ‘King’ when it came to rock ‘n’ roll, but, as we reflect on his enduring memory in the lead-up to marking the 40th anniversary of his untimely death on August 16 1977, we should also consider his significant role as a country and gospel singer.
The Presley roots were deep in country and Southern gospel and they remained a vital part of his music until he died. In the mid-1950s, as he was musically blossoming out from his humble Mississippi roots, a youthful Elvis was recognised as a country singer, even appearing at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. The gospel and Blues from the ‘Deep South’ environment he inhabited was key to his repertoire.
Elvis was influenced early by the country sounds of Hank Williams, Jimmie Rogers, Eddie Arnold, and Hank Snow, and, later, by the music of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. Indeed, Memphis recording mogul Sam Phillips made that each of Elvis’ Sun releases included a country song on the flip side of a rock, blues, or rockabilly release.
As a child, his favourite party piece (about a dog) was Old Shep. Later, he recorded country classics - Eddy Arnold’s It’s a Sin and Make the World Go Away; Hank Williams’s Your Cheatin’ Heart; Don Gibson’s Oh Lonesome Me; George Jones’ She Thinks I Still Care; Billy Walker’s Funny How Time Slips Away; Bill Monroe’s Blue Moon of Kentucky; and Porter Wagner’s Green, Green Grass of Home. One of his most successful Sun Studio recordings was When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again. He also enjoyed singing country ballads recorded by females such as Anne Murray (Snowbird), and Olivia Newton John (If You Love Me Let Me Know). And when it came to gospel music, Elvis was in a class of his own with memorable tracks: Peace in the Valley, How Great Thou Art, He Touched Me, and Amazing Grace.