Today marks the birthdays of two major forces in modern popular music, one has sadly passed on and the other continues to create original and challenging music. I am, of course, referring to the legendary and iconic Elvis Presley and David Bowie.
Elvis Presley was born on this day in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. It was in the Assembly of God church in Tupelo that Elvis first discovered his love for music. He entered a singing contest at the age of ten at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, winning fifth place, and, a few weeks later, got his first guitar for his birthday. He would take lessons over the following year and would watch and learn from other guitarists but he remained shy and nervous about performing in front of other people.
He eventually began bringing his guitar to school on a daily basis, playing and singing during his lunchtime, despite being teased for playing “hillbilly” music. He became a fan of Mississippi Slim’s radio show on the local radio station WELO, and Slim’s younger brother, who was a classmate of Presley’s, began taking him to the station. Slim begain showing the young Presley guitar chord technique and eventually scheduled him for two on-air performances. He chickened out of the first one but made it to the second.
When he was 13 years old, his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. He began learning more guitar technique from a neighbor Jesse Lee Denson and, together with two other boys in the neighborhood, Dorsey and Johnny Burnette, began a group that would perform around the public housing complex where they lived. He also began to venture out to Memphis’ legendary Beale Street to listen to the blues musicians and became a regular at Memphis record stores, listening to records by singers like Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills, as well as gospel singers like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and other, so-called, “race” records of the time featuring jumping blues, swinging jazz and rowdy r&b.
By his senior year of high school, he’d decided to pursue music as a career and walked into the offices of Sun Records that August. The rest is, as they say, history.
David Bowie was born today in 1947 with the name David Robert Jones, in the Brixton neighborhood of London. At the age of six, he was considered adequate for the school choir and an above-average recorder player, which, according to his school, was indicative of an above average musical ability. At the age of nine, he excelled at his “music and movement” classes at school and became obsessed with a collection of American 45s that his father had brought home, featuring singles by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Platters, Fats Domino, Little Richard and, of course, Elvis Presley.
Presley had a significant impact on the young Bowie and he was quoted as saying “I saw a cousin of mine dance to … “Hound Dog” and I had never seen her get up and be moved so much by anything. It really impressed me, the power of the music. I started getting records immediately after that.”
Bowie formed his first band at 15. They called themselves The Konrads and played guitar-based rock and roll at weddings and local youth gatherings. Bowie was frustrated by his bandmates lack of career aspirations and he left The Konrads to join the King Bees. While he was with the Bees, he was referred to music publisher Dick James’ partner Leslie Conn, who eventually became Bowie’s first manager. It was around this time that Bowie decided to be a pop star. A notion that his parents were none too pleased about.
In 1964, Bowie cut his first single “Liza Jane” as Davie Jones and the King Bees. Less than a month later, he quite the King Bees and joined the Manish Boys with whom he cut his second single “I Pity the Fool.” Like his first single, “Fool” was not a success and Bowie quickly left the Manish Boys to join yet another blues-based outfit, the Lower Third and then the Buzz. Frustrated by his lack of chart success fronting a group, Bowie’s new manager Ralph Horton, helped Bowie transition into a solo artist.
In 1967, Bowie, tired of being confused for the Monkees’ Davy Jones, renamed himself after the American frontiersman Jim Bowie and the knife he popularised. He also cut his first single as a solo artist “The Laughing Gnome” and six week later, released his debut album David Bowie. This inauspicious debut would be followed by such landmark records as Space Oddity, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Diamond Dogs and countless other releases that would push the boundaries of popular music and establish Bowie as rock’s most sophisticated iconoclast. Bowie continues to record to this day, his most recent outing being last year’s The Next Day.
We got tons of great events coming up that honor these two icons of rock and roll. Check these out:
Thursday, January 9 I KING CREOLE (Thrillville Theater) – Oakland, California Having flunked graduation for a second time and needing cash to support his crabby (and thus unemployed) father, Danny Fisher (Elvis Presley) takes a job as a singer in the King Creole nightclub – about the only joint around not run by smarmy crook Maxie Fields who wants him for his own place. He gets on pretty well with Fields’ floozy though, and all this plus his involvement with Fields’ hoods and with innocent five-and-dime store assistant Nellie means Danny finds his world closing in on him all ways round. Please come out and celebrate The King’s birthday at the New Parkway for this very special Thrillville Theater event. Hosted by none other than Will “The Thrill” Viharo and Monica Tiki Goddess!
Saturday, January 11 I Elvesque! Burlesque 2014 – Phoenix, Arizona Elvesque! Burlesque is a sinfully sassy, titillatingly tawdry, and utterly unforgettable collective of illicitly incredible tribute performers oozing sharp wit and sex appeal! Bringing a combined stage experience of over 50 yrs, Elvesque! Burlesque will tease, tantalize and taunt the audience with Elvis, sex and theatrics. Working so well together, and wanting to bring more to the stage than the typical burlesque revue, Elvesque! Burlesque is a full stage show that flows as a never-ending burlesque Elvis cabaret. Audience members are stuck to their seats as their peepers pop and their jaws disjoint at the deviant display of devilry only to find the end of the show to be far too soon. Each performer brings their own bountiful backgrounds and eclectic experiences to the show; promising a little something for everyone.
Sunday, January 19 I Oh! You Pretty Things: Bowie and Elvis Birthday Bash – New York, New York Oh! You Pretty Things is proud to present a birthday bacchanalia for rock’s two greatest capricorns David Bowie and Elvis Presley. Michael T and the Vanities and This Ambitious Orchestra perform larger-than-life arrangements of hit songs from their catalogue along with a live sets from the Sons & Heirs Morrissey/Smiths Tribute and Tyburn Saints plus burlesque performances by The Love Show, Aurora Black and Brewster for this Vegas-style three ring circus. Your MC for the night will be the incomparable Pepper Mint.
Saturday, January 25 I School of Rock Presents: GLAM! – Seattle, Washington School of Rock believes that the best way to learn music is to play music. They take students from the lesson room to the stage, developing both their confidence and musicianship with programs designed for all skill levels. School of Rock teaches guitar, bass, vocals, keyboards, drums and combines weekly private music lessons and group band rehearsals to prepare students to take the stage in front of live audiences in an authentic concert setting. For this special edition, School of Rock students will take on the glam period of the early 70s, performing classics by the likes of David Bowie, T. Rex, The Velvet Underground, Roxy Music and more.
Biographical information courtesy of Wikipedia.