As Americans here at Rock-Ola, we’re very proud of Elvis (and we’re sure you are too). He’s perhaps one of our country’s most famous cultural exports, one of the most important figures of the era and arguably the most successful musician in history. He’s got fans all over the world, and even people who don’t otherwise speak a lick of English will often know his name. Given that January 8th would have been his 85th birthday, we thought this month was the perfect time to revisit the legend that was Elvis and reflect on what made him so special.
From humble beginnings, a star is born
Elvis has provided immeasurable inspiration to countless people over the years, but there’s one particular thing about him that particularly captures so many people’s imaginations – in many ways, the man was the very embodiment of the American Dream. Born into a poor family in Tupelo, Mississippi, he lived in poverty throughout his childhood and was regularly bullied at school. On his tenth birthday, his parents gave him his first guitar, (wisely choosing it for him over the rifle he also wanted) and he was inseparable from it from that moment on. After spending his teenage years playing obsessively, he got his first record deal at age 19 by simply walking into Sun Records and asking for one. Asked who he sounded like, he famously retorted ‘I don’t sound like nobody!’ And boy, did he go on to prove himself right.
A musician made a legend
Elvis spent his entire career demonstrating the truth in that bold statement. There was nobody else in the business who even came close, and even his most acclaimed contemporaries were in awe of him. (“His instinct was just amazing. I just didn’t know what to make of it.” said Roy Orbison at the time.) Elvis went on to truly take the world by storm. He was a phenomenon, a musical force of nature arguably matched only by the Beatles on the other side of the pond. It wasn’t long before he acquired his own agent; the eminent Colonel Tom Parker, who was described by Elvis himself as one of the best music promoters in the business. Together, they were unstoppable.
His career was not without controversy, although whether that hindered his success or helped it is still a matter for debate. First and foremost, he ruffled some feathers especially in his homeplace of Middle America, since his style was clearly influenced by music traditionally written and performed by African Americans. Particularly significant was the fact that his rise occurred during a transformative era in race relations, where legal segregation was still commonplace. But the King himself frequently and openly acknowledged his debt to African American music, stating: “Those folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin' now, man, for more years than I know. They played it like that in their shanties and in their juke joints and nobody paid it no mind 'til I goosed it up. I got it from them.”
Whether onlookers liked it or not, there’s no denying Elvis helped bring them and their music into the mainstream, helping to gradually erode the racial barriers that still existed between everyday American music fans. And of course, there’s also his most famous reason why he set parents tutting – his relentlessly gyrating hips, which were widely viewed to be deliberately evoking somewhat, uh, conjugal imagery. But his audiences loved it, and his sex appeal grew to a point where a single shake of his leg could send fans charging towards the stage, often bulldozing barriers set up specifically to prevent them from doing so. In one infamous concert in Vancouver in 1957, his manager and security officials were unable to prevent his fans from repeatedly rushing the stage. This led to such a fear for his safety that he only played for about 20 minutes before being ushered from the venue. (Some of his entourage left in a separate vehicle which was mobbed by some of his most enthusiastic fans, who believed Elvis to be inside. According to one of the occupants, they were so excited that they literally started trying to take the car apart – someone tore the antenna off, and another got the license plate!)
Honoring the King
Sadly, Elvis’ lifestyle eventually caught up with him, and he died young in 1977, of a heart attack fueled by abuse of prescription drugs. However, his music will never die. Jailhouse Rock. Heartbreak Hotel. All Shook Up. You know and love these classics, and our mission is to make sure you can enjoy them any time you please, in the leisure of your own home. In fact, Rock-Ola has been making jukeboxes since 1935 – the same year Elvis was born! Like the man himself, our jukeboxes have left their own mark not just on American culture, but also that of the world at large. Today, the popular image of a jukebox has become singularly defined by the distinctive silhouette of the Rock-Ola Bubbler.
It’s our pride and joy, and we want it to be yours too. Our Elvis Bubbler is available your choice of Gloss Black or Gloss White, providing the perfect way for you to enjoy the music that defined an era. You know what they say – it’s one for the money, two for the show…