| PART THREE OF FOUR:
The Lightning Strikes!
The debut of Captain Marvel and his protégé -- Elvis' hero, Captain Marvel Jr. -- had struck the comic book world like a thunderbolt -- and now it was Elvis' turn to do the same for the music business, and the world.
Leonard Bernstein called Elvis Presley the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century. Elvis introduced the beat to everything, music, language, clothes. Its a whole new social revolution -- the 60s comes from it.
Disc jockey John Peel describes the sense of shock Elvis brought: It might sound pretty safe now, but in the context of what was happening in the 1950s, hearing Heartbreak Hotel was as shocking as if someone was dancing naked in your living room.
Even Presley himself agreed. Years later, Elvis would comment, Man, I was tame compared to what they do now. Are you kidding? I didn't do anything but just jiggle.
Rolling Stone magazine thought Elvis did a bit more than just jiggle: At Sun Studio in Memphis (1954, label pictured left), Elvis Presley called to life what would soon be known as rock and roll with a voice that bore strains of the Grand Ole Opry and Beale Street, of country and the blues. At that moment, he ensured -- instinctively, unknowingly -- that pop music would never again be as simple as black and white.
John Lennon: Before Elvis, there was nothing.
Bob Dylan: When I first heard Elvis' voice I just knew that I wasnt going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail. I thank God for Elvis Presley.
Elton John: "If it hadn't been for Elvis, I don't know where popular music would be. He was the one that started it all off."
Mick Jagger: Elvis was a unique artist -- an original in an area of imitators.
Keith Richards: "Before Elvis, everything was in black and white. Then came Elvis. Zoom, glorious Technicolor."
Bruce Springsteen: There have been a lot of tough guys. There have been pretenders. And there have been contenders. But there is only one king. That Elvis, man, he is all there is. There ain't no more. Everything starts and ends with him. He wrote the book."
Elvis' Manager: Colonel Tom Parker
It was 1955. Elvis had been booked as a warm-up act for another singer, Hank Snow. Snows manager was a colorful West Virginian who had run away from home at an early age to join the circus. He became a music promoter in the late 1940s, managing musicians Minnie Pearl and Eddy Arnold, and western film star Tom Mix. When Elvis was introduced to Snows manager for the first time, he must have been thunderstruck -- the man's name was Colonel Tom Parker.
Elvis knew well that Freddy Freeman transformed into his boyhood hero, Captain Marvel Jr., by saying the name Captain Marvel. Now, here he was, being introduced to the man who would soon transform him into an immortal superstar -- not a Captain, but a Colonel! Holy Shazam. It was destined to be!
Parker wasnt a real Colonel -- he received the honorary title in 1948 from Jimmie Davis, the governor of Louisiana. But then again, Captain Marvel wasnt actually a real Captain either! And, as fate would have it, the Navy rank of Captain is directly equivalent to the Marine rank of Colonel! Elvis must have felt fate was calling.
Parker took over Presley's contract on August 18, 1955, and proceeded to dominate every phase of his career for the rest of his life. The Colonel was instrumental in virtually every business decision Presley ever made. His influence over Elvis has been criticized as Svengali-like, but without the Colonel, Presley might never have become the superstar he became.
Elvis' relationship with the Colonel could not be damaged, even when the truth about Parker's past was finally revealed. It turned out Colonel Tom Parker, West Virginian, was actually a Dutch citizen, and his name wasnt Tom Parker. He had been born Andreas Cornelius van Kuijk, in Breda, Netherlands, in 1909. When he was 18, he fled to America and joined the US Army, changing his name to Tom Parker.
Some have speculated that the reason Elvis never performed abroad may have been that Parker was worried that as a non-citizen, he would not be readmitted to the United States. One book even claims he left the Netherlands to escape a murder rap. But whatever the Colonels past may have been, it had no effect on his legendary management of the future King of Rock n Roll.
Mirror, Mirror: Elvis and Cap Jr.
Now, with his talents at their peak and the skills of a brilliant manager to guide him, Elvis hit his stride. From January 1956 to November 1957, Elvis Presley spent a phenomenal 51 weeks occupying the number one spot on the Billboard pop chart.
He would go on to record 104 singles that hit the Top 40, with an astounding 38 Top 10 Billboard hits. This total is unchallenged even today. The closest competitors are Madonna with 35, and The Beatles with 34. No artist before or since has ever dominated American popular music so completely.
And who was there, with Elvis, every step of the way? Who else? Captain Marvel Jr.!
|Above: Master Comics #119, featuring Cap Jr. in a typical pose.
Right: Elvis belts out a
tune, striking a
similar typical pose.
|Above: Master Comics #54, with Cap Jr.'s black hair, long sideburns and red cape.
Right: Elvis with dyed black hair (his
natural hair color was sandy brown),
long sideburns and red shirt.
Elvis and Cap Jr. in the Seventies
As he grew older, Elvis began to look and dress even more like Captain Marvel Jr. Below, an unpublished sketch of Cap. Jr. by artist Dave Cockrum -- who drew the World's Mightiest Boy in his DC revival of the early Seventies -- and a 1971 portrait of Elvis. Note the locks of tousled black hair on both foreheads, and Elvis' ultra-high shirt collar and jacket, both blue, the main color in Cap Jr.'s uniform.
Now middle-aged, Elvis took to wearing jumpsuits during his numerous live performances. Where did the designs for these outlandish, theatrical outfits come from? According to Elvis' confidant Billy Smith, If you go back and look at a drawing of Captain Marvel Jr., it looks a whole lot like the seventies Elvis -- one-piece jumpsuit, wide belt, boots, cape, lightning bolt and all.
|Above: Captain Marvel Jr. #131, with Cap Jr. wearing a blue uniform with gold trim, wide belt, and short cape.
Right: Elvis in 1972, wearing
a blue jumpsuit with gold trim,
wide belt, and short cape. This outfit
has been dubbed "The Blue Owl."
Captain Marvel's alter ego, Freddy Freeman, also inspired several of Elvis' stage outfits. According to Elvis expert Elaine Dundy, Subconsciously, the grown Elvis copied his heros glistening black hair, his sideburns and his triumphant stance. Years later he wore his version of the Marvel Jr. cape, and the white scarf Freddy Freeman often wore turned up around Elvis neck in performance. Below: Freddy Freeman, and a similiarly-clad Elvis on stage, in concert.
|Above: Captain Marvel Jr.'s alter ego, Freddy Freeman, wore a blue coat with a long white scarf.
Right: Elvis wearing a
blue jumpsuit with a
long white scarf.
The TCB Thunderbolt Logo
Elvis' motto was "Taking Care of Business in a Flash," represented in his personal logo by the letters TCB and a lightning bolt. Elvis wore a famous ring with the TCB logo on it (pictured left). Where did the phrase and logo come from? It was designed in the Seventies by Elvis and his new bride, Priscilla.
"Taking Care of Business was a Black expression, recalls Memphis Mafia member Marty Lacker, and Elvis used to say it in a sort of ethnic way. It was just a hip saying. Aretha Franklin sang Take care/TCB on her version of Respect, for example.
The lightning bolt has two meanings, Lacker explains. One is in a flash. In other words, whatever you need to do, do it quick. But the lightning bolt was also the insignia for the West Coast Mafia. In addition to doing things in a flash, [Elvis] liked the idea that the West Coast Mafia used it.
Billy Smith, another of Elvis Memphis Mafia pals, strongly disagrees with Lacker. Nah. The lightning bolt came from his army days. It was the insignia of his battalion. Or maybe in the back of his mind, he identified it with Captain Marvel Jr. Thats where he got the idea for the capes. From the comic books.
Given the fact that the "C" is elevated far above the "T" and "B" in the logo, I, Robby Reed, the creator of this blog and author of this article, tend to agree with Billy Smith. Why would Elvis raise the middle letter so high -- unless he wanted to pay homage to someone whose name began with a "C." Someone such as ... Captain Marvel Jr.!
Elvis gave various diamond-encrusted gold jewelry pieces bearing the logo to members of his inner circle as a gift. According to Lacker, the TCB jewelry was created around 1970. "The lightning bolt emblem Captain Marvel Jr. wore on his chest became Elvis logo, his signature," says Elaine Dundy. The lightning bolt turned up on Elvis private plane, the Lisa Marie (pictured left), and in the Graceland game room (pictured above). It turned up on the jewelry he gave special friends: the gold neck chains and bracelets. All of them were designed with Captain Marvel Jr.'s lightning bolt in the center.
There was also a TCB Oath, written by the King himself, which Elvis pals were required to follow. It stated:
More self-respect, more respect for fellow man, respect for fellow students and instructors. Respect for all styles and techniques. Body conditioning, mental conditioning, meditation for calming and stilling of the mind and body. Sharpen your skills to increase mental awareness, for all those who might choose a new outlook and personal philosophy. Freedom from constipation.
That last sentence is not an editorial insertion -- Elvis had a great sense of humor, and he actually included the phrase "Freedom from constipation" in his otherwise-solemn TCB Oath.
The lightning had struck, and it seemed there were no new heights left for Vernon and Gladys' little boy Elvis to scale. But there was one thing Presley had still never done ... he'd never had a private, Oval Office meeting with the President of the United States. That was way out of even Elvis' league. Or was it?