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Priscilla's pull... The wrath of Elvis has no expiration date. Just ask Barry Capece, who'd have sworn he was in the clear after a seemingly decisive court ruling more than a year ago that allowed his local bar, the Velvet Elvis, to keep the reference to the King in its name. Granted, Capece expected Elvis Presley Enterprises, the overfunded body charged with carrying out Priscilla Presley's litigious dirty work, to appeal the decision. But he was stunned when, on May 7, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reversed the earlier decision, and the bar lost the rights to its old name.

"You've got to have a sense of humor about this crap," says Capece of the decree. "Granted, we're not happy we had to lose the name."

For now, the kitschy Richmond Avenue nightspot has blocked out the "lvis" on its sign so that it reads "Velvet E," which has been the name of the VE's offshoot in Dallas from the beginning. A lawyer himself, Capece savors a good legal battle as much as the next guy. But understandably, he didn't want to push his luck with EPE's fleet of attorneys when opening the second establishment -- even if all the publicity surrounding the case has been an unexpected plus.

"From a business standpoint, I appreciate the ride they gave us," Capece says. "It cost us some money, but they took a little bar and turned it into something noteworthy."

In the original 1996 judgment, the U.S. District Court in Houston bought the contention of Capece's hotshot legal team that the name "Velvet Elvis" was a good-natured nod to the insufferably tacky -- a junk-culture joke and nothing more. And for anyone but the most dumbstruck Elvis freak, black velvet paintings of the King would have to be the epitome of cheese. Once a common sight along roadsides and at flea markets throughout the U.S. and Mexico (the one hanging at the Houston VE came from Juarez), they've become considerably more scarce stateside since EPE cracked down on the velvet Elvis trade a few years back.

Graceland's lawsuit-wielding enforcers argued that Capece was wrongly profiting from the name, image or likeness of the King. And since Capece was not about to enter into a costly licensing agreement with the Presley estate for a name he'd trademarked years ago, EPE served him papers back in 1995. The suit -- which cited the VE's infringement upon the "Elvis" and "Elvis Presley" trademarks, unfair competition and violation of the estate's "publicity rights" -- sought unspecified damages, a name change and that all references to the King be removed from the clubs. Those "references" included Capece's black-velvet treasure from Juarez.

Capece was not present for the New Orleans verdict; he heard about it through his lawyers. In regard to the name change, the bar acted on EPE demands promptly, but whether it will remain the Velvet E is uncertain. "We're probably going to have a contest and see what kind of ideas people have," says Houston Velvet E manager Suzy Melson.

But as for EPE's request for the removal of all Elvis art, Capece won't hear of it: For the time being, the plush paintings of the King on display in both the Dallas and Houston clubs will stay where they are. "It wasn't mentioned [in the ruling], so we're not taking them down," says Melson.

It's also interesting to note that while the latest decision has allowed EPE to obtain an injunction to stop the VE from using the name, it strikes down the estate's attempts to seek monetary damages or attorneys' fees from the VE. That, of course, is just fine with Capece.

"They spent close to $400,000 to date for us to change that name," he laughs. "For that, they should have just given us a check a long time ago, and we would have called it whatever they wanted."

Release activity... Pasadena's Sunset Heights may have lost its primary cliche custodian in departed guitarist Vince Converse, but its lazy reliance on licks culled from Stevie Ray Vaughan's much-picked-over oeuvre continues unabated. On Medicine Hat, the group's new full-length CD, Sunset Heights's renovated twin-guitar attack even throws in a few style points from the Ian Moore school of blues-rock fret play. And we all know who one of Moore's main influences was. (Hint: His initials are S.R.V.)

The band's release party for Medicine Hat is slated for Friday at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Then, on Sunday, Sunset Heights will join Steve Earle for a performance at City Hall. The free concert is part of an anti-violence youth rally sponsored by the murder victim activist organization Journey of Hope ... From Violence to Healing.

-- Hobart Rowland

Have a comment, tip, compliment or beef? E-mail Hobart Rowland at hobart_rowland@houstonpress.com.

 
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