Local Music News

 Don't Be Cruel

Of all the artists to pick for an antiviolence fund-raiser theme, Elvis Presley should be on the short list of "don't"s. But the folks at TLC Counseling and Training Center may have had one too many fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches when it came time to choose a face to put on their fund-raiser. The second annual "Houston Salutes the King of Rock and Roll" will take place this Sunday at Garden in the Heights. Proceeds will go toward TLC, a nonprofit organization, as a handpicked partner of Mayor Brown's Peace Initiative.

The El Orbits, Chadd Thomas & The Crazy Kings, The Fondue Monks, Luxurious Panthers and Shag will perform. Each band will play only Elvis covers and each will get about a half hour at the only outdoor stage. (Though there's another stage inside for rain.) Stephen Boado and Lucky LaRue will emcee.

To boot, the entire event has been approved by Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. And why not? The King never said a cross word to anyone, never raised his fist in anger and never unloaded a revolver at a fuzzy television set.

Well, kinda.

If we trace back over the career of Presley, we see that violence was always integral to his lifestyle. Remember those movies? Charro!, Kissin' Cousins, Clambake? Did Presley ever play a character who didn't know how to throw a roundhouse right? And which King of Rock and Roll was it who was sent to Germany in 1958 as a member of the 750-man 32nd Tank Battalion, Third Armored Division? Wasn't Little Richard.

Violence also was a key element in the King's music. "Jailhouse Rock" went to No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts in 1957. But would Presley have needed to rock up the jailhouse if he weren't there for good reason? Same with "Blue Christmas" in 1965. Very few people know that the original title was "Black and Blue Christmas."

This is not cause for concern, though. At least not according to the Schneider sisters of TLC. Sister Karen, TLC assistant director, rationalizes: "I was watching a show on the King, and there was this scene of him, like, six weeks before died, and he was crying and was depressed. And I thought, 'This [event] would be perfect to do. It all relates to him.'

"He was so angry and miserable with himself that he ended up killing himself. He had everything in the world, but he didn't have inside what he needed to live. And it just hit me," like one of Presley's sucker punches, "that this [theme] would be perfect."

Okay. The connection between Presley's self-loathing and TLC's dedication to combat self-loathing makes a little sense (even though it seems the idea was imposed on the theme, not the other way around).

But when I asked event organizer Patrick Devlin about the connection between the King and antiviolence, I got a more candid response. Says Devlin with a laugh: "I've got no idea."

He laughs again: "I'm just an Elvis fan. I went to Garden in the Heights about six months before last year's event and told them about this Elvis tribute idea I had. They seemed to like it, but they didn't tell me until about a month before the show. I threw it together, and we had a great turnout. But we gotta do some things a little different this year.

"Last year, everything was great, but there was a little something missing."

Stamping King Presley's face on an antiviolence fund-raiser wasn't the problem. It was timing and structure. Last year's event landed on the day of Presley's 1977 death, August 16. So not only was Devlin's show overshadowed by morbidity, it was overshadowed by somethingŠ larger.

"I never realized," says Devlin, "how many people -- people from Houston -- make the trip up to Graceland every year."

And though Devlin says last year's turnout was "great," the inaugural Elvis event raised only about $600, according to Pam Schneider, TLC coordinator. That's hardly enough to cover the $7,500 cost of implementing one TLC program in one HISD school. So this year TLC and Devlin are putting on the show on Sunday, September 19, and are including much more Elvis stuff.

There will be Elvis art cars, Elvis trinkets, Elvis impersonators, Elvis boxing gloves (just kidding) and, of course, Elvis music. Devlin's Celtic rock band, 5 Easy Payments, is also on the list of performers.

Devlin remembers growing up in Ireland, listening to the Presley 45s of his Michigan-born mother, which he could do only once she was out of the house. He has been in the United States for the past 13 years and in Houston the past nine. He says his band, in its many incarnations, has always been -- even if just for a little bit -- "Elvis with a fiddle."

That's pretty funny, huh? Presley with a fiddle across his shoulder? But it isn't. If there's one thing Devlin wants to be sure of, it's that this event is in no way anti-Elvis. Just antiviolence.

"I've just seen how fanatical people get," says Devlin, "and I'm cautious. I want them to know I'm not making fun of Elvis but am having fun with his music." He chuckles. "I'm just hoping he was really antiviolent."

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