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My Elvis Connection


"Robinettes" Photo taken at KNOE-TV "Prime Time" set, 1960
School photo of Rita, about 1960

~I have two stories to share with you about "my Elvis connection." I hope you enjoy! ~
by Rita S.

As you are aware if you read my personal bio, I am a professional keyboard musician, not a nationally known person, but "recognized" in our area. To many in our region who see me perform publicly, I am known as "the music lady." I grew up in a musical family of semi-professional Southern-gospel singers and musicians, having begun traveling with my family’s singing group on weekends at the age of eight, and when I was ten, we had our own local TV show with a CBS-affiliate station, from 1960-62. We would attend "gospel singing conventions" and "quartet conventions" all across the South. As with all of us, there are things which occur through the years that help mold and shape our lives. The story below is about an incident that took place in 1960, when I was a young child. I wanted to share this story with you, and I hope you enjoy it.


It was a crisp November night in Memphis, Tennessee, as we arrived at Ellis Auditorium. The year was 1960, and there was a lot of excitement in the air. I grew up in a conservative family of gospel singers in a small North Louisiana community in the "Bible Belt," and we were visiting my cousin Marie who resided in Memphis. Gospel music concerts were "big" back then. My family was in town to attend the National Quartet Convention, where our family trio had participated in an "amateur" music contest that very morning and had returned in the evening to hear the big professional concert. It turns out that we had actually won a division of our competition, for which we were awarded a small trophy. And even though that was exciting for us, that night would turn out to be another special "highlight" of the trip. You see, we were hoping for a chance to get a glimpse of "HIM," for Marie told us that because he loved gospel music, Elvis always attended the big concert where all the top quartets and singers put on their big stage performance and sold their LP’s and pictures and sheet music out in the hallway. He would be there as an obscure guest, of course, and sit backstage and stay hidden behind the curtains where he could view and observe all the performances but still have his measure of privacy. Marie knew exactly the right place to sit in the auditorium (top left balcony) to get the best glimpse of Elvis in case he sat at his "usual" spot, and she had made our reservations well in advance.

The concert began, and the crowd cheered as the quartets sang. The music was great, but I don’t really remember much about the concert at all. You see, we kept watching for him all evening long. Time went by and we waited and wondered. Suddenly, Marie announced excitedly, "There he is! There he is, look!!" Our eyes all riveted to the sidelines of the stage. There, at the right edge behind the curtains, he sat. (Just as Marie had predicted!) I can still visualize it just like it was yesterday. Everyone took their turns looking through the binoculars and we all ooo’d and ahh’d over the handsome star who only wanted to be an "unknown" for an evening he could enjoy. Because we knew one of the professional singers personally, I remember that someone suggested that maybe Jim Boatman (the bass singer we knew with one of the big groups) could get us past the guard and ropes with his special "back-stage pass" and we could get a closer view of Elvis! We did not know if this idea would work or not, but it was worth a try! So here we go trudging to the corridors, about three or four of us, hoping to see our friend to ask if he would be willing to try to help us out. I was the "kid" in the group, so I just followed everyone and remember feeling a thrill of excitement at the idea of even getting backstage to get a closer glimpse, not really dreaming I could really MEET the "king"!

It turns out that when we got into the hallway, our friend Jim was near-by and our plan worked! He got us past the guard!! I don’t remember how we actually approached Elvis for us to get to talk to him, but somehow it happened! I remember that Elvis was so gentle and kind and patient with us, and he was willing to let us take pictures with him. I remember shaking with excitement. The part that made the biggest impression with me was that Elvis wore MAKE-UP. Now you have to understand, I was a country kid in a conservative southern household with a strict daddy who did not even allow my older sister to wear make-up, so that was shocking to me! A MAN wearing make-up? Now don’t get me wrong...he wasn’t made up like a "girl," but just the idea of seeing mascara and a slight touch of artificial color on his lips and cheeks was enough to shock me.

Someone took a picture of me with Elvis posed standing with his arm around me, and I thought I would just melt right there!! As soon as I got back home to Louisiana I told my 5th grade classmates all about our adventure and how we were anxious to get the pictures developed. I remember that the kids at school did not believe me when I told them I had actually met Elvis, and I remember feeling so very crushed! Momma tried to console me and told me they were just jealous. I couldn’t understand why they were acting like that to me. I said, "Just wait until I get my pictures developed, and they’ll see." I was so anxious to get those pictures and show everyone!

The pictures were finally developed! We excitedly rode into town to get the pack of pictures and to relive those happy moments. Looking back, there is no explanation to what truly happened to our pictures. I just recall how the drug store (that’s what it was called back then, not "pharmacy" but "drug store") gave us our "developed" roll of film and how all the ones taken backstage with Elvis DID NOT TURN OUT! Back in those days, they developed each picture and included it in the pack, whether it "took" or not. Instead of Elvis pictures, we got blank, white, blurry photos, the kind where you cannot tell what the image is supposed to be. To this day, I don’t know if many of those kids in my class ever believed me or not, but in my heart I knew how "real" that adventure had been, and it is something I have carried with me the rest of my life.

Needless to say, the experience of receiving the blank pictures was an humbling experience, but at least I have my vivid memories of the time I met Elvis. And maybe sometimes we all need humbling experiences to help us "grow."

I have another "Elvis Connection" story below, telling about a really neat young man who lived in our home to study gospel piano from my sister and who later became Elvis's piano player. Please scroll below for the story....

Elvis Photo courtesy of the ELVIS PHOTO GALLERY

"Robinettes" Photo from August, 1962

This is the other "Elvis Connection" story which I really wanted to tell you about....

When I was 12 years old, my sister (who is several years older than me) was teaching piano for Stamps Music Company's summer singing/music schools all over the USA. She did that all during her college years and up until she moved to Nashville to work for the Singing Speer Family. (Long runs deep in my family.) While teaching piano at Dallas for Stamps Music Co.'s school one summer, she had a young 15 year old student, a young man, who she saw a LOT of talent in and who happened to play by "ear" (like me). In return he was impressed with her musical style.

He was from Winston-Salem, NC, reared in a religious and musical family, his dad being a Baptist minister and very stern. On the other hand, OUR dad was also very stern and strict, and a gospel music singer/song leader. We had a gospel trio, as I mentioned in my THE TIME I MET ELVIS article, and had just finished our 3-year-long TV show. So my sister got the bright idea to get our folks to invite this young man to come live with us for a school year so he could continue to study gospel piano from her, and he could sing/play/travel with our southern gospel-singing group each weekend and just be "part of the family" for that school year. So the parents all talked and they agreed, and he came to Louisiana on a Trailways bus to spend the next 10 months!!

It was a great year, and that "kid" WAS talented!!!!!!!!! He was just another brother to me, but I got real popular with "all the girls" wanting to meet him everywhere we went...hahaha!!

As I said, the young man was 15 at the time but was shorter than I was at age 12 (I was tall for my age, though, I must admit), and I thought my sister was kidding me the night I met him, thinking he was my age or younger, but he WAS truly 15 and went through 10th grade at our local high school. (He got "most talented" that year, by the way!) And as I said, he was very popular everywhere he went, and the girls were crazy about him. And to me, he was just another brother to deal with. (I was the 'baby' in my family and was used to lots of attention. All of a sudden I had to "share the spotlight"...haha!)

That was a remarkable year when he lived with us, and sitting around the house, I would watch him play the piano and critique his style and learned many little piano "licks" and "tricks" that to this day I still rely upon. He showed me how to do the Floyd Cramer "slipped finger" and some other little "incidental" things about how he would "roll" his right hand cords "backwards" (from right to left) when playing a full lead-harmony cord with that hand. (I'd have to show you to explain it...but just trust me, it gives it a fuller sound than the traditional way most "ear" pianists do it.) He was a great kid, and we used to joke around a lot and had a fun year when he lived with our family. (That was when the BEVERLY HILLBILLIES were at their "peak" and we'd all sit in front of our old black and white TV and laugh together at that show. And he and my brother and I used to dig some holes in the front area of our huge yard and play "golf" with crocket rackets/balls (he would be "Sam Sneed" and I'd kid him about "making up" such a "funny name"... haha!!)

Well, at the end of the school year, it was time for another Stamps Music School in Dallas come June, so it was time to bid him farewell, for after the music school the young man would return to N. Carolina to see his family and move on to play music for another gospel quartet closer to his home region. But his year in Louisiana was only the BEGINNING of his musical "career" as such, and to this day he gives credit to his time with my sister and our family and the "Robinettes" as being what helped give him his "start." For in time to come, this young man went on to play music for some of his favorite gospel groups, which included the Stamps Quartet, the Blackwood Brothers Quartet (his "dream"!), and the Oak Ridge Quartet while they were still gospel. But from there he went on to play piano for Tanya Tucker, which he left that job he told me, to take a job playing for ELVIS, which he was Elvis' pianist for the last year and a half of Elvis' life. Talk about a BIG BREAK!!!

He has had quite an extensive career in the music field. He worked for RCA Records, which at that time he was the one who "discovered" the group Alabama a week prior to moving on to MCA Records, where he was appointed Senior Vice President and head of R&R. However, in due time he became President of MCA,/DECCA (Nashville) only to currently be heading/starting his own recording company with Tim DuBois, called UNIVERSAL SOUTH. He has produced many greats in country music, including Reba McEntire, Vince Gil, Marty Stuart, George Strait, and the list goes on and on.

It is always great to see and talk with him whenever I'm in Nashville, and I've seen his last three most recent homes and of course visited him in two of his MCA offices. We lost touch for about 20 years, so it was like a big "reunion" when we got back in contact about 12 years ago. He was even caring and kind enough to surprise us and fly down for my son's wedding several years ago!

One of my very favorite mementos which he gave me is a photo which he took from his own collection of him in the studio with Vince Gil and Patty Loveless during the recording of WHEN YOU CALL MY NAME, one of my all-time country favorites!! But one of my daughter's favorite mementos is a plaque, which he had been presented from when Reba's RUMOR HAS IT album went Platinum.

By the way, in case you have not figured it out for yourself yet, his name is Tony Brown. GQ Magazine called him "The Biggest Cat in Nashville" in a special article about him in the mid 90's, where the cover story photo was of Tony and his Harley. Yes, he's a rather impressive fellow in the music industry, but in my heart, he is "the same ol' Tony" - fun, witty, talented, and "crazy" as ever.

Photo of Tony in Louisiana, August, 1960

In a visit in '92, he described to me and my daughter Erin what it was like to play music and travel with Elvis. He told us about finding out about Elvis' death after arriving at the airport that day. He told us how he kept thinking all during the time he played for Elvis how he ought to get someone to take a snapshot of them together, but he kept putting it off. Then, as he said, Elvis died, and it was "no more" chance for that!! Luckily, after Elvis' death, fans of Elvis started sending Tony video and snapshots, including some photos which he had framed in his office at MCA from the last performance with Elvis.

So now you know... that's my "other" Elvis connection. And by the way, the Elvis photo just above this story is from a concert photo I found online, shot in 1976 or '77, when Tony was his pianist. And the color photo below was taken at MCA by Tony's assistant when Erin and I visited him in 1997.

NOTE: Please click on the photo link under each Elvis photo above to visit the sites from which they came. The original of the second Elvis photo was in color, and I did a graphic edit to help the photo blend in with the nostalgia of this page.

Erin, Tony, and Rita visiting at MCA Records in Nashville, 1997

To view original story of "THE TIME I MET ELVIS," please visit THE MUSIC LADY stories at Blessings for Life

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