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 story....music 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.
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.