Monday, August 15, 2011



By Doc Lawrence

The Reverend Howard Finster, the famous folk artist, told me on his porch one day that, yes, Elvis was dead, but “his soul isn’t rested.” Elaborating, the country preacher who gained enough fame to do album covers for R.E.M. and appear on The Tonight Show said that Elvis died before he completed God’s mission.

I have one of Finster’s paintings of the King-he did many- called “Winged Elvis.” Signed and dated July 2, 1982, it depicts a young farm boy with a straw hat in coveralls. Inscribed near the left knee is this: “Elvis at age 3, was an angel to me.” The painting goes with me everywhere. It brings a peace that I am unable to describe. But, I trusted and loved Reverend Finster and know he saw things that eluded the rest of us.

As a young kid growing up in Atlanta, I saw Elvis twice. I even met him in a hotel lobby and he was very approachable. He was talking to a beautiful girl but greeted me when I said hello and took a moment to chat. We laughed and for a couple of minutes, we were almost friends A few hours later, he took the stage across the street in Atlanta’s Fabulous Fox Theater, and everything in my life forever changed. For the better.

I was no longer just another Southern kid. I was an amalgamation of accents, rhythms, harmonies, races, styles, languages, woes, defeats and victories, love and despair that added up to an identity. The young man on the stage sang, and I sang. He laughed and made me laugh. He moved like no man ever did before and he sang songs that made me and those two thousand girls in the theater feel good.

Soon, I bought a Martin guitar with cash from my Atlanta Journal paper route, learned a few chord progressions and begin playing and singing along with records my mother brought home from work that had SUN on the label. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins. Local stations quickly banned “Baby Let’s Play House,” but you heard it loud in my house every day.

Off to college in Florida. I discovered that many classmates had similar experiences and soon a decent band was formed. We rocked the fraternity and sorority houses of the Deep South, played in honk-tonks in places like Thomasville, Albany, Douglas, Gainesville, Port St. Joe, Bainbridge and wherever we could make a buck. Even some officer’s clubs on military bases.

Graduation, marriage, and Vietnam ended the band and best era of my baby days.

Long ago, on August 16, the mother who brought home all those records, called me and said Elvis had died. I turned the radio on and heard “How Great Thou Art,” by Elvis and the Jordanairres, confirming the tragedy.

There’s still a little of Elvis in me, the part that laughs, cries, accepts, creates and when riled, can be defiant. It’s also that important part that says “thank you” to helpful strangers. I remember Elvis much like a song I heard after his death:

No one sings a love song like you do,
No body else can make me sing along.
No one else can make me feel
That things are right,
When I know they’re wrong.
No body sings a love song quite like you.

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