Saturday, January 7, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

The Reverend Howard Finster, the revered folk artist, told me on his porch one day the 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.” Dated July 2, 1983, it depicts a young farm boy with a straw hat in coveralls. Inscribed on 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. Other acclaimed paintings of Elvis are by Red Grooms, Mark Stutzman and others.

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

I was no longer just another Southern kid. I was an amalgamation of accents, rhythms, races, styles, language, woes, victories, love and despair that added up to an identity. The guy on the stage sang, and I sang. He laughed and made me laugh as well. 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.

I bought a Martin guitar with cash from my 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. Off to college in Florida and discovered that many classmates had the same experience and soon a decent band was formed. We did the fraternity and sorority houses of the Deep South, 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.

Long ago, 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. His birthday is one of  bookened of a life that changed me.

There’s still part of Elvis in me, and it’s the good part that laughs, accepts, creates and when riled, can be defiant. I remember him much like a song I heard:

“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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