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Rock & Roll Rewind: When "The King of Rock & Roll" came to Freedom Hall

Elvis Presley performs onstage in his famed white jumpsuit.
RCA Records

c d kaplan is a Rock & Roll lifer. He’s got stories, lots of stories. Here’s one.

By the summer of ’76, it was long past due.

Seeing Elvis live in concert, that is.

The King of Rock & Roll had been through town any number of times, both early on and in the years after the Colonel realized he could pay off his gambling debts quicker pushing his money maker hither and yon on tour after tour. But I’d never gotten around to paying my respects.

I missed Elvis in ’56, when he played the Armory. At age 11, my allowance wouldn’t have covered admission. Besides, I was not going to get keys to the car. My folks bought me Elvis’s first RCA album as consolation.

One other Elvis moment from my youth. Happened the night in November ’56 he was on Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. I could hardly eat Sunday dinner from excitement. My dad checked if I’d done my arithmetic homework?

I lied.

When I couldn’t explain multiplication and division of fractions, I was banned to my room, forced to do all the problems in the chapter during EP’s first song on the show. I was released from purgatory for the rest of his performance that night.

One week in July ’76 I was all rocker all the time. Yes, even more so than usual.

Presley played Freedom Hall on Friday, July 23. But was proceeded at the same venue that same week by a couple of musical acts you might have heard of.

Elton John. His “Louder Than Concorde But Not Quite As Pretty” tour landed in town that Tuesday. Followed the next night by The Eagles. Which allowed me a day of rest before the most important of the trio of Es.

Knowing tickets would be available and cheap right before the show, I waited until then.

I paid about five bucks a piece for my date and me. Which seats were in the nose bleeds. So we moved closer and sat in an aisle.

Elvis was in full bloat by that time. Too many drug cocktails. Too many peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

But that voice, oh that voice. To the very very end, it could still make you shiver.

The set list, as usual, was suitably eclectic. Lots of covers, including songs of Ma Rainey, Olivia Newton-John, Tony Joe White and Dick Haymes' “Love Letters.”

Presley put it all out there in full force on the Al Jacob’s penned “Hurt,” also famously covered by Timi Yuro.

A live rendition from a few months later may give an idea of Elvis Presley’s towering talent to those not of my generation who may not understand.

Not getting into the whole Elvis explanation here, For a full take on Elvis Presley’s significant cultural impact, something you’d never know from last summer’s movie, read this extended piece written for LEO.

I’ll just say this. When you’re 12 years old, riding your bike home from school listening to the transistor radio you got for your birthday with its mono ear plug, and this voice blasts through, it was the Pied Piper to the Future.

You felt you could ride to Forever.

That I only heard Elvis live but once is my bad.

Observer of the Passing Scene: Pop Culture and Sports. Writer. Film Critic. Curmudgeon. Rock & Roll and Louisville Cardinal fan.

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