Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

Away the King and I

Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

Away the King and I

Article excerpt

IT may seem far-fetched, but Elvis fans insist it's a true story. His mother Gladys takes him into their local general store to choose his 11th birthday present. Elvis wants a gun, but his mother points to a guitar hanging on the wall behind the counter.

"You can't have a gun, but how about that guitar?" she asks him. Young Elvis replies: "That's all right, momma."

Eight years later, Elvis cuts his first single record at Sun Studios in nearby Memphis, Tennessee.

And the song he chose to cover? Yes, it was That's All Right (Mama), penned by Arthur Crudup.

And if you pop into Tupelo Hardware Store in Elvis's hometown, Miss Connie Tullis, behind the counter, will tell you the tale and point to the guitar hanging in the very spot where the Presley first saw it. It's just one of the great stories you will hear as you follow the Elvis Trail in Memphis and Tupelo.

It's a fascinating journey which resonates all the more this year, with the 40th anniversary of Elvis's death coming up on August 16.

He died at the tender age of 42, but the interest in him is still massive. Graceland, his Memphis home as an adult, is a magnet for fans, tourists and anyone curious to delve into the phenomenon that shook the music world back in the 1950s and 60s, and is still influential and intriguing today.

When Graceland - the palatial home he bought for $103,500 in 1957 - was first opened to the public back in 1982, they expected visitors would come for the next three years. Yet today, more than 600,000 still visit every year.

This year, they're expecting an extra 100,000, with a peak during Elvis Week, which focuses on the date of his passing. To accommodate them, Graceland has built a new four-star hotel, the Guest House at Graceland, adjacent to the hallowed main residence. Its Southern colonial style is in-keeping with the main property, with a touch of Vegas glam, too. Elvis's wife, Priscilla, has played a part in the design, and their daughter Lisa Marie keeps her hand in.

The £92 million, 450-room hotel - complete with theatre and cinema - is a quantum leap away from the original Heartbreak Hotel, now due for demolition as part of the massive Elvis Presley's Memphis project.

There are two 'fast casual-style' eating places, named after Elvis's parents in the form of Gladys's Diner and Vernon's Smokehouse, both offering food with a 1950s feel. You can even indulge in a peanut butter and banana toasted sandwich, which was one of Elvis's favourites.

In the theatre, a scene-setting film gives you the story of Elvis from kid to the King of Rock 'n' Roll. Plans are in hand to link up and landscape the surrounding area, and to incorporate Elvis's two parked-up private aeroplanes into an airport setting, to enhance the overall experience.

After all this, it's on to Graceland itself, the 'shrine' that thousands of tourists so desperately want to see. …

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