How Television Saved the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll
by Allen J. Wiener
(Author of The Beatles Ultimate Recording Guide co-author of David Crockett in Congress: The Rise and Fall of the Poor Man’s Friend, and Music of the Alamo)
In Time for Elvis Presley’s 80th Birthday Celebration, January 8, 2015!
Elvis Presley was a virtual unknown when, in 1956, he strutted his stuff in front of a national television audience for the very first time. By year’s end, following a dozen TV appearances, he was an international superstar. Over the next two decades, Elvis turned to TV whenever his career required a boost or a complete makeover. Channeling Elvis: How Television Saved the King of Rock 'n' Roll takes a close-up look at his 20-year career through the unique lens of television.
Based on more than a decade of research, dozens of fresh interviews, and careful review of hours of television and other footage, this book focuses on Elvis' TV career and the role it played in creating, sustaining, and reviving his unrivaled popularity. Only television captured the full arc of the King's career, from his initial steps on the national stage and highly anticipated return from the U.S. Army to his resurrection in the wake of some lame recordings and weak movies, renewed acclaim as a concert artist, and premature, self-inflicted 1977 exit. Television captured it all. And Elvis Presley's TV appearances also provided us with the most extensive visual record of this incredible man doing what he loved best: performing live.
Featuring the insights and observations of some of his closest associates, Channeling Elvis: How Television Saved the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll places us behind the camera as well as in front of the small screen to explore one of the most fascinating and revealing aspects of a legendary career.
Praise for Channeling Elvis:
“Allen Wiener puts a new charge into the story of Elvis and his rise, namely television. It's arguable that television had more to do with Elvis' meteoric streak to the top than radio. Channeling Elvis is something new under the Elvis sun.” -- Allen Barra, author of Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age
“Unlike the Hollywood-contrived plastic persona that characterized the vast majority of his big-screen appearances, the Elvis who turned American television on its head during the mid-’50s and used it for his rebirth in the late-’60s was the real performer in all of his lip-curling, pelvic-thrusting glory. Equally captivating was the sadder figure who faced the final curtain on his 1977 TV special, and it is thanks to Allen Wiener’s great insight and invaluable research that, at long last, Channeling Elvis investigates and illuminates these pivotal moments of a legendary career.” – Richard Buskin, author of Classic Tracks: The Real Stories Behind 68 Seminal Recordings
“Television made Elvis Presley in 1956. Twelve years later -- all too briefly -- it resurrected him. In Channeling Elvis, Allen Wiener illuminates a bittersweet American romance.” -- Bob Thompson, author of Born on a Mountaintop: On the Road with Davy Crockett and the Ghosts of the Wild Frontier.
“Channeling Elvis is the first book to exclusively focus on Presley’s television performances. Allen J. Wiener knows his way around icons, and ably makes the case that TV transformed the greatest recording artist of the early rock ‘n’ roll era into a unique cultural phenomenon. Even though Presley too often allowed others to control or shape his destiny, the Elvises that emerge in Wiener’s account always command the spotlight.” -- Paul Cool, former program director and disc jockey, KUSF Radio, San Francisco, and author of Salt Warriors: Insurgency on the Rio Grande.
ALLEN J. WIENER is the author of The Beatles: The Ultimate Recording Guide as well as co-author of David Crockett in Congress: The Rise and Fall of the Poor Man’s Friend—winner of the 2010 Independent Publisher Book Award for Best Regional Non-Fiction—and Music of the Alamo: From 19th Century Ballads to Big-Screen Soundtracks. He has also written for the Washington Post, People, the Nashville Tennessean, Musician, Goldmine, Discoveries American History, Western Clippings, the Alamo Review, the Alamo Journal, and the Crockett Chronicle, while providing the liner notes for several CDs. He lives in Maryland.
Absorbing New Look At Elvis's Career!, September 30, 2014
Tired of the endless stream of “tell-all” books about Elvis Presley? Bored with the many “revelations” from cronies, girlfriends, and hangers on? If so, you’ll find Allen J. Wiener’s “Channeling Elvis: How Television Saved the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” a welcome breath of fresh air. Even if you have read all of the major works on Presley, you will find much that is new and absorbing here.
The author presents the King’s remarkable twenty-year career through his many television appearances, an uncanny and ingenious means of capturing the full path of that career. It’s surprising that no one has hit on this idea before, given the tonnage of Presley pulp out there, because it is a thoroughly reliable way to evaluate Elvis’ professional course. He first appeared on television early in 1956 and, although he was already a rising star and had released his first records, most of America was still unfamiliar with him and nothing he had done stirred up national interest or alarm. Within a few months, television would do both and sharply alter Presley’s career while taming his uninhibited performing style that wowed live audiences throughout the South. When Elvis arrived on the scene television variety shows featured aging comics and singers from the days of vaudeville and It was among that unlikely company that he took his first steps on the national stage. He quickly displace them and the tired popular music of the day, largely due to the national sensation he created simply by appearing on television. After that, Elvis’s shrewd manager, Col. Tom Parker, targeted strategic points in the King’s career for television exposure. In the process, TV was able to catch Presley at crucial junctures and crossroads and preserve images of him that represent the stages of his career, high- and low-points alike, following him very nearly to the grave by capturing his deplorable physical condition only months before his death. The clashing portraits of him as a revolutionary, energetic performer in 1956 and a sad shadow of that in 1977 are, indeed, worth a thousand words.
Wiener has found a clever and informative way to capture Presley’s career and has relied largely on his own original interviews, which include many fascinating behind-the-scenes revelations, and the crucial performance footage that television preserved, as well as other moving images of the King on stage. He lends context to the television appearances with connecting chapters that fill in the details of Elvis’s life and career during the hiatuses between TV shows. It all comes together nicely and weaves an engaging account of the performing life of arguably the twentieth century’s greatest entertainer.
Review by John King on Amazon. Full review here.