They’re having another big party for “the king” Monday down in his hometown of Memphis, a city determined to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s recording of “That’s All Right” by declaring itself — use your deep disc jockey voice here — the “official birthplace of rock and roll.”
Don’t laugh. Memphis has been locked in a municipal Death Cage Match with Cleveland for years over this distinction.
Cleveland, as viewers of “The Drew Carey Show” well know, rocks. For some time now, the city has claimed, politely, of course, that it’s Ohio — that rock ‘n’ roll was born, right there on the just-thawed banks of Lake Erie, when legendary disc jockey Alan Freed hosted the first Moon Dog Coronation Ball on March 12, 1952 — cited by some rock historians as the first rock concert.
Well, you can see why Memphis ended up winning this thing. Cleveland has the museum and a wacky disc jockey and rumors about a rocking good party back in 1952. Memphis has Elvis, thank yew verrry much.
If you really want to get hung up on the fact that Elvis didn’t hit the charts until a couple of years after Mr. Freed’s party, Memphis will pull out “Rocket 88,” a 1951 hit penned by Ike Turner (and recorded under the name Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats) — often called the first rock ‘n’ roll hit.
That record was produced by Sam Phillips, the man who started Sun Studios in Memphis and, in addition to Ike and Elvis, gave us Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. You can’t throw a rock in Memphis, folks, without hitting someone who played on a gold record.
But really, if you have Elvis, isn’t the rest of it just piling on?
With all due apologies to Mr. Freed, and to Chuck Berry and the juke joints of East St. Louis, and Buddy Holly and the Texas Panhandle roadhouses, and Fats Domino down in New Orleans and all the Chess men up in Chicago, it’s not even close.
One of the things you have to love about Memphis: Elvis never left. He could have, obviously. He could have, say, moved to Chappaqua and run for the Senate. He didn’t. Stayed in Graceland. Worked on his martial arts. Dated Cybill Shepherd. There’s something special about the River City, and we’re not just talking about the barbecue smells down on Beale Street.
Memphis is giving the world a chance — whether the world wants it or not — to appreciate its rock ‘n’ roll bona fides at noon Monday, when Justin Timberlake and original Elvis sideman Scotty Moore are joined by… Isaac Hayes? And Sam the Sham? Hmmm…
Anyway, this supergroup will play its own global satellite broadcast version of “That’s All Right” at noon, and at the same time, radio stations around the world are supposed to be playing the Elvis version, setting some sort of Guinness Book of Records deal for, well, playing the same song at the same time, I guess.
I hope they made some calls on this thing because, honestly, I think some of the stations are going to have a hard time finding their copies of “That’s All Right.” The guy at the station I call keeps telling me they don’t even have a copy any more of “Islands in the Stream,” and that’s only, what, 20 years old? “That’s All Right” is 50. So, good luck, guys.
No word yet on whether Mr. Timberlake, who was born in Memphis about four years after Elvis’ last peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich, is planning to rip open Mr. Moore’s Nudie suit during the guitar solo.