On Friday afternoons from 2 to 6 p.m. CST (aka Elvis time) on SiriusXM radio, the Memphis legend that is George Klein plays, interviews, and talks all things Elvis Presley. The talented GK has been in the broadcast field since 1953, virtually since the dawn of rock and roll.
Close friends since the eighth grade, the two pals were only 13 when they met, yet that friendship lasted for 29 years until Elvis’s terrible demise. To illustrate their indelible bond, GK witnessed Elvis performing “Cold, Cold Icy Fingers” with his beat-up guitar during a talent show at Humes High School.
The legendary deejay aided Elvis and performed bit roles in Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas. He was present during the sessions for Elvis’ Christmas Album, now closing in on 10 million in sales. During a cool sequence in the Golden Globe-winning documentary Elvis on Tour, he introduces “Suspicious Minds.”
And when Elvis was chosen to be among the inaugural class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, “DJ-uh-GK” was asked by Priscilla and Lisa Marie to accept the award on Elvis’ behalf. GK’s outstanding speech that evening had the crowd roaring with applause.
If you tune into his Elvis Sirius/XM show [no commercials on satellite radio], GK spins Elvis records with his longtime producer, the affable Big Jim Sykes. After a few records, the deejay answers email questions from fans and discusses current Elvis news. During each hour, at least one interview is conducted, either live in the studio or over the phone.
Conversations on The GK Show are not strictly limited to Elvis, but they never stray too far from his influence. Interviews are improvised, off-the-cuff, and always interesting, especially when they feature Elvis’ friends and band members. Fortunately, GK gives these artists a forum to share their memories, because folks who truly knew Elvis are slowly dwindling due to the passage of time.
One notable artist who has visited GK in person (the studio is directly across from Graceland on Elvis Presley Boulevard) is T.G. Sheppard, a popular country music hit-maker during the late ’70s and ’80s.
Born Bill Browder, Sheppard began his career as a promo man for RCA Records and befriended Elvis. When his first single, “Devil in the Bottle,” went to the top of the charts in 1974, Elvis had no idea it was actually Sheppard. Elvis ultimately gave him a specialized touring bus as a token of their friendship.
A frequent caller is bass singer Ray Walker of the Jordanaires. The Country Music Hall of Fame vocal group backed Elvis and scores of other artists, including Rick Nelson, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash.
During one enlightening interview, Mr. Walker remembered the time celebrated guitarist Jerry Reed played on an Elvis session in September 1967: “Jerry sat down close to the door that went into the control room, and Elvis said, ‘Just do those licks for me like you did on your original version.’
So Jerry started the intro. Well, he flubbed it. So, he looked up at Elvis, then he started playing again, and he made a mistake. Then he looked up at Elvis one more time, and he started playing again and made another mistake.
Jerry finally looked up at Elvis and said, ‘God, you’re handsome!’ [laughs]. Jerry was so flustered that he couldn’t play his own song, and it tickled Elvis to death that he was that nervous, because Elvis was nervous that he was there, too” [Note: more humorous stories from Mr. Walker are available here].
Another memorable interview subject was the late John Wilkinson, Elvis’ rhythm guitarist in the TCB Band from 1969 to 1977 [listen to live versions of “Early Morning Rain” to appreciate his influential finger picking]. Wilkinson spoke about his first meeting with Elvis in 1956 in Springfield, Missouri, when he was only 11 years old.
In fact, during that encounter the guitarist told Elvis that the superstar “couldn’t play guitar worth a damn.” Apparently this bold statement impressed the King of Rock and Roll. He asked Wilkinson to jam on some traditional folk songs, with Elvis finally agreeing that Wilkinson was correct in his assessment.
When a crowd of screaming, rapidly approaching girls signaled their time together was over, Elvis left Wilkinson with these parting words: “Someday, we’re gonna meet again.” Although it took another decade, this indeed occurred.
GK achieved a major milestone with Donald “Duck” Dunn’s final interview. The longtime bassist for Booker T. and the M.G.’s., Dunn passed away nine days after chatting with GK while on tour in Tokyo, Japan. The bassist extraordinaire also recorded with Elvis at the soulful Stax Studios in Memphis in July 1973.
During his interview with the deejay, Dunn recalled a unique conversation with the King of Rock and Roll: “Elvis and I went into the Stax control room, and I was smoking a pipe. He said, ‘Hey Duck, I used to be a pipe smoker. I’ve got a pipe collection. If you ever come out to my house, I’ll give them to you.’ I wish I had taken him up on his offer. I’m sure his pipes were much more expensive than mine” [Note: the full interview is available here].
It is moments like these that illustrate why GK is such a unique and treasured figure within the broadcast world. His love and respect for Elvis are clearly evident. The deejay has never spoken an ill word about his friend, either.
The “Geeker’s in Your Speaker” was finally convinced in 2010 to release his memoir, entitled Elvis: My Best Man: Radio Days, Rock ‘N’ Roll Nights, and My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley.
GK also hosts a local television show called George Klein’s Memphis Sounds, a 30-minute show specializing in interviews with leading music industry icons, both past and present. Clips are available on YouTube, including interviews with Elvis’ band mates Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana, along with friend Red West.
When he signs off the air, the deejay utters his immortal line: “The sun never sets on a legend…always a TCB on the Lisa Marie. These United States of America has had 44 presidents, but only one King, and here he is to sing…”
If you want to listen to a true friend of Elvis’, give The GK Show a quick listen. Whether spinning records, interviewing an excited guest, answering fan email, or discussing his friend’s legacy, you won’t be disappointed. To borrow the title of one of Elvis’ best long players from 1961, there’s something for everybody on The GK Show via Sirius/XM Elvis Radio.
- DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! Johnny Carson, the undisputed King of Late Night, admired the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll, finally colliding backstage after an August 1969 showstopping performance by Elvis at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. Years later as the seductive singer’s 40th birthday drew nigh, the tabloids were having a field day making tasteless accusations of Elvis’ protruding waistline, erratic behavior, and enforced isolation. Elvis was upstairs at Graceland watching The Tonight Show when Carson told an otherwise benign joke that gravely damaged the artist’s fragile ego. As reported by members of the Memphis Mafia in major publications after the fact, Carson supposedly said that Elvis was “fat and forty.” Newly unearthed evidence in “What Johnny Carson Really Said About Elvis Presley on ‘The Tonight Show'” proves that the accusation was completely unfounded.
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Exclusive Interview: The Master of Telecaster, James Burton, is a charter member of L.A. studio wizards the Wrecking Crew and has supported a who’s who list of preeminent movers and shakers in a nearly 60-year career – notably Elvis Presley, John Denver, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Merle Haggard, and recently Brad Paisley. Burton joined Rick Nelson in late 1957 for the classic “Stood Up” b/w “Waitin’ in School” driving rockabilly single, actually rooming with the Nelson family and ultimately forging an 11-year friendship with the handsome singer. To read a revealing in-depth feature with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer commemorating his fascinating journey with Nelson [“Six String Brothers: James Burton Champions the Timeless Allure of Rick Nelson”], simply click on the highlighted link.
Exclusive Interview No. 2: Did you know? Blind pianist Ronnie Milsap, who ruled country radio during the ’80s with jewels ranging from “Any Day Now” to “Stranger in My House”, had a bona fide boyhood idol in Elvis Presley. In “More Thunder on the Piano…”, Milsap offers juicy anecdotes about playing keyboards and singing harmony with Elvis on “Kentucky Rain” in the ghetto-ridden section of Memphis, playing two highly coveted New Year’s Eve parties attended by a gun-loving, flashlight-toting Elvis, how he learned about the icon’s shocking death, and the dilapidated World War II-era plane that nearly cost him his life while en route to a record convention appearance.
Exclusive Interview No. 3: Jordanaire Ray Walker counted Elvis Presley as a close friend for two decades. In fact, the genial bassist’s debut recording session with the King of Rock and Roll yielded a million selling record – “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I.” He recently relived the experience of sitting front row center during an Elvis recording session. Later when the “Alabama Wild Man” himself, Jerry Reed, unexpectedly showed up to add some patented gut-string guitar to a few country rock numbers, the session got especially rambunctious. Visit the following article, “Bass Maestro Ray Walker Evokes Sizzling Nashville Nights with Elvis and Jerry Reed,” for the complete lowdown.
- Further Reading: Trailblazing Cleveland deejay Tommy Edwards was the first deejay in Cleveland to actively promote Elvis Presley. His bold efforts ultimately broke Elvis north of the Mason-Dixon Line, virtually a racial divider during the ’50s. The deejay also had a prominent role in the highly sought after but still lost concert film, The Pied Piper of Cleveland, which documented the first time Elvis was filmed by a professional camera. To read about the King of Rock and Roll’s meteoric rise to worldwide fame, why one prominent authority controversially believes “Mystery Train” was the singer’s last honest recording, and a surprising defense of the actor’s widely panned film, Tickle Me, check out “Recognizing the Incendiary Deejay Who Broke Elvis North of the Mason-Dixon Line.”
Further Reading No. 2: Like their alter egos, comedy duo Andy Griffith and Don Knotts were seemingly joined at the hip. Griffith played his role with supreme confidence, often acting the straight-man to Knotts’ outlandish antics. Lost for nearly 50 years, a video clip has recently been unearthed from a CBS variety special entitled The Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, and Jim Nabors Show. It features the actors in living color reprising Sheriff Andy Taylor and Barney Fife on a vast soundstage. Released in October 1965, mere months after Knotts controversially departed The Andy Griffith Show for a short-lived career on the big screen, the video proves that the actors were masters of comedic timing and relished performing together in front of a live audience. The comedy team later collaborated in a funny yet touching 1967 episode, “Barney Comes to Mayberry”, that landed Knotts his fifth and final Emmy. Both features are only a click away.
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