Chief of Security for Elvis
Music Industry Entrepreneur
January 5, 2022
In the entire history of the 20th century there are a few names that are instantly recognized by most people regardless of race, creeds, religions, backgrounds and ages in America.
Among them are:
Martin Luther King Junior
John F. Kennedy
And a man who needs only one name, but has three: Elvis Aaron Presley
With the new Baz Luhrman film "Elvis" hitting theaters, the story of that man is once again front and center in the news, and public consciousness. While the film plays fast and loose with several key facts as most Hollywood features do, it does a uniquely good job of illustrating the cultural and developmental factors that accompanied his meteoric rise to fame, and how that magnificent melange of musical influences ranging from Hillbilly, to Country and Western, and especially Blues and Gospel, impacted his personal style, musical creativity, and ultimately his artistic sensibilities and ultimate performance genius. The film also dissects the financial and career abuse he suffered at the hands of his manager the masterful con man "Colonel" Tom Parker. What isn't, and can't be properly displayed in a film is the humanity and true reality of who Elvis Presley was as a real person.
To the lay person he is a disembodied voice talking about Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dogs, and being All Shook Up. To others, his die hard fans in particular, he is a lifelong companion and icon of nearly religious stature. Still others have bought in to a revisionist history of the man that includes ludicrous notions that he improperly culturally appropriated his success, lacked talent, and other absurd accusations. While those allegations are utterly ridiculous, they have sadly become part of the story.
While many know the name, and and some know the stories, few knew the actual man. One person who did know him very well is Sam Thompson. Sam started his career as a Memphis police officer, and when his beauty queen sister came in to Elvis’s view and ultimately dated him, Sam was drawn in to the inner circle - the vaunted Memphis Mafia. Along with the others, he became a key man in Elvis’s life, and ultimately the key man, as his personal bodyguard and Security Chief.
This job was more than just a job though. Sam would become caretaker for Elvis’s family, his trusted confidante, and ultimately a close friend. Sam knew Elvis Presley in a way few did, or could. As a result he had a front row seat for the wild circus that was Elvis’s public and private life, as well as the regular day to day mundane regularity of daily living. In short, Sam was Elvis genuine friend. He truly know him as so few did.
Sam joins Fish in the Aquarium for a truly special show discussing the controversies and the drama of Elvis’s life, as well as the legacy. We at “Fish and the Flint Chronicles” maintain that Elvis was a ground-breaking artist. Far from cultural misappropriation, Elvis integrated the Gospel and Blues themes he devoutly loved growing up in the south in to a Rock-a-Billy/Country and Western vibe. That mixture caught the wave of a completely new form of music coined "Rock and Roll" and it changed the course of music history completely. The big acts to follow would all name Elvis as a key influence, especially the one group that would equal his fame- The Beatles.
Elvis came by his musical passions organically. He would regularly attend church services in black churches. He loved the people, the message, and especially the music. He loved the freedom of expression, dress, and the beautiful way the culture expressed their faith. For this love he was ostracized and often beaten and bullied in the heavily Jim Crow south by whites who didn’t share his pre-civil rights era sensibilities.
Later, as Sam describes, Elvis took a stand in Las Vegas when Cissy Houston (Whitney Houston’s mother) and his all black backup band, The Sweet Emotions, were denied accommodations based solely on their race. That move changed the Jim Crow racial rules of Vegas for the big acts that came in, building on a movement that had already started with Frank Sinatra, and quickly bled over to impact all black visitors to Vegas and destroying the racist accommodation rules completely.
Sam was there at Elvis' home Graceland on the day Elvis died. He speaks candidly of Elvis' ongoing and worsening drug addiction, his personal challenges, and deleterious financial and family issues. Sam tells the tale of how he and his partner, Dick Grob, (another friend of Fish’s, may he RIP) had to stand vigil over Elvis’s body with twin shotguns, to thwart the very real and twisted attempts to steal the corpse from the casket.
Flint and Genesee County have a rich connection to the music of the south in general, and Elvis, in particular. Owing to the massive influence of the auto factories and General Motors, many thousands of southerners migrated to Flint. That led to Flint being called the “Nashville of the North” at one point (listen to the David Norris interview at FlintChronicles.com), the Delta Blues being brought to The Vehicle City in many forms, but most notably perhaps by the world class bluesman Dr. Ross, and the many musicians who made up so much of the music that would come to dominate the airwaves in later years.
Sam Thompson is a true American historian. He not only has an interest in the events that shaped our collective futures, he actually personally lived a generous portion of it front and center on the world stage. His personal story is incredible on its own merit, and when he tells it, he tells it well. If you love Elvis, music, or just a really good story, well told, then you are going to love this show and Sam Thompsons fantastic visit to The Bricks of Saginaw Street, and the Aquarium of Fish and the Flint Chronicles!