Legendary Memphis deejay George Klein salutes Elvis every Friday on SiriusXM
On Friday afternoons from 2 to 6 p.m. CST “Elvis time” on SiriusXM satellite radio, the Memphis legend that was George Klein spun, interviewed, and talked all things Elvis Presley. Last in the studio on January 5, 2018, deteriorating health necessitated Klein’s on-air withdrawal until his death 13 months later at age 83 from dementia and broken hip complications. The encyclopedic rock ’n’ roll purveyor broadcasted for an astonishing 64 years, virtually witnessing up close the dawn of the musical genre he favored.
Close friends since the eighth grade, the two pals were only 13 when they met, yet that friendship lasted for 29 years until Presley’s terrible descent into prescription medication misuse. To illustrate their indelible bond, Klein witnessed Presley performing “Cold, Cold Icy Fingers” with a broken down acoustic guitar during a talent show at Humes High School.
The rapid fire deejay aided Presley in a diminutive iteration of the Memphis Mafia and performed bit roles in Jailhouse Rock, Viva Las Vegas, and six other films. He was present during the sessions for Elvis’s Christmas Album, now closing in on 10 million units sold. During an innovative sequence in the Golden Globe-winning documentary Elvis on Tour, he introduces “Suspicious Minds.”
And when Presley 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 Beaulieu Presley and only child Lisa Marie Presley to accept the award on the humble superstar’s behalf. Klein’s outstanding speech that evening had the crowd roaring with applause.
Here’s a rundown of a typical commercial free SiriusXM Elvis show starring Klein straight from the archive. He samples Presley records with his longtime producer, the affable Big Jim Sykes. After a few tunes fill the time, the deejay tackles emailed questions from fans and discusses Presley 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 Presley, but they never stray too far from his influence. Interviews are improvised, off-the-cuff, and generally fascinating, especially when they feature Presley’s friends and band members. Fortunately, Klein gives these artists a forum to share their memories, because folks who truly knew Presley are slowly dwindling due to the passage of time.
One notable artist who has visited Klein in person at the recently renovated, much more expansive studio situated across Elvis Presley Boulevard in direct view of Graceland is T.G. Sheppard, a 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 Presley. When debut single 45 “Devil in the Bottle” shot to the top of the charts in 1974, Presley had no idea it was actually Sheppard. Presley 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 Presley and scores of other artists, including Rick Nelson, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash.
During one enlightening interview, Walker remembered the time celebrated guitarist Jerry Reed played on a Presley session in September 1967. “Jerry sat down close to the door that went into the control room,” confirmed Walker. “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.”
Another memorable interview subject was the late John Wilkinson, Presley’s rhythm guitarist in the TCB Band from 1969 to 1977 [late era live versions of “Early Morning Rain” reveal his gentle finger picking]. Wilkinson spoke about his first meeting with Presley in 1956 in Springfield, Missouri, when he was only 11 years old.
In fact, during that encounter the guitarist told Presley 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 Presley finally agreeing that Wilkinson was correct in his assessment.
When a crowd of screaming, rapidly approaching girls signaled their time together was over, Presley left Wilkinson with these parting words: “Someday, we’re gonna meet again.” Although it took another decade, this indeed occurred.
Klein achieved a major milestone with Donald “Duck” Dunn’s final interview. The founding bassist for Booker T. and the M.G.’s., Dunn passed away nine days after chatting with Klein while on tour in Tokyo, Japan. The bassist extraordinaire also recorded with Presley at the funky, if decidedly uneven July 1973 sessions at Stax Studios in Memphis.
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.”
It is moments like these that clearly illustrate why Klein remains a unique and treasured figure within the broadcast world. His love and respect for Presley are undiminished. The deejay has never spoken an ill word about his friend. The “Geeker’s in Your Speaker” was finally convinced in 2010 to unleash his memoir, entitled Elvis: My Best Man: Radio Days, Rock ’N’ Roll Nights, and My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley.
Until January 2018, Klein also presided over a local television program called George Klein’s Memphis Sounds, an intimate 30-minute dose of conversations with leading music industry icons. Clips are available on YouTube, including interviews with Presley’s band mates Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, along with archetypal Memphis Mafia member Red West.
When he signs off the air, the deejay utters the immortal line: “The sun never sets on a legend…always a TCB on the Lisa Marie. These United States of America has had 45 presidents, but only one King, and here he is to sing…”
If you want to listen to a true Presley friend, 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 Presley’s best long players from 1961, there’s something for everybody on The GK Show via Sirius/XM Elvis Radio.
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Further Reading: Johnny Carson, the undisputed King of Late Night, admired the King of Rock ’N’ Roll, colliding backstage after an August 1969 showstopping performance by Presley 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 Presley’s protruding waistline, erratic behavior, and enforced isolation. Presley 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 Presley 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.
Exclusive Interview: Marshall Terrill has written three captivating Elvis Presley tomes with close friends and a ravishing former flame of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. Terrill readily admits, “I’ve always tried to approach the Elvis story from an outsider’s perspective with a lot of common sense and no excuses. Many people in the Elvis world come to the subject matter with their minds made up, lines drawn in the sand, and have pegged everyone as either a hero or villain.” In “Gauging Elvis Presley’s Shakespearean Destiny from an Outsider’s Perspective,” the celebrity biographer scrutinizes how Elvis’ inspired performances often hinged on his level of instrumental commitment, why the artist didn’t compose more material, how lifestyle choices gradually diminished his recording career, the often pointless Elvis vs. Beatles debate, and the shocking degree of entanglement degenerate gambler Colonel Tom Parker became mired in with the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel to his client’s detriment.
Exclusive Interview No. 2: Blind pianist Ronnie Milsap, who ruled country radio during the late ’70s and ’80s with soul-influenced jewels ranging from “Any Day Now” to “Stranger in My House”, had a bona fide boyhood idol in the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. In “More Thunder on the Piano…”, Milsap offers juicy anecdotes about playing keyboards and singing harmony with Elvis Presley 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: Son, it was a long time coming for Jerry Reed. The three-time Grammy winner and comically antagonistic Coach Beaulieu in Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy is the newest member of the illustrious Country Music Hall of Fame, nigh on 10 years after his untimely passing from emphysema complications. Learning rudimentary chords at age seven on a beaten up, second hand acoustic guitar purchased by his perpetually cash-strapped cotton mill working mother, Reed was a failed rockabilly singer, Specialist 4 U.S. Army veteran, Nashville songwriter, devoted Chet Atkins apprentice, and brief Elvis Presley session guitarist before he finally landed his first Top 20 single, the tongue-in-cheek Presley homage “Tupelo Mississippi Flash.” Founding Exile keyboardist Marlon Hargis, who played in Reed’s road band in the late ’80s, grants a comprehensive interview exploring the eclectic artistry of the phenomenal six string slinger fondly remembered as the consummate “Guitar Man.” It’s available right now.
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