Velvis is IN the Building
“Defending himself against his critics, (author)Albert Goldman told an interviewer: "People were scandalized by my use of humor and ridicule in (the Elvis biography). Elvis was someone they were accustomed to taking in a very sentimental way. But I feel he was a figure of the most bizarre and grotesque character. . . . “
After reading this account of Elvis, my view of him changed forever. Apparently Goldman began to dislike the Elvi God (Andy Kaufmann’s moniker) as the research grew and maybe he should have discontinued the work, but nevertheless, fact or fiction, I gobbled the juicy stories of excess up like crack candy. I began to share these stories with CR and Greg. One of us suggested that maybe we should go live with Velvis; an out of control, delusional, musical demi-god, kinda-sorta tribute to the excesses of The King. Think a coke fueled, pill poppin’ John Belushi gone Elvis and you have Velvis. The maniac in the suit? You guessed it.
We worked out the tunes, worked in some skits and booked (where else?) Le Cantina for New Year’s Eve.
The rented white Vegas style jumpsuit I stuffed with pillows for that extra bloated look, donned cheap black wig with sideburns that were like curly fries most of the time, scarves and the requisite dark glasses. The whole thing was a mess from top to bottom: precisely what we were going for.
Velvis was the second set, so I had to do the costume change in the horrid bathroom. The glamour of show business aside, I enlisted the help of a female friend to transform me into a hunka hunka bloated ballistic missile. I cannot tell you that amount of adrenaline that was pumping through me when I heard the opening for Also Sprach and then the drum fanfare for C. C. Rider. The band kicked into the tune and out a runnin’ I came. Karate choppin’, pill spillin’, maniac Velvis was in the building.
CC Rider went real quickly as all opening numbers do. I believe we moved into a slow number; the classic Can’t Help Falling in Love. We since this was Velvis, the lyrics got a small rewrite:
Well, I can’t help falling in love with ME. The “me” had a subtle sledgehammer accent.
I tortured that ballad with some really wobbly vibrato just for extra “mock” appeal and I know some people were getting it. However, there was one very drunk girl who kept heckling me. I don’t think she was trying to put the act down, she was just really feeling “happy.” Velvis was explaining why he had such an extended public absence with, “Ladies and gennlemen, I put on a little weight.” She yelled, “No shit!” At one point, I took off my sunglasses, looked at her, and then looked at the crowd, all the while smiling trying to indicate that this is parody, lady. She wasn’t getting it or too drunk to care, so back in Velvis character I yelled, “Back off, baby. The King is in the house.” Don’t fuck with the King. Even if it’s a cheap and bad parody.
One planned skit involved a lady coming up to get an autograph and Velvis, sensing a threat, began some spastic karate moves. The band yelled at Velvis, “Hey, she just wants an autograph. Chill out!” Velvis mumbled his apologies and gave the autograph while she stole his scarf.
The Cantina’s burgers were the original heart cloggers as they probably were equal to about five Whoppers. They was dino-huge. During the guitar solo of Jailhouse Rock, Velvis couldn’t wait and started seriously chomping on a mondo chee-burga. When Greg’s solo ran its burning course, I came back in with a verse with mouth stuffed full of food. If that didn’t send the message home, I swung it round and round al la Pete Townsend with burger flying off on music stand. After the song was over, Velvis eyed the aerial burger with some lust: “That burger sure look good. Thank-ya-very-much.” Ah, you just get quality entertainment like that anymore.
Velvis Does the Glass
We drug the Velvi God out one more time at the Empty Glass for Halloween. The Veebs did their “regular” Latino-rock-lounge first set and then I scurried out to the alley where a van was parked that served as a changing area. It was the same tired white jumpsuit stuffed with pillows, el cheapo horrible wig, etc. I remember telling Bwana Shawn, local DJ and all-star VB fan, that I didn’t want to do it. “Let’s go somewhere, seriously.” Repeatedly my offer of escape was refused and I was told the old adage of the show must go on. My mantra: Adrenaline and nerves, adrenaline and nerves. Nothing helped, not even drinking.
The band started with Also Sprach and then kicked into CC Rider. Velvis charged in with no less than three, count ‘em, body guards all looking like Secret Service. The King wasn’t havin’ no trouble tonight, honey chile.
The big gag was that Velvis, being so overweight and over medicated, would pass out in the middle of a song. All attempts to revive him would fail save one: a cheeseburger and fries. Sure enough, chee-burga munching did the trick and Velvis was back. Pills also would fall out of my pockets. Albert Goldman would have beamed.
I know musicians who would never in their lives ever, ever do anything as wild as we did and I fully understand why. Many might feel that their reputation might be permanently damaged or perhaps they would be seen as lesser musicians. Again, I respect this. The obvious attitude of not making a fool of oneself is a perfectly acceptable reason as well, but to all of that I want to say: in the end, what the hell does it matter? A local guitarist once told me I “had a lot of balls to play Volare.” Hmm. I never thought playing that tune required courage of any kind. Putting on a white jumpsuit and turning Elvi on his head, now that takes balls or a complete lack of concern. I was just having fun with no limits.
All the rules in the musician’s union we broke with glee. We had a cocktail blender on stage and gave it a "solo." I remember a musician coming up to us afterwards and said, “You guys blew my mind with the blender.” How else were we going to get our drinks? After all, it’s a long way to the stage.
What reputation we did develop was one that was fun, unpredictable and unique with our Latin influence. We won Graffiti’s Most Fun Band poll every year. Plus, our fans were growing. We became, without bragging, the hottest band in the small city of Charleston. That is not to say there weren’t better bands. I would not be so foolish, but we rivaled anyone in popularity. I’d say we hit the ceiling.
When you make an impact, you piss some people off. People get jealous. Case in point: Rarely did I ever go out and hang posters, but one time, after loading in at The Levee, I decided to duct tape some of them along Capitol Street. I went back to the Levee and grabbed CR to show him my work. In the short time I had merely walked around the corner, someone had ripped them all down. A mook stood outside of The Edge and I asked him point blank, “What did I ever do to you?” “I didn’t do it, man.” “Well, did you see who did?” “No.” That pissed me off, but in hindsight, what did that do or prove? It proved we were making waves. Of the smooth kind, of course.