Most music enthusiasts would empathise with Elvis through his music and his death. But ardent fans and wannabes would gladly connect to their late idol with his birthday. And day tomorrow Jan 8, America and the rest of the world will solemnly mark the 86th birthday of the late music icon and the man who was and still is called The King though Elvis himself, known for his humility, once said, “I’m not king; just a singer.”
Elvis Aaron Presley, in the humblest of circumstances, was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi on Jan 8, 1935. His twin brother Jesse Garon was still born, leaving Elvis to grow up as an only child. He and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1948 where Elvis graduated from Humes High School in 1953.
Elvis’ musical influences were the pop and country music of that time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequented and the black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager.
In 1954 young Elvis began his singing career with the legendary Sun Records label in Memphis. By 1956 he was an international sensation due to a sound and style that uniquely combined his diverse musical influences that challenged the racial and social barriers of that time, thereby ushering into a whole new era of American and later world music plus popular culture.
To a whole new generation of the mid-20th century, Elvis was not only a music icon but he set a new music culture and one that epitomised the rebellious nature of youth and their nonconformity to the fundaments and conventions of society.
Now it is Elvis Week in the USA and many of those who were once close with The King of Rock n Roll have been approached for comments by the local media there. Most of them said there was an aura and magnetism attached to the legendary star. When he entered a room, his presence would be immediately felt. Some also likened such phenomenon to another star and his peer the late Johnny Cash.
Elvis’ ex-wife Priscilla, with whom he remained close until his death, said Elvis was very kind and generous and would never hurt a soul. He used to give cash and gifts in kind to many people, including strangers who needed help — one was a case of a black woman who was given a brand-new Cadillac by him.
Here in Sarawak, we are not far left behind as in the mid-60s, there were contests held where the Elvis Presley of Sarawak title was up for grabs. Two of our fellow “The King’s Men” or simply kings’ men, now known as Elvis Tribute Artistes (ETAs), won the title. Wilfred Vincent Ragam, 71, won it twice, namely in1964 and 1965 while Eskandar Eyaw, 76, took the 1966 edition.
There was no more such state contest thereafter. The enthusiasm for his music was actively revived in 2002, especially when this writer was back from Brunei. A contest was held at a popular joint where Ges Barundang, better known as Elges won the Elvis of Kuching title. Yours truly only won Penang’s Mr. Curled Lips in 1978 but when performing with Indonesian diva Ernie Djohan for Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s birthday in 2000 in the Brunei capital the MC just randomly announced me as Elvis of Borneo. I thanked her for the “invention”.
Here in Kuching, from 2002 onwards local fans and ETAs started to gather at music outlets. Many gigs were held locally and a number of our local ETAs also performed in KL and in Kota Kinabalu. But sadly in 2010, one of Sarawak’s top EP acts Reynolds Gregory left the building for good in his Blue EP jumpsuit as he collapsed and breathed his last while performing for a high-profile event at a leading hotel in Kuching. Alex Ting the Miri Elvis also passed on a year later while Sibu Elvis John Sia was called home circa 2016.
In 2014 our Elvis Presley Fan Club Sarawak (EPFCS) was formed and registered under the Registrar of Societies. Wilfred was our inaugural president. Elges took over two years later. Tan Sri William Mawan Ikom is our advisor and has contributed substantially to our fund as other state politicians and a philanthropist did.
EPFCS lives on to continue the legacy of The King and shares his music and songs with EP enthusiasts and the community as a whole. When we meet, we would start with “Long Live The King” yell.