Over the years since his death in 1977, many books, big screen and television movies, and documentaries have been written and filmed about the legend that was Elvis Presley. Despite the fact that he's been dead for the last 30 years (although you'll still find some diehard fans and conspiracy theorists who don't believe that), Elvis has remained a high-profile figure.
Hardly a year passes without an Elvis sighting. His birthday, January 8, never passes without commentary in the news and on the street. And most people, not just fans, remember the date of his death - August 16, 1977. Add up those numbers, 8 plus 16 plus 1977, and you get 2001 which was also the name of the number Elvis used to close his concerts, "2001: A Space Odyssey." Channel 13 on Sirius radio champions itself as "all-Elvis all the time."
With all of the books and other materials available, not to mention the fan sites on the Internet, it wouldn't seem that another book of interest about Elvis would be possible. That's what I was thinking when I saw the title of Joe Moscheo's new book, THE GOSPEL SIDE OF ELVIS. Still, I was curious. However, once I started reading the book, I was pleasantly surprised.
But first a little background is necessary. Joe Moscheo was a member of the group of gospel singers called The Imperials. The group has been around since 1964 and has had several member changes since then. The Imperials still exist as a Southern gospel contemporary Christian venue.
Gospel music has roots in the church, primarily in the South, and is attributed to the African-American culture. Since its inception, the music has been divided between white and black singers. Even back in the 1950s, Elvis came under fire for listening to black music and bringing it into the rock and roll scene. While reading Moscheo's book, I discovered that Elvis's interest in that music was longer and deeper than I'd previously believed.
Looking back over Elvis's career, you can see that he's never been far from gospel music. This is one of the trends that Moscheo brings out in his narrative. In fact after Elvis's success on NBC in 1968 in a show that's come to be known as the '68 Comeback Special, Elvis got the opportunity to play the International Hotel in Las Vegas. Normally his backup band was the Jordanaires. They had been with him on the television show and had sung with him for a number of years. Unfortunately, due to success they'd been having, the group wasn't able to do the Vegas shows.
Elvis's next choice for backup singers was The Imperials. That was when Joe Moscheo really got to know Elvis Presley. From 1969 to 1971, the group performed with Elvis for ten weeks every year. They also attended the concerts after the concert up in Elvis's room every night. They became privy to lot of Elvis's private life.
Moscheo's book isn't a tell-all bash of the man who's heralded as the king of rock and roll. Nor does the author praise or defend Elvis. Rather, Moscheo presents a fairly even-handed picture of Elvis. He acknowledges Elvis's strengths and weaknesses, the things that made him great as well as the things that brought about his downfall.
I enjoyed reading the book a lot. I grew up in the Elvis era. My mom had been one of the girls who had fallen in love with his music back in the 1950s, then fell in love with him all over again in 1968 when he did the live television special. I'd watched that special and thought Elvis was cool. I still own it on DVD. I knew most of what Moscheo writes about in his book. There's no new material here. Nothing that hasn't already been written.
What makes this book so good is that while I read it, I felt like I was listening to Moscheo tell me his story in his own words. The book is written in first person and is chock full of anecdotes, memories, and interpretations that are uniquely the author's own. Moscheo only talks about those things that he had personal experience with. He makes a statement as much about himself and gospel music as he does about Elvis Presley.
THE GOSPEL SIDE OF ELVIS is thoroughly readable. I finished the book in a couple of sittings and was reluctant to be done with it. Moscheo's writing is diverting and consuming. I could tell that he had loved and respected the man behind the music and controversy. There are a lot of pictures of Elvis and The Imperials during their performances.
There may be other books that deal with much of material found between the covers of this one, but I doubt any of them explore the material in the same personal and entertaining way that Moscheo does. This book will undoubtedly be picked up by the fans as soon as it comes out. But I think it would be a good primer for those who want to learn about the Elvis phenomena that started in the 1950s and still lingers within this world.