Tuesday, December 07, 2021

December 07 - Review Searching For Elvis

Dutch author, journalist and music critic Godfried Nevels wrote the book ‘Op Zoek naar Elvis’ which can be translated as ‘Searching For Elvis’. Let’s see what he found.


The hard-cover book has a modern design with many relevant illustrations. As the book intertwines two storylines, the designer used a different format for the main story and for the intermissions, in which Dutch and international stars share what Elvis means to them. The designer separated the two storylines, but kept it together as a whole at the same time, nicely done. 

You can tell that Nevels is a professional writer who knows how to tell a story from A to Z. In his narrative, he takes you by the hand, illustrating the main story along the way with little add-ons. The book reads very easily, the only times I put it away was to check some of the information or statements made in the book. 


The title of the book may be a little misleading, as Nevels isn’t so much searching for Elvis, but searching for untold stories on Elvis, preferably from those who were there when it happened, and are still with us. Preserving Elvis’ history while these older witnesses are still around. And while doing so, perhaps find some new information. 

The main story-line of the book is Elvis’ life-story, as told by Nevels and illustrated with stories and pictures he collected through many the interviews with witnesses. Nevels follows the Elvis-timeline from his birth until his untimely death, including several observations from the later years. 

The second storyline, or should I say "inserts" or "illustrations", are the personal memories from various celebrities and stories behind Elvis tribute songs. These stories provide a fitting context as they illustrate the first storyline from different personal perspectives. As he didn’t want to / could pay for interviews, the perspectives from big names on his interview list, like Jerry Lee Lewis, couldn’t be included.

But that’s not a problem as the list of interviewees is long and varied enough to tell the story. Some of the people interviewed are Hal Lansky, George H. Booth III (grandson of the founder of the Tupelo Hardware Store), Ginger Alden, Charlie McCoy, Millie Perkins, Annett Wolf (co-producer ‘Elvis In Concert’), Donnie Sumner, Bill Medley, Loanne Parker (her last interview, 9 days before she passed away), Jason Scheff (yes, “son of”), Tito Jackson, Sandi Miller, Steve Binder, Bill Cunningham (son of Elvis’ first drummer Buddy Cunningham), Eugenia Sweeney (daughter of Jimmy Sweeny, singer of ‘Without You’), Cyril Wecht (forensic pathologist) and many more. An impressive list, with some names I hadn’t heard talking about Elvis, all offering another perspective on the Elvis Presley. 

Overall the book tells the story of the boy from Tupelo who grew from rags to riches and became the King of Rock and Roll. The Colonel, and how he ended up in America, gets a chapter too. Interesting to read the stories of the family and friends he left behind in The Netherlands.  

Thanks to the interviews several segments of the story have been deepened further. From a fan’s perspective that’s interesting. However, this also is a point of attention, certainly because the events occurred long ago, the witnesses have grown older, or the author has spoken with family or children of those who were actually there when it happened. 

Some memories aren’t 100% correct - I couldn’t fact-check them - while others have "sweetened through the ages just like wine". A few examples.

New for me was the fact that Elvis and Bill Black supposedly had met several times before Elvis auditioned with him and Scotty Moore at Moore’s house in 1954. These meetings apparently occurred at a local swimming-pool and a park called “The Triangle”, located near Lauderdale Courts according to Jim Cannon. 

I could not find anything on this in the new Bill Black biography by Paul Belard. When I contacted him to check this story, he had his doubts. Belard responded: “From all the reports from the first "Elvis auditioning” session at Scotty’s house, it is clear from Bill’s reaction he met Elvis for the first time. The author may confused Bill with his brother Johnny who was still living on Lauderdale courts with his parents at the time. By the way, Johnny also played the upright bass.” Peter Guralnick also mentions that Elvis knew Bill’s brother Johnny and that came up during a break in the audition. 

Also new to me was the story Wink Martindale shared that it was him who called Elvis’ parents when his first record was played on the Red, Hot and Blue radio show on WHBQ. Again, Peter Guralnick wrote something different, he said that Dewey Phillips phoned Elvis’ home trying to get him into the studio for an interview. 

Elvis Presley performing on the local Memphis TV show ‘The Rhodes Show’? And The Rhodes Sisters, doing backing vocals on the ‘Back In Memphis’ album several years later? Their names don’t show up in any documentation I had. 

Stories like these make me question the other parts of the book. 

Bill Medley, performing in the Lounge at the Las Vegas Hilton when Elvis played in the main Showroom, remembered that when Elvis had finished his show, he sometimes walked back to his room crossing the podium where Bill was performing at that moment, patting him on the back while passing by … another one I never heard before, although Medley tells it in his memoir too, so perhaps it is true ...

The meeting of Diane Goodman - Miss Georgia USA 1975 - with Elvis seems to be too bold to be true. A taxi-driver dropping her off at the Gates of Graceland at his own initiative. Diane chats with Vester Presley, working as a security guard, who spontaneously gives her a tour of the mansion while Elvis is asleep upstairs … and when one of the Memphis Mafia brings her back to her hotel, he supposedly asked her if she wanted to go to the movies with Elvis that night … Goodman does tell this story along the same lines but with a few other accents which make it a bit more real. Perhaps some elements got lost in translation.

It shows how times have changed, what would the press write if something like that happened today? 

More entertaining, and believable, are the stories and memories of de Dutch and international celebrities sharing what Elvis means to them. All stories are personal and that makes them interesting to read because you can relate to them. 

Most of the memories are from Dutch artist like Danny Vera, George Baker (singer of the classic 'Una Paloma Blanca'), Waylon, Leo Blokhuis and Barry Hay (singer the classic 'Radar Love'), logical as this is a Dutch book, but international names like Charlie Daniels, Tito Jackson and T.G. Sheppard.

Nevels recorded the stories as told, including all memories - very recognizable as a fan - and he left in all the errors, as that was how the interviewees remembered it. 


The book is an enthusiastic report on Nevels’ search for Elvis. He didn’t find Elvis, but wrote an easy to read book, added some new - and sometimes questionable - elements to the Elvis-timeline. 

The addition of the personal memories was entertaining and nice to read as Elvis doesn’t always get the credit that’s due. Reading the stories from both critical journalists and popular singers shows that our man did leave his mark, even with some of the more critical music journalists and presenters. Funny to see that these authorities don't always have their facts correct.

Nevels’ book made me pick-up some other books, trying to validate the stories and delving deeper into the Elvis Presley story, and that is always a good thing.

For more information visit the website of the publisher at >>> DATO / Lecturis.