Wednesday, October 05, 2022

October 05 - Review Destined To Fly

Last year Sally Hoedel debuted with the provoking and award-winning book ‘Destined To Die Young’. In this book she explored why Elvis Presley would not live a long life. Her second book has one of Elvis’ “sidemen” as the main subject: Ron Strauss, one of the lesser known pilots of the ‘Lisa Marie’. 

Is this a story, destined to be written?




The book has a stylish modern design. The pictures are well chosen, Ron Strauss in front of the Lisa Marie and Elvis boarding the pride of his Elvis Presley Airways. 

Inside the book holds the story of Ron Strauss in text and an occasional black and white picture, an 15-page photo section on glossy paper and 20 pages of documentation: the flight logs of the Lisa Marie and Strauss’ employment contract. New documentation we haven't seen before.


Sally Hoedel has a very pleasant writing style; she grabs the reader from page 1, relaying Ron’s story to the reader. The informative text clearly shows the author did her homework and the many quotes from her interviews with Ron Strauss and facts make the story very believable.




Where Sally’s first book dealt with Elvis, this second book doesn’t. Ron Strauss was a sideman in the Elvis organization from 1975 to 1977, but in this book Elvis takes that position. This isn’t a bad thing. Reading this book, the reader gets a good backstory on the United States from the late 40's to the late 70's. Up to 1975 Elvis pops-up every now and then, but from 1975 on he really joins Ron’s story. 

The story of Ron Strauss is typical for many Americans, including Elvis Presley. Growing up in the post-war era in rural Idaho, experiencing good and bad times with his family, the presence of the local Church, making ends meet and a father with severe health problems, formed the man, father and yes, the pilot Ron Strauss. Interesting to read are the numerous parallels in the lives of Ron and Elvis.

Like many people growing up in a small village, Strauss wanted to discover the world outside the city boundaries. Having flown over his hometown at a young age, he knew there was a bigger world out there. Being kicked out of high-school, the Airforce was his ticket out and allowed him to be around airplanes, even if he wasn't qualified (yet) to fly one of them. 

Through “stops” with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, working in post-war communist Berlin, Nicaragua and the U.S. his life’s journey brings him to the King of Rock and Roll. He would work as a co-pilot for Elvis from 1975 until Elvis died in 1977. During these two years Elvis played around 300 live shows across the United States. 


Reading the book, we get an inside look at the Elvis organization from a man standing at the side looking in. Ron and his collogues - spending a lot of time at various airports, ready to take off when Elvis felt like it - were professionals with the responsibility for Elvis’ planes and the passengers. 

Piloting and maintaining an airplane means following strict regulations. This is where he differs from the other “employees” of Elvis who were either family, childhood friends or army buddies. Most of them had “different” responsibilities besides hanging around and taking care of Elvis. 


A nice story illustrating the relation with his employer is Ron’s answer when Elvis asked him what he thought of him when he was first starting out (as they were about the same age). Ron answered “to be honest Elvis, I hated your ass”. Apparently Elvis was taken aback, but also pleasantly surprised by Ron’s explanation and candor. Ron chose his words more wisely and humorously when he answered Elvis’ next question how he thought of him now: “Well, now I think you’re the greatest of course”.  


Ron’s serious and amusing stories on the flights he piloted for Elvis add new content to the Elvis Presley timeline we know. Browsing through the flight-plans, retracing Elvis’ footsteps, may offer some new insights to future biographers and Elvis experts. 

It is also great to read how Hoedel puts some of the fables straight. For example the story of Elvis supposedly taking a trip with his airplane from Memphis to Denver “just to get a Fool's Gold sandwich”.

Somehow I never really understood why Elvis - with his fear of flying and getting airsick pretty easily - bought a big plane of his own. But the comfort and control it offered while on touring intensively in the later years made sense. The downside of this luxury was that he almost had to keep on touring, simply to pay the bills. Talking about being “caught in a trap”. 


Through this book we also learn that Elvis was a boss who knew what he wanted, used to get his way, a boss making bad choices like taking advice from Joe Esposito and Lamar Fike in the airplane acquisition process. But also a man who respected professionals telling him what (not) to do and a boss able to help out his employees. Like the time Elvis and Vernon pointed Strauss in the right way when he wanted to buy a house in Memphis or when he made sure Ron’s wife joined her husband when Elvis took his entourage to Hawaii. “No” wasn’t an option for Elvis when Ron objected. 




This is a book about Ron Strauss, it is his biography, with Elvis making an appearance in the years 1975 - 1977. But Hoedel did more than compiling a collection of  memories of “a man having worked for Elvis”. She wrote a real man’s tale, documenting the full life of a man following his ambition, often making the right choices when he arrived at an Y-fork on the path life set for you. 


At the same time it is a little history book. Being from a younger generation and not from the United States, this book offers an insight in growing up in post-war America, offering an inside view and social economic backdrop against which Elvis entered the scene.


Of course, there is little chance this book was “destined to be written” hadn't it been for Ron's two years flying for the King of Rock and Roll. But I’m glad their paths crossed and this book was written. 

Having just read ‘The Airplanes and The King’ by Carlos Varrenti, this interesting, entertaining and informative read is a perfect companion to that book as it adds new information - from a true professional - to our knowledge of Elvis Presley in general and "Elvis Presley Airlines in particular. 

The book is available from >>> Sally A Hoedel's website and Amazon.