When Elvis Presley passed away on August 16, 1977, the music industry went into shock and then mourning. The King of Rock and Roll revolutionised music in the early 1950s and continued to pave the way for the artists that continued to crop up as the decades went on. Even the greatest of his fellow artists like Bob Dylan was one of those who claimed he owed Elvis everything while John Lennon paid him the ultimate tribute.
Dylan was apparently so hurt by Elvis’ sudden death that he went into shock, stopped speaking to people, and took a good look at his achievements thus far.
He said: “[I] went over my whole life. I went over my whole childhood. I didn’t talk to anyone for a week after Elvis died. If it wasn’t for Elvis and Hank Williams, I couldn’t be doing what I do today.”
It’s no surprise that Dylan was so affected by Elvis’ death. The King was just 42-years-old when he died of a cardiac arrest at his home, Graceland, in Memphis Tennessee. An eyewitness report said: “Elvis looked as if his entire body had completely frozen in a seated position while using the commode and then had fallen forward.”
However, Elvis’ death wasn’t a massive surprise to those closest to the King. The star had spent the previous years abusing prescription drugs and alcohol. He also lived off of cheeseburgers and had gained a substantial amount of weight. While he was making efforts to get his life back on track, the damage to his body was already done.
Dylan looked back on first hearing Elvis sing on the ten-year anniversary of the King’s death. He said in 1987: “When I first heard Elvis’ voice, I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss. He is the deity supreme of rock ‘n’ roll religion as it exists in today’s form. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.”
Throughout his career, Dylan emulated Elvis’ singing and performance techniques as he honed his own skills. Eventually, they crossed paths – but not how Dylan wanted.
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Dylan also gushed about Elvis and the work he did for the music industry. He said: “[Elvis] had the vision and talent to make a pop song so that it contained the whole world. He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording could achieve, and he changed the face of rock’n’roll forever and ever.”
The singer was not the only artist who adored Elvis. John Lennon of The Beatles famously based the band’s original look on how Elvis was seen in his early years. The Fab Four played gigs throughout Liverpool and in Germany in leather jackets and slicked-back black hair.
Years later, Lennon said of the King: “Without Elvis, there would be no Beatles.”
Lennon later said of hearing Elvis’ music for the first time: “When I first heard Heartbreak Hotel me whole life changed from then on, I was just completely shaken by it.” (sic)
He added: “I thought: ‘This is it.’ And I started trying to grow sideboards [sideburns] and all that gear.”
When The Beatles visited the USA, Lennon confessed Elvis was the “only person” he wanted to meet. They did, at Graceland, but it didn’t go to plan. Politically, the extremely conservative Elvis did not get on with the radically liberal Lennon. But once they whipped out their guitars and started jamming, Elvis and The Beatles bonded.