August 16, 1977 is a date that millions around the world still remember. Every year at Graceland, thousands of Elvis fans gather at his graveside, placing flowers and mementos by his grave as a thank you to their hero. Many remember what they were doing when they heard the news of his death. It sent shock waves through the Elvis world and still brings sadness to those who remember him. I’ve been asked many times, “Do you really think Elvis is dead”? They want to believe it so strongly, they hold on to a lost sense of reality that Elvis just might have escaped death and is now living an obscure life in retirement somewhere. They can’t imagine an 82 year old Elvis, and that’s just as well. I can’t either. Elvis rocketed to Fame and Fortune at a young age and impacted so many lives that it’s inconceivable to think of him at any other age than at the height of his iconic success. Fortunately for me, as lead singer for the Imperials, we worked with him in some of his very best years.
Elvis was in great physical condition and many nights in the penthouse in Vegas, we witnessed karate demonstrations featuring him and his sparring side man, Charlie Hodge, who took the brunt of his pulled punches. Charlie was never hurt that I could tell but Elvis was proud of his accomplishments in karate and he wanted to show us some of the results of his training. For Charlie, it was just part of the job. Combining the workouts Elvis got in the penthouse with the workout he got onstage, after wearing a ten pound jump suit for two one hour shows nightly for a month, served to keep him in excellent physical condition. After two grueling shows a night, he should have been tired, but his adrenaline was pumping so high it took him several hours to unwind. The penthouse also served as a refuge for him to invite the Imperials, the TCB band, the Sweet Inspirations, and all the Memphis mafia, along with their wives or girlfriends for food, singing, and just good fellowship and laughs about what had happened that night. There might be a song that didn’t turn out the way he had intended on stage and we would have a good laugh about it. He was never so uptight and perfectionist that he couldn’t laugh about a mistake. That made easier for us all to laugh with him. And Charlie Hodge was the jokester. Every night he had a new joke to tell. He would get in your face and tell his joke to you. Before the punch line, he was ready to laugh out loud and he wanted YOU to laugh with him. Charlie had been a frustrated gospel singer when he was a little younger, but then Elvis called and his life changed forever.