ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 25, 1983
By Steve Newton
“The name Menudo was already taken,” quips Rob Elvis, “and the Three Dog Night Brothers–we didn’t figure that would go over as well.”
High up in a Century Plaza Hotel room, just hours before their opening set for Big Country at the Commodore, Elvis Brothers Rob (guitar, vocals), and Graham (bass, vocals) are having fun with the question of how they got their name. Wouldn’t a name like the Elvis Brothers cause them to get razzed a lot–particularly by those who view “The King of Rock and Roll” in a serious, semi-sacred light?
“Not really,” responds, Graham. “We played in Memphis, Elvis country, and the people who liked Elvis kinda liked us. We didn’t get up there and try to go, ‘Hey, we’re Elvis, man.’
“There’s all sorts of ways to look at it,” adds Rob. “To me, instead of representing a person, Elvis has almost become a generic term. It means a number of things to a number of people. It means music, or just rock and roll….when you think of Elvis at his prime, anyway. I mean, when he was in his prime there was nobody cooler.”
And like their idol, the Elvis Brothers are pretty cool themselves. All the songs on their debut album, Movin’ Up, are their own creations–so it’s not as if they’re ripoffs. Along with drummer Brad Elvis, they produce a rejuvenated, shake rattle ‘n’ roll sound with character, and come off as more than just another rockabilly revival band.
“A lot of times,” Rob admits, “people will check us out and immediately think, ‘Three-man band? Standup drummer? Rockabilly!’ We did that stuff, and we have a sense of it, but our music is definitely not what a rockabilly purist would call ‘rockabilly’.
“We did a video for our song ‘Fire in the City’,” injects Graham, and on MTV they’re calling it “rockabilly for the eighties”. And that song doesn’t have anything to do with rockabilly. I mean, it’s as far from rockabilly as Adam Ant is.”
Even at this early stage in their recording career, the Elvis Brothers have to deal with being labeled as this or that kind of band. But one thing they’ll never have to worry about is being called serious.
“How serious is ‘Hound Dog’?”, asserts Graham. “It’s fun first–rock and roll is fun. Not that you can’t write serious thoughts into your song, but if you want to be real serious go be a professor in a university or something.”
The Elvis Brothers might know a thing or two about stodgy professors, coming from the quiet college town of Champaign, Illinois. But, quiet though it might be, the city has proved itself to be a breeding ground for popular recording acts. REO Speedwagon started there, as did Dan Fogelberg. An R&B-flavoured band named after the town had two big hits, and the Twang Bar King himself, Adrian Belew, lives there as well.
So the Elvis Brothers were in good company when they first came together in September of 1981. And they didn’t waste any time in getting gigs, even when they had no actual songs worked out!
“When we first started, says Graham, “Rob and I didn’t even know the words to the songs. So we had this music stand up on stage and went to K-Mart and bought an Elvis songbook.”
The Elvis Brothers’ strong desire to play live quickly smoothed out their rough edges, and after playing one-nighters around Champaign for a year or so they got a shot at opening for Carl Perkins and the C.P. Express in St. Louis, Missouri. That date led to a friendship with Perkins that is surely one of the high points of their young career.
“He really took to the band,” claims Rob, “so he invited us down to his home. We did a show in his hometown of Jackson, Tennessee and went to his home afterwards and jammed with him in the studio. We thought he might get a chuckle out of it so we dis a version of his “Sure To Fall” in front of him.”
“And he was falling off his chair laughing so hard,” adds Graham. “We’ve got a take-off on “Blue Suede Shoes” called “Don’t Call Me Bob,” so we played that for him too. He thought that was pretty funny, ’cause he’s been ‘Blue Suede Shoe’d’ to death.”
Playing with big names and rubbing shoulders with legends like Perkins doesn’t seem to have gone to their heads. They realize, in an unserious sort of way, that they’ll have to prove themselves nearly every step of the way.
“It’s the first show of the Big Country/Elvis Brothers tour tonight,” says Graham, “so we don’t know if they’re gonna hate us or throw us off the tour or what. But if they do throw us off the tour, I’m gonna walk right up to them, look them right in the eye, and start crying, ‘Pleeezzz don’t throw us off!'”
Considering the show the Elvis Brothers put on before BIg Country that night, it’s highly unlikely that they will.