Elvis has left the driveway; Resident Steve Elrod says he met Presley growing up across the street from Graceland
Steve Elrod with some of the Elvis memorabilia recently sent to him by his mother. (Timothy P. Howsare Photo)
To the world, he was “The King,” but to Steve Elrod and the other teenage boys who he played football with, Elvis Presley was the friendly neighbor who lived across the street.
Elrod and his wife, Kim, moved to Roswell ab out six years ago from West Memphis, Ark., when Kim was offered a management job at Wal-Mart.
But during the late 1970s, after his parents divorced, Elrod said he, his brother and mother lived in an apartment in Memphis, Tenn., across the street from Graceland.
“As a matter of fact, the apartments were called Graceland Apartments,” Elrod said. “From Elvis Presley Boulevard to our apartments there was a vacant lot — about 25 to 50 yards straight back were vacant lots. Our apartments were set back from that and built on an incline to where you could pretty much look over the walls surrounding Graceland.”
Elrod said while he and his pals were playing pickup games of football on one those vacant lots, they would frequently see Elvis coming and going from Graceland in his limo or riding on one of his motorcycles.
In this day and age, it may seem strange that a celebrity like Elvis would have no qualms about moving about freely in public, but it was a different world 40 years ago, Elrod said.
“Back then, you didn’t have the paparazzi hounding Elvis like they do celebrities today,” Elrod said. “So, he was always out and about riding his motorcycles, riding horses on the Graceland grounds. He had stables there but mostly he kept (the horses) at his ranch — Circle G ranch in Walls, Miss.
“I think (Elvis) appreciated the fact that the people around Graceland didn’t hound him all the time. He had a sense of freedom there. He would shop at the Whitehaven Mall, which was about four miles from Graceland on Elvis Presley Boulevard.”
Elrod said Elvis’ father lived one block north of Graceland in a “regular upscale middle-class neighborhood,” and that Elvis’ uncle, Vester Presley, opened and closed the gates at Graceland.
“Elvis would pull off Elvis Presley Boulevard to Graceland and he would have to stop every time to have Vester open the gates,” Elrod said. “Later, they got it to where it could open electronically, but Vester still had to open it.”
One day, while Elrod was playing football, he and his buddies had a camera and Elrod got his picture taken with The King.
“I got a piece of paper from Vester Presley and Elvis signed it,” Elrod said. “Later, after the picture was developed, we took it over to Vester to get it signed by Elvis and he told us to come back in a few hours and he would have it.”
Elrod described Elvis as a friendly, down-to-earth person. “He didn’t act like a big shot at all.”
Elvis’ tragic death at age 42 became more and more sensational as news of his excessive drug use filtered out.
But from what Elrod saw, if Elvis did have a fault, it was his generosity.
“If he saw the same elderly woman walking down the street every day, he would buy her a Cadillac,” he said. “Elvis’ dad said he was giving away so many Cadillacs he was going to go broke. I know this because his dad and stepmom put it in the paper.”
Elrod said he has been an Elvis fan since third grade and had his mom make him a pair of Elvis-style bell-bottoms with a belt so he could impersonate The King.
“But I didn’t have sideburns or a wig,” Elrod quipped.
Though Elvis is always seen in photos with black hair, Elrod said Elvis’ true hair color was auburn. Elvis dyed his hair black to honor his late mother, who had black hair.
Elrod said his mother also was a huge Elvis fan.
“My mom would go hysterical whenever she saw him,” he said. “One day, my mom chased him all the way to mall.”
Recently, Elrod’s mother, who now lives in Rising Star, Texas, sent him three boxes filled with Elvis memorabilia, including newspaper articles, posters and photos.
Elrod said several of the photos are unpublished, like the one of him standing next to Elvis in his limo while The King signs his autograph.
Elrod said the friendly, easy-going Elvis that he knew began to change in the months leading to his death.
Late one night, legendary rock-’n’-roller and bad boy Jerry Lee Lewis showed up at Graceland and began shooting out the windows.
Apparently, Lewis was in a drunken rage and screaming that he deserved to be more famous than Elvis. Go figure. Jerry Lee Lewis getting drunk and flying off the handle.
The King was reportedly not at Graceland when Lee went on his rampage.
“Elvis became paranoid after that,” Elrod said. “You started to see bars go up on the windows at Graceland.”
Elrod said when Elvis died, he, his brother Ronnie and mother Brenda were among the first people to view Elvis is his casket.
“Mom had us at the front gates,” he said. “It was raining and cold, I remember, but Vester let us in on the grounds of Graceland where some families were under a tent and some under the trees at Graceland. We stayed there all night … before they opened the gates they let everyone on the grounds go in first, so we lined up at the doors entering Graceland and went in and exited out the side doors near the pool. I’ll always be grateful to Mom for making us do that. We didn’t appreciate it then, but as the years went by we did.”
Elvis Presley signs an autograph for Steve Elrod, who as a teenager lived in an apartment building across the street from Graceland. Elrod now lives in Roswell and was a former truck driver for Pepsi Co. He performs around town as a singer in a country band, where he is often asked to sing a song by The King. (Submitted Photo)