A refreshing portrait of Elvis after the Army

I run across cool stuff every now and then that I just want to point out to you. Peter Guralnick’s Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley represents the definitive account of Elvis’ early years. Though many herald it along with Last Train, his follow-up volume, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, often leaves something to be desired.

Guralnick at least treats his subject with a sympathetic eye, which is better than most Elvis biographers, but his disdain for much of Elvis’ post-Army career is still evident. As someone who happens to love and enjoy this later Elvis, I do not like to see those years so easily dismissed. The great thing is, someone else has already said all of this far better than I ever could.

Check out this post by drjohncarpenter over on the For Elvis CD Collectors message board: “Elvis In The Dark” by Daniel Wolff. It contains a critical look not only at the post-Army Elvis, but also at Guralnick’s biography. Wolff is the author of a Sam Cooke biography as well as a couple of volumes on Bruce Springsteen. After reading this piece, one of the best I have ever seen about Elvis, my hope is that Wolff will write a Presley biography some day as well.

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There was a sad announcement this week in the Elvis world. Sylvia Shemwell recently passed away. She was a member of the Sweet Inspirations, the vocal group that backed Elvis on stage from his return to live performances in 1969 through his death in 1977.

Before becoming part of Elvis’ show, the Sweet Inspirations were already a Grammy-winning gospel group that once backed Aretha Franklin. Outside of their time with Elvis, their best known hit was “Sweet Inspiration,” released in 1968.

Sylvia appears with Elvis in the documentary movies That’s The Way It Is (1970) and Elvis On Tour (1972). She also appears with him in the television specials Aloha From Hawaii (1973) and Elvis In Concert (1977) as well as countless live concert albums.

Elvis Australia put up a nice piece about her, check it out here: Sweet Inspirations Sylvia Shemwell has died. You can also see a more recent photo of her over on ElvisNews.com: Sylvia Shemwell Passed Away.

As for the official Elvis site, as far as I could find, there was no mention of her in their news section. They did, however, find the time to promote a so-called Elvis “Tribute” Artist competition.

My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this time. Sylvia: Thank you for the music.

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Myrna Smith, another member of the Sweet Inspirations who backed Elvis during the same time and events, was recently hospitalized in Great Britain. It sounds like she is doing better, though, and will hopefully be released soon.

John Wilkinson played rhythm guitar for Elvis in the 1969 through 1977 era, again appearing in those same events. Wilkinson is battling cancer and was recently hospitalized in Missouri.

I was thinking the other day, because of Elvis, I have been listening to these people for pretty much my entire life. I wish all of them well.