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Lawrence E. McCullough is giving Elvis Presley fans a reason to say, “Thank you.  Thank you very much.”

Under the appropriate name of Hound Dog Books & Media, the Woodbridge resident has recent published “Elvis: Truth, Myth and Beyond.” The book chiefly consists of interviews
with the late Lamar Fike. Beginning in 1954, shortly before Elvis’ first recordings for Sun Studios, Fike was an original member of the “Memphis Mafia,” Elvis’ circle of friends, aides
and confidants.

In that capacity, Fike was privy to Elvis’ thoughts on his music, his family, and religion. He lived in Graceland for a time and helped run Presley’s publishing company until Presley’s
death in 1977. The interviews with Fike were conducted over the course of four days in 2001 by McCullough, a musician and music journalist, and Harold F. Eggers, Jr., an Austin-
based producer and music executive. The conversations with Fike reveal insights into Elvis.

“This is a contribution to our understanding of him,” said McCullough, who works as an insurance specialist for Farmers Insurance in Woodbridge and Metuchen.

“If Elvis had never made a record after 1960, he’d still be one of the most influential musicians of all time,” added McCullough, who also plays harmonica and flute in a local blues-
rock band called Big City Breakout. “If you think about it, at age 19, his life changed forever,” McCullough added. “But his world was actually very limited. (Tom) Parker (Elvis’
manager) wouldn’t allow him to perform outside the continental United States for many years.”

In that world, Fike had a special place, McCullough said.

“Lamar and Elvis were alike in so many ways. They were born in the same year (1935). They were both from small towns in Mississippi (Presley from Tupelo, Fike from Cleveland).”
Fike was also close to Presley’s mother. “Gladys Presley was the matriarch. She feared what celebrity would do to Elvis, and she kept outsiders at a distance,” McCullough said.
“But Lamar told us that she saw him as another son.”

The story of the book

“Elvis: Truth, Myth & Beyond” is the result of a combination of factors that date back more than 30 years. The catalyst was not Elvis, but Townes Van Zandt, the formidably
talented and widely Texas singer-songwriter who died in 1997.

In the 1980s, McCullough was working as a music journalist in Austin, where he met Eggers. At the time, Eggers served as the Van Zandt's road manager, and he knew that Fike
had previously worked with Van Zandt. (In addition, Eggers’ brother, Kevin, owned two of the labels for which Van Zandt recorded, Poppy Records and Tomato Records.)
Harold Eggers said he enjoyed working with Fike and getting to know him. “He was jovial, witty, and sharp as a tack,” he said.

McCullough and Eggers stayed in touch even after McCullough moved to Woodbridge in 2001. They initially talked about working together on a book about Van Zandt. However,
the two men started thinking more about a book depicting the relationship between Presley and Fike.

“After Elvis died, Lamar was a first-hand authority on Elvis,” McCullough said.  “He was always very accessible, and he had appeared in documentaries.”

In addition, Fike had written the foreword and contributed background information to “The Elvis Encyclopedia,” published in 1994. “But no one had ever sat him down to talk about
him and his relationship with Elvis,” McCullough added.  “So much is known about Elvis, but Lamar could offer insights that no one else could.”
Eggers said that Fike loved the idea of being interviewed for a book.

“He was the one who suggested the title have the words ‘Truth and Myth,’” Egger said. “We were the ones who added the ‘and Beyond’ part.”

Learning about Elvis in a new way

The conversations with Fike gave McCullough greater understanding of Presley as a musician and performer, not just an icon.

“I was a child when I heard the first RCA records that Elvis did,” such as “Heartbreak Hotel,” McCullough said.  “By the time my friends and I were teenagers, we weren’t interested
in this guy who was playing Las Vegas.”

With Fike as a guide, however, McCullough came to appreciate Elvis in a new way.

"His orchestrations were terrific. He always had such great bands,” he said. “I learned a lot, because of Lamar’s first-person perspective. Elvis was exploding with creativity, and it
came out in different ways,” he added. “He wanted to record gospel. He wanted to do international songs.  That’s what impressed me from talking with Lamar – the diversity of Elvis’
repertoire.”

McCullough and Eggers kept the recordings of their conversations with Fike. The project took on a deeper meaning when Fike died in 2011 at age 75. “Lamar never really talked
about himself. He was very self-effacing,” McCullough said.  We talked with other people who knew him, to give a different perspective.”

The most crucial resource proved to be Tommy McDonald, Fike’s cousin and the executor of his estate.  McDonald provided McCullough and Eggers with photos (some of which
had been previously unpublished) and contacts for other interviews.

“People thought Lamar was just a funny guy in the background of pictures,” McCullough said. “But he was a kind of genius. Lamar oversaw the publishing company. When Elvis
started playing Vegas, Lamar arranged for lighting and sound.”

For his part, Eggers feels that one of the other themes of the book is the deep friendship between Fike and Presley.

“Elvis was a regular guy,” Eggers said. “He trusted Lamar. I think it’s important for people to realize that Lamar brought normalcy to Elvis’ life.”

The publication of “Elvis: Truth, Myth & Beyond” marks the culmination of years of work for McCullough and Eggers. But the men hope it also signals a beginning.

For example, McCullough would like to see a documentary that incorporates some of the audio recordings of the interviews.

“Lamar’s personality came out in his voice,” he said. “I think people would like to hear that.”

Paperback Edition
OUT NOW

Paperback: 190 pages
Publisher: Bookbaby (30 Sept. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0996788913
ISBN-13: 978-0996788915
ELVIS: TRUTH, MYTH & BEYOND
Woodbridge-based publisher releases book of conversations with Presley’s confidant.
October 08, 2016  -  My Central Jersey  /  Elvis Express Radio