Sat Jun 03, 2006 8:56 am
Elvis has entered the building
Local man shares photos of time in the King’s band
By Garrett Neese, DMG Writer
HOUGHTON — Elvis Presley’s stint in the U.S. Army has come to mark the end of the first wave of American rock n’ roll, as well as the most vital part of his music career.
But for Harold Heikkinen, it was a time he’ll never forget.
The Atlantic Mine resident, then serving in Germany, played alongside in the Combat Command A band for five months in late 1958 and early 1959, including variety shows aboard the U.S.S. Randall with Presley.
Photographs he took during those concerts are now on display at Dee Stadium in Houghton as part of the yearly Copper Country Photo Exhibit.
Heikkinen, who joined the Army one week before Presley did, first met him in Ft. Hood, Texas.
The two also rode the same train to the Brooklyn Army Terminal, and from there, rode aboard the U.S.S. Randall.
There, Heikkinen played trumpet in jam sessions, while Charlie Hodge, who would go on to be a longtime associate of Presley’s, played guitar and sang. Presley, breaking from his showbiz routine, stuck to piano.
“He was really an excellent piano player,” Heikkinen said.
Though he was in the Army, Presley was never just an ordinary soldier, Heikkinen said.
“Wherever he was, there was a lot of electricity in the room,” he said. “He was very charismatic.”
After arrival, Presley headed to Friedburg with the 3rd Armored Division.
As in America, people flocked to Elvis wherever he went —especially the girls. He remembered being in line at a PX store when the girls behind the counter caught wind of Presley’s presence outside.
“We could have walked off with everything they had,” Heikkinen said. “They were all outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of Elvis.”
As Heikkinen recalls, Presley flouted military conventions, getting written up three times for delinquency. Infractions included driving his Cadillac onto his base during basic training.
During his acquaintance with Presley, Heikkinen also obtained several autographs, the value of which he said ranges from $1,000 to $12,000.
The autographs will only be available to the public during times when the booth is watched.
Heikkinen also plans to display photos of numerous other entertainers who performed for the servicemen, including Bob Hope, Johnny Cash and Neil Sedaka. Other items include a letter from the Green Bay Packers offering a $110-per-game contract to University of Michigan standout Gerald Ford (which he declined).
Heikkinen had already been part of last year’s events with photos of Atlantic Mine. But his past as a member of Elvis’s band had come as a shock to Ralph Raffaelli, director of the exhibit.
“We didn’t know he was in possession of all this information,” he said.
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A rare photo exhibition featuring His Majesty the King during his trips abroad is open for public viewing at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT).
All 30 exhibits are reprints of old photos, some dating back more than 50 years, which were taken by PRD photographers.
Other photos are from His Majesty's trip to the US in June and July, 1960. The King, who was accompanied by Her Majesty, met President Dwight D. Eisenhower and other celebrities including Elvis Presley, Walt Disney and the jazz legend Benny Goodman.
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