Wednesday, August 14, 2013

'Duke and The King'

This post continues a week-long series on Elvis in celebration of Elvis Week. 

Duke Bardwell found out the hard way that more tears have been shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.

Bardwell, one heck of a talented singer/songwriter/musician, got a chance to play electric bass with one of his childhood heroes, Elvis Presley, in 1974. Jerry Scheff, Elvis' bass player since 1969, had left the TCB Band. Bardwell met Elvis' drummer Ronnie Tutt while playing on sessions with Jose Feliciano. Ronnie suggested Duke try out for the band. Duke did and got the job.

And a dream became a nightmare.

I'm at a loss to describe why Elvis rode Duke Bardwell the way he did throughout 1974. Those who want to be kind suggest The King was just displaying his usual oddball humor. Others gently suggest the King's meds played a part. Still others say Elvis wanted Scheff back and resented Bardwell's mere presence.

Whatever the case, it isn't pretty. In one concert, he introduces Duke and then says, "Is that D-O-O-K?" In another Elvis says, "He looks like a little F. That's E-L-F."

Bardwell finally had enough and left, pissed at The King and doubting his own musical ability and self-worth.

His tale is told in a documentary I'm dying to see, "Duke and The King." I hope it eventually finds a distributor. Watch the trailer here.

What's sad about the whole thing is Bardwell was a heck of a picker. Even if I don't know the date of an Elvis concert recording, I can usually distinguish Bardwell's bass playing from Scheff's. He had a unique technique and sometimes played with picks.

As my buddy and noted guitarist Ross Southerland says, "Duke's bass playing was funky, not as busy as Jerry's."

If you watch the movie trailer, you'll see a bunch of Elvis impersonators make fools out of themselves by not even knowing Duke's name.

Well, Duke, I'm here to tell you that the serious fans sure as hell know you and like your picking very much.

Bardwell also briefly played with a band that has become a cult favorite, Gritz (sometimes called Cold Gritz). Here is a fascinating story about Bardwell's background, "The Bard of the Bayou."

And, whatever you do, don't miss this cut by Gritz, a cult classic co-written by Bardwell called "Bayou Country." This bad boy simply ROCKS.

Host Bradley Reeves and I will be highlighting some of Elvis' lesser-known songs on WDVX-FM's "East Tennessee Quiver" beginning at 11 p.m. (Eastern) Thursday, Aug. 15. Listen locally at 89.9 FM, 102.9 FM or online at Email your requests to or call 865-544-1029 #221 or 866-946-9389 #221. The one proviso is that the song must be a non-hit.  

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