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Raised on Rock

Elvis the star in high school class

Posted: Sunday, February 04, 2007

It's late afternoon at Juneau-Douglas High School. In front of Richard Moore's class, a student dressed in black finishes playing part of a heavy metal song on an electric guitar.

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The 17-year-old boy looks back at Moore and shrugs.

"I can't play your old rock," Colin Robert says and smiles.

"My old rock?" Moore replies.

Moore, a music instructor, is teaching a class about Elvis Presley, from "That's All Right, Momma" to fried peanut butter sandwiches in Las Vegas.

Part music appreciation, part history class, Moore hopes to teach his students the influences that led to Presley's breakout and how it changed society.

"If you don't know what came before, how can you appreciate the music you have now?" Moore said.

Moore doesn't cut straight to a set of Memphis hips wiggling on the Ed Sullivan Show. He starts off slowly. Most kids don't have a great deal of knowledge about the pioneers of rock 'n' roll.

"They've never been exposed to it," Moore said.

He plays them samples of music that Presley would have heard growing up: jazz riffs, parts of blues songs and swing mainstays.

All were part of what became early rock music. You can clearly hear a Boogie-woogie bass line in Presley's "Don't be cruel." When musicians like Bill Haley and the Comets put a lead guitar in "Rock Around the Clock," it changed everything.

Did you know?

Facts about Elvis Presley

• Elvis' parents bought him his first guitar as a birthday gift in 1946.

• The first known appearance of Elvis' shaking legs took place during a performance at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis on July 30, 1954.

• The first riot following an Elvis concert occurred on May 13, 1955, in Jacksonville, Fla., after Elvis finished a show by saying, "Girls, I'll see you backstage."

• Elvis' first RCA album, released on March 23, 1956, was the first pop album to reach more than $1 million in sales.

• Elvis' first Grammy was for the 1967 gospel release, "How Great Thou Art."

• Elvis has a total of 69 gold, 43 platinum, 13 double platinum, nine triple platinum, one quadruple platinum, one quintuple platinum and one sixfold platinum records.

Source: www.elvis.org

"They make it sound unlike anything they had heard before," Moore said.

Elvis wasn't so much a great creator of music as he was great at taking bits of music and putting it together.

"He was a synthesizer," Moore said.

Other musicians, such as Little Richard, actually may have made more of an impact on modern music than did Presley, Moore argues, but there's no doubt that "the King" changed the world.

"He set up the superstar model. He opened the door to the youth culture," Moore said. "What Elvis did was kick the door wide open. Once teens saw they could demand their way with entertainment, they demanded a political and then even a sexual voice."

Elvis' rocket ride to superstardom wasn't without cost, Moore reminds his students.

"He's so important in some ways, people forget he died on a toilet of coronary failure. ... I bring that out to show that even though you're the King, you're still subject to human condition and frailty."

Robert said he likes Moore's class.

"I've always been influenced by music. I wanted to learn more about the history of music," he said.

Zakariah Bodine, 16, said he likes seeing how music has changed over the years.

"I like the whole thing," he said. "So far I like learning about the different styles of jazz and blues."

• Will Morris can be reached at william.morris@juneauempire.com



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