"Put it on the King." TCB frontman and Elvisfest impresario Dave Quick slides his credit card--emblazoned with the image of the King wearing his custom-made black leather outfit from the '68 "comeback special"--over to the cashier. We're at Surplus Sid's, that Chapel Hill institution where you can buy anything from army fatigues and used cords to old issues of Playboy and costumes ... and Elvis shades (except they're labeled "rock star" shades, probably to avoid litigation). Quick, a local guitarist and singer with greased-back blond hair who seems like he was born to do the Elvis sneer, buys five pair. They're all for himself; they have a habit of disappearing.
It's year five of Elvisfest, the tribute to the King's birth that Quick's previous band, Jack Black, started at NYC club Arlene's Grocery back in '98. The event was a combination record-release party for Jack Black and a tribute to "E" that treated New Yorkers to a buffet full of Dixie grub and Elvis-sanctioned delicacies: toothsome peanut butter and banana sandwiches, fried chicken, cole slaw and the works. The down-home chow was such a hit, the band didn't even get to eat any of it.
After spending almost 12 years in the city--"'course, after Sept. 11, I don't miss it, but I wish an awful lot of the New Yorkers who live here would miss it"--Quick, a Swansboro native, returned to his home state and kept the Elvisfest tradition alive at Local 506. The event is partly a labor of love, partly an excuse to cut loose and party. Quick pulls up his shirt sleeve and extends his arm, revealing a tattoo with the classic TCB-lightning bolt logo. (It refers to the Elvis-Memphis Mafia slogan, taking care of business in a flash.) It's also the name he chose for his Elvis cover band.
"Everybody does something on when he died," he says. "And I wanted to do something on when he was born. You know, Christmas is not when Jesus died, y'know what I mean? It's a time of the year that nothing else is going on. New Year's Eve has just happened, and everybody's really disappointed every year, so I thought, 'This is good. Elvis was born at a perfect time for having a party.'"
This year, for the first time, the event is a two-night affair: Ten bands a night, each playing 40-minute sets, with the stipulation that they play at least two Elvis songs "or they won't get paid," Quick vows. Friday is local night, featuring TCB, as well as revved-up rockers The Needles, Buzzsawyer, The Merle and Jimmy & The Teasers; Redneck punks The Candysnatchers close the evening. Saturday the club plays host to the out-of-towners. Headliners Billy Joe Winghead, those theremin-playing wildasses from Oklahoma, are making the long drive simply because they believe in the event. They're joined by The Belmont Playboys, Rocket 350, Bitch and more. Unfortunately, the grill at The Sports Bar next door, which provided Elvis-themed snacks for the previous fests, is closed.
"But we'll have jelly donuts," Quick promises. And while there'll be no bags or prescription pills, a la Doctor Nick, he jokes that they could bring in a big bag of candies and dispense fistfuls to anybody who's jonesin'.
"Yeah, come in with a big bag of red hots or something: 'I just come back from the doctor's office, uhhh, here. I ate about 17 of these half an hour ago.'"
There'll also be an official event T-shirt, courtesy of new screenprinting operation The Merch. Quick, incidentally, is part of the trio who owns the business. (He's got a lot of irons in a lot of fires.)
Besides being a history buff, Quick is the kind of guy who juggles pop culture factoids, redneck humor and rock savvy effortlessly, sliding in and out of accents like he's easing in and out of a screen porch. Besides playing with The Poonhounds, Hobart Willis and the Back Forty and his own project, Five-Four Black and White, he's mastered Elvis' mannerisms and vocal bits for TCB, his eight-piece Elvis cover band that features members of Hobart Willis and the Back Forty and backup chanteuses Rose Blum and Sonar Strange (who also sing with The Neil Diamond All-Stars).
Past years' highlights include award-winning "Elvis illusionist" Keith Henderson and his satin-jacketed band.
"Henderson showed up in a limo, and he cruised around a little bit, showed up out front and popped up out of the sunroof: 'Y'all ready to rock?' When he came in, his bodyguards led the way."
Although he's not obsessed with the King, an early brush with Elvis--on celluloid--imprinted itself on Quick's rock consciousness forever.
"My Dad took me to an Elvis movie in '74, one that had just come out, Elvis on Tour, and there's all these split screens where he's just rockin' out at different times in his life. I remember, I was like, 6 years old, and I was like, 'This is the coolest thing I've ever seen.' 'Course, I hadn't seen a whole lot, but I just never forgot that."
This year, TCB plans to do classics ranging from "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and "That's All Right, Mama" to later gems like "Burnin' Love" and "Polk Salad Annie." For you fans of the zaftig, metal and rhinestone-studded, be-caped, Vegas-era Elvis, Quick says he'll throw in a few of the King's trademark karate moves.
"I'll bust a few of those moves [kicks, stances]. I'll fire it up a little bit."
The show-stopper, the reach-for-the-hankies moment, is TCB's rendition of "American Trilogy," the Southern anthem that combines "Dixie," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and the song where Elvis takes it way down as he croons "hush little baby don't you cry, you know your Daddy's bound to die."
"You hear the guitar play 'Dixie,'" says Quick, switchin into Elvis voice as he starts to croon, "'I wish I was in the land of cotton'; then the drums come in a little harder with a martial beat. It's chilling," he says, obviously transported just thinking about the track. "Oh man, I hope I can do it justice."
The conversation turns to what Elvis, if he'd had a different manager than The Colonel (who ended up taking 50 percent, rather than the 15 to 20 percent industry standard), or advisors who looked out for him (rather than Red and Sonny and the boys) could have become. "There's always that element [of being a cheeseball] if you just mention his name," Quick says.
"I feel bad for him--there was nobody else that had ... there was no point of reference for his fame; no one had ever been that famous. ... I mean, Sinatra didn't inspire the insanity, the obsession--he did at first when he was young, but all of a sudden he was playing serious adult roles in From Here to Eternity.
"So he was ill prepared to deal with that. Now, they prepare you--they hope you get that [famous]. But there was no blueprint. How many of us, if we had that kind of unlimited money, fame and power, wouldn't have our peculiarities blossom and come out?
"The dude was such a musician. People don't think of that so much anymore; he's just a celebrity and a schtick. I thought he did pretty well for the load--he had a hell of a load."