Remembering the King
By Pam Windsor | Photography courtesy of Jarrett Gaza
Country music artist and SiriusXM host T.G. Sheppard pays tribute to his close friend Elvis Presley in a new album.
As thousands of Elvis Presley fans gather at Graceland in Memphis to celebrate what would have been his 85th birthday in January, country music artist T.G. Sheppard will be remembering the “King” in a special role: as a close, personal friend.
Graceland holds a lot of memories for Sheppard who spent time there as a young man and who now broadcasts his weekly radio show from there.
“I love Graceland,” he says. “It was just a big, Southern home. You walked in there and it just gave you a big hug, you know? I’ve been in every room of that house with Elvis, and it was always so warm and inviting.”
He encourages everyone to visit and admits he often hears people express surprise at the shag carpet, fabrics, and bright colors throughout the home. He says it reflects the popular decorating trends of the time.
“You have to realize when Elvis died in the 1970s, that house was frozen in time. That was the craze back then. That’s been a long time ago.”
Sheppard hosts a weekly radio show on SiriusXM’s Elvis Radio Ch. 19 (Fridays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. EST) broadcast live from Graceland. It’s one of the ways he helps keep the memory and legacy of the man who meant so much to him – alive and ever-present. His first guest, when the show debuted last July, was Priscilla Presley.
“I was very fortunate to have her on the show,” he says. “Barry Gibb’s been on, Lionel Ritchie, Olivia Newton-John, and many others. So many of my friends have done the show and it’s been a lot of fun. Hopefully, it can continue and we can bring something new to the Elvis fans.”
The show allows him to share stories about Elvis, like the time Elvis gave Sheppard his first tour bus. An up-and-coming country artist at the time, Sheppard had just celebrated his first No. 1 hit, called “Devil in a Bottle.” Elvis was very proud of his success.
“I was asleep in Memphis one night and Elvis called me up about midnight and said, ‘What are you doing?’”
Sheppard told him he was getting ready to go to sleep and Elvis asked if he could come to Graceland. Sheppard got up and headed over that way to find Elvis waiting, ready to jump in a limo. He said they were going to Texas.
“‘Texas?” Sheppard recalls asking. “It’s midnight.”
Elvis told him he was having an airplane built, called the Lisa Marie, and they were going to check on its progress.”
Elvis, Sheppard, and four or five other people boarded a small plane and set off for Texas.
“We were on the plane sitting knee to knee,” Sheppard says, “when Elvis looked at me and said, ‘By the way, I bought you a bus today.’”
Shocked, Sheppard said he showed his surprise, telling Elvis, “But I don’t even have a band yet.”
Elvis looked at him and said, “Well, now look. I’ll buy you the bus, but I ain’t paying for no damn band.”
After they returned to Tennessee the next day, Elvis presented him with the bus and they rode it together from Graceland to Sheppard’s home in East Memphis. To Sheppard, the gift was much greater than the bus itself.
“It was the gift of confidence,” he says. “Because if Elvis believed in me enough to buy me a tour bus and help with my career, then I couldn’t let him down. I was going to have to work really hard to make sure I become what he thinks I can become.”
Sheppard would live up to those expectations and go on to have 21 No. 1 hits on radio during the 1970s and 80s. They included “I Loved ‘Em Every One,” “Party Time,” “Last Cheater’s Waltz,” and others.
In the years since, Sheppard has stayed busy with music, and a host of other projects. Then, several months ago, he released his first solo country album in nearly 22 years.
He’d held off on new music, because he wasn’t quite sure where he would fit in an industry going through so many changes. But, he finally decided to take the leap. Interestingly enough, Elvis would have an influence early in the process.
“I started picking great songs and found this song called ‘I Wanna Live Like Elvis.’ I thought, what a cool song; it tells Elvis’s life story in under four minutes. I thought, I’ve got to record this song!”
He recorded that song, and continued searching for others.
“I found another Elvis song (‘The Day Elvis Died’), and then my good friend, Barry Gibb (of the Bee Gees) wrote the song ‘Midnight in Memphis’ and gave it to me as a gift.”
“Midnight in Memphis” would become the title track. There are 13 songs on the album of the same name.
“It’s worked out really well for me,” Sheppard says. “And it’s been very exciting.”
He maintains a busy tour schedule promoting the album. He also continues with the radio show and says he’s looking ahead to some potential TV projects in 2020 with his wife, singer/songwriter Kelly Lang.
Through it all, though, he continues to honor the man the rest of the world knows as a legendary artist, but whom he knew as a devoted friend.
“It was one of the most incredible friendships I’ve ever had with anybody.”