Think of Elvis Presley and you could conjure any number of hyperboles: King of Rock 'n' Roll, the best-selling solo artist of all time, the granddaddy of cool. The Philly Pops agree. With the world premiere of "Elvis!: The King’s Songbook," conductor Michael Krajewski is tapping Dave Bennett and Allison Blackwell to help him execute a tribute to the iconic legend with soul.
Bennett’s a clarinet master, killer crooner and Elvis superfan based in Michigan. He and Krajewski struck up inspiration in Houston, Texas, over breakfast. In under three hours they’d sketched out a set list.
“The approach we’re taking is a little different,” Bennett said, speaking emphatically about Presley’s magical recipe of creole, jazz, rockabilly and R&B. “One of the selections is ‘How Great Thou Art’ and we’ll give it a New Orleans, jazz and gospel feel. I’ll do a rock 'n' roll medley and I play piano and sing and give it a Jerry Lee Lewis style.”
America was introduced to Elvis by way of Memphis, Tennessee — the former home of Sun Records, where the holy trilogy of Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison recorded and gave Presley a run for his money. Orbison, in fact, was Elvis’ revered and respected contemporary according to Bennett.
The Big O didn’t hit No. 1 until 1961, though, while “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog” and “Love Me Tender” topped the charts five years prior. What’s Bennett’s favorite Elvis era?
“My favorite era of his is 1954 to 1956 when he was 19 to 21 — he was purely going by instinct and he was revolutionizing music,” the clarinetist says, who himself picked up the woodwind by 10. But when he was in sixth grade he discovered a disc called "Elvis ‘56," “I instantly fell in love with it and I had to teach myself to play guitar and sing. It was such infectious music.”