Good Mornin’! Good Mornin’
First things first: In my story about Mike Sibley I wrote that Coach Walden went to Northeast Junior College. He did not. Sorry about that. Coach Buddy Walden was a scholarship player only for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. I’ll tell y’all more about him and his time at IA sometime during basketball season. But now, back to this week’s column.
As a southern boy, I was enthralled by Elvis and that legend continues to grow. On the stage he was everything a wanna-be entertainer dreamed to be. Off stage, he had a cadre of friends whose allegiance knew no bounds. The Memphis Mafia was always “Taking Care of Business” when it came to all things Elvis.
The late Lamar Fike was a good ol’ Delta boy from Cleveland who ended up being one of Elvis’ friends and was high up in the Memphis Mafia. His simple upbringing was special to him as he recalled in an interview a few years back.
“I was born in a house on the way to Boyle in 1935,” Fike recounted. “I went to Hill Demonstration School on the campus at Delta State. I have a corporation named ‘807 Harvard’ (his street address) and nobody knows why I named it that but that’s where I grew up.”
While seeking a career in Memphis, Fike was introduced to Elvis at a hotel in Memphis.
“Dewey Phillips and Wink Martindale took me over to meet him at WHBQ radio at the Chisca Hotel and Sam Phillips actually took me up to him,” he recalled.
That serendipitous meeting would change the course of Fake’s life, as the ‘quick-thinking’ and level-headed country boy would become a trusted friend and quasi-brother to the “only child” star.
“I was impressed with Elvis,” he explained. “Elvis’ and my life were pretty parallel. We struck that note. Both young boys from Mississippi and got along and we both understood a lot of stuff that we didn’t have to talk about and we became very, very close friends.”
For more than two decades he was part of the King’s court but not on payroll. And he actually lived at Graceland and traveled to Germany with the family to take care of Elvis.
“I never got paid until we came back from the Army,” he recalled. “I was like a ranch hand. Everything was paid for and in a way that was better than when I started getting paid.”
Elvis and his hand-picked gang were known to have fun together. But it was their “homemade fun” that usually brought the most excitement – and danger.
“We used to go over to Arkansas in a panel truck and load it up with two to three thousand dollars worth (equates to about $15,000 today) of fireworks,” he said. “Then we would put on football helmets and have ‘Wars.’”
The boys donned their “protective gear” and went after each other with their Arkansas armory. Running around with “roman candles” and such shooting them at each other along with the other cadre of ammunition. And the last man standing was deemed the winner – and it wasn’t always Elvis.
“I’ve had many a shirt burned off of me,” he said. “I still have burn marks on my arms. It was just something we did. We thought, ‘hey, you’re not gonna die.’ But I don’t know if you can wrap your mind around a pick-up truck full of fireworks. One time we almost burned down what they call the ‘Jungle Room’, we just called it the den.”
Fike said that the clan “tried to not aim at his head because, my God, that’s how he made his living,” he said. “But when it came to games like that it was everyman for himself. And Elvis gave out as hard as he got. We’d go roller-skating and play football on roller-skates and knock the crap out of each other.”
That fateful August day in 1977, Fike was in Portland, Maine helping set up security for the next stops on Elvis’ tour. After working non-stop for close to 36 hours, he had just lain down to rest. Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker broke the news.
“You need to go back to Memphis and get with Vernon. Elvis is dead,” Fike said. “And I said, ‘you’re serious aren’t you?’ and he said ‘yes.’ And I said ‘well, you finally ran him into the ground didn’t you?’”
Each year as the Elvis estate and others commemorate the death of Elvis – August 16, 1977, Fike took no part in any ceremony or commemoration.
“Outside of Jesus, why would you celebrate death?” he said. “The way I look at it. It was a great, great run and I enjoy talking about it.”
Fike passed away in January of 2011 at the age of 75. Always Taking Care of Business – Delta boy Lamar Fike and the King.