FROM THE DVD ELVIS PRESLEY' - The Elvis Mob
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The "Memphis Mafia" was the nickname given by rock 'n' roll icon Elvis Presley to a group of friends, associates, employees and cousins whose main functions were to accompany, protect, and serve Elvis from the beginning of his career in 1954 until his death in 1977. Several members filled practical roles in the singer's life. For instance, they were employed to work for him as bodyguards or on tour logistics and scheduling. In these cases Elvis paid salaries, but most lived off fringe benefits such as gifts, cars, houses and bonuses. Over the years, the number of members grew and changed, but for the most part there was a core group who spent a lot of time with the singer.
Elvis preferred men around him who were loyal, trustworthy and deferential. Thus family members and friends of his youth were very important to him. "For the first time in his life, he had a group of male friends to pal around with, and he relished being the leader of the pack." The group began with Elvis' first cousins Junior and Gene Smith (Gladys Presley's sister Levalle's children) who accompanied Elvis everywhere, along with Elvis' high school friend Red West and rockabilly singer Cliff Gleaves. At that time Judy Spreckels seems to have been the only woman. She describes herself as having been like a sister to Elvis, a companion, confidante and keeper of secrets in the exciting days of his early career. "Elvis was surrounded by the first wave of what would become known as the Memphis Mafia." She says that she "was with him and the guys all the time." They drove bumper cars in Las Vegas Valley, rode horses in California and hung out at Graceland. "There wasn't a crowd then, just a few guys," and she emphasizes that she "had nothing to do with being a yes man for him and obviously he trusted me." Among "the first to live, travel and play with Elvis" were Delbert B. "Sonny" West (died 24 May 2017, Nashville, TN), Billy Smith, who was with Elvis from the start to the end and the only original member still with Elvis after 1976, Charlie Hodge, Lamar Fike, and Joe Esposito. Over the years they were joined on the payroll by Alan Fortas, Richard Davis, Marty Lacker, Jimmy Kingsley, "Chief" Ray Sitton, Jerry Schilling, Mike Keeton, Dave Hebler, Sam Thompson and numerous others.
Origin of the nickname
Around 1960, the media dubbed these people the "Memphis Mafia." This first referred to their image, as they usually cruised the city in black mohair suits and dark sunglasses. According to one account, a crowd of people in front of the Riviera Hotel watched as two big black limousines arrived. Elvis and his friends got out of the two cars and someone in the crowd yelled, "Who are they, the Mafia?" and a newspaper reporter picked up the story. The Memphis Mafia members themselves say on their website that Elvis liked the name and it stuck. These original Memphis Mafia members at the time the phrase was coined were Billy Smith, Sonny West, Marty Lacker, Lamar Fike, Joe Esposito, Red West, Charlie Hodge and Alan Fortas
The initials TCB
Presley and his friends and employees also adopted the acronym TCB which meant "Taking Care of Business". Presley had the tail of his private jet painted with the initials "TCB" and a lightning bolt and gave away gold and diamond chain necklaces with TCB (and TLC) logos as gifts. Elvis' wife Priscilla, helped with the creation of this logo on a flight through stormy conditions. A lightning bolt flashed across the sky in front of them, and Elvis took inspiration from it. Priscilla sketched out the design on note paper; positioning the letters and lightning bolt in various ways before they found what they liked.