Bruce Springsteen grew up idolising Elvis Presley and, like a true diehard fan, even made the voyage to the singer’s spiritual home, Graceland to bolster his understanding of the man that altered the course of his life. Following the icon’s tragic death, Springsteen found it necessary to pay tribute to his ultimate hero.
When he discovered that ‘The King’ passed away, Springsteen took the news hard to take. It felt as if an integral part of his childhood had disappeared. He later recalled: “I remember later, when a friend of mine called to tell me that he’d died, it was so hard to understand how somebody whose music came in and took away so many people’s loneliness and gave so many people a reason and a sense of the possibilities of living could have, in the end, died so tragically.”
For Springsteen, Presley had an unquantifiable aura that separated him from everybody else in the music industry. He added, “There have been a lot of tough guys. There have been pretenders. And there have been contenders. But there is only one King.”
Despite Springsteen’s ascent to superstardom in the early ’70s, he never did get a chance to thank Presley for the powerful, life-affirming impact of his music. While they never met, that wasn’t down to a lack of trying on Springsteen’s part. In 1976, while slightly inebriated on tour, he got a taxi with Steve Van Zandt in the dead of night to Graceland. However, Presley’s security had other ideas and put their ambitious plan to a halt.
Admittedly, his attempt to break into Graceland does sound ludicrous, but his debut exposure to rock ‘n’ roll came at the hands of ‘The King’ when he performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. From that moment on, Elvis was the new Jersey boy’s undying hero. Springsteen absorbed every moment of that performance as a nine-year-old, and from that day on, it was clear to Springsteen what he wanted to do with his life.
After being hypnotised by what he saw on television, Springsteen pleaded with his mother, who caved and bought him his first guitar. Three years after Presley’s death, ‘The Boss’ paid tribute to the late original rock ‘n’ roller on ‘Johnny Bye Bye’. He used Chuck Berry’s ‘Bye Bye Johnny’ for the foundations of the ode, which he added to with layers of heartfelt emotion.
On the track, he painfully sings, “They found him slumped up against the drain, With a whole lotta trouble running through his veins, Bye bye Johnny, Johnny bye bye, You didn’t have to die, You didn’t have to die.”
Listen to Springsteen lay his heart bare about ‘The King’ below.