Deborah Allen Captures ‘Amazing Graceland’ Memories of Elvis
In 1983, Memphis-born singer-songwriter Deborah Allen stormed the charts with the first of three blockbuster hit singles. The dramatic 'Baby I Lied' not only reached the Top 5 on the country chart, it was also a Top 10 hit on the Adult Contemporary survey and climbed into the pop Top 30. In fact, during one eventful week in '83, Deborah found her single nestled snugly on the Billboard Hot 100 between solo hits by former Beatles Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
For the Memphis-born singer, connecting with rock 'n' roll royalty has been commonplace throughout her career. In 1987, she recorded 'Telepathy,' a single written for her by Joey Coco, who's better name by his regal moniker, Prince. But it's the beautiful brunette's deeper, almost spiritual connection with the King, Elvis Presley, that has permeated her music and indeed her life as a Bluff City native, even when she's been blissfully unaware of just how connected they continue to be.
In an interview earlier this summer with The Boot, to reveal details of her long-awaited new album, 'Hear Me Now,' Deborah talked about a number of the tracks on the record, including the single 'Anything Other Than Love,' which she co-wrote with Gary Burr, and 'Amazing Graceland,' her tribute to Elvis' iconic mansion not far from where she grew up. It's a song she debuted last year during Elvis Week, the international celebration in Memphis which happens at this time every year, marking the day the superstar entertainer died, August 16, 1977. Later in our conversation, Deborah mentioned that the album finally had an official release date: August 16, 2011, not even realizing (until we pointed it out!) the full significance of that date.
But the singer has more than just an intangible ties to Elvis. She's linked to him by several people in her life, including former DJ George Klein, a member of Elvis' close-knit inner circle of friends known as the Memphis Mafia, who put her on his TV program, a kind of regional 'American Bandstand,' years ago. And there's her parents' unusual connection to the icon as well.
"My daddy had an automobile upholstery shop, and my mother was a great designer. She was a great complement to him," Deborah tells The Boot. "Elvis' people wanted my parents to upholster and design the interior of his bus, so they brought his bus to the shop. But every day, the Memphis Mafia would show up and hang around. There's always some commotion when they're around, so finally my daddy just said, 'Look I cannot get anything done with y'all hangin' around here, so if y'all don't quit hanging around, I'm gonna have to take the bus home!'"
When, not surprisingly, the group denied that request, Deborah's dad did take the bus home with him to work on it. "My sister Judy and I camped out in it," says the singer. "We ate all of Elvis' ice cubes and camped out in there all night. We thought we were so cool. When my parents finished the bus, it was gorgeous. It was in royal blue trimmed in gold. And back on the bed was this medallion that said 'EP' in the center."
While the area around Graceland has since become a tourist mecca and a huge commercial development, when Deborah was growing up there, things were much less congested. "It was nothing. You'd go for miles out on Highway 51 and there was nothing," she notes. "But you'd go by Graceland; we would pass by there and sometimes the gates would be open and sometimes they would be closed. We were always intrigued by it. Sometimes we would see Elvis up there riding horses with his friends."
Even away from Graceland, it was common to experience an Elvis sighting. While she and her family were water-skiing on a nearby lake, Deborah recalls, "One time my mother said, 'Look, there's Elvis over there on the sand bar. I believe he's over there with that ol' Ann-Margret [the King's co-star in 1964's 'Viva Las Vegas.']"
"Elvis was always in our midst but I never did get to meet him. I was invited one night to go to a movie with a friend of his, but this person was way too old for me and it just didn't feel right," says the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter who since moving to Nashville has penned tunes for LeAnn Rimes, Brooks & Dunn, Sheena Easton and Fleetwood Mac, among countless others. Her 'Baby I Lied' was also covered by singer-actress Tracey Ullman.
Two years ago, Deborah made her first-ever pilgrimage inside the gates of Graceland, when she was asked to perform at a private function there.
"I was in Graceland all evening," she recalls. "The spirit of Elvis, I absorbed it so much. I saw the sweetness of his spirit. I could just see the small-town Tupelo boy living in his Memphis dream mansion. I could feel all the love for his family and his friends and how generous and sweet he was. I couldn't shake it, it just stayed with me all the way on the drive back to Nashville. I just kept saying that was so amazing. Finally when I got home, I said, 'It was amazing ... it's amazing Graceland! So that's what inspired that song. It'll never be a single, because it's almost five minutes long. But I couldn't write a little bitty song for Elvis."
Watch Deborah's 'Amazing Graceland' Video