By W. Derek Russell, The Northeast Mississippi , Daily Journal
Tupelo, MS (AP) – Rachel Ethridge was born the year Elvis Presley died.
The two never were in the same room, never shared a meal or conversation – they were never even in the same city at the same time.
But for Ethridge, she and the King of Rock `n’ Roll are cosmically intertwined.
“I had one of those orange and white Fisher Price record players and my mom would give me her albums to listen to. The first Elvis album I had was `Live at Madison Square Garden,’’’ Ethridge said. “I would play the mess out of that record. It started off with `Space Odyssey’ and then went into his intro. I was hooked.’’
In kindergarten, while learning how to write her name, Ethridge would instead write Elvis, stylized in lights as seen on the Madison Square Garden album cover.
“My mom still has those papers,’’ she said. “I couldn’t write `Rachel’ but I knew how to spell `Elvis.’ My teacher called my mother begging her to make me stop.’’
Since then, Ethridge’s admiration for the Tupelo-born musician hasn’t slowed down.
She wore blue suede shoes at her wedding.
She’s even been to Graceland 72 times since its doors opened to the public in 1982.
No, that’s not a typo.
“I remember the first time I went you couldn’t tour everywhere that you can now like the kitchen and his parents room. I remember that very clearly and remember wanting to see where Elvis ate. As with any little kid, with any door that’s shut, you want to know what’s in there,’’ she said, laughing.
While counting the number of trips in her head, Ethridge assured she wasn’t fanatical.
“Music does something to your soul. It heals you. We moved around a lot when I was a kid and I think it was just a consistent place that I could go,’’ she said. “I felt like I knew him. I’m not one of those people who stand at the grave and cry. I always loved his music and it was something that my grandmother liked and we bonded over him. It was a place I could go that was familiar.
“He was just this larger-than-life thing and it was neat to know you could see this man on TV and you could listen to his records and you could go to his house. How cool is that? I don’t want to say he’s the big brother I never had but . . . it made it almost like he was a member of the family.’’
Originally from Jackson, Ethridge moved to Tupelo in 2005 and often takes visiting work clients and guests to the city’s own Elvis home.
“If you’re here with me, you’re going,’’ she said. “I feel like it’s my civic duty.’’
In addition to being a fan, she’s also a hard worker for the King. She’s volunteered with the Tupelo Elvis Festival for the past decade and particularly enjoys getting to be in the midst of those showing off their Presley talents.
“I love doing the publicity tour (with the Elvis Tribute Artists) where I get to show off my town,’’ she said. “One of these days, I want to be a judge. That’s on the bucket list.’’
As for Graceland, she’s beyond needing the John Stamos-led headset tour when she walks through the home’s hallowed halls.
“I love taking people with me,’’ she said. “I’ve been there a few times where I’ve been giving the tour to friends and the next thing I know I have extras following our group. That always makes me laugh.’’
But one thing is clear being around Ethridge – she’s not your typical Elvis fan. Though, according to her, there is no “typical’’ Elvis fan.
“He still, after all these years, has the most unique voice,’’ she said. “He is the true American dream. He’s a boy that grew up in Tupelo and ended up becoming the King of Rock `n’ Roll. Where else is that going to happen? That part is amazing. I’ve traveled the world and if there’s ever a language barrier between you and someone else, you can mention Elvis Presley and people will always know him. He’s the greatest communication tool the world has ever known.’’