IOW: Cinema struts to Elvis Bros.

All right, kids, settle down! We know that’s hardly the most ingenious headline (or egregious cliché) we could have come up with for today’s “Image of the Week” but, for those who remember their Champaign-Urbana rock lineage and where The Elvis Brothers fits in, it sure speaks the simple truth. Does it not?

We’ve been brushing up on our Elvisology since visiting the Sousa Archives & Center for American Music on the University of Illinois campus late last year, where we viewed a modest exhibit titled “Live from the Crossroads” featuring vivid portraits of local and touring rock ‘n roll artists as they performed in the C-U during the Eighties. Photographer and then-music scene perennial Della Perrone captured glimpses of acts like Combo Audio, Adrian Belew, The Vertebrats, and the Elvises – Rob Elvis (Rob Newhouse), Graham Elvis (Graham Walker), Brad Elvis (Brad Steakley), and sometimes Adam Elvis (Adam Schmitt) – in their prime. One whole wall is primarily devoted to those wily Elvis Brothers, a pop-rockabilly group with Beatles-style harmony who gave their fans high-energy shows and a pair of coveted studio albums on Priority/CBS, Movin’ Up from 1983 and Adventure Time from 1985. A third, Now Dig This, appeared a decade after the first on Chicago indie label Recession Records before they called it a day.

Upon chatting local music history with exhibit curator Rory Grennan during our stop at the Sousa Archives, which hosts several exhibits simultaneously throughout the year, we noted a color Perrone print featuring bassist Graham and an apparent bobby-soxer outside a movie theater. We promised Grennan we’d try to discern the origin of that pose and quickly found it in the following clip, a two-minute sequence of the Elvises performing in the Virginia Theatre in downtown Champaign and frolicking outside the former Cinema Theater in downtown Urbana. (Folks who picked up the recently-released book, The Art Theater: Playing Movies for 100 Years, have seen a picture of Roger Ebert standing behind the Cinema’s concession counter.) It was the band’s first music video, per an introductory voice-over by Rob Elvis, produced in late 1983 as a promotion for the Movin’ Up single, “I Know You Shake It.” Rock on:

Quite possibly one of the C-U music scene’s original videos in the MTV tradition, “I Know You Shake It” appears here verbatim from its inclusion on the out-of-print compilation tape NOW SEE THIS, issued by Recession in 1993. (This explains the presence of Rob’s exposition.) Several other segments of that VHS release have been uploaded to the same YouTube channel by the tape’s co-producer who we believe is the next segment’s host, Ron Johnson. Explained in the video’s text description, this on-camera Elvis Brothers interview comes from an unaired pilot for a regional program to be called HOME MADE TV. It was recorded in between the original release of Now Dig This and Recession’s re-release of the two earlier albums, as the conversation makes clear in between the band’s tongue-in-cheek responses:

Barring the temptation of a reunion show, the likes of which have brought back together many former C-U groups in recent years, much of the best evidence we have of The Elvis Brothers outside their three albums are Internet fragments such as these. That said, Della Perrone’s valuable images of the Elvises, et cetera, will be on display at the Sousa Archives through September 29, 2014. This will overlap with another display set to open July 1 that will recount the storied history of Pogo Studio, the downtown Champaign music recording business owned by Mark and Nancy Rubel that recently closed after 33 years. Be sure to take in both collections as well as the James Bond theme music display that has been up since last spring; the latter will be retired with a martini and a smile after March 14.

~ Jason Pankoke

[Updated 2/11/14, 8:30 p.m. CST]

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