10 Things You Didn’t Know About Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello is a diversely talented and restless musician who always keeps fans guessing as to what his next move might be. The legendary singer-songwriter has released albums in almost every possible genre, but much of his best-known work feels very much at home on classic rock radio. Costello turns a very spry 57 years old today (Aug. 25), and his recent 'Spinning Songbook' tour proves that he's still constantly challenging himself creatively. We're not sure what he's doing today to celebrate his birthday, but we'll spotlight 10 things you might not know about Elvis Costello as our own tip of the hat!
Believe it or not, Elvis Costello and Mr. ‘Power of Love,’ Huey Lewis, have a connection. When Costello was recording his debut album ‘My Aim Is True,’ his backing band featured several members of the San Francisco band Clover, including future Huey Lewis & The News keyboard player Sean Hopper and guitarist John McFee, who would go on to eventually play guitar with the Doobie Brothers
Born Declan MacManus in London, Costello made the switch to the name we all know after signing his first recording contract. His new name was a two-part suggestion from his manager, borrowing ‘Elvis’ from Elvis Presley (probably a smart move for the time period) and his own father’s stage name of Costello. He had previously been playing early gigs as D.P. Costello as a nod to his dad.
The union of Costello and Lennon's former famous songwriting partner, Paul McCartney was a dream come true for many music fans. Their collaboration produced solid results for both sides in 1989. McCartney scored a nice hit with ‘My Brave Face’ from his album ‘Flowers In The Dirt,' and Costello earned some nice radio play with ‘Veronica' from 'Spike.' As Elvis has pointed out in interviews, the songwriting credits don’t tell the full story -- if it sounds like Paul wrote it, it actually was probably Elvis and vice versa. For us, that’s the mark of a great collaboration.
Long before his famous Saturday Night Live incident, Costello took his frustration over not having a U.S. record contract to the street, performing his songs outside of a London CBS Records convention. Apparently the cops weren’t fans, because he was arrested, but the move paid off - he was signed to CBS label Columbia Records in the U.S. a short time later.
Costello's infamous 1977 'Saturday Night Live' performance almost didn’t happen - Costello and his band were a last minute substitute for the Sex Pistols, who were the scheduled musical guest. What happens when one slightly cantankerous punk fills in for a bunch of well-known trouble-makers? Well, in the case of Elvis, this meant deviating from the scheduled and approved plan to play ‘Less Than Zero,’ which he aborted in its opening moments, choosing to play the more controversial ‘Radio, Radio’ instead.
Through his ‘Spectacle’ television program, we’ve learned that Elvis is a fan of a lot of things, but back in the day, it might have been surprising to learn that Elvis was a lover of country music, and of George Jones in particular. He and Jones have collaborated several times, the most well-known being ‘Stranger In The House,’ a one-off single that was packaged as a bonus with the ‘This Year’s Model’ album in 1978. He put his country love on full display with 1981’s ‘Almost Blue’ album, which featured covers of some of Jones’ material, plus additional tracks by Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and others.
In an 1982 Rolling Stone interview, Costello tells the story of how his dad tried to get him into the psychedelic music of bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. While Costello gave it a shot, he usually ended up taking the albums and trading them for the music that he really wanted to hear, from artists like Marvin Gaye.
As a parent, you want to let your children discover music at their own pace, and for the kids that Elvis has with songstress Diana Krall, that apparently means a steady diet of Randy Newman’s music, from ‘Toy Story' and other animated movies. Costello marvels at Newman’s ability to “imprint that music in children that young.” Hey, it’s nice work if you can get it, right?
Costello's 1986 ‘King of America’ album, an acoustic-based record produced by T-Bone Burnett, featured Elvis backed by a band of musicians that included former Elvis Presley associates James Burton on guitar and Jerry Scheff on bass. When Elvis took the new material out on the road, Burton joined him for some of the dates, but sadly, at no time was Costello captured wearing one of the King's patented sequined jumpsuits on stage.
John Mellencamp and Stephen King have been working on a musical together (can we make a Mellencamp joke here and say that it will be ‘smokin’?’) set to debut in Atlanta next year. Costello will be part of the musical cast for the CD version of the project, portraying a character called ‘The Shape.’ Created in the style of an old-time radio show, Mellencamp has dispelled the fears of anybody who might be expecting something that is like ‘Jack and Diane’ meets ‘Cujo.’ Actually, we were kind of hoping for exactly that. No dice, huh?