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In Music

This 1956 KH, owned by Elvis, has long been a part of the Harley-Davidson Museum's collection. (PHOTO: Harley-Davidson Archives)

Harley-Davidson Museum celebrates Elvis Presley


As much as sequined jumpsuits and peanut butter and banana sandwiches, Elvis Presley loved Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

He bought his first in the early 1950s, before he signed his first record deal with Sun Records. In 1956, Presley -- just a week past his 21st birthday and days after he recorded his first major hit, "Heartbreak Hotel" -- bought a KH model Harley, fueling a love affair that lasted until his death in 1977.

"I've seen him photographed on 8-10 different bikes," says Jim Fricke of the Harley-Davidson museum. "It's a lot like him and Cadillacs. He'd buy a few at a time and give one a way.

"Elvis owned quite a few bikes and during the '70s, he was riding a trike around Memphis. There are lot of photos of him on Harleys; somehow it fit."

Friday would have been Elvis' 75th birthday and, to commemorate the day -- and the King's love of motorcycles -- the Harley-Davidson Museum is featuring a special exhibit.

Since opening in 2008, Elvis' 1956 KH has been a part of the semi-permanent collection. But throughout the month, the museum is expanding its exhibition.

Along with the bike, the museum also has documents related to its original purchase including a bill of sale, registration papers and an insurance application, which has an interesting glimpse into Presely's life at the time.

In addition, the Graceland Museum has loaned a number of historic photographs, including some from Presley's 1968 NBC "Comeback Special" to round out the display.

The exhibit goes beyond the common perception that the museum is strictly for the chrome-and-leather, V-Twin loving crowd. Elvis' bike has long been a part of an exhibit focusing on bikes and pop culture.

"One of the reactions we get regularly is that people are surprised we have so much history and pop culture in the museum," Fricke says. "The perceptions is that it's a whole bunch of motorcycles but it's more than just that.

"This is a fun museum for anyone interested in history, be it transportation or history of pop culture."

Surprisingly enough, despite the passion for Milwaukee iron Presley didn't make his first Brew City appearance until a pair of shows at the Milwaukee Arena in June 1972.

He had played one previous show in Wisconsin -- on May 14, 1956 in La Crosse -- but rarely toured between leaving the Army in 1950 and his NBC special in 1968.

"He was making three movies a year during that stretch," Fricke says. "He became a movie star; he didn't play concerts or make records, he made movies and recorded soundtracks."

Elvis rode Harleys in a number of his films, most notably "Roustabout" (1964), in which he plays Charlie Roger, a motorcycle rider who makes his money by singing at shopping malls. He takes a part-time job working at a carnival to make enough money to repair his bike.

Presley also appeared on a Harley in "Viva Las Vegas" (1964), "Clambake" (1967) and Stay Away Joe (1968).

You can catch those movies and more when Turner Classic Movies runs a day-long marathon of Elvis flicks on Friday, beginning at 5 a.m. with "Harum Scarum."


Talkbacks

triumph110 | Jan. 7, 2010 at 7:23 p.m. (report)

For more news stories on antique and vintage motorcycles see www.oldbikenews.com

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switchum | Jan. 7, 2010 at 6:44 p.m. (report)

I believe he mostly rode Honda CB77 Dream in Roustabout. Studio put him a Honda due to the bad rep created by Harley riders at the time. "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda"

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CoolerKing | Jan. 7, 2010 at 7:02 a.m. (report)

Interesting event. If Harley made bikes like the '56 KH again, I'd probably be more inclined to buying one.

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