Elvis And I Sound Great Together
By John J. Duncan Jr.
Several months ago, the book I wrote about my career, “From Batboy to Congressman – Thirty Years in the U.S. House,” was one of the books featured in the Southern Festival of Books at the State Capitol in Nashville.
At a dinner in honor of all the authors, we had been asked in advance to send in our answers to several unusual or humorous questions. The answers were to be shown on a big screen to use as “icebreakers” for conversation with dinner guests. One of the questions was “Who is your favorite character from literature?” and I responded that mine was Rumpole, the criminal lawyer from the Rumpole of the Bailey books and TV series on PBS.
If they had asked my favorite TV character of all time, it would definitely have been Barney Fife of the Andy Griffith Show. My late wife used to tell people that I did not like change or modern fads and that I still lived in Andy of Mayberry days. Thus, I busted out laughing one day several years ago when I saw that I had the same birthday (July 21) as Don Knotts, although he was a few years older. I guessed that my wife had been right about me living in the 50s.
Anyway, at the festival dinner, I got the biggest response to my answer to the question, ‘What is something no one knows about you?’. I answered that “My voice meshes perfectly with Elvis Presley when I’m driving down the interstate.” My son John once told one of his friends that he had learned all the Elvis songs by listening to tapes or CDs on our long drives to Florida.
I once came in third place in a talent show at Eastminster Presbyterian Church doing an Elvis impersonation. I came in third behind my son John and Matt Kinsey, who were five years old, singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” and Clarence Rochat and his talking dog. My wife said I came in third only because she was one of the judges and she didn’t want to embarrass the family.
I told this story one of the two times I was interviewed by the late DJ George Klein on the Elvis Channel on XM Radio. Klein went to high school with Elvis and claimed to be his best friend. Each time I was on that channel, Mr. Klein asked me to pick out an Elvis song to close the program. I picked out Elvis’s version of “My Way” the first time and “Tomorrow Never Comes” the second time.
In Congress, I was called Elvis’s biggest fan, and I really am a fan – especially of his later years and his versions of “The Impossible Dream,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “Unchained Melody,” ” An American Trilogy,” “How Great Thou Art,” and many others.
Japan at one time had a prime minister who was a big fan of Elvis, and President George W. Bush brought him to Memphis to see Graceland. Later during that trip we were at the Rendezvous Restaurant and the prime minister and I sang “What Now, My Love” with the band.
At my son, Zane’s, wedding party, I got all the groomsmen to sing “Let It Be Me” along with the Elvis version. You can’t go wrong with Elvis as your backup singer. I introduced the performance as a song by a group soon to be famous – or infamous – Zane Duncan and The Groomsmen, with Zane as the lead singer. His bride, Hallie, loved it.
I love music and sang for about three years with a Congressional quartet led by Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota. Collin played the guitar and was really good and had toured a little with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Porter Wagoner. Our group sang once on the Grand Ole Opry. The News-Sentinel ran a nice article about that and I told the reporter, “I don’t sing well, but I sing enthusiastically!”
We also sang at the opening of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame at Renfro Valley with the governor of Kentucky and a big crowd present.
This was all many years ago. We sang many places, but finally our schedules just were too busy with much more important things. However, Collin and I did one last brief performance in a show in Washington, D.C., in 2018, my last year in Congress. The show was by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame from Cleveland, and we sang Roy Orbison’s song “Pretty Woman” and “You Are My Sunshine.” which was always a crowd favorite.
In our quartet, we usually sang “Silver Wings” (the song we sang on The Opry), “Act Naturally,” “Welcome To My World,” “You Are My Sunshine,” and one other I have forgotten at the moment.
People have several times over the years asked me what part did I sing. I would always tell them “Backup – way back,” similar to the Andy Griffith Show episode in which they told Barney several times to sing softer so that eventually he was just moving his lips so as not to mess up the rest of the choir.
One of the Capitol Hill newspapers used to ask people, “If you had to give up TV or music, which would it be?” For me, it would have to be TV. Music has been a very big part of my life – both for enjoyment and for inspiration.
During my first term in Congress, the D.C. newspaper Roll Call asked me, “If there was ever a statue of you in the Capitol, where would it be and what would it say?” I said it would probably be in the basement, and it would say “Lucky To Be Here!”
As in any job, some days were more pleasant than others, but there was never one day in my 30 years in Congress that I was not grateful for my job.