Welcome Home Elvis was co-written, recorded and released in 1977 (the year of the King’s demise) by Billy Joe Burnette. Burnette was co-author of the mid-1970s country music smash hit Teddy Bear, featured on this very blog many moons ago. Named after the TV special hosted by Frank Sinatra in 1960 to re-introduce Elvis to the public after his stint in the army, Welcome Home Elvis was featured on the album of the same name, stuffed with other tribute songs, a re-recording of the Elvis hit Peace in the Valley (which also provides the basis for this song) and featuring Elvis’s drummer, D.J. Fontana, on the title track. According to the album’s sleeve notes, Fontana reckoned that ‘this is it! This is the tribute to Elvis that I want to hear in my heart.’ Sadly the rest of us had to listen with our ears, as Billy narrates the story of ‘El’, his dead brother and his dirt-poor family whilst affecting a poor Elvis impersonation.
Burnette was born (as Billy Barnette) in Richmond, North Carolina and given up for adoption. He learned to sing and play guitar, and co-wrote a song, Stomp, Shake and Twist, which managed to get some radio play. He came to national attention in 1961, when he recorded his song Marlene for Parkway Records. Dick Clark featured the disc on American Bandstand, and he headed for Hollywood, where he met up with rockabilly singers Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, who befriended him and gave him his stage name, Billy Joe Burnette. After recording a few soul-influenced sides for Gold Standard records, including the rather good Lust For Life, he established his own label, the B.J.B. Record Company of Hollywood, signing the singers Jody Vac, Jo Ann Martin and Donna Thomas, who released the 45 If You’d been Born a Woman.
By the mid 1970s, Burnette was in Nashville, leaving pop and soul behind in favour of country and in 1976 Red Sovine’s single Teddy Bear came out, a tearjerker about truckers, CB radios and a little paralyzed boy. Burnette received a BMI Award for songwriting and was nominated for a Grammy and a Country Music Association award. The following year, with Elvis barely cold in the ground, he released the dreadful Welcome Home Elvis. He also recorded the ‘comedy’ song Blow Smoke on a Kangaroo and scored a minor hit in 1990 with another spoken word disc, Three Flags.
Happily, the B-side to Welcome Home Elvis is almost as awful. I Haven’t Seen Mama in Years is the tale of a man imprisoned for something he did not do (of course) who cannot understand why his dear Mama has not bothered to come visit. It’s only when he gets out – and we get close to the end of the disc – that we discover the reason, and it’s a wonderfully sick twist to this tale of woe.
Sadly Billy Joe passed away in Florida on December 29 last year. The 76 year-old suffered a massive heart attack as he was putting items in his car for a move back to Nashville. The singer, songwriter and producer had planned to restart his career, had just sold his home near Daytona Beach, and was looking forward to getting back to work.