LOS FRESNOS, Texas – It’s hard to beat south Texas during the not so wintery days of January. The warmer weather brings in people from all over the country for sun, sand, and some serious sideburns. This week we start things off down in the Valley at a celebration fit for a king – well, the king of rock & roll, that is. You see, a personal friend of Presley’s puts on this Presley-sized party every few years, and it leaves people saying thank you, thank you very much.
Every January, close to the King of rock and roll’s birthday, people flock to Los Fresnos for a celebration at Little Graceland.
Just why is the tiny tribute to Elvis sitting here in South Texas? Well it’s all because of this man, Simon Vega.
“I was nine months younger than Elvis,” Vega said. “I was born in a two-room house, a two-room shed just like Elvis.”
He too was born in 1935, just a few miles from his little manor dedicated to the musical act of the millennia. But what was Simon’s special connection to the King? He actually got to hang with one of the most influential singers of all time.
“I took my basic training at Fort Hood and was there for six weeks at the same time Elvis got there,” said Vega.
Simon was drafted into the Army in 1958 and while waiting for chow, Mr. Vega approached Presley.
“So when I patted him on the back, he turned around and said, ‘Hi, Vega You know me…?” And I said, ‘Hi, Elvis. Hey Elvis, what can I do for you? I want to be your friend.’ We shook hands. He said, ‘Okay, let’s be friends.’ And that’s, we were friends for a long time,” Vega said.
The duo was stationed in Germany and Simon was part of the crew that included Joe Esposito, Elvis’s eventual longtime bodyguard. Simon fondly recalls their time together hanging out in the hot spots of Frieberg.
“You know at the end of the month in the Army. Everybody’s broke. Guys shoot dice and play cards and lose their money and on weekends he would say, ‘Hey guys, come with me.’ He would pick up some snacks at the bar and he would feed us hamburgers and stuff, and he’d pay for it,” said Vega.
Perhaps another interesting side to Elvis Simon witnessed was writing habits – not devoted to lyrics, but to letters.
“His company had two mail clerks,” Vega said. “Every day he would bring a big sack full of letters and throw them to the guys. Our company had two mail clerks. One for us, and one for Elvis.”
Elvis was a good friend to have and when their time together in the service came to an end, Elvis had a proposal for Simon, the same proposal that the King made to Joe Esposito.
“Told Elvis I had to go back to my wife and family, and he pointed at me, and he said, ‘Look Vega, go back to Texas, and if you can’t find a job right away, come to Graceland and I’ll put you on the payroll,” said Vega.
That was the last time Simon got to talk with Elvis, but Pressley made such an impression on Simon that he started his collection to the King and built Little Graceland.
“Many people haven’t been to Graceland because it’s too far or something. They come here, they get a pre-Graceland, you know, and they become friends and they become friends and all that, and they help keep Elvis’s name going,” Vega said.
Once a year, the big bash brings in the Elvis faithful and now a former schoolteacher is the one people want their pictures with. Danny Lee is Corpus Christi native who happens to be an Elvis impersonator.
“I wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for Elvis,” said Lee.
Being a native son of south Texas, Danny is a big draw at the Little Graceland Elvis Festival and he understands Simon’s connection to the King.
“You know, he also wrote a song about Elvis. Have you heard that? It was called ‘Hail to Elvis Presley,’ and that just goes to show you how much of an influence Elvis had over everybody in the United States and rock and roll,” Lee said.
So Simon keeps the King’s memory alive in South Texas with his royal tribute full of memorabilia, pictures, and every Elvis album ever made.
“Hope it never dies, because he was a, I don’t think there’s going to be another Elvis. Never,” said Vega.