'Outside the inner circle'

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Vernon Presley (left) and his long-time girlfriend, Sandy Miller, as Jeff Daniel remembers them when he was a teen who frequented their home in Memphis.

More than 40 years after The King of Rock 'n' Roll died, a local man recalls growing in the shadow of Graceland.

"Elvis once knew my name," said Jeff Daniel, who met Vernon Presley, Elvis' father, when he was about 10. He was with his mom and sisters at the gates of Graceland in about 1969 when Vernon came out to greet them.

Four years later, Daniel and his family were getting settled into a new apartment in Memphis when he saw Vernon step out of a Cadillac and walk into the home of his best friend, Mike Miller.

Daniel said when his family moved into the Brookwood Apartments at the corner of Millbranch and Raines Road in Memphis, he and Miller quickly became friends even though Miller was a year behind him in school. He soon learned Miller's mother, Sandy, was dating Vernon -- a secret he was sworn to keep for quite some time.

But around the time Daniel started his first job at the Dairy Queen near his home, he said, Vernon and Sandy moved in together in a home on Old Hickory Drive. The back yard of the home abutted Graceland, separated only by a stone wall.

Inside the home, Daniel recalled, Vernon had an office and on the desk were two phones. One of the phones looked like a typical phone but there was also a red phone that didn't have a dial face on it; it only flashed and buzzed or rang. He recalled telling his father it was like the phone on 'Batman,' which connected the hero with the commissioner via a direct line. He later learned that phone was a direct line to Graceland.

Daniel said as new and expensive retail items would hit the major market, he would often see them first at Miller's house: the Chevrolet dually pickup truck (featuring four wheels on the back end instead of just two), a projector with screen (the first big screen television). He even recalled a trip with Vernon and Miller to the Memphis Harley-Davidson dealership when all the salesmen rushed to greet them because they knew if Vernon was there, he was making a purchase. That day, his purchase was a brand new Harley-Davidson Baja 100, a two-stroke motocross bike.

"I got to spend the night with Mike at that house a lot and I can remember waking up in the mornings and hearing Mr. Vernon walking through the house singing gospel songs," he said. "I would lay there thinking to myself that he sounded like Elvis."

Daniel was about 15 years old when he first encountered Elvis at Vernon's home, and he recalled an average day of he and Miller working on their bicycles in the driveway when a white Cadillac Fleetwood pulled into the driveway. From the passenger seat emerged Joe Esposito (Elvis' road manager and friend) and from the driver's seat -- Elvis.

"Elvis had on this cool shirt and slacks with these sunglasses and as he walked past me and Mike he held up his hand in greeting and just said, 'What's happening, guys?' I thought God walked by," he recalled.

Daniel said he and Mike would frequently accompany Vernon to "the big house," where most people entered through the kitchen. He recalled more than one occasion when Elvis gave each boy a $5 bill to do odd jobs around the property. He said one such occasion was washing the golf carts because, according to Elvis, he and his friends had shot Roman candles at each other the night before and dirtied them up. Another odd job was throwing bales of hay to the horses. He also recalled riding with Vernon to pick up Elvis' prescriptions from Black's Apothecary and seeing "Dr. Nick's" name on the bottles (Dr. George Nichopoulos, Elvis' personal physician).

Sometimes, Daniel's trips with Miller and Vernon led to him meeting other celebrities who were in Elvis' circle of friends. One such encounter was Bill "Superfoot" Wallace (who was featured in films with Chuck Norris and helped create kickboxing) and Sonny West, sparring with Elvis and practicing martial arts near the college campus. He also met Linda Thompson around that same time, who later married Olympian Bruce Jenner, and Red West, who he said was considered a member of the "Memphis Mafia" and went on to act in several movies including "Walking Tall," "Roadhouse," and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and the series "Baa Baa Black Sheep."

Even after Daniel and Miller drifted apart in high school, socializing with different circles, he would still see Elvis' aunts, Delta and Lorraine, who frequented the Kroger where Daniel worked as a bagger. He said they would take turns each week driving -- one drove a Lincoln and the other drove a Cadillac. But back when it was customary to tip the bagger 25 to 50 cents, they always gave him a whole dollar.

Many years later, Daniel was helping his stepfather, Butch, and a friend drive to Grenada, Mississippi, to pick up a truck when the news broke over the radio that Elvis had died.

"We were northbound on I-55 on Aug. 16 and I was listening to the radio when they broke halfway into the song and announced that Elvis Presley had died at Graceland. I changed the radio channel, the same announcement. I tried another, same thing. I felt as if I couldn't breathe.

"This was the coolest man on the planet: the King of Rock 'n' Roll, the man who had everything and supernatural magnetism -- it couldn't be true," he recalled. "I pulled the truck over on the side of the interstate, jumped out of the truck and my knees literally buckled beneath me. Butch pulled up next to me with his window rolled down and asked what was wrong. I told him to turn on the radio and he asked which station. I told him, 'It doesn't matter.'"

"When Butch reached up and turned on the radio, we heard again what every radio station in the United States was broadcasting: Elvis Presley, dead at 42," he added.

That evening, Daniel got in touch with Miller and learned of the funeral arrangements. The next day, he attended the funeral with the family. He recalled Elvis Presley Blvd. looking like a parking lot instead of a highway, and the devastation of the family.

"Mr. Vernon was pitiful looking, sobbing uncontrollably along with the other thousands of people there," he said. "I stood there looking into the coffin at the only man that ever lived who could strut while sitting down. He didn't look real to me."

Daniel said he doesn't remember ever seeing Miller again after that day and a search for him several years later was unsuccessful, but he often looks back fondly on the memories he made while "being on the outside of the inner circle."

"There never was before or after, and may never be again, a mortal man that made such an impact on the world and especially those he came into contact with, than Elvis Presley."

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