Published on May 8th, 2012 | by TLV News


Big E & The Drifting Hound Dogs: Interview & Photographs by Rebecca Long


There’s a deleted scene in Pulp Fiction when Mia Wallace, interviewing Vincent Vega with a Hi-8 camera, says “There are two kinds of people in the world: Beatles people, and Elvis people.”

Until the last few years, I’d have chosen the Fab Four every time. I’ve since decided it’s un-American, and worse, un-Mississippian, to not appreciate Elvis Presley’s impact on popular music as we know it. The man is a legend. His tunes and his memory must live on, lest we forget what rock n’ roll is all about and from whence it came.

Will Atkinson, better known as Big E, is Oxford’s answer for enshrining Elvis Presley. His demeanor is unassuming, his voice is very Elvis-ey, and the fun he obviously has on stage is contagious! Furthermore, every member of his band is versatile and vastly talented. In the 2010-2011 Local Favorites Awards, Big E & The Drifting Hound Dogs won “Favorite Live Show” so these opinions aren’t just mine. Recently, I met up with Will, Tyler Keith, George Sheldon, and Frank Coutch at The Blind Pig to find out more about their conglomerate. The lovely and talented bassist, Van Thompson, was unfortunately at work when we met up. Read on.

(Will read some of my notes ahead of time, and he started the interview off with…)
Big E: “You know what would have been the greatest record of all time? If The Beatles and Elvis had recorded together.”

Rebecca Long: “Did you hear about the recent rumor that Paul McLeod of Graceland Too was dead?”
Big E: “I never heard that rumor. I get a lot of folks think I’m Paul MacLeod, is the scary part.”

(explained to Will about internet rumor and locals’ trips to Graceland Too to make sure Paul was ok)

Big E: “First time I met Paul I didn’t know what to think about him, you know? I mean, I’m a big Elvis fan, but I don’t think I would leave my wife for Elvis.”
RL: “I did not know that happened to him.”
Big E: “Yeah. His wife told him, ‘Either me or Elvis,’ and I guess he chose Elvis. He’s pretty cool, though.”
RL: “We make our choices, yeah. I mean, he’s chosen to do something that apparently makes him happy. He just, like, I saw the pictures from this last weekend when the girls went up there and he was having the time of his life, showing people around his house.”
Big E (gesturing towards bar where Tyler was working): “Look at T over there. Ain’t he somethin’?”
RL: “He is, he is something else. He’s definitely my favorite guitarist in Oxford. He’s got so much soul.”
Big E: “He does. So much rhythm, you know? I tell ya what, to have all these fellas with me, I am the luckiest guy in the world.”
RL: “I think they’re pretty lucky to have you, too. When I came to see you at Ajax earlier this year, I didn’t really know who was in the band, because I hadn’t seen you in about 5 years or something. But when I realized who you had in the band and it was like, Tyler Keith, Van and Frank…guys who have been playing together for years, not to mention gorgeous George.”
Big E: “I call Frank the hardest-working drummer in the music business. But you know he is…he’s a trip, too.”

Big E: “If I could just do this and make a living at it, I would love to do it. Cause, I’ll tell ya, this makes me feel, like, fantastic when I’m up on stage performing, and just getting to meet all the people. I know that may be corny as…corn on the cob…”
RL: “Not really. In life, you kinda have to do what you love, or you end up going crazy, and if what you love doing makes other people happy too, it’s like a plus.”

RL: “Do you consider yourself an Elvis impersonator or a tribute artist? Or just Big E?”
Big E: “I consider myself just ‘Big E,’ cause you’ve got so many tribute artists out there. What’s weird is, some of them try to be Elvis…actually think they’re Elvis. But myself, I’m just me, cause I love doing it. Sure, I may wear the jumpsuit and everything, but…ever since I was a boy, I always wanted to wear a jumpsuit.”
RL: “Because of Elvis?”
Big E: “Yeah.”

RL: “I read a 36-page thing on Elvis last night to kind of prepare myself, and I didn’t realize how he was censored in the 50s when his music first came out because of the hip-shakin’. And I dig it, that’s the whole reason I like watching old videos of him now.”
Big E: “I most liked Elvis probably in the 70s. His voice recorded better, and he was a better singer than in the 50s. In the 50s he had the excitement and the energy. And then in the 70s he mellowed down and got more vocally inclined.”
RL: “He did. He grew into his voice. When did you start performing Elvis tunes? Did you start with performing Elvis tunes or did you write your own music or have other musical ventures first?”
Big E: “I used to lead gospel music at Courtland United Methodist Church, up in Courtland, close to Batesville. I used to lead music there, and my friend used to preach at another church and he asked me one night, ‘Will, can you come over here and do a 50s night for us?’ Cause they always said I had an Elvis voice. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll be glad to,’ so I was dressed up in white slacks, black leather, silk shirt, black leather jacket. So I got out there and started doing it for the first time and…they loved it. And I was like, ‘Man, this caught on.’ So, after that, I started getting more into doing Elvis shows and stuff, and George was the one who really got me started on it, too. I played at the Longshot when it first opened.”
RL: “How long ago was Courtland UM Church when they asked you to do 50s night?”
Big E: “That’s probably about 15 years ago.”

RL: “And, so, if it was when George opened the Longshot, I’m guessing it was ten years ago that y’all hooked up?”
Big E: “Yep. Ten years. First day we hooked up he rented a limo when we did our first show there. And I got out of the limo. Over here (gestures), they had it blocked off…the mayor even came to the show. Mayor Howorth, you know? It was pretty slick, too, girl, let me tell you. But what was funny, my cousin was with me, and he was pretty huge and he had a hard time trying to get out of the limo, and before I started walking through the door, I couldn’t stop laughing cause I was watching him get out of the limo.”
RL: “That’s great, I wish someone had pictures of that show at the Longshot. I’m sure if I had more time I could get someone to dig a few up.”
Big E: “Man, I had on the ugliest blue jumpsuit I’ve ever had.”
RL: “What, was it like your first jumpsuit?”
Big E: “Actually, yeah, one of my first ones. And it was ugly. The lady fixed it up and it had tassels on it. And I swear, when I tried it on for the first time I felt like Howdy Doody. I went back to the lady and I said, ‘Ma’am, can you please get these tassels off?’”
Debbie: “I think you’ve still got that suit.”
Big E: “I do. We sorta redid it now. Put little stars on both sides here, stars down the leg.”
RL: “You ever wear it?”
Big E and Debbie together: “No.” (laughing)
RL: “Just for memorabilia’s sake, then (laughing)… Did you ever get to see Elvis perform live?”

Big E: “Never had.”

RL: “Do you remember what were you doing when you found out Elvis had died on August 16, 1977?”
Big E: “I was at home, taking it easy. And me and my cousins were all playing in the living room – we used to play wrestle a lot. And it came over the news, and I was like, ‘What the heck?’ We watched the Elvis movies that whole night after he passed away. We sat there in the living room just watching them… When I was young, we lived in Trenton, Florida with my grandmother and my aunt, and we had an antenna. And we didn’t live far from Gainesville, so we picked up the Gainesville TV stations, and they had, as they would call it now, an Elvis marathon.”
Frank: “Yeah, I do, actually. I was a little kid. I was in Utica. When I was growing up, my dad and my grandfather were gonna build a house, and they got this land and they started building the house, but we were all living in a trailer on the property while they were doing construction all day. And my mom’s a huge, huge, huge Elvis fan. Me and my little brother, who’s four years younger than me, me and him were playin grabass in the living room, and the TV was on, the news was on, and my mom was in the kitchen…it’s like something out of a movie. She’s doing dishes, and whoever it is announces on the news that Elvis Presley had died, and I think, like, a plate dropped, and my mom just lost it. And me and my brother just, we knew who Elvis was, but we didn’t know how important he was. To us it was like, ‘Oh, Bugs Bunny died.’ It wasn’t that big a deal. I yelled out, ‘Daddy!’ and he had to come in and console her and all. My dad’s never been a huge music fan, but gosh, he knew how much she loved Elvis. And she was pregnant with my little brother when he came to [Jackson?] and played. And she went to the show, like, 8-1/2 months pregnant in a wheelchair, cause she wanted to see Elvis.”
Tyler: “I remember seeing on television. They were showing it on the Memphis news. And I was just like, with my mom and dad or something, and I remember them being upset by it. Same thing with John Lennon, cause they were just a couple of years apart.”

RL: “What’s your favorite popular Elvis song?”
Big E: “My favorite song when I was a little kid, I used to love listening to “Hound Dog.” My mom said every time they’d have a singer on TV, or Elvis would be on TV when I was young, I’d always pick something up with my hand and act like I had a microphone, like I was singing, you know, when I was a little kid.”

RL: “I have a picture…I didn’t take it, Nature did, of Paul [McLeod] doing that very thing last week, actually. It’s the greatest picture they got of him when they went out there. That’s what I’m talking about, he just looks so happy about what he’s doing.”
Frank: “If there’s a popular one that’s my favorite, it’s “Suspicious Minds.” But there’s plenty of other stuff that’s obscure.”
Tyler: “Burnin’ Love.”
George: “King Creole.” Cause it’s got this (imitates guitar riff…all laughing).  Well, it’s my favorite Elvis song slash movie, honestly.”

RL: “What’s the best Elvis song people don’t know?”
Big E: “There’s a song Elvis did, it’s on the 1969 From Elvis in Memphis album, and to me it’s probably one of the best songs that nobody knows he did. It’s “Long Black Limousine”.”

RL: “Is the limousine on the way to a funeral?”
Big E: “Yeah, yeah.”
Frank: “The Stones covered that one, too, in the late 70s.”
Tyler: “Tomorrow Night.” It’s on the Early Sun Records. Just him and guitar. Kinda like “Blue Moon.”

RL: “Have you ever recorded anything?”
Big E: “Yeah, three years ago in December I went to the Sam C. Phillips’ Recording Studio.”
RL: “Sam Phillips’, in Memphis?”
Big E: “Yeah. And have you ever heard of Roland Janes? He’s been doing recording for about 40-something years. He recorded all the big names. He recorded me that day. And it was fantastic. We did about ten songs on the CD and got it burned, and everybody seems to like the CD pretty well.”
RL: “Where is it?”
Big E: “At the house.” (laughs)
RL: “Do you have plans to sell any more copies of it, or record anything else?”
Big E: “I’ve been wanting to go back and record some more stuff.”
Debbie: “I had that CD recorded as a Christmas present to [Will]. And we had over a hundred copies of them made we were supposed to sell. Well, I’m giving one to a friend here, one to a friend here, we wound up giving them all away.”
Big E: “He got me a copyright license for it and everything, so that’s good. But I remember doing “Kentucky Rain”…”
Debbie: “You had to be there to hear this one…(chuckles)
Big E: “Yeah…the guy had the microphone down real low, and my hair brushed the microphone, and it sounds like (whooshing sound).”
RL: “In the whole song, or just the beginning?”
Big E: “Just halfway in the song. Whoosh! And I was like, ‘OK, that’s it.’ All those songs right there were first takes on the whole CD.”
RL: “Did you just not have money for more studio time?”
Big E: “That’s it, right there. You hit the nail right on the head.”

(talking about name of band) Big E: “We have a friend named Bernice Turner. Gosh, she’s about 80-something years old, she’s still kickin. She used to play with Hank Williams, Jr. when he first started out. And their band was called Hank Williams and the Drifters. So I think that’s probably where we got our name from, cause George is a big Hank Williams fan. George actually named the band.”

RL: “So if you hooked up with George ten years ago, how long ago did Tyler start playing with you?”
Big E: “Tyler’s probably been with us about two years now.”
RL: “Van as well?”
Big E: “Yeah, yeah. Probably about a month or two apart. We wanted to get a bigger band, with a better sound. Starting out, George played rhythm and lead, you know. We sounded fantastic with George playing, you know? I mean, we sounded real good, and then it was like, ‘Hey, man, let’s get another player in here.’ But what’s so funny is, I gotta get Frank one, but I got the whole band TCB necklaces. I take care of my boys.”
Big E: “Frank, how long you been with us now, my friend?”
Frank: “A year. I mean, I played with you a couple of times years ago, but…”
Big E: “But, let’s see, a long time ago we started out with George (lead), Pat Cochran (rhythm), Frank Coutch (drums), and Talbot Adams (bass). I think we were calling it Big E and the Impersonators. That’s how I first got to meet Frank.”

Big E (to Frank): “Oh, I found a picture of you, by the way. I think it was on Facebook.”
Frank: “Tell me I had clothes on.”
Big E: “Yeah, you were playing the bass.”
Frank: “Playing the bass?”
Big E: “Yeah, you were over there doing something with the bass in this picture.”
Frank: “Was it like a live photo?”
Big E: “Yeah.”
RL: “Do you play bass?”
Frank: “I do a little, yeah. It’s usually…”
Big E: “I didn’t know that!”
Frank: “Well, Tyler’ll get on the drums, Tyler can play the drums, and I can play a little bass, so whenever we get a certain amount of drinks in us, I’ll grab the bass, and they’ll get on the guitar and the drums, and we’ll do “Smoke On the Water” or something stupid. It’s just a fun way to end the night, in a drunken shamble…bottles and sh!t everywhere, John half-naked.”
RL: “I accidentally posted a picture of John’s balls from a show at the Jubilee on Facebook, and somebody, like, hit the button and reported the image, and they deleted it and sent me a message letting me know, with a thumbnail, and I looked at it closer and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. Balls.’ So I opened it in Photoshop and put a little sheriff’s star on top of ‘em, and put it back on Facebook, and they’ve left it alone.”
Frank: “And John would find it funny. John doesn’t give a shit about anything. I’ve seen his ass too many times, cause he’s in front of me, you know…I’ve seen Tyler in his underwear. Actually, the inlay card on our second record is a black & white photo of us from behind, playing at Ajax on Halloween, and…Tyler went as one of the guys with a trenchcoat who (gestures)…”
RL: “Flasher.”
Frank: “Yeah, flasher. And, so, he had striped tighty whities on. And at some point, some gal just ripped his jacket off. He didn’t care, he just kept playing. And Brad Gunter’s in front of me goin’ like this (rockin’ out), and Tyler’s goin’ like this (some gesture), and they were like, ‘OK, let’s put that on the record – that would be funny.’”

RL: “So, Will, have you ever shot a television?”
Big E: “No, never have.”
RL: “If you were to shoot a television, who would be on the screen that you’d be so pissed off at? You just don’t seem like the kind of guy who would get that pissed off.”
Big E: “Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh…”
Frank: “You took my answer, I was going to say Bill O’Reilly.”
Big E: “I can’t say ‘the president’ cause I might have some Secret Service men walk through the door here.”
RL: “You don’t even have to say his name, just say ‘The President.’ So, Frank, Bill O’Reilly’s the only one you’d shoot?”
Frank: “I don’t know, Kid Rock?”
RL: “That’s a good answer.”
Big E: “Definitely–I can’t stand watching her when she’s singing–Lady GaGa.”
RL: “Ugh, she’s like Madonna Redux. (to George, just rejoining group) Have you ever shot a television?”
George: “I think I have, actually…it was out in a field.”

RL: “And finally, have any of you ever eaten a peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich?” (reportedly Elvis’ favorite)
Debbie: “Oh, yeah.”

Big E: “I’ve eaten peanut butter and banana, fried in butter.”
RL: “Yeah, that’s how it’s supposed to be done, you just didn’t have the bacon.”
George: “I’ve had chocolate bacon.”
RL: “How ‘bout you, Tyler?”
Tyler: “Yes, I have.”
RL: “Where’d you have that at?”
Tyler: “I made it myself.” The Local Voice Ligature

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The Local Voice is a bimonthly entertainment guide and newspaper based in Oxford, Mississippi, covering and distributed in North Central Mississippi, including Oxford, Ole Miss, Taylor, Abbeville, Water Valley, Lafayette County, Yalobusha County, and parts of Panola County, Marshall County, and Tupelo . The Local Voice is distributed free to over 255 locations in North Mississippi and also available as a full color PDF download worldwide on the internet.

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