Rolling with the King
Memories of Elvis from his motorcycle-building pal.
Drinking coffee and reminiscing, Marvin "Shack" Shackelford tells how he first met Elvis. Working in the mid-1950s as floor guard at the Rainbow Lake Skating Rink on Lamar, this native Memphian with a lean frame and sharp wit describes Rainbow as "a rough-and-tumble kind of place. We played football on roller skates. Elvis was good. If you knocked him down he didn't get mad. He could take care of himself."
That was the beginning of a casual friendship that lasted more than two decades and included skating at Rainbow, playing football at Graceland, water-skiing at McKellar Lake, and revving around town on motorcycles. "I never hung on him like the [Memphis] Mafia did," says Shackelford, "but we were in the same crowd."
In the late 1950s, as Elvis soared to stardom, his crowd embraced some Hollywood stars. They'd fly in and stay a week or two, and Elvis would rent the Rainbow rink. The night before the entertainer joined the army, "we played till he headed to catch his train the next day," says Shackelford. "He was a night person. The sun would go down and his eyes would fly open."
In the 1960s, Shackelford started building and painting motorcycles. Once he was riding on a trike he built for himself when Elvis drove up next to him. "Where'd you get that?" the singer said. "I want it."
"You can't have it," Shackelford retorted, "but I can make you one." And he did, using the rear engine and axle of a Volkswagen welded to other parts. "The day I delivered it, he wrecked it. He got the front end just fine through Graceland's gates, but the back fender got hung on the stone." Shackelford repaired the trike, which today is in the Automobile Museum at Graceland.
A man of many enthusiasms, Shackelford was living in a boat at McKellar Lake, when he set out to ski for 1,000 miles to win the 1969 World's Water Ski Marathon. He made it 818 miles on one ski; his feat is listed in the Guinness Book of Records. And in a 1970 Sports Illustrated story, Shackelford is pictured being helped ashore, with the King close behind him. Asked if they still have such a contest, the retired Air National Guard pilot and technician says, "Nah. Nobody's that stupid anymore."
He's chock-full of Elvis stories and relates the time he received a mild scolding: "We were at Graceland when this older lady shows up out of the blue. She has this canned speech about an afflicted niece who wants Elvis' autograph on one of his albums. Elvis asks her if she has a pen. Well, that shot her out of the sky because she don't have one. So she turns to me and says, 'Do you have a pen?' And I said, 'Oh, sh—t, lady, you wouldn't want my autograph.'" The Memphis Mafia snatched Shackelford up and took him outside, and Elvis said, laughing, "You're in trouble."
"He did get on me some. He said he worked hard to build a certain image, and I blew it," says Shackelford.
One of his last memories of the phenomenal entertainer took place at Super Cycle on Bellevue, which also housed a convenience store. Elvis was there, when a customer spied him. "She asked the clerk, 'Is that Elvis?''' recalls Shackelford. "The clerk said, 'No, that's the delivery guy.'" And without missing a beat, Elvis started stacking beer in the cooler. Unconvinced, the woman begged for an autograph. Elvis relented but said, "You can't let anybody know you saw me here. I don't want folks flooding the place."
On August 16, 1977, Shackelford's wife came running to tell him that Elvis was dead. "It had been a few years since we'd really spent time together, but I couldn't quit thinking about him. He left a big void."
Shackelford still remembers the fun they had. "I'd come home from a football game, my clothes dirty and torn, and my mother would say, 'You've been playing with that Elvis again!'"