Elvis sat on the recycling bin at the smoking hut at the back of the C building. He wasn’t smoking. He was playing a 12-string guitar.
He stopped for a moment. “Play the one with the drums,” a friend asked. Elvis began to play again. He played it however he needed to, to get the sound he wanted to hear.
Sometimes he used his finger like a slide. Sometimes he played chords. Most of the time, though, he beat on the guitar like a drum, over the sound hole. He left the strings open, getting the wonderful open-string resonance unique to the 12-string guitar.
Sometimes, he brings his harmonica to the smoking shed. Sometimes, other people bring their instruments, and they jam. The group there is very close knit. When the weather gets warmer, Elvis said, they plan to all bring their instruments and jam between the sheds.
Elvis’ real name is David Bechtel. He explained how he got the nickname from a young woman in Portland. “One of the girls that was there saw me listening to an Elvis album, and I had my hair kind of up in the front, and… I had my sideburns, so she was like, ‘I’m gonna call you Elvis.’
“It kind of stuck. It just kind of grew. And so [for] the last four years or so, I’ve been known as Elvis,” he said.
Others call him “Mr. Happy” for his positive outlook. “I’m just a happy guy,” he said.
Elvis’ love of music goes back a long time. One day, while looking through his kindergarten papers, he found out how far back. “[The teachers] would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I was like, music. Music and skateboarding,” he said, and laughed.
He’s been playing guitar since 7th grade, when his parents bought him his first guitar. They didn’t expect he would still be playing 10 guitars later, but a love of music runs in his family. Elvis’ mother sings opera, and plays the French horn.
It was Elvis’ father who had the greatest influence on his musical tastes, however. He was the one who introduced Elvis to recordings of old blues men, like Blind Lemon Jefferson, the “Father of the Texas Blues”. Later, Elvis found Bob Dylan, who “really influenced me acoustically,” he said.
Elvis has eclectic tastes in music, and is broadening his musical knowledge here at BCC. “Have you ever heard of Gamelan? Have you ever heard Kebyar?” he said. Gamelan and Kebyar are Indonesian musical styles he learned about through a music class at the college. He loves the sounds that sound to him as if they come directly from the earliest peoples.
He writes his own music, and plays it with his band, .amnerata. He takes his musical inspiration where he finds it. One song, he composed while walking around a park looking for his harmonica.
After playing another song, he said, “I wrote that one in Arizona over spring break. I was down there – I was just sitting at the fire that my dad made, and we were all cooking s’mores… and I just started coming up with that.”
You can hear Elvis’ music yourself at http://www.myspace.com/elvisdelvis. Better yet, go to the smoking hut out back of the C building cafeteria and hear him play live. He’s there most days, between classes.