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Hamburger James Caughley, 1942-2016

Hamburger James Caughley, 1942-2016

On October 15, 2016, this world said goodbye to one James K. Caughley, Jr. of Memphis, TN but his departure didn’t make headlines.  From his brief obituary, we learned that Caughley was a retired employee of the Coors Brewing Company.  He adored animals, especially Main Coon cats. He loved NASCAR and visiting the Smokey Mountains.  His memorial services were held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in the Memphis suburb of Germantown, TN.  His life appeared, by all measures, mundane.  But looks can be deceiving and first impressions wrong.  As William Shakespeare wrote, “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”  So let it be with James.  The clues lie in what was not in the obituary.  You see, James K. Caughley, Jr. is better known as Hamburger James – and his story is far more interesting than one might suspect.

Elvis Presley’s inner circle, known as The Memphis Mafia, was more than merely the group of friends with which The King of Rock and Roll hung out.   It was the most exclusive of clubs and the most coveted of fraternities.  To be a part of Elvis’ family of friends was to have entitlements that the rest of the world would never enjoy.  It was to have a reputation, a title, hell, a role in history.  This was Elvis, after all, and membership had its privileges.  Stores, restaurants, theaters, and even amusements parks that were closed would open back up for you after hours if you were in the court of the King.  Elvis was known to give personal gifts such as money, cars, and even houses to members of The Memphis Mafia.  He even brought some of his closest confidants to the White House when he asked President Nixon to make him a federal officer so that he could arrest people and fight socialism and communism (true story).  The President indeed issued Elvis a DEA badge that day.  And while the badge was honorary, Elvis was known to investigate and “arrest” people that he suspected of being unpatriotic.

Elvis and Nixon
Elvis and Nixon at the White House – taken on the day that Elvis received his honorary DEA badge.

Everyone in the Memphis Mafia had a specific role.  Even their logo – TCB (Taking Care of Business) in a flash – alluded to supreme dedication to their responsibilities.  Charlie Hodge inspected the stages on which Elvis would perform and handed him scarves and drinks during the shows.  Joe Esposito served as both the Secretary and Treasurer.  Red and Sonny West were his bodyguards. Lamar Fike, Jerry Schilling, Marty Lacker, Billy Smith – each had a job.  James Caughley wanted desperately to be a member of the Memphis Mafia and he would do any job he had to in order to serve the King.

When Elvis made up his mind about something, he went in all the way.  When he decided to get involved with the growing sport of racquetball in the 1970s, he didn’t just rent out the local YMCA to play a few matches.  He built a regulation racquetball court at Graceland and it became a staple activity for him and his friends.  When he explored his equestrian passion, he didn’t just go out horseback riding for relaxation.  He purchased many horses, bought land in Walls, MS, and started the Circle G Ranch.  Impulsive?  Perhaps.  But he always went in all the way.  It was the same with food.  When Elvis got the bug that he was in the mood for a cheeseburger, he wanted it immediately… even if it was 3:00 in the morning and all the restaurants were closed (this was long before the days of 24/7 fast food chains being the norm, remember).  It was with a cheeseburger that Elvis’ stepbrother, Ricky Stanley, was initiated into the Memphis Mafia on a cold night in December, 1970, in downtown Washington, D.C.

Ricky was 17 years old and Elvis called him in the middle of the night with the impulsive instruction to go find him a cheeseburger.  Ricky didn’t know where he’d come by one at that time of night and Elvis offered no advice.  So Ricky wandered out into the streets of D.C. at around 3:00 in the morning in search of an illusive cheeseburger.  He proved his worth by returning to the hotel, a bag of burgers in hand.  “I don’t want them. I was just checking you out, to see if you could do it,” Elvis replied.  From this night forward, Ricky was a full fledged member of the Memphis Mafia and was assigned specific roles.  Ricky recalls, “Eventually I took care of him when we were traveling. I did everything. I made sure all the meals were taken care of. I took care of his wardrobe and jewelry, taped up the windows so the sun couldn’t get in, set up the room and carried the kit that contained all his medication. When he would come offstage, it was my responsibility to get a towel around his neck, a glass of water in his hand, a coat on his back. Then to get him in a car and make sure those vents weren’t blowing on him. Usually in the car it was mostly just him and me in the backseat, with someone driving us.”

As you can imagine, when dealing with an impulsive character like Elvis who enjoyed routine and order, Ricky’s job became busy.  He could have used an assistant.  Enter James Caughley.  James was a guy who hung around in the early 1970s trying to “get in” with the Elvis entourage.  Sometimes, the group would let him into the Memphian Theater during the Memphis Mafia’s all night movie watching marathons.  If the boys got hungry while watching the flicks, Elvis would shout out, “Hamburgers,  James!”  And so the nickname was born.  Hamburger James was happy to find and deliver burgers whenever Elvis wanted.  Eventually, Elvis felt sorry for James who always seemed like a misfit and the King offered him an official role in the Memphis Mafia.  Basically, he was a gopher running odd errands.  Mainly, he found burgers for Elvis and the crew.

Hamburger James Caughley ID
Actual ID card for James Caughley.

In 1973, during a stay in Las Vegas, NV, Elvis noticed that there were some items missing from his “kit.”  Elvis’ kit went everywhere with him and its safe keeping was the responsibility of Ricky Stanley.  The kit was known to contain lots of prescription drugs, about $10,000 stored in a wallet, some jewelry, Elvis’ license, and several Polaroid pictures of Pricilla (assumed by most to be naked photographs).  Elvis noticed that some of the Polaroid pictures and an undisclosed amount of money had been taken from the kit and he immediately went into a rage.  Ricky was in Elvis’ suite at the time and the two of them went around the hotel looking for all of the rest of the Memphis Mafia members to put them on alert that a thief was lurking around them.  But they found something – or rather, someone – else that was missing along with the artifacts from the kit.  Hamburger James was nowhere to be found.

While searching for Hamburger James, someone in the Memphis Mafia suggested that they check the airport.  So Elvis ordered some of them to get the car and take him to the airport immediately.  Red and Sonny West and Ricky Stanley were among those who made the legendary trip.  Someone discovered that a plane was leaving for Memphis in just a few minutes so they raced at high speeds to get to the terminal before the plane would take off.  When they arrived at the airport, Elvis and the Memphis Mafia got out of their car and raced through the airport with guns, jumping up and down and looking everywhere for Hamburger James.  Someone spotted the terminal where a plane was about to taxi to the runway for its flight to Memphis.  Elvis runs to the counter and demands, “Stop that plane!  Stop that plane!”  The attendant explains that she can not stop the plane so Elvis flashed his badge. “I’m a federal officer!  I tell you I want that plane stopped right now!”  That’s when she realized that this was Elvis Presley and, lo and behold, the plane was stopped.

The accounts of the narrative of this event differ only slightly but it appears that Elvis and the boys ran outside and boarded the wrong plane first before they finally found Hamburger James cowering in fear, in possession of not only money and the photos but also two rings.  Imagine being in the airport or on the plane and Elvis rushes in, flashing a badge, saying he is a federal agent, and his men have their guns in clear view!  After they found James he was physically dragged back to the car, Red and Sonny West taking turns punching him along the way.  Elvis read James his Miranda Rights.  But in proving that he was more an entertainer than a federal agent, he couldn’t remember all the words.  Elvis looked at Hamburger James who was cowering and sobbing in tears, afraid for his life, and said, “James, you have the right to remain silent.  You have the right to an attorney…” And then Elvis couldn’t recall the rest of it so he said, “and you have the right to all the rest of that shit.  Get the fuck in the car!”

They took Hamburger James back to the hotel and brought him to Elvis’ suite where he was tossed on a couch.  Elvis picked up a table as if to crash it down upon James, delivering a death blow.  He reconsidered to the relief of Ricky (though Red and Sonny probably would have enjoyed the drama).  Elvis stared at him for a moment then slapped him twice, very hard, across the face.  James broke down crying and sobbing hysterically.  He said he was sorry for stealing.  After a moment of watching James cry, Elvis began crying.  One thing that no one ever questioned was Elvis’ compassion.  Perhaps in that moment Elvis only saw the misfit that he once wanted to help but ultimately used as nothing more than a gopher.  Elvis took pity and he got down on his knees in front of James and said he was sorry, too.  Then Elvis asked, “Why didn’t you let me know if you needed money? Why didn’t you let me know if you wanted to go back to Memphis? I would have given you money. You didn’t have to steal from me.”  They both cried for a long time.  James later flew back to Memphis and relinquished his position in the Memphis Mafia.

When I first learned of this event, I decided to get in touch with Hamburger James myself to hear his side of the story. Armed with nothing but a name and the internet, I began my search for Hamburger James.  I located his residence and phone number easily and decided to place a phone call to his residence to set up an interview.  Interestingly, when I discovered his address, I was literally only about 2 miles from his home.  I did a drive by and thought about knocking on the front door.  But I didn’t want to appear like Jake or Elwood of The Blues Brothers knocking on the front door of the boarding house in their classic movie.  Nor did I want to experience anything like the infamous story of the music journalist who knocked on the front door of Syd Barrett’s residence a few years after his departure from Pink Floyd.  I decided a phone call would be more appropriate.  His wife answered the phone.

“Hi, this is Louis Magnifico with The Traveling Twosome.  We run a website where we review things that are somewhat off the beaten path.  Over the years, people have heard from the likes of Red and Sonny West, among others.  But some of the other members of the Memphis Mafia haven’t had their stories publicized as much.  Would James be willing to share some stories and experiences from his time on the road with Elvis in an interview?”

To my dismay, I learned from her that James didn’t want to comment on his time with the King.  It was, she said, a chapter of his life that has been put behind him.

James K. Caughley, Jr. will be remembered as an employee of Coors Brewing Company, an animal lover, a NASCAR fan, and a frequent visitor to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.  But to Elvis fans, he will always be known as Hamburger James.



Why Don’t Women Like the Band Rush?

Why Don’t Women Like the Band Rush?

Recently, while setting up for a show that our band was about to play, the venue’s house music was cranking out Rush’s “The Temples of Syrinx” from 2112.  Our drummer and I started conversing about Rush’s early progressive rock albums and inevitably, the dialogue turned humorous with the question, “Why don’t women like Rush?”  To be fair, I’ll state up front that this is a stereotype.  Some women (my wife, Char, for example) enjoy Rush.  But for the most part, they are a man’s band.  And if anyone questions this assertion, I’d ask him to watch one of their concert videos or, better yet, attend a live show and see for himself.  There are no women to be found.  None in the front row lifting their shirts up as they try to get invited backstage, none alongside their boyfriends who are rocking out to their idols, and no, not even one female cop getting overtime hours by working security during the show.  No estrogen anywhere.  Not at a Rush show.  Do you know what I learned is the most rarely spoken sentence is at a marriage counseling session?  “I met my wife at a Rush concert.”  It just doesn’t happen.  But the question remains:  why?

I remember popping Rush’s Moving Pictures cassette in my tape deck when I was first learning to play the bass and going over the bass line to “Tom Sawyer.”  Around the same time, I was popping in Reggatta de Blanc by The Police and learning “Message in a Bottle.”  As I played “Message in a Bottle” I had 12-year-old-boy fantasies of 1,000 screaming girls throwing themselves at me as if I were Sting himself.  Or even Paul McCartney in 1963.  As I played “Tom Sawyer,” however, I just fancied myself becoming the coolest bass player around.  I knew plenty of “rocker chicks” (that’s what we called them in the days before political correctness made it a crime to use that term) back in my school days who were into hard rock, glam rock, and metal bands.  They wore T-shirts from groups such as Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Guns n’ Roses, and even Iron Maiden.  But I don’t recall a single girl boasting a “Fly By Night” or “Hemispheres” T-shirt.

I have a great friend who is a fellow music fanatic and whom I’ve known for more than two and a half decades.  She was my first boss when I was a teenager working at her video store and she has wonderful taste in music.  Just the other day, she casually mentioned that she doesn’t understand what the big deal is about Rush and said that she has never gotten into them.

I’ve looked up the topic online and found dozens of webpages devoted to this very question:  why don’t women like Rush?  One blogger even posted a picture of the men’s and women’s bathrooms at a Rush concert he attended.  The men’s room had a line longer than John Belushi could have handled (sorry, tacky reference – I actually LOVE John Belushi).  The women’s room appeared to be empty.  At least, there was no wait to get in.  Isn’t that opposite from what you find at most shows?  Several of these websites offered possible explanations as to why women don’t like Rush.  Here are a few of the hypotheses with my commentary.

  1.  Rush doesn’t have the sex appeal of, say, Led Zeppelin.  True.  I’ll give you that.  Even as a heterosexual male, I know Robert Plant has more sex appeal than Geddy Lee.  And let’s not even talk about The Lizard King.  But come on… women also show up at Marilyn Manson shows, right?  The defense rests.
  2. Rush’s lyrics are too intelligent.  Before you start typing out your hate mail, let me clarify.  I personally never said their lyrics are too intelligent for women.  I merely said that I found this rationale listed as a hypothesis from other journalists and bloggers.  But not me.  I’m the guy who somewhat famously was beaten at a game of chess by my wife on her very first game she ever played while I was teaching her how to play the game!  I would never state that women aren’t intelligent enough to appreciate Rush’s lyrics.  I’m also not stupid enough to say such a thing, even as a joke.  My wife also happens to be the woman who – quite famously – kicked my ass in a televised wrestling match.  Now… that disclaimer out of the way… my position is that Rush’s subjects and lyrics (while many of them are, indeed, very intelligent) are no more intelligent than, say, that of Tool, Radiohead, or Pink Floyd.  All of which have no shortage of female fans.
  3. Rush’s music is too complex in its progressive style. Women just want a catchy chorus to dance and sing to, not complex arrangements, interesting chords, and clever progressions.  See #2 above.  And by the way, there’s a big difference between “just dancing along to a beat” and really appreciating good music.  Anyone, male or female, who just wants to dance along to a beat can do so.  We’re talking about appreciating music here… and music appreciation is not gender restrictive.

I don’t believe any of these hypotheses explain why women don’t like Rush.  But there must be a reason.  If I ever find it, I’ll be sure to let you know.  And if you think you know the reason, share it with me in the comments section below.  In the meantime, I’m going to go listen to “Red Barchetta” with a happy smile on my face.  I’m allowed.  I’m a guy, after all.



The Lost Art of Listening

The Lost Art of Listening

This post is the first installment in a three part series that continues with an article entitled, “The Lost Art of Living” and concludes with an article entitled “The Lost Art of Loving.”

1978 Fisher Price Record Player
If you’re my age, you probably had one of these plastic portable record players and a collection of 45’s

As a young child, my favorite possession was a Fisher Price plastic portable record player.  I had a stack of 45’s from artists ranging from Elvis Presley to Alice Cooper and I would play them endlessly.  When I wasn’t in my room listening to my 45’s, I’d likely be in the den where a large wooden console AM-FM radio / record player was the focal point of the room.  There, I’d listen to full albums from my favorite bands and experience the sound loud and in stereo.  Once in elementary school, I graduated from the plastic portable record player to a real grown-up’s system with two speakers that were bigger than I was, a turntable, an AM-FM stereo, and an 8-track player especially for those occasions when I wanted to hear a guitarist stopped right in the midst of a solo so that the song could continue on the next track. By the time I was a teenager, I was picking up my brother’s bass guitar and Korg Poly 800 keyboard and learning to play songs from bands such as The Police, The Cars, Tears for Fears, and Journey.

I didn’t take lessons, I learned by listening.  It was all I had done since my earliest memories of life.  I listened.  The sounds I heard on the radio, records, cassettes, and even 8 tracks were transferred to my fingers and when I heard the sounds return back to me from the amplifier it was like magic.  It came easy for me because I had so much experience listening.  In those days, whenever new music came out, it was an event.  One of my friends bought a copy of the new KISS album and we’d all go over to sit down and listen to it.  That was our activity.  We’d sit around the stereo and just listen to it.  Often times in silence, but always visualizing ourselves being the ones on stage or in the studio.  We’d pretend to be Gene Simmons with every slide of a bass string, pretend to be Ace Frehley with every shimmering Les Paul solo.  It’s what we did.  It’s who we were.  There were no distractions – the music was the whole point of our coming together.  Listening to music was intentional.  It was not something that happened in the background while we were doing something else.  While listening to music, we might have poured over the liner notes or photos in the album booklet but our ears were always focused.

Heavy Metal JeansDuring long and sometimes dull school days, I remember perfectly replaying songs or even entire albums in my head.  While “listening” in my mind I’d doodle in my notebooks or textbooks, drawing band logos or album designs:  the prism from Dark Side of the Moon, the symbols from Led Zeppelin IV, or simply those two mystical words that made us all feel like poets – The Doors.  My friends and I wore shirts from their favorite punk or metal bands.  Iron Maiden, The Ramones, Metallica, Ozzy.  In many ways, these T-shirts identified us.  We’d meet others who also wore shirts bearing the names of the same bands and we were instantly friends.  There was an understanding.

I went to work in a record store after school, began playing in a local rock band, and started writing and recording music.  I also helped promote concerts that came through town and was therefore afforded the opportunity to work backstage and meet several rock stars – including personal favorites such as Cheap Trick. That’s when the alternative rock movement took America by storm.  Nirvana and Pearl Jam belonged to the kids of the 1990s in the way Van Halen and Guns n’ Roses belonged to the kids of the 1980s.  Graduating high school in the 1991-1992 year, I had one foot planted in both decades and I enjoyed it all.  I thought about the lyrics to the old Neil Young song:  “Hey hey, my my. Rock and roll can never die.”

But then, something happened.  Blame politics, blame the internet, blame video game manufactures, it doesn’t matter – the point is, it happened.  Other media took center stage and music suffered – even among the youth.  As directed by record industry executives, the media, and even political activists, popular music became less of a raw talent relying on skills with a guitar, bass, drum kit, or synthesizer and it became more about programming synthetic loops.  MTV was no longer playing music videos – they became a social platform more interested in political agendas and social lifestyles.  Many music magazines, likewise, became nothing more than political platforms.  Only the short, rare article actually discussed music.  Interviews with famous musicians always seemed to gravitate to “what can you do about the rain forest or global warming?” All I wanted to read about was where the guitarist got his inspiration for a certain riff – not his political leaning!  Music then slipped into the background of our culture.  And sadly, popular music wasn’t even counter-culture any longer but rather it was the voice of The Machine.  Big Brother.  Instead of being the intentional point of youthful gatherings, it became something akin to a movie score playing behind whatever else people were doing.  Sadly, it became Muzak.  It became everything rock and roll wasn’t supposed to be.

Make no mistake – rock isn’t dead.  It just doesn’t hold the position in youth culture that it once held.  Nor is there an over abundance of great musicians being driven to success via the record industry.  For that matter, gone is the insatiable appetite from masses of music fans, young and old, to hear great music.  But search for good music in today’s generation and it’s there to be found.  And thankfully, there are still some people in the world who want to listen.

This was all foretold by a man I believe to be arguably the greatest songwriter who has ever lived: British multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and producer Steven Wilson.  He’s one of the crop that is still putting out amazing rock music – make that mind blowing, life altering rock music – in today’s generation.  In his song, “The Sound of Muzak,” he sings the following lines:

Hear the sound of music
Drifting in the aisles
Elevator Prozac
Stretching on for miles

The music of the future
Will not entertain
It’s only meant to repress
And neutralise your brain

Soul gets squeezed out
Edges get blunt
Gives what you want

Now the sound of music
Comes in silver pills
Engineered to suit you
Building cheaper thrills

The music of rebellion
Makes you wanna rage
But it’s made by millionaires
Who are nearly twice your age

The bridge of the song leaves behind the analogies and drives the point home more succinctly:

One of the wonders of the world is going down
It’s going down I know
It’s one of the blunders of the world that no-one cares
No-one cares enough

But there are, at least, some of us who still do care.  And we refuse to let music, this wonder of the world, go down.

As I said before, you can blame it on politics, the internet, or perhaps even video game manufactures.  More likely, a combination of all three.  But there is no question, the youth today have tuned out of music – at least, the way we knew it.  Remember the picture I painted of my childhood?  Sitting around with my friends listening to the new KISS record?  Remember making mix tapes of songs you’d request on the radio and then sit around for an hour until the DJ played it so you could hit “play and record” on your tape deck and capture the tune, always annoyed that the beginning and ending of the song would be tainted by the DJ talking over the music?  Remember identifying with meaningful lyrics from Jim Morrison, Robert Plant, Bruce Dickinson, Sting, James Hetfield, Ozzy Osbourne, and countless others?  More than any of this, do you remember a time when we all sat around and, well, just listened?  Not the way kids listen to music today – as background, as Muzak.  But to really listen!

The problem is a modern world full of distractions.  I see both kids and adults on their smartphones literally all day long.  Kids and adults browsing social media pages on the internet – again, literally all day long.  Kids and adults playing video games – you guessed it, all day long. Sometimes music is a part of this experience – but it’s typically in the background as something going on while they are on social media, playing video games, etc.  They aren’t hanging out just listening to the new hit record today the way we hung out and just listened to the new KISS record in our time.  Music today is not intentional.  It’s an afterthought.

Even the machinery we used to use in order to listen to our music further facilitated the intentionality of the experience back then.  While I love my iPod and my Apple Music subscription, in many ways these devices and services cheapen the art and product that we call music and enable today’s generation to keep music as an afterthought.  Perhaps music is too convenient today.  It took effort to place a needle upon our vinyl records.  When one side of the record was over, we had to get up, flip the record over, and place the needle back down.  This effort placed the experience of listening to music in the forefront.  In addition, albums were cherished possessions in those years.  Today, with my Apple Music subscription, I have access to millions of recordings that I can take with me on my iPod wherever I may roam!  Again, don’t misunderstand – I love my Apple Music subscription and my iPod is easily my favorite gadget of any device I own!  But I’m a grown adult who has already developed a mature appreciation for music after years spent doing it “the hard way.”  Would I respect music the way I do today had it been so convenient for me growing up?

The problem with all of these new distractions – smartphones, social media, video games – is that they area vying for all of our attention all of the time and keeping us from simple personal and relational tasks and activities such as listening.  I would propose that as a culture, we have become addicted to these distractions.  People check their phones constantly during dinner dates (I’m sorry, but my wife is more interesting to look at and talk to than anything Facebook has to offer in its News Feed while I’m out on a date with her).  People live lives in online social networks rather than the real world.  They text cute memes to each other rather than picking up the phone and calling each other.  They post beautiful pictures of nature rather than walking outside and taking a hike.  I could go on…  But in short, I propose that these distractions hinder us from really listening and really living.

I remember taking a walk once down a stretch of road on which I drove daily.  By walking, I saw hundreds of things that I never noticed when passing by in a car at 50 miles an hour.  Wild blackberry bushes, etchings in manhole covers, even an underground tunnel.  Think of that – I had driven by these things daily for years but never noticed them until I walked by them.  Music can be the same.  In light of this, may I ask you try something for me?  Try putting the phone down, logging out of social media, and just listen to one of the following albums.  Straight through.  Start to finish.  With no distractions.  And not on your phone or computer.  Use a good pair of headphones or stereo system.  And if you don’t have a music service subscription such as Apple Music or Spotify, then actually purchase the album.  I’ve added several of my favorite albums of several different genres from which to choose.  I believe that the lost art of listening can be found again – and I believe you will find it rather rewarding when you do.  So here’s your list.  Now… listen.  And live.


  1. Modern Progressive Rock – Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
  2. Jazz – John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
  3. Rock / Alternative Rock – Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways 
  4. Heavy Metal – Tool – Aenima
  5. Acoustic Guitar – Donovan – Sutras
  6. Rock / Power Pop – The Grays – Ro Sham Bo
  7. Alternative / Female – Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes
  8. Funk / R&B / Soul – Various Artists – Pimps, Players, and Private Eyes
  9. Rock / Classic Rock – Cheap Trick – Heaven Tonight