Interviews

T.G. Sheppard Talks Elvis Presley, Barry Gibb and 'Midnight in Memphis' (Interview)

Artist T.G. Sheppard on the red carpet of "All In For The Gambler: Kenny Rogers' Farewell Concert Celebration" at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Laura Roberts/Invision/AP)

T.G. Sheppard returned in Sept. 2019 with his first solo country album in 22 years, Midnight in Memphis. Noteworthy songs include the title track, penned by the Bee Gee's Barry Gibb, and a comedic ode to Sheppard's mentor, "I Wanna Live Like Elvis."

Stories told on the album reflect a life blessed with famous friends and 21 No. 1 hits, dating back to Sheppard's debut country single, 1974's "Devil in The Bottle," and its follow-up, "Tryin' to Beat the Morning Home."

The Gibb connection reminds us that Sheppard's success as a country artist positioned him to rub shoulders with music industry greats well into the 21st century.

"I met Barry 15 or 20 years ago," Sheppard told Wide Open Country at February's Country Radio Seminar in Nashville. "He was in the process of buying the Johnny Cash house here in Nashville, and then he wound up buying it. We became friends, and we just stayed friends. When it came time to do my first country solo project in 22 years, he told me, 'I've written a song just for your album. If you don't record it, it'll never be heard.' I said, 'Are you serious? Who's going to turn down an original Barry Gibb song?' I heard it, and it was titled 'Midnight in Memphis.' I liked it so much that I titled the album that."

Sheppard, who records the SiriusXM Elvis Radio channel's The T.G. Sheppard Show at Graceland, never shies away from talking about his friendship with Elvis Presley. For a time, the King of Rock 'n' Roll provided Sheppard with his first tour bus and a place to stay back home in Tennessee.

"Elvis was one of those unique people who I was fortunate to have crossed paths with," Sheppard says. "We became friends when I was very young. He was one of those great guys that had no ego. We could sit just like we are now and talk for hours about anything."

The honesty we expect from country singers might've been the secret behind Sheppard becoming close friends with the world's biggest celebrity.

"We all can surround ourselves with 'yes people' if we're not careful," Sheppard adds. "Elvis had a few of those around him but not many. I knew that any time he asked me something, I always answered him truthfully. I didn't give him the typical 'yes' answer. I think he liked that."

Between 1979 and 1983, Sheppard scored 11 No. 1s in 13 tries. Hits in that span included "Last Cheater's Waltz," "Party Time" and "I Loved 'Em Every One." Only Presley's RCA label mates Alabama could match Sheppard's Billboard charts performance in that same time period.

Sheppard credits Presley for teaching him how to handle that level of success with professionalism and class.

"I learned from him a long time ago that there's no room for ego in our business," Sheppard says. "It'll destroy you. If you have that ego, people are going to take what success you've had away from you--and they should. I've learned from Elvis that if you forget where you came from, you're never going to get where you want to go. So just be the real deal, be unique and be totally truthful with your fans."

Read More: Why Country Music Fans Love Elvis Presley

This same humility and an ear for songs that connect with country music fans of all ages served Sheppard well as he plotted his first solo album of fresh material since 1997's Nothin' on The Radio.

"I waited that long because music has been searching for direction so much in country, as you know, the last few years," Sheppard adds. "I didn't really know where I fit in. Finally one day I just said, 'If I pick great songs, they'll lead me where I'm supposed to go. Just make sure I pick the best songs I can find.' So I started searching for songs and found a group of songs that I felt really great about. They've led me back to the mainstream again. I'm just in awe of the success we've had with the album."

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T.G. Sheppard Talks Elvis Presley, Barry Gibb and 'Midnight in Memphis' (Interview)