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Behind the Button : Elvis Presley's 'Cameo' on Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run

By Shawn Poole
Source: Backstreets Magazine #80
January 22, 2010 - 3:43:00 PM

The King's Court Button
The King's Court Button
Did you know that Bruce Springsteen can be seen wearing an Elvis fan club badge on the cover of his classic 'Born To Run' album from 1975?

Elvis' image is on the button placed on Bruce's guitar strap, a badge from the now-defunct New York-area Presley fan club called 'The King's Court'.

As many observant fans have known for years, Clarence Clemons isn't the only 'King of the World' to appear on the Born to Run album cover with Bruce.

A close inspection reveals that Elvis Presley is also on the cover. Granted, he may not be as big as the Big Man - but then, who is? Elvis' image is on the button placed on Bruce's guitar strap, a badge from the now-defunct New York-area Presley fan club called 'The King's Court'. The group was formed in 1972 by fans who met while waiting in line for the initial sale of tickets to Elvis' four Madison Square Garden concerts.

One of the first in line was Staten Island native Al Hanson who came became the clubs treasurer.

Born To Run with Bruce Springsteen wearing the King's Court badge
Born To Run with Bruce Springsteen wearing the King's Court badge

About eight months after the club was formed, Hanson led the group in designing a King's Court button and personally paid for five hundred buttons to be distributed to all who joined. 'I was a young guy with some money to spend', he recalls with a laugh. Each member also received a black-and-white King's Court bumper sticker. As the club continued to grow, eventually thousands of buttons were printed and distributed. (Collectors take note: Hanson hand-stamped the phrase '100% Elvis' on the backs of the first 500.) Hanson estimates that the Court had almost three thousand members at the time of Elvis' death in 1977.

The club folded shortly after Elvis died. In the year after the club's demise, Hanson also became a big Springsteen fan with the release of Darkness on the Edge of Town. He purchased a copy of 'Born to Run' when he eventually started exploring Bruce's back catalog. Almost immediately, Hanson recognized the King's Court button on the album's cover. 'The only way Bruce could have one of those buttons', he recalls thinking, 'is if he was in our fan club or knew someone who was. We distributed those buttons to members only'. After discovering the King's Court button on Born to Run, Hanson telephoned Patricia Chmara, the Clubs ex-president, who had also become a big Springsteen fan. There was, however, one listing of King's Court members that included a 'Pam' in New Jersey, who Chmara suspected might have been Springsteen's youngest sister, now a professional photographer. If Chmara was right, Pamela Springsteen would certainly have been one of the King's Court's youngest members, since she was only about ten years old when the club was formed. (Through her agent, Pamela Springsteen declined to comment.)

No records confirming Bruce's membership could be found.

The Original Members of the King's Court with Elvis August 31, 1973
The Original Members of the King's Court with Elvis August 31, 1973

In any event, Al Hanson still considers himself one very lucky fan. In addition to helping to design a small but significant part of Bruce Springsteen's 'wardrobe' for Born to Run, he is also one of the relative few who've gotten to see both Presley and Springsteen at Madison Square Garden.

He offers a great analogy by way of comparison, too: 'For me, seeing Elvis was like seeing God onstage, but seeing Bruce was like seeing your brother or your best friend'.

The image of Elvis on the button was cropped from a publicity photo taken backstage at Presley's Las Vegas concert stand in the summer of 1970. (That stand was filmed and later released theatrically as Elvis: That's the Way It Is; the film's 2001 'Special Edition' featured footage of the backstage meeting where the photo was taken.) The original photo was in black-and-white (as, of course, was the Born to Run cover), but the actual King's Court button featured a red-white-and-blue design.

Members of 'The King's Court' fan club with Colonel Parker.
Members of 'The King's Court' fan club with Colonel Parker.

Bruce sported his button in numerous photos taken by Eric Meola during the album cover sessions for Born to Run. In addition to what appeared on Born to Run, several more of Meola's photos eventually appeared on Springsteen's Greatest Hits and Essential albums. Probably the easiest place to most clearly see Springsteen wearing his Elvis button is on page 40 of Springsteen's Songs (in either the hardcover or paperback edition).

Bruce Springsteen wearing the King's Court badge.
Bruce Springsteen wearing the King's Court badge.

Review : Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band - Born to Run

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band play a style of rock n' roll that hearkens back to its earlier days, the 1950s. Despite being released years after that period of music, many elements of the band channel the straight rock n' roll being played by guys like Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley decades earlier.

Part of the reason for this is a piano played by Roy Bittan. Although he is playing in a different style, one cannot hear rock piano without first thinking of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Springsteen's voice, rough on this album, nonetheless is reminiscent of Elvis Presley's tenor.

What really sets this album aside is the songwriting. Though obscure at times, Springsteen has an uncanny understanding of the blue-collar life and this album reflects many facets of that life. Every day, people turn to crime when they can't find another way, ('Meeting Across the River') and almost everyone looks for an escape from their troubles ('Born to Run'). Springsteen, in these eight songs, reveals to us the human condition as it appears under the guise of the American blue-collar life. (Reviewer: Josh Brachfeld -- TheCelebrityCafe.com).

Behind the Button: Elvis Presley's 'Cameo' on Born to Run

By Shawn Poole - From Backstreets Magazine #80 (reprinted with permission) Al Hanson invites all fans interested in discussing Elvis, Bruce and/or 'classic rock' in general to e-mail him at coolrockndaddy@aol.com Don't even think about asking him for a King's Court button, though. He only has two left.

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