Although Elvis Presley was one of the most imitated singers in the world, his own influences beyond the men who wrote songs for him, like Otis Blackwell (“Don’t Be Cruel”, “All Shook Up”), Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (“Hound Dog”, “Jailhouse Rock”), were the demo singers who showed him how the songs were envisioned by the writers.

Malcolm Dodds, David Hill, Bill Giant, and Tony Middleton were all among Elvis’ favorite demo singers…and Tony Middleton was one of mine. Tony always added a little extra to his demonstration of a song, which Elvis appreciated and appropriated whenever he could.

I first met Tony, the former lead singer of the Willows (“Church Bells May Ring”), in the late ‘50s with my friend Sid Wyche (“Whole Lotta’ Shakin’ Goin’ On” Wyche/Williams), at one of the first demo sessions I ever went to. I was excited to meet the man who sang the demo for Sid’s song, “Big Hunk Of Love” (Wyche/Schroeder), which Elvis recorded. Although I don’t remember the name of the song on this session, I do remember Tony’s brilliant, stirring performance that seemed so effortless.

I could easily understand why Elvis was inspired by him, as well as Ben E. King who even got his adlib, “People Let Me Tell Ya’ Now” from one of  Tony’s demos

He’s appeared on Broadway as the lead in ‘Cabin in the Sky’ and was the featured singer in “Purlie” starring Melba Moore.  Tony Middleton’s music is sought after by music enthusiasts and collectors all over the world.

When I reconnected with him on Facebook I googled his name and found a video of “Paris Blues” from 1962, and you can see a little bit of what I’m talking about.

For Tony Middleton

Copyright 2009 by Artie Wayne