Elvis Presley’s TCB Band Has Springfield Roots with John Wilkinson
It was the evening of May 17, 1956, and nine-year-old Johnny Wilkinson had heard on the radio that Elvis Presley was in town to perform at the Shrine Mosque. His parents had refused to buy him tickets to the concert saying Presley was too “lewd” in his music. However, Wilkinson’s parents were leaving town that day to go for a lake trip.
Seeing his opportunity, Johnny hopped on his bicycle and pedaled down to the Shrine Mosque as fast as he could. He snuck in and tried to find where Elvis’s dressing room would be, and it didn’t take him long to find the right place. He knocked on the door and the two spoke briefly before Johnny told him why he had really showed up. “There’s a reason I come looking for you today,” he said. “I come to tell you that you can’t play guitar worth a damn.”
Any other artist would have immediately thrown him out, but Elvis was intrigued. He let Wilkinson play a few songs on his guitar, picking out a few notes from “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” Security soon came storming in, but Presley didn’t insist that he be forcibly removed, saying he had just been given a guitar lesson. Wilkinson left voluntarily, but it wouldn’t be the last time that the two interacted. In fact, their meeting was a foreshadowing of their work together. Not too much later, Wilkinson and Presley would be playing together in the world-famous TCB Band.
John Wilkinson’s Path to Stardom
John Wilkinson had his roots in Springfield, MO, where he grew up and graduated from Greenwood Laboratory School. He had enjoyed music ever since he was young, being inspired after he was asked to play guitar by his K-12 music teacher. He continued to play into adulthood, leaving Springfield for Los Angeles following his graduation. In L.A., he played in several different folk bands, taking any gig he could to further his pursuit of music.
One particular night, he received a phone call from a manager saying the opening act for Jefferson Airplane that night had backed out due to illness. The manager asked if Wilkinson would be willing to get his guys together to put on an opening act. John Wilkinson agreed, and got the rest of the band together, performing a show that would change Wilkinson’s life.
After the show, Wilkinson was approached in his dressing room and was told there was someone from the venue who would like to speak to him. Fearing the worst, Wilkinson begrudgingly went to see what the fuss was about. He was shocked to find the person wanting to talk to him was Elvis Presley. Presley complimented Wilkinson’s talent for playing the guitar and asked if he would be interested in meeting up with a few of his friends later in the night. Wilkinson agreed, and the two became friends after this encounter. Almost a week later, Wilkinson received a call from Presley saying that he was starting up a rock ‘n’ roll band and the last member he needed to get started was a rhythm guitarist. Despite Wilkinson’s initial protests arguing that he was a folk player and not a rock ‘n’ roll guitarist, a considerable financial offering led him to become a part of the TCB Band.
The TCB Band and Its Legacy
The TCB Band – TCB being short for Taking Care of Business, a favorite motto of Presley – set forth on their musical journey in 1969 and continued for almost a decade. During this time, the band saw worldwide fame, performing across the country to hundreds of thousands of fans. One of the most famous appearances by the band was the Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite, a concert that aired in over 40 countries and was the most expensive entertainment special of its time. Wilkinson did not miss a single show in the eight years that the band performed, making up over 1100 performances in that time.
The band ended with the sudden death of Elvis Presley in 1977, leaving Wilkinson to find a new job. He managed a series of Radio Shacks on the west coast before returning to Springfield, MO to settle down. His guitar days came to an end later in his life when he suffered damage from a stroke, leaving him unable to play any longer. He kept a guitar around still, just in case he ever regained the ability to play. Wilkinson died in his home in 2013 after a long battle with cancer.
In 2016, John’s widow, Terry Wilkinson, decided to share her late husband’s history with the rest of Springfield. In his life, Elvis was known to give out gold necklaces to his inner circle that had a lightning bolt surrounded by the letters TCB, and John Wilkinson happened to be one of the recipients of that necklace. Terry donated her husband’s TCB necklace to the History Museum on the Square on the 39th anniversary of Presley’s death so that it could be displayed for everyone to enjoy. John Wilkinson’s TCB necklace will be on display at the museum following renovations.