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Danzig Talks Elvis’ Influence, Writing for Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison

“When you bring home a picture signed by Johnny Cash,” singer says, “it’s cool”

Glenn Danzig has always worn his affinity for Elvis Presley like a badge. He covered the King’s “Trouble” on his eponymous band’s Thrall-Demonsweatlive EP in 1993. Most recently, he filmed a Danzig Legacy concert video that stylistically recalled Presley’s ’68 comeback special, playing in the round with guitarists from throughout his career and singing in front of his name lit up in red just like Elvis. Although he credits director Mark Brooks with the theme for the film, which was a Vimeo exclusive and will be reissued soon, he said he loved the idea. Danzig is even in the midst of recording an LP of Elvis covers.

“Elvis is actually kind of how I got into music,” Danzig tells Rolling Stone. “When I was a kid, I was cutting school pretending I was sick and I would lie at home watching old movies, and Jailhouse Rock came on with Elvis. I was like, ‘I want to do this. This is great.’ And that’s how I veered to music.”

During a visit to Rolling Stone, Danzig recalled how Elvis Presley influenced him and how, coincidentally, he went on to write songs for the King’s onetime Sun Records label-mates Johnny Cash (“Thirteen”) and Roy Orbison (“Life Fades Away”). Both of those opportunities proved to be special to Danzig.

“I think somebody from Rick Rubin’s office or Rick called me and asked me if I knew who Johnny Cash was, and I said, ‘Fuck yeah, I know who Johnny Cash is,’ and they said, ‘Would you write a song for him?'” Danzig says. “I wrote [‘Thirteen’] in, like, a half-hour, as soon as I got off the phone. It was that quick. The song was just my impression of who Johnny Cash was and what he meant.”

The singer says he brought an autographed Cash picture to his dad, who was a fan, and got some validation for his career in music. “When you’re a kid, they don’t want you to be a musician,” Danzig says. “So when you get older and you are successful, they’re like, ‘Wow.’ And then you bring home a picture signed by Johnny Cash. It’s cool.”

Danzig later recorded “Thirteen” himself and, by his own account, made it “more creepy” and “kind of eerie.” “There’s a verse that I wrote that Cash didn’t do in his version, so I put that back in,” he says. “I keep it a little more Danziggy.” His version went on to serve as part of the soundtrack for The Hangover.

Years before he met Cash, though, Rubin connected him with Orbison for an opportunity to write the song “Life Fades Away,” which appeared on the Less Than Zero soundtrack. “He was a true southern gentleman,” Danzig says. “The thing about Roy Orbison and Cash is when you teach them the song, you’re singing it together and as soon as they start singing, there’s no mics or anything, and these guys’ voices filled the room up. They were big, I mean really big.” (Incidentally, when Rolling Stone asks if Danzig would ever recording in Memphis like his idols, he says no. “I remember hearing the Cramps record that came out of Sun records, and I was like, ‘Nahh,'” he says. “I think the magic’s gone.”)

Danzig is working on a number of projects, including a new album and an LP of covers titled Skeletons. That forthcoming release will feature his take on the theme song from the 1967 biker movie Devil’s Angels, featuring an arrangement Danzig came up with in 1979 during his days fronting the Misfits. The track is streaming below.

But the thing that has connected all of his sessions is his desire to record new versions of Elvis songs for the upcoming Danzig Sings Elvis LP. “I’m stripping some of the stuff down to the bare bones, very old-school Fifties echoey slap-back vocals,” he says. Every time I go back into the studio to work on a new Danzig record, if we have time, I’m like, ‘Let’s do another Elvis song.’ So I keep adding and we’ll see what ends up on the record.” Some of the songs he has recorded, he says, include “Home Is Where the Heart Is” and the Faron Young–composed “Is It So Strange?”

It’s a connection that has been a part of him for years. “We have been stopping by Graceland and Elvis’ grave since my days in [goth-punk group] Samhain,” Danzig says. “Just, you know, hanging out.”

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