Lisa Marie Presley avoiding her dad's shadow

Lisa Marie Presley

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 27

Where: Belly Up, 143 South Cedros Ave., Solana Beach

Tickets: $20 (advance), $22 (day of show)

Phone: (858) 481-8140


With three solo albums to her credit, including this year’s critically acclaimed Americana music gem, “Storm & Grace,” you might think that Lisa Marie Presley has finally found a way out from the enormous shadow of her legendary father. Guess again.

“The other day there was a review of one of my concerts, and the headline read: ‘Not bad, not her dad’,” said Presley, who was only 9 when her father — the man known worldwide as Elvis — died in 1977.

“I got a good review, but then they want to rip into me because I’m not my father,” she continued, speaking from an Iowa tour stop. “It’s a really hard thing to overcome.”

Never mind that her spare, understated new album was produced by T Bone Burnett, who also oversaw the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” film soundtrack and the multiple-Grammy Award-winning album, “Raising Sand,” by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. (At least two of the instrumentalists on "Raising Sand" are also featured on Presley's new album.)

Never mind that her singing on the album sounds much more like that of tough-but-tender Americana music favorite Lucinda Williams than her iconic dad.

And never mind that, apart from a periodic shared husky quality, Presley’s muted, no-frills vocals sound almost nothing like that of her late father, whose powerful singing always had a visceral, bigger-than-life quality. (Not so “Grace & Danger,” which is infused with a palpable air of melancholy as she performs songs whose raw emotion is often delivered in a near-hush.)

It’s a quandary for Lisa Marie Presley, who performs here Wednesday at the Belly Up and sits on the board of Elvis Presley Enterprises, which oversees her dad’s artistic legacy and ever-lucrative business interests.

She has a 15 percent stake in the company and is actively involved in it. Earlier this year, Graceland, her late father's Memphis mansion-turned-museum, opened the exhibit "Elvis: Through His Daughter's Eyes."

But being a keeper of the flame for her father is different than basing her musical career on emulating him, something Presley knows would never work and that has resolutely resisted. On "Sticks and Stones," a bonus track from her new album, she sings with a combination of defiance and frustration: Too bad she ain't just like her daddy / Oh, what a shame / She's got no talent of her own.

“I’m not an operatic singer like him, and I haven’t seen anyone who is,” she said of her late father.

“It’s complicated. It (her musical bloodline) is not something I want to fight because I’m not proud of it; I want to fight it to prove I’m completely different than him... I've always been very rebellious, ever since I was a child. I don't like going along with what people expect me to do, or with mediocrity, and I never have.

"It's a blessing and a curse. Even at the expense of shooting myself in the foot, I need to rebel. With my first two albums, I needed to find myself and get fans by making music I wanted to make and not have anyone pushing me into contrived places. I needed to prove I could make it on my own, with my own songwriting. And, to some degree, it worked. On the other hand, I shot myself in the foot."

How so?

"Over producing and fighting," she replied. "I was constantly fighting, but I wasn't quite sure what I was fighting. And I wasn't sure how much comparison there would be, between (my father and me)."

There was pressure to play up her father as much as possible, for marketing purposes, even before she made her debut album, 2003’s “To Whom It May Concern.”

“Constantly, from the get-go,” she said. “Record company executives would say to me: ‘Oh, yeah, we get you; you’re an artist. But the first songs on your record should be off of (her dad’s 1969 album) “From Elvis in Memphis”.’ That (pressure) is never not there. It’s not a bad thing, because I’m very proud of my father, my legacy and where I’m from, without question.

“And I have no problem, even if I sound similar to him at times. But when it’s a contrived, trying to sell myself thing, I won’t go there... I’m not him, I could never be like him, ever, and I don’t want to try. I just want to be a singer-songwriter. I don’t want to be disrespectful about it. But it is a battle and it constantly goes on.”

Last month, Presley was one of the guest artists to perform on the season finale of "American Idol," which saw Chula Vista's Jessica Sanchez fall short in her bid to draw more votes from Phillip Phillips, who won the next night.

Presley's subdued performance sounded so stark and, well, odd in the context of "American Idol's" emphasis on big productions and eye-popping razzle-dazzle that it almost seemed as if she had dropped in from another planet. (The unlikely link is that "Idol" and Elvis Presley Enterprises are both under the same corporate umbrella.)

"That's true," she said. "It's like everything now is about being in this genre of Attention Deficit Disorder music, and everyone wants instant gratification, and bigger and louder (music). What I'm so proud of with this new album is that it has nothing to do with that. It's very straightforward and authentic.

"Now that I look back at it, it was ballsy for me to sing on 'Idol.' because what i sang was pretty out there and not normal. I knew I'd take heat for that because I wasn't spinning around on stage and carrying on, and I was nervous about it and I caught some flack for not screaming and dancing.

"I feel like a lot of people are looking back now (to an earlier musical era), because you can only sing really loud and hard for so long before people get tired of it."

George Varga

George Varga

Veteran San Diego Union-Tribune pop music critic George Varga began drumming in rock bands at 12 and writing professionally about music at 15. A Louisiana native who grew up mostly in Germany, Varga has earned three Pulitzer Prize nominations for his writing at the U-T and is a voting member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to providing live coverage of the Grammy Awards and festivals from Coachella and KAABOO to the 1994 edition of Woodstock, he has interviewed everyone from Ray Charles, Miles Davis and Britney Spears to Willie Nelson, Kanye West and Bruno Mars. A double first-prize winner at both the 2018 and 2019 Society of Professional Journalists awards, Varga is also a contributing writer for Jazz Times magazine and has written for Billboard, Spin and other publications. After attending San Diego City College and San Diego State University, he created and taught the 2002 UC San Diego Extension course, “Jazz in a Post-Ken-Burns World." Varga lives with his wife in North Park.