For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
There’s a straight line between Jonathan Edwards and Elvis Presley. There couldn’t be the second without the first. But, you don’t just jump from “Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God” to “All Shook Up.” There’s more than one link in the chain, but my favorite perhaps is Brother Claude Ely.
Ely was a Holiness revival preacher who the phrase “rave on” could have been coined about. He was a big meaty guy with a gold tooth who wore his cowboy hat cocked to the side and his guitar slung across his back. He was the real thing and rode a circuit through Appalachia singing and preaching and saving thousands. Faith like his can’t be manufactured or made up.
When he was a boy he was diagnosed with tuberculosis which at the time was usually a death sentence. After a miraculous healing he sat down and wrote “There Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down,” and promised a life to preaching the word. Instead he worked the local coal mines and fought in WWII. After his discharge he went back into the mines and in 1949 was caught in what should have been a fatal cave-in. He was spared a second time. No one needed to tell him again. The recording below comes from October 1953 and its hard to believe something this loose, this raw could have come out of a studio. It’s easy to believe that people freaked over him.
There Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down
Brother Claude Ely doesn’t need a church decoding the bible mathematically. He wouldn’t understand the question are you ready? He wasn’t an Us vs Them kind of guy. He was a reach down and grab you by the scruff of the neck on his way up man. It doesn’t matter if you believe or if you don’t believe, Ely does enough believing for everyone.
The story pauses on May 7th, 1978 where in the front of Holiness congregation Ely sang “Where Could I Go But To The Lord” and halfway through suffered a massive heart attack and died. It was even recorded. Listening to his music sometimes I think if Jesus doesn’t come back soon Brother Claude is just going to take matters into his own hands and dig himself out of his own grave.
There’s a fine book written on the life of Brother Claude Ely by his great nephew Macel Ely rightfully titled “Ain’t No Grave.” Macel tells the story that at one of his visits to his Uncle’s grave he found a handwritten note reading:
“Dear Brother Ely, You sung it and preached it to us. I know one day you’ll come up out of this here ground.”
Post Script ~ One thing Elvis knew without question, one thing that never left him was source material. Below is a cleaned up Holiness number Elvis and the boys did in 1959 and below that is Ely’s dirt-under-the-nails version from 1953. Good stuff.
Elvis Presley “We’re Gonna Move”
Brother Claude Ely “There’s A Leak In This Old Building”