Del Puschert’s most prized possessions are two scraps of fabric, each about six inches long and frayed at the edges. One is lavender-colored cotton with faint white lines forming a rectangular pattern; the other is black wool with thin pinstripes and a zipper attached. At first glance, they’re nothing special. In fact, if they weren’t framed together and hung on the wall of Puschert’s Annapolis home, you’d pay them no mind. Puschert stands before the scraps like a pilgrim in the presence of a reliquary. “There they are,” he says, dialing back his boisterous voice to a murmur.
For rock-and-roll devotees, the scraps do, indeed, have near-religious significance—they were cut from a jacket and pants that clothed Elvis Presley. In fact, photos of a young Presley wearing these clothes are displayed alongside the fabric. Del Puschert appears next to the King in a few of the pictures, which ran in Photoplay magazine in 1956.
“It was the week before he went to Hollywood to film Love Me Tender,” the 81-year-old saxophonist says later, sitting at a desk in his memorabilia-crammed “off-limits” room. (“Jesus is coming. Look busy,” reads a sign, amongst many.)
Puschert leans back in his chair and hoists one foot, clad in an ostrich-skin boot, onto the desk. “I played with him at the Olympia Theater in Miami,” he says. “We had some fun.”
Presley played seven shows to a total of 15,000 fans over two days in August. Puschert, who first met Presley in a Texarkana nightclub, recalls that girls started lining up at 4:30 in the morning for the first concert, which was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. He watched Presley dangle a leg out of an upstairs window, setting off a riot of shrieks and screams below. By the time Presley hit the stage for his set, the crowd was charged.
“The mob of girls surged to the stage, where they knelt, arms upraised,” a Miami Herald review noted. “A band of policemen, who were shaking their heads in disbelief, rushed in and pried the kids from the stage. Presley smiled, his shaggy brown hair began to fall like a horse’s mane, and even that brought a thundering of delighted squeals.”
At one point, the crowd got ahold of Presley and tore at his jacket and pants, and, after the show, some women exited the theater clutching pieces of his ripped clothing. Once safely upstairs, Presley cut the remains of his tattered jacket and pants into small pieces and tossed them out the window to fans lined up for the next show.
Puschert went home with a few of those pieces, and some great stories. “Those were lean years, but good times,” he says. “I’ve had 60 years of good times. Playing with Elvis wasn’t even the best part.”
Puschert lives on a few acres off of Route 450 in Annapolis. He and his wife, Harriet, occupy something of a compound—next to Best Buy and across the street from Mr. Tire—consisting of two small houses, a barbershop, and a few barns and workshops housing everything from vintage cars to a pair of life-sized Elvis figures, one of which looms over the property from an upstairs barn window.
“He was probably the best R&B saxophonist I’ve ever seen. He was the man.”
Chik-fil-A contacted Puschert about selling his land, and so have developers wanting to build a high-rise office tower, but he isn’t interested. “They would bulldoze this place, plain and simple,” he says, “but it means more to me than money. So much of my history is here.”
Puschert was born and raised in Annapolis, the son of a clarinetist in the Naval Academy band. He started playing a small soprano sax at the age of 3 and made his professional debut with a local dance band at 10. Around that time, he also played a New Year’s Eve show with the Academy band at the Elks Lodge. It wasn’t long before he was gigging regularly and knew what he wanted to do with his life. “My schoolteachers knew it, too,” says Puschert. “I flunked four years of school and never graduated. They’d be talking to me in class, but my mind would be drifting, thinking about where I was playing that weekend,” places like Baltimore’s 2 O’Clock Club, where he accompanied stripper Blaze Starr.