Fight for a King

Houston club comes to town carrying a lawsuit with Elvis' estate

It's a wonder the Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. doesn't sue Elvis Costello. Or National Public Radio commentator Elvis Mitchell. Or every single Elvis Presley impersonator stalking the streets of Las Vegas. Priscilla and Lisa Marie don't'

take too kindly to anyone using the King's name in vain: Try eating a banana split while doped up on the toilet, and you're likely to land in federal court. Everyone should make so much money when they're 6 feet above ground, much less buried underneath it.

Barry Capece is just the latest person to find out how tightly the Presley people hold on to the name: A year ago this month, the corporation sent its lawyers after him because Capece happens to own a club in Houston--and, beginning this month, in Dallas--called the Velvet Elvis. Never mind that the place has nothing to do with Elvis Presley, that it is nothing more than a nightclub that serves drinks and features lounge music and blues; never mind that Elvis' visage--thin or obese or anywhere in between--is nowhere to be found in the club or on any merchandising materials.

That's all semantics, anyway: More than 50 suits brought by Elvis Presley Enterprises have reached court in the past two decades, with countless others being settled before they reach judges.

According to their petition filed in federal court, the Presley people simply want Capece to stop using the name Velvet Elvis, even though he has owned a government-issued trademark on the name for almost five years--four years before Presley Enterprises filed its lawsuit. Elvis' representatives want Capece, the owner of the corporation that oversees the Houston and Dallas clubs, to stop using the name; and they want to collect monetary damages resulting from the fact that Capece has been using the name for five years.

"The obvious legal question is: Are we one of those establishments trying to profit from the individual Elvis Presley?" says Capece, himself a lawyer in Houston. "There are a lot of establishments that do market the name and image of Elvis Presley, and they're blatantly misappropriating the name. In our case, we're not even near that category. Although the word 'Elvis' is in the name, the Velvet Elvis is its own separate icon--a piece of cheesy American art. It's in the same category as a lava lamp or in the same category of the velvet painting of the dogs playing poker.

"The club is built around the cheesy and kitschy satire of American culture, and it certainly has nothing to do with Elvis Presley--never has, never will."

Bill Bradley, the Memphis-based attorney for Elvis Presley Enterprises, did not return calls for this article. But Capece says the Presley estate has asked for a summary judgment in a Washington, D.C., court for this week, a motion he and his attorneys are frantically trying to block--or at least delay. "They're getting nasty," Capece says of the Presley attorneys.

Actually, the Velvet Elvis--or the Velvet E, as the new McKinney Avenue club is called until the litigation is resolved--couldn't have less to do with Elvis Presley, save for its extravagant tastes. The sprawling, decadently designed club inhabits a giant old building on McKinney Avenue that was once a whorehouse. On Wednesday night, the club features blues acts, and on Thursday and Saturday nights, it turns into a bona fide lounge; Capece plans to book the likes of 8 1/2 Souvenirs and the Naughty Ones (both Austin acts who are regulars at the Houston Velvet Elvis location) into the Dallas club, not to mention lesser-known crooners from around the state.

"We're the poor man's House of Blues," Capece insists. And it could get a lot poorer if Elvis Presley's people get their way in court.

Did she jump or get pushed?
Coincidence or kiss of death: Sara Hickman, or at least her side project Domestic Science Club (with former Dixie Chicks Robin Macy and Patty Lege), has parted company with the Santa Monica, California-based label Discovery Records--which, ironically or appropriately enough, picked up Hickman a couple of years ago after she was dropped from Elektra Records. Discovery was to release the new Domestic Science Club record, Three Women, several months ago, but the release date was pushed back and, finally, the band was dropped from the label. Now, the disc is being manufactured and distributed through the local Crystal Clear Sound and will be released April 16.

A source at the label says Hickman, as a solo artist, is also no longer affiliated with Discovery, though she wasn't dropped. Rather, she and label CEO Sid Birnbaum didn't agree about her artistic direction and when she begged off Discovery, Birnbaum didn't put up a fight. Discovery, you might recall (and God bless you if you do), rescued Hickman's Necessary Angels in 1994 after Elektra dumped the record; Hickman bought it back from the label with fan-donated money (about $30,000 or so), only to have it released as Discovery's first album. Hickman, who was married at the Sons of Hermann Hall a couple of weeks ago, is now selling at her shows a new tape of outtakes and unreleased material.

Scene, heard
More than two years after the release of its last album, Course of Empire has finally buckled down in their new studio and finished the follow-up to Initiation. Titled Telepathic Last Words, it will be released in June on Zoo Records--contrary to those nasty rumors that the band had been dropped from the label. Until then, drummer Chad Lovell is using the C.O.E. studios to record Doosu's demos for Sony Music...

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