Johnny H. (aka Jesse/John Haemmerle, Jesse Garon Presley) and his massive custom-made Hollowbody V acoustic guitar.
I’m going to cut right to the chase here and tell you about Jesse Haemmerle—aka Johnny H/John Haemmerle and his connection to Elvis, as it’s too weird to wait for. You may know Elvis’ mother Gladys Garon was set to deliver twins at home in Tupelo, Mississippi when tragically Elvis’ brother Jessie arrived stillborn just before Elvis was born. The loss of his twin weighed heavily on Elvis psychologically for his entire life. Gladys has said she and her husband Vernon gave Presley the middle name of Aaron (an adaptation of the family’s last name of Garon), so he would always feel as though his brother was there with him. Even before his own death, it was said Elvis would have meandering conversations with his deceased brother while traipsing around Graceland. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a kid named John Haemmerle would learn he had been adopted from a family in Tupelo, and his actual date of birth was January 8th, 1935, just like Elvis.
Elvis-association aside, John Haemmerle was a pretty interesting cat on his own. He served in the Air Force and worked as a police officer for several years. Haemmerle dedicated a large portion of his life to bodybuilding and became good enough to participate in the Mr. America competition in 1968. He was also a member of the impressive sounding organization, the Federation of Arm Wrestlers and built the first opposing grips arm wrestling table in 1969. He scored some television roles and an uncredited bit part in the 1973 film Serpico, but was most successful musically and put out a number of singles under different names including Johnny H in the 50s and 60s, which you could classify as Doo-Wop. He was also known for the creation of his unique space rocket-inspired hollow body V acoustic guitar (pictured at the top of this post).
In getting back to Haemmerle’s (maybe) Elvis connection, there are many accounts which have been shared over the decades—here are a few.
An early recording by Johnny H. using the name Jesse Garon Presley.
Sometime in 1964, Haemmerle claims to have met Elvis and somehow got to lay the story on him he was his brother Jesse apparently speaking to the big E for “hours.” In an interview with truth-champion The Sun, Haemmerle recounted strange Elvis-related experiences such as seeing an image of Elvis materialize on his cellar wall, and a session with well-known psychic Ann Fisher which conjured up memories of his days in Tupelo prior to his adoption. Haemmerle’s Myspace page contains other ramblings about his psychic visions, including one concerning a recurring dream where he traded clothing with his “twin brother” as he died. Haemmerle also had regular dreams about his custom hollow body V getting ripped off—which it did. Luckily, according to his son, he made two just in case his nightmare came to fruition. At some point along the way, Haemmerle changed his name to Jesse Garon Presley. In 1990 an article published on September 19th in New York newspaper The Reporter cited Jesse for winning a first-place award (as well as several others) at the National Creative Arts Festival in Albany in rhythm/blues/religious category for his interpretation of Elvis’ 1970 hit, “Kentucky Rain.”
Now, I’m sure you (maybe) might be thinking “whatever happened to Jesse Haemmerle?” I have a bit of an unexpected twist for you. According to Haemmerle’s 2003 obituary, he was, in fact, adopted and raised by Oscar and Felicia Albarea Haemmerle in the New York/New Jersey area. He is referred to by name in the obit as Jesse G. Presley noting his place of birth as DUN DUN DUN! Tupelo, Mississippi. This all reads like an old episode of In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy, and since the all-knowing Nimoy isn’t around to help me figure this one out, I’m going to wait on passing any judgment regarding the truth behind this very strange story.
Here are some images of Haemmerle during his bodybuilding days as well as his musical ones. Also included below are some of the musical stylings of the mysterious Johnny H.
A photo of a young Haemmerle (left) with his brother Richie.
A photo of Haemmerle taken for a bodybuilding magazine.
More after the jump…