John was drawn to music very early. At the age of 10, he famously sneaked into Elvis Presley’s dressing room before a show at the Shrine Mosque in Springfield, telling Elvis, “you can’t play guitar worth a damn.” Elvis was amused and impressed with this kid and predicted they would meet again. They did. After playing in a high school band with his classmates called, “The Coachmen,” John went on to make a name for himself as a folk and country singer and guitar player.
He traveled around the country playing with such groups as , The Goodtime Singers, Greenwood County Singers, and The New Christy Minstrels.
John and Elvis met again in 1968, when the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll saw John on a TV show in Los Angeles and called to invite John to join his band. John played over 1,200 shows as Elvis’ rhythm guitar player, right up until The King’s death in 1977.
After that he played less music, and made a living in retail and airline services management. He married his wife, Terry, in 1983. A serious stroke in 1989 left him unable to play the guitar. Nevertheless, for several years after that, he traveled the U.S. and Europe, appearing with the old TCB band and others, singing and paying tribute to Elvis. He was proud of the fact that he never turned down a request for an autograph.
Everyone in the TCB band was family. “Besides my own father, he was probably the most kind and compassionate and considerate and generous man I’ve ever met in my life,” Wilkinson said of Presley, still wearing the gold TCB emblem the King put around his neck in 1969.
Even after suffering a stroke in 1989 that left him unable to play the guitar, Wilkinson continued singing with fellow musicians, including the old TCB Band (the acronym stood for Taking Care of Business), and also made a living in retail and airline services management.
Despite his amazing musicianship -“He was honestly one of the best acoustic guitar players I’d ever heard,”- admitted one of his band mates, he enjoyed the incredible places he got to visit, and his entertaining stories of meeting famous people, the most remarkable thing about John was his kindness.
It didn’t matter if he was meeting adoring fans, joking with Chuck Berry about keeping his B-string in tune, or if he was talking to a neighbor about her dog, people were people to him. Folks were folks. John would look you square in the eye and accept you, just as you were. There was nothing phony about him. Ellison recalled, adding that Wilkinson kept in touch with many of the performers from the folk music era in the late 1960s and early ’70s.
John died fighting a long battle with cancer on Jan 11, 2013 at age 67.