The Meaning of Elvis’ Taking Care of Business Lightning Bolt
What are the origins of Elvis’ iconic logo, and why does a famous British rock-and-roll star have this tattooed on them?
Elvis Presley remains one of the most recognisable faces of all time, as well as one of the most famous pop art icons. He was also the world’s first ever rock and roll star. But what does his associated phrase – TCB – stand for, and why does it appear alongside a lightning bolt on his records and merchandise (as well as across his face on my Elvis Presley pop art painting)?
Elvis Presley’s TCB stands for “Taking Care of Business” and was his personal motto, as well as the name of his 1970s backing band. The TCB lightning bolt means “In A Flash”; conveying a sense of energy, power and urgency – reflecting Elvis’ work ethic. The TCB logo was often worn on Elvis’ suits.
Just why did Elvis Presley become associated with a striking lightning bolt emblem and the TCB phrase, though? This article explores some key aspects of Elvis’ on- and off-stage personality to understand the meaning behind this famous symbolism. Plus, you find out which famous British rock and roll star carries this emblem tattooed on them – and why (you’ll be surprised you never knew this before!).
What does Elvis Presley’s TCB lightning bolt logo mean?
Elvis Presley’s TCB stands for “Taking Care of Business” and was his personal motto, as well as the name of his backing band during the 1970s. The accompanying lightning bolt is used to represented “in a flash”; conveying a sense of energy, power and urgency and alluding to Elvis’ rigorous work ethic. The emblem carries an overall meaning, therefore, of “Taking Care of Business in a Flash”.
The TCB lightning bolt logo was often worn on Elvis’ suits on stage, as well as on records, merchandise, and even his fleet of private cars and aeroplanes. The TCB lightning bolt remains an iconic symbol of his legacy among fans to this day. I was lucky enough to visit Graceland in 2018 and see the TCB across his fleet of vehicles in person (pictures below).
What is the meaning behind Elvis’ TCB – Taking Care of Business – logo?
To understand why Elvis adopted the famous TCB logo, standing for “Taking Care of Business”, it is helpful to understand Elvis’s personality and how this related to his career. Throughout his childhood, Elvis Presley was a polite and well-meaning, but mediocre, school student. He cared little for his academic studies, but was talented, observant and hugely committed when it came to his musical aspirations.
As an adult, his rigorous and studious work ethic in his saw him embody the need to promptly and efficiently ‘take care of business’ in his career, and he eventually adopted this phrase as his personal motto – as well as giving this name to his backing band throughout the 1970s.
Elvis, In his late teens and adult years, would carefully study the wide range of music records and recordings he would hear – either in physical copy or on Memphis radio stations – in order to understand their musical genre, origins, melody and compositions. This practice, alongside the diverse range of musical styles he was exposed to in his hometown of Tupelo, and later Memphis, gave him expert insight into the musical possibilities of the time, as well as his singing potential.
Elvis’s diligent musical work ethic was something he carried throughout his career. Although appearing somewhat effortless in hindsight, his rise to stardom to become the world’s biggest star and first ever rock and roll personality was the result of his intense focus and desire for himself and his team to ‘take care of business’ as he established his reputation and conquered America and the world.
Why did Elvis have a lightning bolt on his TCB logo?
The lightning bolt remains a striking symbol of Elvis Presley to this day, and means “in a flash”. Combined with the famous TCB lettering, the overall meaning of the symbol is “Taking Care of Business in a Flash”. The lightning bolt, and the ‘in a flash’ phrase, signify a sense of energy, power and urgency – key aspects of Elvis’ rigorous work ethic and traits he embodied – and demanded of his crew, the Memphis Mafia, to achieve his stardom throughout his career.
This is why my 2023 Elvis Presley pop art painting, created in my signature Jackson Pollock style, features a large red lightning bolt across The King’s face. (Many people have wondered if my painting is a nod to David Bowie – but the lightning bolt was a symbol of Elvis before Bowie.) You can view and buy prints of my striking Elvis pop art painting here. High quality prints are available in two sizes, at £45 or £75.
Elvis’ black and yellow lightning bolt logo also inspired my first Elvis Presley pop art portrait painting (below), painted in summer 2020. Shop prints of this one here.
Where did Elvis get the lightning bolt idea from?
Another theory as to why Elvis adopted the lightning bolt symbol to represent his on-stage persona was popularise by the 2022 Elvis Movie, produced by Baz Luhrmann. Elvis is said to have taken the lightning bolt from his childhood love of Marvel comic books, and specifically from Elvis’ favourite superhero, Captain Marvel Jr.
An early scene from the movie shows a young Elvis wearing a yellow lightning bolt necklace. To what extent this story is true, and how much artistic license was used when scripting the movie, is up for debate. But Elvis did love comic books and used his childlike imagination to craft his on-stage image and the ‘hero’s journey’ story that was his career.
Which iconic British rock and roll star has an Elvis Presley TCB tattoo?
In a surprisingly underknown fact, 1990s British rock and roll icon and Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher in fact has Elvis’ circular TCB lightning bolt emblem tattooed on his arm. This may be a surprising fact to many people, given that Liam Gallagher or Oasis rarely made references to Elvis Presley or covered his songs during their careers (Liam and Oasis are both associated closely, of course, with The Beatles and particularly John Lennon).
Liam Gallagher nevertheless wears an Elvis ‘Taking Care of Business’ tattoo – perhaps he too resonated strongly with Elvis’ personal mantra of power and energy when he got it tattooed around the late 1990s.
Why does Liam Gallagher have an Elvis Presley TCB lightning bolt tattoo?
Liam Gallagher appeared to get Elvis’ iconic TCB lightning bolt symbol tattooed on his arm to cover up a previous tattoo of former wife Patsy Kensit, whom he was married to between 1997 and 2000, following their break up. Liam Gallagher has also previously worn a denim jacket featuring Elvis’ TCB logo on stage when performing with Oasis. Liam’s clothing brand, Pretty Green, also released an official Elvis Presley clothing capsule collaboration in 2021.
I brought three items of clothing from the collection, including an amazing paisley silk shirt decorated in a striking red, black and gold colour scheme and featuring Elvis’ TCB lightning bolt logo. A close up of the shirt’s paisley TCB design is below.
Did Elvis inspire David Bowie’s lightning bolt makeup for Aladdin Sane?
It does not appear that Elvis directly inspired David Bowie’s 1973 Aladdin Sane character lightning bolt makeup, despite how popular Elvis’ TCB logo would have been in the years just before Aladdin Sane. My David Bowie painting features this lightning bolt appearance – but seemingly without any Elvis connection.
However, David Bowie may have been indirectly influenced by Elvis’ image and persona, with Bowie being a fan of pop culture and avant-garde fashion and art – as well as being a huge Elvis fan. David Bowie even said Elvis was his hero. Bowie ultimately was influenced my numerous other artists and literary sources, and Aladdin Sane’s lightning bolt would likely have been an original Bowie concept. Also – Bowie’s lightning bolt has one less jagged ‘point’ than Elvis’ TCB lightning bolt.
Did you know: Elvis Presley and David Bowie shared a birthday, of 8th January. Elvis was born in 1935 and Bowie in 1947. Presley and Bowie also later shared a record label, RCA, in 1970s.
Did you know: In China, Elvis Presley is not known by his actual name? Instead he is known as ‘Mao Wang’ – literally meaning ‘Cat King’. It’s thought the origin has something to do with one of his early nicknames in Southern U.S. being ‘the Hillbilly Cat’.
M&M Elvis Presley chocolate art – Taking Care of Business!
To celebrate Easter 2023 I recreated Elvis Presley’s TCB logo in chocolate form, using hundreds of M&M’s! These were bought from M&M’s World in New York’s Times Square during my New York visit in early 2023 – they have loads of colours in giant M&M’s dispensers on the walls to choose from that you can’t get off the shelf in regular shops. Taking Care of Business!
Did you know the story behind Elvis’ Taking Care of Business logo? What is your favourite Elvis Presley song?
Explore my Elvis Presley TCB portrait painting and prints here. View my full range of music-themed, Jackson Pollock-inspired pop art paintings and canvas prints at www.bykerwin.com. Prints are priced from £35 – £75, with fast worldwide delivery. You can follow my art progress on Instagram and Facebook.
Article written by UK artist Kerwin Blackburn, 2023