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ut of Tupelo, Mississippi, out of Revival were all introduced to the blues through Elvis. He was already
Memphis, Tennessee, came this green, doing what the civil rights movement was demanding: breaking
sharkskin-suited girl chaser, wearing down barriers. You don’t think of Elvis as political, but that is politics:
eye-shadow – a trucker-dandy white boy changing the way people see the world.
who must have risked his hide to act so black In the ’80s, U2 went to Memphis, to Sun Studio – the scene of
and dress so gay. This wasn’t New York or even rock’n’roll’s big bang. We were working with Elvis’ engineer and music
New Orleans; this was Memphis in the ’50s. diviner, Cowboy Jack Clement. He reopened the studio so we could cut
This was punk rock. This was revolt. Elvis some tracks within the same four walls where Elvis recorded “Mystery
changed everything – musically, sexually, politically. In Elvis, you had Train”. He found the old valve microphone The King had howled
the whole lot; it’s all there in that elastic voice and body. As he changed through; the reverb was the same reverb: “Train I ride, 16 coaches long”.
shape, so did the world: he was a ’50s style icon who was what the ’60s It was a small tunnel of a place, but there was a certain clarity to the
were capable of, and then suddenly not. In the ’70s, he turned celebrity sound. You can hear it in those Sun records, and they are the ones for
into a blood sport but, interestingly, the more he fell to Earth, the more me – leanness but not meanness. The King didn’t know he was The
godlike he became to his fans. His last performances showcase a voice King yet. It’s haunted, hunted, spooky music. Elvis doesn’t know where
even bigger than his gut, where you cry real tears as the music messiah the train will take him, and that’s why we want to be passengers.
sings his tired heart out, turning casino into temple. Jerry Schilling, the only one of the Memphis Mafia not to sell him
In Elvis, you have the blueprint for rock’n’roll: the highness – the out, told me a story about when he used to live at Graceland, down by
gospel highs. The mud – the Delta mud, the blues. Sexual liberation. the squash courts. He had a little room there, and he said that when
Controversy. Changing the way people feel about the world. It’s all Elvis was upset and feeling out of kilter, he would leave the big house
there with Elvis. and go down to his little gym, where there was a piano. With no-one
I was barely conscious when I saw the ’68 Comeback Special, at eight else around, his choice would always be gospel, losing and finding
years old – which was probably himself in the old spirituals. He

MUSIC, SEX, POLITICS.


an advantage. I hadn’t the critical was happiest when he was singing
faculties to divide the different his way back to spiritual safety.
Elvises into different categories or But he didn’t stay long enough.
sort through the contradictions.
Pretty much everything I want IN ELVIS YOU HAD THE Self-loathing was waiting back up
at the house, where Elvis was seen
from guitar, bass and drums was
present: a performer annoyed by WHOLE LOT. AS HE CHANGED shooting at his TV screens, the Bible
open beside him at Saint Paul’s great

SHAPE, SO DID THE WORLD


the distance from his audience; ode to love, Corinthians 13. Elvis
a persona that made a prism clearly didn’t believe God’s grace
of fame’s wide-angle lens; a was amazing enough.
sexuality matched only by a thirst Some commentators say it was
for God’s instruction. the army, others say it was Hollywood or Las Vegas that broke his
But it’s that elastic spastic dance that is the most difficult spirit. The rock’n’roll world certainly didn’t like to see their King
to explain – hips that swivel from Europe to Africa, which is doing what he was told. I think it was probably much more likely
the whole point of America, I guess. For an Irish boy, the voice his marriage or his mother – or a finer fracture from earlier on,
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC/©BONO: THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE

might have explained the sexiness of the USA, but the dance like losing his twin brother, Jesse, at birth. Maybe it was
explained the energy of this new world about to boil over just the big arse of fame sitting on him.
and scald the rest of us with new ideas on race, religion, I think the Vegas period is underrated. I find it the
fashion, love and peace. These were ideas bigger than the most emotional. By that point Elvis was clearly not
man who would break the ice for them, ideas that would in control of his own life, and there is this incredible
later confound the man who took the Anglo-Saxon stiff pathos. The big opera voice of the later years – that’s
upper lip and curled it forever. He was “Elvis the Pelvis”, the one that really hurts me.
with one hand on the blues terminal and the other on the Why is it that we want our idols to die on a cross
gospel, which is the essence of rock’n’roll, a lightning of their own making and, if they don’t, we want our
flash running along his spine, electroshock therapy for money back? But, you know, Elvis ate America before
a generation about to refuse numbness, both male and America ate him.
female, black and white.
I recently met with Coretta Scott King, John Lewis
and some of the other leaders of the American civil
rights movement, and they reminded me of the cultural
apartheid rock’n’roll was up against. I think the hill they
climbed would have been much steeper were it not for the
racial inroads black music was making on white pop culture.
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater BONO

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |3
6 THE CROWN JEWELS 81 ELVIS IN TINSELTOWN
Elvis’ 20 greatest songs as picked by Music takes a back seat as Elvis’ movies
Uncut Legends’ esteemed panel of experts conquer the globe. But trouble is stirring…

26 THE EARLY DAYS: 1953-55 87 EXPOSED: ELVIS’ CO-STARS


From the fateful day he walked into Sun to Exploring the allure of Elvis’ leading ladies
becoming the biggest star of rock’n’roll
98 THE COMEBACK KING: 1968-70
28 THE BIG BANG How Elvis wrested control of his career from
How faith kept Sam Phillips going when the Colonel, before having it snatched back
Elvis was going nowhere
100 THE SECOND COMING
40 THE BOY KING: 1956-57 The incredible story of the greatest comeback
America’s love affair with Elvis begins in the history of rock’n’roll

42 CROWNING GLORY 108 EXPOSED: ’68 COMEBACK SPECIAL


The Hillbilly Cat conquers the world The amazing iconography of Elvis’
spectacular TV rebirth
47 “FAME, MONEY – I LOVE THEM”
A rare interview with Elvis from the 116 LAS VEGAS AND DEATH: 1971-77
Melody Maker archives From refreshed and renewed to divorce and
death, Presley’s tragic decline
48 EXPOSED: ALFRED WERTHEIMER
The secrets behind Alfred Wertheimer’s 119 KING OF THE ROAD
greatest photographs How the Colonel’s punishing tour schedule
stymied the resurgent Elvis
60 THE ARMY YEARS: 1958-62
Elvis’career goes on hold… almost 128 THE DEATH OF ELVIS
The extraordinary and depressing
63 SOLDIER BOY death of The King

134 ELVIS FOREVER


The startling consequences the
US Army had for Elvis’ life and career
From The Beatles to U2: The King’s legacy
70 ELVIS SPEAKS
The trials of singing, angry parents and more 142 LIST ME TENDER
in Elvis’ most revealing ever interview All the Elvis facts you’ve never heard

72 FROM MEMPHIS TO MERSEYSIDE 144 ELVIS BUYERS’ GUIDE


The search for the British Elvis All the CDs, books and
DVDs you’ll need
78 THE MOVIE MACHINE: 1963-67
Movies and marriage become Elvis’ priorities 146 THE LAST WORD

ALBUMS 94 SPINOUT WHAT MADE ELVIS


Uncut Legends uncovers the story 38 THE VOICE by Nigel Williamson
behind the pick of Elvis’ albums What should have been just another
soundtrack albumcontained the 96 THE ACTOR by Joe Cushley
34 THE SUN COLLECTION roots of his revival, in the form of a 114 THE LOOK by David Stubbs
Roy Carr on his struggle to compile Bob Dylan cover
124 THE INTERPRETER by Gavin Martin
Elvis’ earliest recordings… and what
Sam Phillips said when he heard them 106 FROM ELVIS IN
MEMPHIS ELVIS’ PEOPLE
58 ELVIS With his comeback rightly lauded 36 THE MILLION DOLLAR
The record that defined what around the world, Elvis completed QUARTET by Paul Moody
rock’n’roll was, and could be his redemption, in style 56 THE BANDS by Nigel Williamson
74 ELVIS IS BACK! 126 THAT’S THE WAY IT IS 76 THE SONGWRITERS
After leaving the army, Elvis was Re-invigorated by his Vegas by Barney Hoskyns
fired up to prove that he’d lost residencies, The King proves that 92 COLONEL TOM PARKER

81
none of his edge while in khaki he’s the world’s greatest balladeer by Mike Pattenden

4|  UNCUT LEGENDS 
EDITORIAL ENQUIRIES
Uncut, IPC Media, 25th Floor,
King’s Reach Tower,
Stamford Street, London SE1 9LS
Tel: 020 7261 6992 Fax: 020 7261 5573

EDITOR Anthony Thornton


ART EDITOR Michael Chapman
PICTURE EDITOR Monica Chouhan
PRODUCTION EDITOR Nathaniel Cramp
SUB EDITORS Eddy Lawrence,
Andrew Winter, Victoria Rees

EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Elizabeth Curran


CONTRIBUTORS Stuart Bailie,
Nathaniel Cramp, Joe Cushley,
Stephen Dalton, Simon Goddard,
Nick Hasted, Barney Hoskyns, Neil Howie,
Sarah-Jane, Pat Long, Gavin Martin,
Paul Moody, Paul McNamee,

28 Mike Pattenden, David Stubbs,


Adrian Thrills
ELVIS CONSULTANT Simon Goddard

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Steve Sutherland

119
GROUP ART DIRECTOR Rob Biddulph
UNCUT EDITOR Allan Jones
UNCUT ART EDITOR Kerrin Hands

ASSISTANT PUBLISHER Emily Hutchings


PUBLISHER Andrew Sumner
MANAGING DIRECTOR
Tim Brooks

SPECIAL THANKS TO:


Kelly Hill and everyone at Elvis Presley
Enterprises Inc, Alfred Wertheimer and
Photokunst Gallery, Joseph A Tunzi, Roger
Semon, Peter Chapman, Joe Winfield,
Jimmy Young, Victoria Rees, Judith Sharpin

COVER PHOTOGRAPHY

100
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC,
PICTORIAL PRESS, REX FEATURES, KOBAL,
GETTY, REDFERNS

COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR
Karl Marsden 020 7261 5519

63
MUSIC & FILM MANAGER
Mia Appelbrink 020 7261 7073,
fax 020 7261 5504
mia_appelbrink@ipcmedia.com
DIRECTOR OF IGNITE
MEDIA SOLUTIONS
Andrew Sanders 020 7261 7187,
fax 020 7261 5504
andrew_sanders@ipcmedia.com

CLASSIFIED SALES MANAGER


Romano Sidoli 020 7261 5061,

42 87
fax 020 7261 5353,
romano_sidoli@ipcmedia.com
AD PRODUCTION
Alec Short 020 7261 5543
PRODUCTION MANAGER
Sam Bishop
SENIOR MARKETING EXEC
In your hands is a lovingly crafted magazine that delves
into Nick New 020 7261 6722
away from the PR MANAGER
everything that made Elvis great, while not shying
to the massive Nicola Woods 020 7261 6108
heartbreak. In putting this together we had access
and Disc archive s and we’re delight ed to reprint
NME, Melody Maker © 2005 IPC Media. No part of this magazine may be
from the
three extremely rare interviews with Elvis himself, all reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or
world was just
amazing period between 1955 and 1960 when the transmitted in any form without the prior
te his 70th of rock’n’ roll. We even have a first-hand
Elvis is number one. To ram the point home, and celebra getting used to the Big Bang
s album, and the
permission of the publishers.
scintillating le the Sun session
birthday, he scored his 19th UK Number One with the account of the strugg le to assemb
of experts.
Repro by FE Burman, 20 Crimscott Street, SE1 5TF.
“Jailhouse Rock”. A week later he had the landmark
1,000th UK all-time Elvis Top 20 as chosen by Uncut Legends’ panel Printed by Polestar Chantry Web Ltd, Bridley Way, 41
©ELVIS ENTERPRISES INC, REX FEATURES, KOBAL

it too.
appeal. This has been a pleasure to create. We hope you like
A testam ent to his lasting Industrial Estate, Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF2 OXO
Number One with “One Night”.
roll itself would have been a footno te in All reasonable efforts have been made to obtain
Without Elvis, rock’n’
Bowie and all the copyright clearance and acknowledge the source
American history. The Beatles, Dylan, Led Zeppelin, of material used in the magazine.
consciousness.
rest would never have got a toehold on our collective If you should have been contacted or credited please
ine all these legend s tell how Elvis change d their lives
In this magaz email farah_ishaq@ipcmedia.com
ever considered
in an individual way… and the lives of anyone who
picking up a guitar.
t to everyone.
But that’s the point, Elvis means something differen
t star of the 20th century and it’s ANTHONY THORNTON
He was quite simply the bigges
EDITOR
impossible to escape his influence in the 21st.
The King’s 20 finest moments, as chosen
by Uncut’s panel of musicians, artists,
celebs and, most importantly, Elvis freaks

LOVE LETTERS HOUND DOG


Much covered, but hugely The song Elvis memorably
likeable, pop ballad written sang to a basset hound on
by Edward Heyman and Steve Allen’s TV show in July
Victor Young. Elvis imbues 1956 also gave him a Number
the track with a rich vocal resonance and One on the US pop, country and black
more genuine emotion than most other singles charts. Another classic rocker, this
versions can muster. Released as a single Leiber and Stoller-penned number had
in 1966. “Don’t Be Cruel” on its flipside.

JON SPENCER, BLUES EXPLOSION: “I’m not a LIAM WATSON, TOE RAG STUDIOS: “When I was
particular fan of love songs, but Elvis’ version of very young, my best friend was an Elvis nut. He
‘Love Letters’ is great. I'm a real sucker for that.” had the album 40 Greatest – which was a great
STEVE DIGGLE, BUZZCOCKS: “When you listen to compilation of the biggest RCA hits. ‘Hound
songs like ‘Love Letters’ you can hear Elvis’ Dog’ was one of my favourites (along with ‘My
Roy Orbison influence. My mum and dad Baby Left Me’) and still is.”
had an old radiogram that would blast things ANTHONY H WILSON: “Whenever I hear ‘Hound
out and when that came on, everyone would Dog’, it takes me back to being six or seven and
just stop what they were doing and listen. hearing it for the first time. My dad was an
The mixture of pain and pathos in that song out-of-work actor so I’d grown up going to lots
is unbelievable.” of musicals and hearing Shirley Bassey, but I’d
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |7
“I LOVE THE SEXUAL
TENSION OF WHAT
‘LITTLE SISTER’ IS
SAYING. IT HAS A
DEVILISH NATURE"
JOSH HOMME
never been subjected to any rock’n’roll. It was
like the door to another world opening. I didn’t
know what was behind it, but I knew it was
radical and exciting.”
ALICE COOPER: “It reminds me of Elvis as I knew
him – young, lean, snotty, with a sneer on his
face. The coolest guy in the world.”

ALWAYS ON
18 MY MIND
One of Elvis’ most emotive
moments, written by a trio of
composers including Mark
“Suspicious Minds” James.
ALAN MCGEE: “His greatest moment. Sums up for
me men, women and everything in between.”

PLEDGING
17 MY LOVE
Written by Ferdinand
Washington and one of the
last cuts ever recorded at the
Graceland studio in 1976.

TREVOR CAJIAO, ELVIS BIOGRAPHER: “Elvis singles


offered ridiculously good value for money
– ‘Hound Dog’/‘Don’t Be Cruel’, ‘Jailhouse Rock’/
‘Treat Me Nice’ – and here’s another case in point.
Issued as the flip of ‘Way Down’, this version of
Johnny Ace’s posthumous 1954 smash deserved
a release of its own. Check out the even better
alternative take on the Platinum box set.”
went off to Hollywood or wherever. The pureness JOSH HOMME, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE: “I like
of sound all these years later… I put that on and go, ‘Little Sister’ – I like the whole story of this

16 THAT’S ALL RIGHT


‘Why am I even trying? I can never better this.’ love triangle between a man and two siblings.
He does three Arthur Crudup songs and they’re Our single right now is called ‘Little Sister’
From the session that started all works of art.” and it’s partially inspired by that song. I love
it all, the original one-take the sexual tension of it, what it’s saying: ‘Little

15LITTLE SISTER
masterpiece put a raw twist sister don’t you do what your big sister done?’
on ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s standard. There’s a devilish nature to that. And I love
Elvis broke the mould with the guitar line.”
CHRIS BAILEY, THE SAINTS: “My ultimate favourite. this sly and salacious hard- TREVOR CAJIAO: “A low down’n’dirty groover
Whatever you say about Elvis, he very much liked rocking paean to sibling from the Pomus and Shuman team. Tailor-
GETTY

black blues music. His music was black before he rivalry and sexual revenge. made for The King in every way.”

8|  UNCUT LEGENDS 
JESSE MALIN on how The King united his parents and
consequently brought him into the world
“My first memory of the songs they played, but I didn't the door open and really introduce
of Elvis was really appreciate how talented rock’n’roll to white people. What the
watching my dad Elvis was until I bought From Elvis In Beastie Boys did for hip-hop, he did
jump around our Memphis a few years later. for rhythm and blues.
living room. Aloha “People have resented Elvis “I remember playing outside
From Hawaii was because he didn’t write any of the when the next door neighbour told
on and he had songs he recorded, but neither did me he’d died. It was a sad moment
every TV in the Frank Sinatra. The important thing and it would have been interesting

4 ONE NIGHT house blaring it is, he took a song and put so much to see what music he would have

1
out. He was never soul and passion in there he made made if he’d lived. I still listen to Elvis
really a music it his own. It didn't matter if he was now and then, but I think the most
A potently sexual, full-tilt pop fan, but he was nuts about Elvis. He dabbling in country or gospel or interesting thing about Elvis’ legacy
had lots of records, posters and an rock’n’roll, he made them all sound is what it says about the American
single that topped the British Elvis bust. In fact, the one thing my really effortless and easy because he dream and how fame and success
charts in 1959 and made parents seemed to bond on most was had such a beautiful voice. can kill you and send you spiraling in
Number Four on the Billboard probably The King. They went to see “Obviously Fats Domino, Chuck isolation and addiction.
him together in Las Vegas Berry and Little “I went to the Andy Warhol
charts (paired with “I Got Stung”). and during the brief Richard had already museum in Pittsburgh yesterday
time they were released great and I stood underneath the Elvis
STEVE DIGGLE: “It’s a very basic song, but I really together, records by the painting. Just staring at his eyes and
I remember “Elvis’ legacy time he came wondering how he felt about all the
like ‘One Night’. The music is really simple them listening
to his records.
shows how the on the scene,
but he was the
things he experienced from the army
to his downfall. It’s an iconic image
and stripped down, but when Elvis sings the
chorus… man, it goes right down your spine. I liked some American dream first to kick and he was an extremely iconic man.”
and fame and
success can
kill you” |9
“Suspicious
Minds”? “American
Trilogy”? Or a rant
about the DEA?
’70s Elvis takes
care of business
The newlywed
Elvis and Priscilla
board their
honeymoon jet,
May 1, 1967

ALAN MCGEE: “Elvis had the blues. He was a


black guy with white skin.”
RICHARD HAWLEY: “I’m a big fan of ‘Burning
Love’. It’s just a very sexy record. You can
hear him get down.”
TREVOR CAJIAO: “Coming amid a sea of
ballads, this Dennis Linde rocker was a real
breath of fresh air in 1972. I heard it on the
car radio yesterday and almost blew the
speakers when turning the volume knob
to 32. Isn’t it strange how all your favourite
records sound even better when you’re not
expecting to hear them?”

MILKCOW
“ELVIS SINGING ‘LOVE ME’, THAT’S A GREAT 10 BLUES BOOGIE Barnstorming update of
INTRODUCTION TO THE BLUES" ROBERT PLANT James Arnold’s country blues
number from 1935. Recorded
in 1954 in one of Elvis’ early
It must have been a real turn-on for women. the Lieber and Stoller song. At the time I had sessions for Sam Phillips at Sun. It was
I bet they used to listen to it and just melt.” no idea why I liked it. It was just the sound and released as a single in the US, with “You’re
TREVOR CAJIAO: “Don’t let anyone tell you the the way he sang. Now I know what was going A Heartbreaker” on the flipside, in 1955.
blues is strictly for the black man. The passion on – the compression on his voice and the way
and feel in El’s version of ‘One Night’ transcends they put it through the best equipment. But his LIAM WATSON, TOE RAG STUDIOS: “This was the first
all musical boundaries. Apart from, maybe, confidence and his assertion were stupendous. song I heard from Elvis’ Sun sessions. When I was
Duane Eddy’s ‘Peter Gunn’, has there ever been If you can hear Elvis singing ‘Love Me’, then a teenager, I had it on a tape of stuff I had recorded
a dirtier sounding record?” that’s a great introduction to the blues.” off the John Peel show. It still sounds fantastic.”
JON SAVAGE: “The song starts off really slowly like

TOMORROW
13 A LONG TIMEIS 11 BURNING LOVE
a traditional blues number, then it breaks into
a 200 mph rockabilly track with a wonderful
In the middle of his break- mathematical guitar solo from Scotty Moore.
up with Priscilla, Elvis It’s just extraordinary.”
Recorded during Elvis’ classic wasn’t keen to even record BARRIE CADOGAN, LITTLE BARRIE: “I think songs
mid ’60s resurgence, this this ebullient love song, like ‘Milkcow…’ have been overlooked
cover did things to Dylan that dispatching it in six takes to concentrate compared to his RCA output and the Las Vegas
he didn’t expect . on downbeat ballads. You’d never guess, years, and yet there’s something very special
though, as The King turns in a rapturous about the simplicity and rawness of those
CARL BÂRAT, THE LIBERTINES: “Bob Dylan said it vocal performance on a song that, in 1972, particular tracks. They’re so deceptively simple,
was his favourite cover of one of his songs ever. became his biggest US hit in three years. they sound like anybody could play them.”
Considering how many people had a crack at
doing ol’ Zimmerman’s stanzas, that says it all.”
ROISIN MURPHY, MOLOKO, would have married

12 LOVE ME Leiber and Stoller penned


“Love Me” as a country music
Elvis if only her dad had got that magic wand
“I was a big Elvis fan
as a kid. In fact, I was
so obsessed with
going to get it and would have to
make do with watching him on
TV. I used to watch a lot of his films
“I bought the Comeback Special
DVD a while ago and I’ve watched that
loads. The live footage is fantastic and
‘parody’, with a funereal pace him that my father with my mum and occasionally we’d when you watch him interacting with
told me he was dance round the living room to his the band and talking to the audience
and melodramatic lyrics. going to get a magic albums too. you realise what a dark sense of
Elvis’ version, recorded in September wand so I could humour he had.
change one of the “In the ’50s he seemed quite a
1956, transformed it into a romantic
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., CORBIS

living room chairs two dimensional figure, but of course


ballad showcasing his power and range. into Elvis and he was just as human as the rest of
Never released as an official single, marry him. “The live footage us and behind his showbiz smile
Whenever he came to visit me I’d there was obviously a lot of turmoil
it nevertheless almost topped the US ask where it was and he’d say, ‘I’ll
from the Comeback and complexity. I’d definitely like
Billboard charts through radio play alone. bring it next week, I’m going to Special is fantastic, to find out even more about Elvis
visit the fairies tonight.’ After because I still find him an extremely
about a year I realised I was never you realise what fascinating character.”
ROBERT PLANT: “The Elvis track that really did it a dark sense of
for me was ‘Love Me’. Not ‘Love Me Tender’, but
humour he had”

 UNCUT LEGENDS  | 11
9 DON’T BE CRUEL This Otis Blackwell-penned
number went to the top of the
Billboard pop, country and
black music charts in 1956
and stayed there for weeks – and with
sales estimated anywhere between four
and nine million became Elvis’ biggest-
selling single to date. A perfect blend of
pop and rockabilly, Presley first heard the
song at a studio session in July 1956 and
immediately agreed to record it.
RICHARD HAWLEY: “I still get chills when I listen to
‘Don’t Be Cruel’. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful
song with incredibly pure sentiment. The older
I get the less I can be arsed listening to modern
music because hardly any of it comes close to
songs like this.”
GREG HATTON, THE EARLIES: “The thing that’s
interesting about Elvis is he wasn't a songwriter.
His talent was the way he emotionally
connected with the material and made it sound
like his. His version of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, for
example, is just awesome. It literally sounds like
his heart is breaking in two.”
CRISTINA MARTINEZ, BOSS HOG: “‘Don’t Be Cruel’
is the sound of Elvis on his knees, whispering
and promising you he’ll never do you wrong.”

8 GUITAR MAN Written by Jerry Reed


and recorded by Elvis in
Nashville, September 1967,
this was hailed as a return
to form after years of artistic ennui. The
transformative Comeback Special, which
used this song as its centrepiece, was to
follow in ’68.

TOM BAXTER: “I’ve got a fantastic live album of


Elvis’ where he performs a brilliant rendition of
‘Guitar Man’. In fact, that track was probably the
one that inspired me to buy a guitar and teach
myself how to play.”
JESSE MALIN: “‘Guitar Man’ reminds me of a
Springsteen or Pogues song, the lyrics are very
cinematic and emotive. It’s a very working class
anthem too. It tells the story of an underdog who
sees the guitar as his weapon against the world.
These days being a musician is encouraged, but
when I started playing music wanting to be a
guitarist was like being a criminal.”
JON SAVAGE: “I find it slightly irritating that all
the singles are being reissued, but I’d love to see
‘Guitar Man’ at Number One again. It would
knock spots off the music that passes for pop
nowadays. It’s just so exciting and energetic.”
BARRIE CADOGAN: “The vocal delivery on ‘Guitar
REDFERNS

Guitar man
Man’ is killer. It’s just as hooky as hell.” Scotty Moore
levitates
a young Elvis

12|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


SUNE ROSE WAGNER, THE RAVEONETTES: “I've always the army managing to tap into their sensitive,
had a soft spot for ‘Guitar Man’. The phrasing sentimental side so easily. Elvis was a natural
is really interesting and Elvis sings it with real though, he just picked up the microphone and
conviction.” got on with it.”
JON SPENCER: “I can’t listen to ‘Are You

ARE YOU LONESOME


7 TONIGHT?
Lonesome Tonight?’. It’s been used and
parodied in so many commercials and films,
that it’s lost its redemptive power. I can’t hear it
without thinking of all the baggage attached to
Recorded as a favour to Tom it, unfortunately.”
Parker (apparently, the song JOSH HOMME: “I love the quality of all those early
meant a great deal to the recordings – they really recapture the attitude
Colonel and his wife), “Are You because they were played live. They’ve become a
Lonesome…” is an epic, unapologetically final photograph.”
sugary ballad that went on to become one
of Presley’s most recognisable songs. The
HEARTBREAK
track took Elvis just one full take to get
down, and went on to hit Number One
on both sides of the Atlantic.
6 HOTEL
A big, fat slice of gothic pop
GREG HATTON: “I’m not a fan of schmaltz, but perfection, this was Elvis’ first
I think ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ is up there UK hit, making Number Two in
with some of the best Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells May 1956. Written by Tommy
and Johnny Cash songs. There’s just so much Durden and Mae Boren Axton, the song
longing and lust and emotion contained within concerned a suicide they’d read about in a
the music and Elvis’ voice… it’s remarkable.” newspaper. Elvis’ voice had never sounded
STEVE DIGGLE: “‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ so desperate or desolate.
is pure poetry. The way he breaks down in
the middle of the song is just magical. I can’t ALAN VEGA, SUICIDE: “I know critics have to put
imagine many other guys that had been in things into words, but it’s impossible to say what

“I CAN’T IMAGINE MANY OTHER GUYS THAT


HAD BEEN IN THE ARMY TAPPING INTO THEIR
SENTIMENTAL SIDE SO EASILY " STEVE DIGGLE
ANTHONY H WILSON sees a lot of Elvis in Ian Curtis’
performances and Shaun Ryder’s weight-gain regime
“I have a friend who nothing but a hound dog’ and being fan of early Elvis and one day I plan to
believes to really blown away. I was very aware of Elvis make a pilgrimage to Sun Studio. I’m
be in the music from then on and the first adult movie an academic and, for me, the whole
industry you have I saw at Carlton Cinema in Salford was point of rock’n’roll is it’s about black
to have been born the one where he sailed down the meets white, Africa meets Europe and
in 1950 and I agree river on a wooden barge. I’d probably rhythm meets melody. Sam Phillips
with him. If you hate it if I saw it now, but it had a understood that, Elvis understood
were born in 1950, profound effect on me at the time. that and together they made history.
you would have “Trying to say what made Elvis “A lot of people like to wash over the
been introduced to special is like trying to say what made ’70s, but because I’m an old hippy
Elvis and Jerry Lee Ian Curtis special. I guess the answer I actually enjoy the drug excesses of
Lewis as a toddler, you would have is that they were both unique and Elvis’ last few years.
witnessed The Beatles as you were individual performers who were “Incidentally, when people were
beginning to hit adolescence and you phenomenally exciting to see. interviewing Shaun Ryder about 24
would have seen LSD and rock’n’roll “In Double Indemnity – his 2002 Hour Party People and seemed upset
explode as you were going to book about Elvis and Clinton – Greil by how bloated and ropey he looked,
university. If you were still interested Marcus made the wonderful I asked when was
in music five years later, you would point, if you want to know the last time they
have seen punk blow up and so on. who a person is saw such rotting,
“My own musical enlightenment ask if they like “Trying to say decaying, puffy,
came on a Saturday evening when
I was sat watching Six-Five Special
Elvis. If they say
yes, ask them
what made Elvis white skin?
And the
with my parents on the BBC. I don't which Elvis. special is like trying answer,
remember actually seeing Elvis, I just Personally, I’m of course,
remember hearing the line ‘You ain't an enormous to say what made was Elvis.”
Ian Curtis special.
They were both
unique”
 UNCUT LEGENDS  | 13
STEVE DIGGLE, anecdotal Elvis
historian, can’t wait until The King’s
draws me to ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. It’s everything haunting song about life in next Comeback Special
from the speed of the song to the words and the Chicago’s slums. An outstanding “In the early on the public and everyone from
way Elvis sings them. I played a cover version of gospel ballad, the song was a ’60s, I used Tom Jones to Michael Jackson has
to live on tried to imitate him.
it once at Max’s Kansas City and had a blast.” highlight of 1969’s From Elvis In a terraced “I’ve always liked the early
RICHARD HAWLEY: “It’s one of the weirdest songs Memphis album. street in north recordings, but as I’ve got older
Manchester I’ve grown to appreciate the
I’ve ever heard. It’s not a blues record, it’s not and my cousin, rhinestone suit years as well.
a country record and it’s not a pop record, it’s ALAN MCGEE: “The greatest singer. The who lived two There was a lot of humour in
just this really gripping piece of completely only other singer this good is Liam. doors down, some of those cheesy ballads
used to blare and I think Elvis was always quite
otherworldly music.” Similar characters, actually.” Elvis and Little bemused by how seriously people
JESSE MALIN: “It always sounds really intense RICHARD HAWLEY: “‘In The Ghetto’ was Richard out of took him. It’s hard to nail down
and raw. The musicianship on that record recorded when Elvis was going through his bedroom window. I used to what made him so great, but I
think the songs were really catchy, think it had something to do with
is pretty amazing too, Scotty Moore sounds his savage, fat bastard period. What’s but it wasn’t until I started making his flexibility. He wasn’t just an
like he’s on fire. It’s a very cool song that I’m incredible is that he still managed music myself that I realised how animalistic rock icon, he was also
great Elvis really was. a sensitive frontman who could
sure will sound just as fresh in another 30 or to sound totally on top of his game. “It’s hard to imagine these reduce people to tears. Of course
40 years.” I think it’s very sad he went the way of his days, but TV programmes like artists like Carl Perkins and Roy
JON SAVAGE: “I really like ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ mum, but then he never learned to eat The Ed Sullivan Show refused to Orbison had already tried their
shoot him below the waist in case hand at love songs, but when Elvis
because it was the first rock’n’roll record to be with a knife and fork. He’d have had a job viewers were offended by the way sung them you could feel the pain
Number One and when you really listen to it, eating a bowl of soup, even.” he thrust his hips. As for his crotch, in his voice.
you realise what an odd little song it was. It was JESSE MALIN: “This song could easily have that was way too wild to unleash “I’m not sure how he’d feel
about his records being remixed
almost gothic.” sounded really corny and clichéd, but and used to sell cars and stuff, but
NEIL TENNANT, PET SHOP BOYS: “I love ‘Heartbreak I think he manages to make it sound I’m sure Elvis would be delighted
Hotel’. When I was a kid I thought Elvis was very soulful and gospel-like. To take a “I’ve always to know people still listen to his
music. In fact, if he’s still alive
creepy. We had The Beatles and Stones, but story like that and make it sound like liked his early somewhere, now would be the
perfect time for his resurrection.
I read a book on him and it was amazing,” it’s the first time you’ve heard it is no recordings, but If Morrissey can get away with
small feat.”
I’ve grown to

5 IN THE GHETTO
making a comeback, Elvis has
ROISIN MURPHY, MOLOKO: “I like Elvis’ nothing to worry about!”
more gospel-based songs like ‘In The
appreciate the
Poverty and hardship figured Ghetto’. I find them very moving and rhinestone suit
prominently in Elvis’ early life emotional. The music is really raw and years, too”
and that upbringing seems intense and his vocals sound breathtaking.”
to inform his extraordinary, SUNE ROSE WAGNER: “‘In The Ghetto’ is one first time I heard it, but never
emotional vocal here on Mac Davis’ of my favourite Elvis songs. I was smitten the could find it on any of the albums I bought.
When I finally found it and listened to it
through headphones I was amazed. The way the
“‘WHEN YOU LISTEN TO ‘HEARTBREAK HOTEL’ YOU music ebbs and flows is incredible and his vocals
are astounding.”
REALISE WHAT AN ODD SONG IT WAS" JON SAVAGE NEIL TENNANT: “I like ‘In The Ghetto’. I love late-
period Elvis, but I think he had a sad life. I think
his creative potential was stifled. He was an
amazing singer.”

4 BLUE MOON This Richard Rodgers and


Lorenz Hart standard
from 1933 became a thing
of desolate, heart-rending
beauty in Presley’s capable hands.
Recorded at Sun in 1954, one reviewer
was moved to comment that Elvis’ vocals
“oozed like honey”.

TOM BAXTER: “There are lots of different versions


of ‘Blue Moon’, but I think Elvis’ is the most
haunting. His voice sounds really high and
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., REDFERNS

falsetto-like and whenever I hear it, I imagine


him standing under the moonlight in Memphis
with his sweetheart.”
JESSE MALIN: “A lot of people see ‘Blue Moon’
as a love song, but to me it’s more of a lust song.
Elvis relaxes at The music is very sparse and spooky and Elvis’
his Goethestrasse vocals sound really sexy and desperate.”
home, 1959

14|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


With just some of
the 3,500 straw
boaters made for
staff at the Vegas
Hilton’s Elvis Summer
Festival, 1970
CRISTINA MARTINEZ: “Elvis’ version of ‘Blue you listen, you hear the direct line. So the
Moon’ may not be the definitive version of the blues movement is something that should SHIRLEY MANSON wishes
classic, but it’s a great reminder of where he be shared culturally, and feelings don’t Elvis hadn’t had to appear in all
came from. Before his descent into solipsism need to be credited to one person. It’s the those movies. Except the ones
there was an unadulterated exuberance that mistake of an asshole to think that they
was infectious.” should be.”
where he’s in leather…
JOSH HOMME: “My favourite of all would be ALEX KAPRANOS, FRANZ FERDINAND: “There’s “I love “He worked his arse off
flawed too. Just imagine how many
‘Blue Moon’. When he goes up to the high a really weird version of ‘Blue Moon’ on icons and more albums he would have
note, it’s breathtaking. The way the sound an old 78 I bought years ago at a jumble the fact done if he hadn’t been
is… it’s such a fucking blue moon. I’m almost sale. It’s saturated in slap-back echo Elvis was contracted to make all those
plagued awful movies.”
personally insulted by the idea some people and his voice is really thin and wobbly- by these
have that Elvis stole black music. I think, sounding. It doesn’t sound like Elvis does insane
insecurities
instead, a round of applause for bringing it on anything else. On all his other records and dark
into glaring relief and also doing it with such he sounds so overly confident and at secrets just
a natural passion and bringing the tribalist times even smug. It’s the only time I’ve makes him
so much more real to me.
“The fact Elvis
side out of it. It’s tough to convey the tribal heard him sounding a little bit unsure I loved him when he did his was plagued by
side of rock’n’roll and, also, that blues is really of himself and it’s brilliant. It’s a little Comeback Special dressed
in tight leather trousers and these dark secrets
influenced by drum and fife music. There’s glimpse of him before he defined that
no guitars in Africa. It’s drum and fife, and if huge personality.”
jacket. Oh my god. . . he makes him so much
looked insanely sexy then.
In fact, I’d go so far as more real to me”
to say, in that outfit at
“IT’S THE ONLY TIME ELVIS SOUNDED UNSURE OF hat particular point in his
career, he was the epitome
of early rock’n’roll.
HIMSELF, AND IT’S BRILLIANT " ALEX KAPRANOS
Elvis, with Charlie
Hodge and Jerry
Scheff, at MGM
Studios, 1970

pictorial press

16|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


A pensive Judy
Tyler, Elvis and
shapely pins in
Jailhouse Rock,
1957

3 LOVE ME TENDER Perhaps the most alluring of


Presley’s many ballads, “Love
Me Tender” was also the title
track to his first Hollywood
movie and a song vital in spreading his
appeal beyond the fans who had lapped
up his earlier, more rock’n’roll-inflected
singles. Went to Number One in the US,
and 11 in the UK.
CRISTINA MARTINEZ: “‘Love Me Tender’ is a great
example of what made Elvis so compelling and
what made all the Bible-wielding conservatives
so afraid of him. Here is this beautiful and
unpolished country boy, dripping with sex
appeal, making himself completely vulnerable.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing is, in the end, what
endears Elvis to millions; his little boy heart in
a bad boy body.”
SHIRLEY MANSON, GARBAGE: “Elvis recorded
dozens of classics, but ‘Love Me Tender’ is a
particular favourite of mine. It’s just such a
timeless and beautiful love song.”
ANTHONY H WILSON: “I have a soft spot for
wonderful ballads and ‘Love Me Tender’ is one
of the sweetest. It’s very syrupy and sentimental,
but you can’t knock it.”
NIC ARMSTRONG: “Some of Elvis’ songs have
probably dated quite badly, but ‘Love Me

“WHAT ENDEARED ELVIS TO


MILLIONS WAS HIS LITTLE
BOY HEART IN A BAD BOY
BODY" CRISTINA MARTINEZ
JON SPENCER only got into Elvis to keep his wife happy,
but ended up basing a whole career around him
“I must have seen album of the Sun sessions. I didn’t mind sang, but he was a brilliant interpreter.
and heard Mr Presley the first two, but it was the last one Some people have suggested it was
as a child, but I only that gave me a real education. I still a shame he never got to stretch his
started to take him listen to it quite a lot and I’m a big fan wings as a songwriter, but I think if
seriously in my early of the RCA stuff he did before and it was in him to write it would have
20s when my wife after the army. The only thing I can’t come out at some stage or another.
introduced me to really get into is the tracks Elvis did in Colonel Parker may have done some
him. She grew up the late ’60s and ’70s. I’m sure there lousy things but he never stopped
listening to Elvis are a couple of amazing songs, but in Elvis from picking up a guitar!
and I remember general they’re very hit-and-miss. “I still think he’s one of the most
her buying the “From what I’ve read about him, incredible singers to have emerged
compilations that came out to mark Elvis was a strong producer too. in the last 50 years. He’s not
the tenth anniversary of his passing. The accounts I’ve read made only influenced
We were living in a terrible apartment it sound like he me personally,
on 8th Street and Avenue D in the East
Village in New York and we had an old
was the guy that
orchestrated and
“Colonel Parker but he’s been a
massive source
record deck that she used to play the produced most of may have done of inspiration
special editions on. the RCA sessions. for Blues
“If I remember rightly, there was Of course he some lousy things, Explosion as
CORBIS, PHIL WALLIS

a collection of his Number Ones, a didn’t write any but he never a band. We
collection of his Top Tens and a double of the songs he love him.”
stopped Elvis
picking up
a guitar”
18|  UNCUT LEGENDS 

 UNCUT LEGENDS 
 | 19
43
“‘LOVE ME TENDER’ IS THE KIND OF JUKEBOX
SONG THAT HAS EVERYONE CROONING ALONG Hog heaven: Elvis at

OR CRYING IN THEIR BEER " NIC ARMSTRONG the 1957 Mississippi-


Alabama State Fair
And Dairy Show

Tender’ still sounds incredibly sweet and he loses it somewhat. It’s poignant and funny. US country chart in 1955. Its clattering
emotive. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it played He goes mental listening to one of his backing rhythm and echoing Elvis vocal making it
in a bar, but it’s the kind of jukebox song that singers. She’s giving it all that gospel and he’s one of his most instantly memorable and
would have everyone crooning along or crying pissing himself.” haunting songs.
in their beer.” ALICE COOPER: “This was the first Elvis song
JESSE MALIN: “I never liked ‘Love Me Tender’ as I heard in a movie, and it’s beautiful.” RICHARD HAWLEY: “I love the original of ‘Mystery
a kid and I still don’t like it because when I went Train’ by Little Junior Parker. That was recorded
to see a vocal coach it was one of the songs
they made me sing over and over. I’d rather
listen to his Christmas songs.”
2 MYSTERY TRAIN Elvis’ final Sun single – written
at Sun Studio about two or three years before
Elvis recorded it and I imagine he probably
heard it on Sam Phillips’ radio show and thought
STEVE DIGGLE: “I thought ‘Love Me Tender’ was and originally recorded by ‘I’ll have a crack at that.’ What’s amazing is he
a bit simple and soft when I first heard it, but it’s R&B legend Junior Parker managed to make his version sound even more
grown a lot on me over the years. People talk – went to Number One on the mysterious than the original.”
about Charlie Chaplin being a good mime artist,
but Elvis was fantastic. It didn’t matter how
he felt at the time, whenever he sang ‘Love Me
JON SAVAGE was way too hip for Elvis, until Presley’s
Tender’ you imagined him serenading some girl early output made a him a late convert
with a look of pure heartbreak and loneliness, “My first memory of that I went back and investigated Unlike a lot of people, the only thing
pleading with them to love him. It’s such a Elvis is being bored his back catalogue and found I really I can’t really take is the fruity, Las Vegas
out of my mind by appreciated some of his ’60s pop stuff stuff. It’s just unbelievably vulgar.
convincing song.” ‘Return To Sender’ too. There’s an enormous sense of People have made really good shots
SUNE ROSE WAGNER: “I don’t consider myself in 1962. It was self-discovery running through some at reclaiming it, but it’s not for me.
Number One for of those songs and even now, they “Elvis was an incredibly sexy
particularly sentimental, but ‘Love Me ages and drove me sound really fresh and exciting. man and it’s a shame the ghoulish
Tender’ has got to be one of the greatest love crazy. I was really fascination with his demise
songs ever recorded. It’s just a really sweet, of the generation overshadows what an extraordinary
that didn’t like performer he was. If you watch any
simple song with really tender instrumentation.
I’ve heard a million different versions on various
Elvis because
he sounded so square next to The
“If you watch of the footage from the ’50s or late
’60s, you never knew what he was
any of the footage
HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY

box sets and they all sound pretty good.” Beatles. The great revelation for going to do next. He was the Johnny
me was buying The Sun Collection Rotten or Kurt Cobain of his day. Just
CHRIS BAILEY: “I can’t remember what it’s from on vinyl when RCA re-issued from the ’50s and completely wild and unpredictable.
– it’s one of his posthumous albums and it might them in 1975. I was so smitten ’60s, you never He looked fantastic, too.”
be live in Las Vegas. But it’s the version where knew what he
was going to do
20|  UNCUT LEG next.”
Elvis slates
Jeremy Slate
in Girls! Girls!
Girls!, 1962

JON SAVAGE: “I’ve always had a soft spot for


train songs from Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans Europe
Express’ to all the old blues numbers. I like the
playfulness of them and the way they try to
interpret the sound and speed of the engine.

What I love most about ‘Mystery Train’, however,
is the way Elvis starts laughing at the end. It’s
supposed to be a sad song, but he transforms it
into something more playful and sexy.”
BARRIE CADOGAN: “It’s a fantastic song. The SUNE ROSE WAGNER, THE RAVEONETTES,
rhythm running through it sounds like a train in defence – nay, celebration – of Elvis the crooner.
going at breakneck speed and the guitars are “I’ve been a fan of but I tried my hardest to do my best standard for The Cramps, The Stooges
really intense and shimmery. Elvis’ vocals sound Elvis for as long as impersonation as a tribute. and every rock’n’roll band since.
pretty incredible too.” I can remember. I’m “One of the things I love most I’d love to pretend it was second
not so crazy about about Elvis, besides his voice, is his nature for him, but I think he probably
TOM BAXTER: “‘Mystery Train’ will always have a his last period, but simplicity. He never tried to make appropriated things he liked. The
special place in my heart because it was the first I love the early stuff, the music really complex or disguise outfit he wore for the Comeback
Elvis track I learned off by heart on the guitar.” the mid ’60s stuff the meaning with lots of complicated Special in 1968, for instance, is almost
and some of the metaphors. He understood identical to the one Vince Taylor
ANTHONY H WILSON: “I love ‘Mystery Train’ almost soundtracks he did. that sometimes less is more. wore when he performed ‘Shakin’
as much as I love Greil Marcus’ book of the same “I was listening I have to confess to being All Over’ in the early
to Elvis a lot while in awe of his presence ’60s. Vince looked
name, I think he was the greatest pop writer in we were writing our new album and too. He was pretty good in
the world throughout the ’60s and ’70s, and the his music inspired me to write the extremely “He dressed leather himself,
opening song, ‘The Heavens’. He has good-looking but he couldn’t
chapter he wrote on Elvis remains one of the incredibly stylishly.
©BETTEMANN/CORBIS

the most amazing rock’n’roll voice and dressed move like Elvis.”
finest pieces of music journalism ever written.” ever committed to tape, but when incredibly He set the standard “No-one
JON SPENCER: “‘Mystery Train’ is wonderful. he croons his vocals are even better. stylishly. could. He was
In fact, that’s the song I’d recommend people I know my croon pales next to his, He set the for The Cramps, The King.”
listening to as an introduction to the real Elvis.” The Stooges
and everyone
else since”
22|  UNCUT LEGENDS 
1 SUSPICIOUS MINDS
A superb, soulful, up-tempo
BARRIE CADOGAN: “The whole feel and mood of
‘Suspicious Minds’ is so timeless and brilliant,
it sounds as relevant now as it did 30-odd years
ballad written by Mark James, ago. I like the original a lot, but the live version is
1969’s “Suspicious Minds” even better. When the song breaks down and he
showcases an older, wiser goes down on one knee, you can feel your heart
Elvis glorying in his decision to leave the beating… it’s just amazing. The strings on that
movies behind and – finally – concentrate song are incredible too.”
on his music. Funky, frantic and polished NIC ARMSTRONG: “I’m not a big fan of the cheesy
by legendary producer Chips Moman until films he did, but I love the comeback era. The
he could see his face in it, this is The King atmosphere is electrifying and his version of
at his most intense and clearly enjoying ‘Suspicious Minds’ is spine-tingling. You can
his return to recording in Memphis. tell he put every jolt of energy into singing it.”
STEVE DIGGLE: “It’s impossible to listen to
RICHARD HAWLEY: “‘Suspicious Minds’ just has ‘Suspicious Minds’ without seeing Elvis in the
a life of its own. I’ve heard people say it’s well big sunglasses and rhinestone suit. Of course
produced, but I’ve never listened to it and he was probably too old and fat to dress so
thought about the production. The point is it’s flamboyantly, but he was such a powerful,
a phenomenal song. All that the producer had majestic man he got away with it. In a way,
to do was switch on the mixing board and nail he was like the first and last showman. His
the right take. Elvis and his band took care of costumes just got more and more outrageous.”
everything else.” JOSH HOMME: “Something that happened a little
JESSE MALIN: “I think ‘Suspicious Minds’ is one later that proves you can only be King if you can
of Elvis’ best records. It always draws me in and do it for longer than a couple of records. By the
conjures images of him, walking up and down time it came out, what’s sandwiched in between
the stage in Las Vegas, doing a few karate kicks. that and his early material is more hits than
You can hear the way it influenced bands like anybody else and more sweet delivery. If it was
Suicide and The Raveonettes too. Of course, food, I’d eat it every day.”
they use a lot of crazy synthesisers, drum CHRIS BAILEY: “In my humble opinion it’s one of
machines and feedback, but you can still hear the best-recorded songs I’ve heard. It’s one of the
echoes of Elvis in their songs.” best-orchestrated songs too. The arrangement
GILES HATTON: “I’m a fan of big arrangements builds excitement in a quite simple song and
and ‘Suspicious Minds’ was written with that I think that’s quite cleverly done. A lot of his
purpose in mind. From beginning to end, it’s records were very intelligently recorded.”
just a really passionate, powerful, party record.” GARY LIGHTBODY, SNOW PATROL: “‘Suspicious Minds’
ALAN MCGEE: “Great pop music the way they used made me re-think how important he was. It’s a
to make ’em.” song of incredible intensity and passion.”

“THE LIVE VERSION IS JUST AMAZING. WHEN IT


BREAKS DOWN AND HE GETS DOWN ON ONE KNEE YOU
CAN FEEL YOUR HEART BEATING" BARRIE CADOGAN
GILES HATTON, THE EARLIES, loves Elvis, despite
The King’s death ruining his continental breakfast
“I love Elvis. He “Of course he recorded some films, but he bounced back with the
was my gateway cheesy songs, but he also recorded Comeback Special. Some of those
into rock’n’roll lots of fantastic ones that influenced songs are astounding and, of course,
and artists like everyone from John Lennon to The he looks so heroic and iconic. Just
Gene Vincent, Roy Rolling Stones. It’s a shame Colonel watching him sit down and jam with
Orbison, Little Parker encouraged him to become his band is a sight to behold and you
Richard and Jerry a commodity and do all those awful can see people in the audience are
Lee Lewis. I know totally hypnotised by his presence.
there’s speculation “We were sat around the breakfast
over whether or table on holiday when they announced
not he was racist, he’d died on the radio and my mum
but the fact is he totally changed “Some of the burst into tears. She worked in a record
taboos within America and made a shop in Ashton-Under-Lyne and she’d
whole generation aware of black songs on the always play Elvis and rockabilly at
music and how fundamentally
important it was.
Comeback Special home. She loved anybody with a great
voice, and Elvis had one of the best.”
are astounding.
And of course he The King of the
road: Elvis in his
looks heroic” element, 1956
24|  UNCUT LEGENDS 
NIC ARMSTRONG GARY
Singer-songwriter LIGHTBODY
Lead singer of
Snow Patrol
CHRIS BAILEY
Lead singer with JESSE MALIN
seminal Aussie punk Singer/songwriter
band, The Saints

CARL BARÂT SHIRLEY


Former co-lead MANSON
singer of The Lead singer of
Libertines, now pursuing techno-rockers Garbage
a solo career
CRISTINA
TOM BAXTER MARTINEZ
Singer/songwriter Boss Hog and Pussy
and Uncut fave Galore singer and guitarist
BARRIE ROISIN MURPHY
CADOGAN Lead singer with
Lead singer and Moloko, solo album
guitarist with Little Barrie due out shortly
TREVOR CAJIAO NEIL TENNANT
Editor of periodical Lead singer with the
Elvis: The Man And Pet Shop Boys
His Music and Now Dig This,
the respected rock ‘n’ roll ROBERT PLANT
magazine Former lead singer
with Led Zeppelin
ALICE COOPER
Rock legend and JON SAVAGE
friend of Elvis Influential rock
writer
STEVE DIGGLE
Former lead guitarist JON SPENCER
with the Buzzcocks Lead singer and
and solo artist guitarist with the
Blues Explosion
ALAN MCGEE
Former Creation ALAN VEGA
and now Poptones Lead singer with
owner and discoverer of Oasis electronic noise
punks Suicide
GILES HATTON
Producer/ SUNE ROSE
programmer with WAGNER
The Earlies
Singer and guitarist
with The Raveonettes
RICHARD
HAWLEY LIAM WATSON
Solo singer/ Owner/producer
songwriter and one-time at Toe Rag Studios,
guitarist with Pulp London, favourite of The
White Stripes, Holly Golightly
JOSH HOMME and Billy Childish

A.Y.OWEN/TIMELIFE/GETRTY, DEAN CHALKLEY, REX FEATURES, REDFERNS, RICHARD ECCLESTONE, ED MILES


Lead singer of
Queens Of The ANTHONY H
Stone Age WILSON
Factory Records
ALEX KAPRANOS supremo behind the success
Lead singer of of Joy Division, New Order
Franz Ferdinand and Happy Mondays

Interviews by Sarah-Jane, Carol Clerk,


Marc Hayward, Julian Marshall,
Dan Martin, Vicky Roberts,
Paul Stokes, Nigel Williamson,
Alan Woodhouse
Bankruptcy, the blues and BB King: How the Sun Record Company and
Colonel Tom Parker turn the boy born in a Mississippi shotgun shack into the
world’s most valuable recording artist before his 21st birthday

1935-48 1948-53 1954 1955


1948 – 1953 Sam Phillips
mentors the
The Presley family live young Elvis at
in a succession of poor Sun Studios
neighbourhoods in north
Memphis. Life continues to be
hard. Elvis works at various jobs
to help support himself and
his parents while attending
LC Humes High School. He’s
making a name for himself as a
singer and guitar
player among his
community. He
Portrait Of hangs around
The Artist As A Beale Street blues
Young Hick: Elvis clubs where
and his parents
he bumps into
bluesmen like
JANUARY 8, 1935 Shep” in a youth talent contest at BB King. He is
Elvis Aron Presley is born to Tupelo’s Mississippi-Alabama Fair also a regular JANUARY JANUARY
Vernon and Gladys Presley in And Dairy Show. at the all-night 4 Elvis drops in Elvis signs with Bob Neal, who
a two-room “shotgun shack” gospel “sings” to Sun to record becomes his manager.
in Tupelo, Mississippi. His twin 1946 that are held another acetate.
brother, Jessie Garon, is stillborn. Elvis gets his first guitar. It costs $7.75 downtown. He
The DA
Keisker makes her SPRING
Elvis is surrounded by a large and (plus sales tax) from the Tupelo wears his hair takes flight boss listen. Drummer DJ Fontana joins Elvis’
close-knit extended family. Hardware Company. He’d wanted a comparatively band. He starts to become a
bike but the family couldn’t afford it. long and slick, and lets his JULY phenomenon in the South where
1935 – 1948 sideburns grow. He’s starting 5 Phillips gets Elvis back into the his live shows are electrifying
Elvis attends Assembly Of God 1948 to stand out and is dropped studio to record with local players audiences.
Church in Tupelo where a love of Elvis plays his guitar and sings “Leaf from the school football team Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black
gospel music and spirituals grows. On A Tree” for his Milam Junior for refusing to cut his ducktail. (bass). After an unproductive AUGUST
He also starts to listen to black High class in Tupelo at a farewell In 1950, he plays in the annual session, Elvis breaks into a sped-up 15 Elvis signs a one-year contract
bluesmen in the neighbourhood. concert. Elvis and his parents pack Christmas talent show at school version of Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s with Colonel Parker.
all their possessions in a trunk, and is so popular he performs “That’s All Right”. This song, backed
1945 strap it to the roof of their old car an encore. with “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”, NOVEMBER
Ten-year-old Elvis makes his first and head to Memphis, Tennessee becomes the first of five singles 20 Sam Phillips sells Elvis’ contract,
public performance, singing “Old in search of a better life. JUNE Elvis will release on the Sun label. plus the rights to his first five
3 Elvis graduates from Humes singles, to RCA for a then-record
High School. As soon as he SUMMER $35,000 (plus an extra $5,000 for
leaves school, Elvis starts a job at Elvis, Scotty and Bill start Elvis himself).
Parker Machinists Shop. performing together, with
Scotty acting as the group’s
JULY manager. Elvis continues to
18 Elvis stops in at 706 Union work at Crown Electric as the
Avenue, the home of the Sam group starts to play small
Phillips Memphis Recording clubs and other smalltime gigs
Service (Sun Record Company), throughout the South, enjoying
and records two songs “My moderate success.
Happiness” and “That’s When
Your Heartaches Begin”. He OCTOBER
wants an acetate pressed as 2 Elvis’ only appearance on
a belated birthday present The Grand Ole Opry doesn’t go
for his mother. Phillips isn’t in, down well. One Opry official
so his office manager Marion tells him to go back to driving a
Keisker handles the $4 session. truck, criticism he takes hard.
She is intrigued by the young 16 Elvis and his band
man’s voice, makes a copy of the appear for the first time
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., PICTORIAL PRESS

session for her boss and writes on The Louisiana Hayride,


‘good ballad singer’ on the box. a live Saturday night
country music radio
LATE 1953 show. It’s the main rival
Elvis switches jobs, moving to to the Opry, carried by 190
Crown Electric Company where stations. He signs a deal for
he drives a van. He also attends 52 appearances. It’s here he
night school where he studies to first meets promoter and
be an electrician. future manager Colonel Presley with
manager
Even as a pre-teen, Bob Neal
Elvis was very careful
about his image  UNCUT LEGENDS  |27
All right now:
Scotty Moore (l)
and Bill Black (r)
give emphasis to
Elvis’ rhythm
y re co rde d “T hat’s All Right”
When Elvis Presle 195 4 , ev eryth ing changed
io in
at a Memphis stud NICK HASTED BY
en searching
T hi s w as ju st what Phillips had be
ces.
5, 19 54 . El vi s ha d al most blown his chan r sinc e op en in g th e Memphis Recording
July s fo ips
fr ea ki sh sp ar k Su n Records’ Sam Phillip rv ic e, w hi ch ho us ed Sun, in 1950. Phill
The r- Se who
gh t he ’d gl im ps ed in the nervous 19-yea as 28 th en , a ra di o man from Alabama
thou arly w likes of
truc k dr iv er co ul dn ’t be found – after ne ve d R & B, an d ha d already released the
old lo
w ee ks of tr yi ng . Ph illips was thinking of ow lin ’ W ol f an d B B King on his label.
two s H ltural
it qu its , w he n El vis started slapping hi Bu t Ph illip s ha d a m ore radical vision, a cu
calli ng te
hm gu ita r, sh ak in g crazily, and singing a d m us ic al le ap in th e dark he needed a whi
rhyt ll an d
m an ’s so ng . A rt hu r Crudup’s “That’s A ge r to m ak e fo r hi m . As R&B sales climbe
blac k cry sin a’s
ht ” sp ra ng fr om hi s mouth as a sensual th ro ug h th e ea rly ’5 0s, segregated Americ
Rig oore rm of
do m . St ar tle d, le ad guitarist Scotty M ud ic e st ill ke pt a lid on this vibrant new fo
of fr ee pr ej hite kids]
ba ss is t Bi ll Bl ac k pu t down their Cokes music.“[Southern w
and eren’t
star te d to pl ay . M oore gave liked the music, but w
an d ght to,”
ph as is to El vis’ rh ythm, as Black sure whether they ou
em the
do w n a vi ol en t beat.“What he’d later explain. With
he ld , the lid
yo u do in g? ” Ph illip s asked.“We right white performer
are
ied.“Well,” he could blow off.
PICTORIAL PRESS

don’t know,” they repl



ordered,“do it again. Sunny side up:
Sam Phillips (l) and
Bob Neal (r) sign
the young Elvis to
Sun in July 1954 |29
History is made at
Sun, with Elvis, Bill
Black, Scotty Moore
and Sam Phillips

lvis was not the weirdest creature Nothing in Elvis’ visits to Sun prior to “That’s demo song, “Without You”, but couldn’t locate
walking the South that summer All Right” had hinted at the hybrid coalescing him. Keisker suggested Elvis could give it a try.
with rock’s atom-splitting secret inside him. He first nervously poked his head Nothing worked on his first day at Sun. After three
in his bones. In Macon, Georgia, round the door one weekend in August 1953. He hours of struggle, “Without You” was ditched.
Little Richard strutted the streets was a pimply, gawky teen, holding a child’s guitar, Elvis screamed “I hate it ! I hate it !” and punched
with make-up and a marcel-waved pompadour. looking to use the company’s acetate-making the walls, as if the song stood in the way of his
In Ferriday, Louisiana, Jerry Lee Lewis and his service “to surprise my mother” with a song, he future. Phillips had quietly turned the tape off as
tumbling locks could be seen at rhythm and blues said. “What kind of singer are you ?” Phillips’ he listened to the boy fail to spark. But, in the most
joints, absorbing black ways. In the small towns partner Marion Keisker asked. “I sing all kinds,” mysterious moment of Elvis’s success, the producer
of the 1950s South, one of the most culturally he truthfully answered. kept trying – because there was something special
conservative places in American history, they For $3.98 plus tax, Elvis Presley made his hidden in him he could almost see, perhaps, and he
were like mutants, strange beings from the future. innocuous recording debut with the Inkspots’ badly wanted to find it. Whatever the reason, Elvis
It was Sam Phillips’ luck that Elvis walked in “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your nagged at his mind. On Sunday July 4 he asked
his door instead. With his quiff slicked with three Heartaches Begin”. Possessed by some instinct Scotty Moore to “audition” him at Moore’s house,
kinds of grease, sideburns and a penchant for black as she heard his plaintive voice, Keisker unusually with Bill Black. Black allowed: “The cat can sing.”
eye make-up and pink clothes, he was a truck driver taped him herself, later playing it to Phillips, who The next evening, at 7pm, the trio turned up
from outer space. But where Richard was black and kept the boy in mind. Elvis recorded two more at Sun for Elvis’ final dice-roll. They tried Bing
Lewis a true delinquent, Elvis’ look concealed a ballads in January 1954, and regularly returned Crosby’s “Harbor Lights” and a tremulous,
mother’s boy with an open musical heart the other to Sun over ten fruitless months, awkwardly genuinely tender “I Love You Because”. But
candidates for rock’n’roll king couldn’t match. asking Keisker if anyone needed a singer, unable “That’s All Right” was Elvis’s lightning bolt,
Though he loved R&B and had lived in a black to give up hope. delivered from out of the blue, the moment that
Memphis neighbourhood for a time, he had white On Saturday June 26, his chance came at last. turned him from a mild-mannered trucker into
country roots the blues couldn’t obscure. Phillips had been intrigued by a black singer’s the South’s Superman. The song just “popped
into my mind”, he’d say later. From whatever
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

subconscious place, as he felt his chance slipping


from him, Elvis had seized hold of his destiny,
and changed the world. But as yet, only Phillips
knew it. Now this musical Manhattan Project
had to be handled with care.

30|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


had to keep my nose clean,” Phillips the point home. The phone burned off the hook.
remembered to Peter Guralnick of selling Elvis, who had gone to the movies rather than hear
Elvis to Southern taste-makers. “They could have himself, thinking “people would laugh at me”, was
said, ‘This goddamn rebel… why should we give this dragged out of the dark for an interview. Pretending
nigger-loving sonofabitch a break ?’ It took some they were off-air, Dewey drew the most pertinent
subtle thinking on my part.” fact from him, his school (white, in still segregated
His ace in the hole was Elvis himself. Despite the Memphis): “I wanted to get that out, because a lot of
present-day belief by many that he was, as Public people listening had thought he was coloured.”
Enemy spat in “Fight The Power”, a “straight-up Hunch proved, Phillips set Elvis Presley’s first
racist” cynically stealing black culture, the opposite single in motion. B-side “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”
attitude was being bred at Sun in 1954. Recording was the result of three or four days painstakingly
“Blue Moon Of Kentucky” a few days later, Elvis’ trying to relocate their first instinctive spark. “Every
R&B inflections on a straight, classic country song session came hard,” Marion Keisker recalled of all
made Moore break into parodic black screams. the Sun sides that now sound so primally natural.
“What?” Elvis asked, not even recognising the line A 1946 Bill Monroe bluegrass standard, the song was

C
he was crossing in the heat of creation. “The lack of meant as a canny commercial sop to white listeners,
prejudice on the part of Elvis Presley had to be one though it was hopped-up with black energy. Phillips
ould Elvis’ unique version of rock’n’roll have
of the biggest things that ever could have happened finished it with an echoing, “slapback” effect
emerged anywhere else than Memphis? Arguably
to us,” Phillips concluded. “It was almost subversive, (achieved by running the original recording through
not, for there were few other cities in America where
sneaking around through the music.” With this a second machine, causing a slight delay and bigger
racial lines merged to create quite such a potent
sound), a trademark Sun touch aped by fans
cultural crucible.
from Lennon to Spector. Elvis cried as he
On a social level, segregation was as rife as it was
Sam Phillips at watched his record being pressed. Released on
the controls at anywhere in the South. But from the early years of
Sun Studio July 19, it sold only 20,000, most DJs, Keisker
the 20th century when WC Handy – “the father of the
recalled, baulking at one side or the other.
blues” – arrived, black and white musical influences
But in Memphis, teenagers greeted each
swirled and mingled freely, both in the bars and
other with “That’s All Right”’s inarticulate
saloons on Beale Street and in the more upmarket
refrain, “Ta dee dah dee dee dah”,dah”, like a secret
country clubs and riverboats.
code they were the first to crack.
Although located in Tennessee, Memphis was so
Now, the live side of Elvis’ simmering
close to the Mississippi state line that it became, in
genius began to boil. Playing a country bill
effect, the capital city of the Delta, drawing literally
with Moore and Black at Overton Park on
hundreds of blues musicians from the rural regions
July 30, the rhythmic energy inside him
to the South. Among them were Memphis Minnie,
reached the surface. Shivering with nerves
Memphis Slim, Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Bobby
backstage, when he stood at the mic one
Bland and BB King. In one of his earliest interviews,
leg shook in a different way, jerking out
Elvis spoke of how he had always “dug the real low-
the beat, rippling his loose trousers as if all
down Mississippi singers”.
manner of movement was surging inside.
But the Presley family was also very strongly
His lips hitched up into a sneer. His other
religious and frequently sung at camp meetings and
leg kicked out straight. The girls started to
revivals, where the young Elvis absorbed the sounds
scream – and never stopped. Again, Elvis
of Southern gospel. He was also exposed early to the
thought they were laughing at him, again
weapon, Sun’s owner “went out into no-man’s land, he didn’t know what he’d done, at first; he’d always
and I knocked the shit out of the colour line”. moved that way to music. But when the screams were
Phillips’ first stop was Dewey Phillips (no explained, he did it more. As would happen with his
relation), a wild, white taste-making Memphis records, what exploded as instinct was refined by
DJ steeped in black him into conscious mastery. “If I do
music. Dewey was something good, they let me know
uncharacteristically it,” he said later, of his symbiosis
quiet when Sam with the crowd. “He would look
played him “That’s at them, see that he’d gotten
country and western sounds coming out of Nashville,
All Right” the night through,” country manager
200 miles to the east.
it was made, struck Tillman Franks noted. “Elvis
Then, as Elvis was entering his teens, Sam Phillips
by the gravity of what masterminded the situation.
started his Memphis Recording Service, where he
he was hearing. On He was a genius at it.”
cut Howlin’ Wolf’s first sides and a fast boogie called
July 8 he played it on
“Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner, which
his Red Hot And Blue
many claim as the very first rock’n’roll record,
show a dozen times
three years before Elvis entered Sun Studios. By
straight, driving
the time he did, Phillips had also cut several more
seminal records, including Junior Parker’s original
version of “Mystery Train”, Rosco Gordon’s “No
More Doggin’” and Rufus Thomas’ “Bear Cat”, itself
an answer to Willie Mae Thornton’s 1951 recording
of “Hound Dog”. Each and every one made an
indelible impression on Presley. NIGEL WILLIAMSON
Reel life: Sun’s
elementary
recording
equipment |31
the top. They slept in it, and sometimes
they were stranded with no money in
strange backwaters. But as they criss-
The unimposing crossed the Southland, a chain reaction grew
Sun Studio, 706 radio show The around them. Radio sessions from the Hayride
Union Avenue,
Memphis.
Grand Ole Opry
Opry. beamed the word on ahead, and teenagers flocked
Recording sheet (r) The reception to see this simmering, underground sensation.
for “Blue Moon Of from the redneck The boy they watched, just turned 20, was not
Kentucky”
he trio elite was polite the slick, plastic matinee idol of the ’60s, or the
honed their craft verging on frosty, experienced, playful master performer of the
around Memphis, playing and on the way ’70s. He was a dirty, unkempt, untutored hillbilly
quadraplegic wards, schools, back to Memphis in lurid clothes – pink, yellow, green – with greasy
even a swimming baths bar. On September 8, on Elvis threw his stage clothes in a gas station bin hair that fell across an acne-pocked face. There
a flat-bed truck in a parking lot, at the opening in disgust. Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride
Hayride, the was nothing smooth about him. He spat out gum,
of a shopping centre, they were suddenly faced Opry’s ’s insurgent rival, where Hank Williams had or tossed it at the crowd, burped into the mic and
with thousands of fans, the secret constituency first made his name, was a different story, just. told bad jokes. At first glance, he was like a bad
who’d been waiting for this music to arrive. Their For his first two-song set, Elvis was frozen with joke himself, an insult to professionals and the
fervour felt like a riot, lashing the band to greater terror at this crucial crowd, and they felt the same fearful, buttoned-down ethos of America then.
heights. For just a moment, Moore felt afraid of way. “I think he scared them a little,” said one “By conventional standards,” Phillips admitted,
what they were creating. witness. “He was on the toes of his feet singing. “he should have been thrown off the stage.”
Phillips had them back at Sun, as the summer I think they thought he was going to jump off the “His diction was real coarse, like a truck
of 1954 faded. He drove them stage and beat them.” Between sets, Phillips driver’s,” said Roy Orbison, watching him in
hard, not wanting to let the calmed the boy, and when he returned, the Odessa, Texas. “I can’t over-emphasise how
standard of their epochal start Hayride was ready for him. There was a roar shocking he looked to me that night. There
drop. Radically different facets of approval as women of all ages danced and was just no reference point in the culture to
of Elvis emerged, as if what was reached towards him. They gave him a year’s compare to it.”
inside him was growing by the contract. Only now did Elvis But when Elvis tumbled onto a stage, or
day. On the eerie “Blue Moon” he quit truck driving. flung himself back from the mic and feverishly
seemed to split into two: a tensely Instead, he and shook, as if possessed by spirits or in the throes
sensual baritone, and an unearthly, ululating his band spent 1955 of orgasm, his own generation responded with
swamp-spirit falsetto. The echoing Sun sound driving themselves relieved ecstasy. Elvis hardly understood his own
only added to the sense of schizoid, supernatural through the power, till it was almost too late. On May 13, in
mystery. It was left on the shelf for “Good South, in a Jacksonville, Florida, his teasing comment to
Rockin’ Tonight”, Elvis’ second A-side on battered Lincoln 14,000 fans – “Girls, I’ll see you all backstage”
September 25. While not matching the with “Elvis – saw his words become riotous reality, as young
touch-paper thrill of “That’s All Right”, it Presley – Sun girls lunged through the backstage skylight,
was a more muscular, manly anthem for Records” proudly tearing off his clothes and herding him to the
the new music, even as he sang straight to painted on the side top of a shower cabinet, before cops quelled the
hedonistic teens: “We’re gonna rock, all of and Black’s bass oestrogen frenzy.
our blues a-wa-a-a-a-y”.
a-wa-a-a-a-y” strapped to Two more Sun singles fed the flames. “Milkcow
On October 2, Blues Boogie”, released January 8, 1955, was
Phillips called in notable for Elvis’ sly, scripted break from its
favours to get country-blues start – “Hold it, fellas. It just don’t
Elvis on the bill move me. Let’s get real, real gone for a change!”
of Nashville

WHEN ELVIS
TUMBLED ONTO A
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

STAGE, HIS OWN


It all ads
GENERATION
up: Original
newspaper RESPONDED WITH
RELIEVED ECSTASY
plugs

32|
– before Moore’s guitar drove his hiccuping n July 11 1955, a year after between Sun and RCA, who finally
vocal into rock. B-side “You’re A Heartbreaker” his first Sun single, Elvis met Phillips’ price – $35,000, plus the
was still nearer the vocal style Buddy Holly, cut his last. Recorded by Phillips $5,000 back-royalties he was stretched
who watched Elvis in Lubbock, would build his with bluesman Junior Parker in too thin to pay Elvis – on November 15
career on. April 1’s “Baby, Let’s Play House” was a 1953, but with its roots in the country 1955. Elvis signed to RCA six days later.
happily dirty come-on to every “baby, baby, bab- Carter Family’s deathly “Worried Man Blues” The decision had been agonising for
eh” in America. It also cracked the US country (1930), “Mystery Train” was a grand climax. To Phillips. But the boy genius he had fostered had
Top 10. The South’s secret was out. a thrilling, intricate rhythm Moore said he could outgrown him. With the money, he made stars
That summer, there was a feeding frenzy never play except “with him singing”, Elvis faced of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny
around the singer. Ahmet Ertegun’s Atlantic down a long black locomotive – the Devil himself, Cash, fuelling the revolution he’d foreseen.
made the first offer, $25,000 that would have in the Carters’ version – without a care. The train Elvis, nervous, wondered if he’d ever be recorded
put his label in hock, so badly did he want him. has taken his baby, “but it never will again”,
again”, he as well again as in Sun’s small, acoustically
Elvis on Ray Charles’ artist- and R&B-loving sings almost to himself, so content in his power mysterious studio. Some say he never was.
label might have altered his future wonderfully. you can hear him laugh; otherwise, he lets his In the US especially, his Sun singles,
But bigger fish were circling. And ex-carny voice sink into the rhythm, driving it down the only ever regional hits or buried album tracks,
hustler and manager Colonel Tom Parker was track. “A fucking masterpiece !” Phillips rightly are still barely
pouring blood into the water. He had watched the judged. There was one more abortive session known (though in
Jacksonville riot with, it was said, “dollar signs in in the autumn, clouded by Elvis’ likely leaving. the UK “Mystery
his eyes”, and told Elvis and an outraged Phillips Grim-faced, he smashed his guitar. Train” and
Sun was too small for the boy now. Secretly, as Parker was meanwhile sweet-talking Elvis’ “Blue Moon”
he struggled to keep up with Elvis’ rocketing suspicious parents into letting him manage went Top 30 in
record-pressings, and looked grimly at the label’s their son (at 20, he was still a minor). He then the late ’50s, and
debts, Phillips knew the end was near. conducted a campaign of dazzling brinkmanship The Sun Sessions
stormed the Top
20 in the mid
‘70s). They are the
secret, unspoiled Blues brothers:
seeds of pop’s most Junior Parker, EP
and Bobby Bland
splendid career.

Elvis was so
famous he once
wrote for NME,
September 1956

|33
1953- 55
“THE PEOPLE AT RCA HAVE GOT NO IDEA OF THE
HISTORIC IMPORTANCE OF THOSE RECORDS. IT TOOK
YOU BRITS TO DO IT FOR THEM” SAM PHILLIPS

It took until 1975 for RCA to issue The Sun Collection – a compilation of
those incendiary mid-’50s Memphis recordings which became Elvis’
best-selling album for years. Roy Carr, who put it together, tells the story

A
t the turn of the ’70s it came to a head. For 1997 before the nigh-on definitive 38-track ‘Sunrise’
years and years I had been bugged by the collection, complete with live cuts and acetates from
knowledge that the seminal masterpieces 1953, would finally be released). Alternatively we
ECTION
that came from Elvis’ Sun sessions had imagined a seven-inch single that coupled “Tennessee
TH E SU N COLL never been properly anthologised. Remarkably,
ELVIS PRESLE
Y Saturday Night” (scheduled for release twice but
1
RCA his original Sun singles had remained just withdrawn) with the original slow treatment of “Blue
that, singles. The recordings that Elvis made at Moon Of Kentucky”. In addition we had recording
To You Mar 76(US) Sun between July 1954 and November 1955 sheets for “Oakie Boogie” and “Uncle Penn”. RCA said
ght Trying To Get Au g 75 (U K)
That’s All Ri are some of the most important recordings none of them existed.
in modern music, but no-one was caring Whatever the eventual tracklisting, the album
ntucky Blue Moon for them. Up until his death in 1977, Elvis’ would come in a gatefold sleeve featuring period
Blue Moon Of Ke Sun Studio,
Memphis back-catalogue was thought of only as an press adverts, concert posters and previously unseen
If The Just Because
I Don’t Care afterthought. Only now has it been afforded photographs. I would also pen the liner notes.
ine
Su n Don’t Sh cause the attention it deserves. I wanted an evocative sepia shot of a young Elvis
I Love You Be
Tonight (2nd Version) Back in 1973, yours truly and like-minded stood backstage laughing with his hand-tooled
Good Rockin’
Sa m Ph illips RCA employee Shaun Greenfield began covered guitar on the cover [see picture below left].
Milkcow Blue
s trying to get the tapes released. The original However, our enthusiasm was to be short-lived –
Boogie intention was to obtain official access to the Americans promptly rejected the whole idea. As a
You’re A
16 RCA’s Stateside tape vaults, but knowing result, The Sun Collection gathered dust for almost two
Heartbreaker 76 just how vague the label could be when it years until, out of the blue, we received a Stateside
e came to anything other than greatest hits memo from RCA giving us the green light to compile
I’m Left, You’r ne
Right, She’s
Go compilations, we came up with tape box the 16-track single album. No reason was proffered
numbers to some unreleased treasures to for this U-turn. Likewise, there was to be no double
Baby, Let’s
Play House excite them. album, no bonus EP, not even the gatefold sleeve!
We had access to 16 tracks already, but The sepia photo was also jettisoned to be replaced
n
Mystery Trai we were after bonus material: we by a crude illustration of Elvis. So, two years after
wanted to use the studio its inception, The Sun
I Forgot To out-takes and false starts Collection was used to
Forget
Re me mber To
similar to those that had launch RCA’s Starcall
t You made their way onto the budget line
I’ll Never Le
Dutch-pressed bootleg in August 1975.
cause
I Love You Be Good Rockin’ Tonight to That should have
(1st Version)
rlin’) make an entire double been the end of it,
Go (Little Da
album (it would be but it wasn’t.

34|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


THE SUN SINGLES

THAT’S ALL RIGHT/


BLUE MOON OF
KENTUCKY [SUN 209]
RECORDED: JULY 1954
RELEASED: JULY 1954
“What the hell’s goin’
on?’ Phillips shouted.
“We don’t know, we’re
just foolin’ around,”
replied the musicians.
History is made!

GOOD ROCKIN’ TONIGHT /


I DON’T CARE IF THE SUN
DON’T SHINE [SUN 210]
RECORDED: SEPTEMBER 1954
RELEASED: SEPTEMBER 1954
Elvis sang this as
though his entire
nervous system was
centralized two feet
nine inches above
ground level.

MILKCOW BLUES
BOOGIE / YOU’RE A
HEARTBREAKER [SUN 215]
Loch Ness Monsters RECORDED: NOV/DEC 1954
RELEASED: JANUARY 1955
of rock: recording The first manifestation
sheets for the ‘lost’ of Elvis’s ‘real gone-
Sun recordings ness’. He hollers.
hiccups and howls
like a man possessed.
And he was.

both the sleevenotes and discography for the


upcoming re-pressing. My offer was ignored.
Likewise, when the album made its first BABY,LET’SPLAYHOUSE/
I’M LEFT, YOU’RE RIGHT,
“I just want appearance on CD. Meanwhile, The Sun Collection SHE’S GONE [SUN 217]
to tell you”, he sold over a million, and Sam Phillips continued to RECORDED: NOV/DEC 1954,
FEB 1955 RELEASED: APRIL 1955
began, “how call me over the next couple of years. This could well
much I’ve been “You do know it’s been one of Elvis’ biggest be the first true
embodiment of the
enjoying the sellers in ages,” he told me one day. “It has put his lip-curling rock’n’roll
The initial run only album you early years into perspective.” He went on to tell me genre. The Gospel
had an advertisement put together. how he had read an article written by Patti Smith’s According To Elvis.
for other albums in the It’s about time guitarist Lenny Kaye that said that many American
Starcall series printed on the rear sleeve; there was someone did it. The people over here at RCA have Universities had thought of offering me a
no sign of my liner notes or discography. This was got no idea of the historic importance of those degree for the project! He signed off by asking
corrected, inevitably, somewhat slowly. records I made with Elvis. They haven’t treated “Well, I hope that RCA has at least given you a
Up until the release of this album, we were those records properly. It had to take you Brits to gold disc?” Twenty years after its release, I’m
more or less relying upon received wisdom to do it for them, but then Elvis’ European fans have still waiting.
MYSTERY TRAIN /
put together the details of the discography. Soon always had their priorities right.” Over the next I FORGOT TO REMEMBER
after the album’s belated release Stateside the hour or more, Phillips answered all my questions, TO FORGET [SUN 233]
following March (with an even worse illustrated discussed the methods he used to record Elvis and RECORDED:JULY 1955 |
RELEASED: AUGUST 1955
cover), my phone rang at NME. It was Sam Phillips revealed, for the first time it wasn’t DJ Fontana Cover version as
calling from Memphis. I held my breath for what that drummed on a handful of tracks but Johnny pagan invocation.
The kind of demonic
seemed like an eternity; the man who’d first Bonnero – sticksman with The Dean Beard Band. supernatural blues
captured the spirit of Elvis on tape was bound to Armed with these revelations, I re-approached that Robert Johnson
had laid claim to two
knock this young upstart from London. RCA and said that I wished to correct and revise decades earlier.

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |35


The legendary
session at Sun,
December 4, 1956

But what faces. To Elvis’ left a bequiffed Johnny dropping takes on gospel standards “Just A Little Walk
Cash, decked out in baseball jacket and sneakers, still With Jesus” and “Down By The Riverside”; scattering
unknown outside the South and yet to fully make his pop star anecdotes like confetti – he lets on he wasn’t
black-hearted mark on rock’n’roll; next to him Carl even aware he’d had first refusal on “Don’t Forbid Me”
Perkins – who’d recently hit big with “Blue Suede – and giving the cue to horse around, this is Elvis in
Shoes”, and to his right a scrawny 21-year-old named excelcis. But Jerry Lee gives his all too, hollering along
Jerry Lee Lewis. Not dressed up in the pop star finery on ragged harmonies, hooting, “Boy this is fun!” early
of his peers (he’d only been signed to Sun for two on and, on a thumping “End Of The Road” suggesting
weeks, and was playing the session to earn money for that, in the long run, The King might not have it all his
Christmas) but, instead, in a crumpled jumper and zoot own way. (Elvis later remarked of his contribution:
suit pants, displaying what could be read as a scowl of “That boy can go!”)
One ordinary night in disbelief beneath the outward deference. If an older and wiser Carl Perkins maintains a
Dec emb er, 1956 – one It all happened, inevitably, by chance. Dropping reverential distance – only taking lead on a succinct
jam into Sun Studio with his latest flame (showgirl Marilyn “Keeper Of The Key” – then Johnny Cash’s involvement
extraordinary Evans), you suspect Elvis was coming back home to let other than appearing in the photo would appear to
everyone know quite how well the kid from Tupelo had be something of a mystery. As Sun’s priority signing,
done for himself. However, discovering Carl Perkins in Cash was ushered in by Sam Phillips who sought to
the middle of a recording session with Jerry Lee Lewis exploit Elvis’ visit, ensuring he was, at the very least, in

R
ock’n’roll is full of tantalising what ifs. What on piano and Johnny Cash lurking in the shadows, The the photo. Yet although the attendant press recall Cash
musical mercury would have resulted if the line- King decided to quit the showboating and get back to singing Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” and the crooner
up of The Dirty Mac assembled for the Stones’ what he was best at. standard “My Isle Of Golden Dreams” (neither of which
Rock And Roll Circus (John Lennon on vocals, Keith The results are startling. If rock’n’roll has long have ever surfaced), according to Sun producer Jack
Richards on bass, Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Mitch been described as a steaming bouillabaisse of R&B, Clement, by the time the session was in full swing Cash
Mitchell on drums and Yoko Ono on, erm, screaming) rockabilly, country and western, gospel, bluegrass had been dragged away Christmas shopping by his wife.
had decided to continue playing for old times’ sake and contemporary pop, then this is
and some wise soul had left the tape rolling? Would the witches brew itself. With Perkins’
Britpop’s legacy be better served if Oasis, The Verve and band supplying the backbone (brother
Paul Weller had spent less time carousing and instead Clayton and drummer WS Holland) and
recorded a star-scraping astro-rock masterpiece during the beer and whiskey flowing, they zig-
one of those long evenings at Supernova Heights? zag between a heart-rending “I Will Not
Sadly, there is no contemporary comparison. Even Be Moved”, frenetic thrashes like Little
if Chris Martin, Julian Casablancas, Beck and Alex Richard’s “Rip It Up” (where Elvis jokes
Kapranos found themselves in the same LA studio next “It’s Saturday night and I just got laid!”) and a vampish But, frankly, who cares when you can hear the ‘four’
week the event would be reduced to a media freakshow aside through “Don’t Be Cruel” – where Elvis imitates of them laying down the basic text for rock’n’roll in one
before they’d even decided on which Smiths song to the then unknown Jackie Wilson – in the spirit of an booze-soaked session?
play, never mind been allowed to get off on the thrill of impromptu private party. Better still, it’s all delivered “It was what you might call a barrelhouse of
playing together. with a passion and rough-edged fun,” recalled Elvis in one of pop’s rare moments of
Yet the extraordinary fact remains affection that makes it feel like a understatement. Because, charged with such an
that an even more stellar line up of distant precursor to The Clash’s electric competitive energy (especially between Elvis
talent did exactly that at Memphis’ London Calling. and the young Killer) these ramshackle recordings
Sun Studio on Tuesday, December “I never had a better time than Not that the honours are shared remain the blueprint for every late-night jam session
4, 1956. The one, grainy photograph yesterday afternoon when equally: this is the high table of ever, almost 50 years on from that day in 1956.
taken of the event tells you all you I dropped into Sam Phillips’ rock’n’roll after all. Elvis – as the The last word should be left to Elvis. “That’s what
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

need to know. In the middle of it, place. Carl Perkins was in a photo suggests – is clearly happens at these jam sessions. I’m always the last
there’s Elvis seated at the piano in recording session, Johnny Cash bossing the show. After a to leave!” he drawls as, after 40 tracks, proceedings
an expensive looking suede blouson dropped in, Jerry Lee Lewis smouldering homage to draw to a close.
was there too, and then
and pale blue jumper, looking up Bing Crosby’s “You Belong In just two hours The Million Dollar Quartet had just
I stopped by…”
for acceptance from the three faces In My Heart”, he delivers a become the greatest, most elusive band in rock history.
Elvis, the master of
looming over his shoulder. understatement,
sequence of jaw- PAUL MOODY

December 5, 1956

36|
The fab four: (clockwise
from top left) Johnny
Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl
Perkins and Elvis Presley
“My voice is God’s
will, not mine”: Elvis
onstage in 1956

forbidden pleasure. Elvis himself recalled being scolded at of white hillbilly and black sharecropper. At the time of
home for playing records by Crudup and Big Bill Broonzy his first session, Elvis had just turned 19 and, crucially, the
(the father of Chicago blues), which the white townsfolk urgency in his voice exuded a rebellious teenage freedom
of Memphis regarded as “sinful”. So it was little wonder and confidence that was entirely new in American culture
that Phillips got to thinking about how many records he and found a parallel expression in the films of James Dean.
Presley was influenced would sell if he could find “white performers who could Indeed, the furious excitement of those early Sun sides
play and sing in the same exciting, alive way”. Yet, despite almost borders on violence as his voice vibrates with an
by blues and country his obvious antecedents and influences, it would be emotional danger and hyper-energy that makes him
men, but his powerfully wrong to suggest that the Presley voice was an imitation sound like a man possessed.
emotive voic e was uniq ue of anyone. Many will tell you that he never bettered the robust
A listen to Sanctuary’s recent compilation, The R&B expressiveness of those early vocal performances. After
Hits Of 1954, is instructive. There are some brilliant cuts in he moved to RCA in 1956, he still rocked. But the voice was
which you can readily trace the roots of rock’n’roll. All are somehow cleaner and more pop orientated, a small but
by black artists and many of them were an undeniable perceptible step away from the rawness of his hillbilly/

A
lmost every singer of a certain age can tell a similar influence on Presley, including songs by Joe Turner, blues roots. The conviction was still there. But as he went
story about the first time they heard Elvis’ voice. But Johnny Ace, Clyde McPhatter and
few put it more eloquently than Robert Plant. “It was Hank Ballard & The Midnighters. But
the ‘blue note’, that mournful dip in the scale that you none of the singers sounds anything
didn’t hear in English music,” he recalls. “It was the whole like Elvis. Even when he was covering
deal of that emotional delivery he borrowed from [country well-known R&B hits such as Crudup’s
blues man] Arthur Crudup and Johnnie Ray [the partially “That’s All Right” or Junior Parker’s
deaf soul and jazz singer of the early ’50s]. “Mystery Train”, he managed to make
“I was eight or nine and I didn’t know anything about them sound completely different.
the technical ability of it. I just heard this sound that So what was it that made the Presley voice unique and on, the excitement and emotion that had once seemed so
wasn’t anything to do with childhood. launched a revolution? Charlie Gillett captured it cogently natural and effortless began to sound more contrived.
“I recognised the conviction, although I didn’t even in his seminal 1971 history of rock’n’roll, The Sound Of After “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog” his voice
know it was called conviction. I didn’t know anything The City: “What Presley achieved was certainly not the became steadily more self-conscious and theatrical.
about sexuality or the innuendo, or that it was part of same thing as the men he copied. He evolved a personal By “Love Me Tender” he was crooning like Bing Crosby.
a movement called rock’n’roll. I just knew the call, the version of the style, singing high and clear, breathless On “Too Much” and “All Shook Up”, his first releases of
pleading in that voice.” and impatient, varying his rhythmic emphasis with a 1957, the voice was sounding increasingly mannered,
The ‘blue note’, that mournful dip in the scale and the confidence and inventiveness that were exceptional for as, in the words of the ever-perceptive Charlie Gillett,
pleading were exactly what Sam Phillips was talking about a white singer. The sound suggested a young white man he “dragged his vowels and punched every other beat
in 1952 when he allegedly told his secretary Marion Keisker, celebrating freedom, ready to do anything, go anywhere, harder than he needed to”. As he moved into films such
“If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and pausing long enough for apologies and even regrets and mannerisms became even more exaggerated and
Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.” Two years later, recriminations, but then hustling on toward the new.” by 1960’s “It’s Now Or Never” he was coming on like a
in Elvis he found him. Part of it was that the earthiness of the R&B singer was pseudo-operatic tenor.
Presley had the look and the hips and he smouldered tempered by a country influence. Presley heard singers In short, uprooted from the cultural melting pot that
with a barely controlled sexuality. But such as Red Foley, Hank Snow and had created his original, unique style, he increasingly
in 1954/55, when “That’s All Right”, Lefty Frizzell on the radio via The Grand lost touch with the ‘blue note’ that inspired Robert Plant
“Good Rockin’ Tonight”, “Mystery Train”, Ole Opry and The Louisiana Hayride, and so many others. Instead, he went on to become the
“Blue Moon Of Kentucky” and “Baby, and absorbed something from each greatest pop singer of his age. Nothing wrong with that,
Let’s Play House” were released, his first “I’m not kidding myself. of them. It was hardly accidental that of course. But there’s no doubt something had been lost.
network TV appearance in 1956 was still My voice alone is all five of his Sun singles teamed Elvis moved on to Las Vegas. It’s an underrated
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

a way off. just an ordinary voice. an R&B number on one side period in his pop supremacy and, as Bono wrote, his last
Few really knew what he looked like. What people come with a C&W song on the other, performances there showcased “a voice even bigger than
It was all about the voice. to see is how I use it. and nobody had ever put the two his gut, where you cry real tears as the music messiah sings
By the early ’50s, white teenagers If I stand still while together in such a way before. his tired heart out”. It was still greatness. Yet, somewhere
had already developed something I’m singing, I’m Yet, as Gillett suggests, Presley’s along the way, the passion had been exchanged for
of a taste for black R&B, but it was a dead, man. I might voice was more than simply a marriage pathos. NIGEL WILLIAMSON
as well go back to
driving a truck.”
Elvis Presley, 1956
38|
The voice – and the
guitar – in RCA Studios,
New York, 1956
The years which turn Elvis Presley’s life upside down. The King takes rock’n’roll
from the ghetto to the mainstream and onto the silver screen, inspiring
hysteria and controversy in equal measure

1956 1957

The King’s second


appearance on
Ed Sullivan,
October 1956

JANUARY
8 Elvis turns 21.
10 Elvis records “Heartbreak Hotel”
in the RCA studio in Nashville.
28 Makes his TV debut on Jimmy
and Tommy Dorsey’s Stage Show,
booked for four Saturdays in a
row. Elvis performs a version of
Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman”. JUNE
30 “Heartbreak Hotel”, his sixth 5 Elvis performs “Hound Dog” for
single but first for RCA, is released. Milton Berle, his gyrations provoking
It sells 300,000 in its first three weeks moral outrage. “Should be
and will be his first million seller. confined to dives and bordellos,”
bawls the New York Daily News.
MARCH
13 His first album on RCA, Elvis JULY
Presley, is released. It tops the 1 Presley appears on Steve Allen’s
Billboard pop charts for ten weeks. NBC-TV show. Allen has him sing
17 Invited back for the first of two “Hound Dog” to a basset hound.
further appearances on Stage Show, 2 Elvis records an incendiary
where he meets Al Wertheimer, the version of “Hound Dog” at RCA
RCA photographer who will take Victor studios. The celebrated
many iconic images of Presley over
AUGUST
and impractical
the next two years. $10,000 gold lamé
Shoots his first film, Love Me Tender. suit in action
APRIL
3 Elvis appears on The Milton Berle SEPTEMBER Canada – two in Toronto on
Show singing “Jailhouse Rock”. 9 Ed Sullivan reverses his boycott of JANUARY April 2 and two in Ottawa on
6 Elvis signs a seven year deal with Elvis. Elvis’ three-appearance deal 6 Elvis’ final appearance on The April 3.
The King and his ma
Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures. is worth $50,000, the highest ever Ed Sullivan Show, filmed from the
MAY
at the Mississippi-
21“Jailhouse Rock” hits Number One figure for a variety show performer. waist up only. Elvis starts filming Alabama Fair
in the US. It’s there for two months. The programme reaches 82.6 per Loving You. He shares his first Starts work on his third feature
23 Elvis begins a two week stint at cent of America’s TV audience. screen kiss with actress Jana Lund. film, Jailhouse Rock. donate regularly to the centre for
the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. 26 Tupelo proclaims this Elvis the rest of his life.
It is a relative flop. Presley Day. He performs two FEBRUARY JULY
Elvis and
shows at Mississippi-Alabama Fair. 3 The New York Times runs a Loving You premieres and settles OCTOBER
This time, 100 National Guardsmen headline “Presley Records A Craze in the box office Top Ten. “Teddy 17 Jailhouse Rock premieres in
Sherlock on
The Steve
surround the stage. In Soviet Union.” Elvis records Bear”, lifted from the film, is a hit. Memphis, opens nationally in
are being cut on old X-ray plates November and makes the Top Five.
NOVEMBER AUGUST
Allen Show
RETNA, GETTY, ©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

and sold on the black market in


16 Love Me Tender opens in New York. Leningrad for $12.50 – a vast sum. 31 Elvis performs outside the US for NOVEMBER
the final time, in Vancouver. 10-11 Elvis performs shows in
DECEMBER MARCH Hawaii for the first time.
31 The Wall Street Journal reports Elvis buys Graceland. SEPTEMBER
that Elvis merchandise has grossed 27 Back in Tupelo, Elvis performs a DECEMBER
$22 million in sales since January. APRIL benefit for the Elvis Presley Youth During his first Christmas in
Elvis performs outside the US for Recreation Center. The grounds Graceland Elvis receives his
the first time with four shows in include Elvis’ birthplace. He will draft notice.

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |41


He wasn’t the first rock’n’roller, but Elvis’ “delinquent”
sneer and overt sexuality made him unlike anything
that had gone before. No wonder he became a superstar
BY DAVID STUBBS

n January 10, 1956, Elvis entered the Steve Sholes had proposed to him for his first
building. He’d signed to RCA, who had RCA recordings a possible selection that included,
seen off two other majors in a bidding as well as “beat” songs, novelty numbers, old time
war and now presented himself at their weepies and ballads. Showbusiness rather than
studios at Nashville, having turned 21 revolution was uppermost in the minds of Elvis’
just two days earlier. It seems in retrospect like a handlers. Indeed, it would have been easy at this
clean and clear break, not just for Elvis but in rock point to capitulate to the new, corporate confines,
history, history per se even. As John Lennon once the more sophisticated studio surroundings that
said “before Elvis, there was nothing”. It may not could have smothered Elvis’
Elvis’ live act
have been strictly true (R&B pioneers such as Ike broody, rough, was a “jerky
tics
repertoire of
Turner and prototype rockers such as Carl Perkins burgeoning Sun and tremors”

and Bill Haley all preceeded Elvis) but none sound before it
of them had the seismic impact on the culture had had a chance
Presley would go on to enjoy. to break.

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |47


Elvis shocks a nation
with his appearance
on Stage Show

Above: Elvis on The


Milton Berle Show in
1956. Below: from the
waist up only, on The
Ed Sullivan Show

F ortunately, Elvis himself wasn’tfazed;


he took a lead in matters musical, if
no other. He honed in one particular number, as if his body were playing host to some sort of
Sex runs through
his frame like an
electrical charge, causing strange but eminently
“Heartbreak Hotel”, written by Mae Axton and involuntary impulse. “Uncontrolled” was the recognisable convulsions.
Tommy Durden, based on a newspaper report word one critic used. The potency of his early It was following this experience that Elvis
of a man who had left a suicide note, telling TV appearances speaks above and beyond the experienced his first backlash, as establishment
of how he “walked a lonely street”. To the end staid, twin-set audience of his day. On Stage critics duly whipped up a moral panic. Elvis’
of this street the songwriting duo attached a Show, Elvis performed “Baby, Let’s Play House”, unseemly groin movements, snarled Ben Goss
hotel and Elvis took it from there. Axton had and cut a liquid contrast with the likes of clean- in The Daily News, saw popular music “plumb
given Elvis a co-songwriting credit, more out cut contemporaries such as Perry Como. Hair new depths” rather than dally safely on the bland
of kindness than anything else, but it was truly drooping every which way, his cherubic face surfaces of ’50s showbiz. A Catholic weekly,
he who transformed the song from what could moist, he seems to be melting not under the America, was alive to the “suggestiveness” of his
have been a lovelorn lament into something spotlight but the intensity of his performance. body movements. There was a general mood of
altogether downer. Elvis seems to slide into a mire But it was when Elvis performed on The Milton panic at the strange forces this new rock’n’roll
of reverb on that plodding bass ladder – “ feel so Berle Show on June 5 for the second time that he movement was exerting in the bodies of young
lonely I could die” – almost dissolving in his own had perhaps his greatest ever impact on American people – strange, uncontrollable urges. Preachers
despondency. Elvis pours so much into the song mass audiences, his performance of “Hound conflated these blatant manifestations of sexual
it oozes black stuff at the edges, saying something Dog” in particular. Uninhibited by a guitar, longing with sin, with “possession” by the devil.
utterly definitive about the condition of despair. dragging around his mic like it were a recalcitrant The reaction of Colonel Tom Parker to all of
It’s not just Elvis mumbling to himself about his lover, he gives a highly controlled impression of this was ambivalent. On the one hand, he saw
own childhood inability to fit in, or the sense of someone caught in an epileptic, helpless state how Elvis’ “wiggles” went over physically with the
isolation he felt as fame crowded in on him. It’s of sensual delirium, almost paralysed at times. crowd, made them swoon. On the other, he was
the first truthful rock’n’roll attempt to convey On the second chorus, the pelvic thrusting is anxious that Elvis not alienate a wider audience.
the state of adolescent alienation. Within three tantamount to out and out rutting – his young He would always be determined to have his cake
weeks of its release, about which there had been audience gasps, as if being swooped deeper into and eat it. After all, this is a man who sold, and
misgivings on RCA’s part, it would the forbidden than they’d ever known, then made as much money, from selling
become his first million-seller. let out a collective, lascivious chuckle – Elvis “I Hate Elvis” badges as he did “I Like Elvis” ones.
Around this time, Elvis himself can barely keep a straight face. It’s a He regarded Elvis with the seasoned eye of an
would appear on Stage sensational performance, probably old circus huckster and, in the eyes of many,
Show, in which he exhibited the most subversive of his peddled him round the country as such during
to a wide audience, his live life – Elvis as a conduit 1956 and 1957. Indeed, “circus” is the first word
act, a jerky repertoire of for the long-repressed many reached for when describing the Elvis
tics and tremors, energies of a generation. phenomenon at this time.

44|
As for mum, Gladys (to the disapproval of Parker, who entertain folks. That’s what the Colonel wanted
Elvis himself saw Elvis as more marketable as a lonesome them to believe, anyhow.

N
he responded single boy), bought his parents their first home
neither defiantly in a smart suburb of Memphis, had a 40-foot ineteen fifty-seven’s Jailhouse Rock, in
nor contritely to the furore, but billboard erected in his honour and come to the which he co-stars with Judy Tyler, who
with a confused, country boy attention both of Hollywood and the draft board. would die shortly after filming was completed
innocence. “I’m not trying to be Indeed, the following year would begin with Elvis in a road accident (Elvis couldn’t ever bear to
sexy,” he told one lady reporter. reporting for his pre-induction physical. watch the film following her death), was tailored
“My movements, ma’am, are Meanwhile, his career as a live performer had specifically for Elvis. The film is relatively gritty
all leg movements.” To those run into problems. Presley was so famous by 1957 and hard-fought by comparison with later
who denounced him from that concerts often had to be abandoned after movies, and contains pertinent biographical
the pulpit, he protested, with 15 minutes. Like The Beatles ten years hence, he elements, which enable Elvis to act “within
justification, that he was a would be forced eventually to withdraw from the himself”. Vince Everett is a rock’n’roll star,
God-fearing boy. Decadent? world of live performance and all its attendant though more luckless than Elvis.
He neither drank nor smoked. rawness, energy, unpredictability and suggestion However, the footage which accompanies his
Still, TV companies were of teeming chaos. Now, he would retreat into performance of the title track is an indicator of
wary of the now fantastically the more controlled, choreographed confines of the new zone in which Elvis now operated – the
popular but potentially the studio. It was a form of enlistment into the stage set, the flanks of lithe, choreographed
dangerous commodity they showbiz army. dancers, the “let’s do the show right here”-style

E
had on their hands and sweatless exuberance. Elvis had had to recede
found ways of dealing with lvis had always idolised the likes of Robert thus, into more controlled studio conditions, to
him. Comedian/chat show Mitchum, Marlon Brando (whom he escape the chaos his very appearance in public
host Steve Allen had Elvis modeled himself on when out on his Harley inevitably prompted nowadays. In March, he
on his show in July, and, Davidson with date Natalie Wood) and especially bought the Graceland mansion for $100,000.
after a dry intro, introduced him in top hat and James Dean, who, although dead, was still top It would be his home for the rest of his life,
tails, serenading a basset hound in a top hat with box office with his posthumous movie releases. shielded by his own Memphis Mafia.
a somewhat restrained version of “Hound Dog”. But the difference between themselves and Elvis Still, Elvis and his band continued to tour,
It’s a dry and knowing shtick on Allen’s part was that whereas a Mitchum or a Dean would though increasingly under the “no wiggle”
and Elvis just about holds together his sporting exude a subtle, smouldering menace from the stipulation. Concerts grossed staggering
demeanour, while making it clear that he was ostensibly respectable platform of silver screen amounts; a swift trip to Canada raked in
no happier about appearing in the skit than drama, Elvis the movie star was a more subdued $300,000, amounts only augmented every time
Sherlock, the downcast basset hound. and controlled version of the more obvious some preacher would use the growing menace

E
“menace” to morality who had stalked the stage to public decency Elvis supposedly represented
d Sullivan had always publicly refused to in 1956. as subject matter for their Sunday sermons.
have Elvis on his show but such was his Elvis did prove adept as a screen actor, however, However, Elvis’ guitarist Scotty Moore and
popularity, he was forced to reconsider. Still, prepared to put in the work and memorise not bassist Bill Black, despite their role in shaping
Sullivan managed to preserve the sensibilities of only his own lines but also those of his fellow the roughly sensual, low-slung Elvis sound and
his audience by ensuring that, to the chagrin of actors. Unhappily, the contract Tom Parker despite his dependence on them, were now on
his young fans, Elvis was generally filmed above locked him into was not the sort that emerging a salary, raking in a couple of hundred bucks a
the waistline. These performances, however, were stars like Brando would enjoy, in which they week. This was less of a concern to drummer DJ
not as demeaning as the appearance Fontana, who’d always been on a wage,

TO THOSE WHO DENOUNCED


on The Steve Allen Show. Elvis is but for Elvis’ first two musical buddies,
shaking his all, and in retrospect it’s the new disparity chafed. It wasn’t so
the nervously prudish network who long ago they’d all mucked in together,
look a little silly in their insistence on
filming from the waist up, or in their HIM, ELVIS PROTESTED THAT HE their sound forged in the ‘play dirt’
of starting out together. By now, they
naive belief that younger viewers were
not vividly and imaginatively aware
just what was going on down there, off-
WAS A GOD-FEARING BOY felt so estranged from Elvis that they
weren’t quite able to bring up the matter
directly with him and in September,
screen. If anything the hint of something just out could determine their own creative destiny and following a couple of miscommunications
of reach created even more electricity. Moreover, make their own decisions. Elvis’ Hollywood via the media, they resigned, leaving Elvis
these appearances boosted Elvis’ profile even career was old school in which, as part of the feeling thoroughly betrayed. By December,
further into the stratosphere. A pan of the not-quite-dead star system, he would have to they’d patched things up, but it was never
audience sees him winning over the older folks. appear in whatever he was told to. In his 1956 quite the same again.
As Sullivan himself assured middle America, this debut Love Me Tender, he shows fleeting promise
ALFRED WERTHEIMER/PHOTOKUNST, GETTY, REDFERNS, KOBAL

really was “a fine boy”. as the ill-fated Clint Reno. He looks, as ever,
Elvis with
During 1956, a great deal happened to Elvis if he’s from decades ahead of those around him Judy Tyler in
Presley, all at once. He had recorded his first (even in the context of a Civil War picture). Jailhouse Rock
album that would prove to be RCA’s biggest ever But the film is essentially a vehicle for Elvis
seller, received his first death threat, been banned to croon, in particular the ballad that would
from radio, had a “no wiggle” injunction brought become the title of the film. This decidedly un-
against him by a police chief in Louisville, rock’n’roll outing, in a period setting, would
Kentucky (he abided by shaking his finger only prove reassuring to wider American audiences
– but how that finger trembled), brought a string that Elvis was no insurrectionary, but a simple-
of women back home to present to his ever-loving hearted, earnest country boy, who just wanted to

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |45


T hat same month, Elvis received formal
notification of his induction into the US
army, only to be granted a 60-day extension so
But Parker had his reasons. He knew
that it was essential to the clean-cut,
more MOR image he was creating for his
he could complete shooting on his latest picture, charge that he enter the army modestly
King Creole. The prospect of Elvis’ impending and uncomplainingly, with a minimum Elvis-mania:
entry into the army meant that 1958 began with of special pleading. Singer Eddie Fisher The King being
mobbed by
a torrent of studio activity, with Colonel Tom had attempted to oil out of the draft and US fans in 1956
Parker anxious that he milk his cash cow for it had cost him immensely, career-wise.

T
all it was worth before he entered the barracks. Such were the times; the Cold War meant
The next few months would see Elvis living in that ’60s-style rock’n’roll anti-militarism he story of Elvis between 1956 and 1958 is
the shadow of the prospect of his enlistment. was simply unthinkable. one of astonishing, transformative success,
In private, he was often reduced to tears at the And so, Elvis was finally sworn into the army of world-beating fame beyond anyone’s wildest
prospect of life in the army. on March 24. The day after, army barber James dreams. But sceptics might suggest that it’s
It wasn’t that Elvis was a ’60s-style pacifist B Peterson cut off his jet-black locks in what not exactly a tale of the triumph of rock’n’roll
or leftist. A country boy, who harboured many many, at the time and subsequently, regarded as a heroism. Elvis, it seemed, was during this time
of the intrinsic values of the South, he saw it symbolic act of rock’n’roll castration. increasingly co-opted by the highly manipulative
as his duty to serve his country. But the prospect Elvis’ time in the army was relatively Tom Parker, by showbiz, by the army, by the
of homesickness, of missing his mum, dismayed uneventful and certainly combat-free – the absurd demands of censors. Gradually the rude,
him. Privately, he would ask aloud why he nearest he came to mortal danger was from rock’n’roll origins were swapped for a world of
was having to be drafted when he was doing being mobbed by fans who managed to break megastardom, TV and radio, Elvis was accused of
so much more for the country generating huge army cordons more than once, in America and being a sex-crazed, delinquent rabble-rouser. Yet,
tax revenue as a performer? He was angry, too. Germany, including one night when, idiotically, far from being some rock’n’roll Lord Of Misrule
He wondered why the hell his manager, Tom he was put on guard duty. he was conservative, religious, abstemious,

I
Parker, wasn’t doing more to preserve him quiescent, passive, polite to a fault, kind to his
from the draft. f rock’n’roll fans were saddened by Elvis’ mum, a good ol’ boy. Absurd then, surely, that
enlistment, which sapped the energy from Frank Sinatra should have described rock’n’roll,
the genre for years to come until the onset of and by strong implication Elvis, as “sly, lewd,
The Beatles, Elvis himself was wracked with dirty… the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious
grief on August 14, 1958 when his mother, form of expression”.
Gladys, passed away of a heart attack
brought on by hepatitis. Elvis had
been aware of her deteriorating
condition for some time and, with
callous pedantry, the army had
initially declined him permission to
see her, claiming this would smack of
favouritism. Gladys was only 46, but
her poor health arose from problems
that would prefigure those which would
hasten Elvis’ own early demise; an
addiction to fatty, comfort foods and to drugs Elvis was predictably respectful in his riposte
(diet pills and alcohol). Maybe it was her way and would later, sportingly, perform alongside
of absorbing/internalising Elvis’ anxieties and Sinatra. But Sinatra was right. Elvis was all of
stored-up woes. She had inspired Elvis’ non- those things.
conformism, having married free spirit and He may not have been delinquent but fuck,
“ne’er do well” Vernon in spite of objections from he was the very unprecedented picture of
her bourgeois family. She had tried to warn Elvis delinquency, of a new viciousness. Lewdness and
off the authoritarian, excessively paternalistic dirtiness were born in his swivel, in the curl of
Tom Parker to no avail. Now she was gone, and his lip, while brutal and ugly desperation sprang
a large part of Elvis went with her, the absence from the oily, messy ooze of his Sun recordings,
filled with subsequent addictions in those electrocuted bursts of energy of his when
and obsessions. Scotty broke with the guitar solo.
There was a supreme slyness in those dead
but all-seeing eyes of his, that pointed finger.
Rock’n’roll was born in Elvis, perhaps because of
his passivity, rather than in spite of it. He’d been
chosen, he didn’t protest, didn’t rage repressively
against his own instincts but let it hang out. He
was the one, the one at the crossroads between
R&B, country and a popular music about to tap
into a much wider audience. They could and
would eventually put Elvis back in his place
REDFERNS, CORBIS

but the forces he was the conduit for were out


Presley’s trademark
of the tube for good. Elvis had blown the lid
jet-black locks were off America.
shorn when he joined
the army

46|
Elvis in Melody Maker, 1957:
“I love being famous, even
if it means I have to stay in
my hotel room all day long”
|47
EALFxREDpoWERseTHdEIMER

SIX MONTHS WITH


THE SHOOTING STAR When young snapper Alfred Wertheimer was asked to photograph RCA’s
latest signing in 1956 he asked “Elvis who?” The results were the iconic
images of the new King Of Rock’n’Roll. Interview By Paul McNamee

A
lfred Wertheimer, a young, jobbing snapper, met of mid ’50s America. He clearly made an immediate
Elvis Presley for the first time on March 17, 1956. impression on Wertheimer. And Elvis was the ideal subject
Over the next two years he would become his for a new sort of photography. Rather than stage pictures
semi-official photographer, travelling the country for record sleeves and publicity shots, he wanted to
as Presley went nuclear, building a bank of iconic pictures capture his subject as he was in every aspect of his life.
that would come to detail the rise of a legend. He got Elvis, it struck him, might be exactly the guy to test this
to know Elvis well, got to see him in downtime messing approach on. Even though several decades have passed,
around with friends and family. He was as close to Elvis Wertheimer still can’t put his finger on what exactly made
as anyone could be to the eye of a hurricane. But if it had him devote so much time, money and energy to this still
not been for a missed trip to the West Indies, Wertheimer relatively unknown performer. Elvis was costing him, he’ll
would never have been admitted to Elvis’ court. remind you frequently. RCA were paying him just enough
In early ’56, the 25-year-old had been working for to cover expenses, so he was relying on selling on the
fashion photographer Tom Palombo. His boss was offered prints to others.
a two-week shoot in the West Indies for Harper’s Bazaar “I wasn’t exactly Nostradamus but I did sense
but decided Wertheimer had to be left in New York to take excitement,” he says. “I was excited – actually shaking
care of business. Wertheimer took the hump, walked out in some cases – and he made the girls cry. It was almost
and set up alone, picking up work where he could get it. a sexual experience for them. You’re always looking for
“Then one day I was in the dark-room doing some some personality who is going to give you pictures that
prints on a brassiere ad and Ann Fulchino from RCA are going to last and be in fan magazines and national
Records was on the phone,” he explains. “She said, ‘Al, I’d magazines – especially if you have access. And one of the
like you to take some photographs.’ I never turned her things Ann permitted me to do was to have access.”
down and, besides, I needed the work. I was a hungry Wertheimer talks of Elvis with genuine affection. He
young photographer. She said, ‘It’s Stage Show, the was a little naive, he says, full of surprises, basically shy
Tommy/Jimmy Dorsey show. I want you to focus on Elvis but always at ease with himself. He also remembers
Presley.’ I said, ‘Elvis who?’ – I’d never heard of him. She that “he loved women, he loved to be near a woman,

MEMPHIS RICHMOND
said, ‘Well, we signed him up in November, he might be whether she was eight years old or 65 years”. And most
going someplace and we’d like to have a few pictures in importantly, he allowed himself to be photographed in a
NEARLY HOME MOSQUE THEATRE our files. You could come down and I’ll introduce you.” way the photographer loved, with frankness and without
JULY 4, 1956 JUNE 30, 1956 Wertheimer made his way to CBS Studio 50 on a cold anything hidden.
“We were nearing the end of “He’s in the green room Saturday afternoon and walked in on Elvis during a “1958 was the last time I saw Elvis alive when he left for
a 27-hour train trip from New of the Mosque Theatre in rehearsal for ”Heartbreak Hotel”. Though he was a classical the army at the Brooklyn port of embarkations,” recalls
York, down to Chattanooga, Richmond, Virginia. This was music fan – “a Beethoven/Mozart guy” – the snapper was Wertheimer. “From that day ’til the day he died, I did not
then across to Memphis. a one-night stand. I sensed immediately bitten by The Hillybilly Cat. “I listened to the get one phonecall from anybody for a Presley picture.
©ALFRED WERTHEIMER/PHOTOKUNST/RACHEL WOHLFELD

Tennessee’s about 400 miles something was going on


rehearsal, I listened to him sing and frankly I was in a state That’s 19 years – a long dry spell. The day he died, August
long and the only thing they when I went to Richmond.
It was a Southern town and
of shock,” he says. “Here he is coming and throwing his 16, 1977, Time magazine called me up and, all of a sudden,
have is a local train that goes
400 miles at 35 miles per you had a lot of young girls, body at the microphone and at the stage, he’s moving all the world discovered my material. And the phone hasn’t
hour. He’s sleeping here. He maybe 4,000 in the theatre. around in an uninhibited way – we’re talking about during really stopped ringing since.
had just finished a recording The girls would be hugging rehearsal – and I thought this guy is interesting, I don’t “I have a lot to be thankful to Elvis for. Apart from the
session up in New York. He each other in the darkness know what to make of him.” pictures, he taught me you can come from very humble
was on his way back home.” and they would cry.” Looking at Wertheimer’s pictures today, it’s easy to see beginnings and make something of yourself.”
why he was drawn to Elvis. He looks like a beautiful alien Pictures taken from Elvis 56: In The Beginning
peacock, sticking out among the monochrome realities by Alfred Wertheimer (Pimlico Publishing)

48|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


EALFxREDpoWERseTHdEIMER

NEW YORK
CBS STUDIO 50
NEW YORK
REHEARSAL STUDIO
MARCH 17, 1956 JUNE 29, 1956
“That’s the first day I met him. He’s in a rehearsal studio
He was getting ready to go on waiting for Steve Allen, a
Stage Show, giving the final comedian who had a Sunday
touch to his hair before he night TV show. Elvis was
went on. We met there for the going to be on the show as
first time in a dressing room Tumbleweed Presley in a
backstage. He basically had his skit with Allen, Imogene
feet up on the table and there Coca and Andy Griffith.
was a nondescript chubby Elvis would be in costume
man sitting near him showing as a cowboy with a six-
him a line of jewellery. So Ann shooter. That would be his
Fulchino from RCA tells him, first TV acting appearance.”
‘This is Al Wertheimer, he’s
going to take some pictures.’
And Elvis kind of grunts and
says, ‘Sure, OK, fine.’ But he MEMPHIS
NEARLY HOME
was focused on his jewellery.”
JULY 4, 1956
“He’s on a train, it’s around
10.30am and he’s about
20 minutes out of Memphis.
Basically, he did his thing –
he didn’t explain to anybody
©ALFRED WERTHEIMER/PHOTOKUNST

how he did it or why he did


it – so he tightened his belt,
straightened his tie and
then he’s looking around for
paper towels. Some people
consider this a very gay shot
because of the limp wrists.”

50|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


 UNCUT LEGENDS  | 45
EALFxREDpoWERseTHdEIMER

NEW YORK
CBS STUDIO 50
MARCH 17, 1956
“We’re back at Stage
Show which was at Studio
50. He had finished the
performance – he sang two
songs – and he had gone
out into the alleyway to sign
autographs. I’m actually
standing on garbage cans,
with a little strobe unit. It’s
one of the few pictures I used
artificial light for, because
without it it’s just blackness.”

52|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


©ALFRED WERTHEIMER/PHOTOKUNST

| 53

UNCUT LEGENDS

EALFxREDpoWERseTHdEIMER

CHATTANOOGA
RAILWAY STATION
NEW YORK
PENN STATION
JULY 4, 1956 JULY 1, 1956
“The waitress is at the segregated “You can see something about two
lunch counter at the Chattanooga airliners colliding – 128 people died
rail station. Reason I know it was over the Grand Canyon. Elvis was
segregated is that it was in the very concerned because he hated
South and, in those days, there to fly. One of the reasons he had all
was still segregation. Elvis was those Cadillacs was so he didn’t
oblivious to it, not because he have to fly to performances 100
was racist but because he was miles apart. He’s preoccupied with
from the South. I’m not so sure those headlines while the other
the waitress knew who he was.” guys are looking for a cab. “

NEW YORK
CBS STUDIO 50
MEMPHIS
1034 AUDUBON DRIVE
MARCH 17, 1956 JULY 4, 1956
“That’s a clothes-line rope “This is Elvis at home at 1034
holding up his guitar. His Audubon Drive in Memphis, pre-
leather strap broke earlier Graceland. He was trying to relax
©ALFRED WERTHEIMER/PHOTOKUNST

and he asked someone to get after this long train trip. I don’t
him another leather strap. know if he was consciously trying
They couldn’t find one, so they to look like Marlon Brando. He
brought him back a clothes- bought that hat at Woolworths
line rope and he tied a knot in or one of the five and dime stores.
the middle of it. He went on a He’s looking down at the bike
national broadcast that way.” wondering why it wouldn’t start.”

54|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


EPELOVPISLE
H H H H H H H H H

H H H H H H H HH

NO .2
Elvis in the
studio with The
Jordanaires

THE BANDS
radio show had been added to the line-up and the and Jerry Reed, who wrote and played on “Guitar Man”
handful of dates they played that summer fizzed with and “US Male”. Many of those who backed Dylan on his
a combustible mix of raw, sexual energy and red-hot Nashville-recorded albums, such as Charlie McCoy, Kenny
musicianship that literally caused a riot. Buttrey, Pete Drake and Norbert Putnam were allegedly
But at the end of that year, Phillips sold Presley’s chosen because they had recorded with Presley.
The King’s courtiers who contract to RCA and the focus shifted from Memphis When Elvis returned to Memphis to record in his
provided the musical to Nashville. There, a larger cast was assembled as the home city for the first time since the Sun days, he was
mus cle beh ind the voic e corporate machine set about marketing their prize backed by the American Sound Studio’s house band,
asset. Moore, Black and Fontana were retained but led by guitarist Reggie Young and augmented by The
RCA introduced some of their own top session players Memphis Horns, the result was From Elvis In Memphis,
from Nashville’s famous A-team, including guitarist his best album since 1960’s Elvis Is Back!.
Chet Atkins and pianist Floyd Cramer. On “Hound Dog”, He marked the album’s release in 1969 by

E
verybody knew Elvis could sing. But when he was recorded at RCA’s New York studio in July 1956, the embarking on a 57-show run in Las Vegas, backed by
auditioning for Sam Phillips at the Sun Studio, backing vocals of The Jordanaires – Gordon Stoker, a new band including former Rick Nelson guitarist
Memphis, one night in April 1954 it swiftly became Neal Matthews, Hoyt Hawkins and Hugh Jarrett – James Burton, pianist Larry Muhoberac, Jerry Scheff
evident that something was mising. “He started were added for the first time. on bass, drummer Ronnie Tutt and John Wilkinson on
playing snatches of anything he knew – religious, When Black and Moore quit in a row over pay in rhythm guitar. Named the TCB Band after Elvis’ motto
gospel, western, everything,” Phillips’ secretary Marion September 1957, the last Sun connection was broken. “takin’ care of business”, they remained with him until
Keisker later recalled. “Then Elvis said he was looking for Other members of Nashville’s A-team joined Elvis’ his death, although first Glen D Hardin and then Tony
a band. Sam said maybe he could help him.” inner circle, including Hank Garland, an outstanding Brown took over the piano stool and Emory Gordy and
True to his word, some time later Phillips mentioned guitarist who contributed the guitar breaks to hits such Duke Bardwell both substituted for Scheff on bass.
Elvis’ request to Scotty Moore, guitarist with local as “Little Sister” and “A Big Hunk O’
country group The Starlight Wranglers.
Moore invited Elvis over to his house the next Sunday
Love”, the latter recorded when the
newly-drafted Presley was on leave THE TCB BAND PLAYED ALMOST
afternoon and they spent a few hours running through
a medley of popular country, blues and pop tunes. At
from the army.
He didn’t resume recording until 1,000 SHOWS TOGETHER, AN
ACHIEVEMENT TO MATCH
some point Bill Black, a bassplaying friend of Moore’s almost two years later, when Moore
who lived down the street, dropped by and sat in. was among those who assembled

DYLAN’S NEVER ENDING TOUR


Over the next few nights, the three assembled at the at RCA Nashville for Elvis’ first post-
studio to rehearse. Finally, on July 5, Phillips decided army session. For most of the rest of
they were ready to record, threaded some tape into the the decade, he was content to rely
machine and announced, “This is the session.” After on the pick of Nashville’s best sessioneers. Cramer’s Backing vocals were provided variously by JD Sumner
running through unremarkable versions of “I Love You piano became a regular fixture, but other musicians and The Stamps Quartet and The Sweet Inspirations,
Because” and a few other country numbers they took came and went, including Garland, who had just who were also employed as the warm-up act.
a break. The session was going nowhere. finished recording “Follow That Dream” when he In the eight years until his final concert in
And then, suddenly, Elvis started to bang on his suffered horrific injuries in a 1961 car crash that Indianapolis in June 1977, Elvis and the TCB Band
guitar, horsing around as he sang ended his career. played almost 1,000 shows together, a statistical
“That’s All Right”, in a a totally new Among those who graced Presley’s achievement to match Dylan’s Never Ending Tour.

ELVIS SAYS…
PICTORIAL PRESS, TIMELIFE/GETTY, CORBIS, REDFERNS

way. The unspoken empathy took Nashville recordings (he cut some 250 More than 20 years later, the band got together
hold as Scotty and Bill joined in. songs at 26 sessions in the country to take care of business once again, playing live
Sam Phillips scrambled to capture “This man over here has
music capital) with Elvis projected on a giant screen behind them.
it on tape and, emphasising the been my guitarist were saxophonist It should have been as corny as hell, but when the
importance of the band’s contribition, for 104 years – Boots Randolph, celluloid Elvis turned to the flesh-and-blood Burton
the recording was credited to Elvis Scotty Moore!” bassist Bob Moore during “Guitar Man” and instructed him to “play it,
Presley, Scotty And Bill. Elvis introduces his and guitarists James”, there was more magic in that single moment
By 1955, DJ Fontana, house longest-serving Harold Bradley, than has ever been conjured by 10,000 real-life Elvis
drummer from The Louisiana Hayride bandmember Chip Young imitators. NIGEL WILLIAMSON
on the Comeback
Special, 1968

56|
Elvis and “ma boys”:
(l-r) DJ Fontana,
Gordon Stoker and
Scotty Moore

Elvis onstage with


TCB stalwart James
Burton (centre)

The Sweet
Inspirations: (l-r)
Cissy Houston,
Myrna Smith, Sylvia
Shamwell and
Estelle Brown
“ELVIS WAS CHAMPING AT THE BIT TO REMIND
THE COCHRANS AND VINCENTS WHO WAS KING.
ON ELVIS HE’D TAKE NO PRISONERS”

Many critics reckon Elvis’ first album defined the golden age of rock’n’roll. Not so,
argues Simon Goddard, Presley’s hastily recorded follow-up is superior in every way

I
f, as John Lennon famously surmised, “before In its wake came a near flawless flow of singles cut
Elvis, there was nothing”, then before March in sporadic hit-and-run sessions stolen between an
1956’s Elvis Presley, there was no such thing as idiotically hectic touring and TV schedule throughout
a rock’n’roll album. the spring and summer of ’56: the seductively slushy
ELVIS
Yet, in reality, The King’s debut was anything “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”; the
1 ELVIS
RCA but the carefully considered mission statement dumbfounding double header of “Hound Dog”
its subsequent reputation as rock’s equivalent and “Don’t Be Cruel”; and the shrewd pairing of the
Oct 56(US)K) Book of Genesis might suggest. A chaotic delicate “Love Me Tender”, with the brazen sexual
Rip It Up Apr 57 (U ragbag of unreleased outtakes from his 18 surrender of “Any Way You Want Me (That’s How
months at Sun Records (the earliest dating I Will Be)”. Yet, by late August, RCA executives were
Love Me Radio back to July ’54) stirred up with a handful of beginning to grow anxious, with good reason.
Recorders, hurried R&B covers from his first two sessions Christmas was on the horizon and a follow-up to Elvis
on
When My Blue MoAgain Hollywoo d
for RCA in January ’56, Elvis Presley was merely Presley had been pencilled in for November. There was
Turns To Gold
a contrived cash-in rush released to satiate just one problem: there wasn’t anything to release.
the demands of a public still reeling from the Ever since he’d secured Elvis a seven-movie
Long Tall Sally
Steve Sholes shock of the new that was “Heartbreak Hotel”. deal back in April, the nefarious Colonel Tom
None of which really mattered. Its Parker had been so preoccupied with draining
First In Line
unprecedented success as the first album on the coffers of Hollywood that the small matter of
3 the US pop chart to shift over a million copies maintaining Presley’s ‘day job’ had become almost
Paralyzed notwithstanding, in spite of the exploitative inconsequential. It was only after RCA executives
1
You’re Mine* record company politics that instigated turned up on the set of Elvis’ first feature, Love Me
So Glad its creation, Elvis Presley was a detractor- Tender, and demanded he be given leave for an
*Recorded drubbing teaser of his phenomenal emergency session that Parker begrudgingly relented.
Old Shep potential. It wasn’t just the inexorable With a break in shooting over Labor Day weekend in
at RCA
Studios, “go man go” vigour unleashed on Carl early September, Elvis was spared just three days to
Ready Teddy New York Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and Ray record what would become Elvis: the first time, and
Charles’ “I Got A Woman” that startled, one of the very few, that he’d enter a studio with the
dise
Anyplace Is Para but the revelation of The Hillbilly Cat as a specific mandate of recording a long-play album.
sensitive balladeer, with a voice that could Had he rolled into Radio Recorders in Hollywood
Treating You
How’s The World shudder the soul with the same force it that weekend and merely gone through the motions
shook the nether regions (not least on just to silence his employers, it would still have been
k I Feel
How Do You Thin the sparse, spectral “Blue Moon”). The released. Hell, anything Elvis recorded was going to
boy was no one-trick pony, an inarguable be shoved in a glossy sleeve and racked out by the
truth which Elvis Presley writ large. thousands. It just so happened that after two months

58|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


PICK OF THE PERIOD

ELVIS PRESLEY
1956 [UK 4 / US 1]
The historic (albeit
hastily compiled)
debut, saved by the
grace of its half-dozen
Sun leftovers. Twenty-
three years later, its
sleeve would inspire
that of The Clash’s
London Calling.

LOVING YOU
1957 [UK 24 / US 1]
Though marred
by a second half
of sentimental
balladry, the bulk
of this soundtrack
to Presley’s second
feature finds him
rocking on full
throttle, not least the
scintillating “Mean
Woman Blues”.

KING CREOLE
1958 [UK 4 / US 2]
Looking for trouble?
You came to the
right place. This New
Orleans gris-gris stew
of crawfish, Tommy
guns and hardheaded
women remains the
best soundtrack LP of
his career.

spent hanging around the set of Love Me Tender, Similar fire was granted to the album’s other Dog” writers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and
Elvis was champing at the bit to remind the Little Richard-penned rockers, “Ready Teddy” conceived as a ‘country hick’ romantic spoof. Elvis
Cochrans and Vincents already snapping at his and “Long Tall Sally”, though it was when the failed to see the humour, his delivery cleansing it
heels that he was The King. And on Elvis, he’d take pace slowed that Elvis’ vocals really started of any cynicism, only to instead make poetry out
no prisoners. to smoulder: the drowsy, wooing baritone of of its masochistic plea to have his faithful heart
It’s evident from the opening, twitchy hi-hat “Anyplace Is Paradise”; the pining isolation broken (three decades later, it took Nicolas Cage
stutter prompting Little Richard’s “Rip It Up”, of “How’s The World Treating You” and the to restore something of Leiber and Stoller’s ham
moments before Elvis utters the immortal blue unflinchingly sincere “First In Line”. Even the when performing the song in David Lynch’s much-
collar war cry of a young buck hell-bent on good cornball tearjerker “Old Shep” – the first song acclaimed movie, Wild At Heart).
livin’: “Well, it’s Saturday night and I just got paid!”. Elvis had performed in public back in 1945 at the The fact that its entire contents were cut in
Compared to the ropey hurtle through Richard’s age of ten – was played disarmingly straight: one three-day period (bar “So Glad You’re Mine”,
“Tutti Frutti” recorded nine months earlier for snivelling “I wish they would shoot me instead” recorded back in January yet, bizarrely, left off
Elvis Presley, “Rip It Up” was a vastly superior moments before pulling the trigger on his his debut) bestowed Elvis with the textural
performance, and not just from Elvis. Scotty devoted mutt, he sang it like he meant it. Likewise, uniformity its predecessor lacked. Yet, if it
Moore complemented the hedonistic urgency the outstanding “Love Me”, penned by “Hound was his first, ‘proper’ rock’n’roll album – planned
of the vocal with a biting guitar and produced as such – it would also
break while DJ Fontana was be his last this side of army life. The
just as audibly eager, his crash- next, Loving You, was a compromised
TIMELIFE PICTURE/ GETTY IMAGES

bang-walloping rhythm akin to a soundtrack affair.


one-man street brawl. Their first The Sunday morning hangover of bad
group session in two months, both songs, bad movies and bad decisions
in song and in spirit, “Rip It Up” was only just dawning. But as the sound
announced that Elvis and his boys of the glorious Saturday night before,
were very much back in town. 1956’s Elvis remains invincible.

Elvis gets back


to his ‘day job’ in
the studio, 1956
 UNCUT LEGENDS  |59
Triumph and tragedy as Presley’s personal life begins to take centre stage. From serving
his country abroad to his mother’s death back home, Elvis’ carefree days are over,
yet the big romance of his life is just around the corner

1958 1959 1960


JANUARY
Young Priscilla
evaluates her future
8 Elvis celebrates his husband’s goods
birthday with an
trans-Atlantic phone
interview with Dick
Clark for his American
Bandstand show.

FEBRUARY
According to
Guralnick, it’s at
this time that Elvis Dick calls the
is introduced to Elvis hotline
amphetamines.
He is “evangelical” about their
energising and slimming abilities.

APRIL – MAY
Colonel Parker keeps Elvis’
career booming despite his
absence with a strong of canny
promotional deals.
JANUARY 18 Elvis heads to Hollywood to
Elvis and his JUNE 20 Elvis is promoted to Sergeant. begin work on GI Blues, his fifth
father on the 16 On two-week leave, Elvis film. This time he is accompanied
afternoon of
Gladys’ death
heads to Paris. His relaxed trip MARCH by his retinue of friends, family and
includes visits to the Folies 1 Elvis gets set to leave West associates – the Memphis Mafia.
Bergère and the Lido. During Germany. After a press conference Elvis dates Judy Rawlins, an actress
a drunken night at the Lido at Ray Barracks in Freidberg, he with a small part in the film.
are at the Memphis Funeral Home Elvis gets up and sings “Willow bumps into Sun Records’ Marion
JANUARY – FEBRUARY the next day. The Blackwood Weep For Me”, his first public Keisker, now an Air Force Captain. JULY
Elvis films his fourth movie, King Brothers sing Gladys’ favourite performance in 15 months. He greets her warmly and it 3 Elvis’ father marries Dee Stanley.
Creole. Directed by Michael Curtiz hymns, “Precious Memories” and marks the first and only time he’ll
(Casablanca) and co-starring “Rock Of Ages”. She is buried at AUGUST acknowledge the part she played AUGUST
Walter Matthau and Vic Morrow. Forest Hill Cemetery. Heartbroken Captain Joseph Beaulieu is in his rise. Elvis films Flaming Star, directed by
Elvis never fully recovers. transferred from Texas to 3 Sergeant Presley stops off at Don Siegel.
MARCH 25 Elvis reports back to Fort Hood. Weisbaden Air Force Base near Prestwick airport in Scotland on
15 He performs two shows in Friedberg. He is accompanied by his way back to the States. The 90- OCTOBER
Memphis – his last live gigs until SEPTEMBER his wife and children, including minute stop-over marks his only 30 Elvis records a gospel album in
after his 1960 demobilisation. 22 Elvis takes the USS Randall his 14-and-a-half- year-old ever visit to Britain. Nashville. An all-night session yields
24 Inducted into the US Army at the to West Germany. He arrives stepdaughter, Priscilla Ann. Currie 5 Elvis is officially discharged from 14 songs, including “His Hand In
Memphis Draft Board and assigned in Bremerhaven on October 1 Grant, a friend of the US Army. Mine” and “Milky White Way”.
serial number 53310761. as a part of the 750-man 32nd Elvis, spots her in 8 He holds a press conference The GI Blues soundtrack spends10
25 Shipped to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas Tank Battalion, Third Armoured the Eagle Club – a at Graceland to talk about weeks at Number One on the
and given his famous GI buzzcut. Division. He is met at the dock by community centre his service and love of karate. Billboard album chart. It stays on
29 Private Presley arrives at Fort 1,500 fans, five TV news crews for forces families – 20 Elvis has his first post- the chart for 111 weeks.
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., CORBIS, REDFERNS
Hood, Texas for six months basic and reporters from virtually every tells her her knows army recording session,
training. His parents soon move to European newspaper. Elvis and invites spawning “Stuck On You”. NOVEMBER
a temporary home near the base. her to a party at the 26 He tapes a “Welcome Elvis begins work on Wild In The
OCTOBER star’s home. Her Home Party” special for Frank Country. GI Blues is among the top-
JUNE 1 Stationed in Friedberg for 18 parents reluctantly The Million Sinatra’s ABC-TV variety show,
Dollar Duo for which he is paid a record
grossing films of the year.
10 On leave, Elvis performs his last months, Elvis shares an off-base agree, imposing
recording session until 1960. home with his dad and grandmother. an 11pm curfew. $125,000. Frank sings “Love DECEMBER
Elvis is immediately smitten. Me Tender” while Elvis covers Flaming Star opens nationally to
AUGUST “Witchcraft”. When the show airs good reviews but lacks the box-
Gladys Presley returns to Memphis AUTUMN on May 8, it wins a 41.5 per cent office bite of GI Blues.
where she is hospitalised with Elvis and Priscilla see each other audience share .
acute hepatitis. Elvis is granted almost every night, though the The newly
emergency leave and arrives in relationship is chaste. Elvis wants APRIL colourised Elvis
greets his demob
Memphis on August 12. He stays her to remain “pure.” 3 Second session
with his mother for the next two for the post-army press conference
days and nights. Shortly after he DECEMBER album in Nashville,
returns to Graceland to rest, she Elvis begins karate lessons with includes standards
dies in the early hours of August 14, Jurgen Seydel, the “father of “Are You Lonesome
aged 46. Her body lies in state at German karate”. Tonight?” and “It’s
Graceland that afternoon. Services Now Or Never”.

Sgt Presley
heads out for
schnitzel  UNCUT LEGENDS  |43
1961
benefit concert. Around
Presley on the
set of Follow 3,000 fans pack Honolulu
That Dream airport for his arrival. The
show raises $65,000.

APRIL
Elvis remains in Hawaii to
shoot Blue Hawaii.

JULY
Shoots Follow That Dream.

OCTOBER
The Blue Hawaii soundtrack
enters the Billboard chart for
FEBRUARY a year-and-a-half run, staying at
25 Tennessee Governor Buford Number One for twenty weeks.
Ellington proclaims this Elvis Elvis spends the remainder of the
Presley Day. Elvis performs two year working on his tenth motion
shows at the Ellis Auditorium in picture, Kid Galahad, completing
Memphis in a benefit for 26 local it in January 1962.
charities, his first headlining
dates in almost three years.

MARCH
21 Recording of tracks for
forthcoming film Blue Hawaii. Presley and some
Elvis classic “Can’t Help Falling In girls, girls, girls
Love” comes from this session. on the set of
Girls! Girls! Girls!
25 Elvis arrives in Hawaii for

Elvis celebrates
Elvis Day: 1962
MARCH OCTOBER
Memphis,
February 25, 1961 the 1962 World’s Fair, a young Kurt
Elvis flits between RCA studios in Russell pops up in several scenes. Elvis movies are banned in Mexico
Memphis and Radio Recorders in He’ll later star in Elvis, the biopic. after a riot at a theatre showing
Hollywood where he records host At this time, Elvis is commanding GI Blues.

©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., KOBAL


of tracks including the soundtrack $500,000 a picture, plus a cut of
for Girls! Girls! Girls!. receipts. DECEMBER
He’ll spend the rest of the year Priscilla’s parents allow her to
JUNE recording the soundtrack for the spend Christmas at Graceland. She
Priscilla arrives in Los Angeles for film, plus the soundtrack for Fun returns to her family in Germany
her first post-army visit with Elvis. In Acapulco. He’ll end the year as briefly before moving in for good
He is 27, she is 17. It’s the first time Motion Picture Almanac’s fifth most in early ’63 and finishing her final
they have seen each in over two popular star. schoolyear in Memphis.
years and the result of months
of careful negotiations between
Elvis and her parents.
The deal states she won’t
stay with him and she’ll have
a chaperone at all times. She
moves into his Bellagio Road
home within a day of arriving
in LA. Within two days, she has
written a fortnight’s worth of
postcards to her parents that will
be posted from LA to make it
look as though she’s there. Then
she and Elvis head to
Las Vegas where he introduces
her to amphetamines.

SUMMER
Elvis films It Happened At The
World’s Fair in Seattle. A tame
Presley vehicle set against Elvis persuades
the space-age backdrop of Priscilla’s father
to let her stay at
his for Christmas

42|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


He may have been
the biggest star in
the world, but not
even Elvis could
avoid the draft
BY ADRIAN THRILLS
Swearing in at
Memphis Draft
Board office,
March 24, 1958

hen Elvis Presley came out of


the US Army in March 1960,
his first public appearance
was not an orgasmic, hip-
swivelling rock’n’roll shindig.
It was a television show in “He was just a singer
which he starred alongside when he decided to branch
Frank Sinatra, the consummate out into acting. Now look At the Draft
Board with
all-round American entertainer. at him. He’s one of the tearful mother,
Sinatra had been no great lover highest paid people in the Gladys (right)
of rock’n’roll in the ’50s. But he was a Hollywood profession. Anyone can sing
icon and the master of many musical styles. As a and strum a guitar – I’d like
statement of intent Frank Sinatra’s Welcome Home to prove that I can do more than that.”
Party For Elvis Presley was a surefire indication of Prove that he could do “more than that” was
how Presley saw his career developing. precisely what Presley did in the next two years.
Elvis was back and Elvis was big, but he was There is a tendency among critics to malign
no longer a one-trick pompadour. Presley – who his post-army output. John Lennon famously
wore army uniform for the start of the Miami- claimed that “Elvis died when he went into the
filmed show before changing into a tuxedo for army” and there was some resistance from old
a duet with Ol’ Blue Eyes himself – had hinted at fans to the changes of the early ’60s. But while the complete albums. Then, after first reiterating his
his long-term plans in interviews given before the new, sideburn-less Elvis simmered rather than rock’n’roll credentials, he graduated to mellower,
TV spectacular, which aired to huge ratings in scalded, the musical strides he was making were medium-paced songs and some of the most
GETTY, ©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

May 1960. not those of a performer who was losing his edge. memorable ballads of his career.
“I’d like to develop my acting to some extent,” In 1960, at the age of 25, Elvis was ready to His music was evolving, but Elvis still retained
he had said. “You know, like Sinatra did when he extend his capabilities. Guided by his manager, his old hunger. At a time when rock was still
suddenly came up with From Here To Eternity. Colonel Tom Parker, he certainly spent more regarded as a passing fad – an era when the
I certainly couldn’t model myself on Frank, but time in Hollywood. But he also broadened rulebook hadn’t yet been written – the post-
I admire him very much and that’s the sort of his horizons on a musical level. He made some army Elvis became a pioneering figure. The best
thing I’d like to do. great singles and, in 1960 alone, two of his most musicians and singers have always pushed the

64|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


boundaries. The Beatles did so with Sgt Pepper, demanded that the ruler of rock’n’roll be
The Clash with London Calling and Radiohead treated the same as any other conscript.
with OK Computer. For Elvis, the risk taking came Presley’s manager did not want his artist
in the early ’60s. Having been the pivotal figure in becoming a commodity for the American
the rise of rock’n’roll, he went on to define pop. forces. He was also keen to protect Elvis from
All this, too, was achieved against a backdrop any criticism which might have ensued had
of mounting uncertainty. In the early ’60s, The he been given preferential treatment. And so
King faced constant speculation that his crown it was that Elvis presented himself at the draft
was slipping. The reality, as we will find out, board office in Memphis on March 24, 1958.
was different. Not only did Elvis’ change of style After being seen off by his parents, Vernon
increase his stature – it ultimately turned him and Gladys, his then girlfriend Anita Wood
into pop’s first global superstar. and a small gathering of fans, Elvis became
private US 53310761 and his pay was cut from

E lvis Presley received his call-up papers in


December 1957. At the instigation of Colonel
Parker, he was immediately given a 60-day
$1,000 a week to $83.20 per month.
The following day, as he paid 65 cents for
his army regulation haircut, the “onionpeel”,
Elvis’ ceremonial
shearing at
Fort Chaffee on
March 25, 1958
deferment to allow him to finish filming King the event was again overseen by Colonel Tom.

having already offered to pay for Presley’s hair


to sell on to fans at a vast profit, a soldier was
detailed to sweep any stray tresses into a bin for
immediate burning.
Elvis’ initial posting was to Fort Chaffee, in
Creole. It would not be the last time that aspects Presley’s manager had a reputation for paying Texas. He then received 22 weeks of basic combat
of his stint with the forces were micro-managed attention to every small detail. training at nearby Fort Hood. When female fans
by Parker. Before Elvis was drafted, there was At one RCA press reception, he had busied gathered outside to watch him scrub garbage
speculation that he would be given dispensation to himself by placing a picture of his client on every cans, however, he was kept out of sight by his
join the Special Services Division as an entertainer. table. And, when Elvis was having his pompadour army minders, and his diligent attitude soon
And while this never happened, the reasons had and sideburns shorn, Parker was on hand to make earned the respect of fellow soldiers, a few of
more to do with Parker’s timely intervention sure that nobody retrieved a sought-after lock whom had taunted him when he first donned
than they did with the Republican Senator who of hair from the floor. With one businessman the uniform of the 2nd Armoured Division.

Elvis undergoes
his medical in
Memphis on
March 24, 1958

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |65


But the rock’n’roll flame still burned within him,
and Presley wasted no time in hot-footing it back
to Nashville to record “I Got Stung”, “I Need Your
Love” and “(Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such
As I” in an all-night session while on leave in June
1958. But, while those three songs were added to
the stockpile of unreleased material, this would
be Elvis’ last studio session for almost two years.
However, before he was posted overseas,
Elvis had to face the greatest personal tragedy
of his life when his mother, who had been ill
with hepatitis, died from a heart attack. Elvis,
granted compassionate leave, had arrived back
in Memphis the day before 46-year-old Gladys
passed away on August 14, 1958, but the blow
still hit him hard. As a sensitive youngster, he had
always looked to his mother for guidance. She
helped him to buy his first guitar and encouraged
him to persevere with the instrument. And it was
with her in mind, after all, that he had first gone to
Sam Phillips’ studio to record “My Happiness” as
a Mother’s Day gift.
In the years that followed, Elvis would often
reflect on Gladys Presley’s legacy. “Everyone loves
their mother,” he told NME in 1960. “But I was
an only child and mother will always be with me.
Losing her was like losing a friend, a companion.
I could wake her up any hour of the night if I was
Boarding the USS
worried or troubled about something.” General Randall, en
Shortly after his mother’s cremation, Elvis route to Germany
was posted to Germany, sailing to Bremerhaven
before being assigned to the 3rd Armoured
Division in Friedberg. Although GIs weren’t And while Presley would usually depart at 7am
usually allowed to stay with family members, to avoid the fans who gathered every day, he
Elvis was granted permission to live off-base with was happy to hold impromptu signing sessions
his father and his grandmother, Minnie Mae outside the building three afternoons a week.
Presley, in Bad Nauheim, a few miles from the Elvis made no live appearances during his One of the last
Friedberg barracks. His house, unsurprisingly, time with the army. He did, however, make use family portraits
before Gladys’
was soon a focus for local German schoolgirls. of his periods of official leave to sample some of untimely death
the rock’n’roll delights on offer on his one
and only visit to Europe. He went to see
Recording at Bill Haley play in Frankfurt and Stuttgart really gone away, and his hits in absentia included
RCA Studios,
Nashville while on
and also travelled to Paris with some army “Hard Headed Woman”, “One Night” and “(Now
leave, June 1958 buddies in June 1959 and January 1960. And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I”.
In the French capital, he frequented the “One Night” was a particularly gripping
jazz clubs of St Germain and visited such example of Elvis’ original menace and style.
nightspots as the Lido, the Folies Bergère A highly suggestive song about sleeping with a
and, an American bar, the Crazy Horse prostitute, it had originally been recorded by
Saloon. He also dated 17-year-old Margrit R&B singer Smiley Lewis as “One Night Of Sin”.

Buergin from Frankfurt, spent time with Elvis made two versions of the track, one with
the German movie star Vera Tschechowa, its original lyric and a cleaned-up “one night with
and met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, you”. But while it was the amended version that
an American serviceman’s daughter who was issued as a single, Elvis’ halting, dirty tone
would ultimately become his wife. left little doubt as to what was on his mind as
Back home, Colonel Tom and RCA he slid lasciviously through the number.
were making hay with the stockpile of Elvis’ popularity was also maintained by the
unreleased material that Presley had left release, in June 1958, of King Creole. Adapted
behind. With skilful marketing, Elvis’s from Harold Robbins’ A Stone For Danny Fisher,
agents made it seem as if The King hadn’t the film portrayed Elvis as a struggling New

66|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


In NME, under the memorable headline “Will the
army leave Elvis gloomy or gay?”, Derek Johnson
argued that the singer’s sense of insecurity was
one of the things that made him special – and
thus hugely successful. If he left the armed forces
as a happier and more confident individual, his
unique appeal might become diluted. From his
own observations, it is clear that Presley himself
had concerns about how he would be regarded
on his return to civvy street. “I don’t know if I’ll
get back on top again,” he told NME’s Johnson in
March 1960. “I only wish I knew. I’m completely
away from showbusiness. I only have newspaper
ELVIS
H H H H H H H H H H

SINATRA
H H H H H H H
clippings to keep me up to date. That’s where
NME comes in useful. I get it regularly and I hear

I
that trends have changed, so it might be pretty
difficult for me. But I’ll tell you this – I’m sure
n 1957, Frank Sinatra dismissed Elvis and the
going to try hard. My attitude to rock’n’roll hasn’t
new breed of rock’n’rollers as “cretinous goons”
changed. I think it would be a mistake for me to
– words which he’d come to choke on three years
try and change my style. The public will let me
later when on March 26, 1960, he hosted the
know if they don’t like it.”
Welcome Home Party For Elvis Presley TV special.

E
The highlight was Elvis curling his lip at Frank’s
lvis’ discharge from the army was something
“Witchcraft” while Sinatra gurned his way through
of a media event, with a farewell press
“Love Me Tender”. If it was a musical heavyweight
conference in Friedberg and another on the
contest, the result was a resounding KO to Elvis.
singer’s return to home soil. After two years in the
Their rivalry was exacerbated by Elvis’ next
armed forces, Private Presley had been promoted
movie, GI Blues. Given the singer’s reputation with
to the rank of sergeant, but any suggestions that
leading ladies,
At home in he would remain a soldier were rebuffed. When he
Bad Nauheim, Frank was less than
boarded a military transport plane to travel back
February 1959 chuffed that his
to the States via Prestwick in Scotland – the only
current girlfriend,
Juliet Prowse, was
Presley’s co-star.
Sure enough,
before long Elvis
was boasting
to his Memphis
Orleans singer and is regarded as one of his better time he ever set foot in Britain – Elvis was flying
Mafia that Prowse
movies. The critical reaction at the time, reflected in back to resume a career in entertainment.
“likes to grab her
a strong box office performance, was positive. “Elvis Within weeks of his return, he had filmed his
ankles and spread
Presley can act” bellowed The New York Times. television special with Frank Sinatra and paid
her legs real
But, by the beginning of 1960, neither RCA or the his first visit in two years to RCA’s Studio B in
wide”. Ironically,
Hollywood studios had any more Elvis material left Nashville. The need for a new single was pressing
the day Sinatra paid an impromptu
in their vaults. Attention began to turn to the singer’s and Presley’s first stereo recording, “Stuck On
visit to the set, he caught them playing cards.
imminent discharge, with speculation mounting You”, did the trick. The record, in the shops within
Though in private Frank would continue to refer
as to how army life might have changed him. In his weeks of the session, was largely well received.
to Presley as “Clyde” (Rat Pack slang for “loser”),
absence, new artists had emerged. Frankie Avalon, Under the banner “Elvis starts waxing again”,
over the years their mutual animosity eventually
Paul Anka, Rick Nelson and Bobby Darin had all NME’s ubiquitous Johnson praised the return of
become stars while Fabian, a young Presley imitator The King: “Elvis has lost none of his fire, drive and H H H H H H H H H H
from Philadelphia, had sold four million singles. inherent rhythm. The song is a medium-paced
hunk of solid rock handled in the mean IF IT WAS A MUSICAL
and moody manner which has become HEAVYWEIGHT CONTEST IT
WOULD BE A KO TO ELVIS
his trademark.”
Others were not so sure. “Stuck On
You” reached Number One in Britain H H H H H H H H H H
and America, but its UK sales fell away
softened. Sinatra not only lent Elvis his private jet
after just one week, prompting NME
for his wedding, he also offered to “rub out” Red
to speculate that Elvis might be
and Sonny West, the bodyguards who wrote a
GETTY, ©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

losing his touch. But if some saw the


scandalous biography in 1976.
singer’s inability to move on from
“Did my Dad hate Elvis? Of course not,” says Nancy
his pre-army records as a weakness
Sinatra, who herself sparked rumours of off-camera
(“Stuck On You” was judged to be
shenanigans when co-starring with Elvis in 1968’s
too similar to “All Shook Up”), Elvis
Speedway. “They really hit it off,” she insists. “I can
was not about to revamp his style.
still picture the two of them laughing and carrying
Not yet anyway.
Leaving for on in Vegas. They were pals.” SIMON GODDARD
Brooklyn and
Germany,
September 1958 U N C U T L E G E N D S  |67
Within weeks, he was back in ‘Jailhouse Rock’. His voice has improved, but
Nashville cutting the remaining I wish he’d get back to his old style and give us
tracks for his first post-forces album. a good rock number.”
And while the Sun-era team of Elvis, Maybe fans shouldn’t have been so
guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill shocked by Elvis’ change of direction. After
Black was not a viable option, with all, there had even been hints that Presley
Black having launched a solo career, wanted to widen his appeal before he went
Presley was joined in Studio B by Moore into the army. One of the songs stockpiled
and drummer DJ Fontana and the so- before he was drafted, 1959’s “(Now And
called Nashville A-team of musicians. Then There’s) A Fool Such As I”, had
The result of their two all night-sessions, introduced a more measured, melodic
Elvis Is Back!, ranks among his finest approach. And, as far back as 1953, when
albums. Cut with an immediacy that a teenage Elvis first ventured into Sam
makes the three-week germination of the Phillips’s Memphis Recording Service
average White Stripes CD appear long- to make a record for his mother, the
winded, Elvis Is Back! is simply the best producer’s assistant had noted “Elvis
rock’n’roll album between Buddy Holly Presley – good ballad singer”.
and The Beatles. Its basic strength lay in
Elvis’ ability to transport himself back
to his roots. Tracks such as “Dirty, Dirty
Feeling” and “Such A Night” were mean
and low-down while “Fever” eschewed Elvis is back: New
Jersey, March 3
guitars completely, the singer 1960 and (below)
being accompanied by just a the press conference
bassist and two percussionists.
Another track, “A Mess Of Blues”,
made great use of the natural,
swaying syncopation that had
been honed in the hours that its spoken-word narration based
Presley spent as a teenager on Shakespeare’s As You Like
hanging around with the black It, it had originally been hit for
kids on Memphis’ Beale Street. Al Jolson. Elvis’ poignant
British television producer Jack rendition, which copied
Good, an important figure in early ’60s pop, Jolson’s arrangement almost note for note,
compared the performance of Elvis and his band came at the instigation of Colonel Tom, who
to the virtuosity of classic jazzers. “When you asked the singer to record it as a present for
listen to ‘A Mess Of Blues’,” said Good. “You can Parker’s wife. Presley did so in style, asking that
hear fingers clicking to the beat at the beginning, the lights be switched off in the studio as he sang Back in uniform
and you know it’s Elvis setting the feel.” with real emotion. Reaction to the single was for GI Blues, 1960

Although they weren’t included on the album, again favourable, with Disc enthusing
Presley cut two more tracks during the Elvis Is about the singer’s “new style”:
Back! sessions. Subsequently issued as singles, “Gone is the wild rocker and the
“It’s Now Or Never” and “Are You Lonesome body gyrations. In their place is
Tonight?” topped the charts in Britain and a mature, subdued Presley with
America. They also signified a crucial sea change the main accent on his voice.”
in the public’s perception of the singer. The mock There were dissenters, however.
operatic “It’s Now Or Never” was an adaptation Some rock’n’roll fans thought
of “O Sole Mio”, an Italian aria written in 1901 that Elvis was selling out and
and recorded by the great tenor Enrico Caruso. British singer Marty Wilde,
For Elvis, fresh lyrics were provided by a Brill while admitting he was still
TIMELIFE/GETTY, KOBAL, ©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

Building writing team, and the song signified an Elvis fan, cried out for a
Presley’s shift from a rock’n’roller towards more return to rock: “He’s still
adult entertainment. His voice was warmer, the greatest in my book,
purer and more controlled – and the single but I don’t really like
was heralded by the British music weekly Disc what he’s doing now.
as “the best record Elvis has ever made – he I don’t like the new deep,
sings to a Latin beat and really punches out the thick tone to his voice.
chorus.” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” was ‘It’s Now Or Never’ is
similarly ambitious. Written in 1926, and with atrocious compared to

42|
68|  UNCUT LEGENDS 
The other great Elvis album of 1960 was cut men Dudley Brooks and Tiny Timbrell. It wasn’t spasmodically. One such record was the catchy,
in a single session in October 1960. His Hand the musicians that let Elvis down, it was the poor effortless “Good Luck Charm”, which topped the
In Mine was the singer’s first gospel album, quality of the material, something that was to charts in Britain and America thanks to its much
following 1957’s “Peace In The Valley” EP. become a recurring theme with his soundtracks. imitated “uh-huh-huh” refrain. Another was the
Comprising hymns and spirituals such as “Swing The hit single “Wooden Heart”, a light German superb “(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame”,
Down Sweet Chariot”, it was a sincere tribute oom-pah number, was a rare highlight. which answered those who longed for Elvis to
to Gladys. Elvis, Gladys and Vernon had often But 1961 wasn’t just about movies. On get back to a raunchy style. Another Pomus-
sung as a trio at revivalist prayer meetings, and February 25, Elvis played his first live gig for four Shuman number, “His Latest Flame” has been
it is easy to imagine the singer thinking of his years, performing a matinee and an evening heralded (by critic Dave Marsh) as a forerunner
mother as he sang these songs. One of to The Who while its intro was
the out-takes, “Crying In The Chapel”, memorably imitated by Johnny Marr
was withheld from the original release. of The Smiths on 1985’s “Rusholme
It would, however, give Elvis a hit single Ruffians”. It was Elvis’ toughest
on both sides of the Atlantic in 1965. sounding single since the army.
Impressed with the reaction to “It’s The early ’60s were to produce
Now Or Never”, Elvis went Latin again two more classic Presley singles.
for his next single, “Surrender”. An Unusually, both came from movies.
Italian ballad, written in 1911, the song was given show before 10,000 fans at the Ellis Auditorium The confessional “Can’t Help Falling In Love”
English lyrics by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, in Memphis. He followed that one month later by was from Blue Hawaii. “Return To Sender”
a celebrated writing team who had earlier given donning his gold leaf jacket for a benefit date at was from Girls! Girls! Girls!. But while these
him the magnificent “A Mess Of Blues”. But the Bloch Arena in Pearl Harbor. The Honolulu two numbers were the exception rather than
while the song was another transatlantic chart- gig proved to be Elvis’ last the rule for Elvis’ soundtracks, the box office
topper, cries for a return to the earthier style of concert for eight years. success of 1961’s Blue Hawaii and the
old intensified, particularly in Britain. Jack Good But while he concentrated relative failure of albums such
claimed that Elvis had achieved his mission of more on Hollywood, as Elvis Is Back! convinced
“converting the squares”, and pleaded with him good singles continued Colonel Parker that the singer’s
to get back to his rock roots: “‘Surrender’ proved to emerge, albeit future lay in Hollywood, and a
that ‘It’s Now Or Never’ was no fluke. Now we series of increasingly formulaic
need some real, raunchy rhythm and blues. We films ensued. Maybe if Blue Hawaii
miss the rock element badly. Some people think had bombed and Elvis Is Back! had
that Elvis has forgotten how to rock. I don’t agree been a massive album, the rest of the
– but I think it’s a criminal waste to be the best ’60s would have turned out differently. Maybe
rock’n’roll singer in the world and not use your Presley – having seen off the threat of teen idols
talent in that direction.” such as Fabian and Frankie Avalon – would have
gone back to Memphis and Nashville. Maybe he

W hile continuing to knock out first-class hit


singles, Elvis spent the rest of 1960 and much
of 1961 in Hollywood, shooting Flaming Star and
would have made some more great rock’n’roll
records and faced the oncoming musical
challenge of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and
Wild In The Country. His movie hit of the period, Bob Dylan head on.
however, was the light-hearted GI Blues. Released The fact is that he didn’t. Despite this,
over Christmas 1960, it detailed the adventures though, John Lennon was wrong. Elvis didn’t
of American soldiers in West Germany. die the moment he went into the army. For two
The accompanying soundtrack was golden years after coming out of the forces,
cut not in Memphis but in Los musically, he moved brilliantly with the times.
Angeles, with the old backing He consolidated his worldwide fame and cleverly
team of Scotty Moore and Onstage at the adapted his style. It was to be six long years
DJ Fontana augmented Bloch Arena, before he would do so again. For now he was off
Pearl Harbor,
by West Coast session March 25, 1961 to conquer the movies.

ELVIS IN BRITAIN
On March 3, 1960, Elvis spent his only hour be” he’d left behind in Germany.
on UK soil when the DC-7 aircraft flying him The authorities at Prestwick marked the
from Germany to the McGuire Air Force base event by naming one of their lounges The
New Jersey, stopped off to refuel at Prestwick Graceland Bar. In 1999, nearly four decades
International Airport, near Glasgow. after Elvis passed through the airport, his
Although the authorities tried to keep original sidemen, guitarist Scotty Moore and
his brief visit under wraps, by the time his drummer DJ Fontana, were invited to unveil The King Of
plane touched down at around 7.30pm, a special commemorative plaque. Sadly, the Jock’n’Roll: Elvis
scores of fans were already ready and bar has since been renamed and stripped of all at Prestwick
waiting for a glimpse of The King. Elvis Elvis memorabilia, although a local Glasgow Airport, Scotland
himself was only too happy to pose for fanclub, The Elvis Touch, are campaigning to
photos and sign autographs, though have it reinstated. uphold the claims of author Allan Morrison that
he also found a spare moment The fact that The King spent his one hour Presley himself was a Scot. Morrison maintains
during his 80-minute stopover to in Britain on Scottish (and not English) soil that The King’s family tree can be traced back
make a private phone call to Priscilla has long been an immense source of pride to three hundred years to Lonmay, a small village
Beaulieu, the 14 year-old “bride-to- Elvis’ fans north of the border, many of whom outside Aberdeen. SIMON GODDARD

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |43


|69
How the shockwaves of
rock’n’roll’s big bang
were felt right across the
Atlantic BY MIKE PATTENDEN
hen Elvis wandered into Sun Studios to cut his
first songs rationing was still in force in the UK
and Winston Churchill held office as PM. The
impact his early records had on monochrome
Britain is difficult to exaggerate. For early
British rock’n’roller Chris Farlowe – who
was to enjoy a 1963 Number One with
“Out Of Time” – he was a total revelation.
“When I heard Elvis I thought, “Wow,
this is it! This is the shit!” he recalls. “He
sounded just incredible. And the way he looked!
He was the most well-dressed man ever.” Like dozens
of British bands Farlowe dropped skiffle, formed The
Thunderbirds and started playing rock’n’roll. The
British recording establishment preferred to believe
that the sound was just a fad but when “Heartbreak
Hotel” crash-landed at Number Two on May 11,
1956 a generation of teenagers began perfecting their
Elvis impressions in front of the mirror.
A handful of smart entrepreneurs saw their
opportunity. Larry Parnes rapidly assembled a
roster of talent, all purporting to be Britain’s
answer to Elvis – names like Joey Castell, Larry
Page, Dickie Pride and Duffy Power soon filled
coffee bar jukeboxes a button push away from
Presley, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent.
Parnes virtually set up office in Soho’s
legendary 2i’s coffee bar, making a number
of signings on the basis of performances he
witnessed there. The results were usually
a pale copy of the real thing: quaint, and
for the most part denuded of the sexual
aggression that characterised Elvis. Marty
Wilde was a classic example – sideburns,
DA and a repertoire largely built on flimsy
covers of US hits.
“Sure we had our versions of Elvis but
how the hell could you compete with
him?” says Farlowe.

BILLY FURY
Most British rockers of the ’50s lacked credibility
– not Billy Fury. The slight, rockabilly Scouser
was virtually unique in the era for writing his own

“HOW COULD YOU COMPETE


WITH ELVIS?” CHRIS FARLOWE
material and delivering it with absolute conviction.
The 18-year-old Fury, born Ronald Wycherley,
acquired his first rock’n’roll 45s in Liverpool’s
docks where he worked on the tugboats. Signed to

42|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


Larry Parnes’ roster, he released his first single
ROCK ON TOMMY Ten pre-Beatles British rock classics
“Maybe Tomorrow” in February 1959 and
enjoyed an instant Top 20 hit. However he’s CLIFF RICHARD million hearts/You won’t break
best remembered for his 1960 album The Sound Move It! (COLUMBIA, 1958) mine” snarls Fury over a hugging
With its jungle bassline and slapback beat.
Of Fury, a landmark collection of self-penned
rockers and ballads. Dogged by ill-health his clangorous lead guitar,
entire life, his weakened heart finally gave out in “Move It” is the first ADAM FAITH
1983 but Billy Fury remains a bona fide classic British rock Made You (PARLOPHONE, 1960)
British rock legend. song to capture the Faith was fortunate to
sound and the spirit of team up with genius
American rock’n’roll. composer John Barry who

TOMMY STEELE
It was destined co-wrote this number, a double
as a B-side until it was A-side with the forgettable cover
Unlikely as it seems, the championed on TV show Oh Boy!. “Johnny Comes Marching Home”.
Johnny and The
title of first British rock idol It stands out as a rare moment of
VINCE TAYLOR AND
Pirates Kidding
goes to cheeky south London inspiration in a career of mediocrity. about (and giving
chappy Thomas Hicks. A THE PLAYBOYS Adam Ant an idea)

former merchant seamen he Brand New Cadillac (PARLOPHONE, 1960) HOOTS MON
was renamed Tommy Steele by Dubbed ‘The Black Leather Rebel’ Lord Rockingham’s XI
Larry Parnes, who signed him (his look predating Elvis’ Comeback (DECCA, 1958) JOHNNY KIDD
up after spotting him in the 2i’s Special outfit) Brian Holden’s parents Undoubtedly something of a novelty AND THE PIRATES
coffee bar. His first single, “Rock With Caveman”, emigrated to the States in the late record but one which fairly Shakin’ All Over (HMV, 1960)
written by Lionel Oliver Bart, was a hit in ’40s. He returned to London in 1955 steamed along for the Adam And The Ants were in
1956 but the follow-up, a cover version of Guy and formed The Playboys in the 2i’s time from the house nappies when Johnny Kidd
Mitchell’s “Singing The Blues” went to Number coffee bar, cutting this rockabilly band on Oh Boy!. began his swashbuckling
One transforming him into a teen sensation. classic – later revived by The Clash career. Built around guitarist
At one concert hysterical fans rushed the stage, – as a B-side. Taylor ended up living A PICTURE Joe Moretti’s quivering
knocking him unconscious and stripping him. the simple life in Switzerland. OF YOU signature riff and an unhinged
A string of hits followed along with a Presley-style Joe Brown (PICCADILLY, 1962) performance by the frontman,
switch to the big screen in movies such as The THE SHADOWS Credited as Britain’s first “Shakin’ All Over” gatecrashed the
Duke Wore Jeans and the inevitable shift Apache (COLUMBIA, 1960) ‘Rockney’, Brown was a hot guitarist Number One slot and sounds as good
into light entertainment. Formerly The Drifters, The Shadows who appeared with Eddie Cochran now as the day it was cut. Kidd was
put instrumental rock on the UK map and Johnny Cash. This was a Number killed in a 1966 car crash.

ADAM FAITH
with this Number One classic. It made One with his band The Bruvvers
Hank Marvin a guitar hero and in NERO AND THE
Also signed up after an retrospect stands as one of the most TERRY DENE GLADIATORS
appearance at the 2i’s, influential British rock records ever. Start Movin’ (In My Entry Of The Gladiators
west Londoner Terence Direction) (DECCA, 1957) (DECCA, 1961)
Nelhams had a false start on BILLY FURY Dene’s second release and his biggest Dressed in gladiator uniforms
the long forgotten Top Rank label Turn My Back On You (DECCA, 1960) hit was overshadowed by a release purloined from the set of Ben Hur,
before teaming up with John Barry Taken from his definitive The Sound by doomed teen actor Sal Mineo. The Gladiators specialised in manic
(yes, that one) for the Buddy Of Fury album this track is a million rock versions of classical themes
Hollyish “What Do You Want?” miles away from the bloodless drivel with red hot guitar from Joe Moretti,
which went to Number One in prevalent at the time. “You broke a – later with The Pirates.
1959. His good looks and hiccuping delivery
made him another teen idol for the deluded.
At one point in 1960 he had six songs in the
Top Ten but his career faded with the arrival an overnight star while his early through his job in a pressing
of The Beatles. Faith went into acting, while performances sparked riots. Follow- plant, he was among the
half of his backing band The Roulettes went up “Living Doll” became the first UK Britrock vanguard, hitting the Top
on to play with prog-pop behemoths Argent. rock number to chart in America. He 20 with his June 1957 debut “A White
then embarked on an awesome run, Sports Coat (And A Pink Carnation)”.

CLIFF RICHARD
scoring no less than 43 Top 20 hits The mass hysteria his performances
between 1958 and 1969, seeing off prompted led to vicious attacks by the
Clean-cut bachelor boy Cliff was the only Merseybeat, psychedelia, glam and punk press despite his sound being
British rocker to survive the The to become the Peter Pan of Pop. increasingly emasculated by his label, Decca.
Beatles era. Lucknow-born Harry A 1958 drunk and disorderly arrest only served

TERRY DENE
Webb formed skiffle act to confirm his threat to society. When a nervous
The Drifters – eventually breakdown resulted in him being turned down
renamed The Shadows – in the One of the more credible ’50s for National Service the media assassination
mid ’50s before adopting rock’n’roll rockers, Dene’s story stands as a redoubled. Dene’s career was effectively
and signing to Columbia. His first cautionary footnote in pop history. destroyed and he quit the music business soon
single “Move It!” turned him into Having rapidly caught on to US rock’n’roll after – to return a decade later as a gospel singer.

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |73


“ELVIS’ TWO YEARS OF PENT-UP MUSICAL FRUSTRATION
WAS PALPABLE – A SITUATION NOT HELPED WHEN HE
TOOK 19 ATTEMPTS TO RECORD THE FIRST SONG”

After a lengthy army sojourn, Presley was itching to return to music. The fruit of his
labour – Elvis Is Back! – is a stirring and wonderfully varied album. By Nathaniel Cramp

A
t 5.25pm on March 1, 1960, as his 14-year-old Bobby Moore and percussionist Buddy Harman. In the
girlfriend Priscilla Beaulieu tearfully waved control booth, along with the Colonel and his assistant
farewell with her handkerchief, Elvis Presley Tom Diskin, were RCA executives Steve Sholes and Bill
! took off from the US airbase at Rhine-Main in Bullock, A&R head Chet Atkins, publisher’s rep Freddy
ELVIS IS BACK West Germany. After 17 long months of National Bienstock and engineer Bill Porter.
Y
1 ELVIS PRESLE Service in Europe, the king of rock’n’roll was As the crew re-familiarised themselves over
RCA
returning to his throne. hamburgers, the tension, and no doubt Elvis’ two years
Apr 60(US) Colonel Tom Parker had not visited Elvis during of pent-up musical frustration, was palpable – a situation
Make Me Know It Jul 60 (U K) his sojourn overseas, but he had written long, that wasn’t helped when he took 19 attempts to record
detailed letters to his charge nearly every day, the first song, Otis Blackwell’s “Make Me Know It”. Next
Fever RCA Studios, all the while doing what Elvis believed to be up was “Soldier Boy”, a 1955 hit for The Four Fellows and,
Nashville impossible and keeping him in the headlines. like many of the songs that made up Elvis Is Back!, one
Best Friend Finally, after two years of increasingly outlandish that he had been singing during his time in Germany. It’s
The Girl Of My
stunts such as the Elvis Presley Midget Fanclub almost as if the album is a compilation tape of the songs
Again parade in Chicago, normal service could be that soundtracked his time in the forces, which would
I Will Be Ho me
Steve Sholes & resumed and nothing had been left to chance. certainly explain its wonderfully varied nature and the
eling Chet Atkins The Colonel had mapped out in great detail the sense that Elvis really is giving it his all.
Dirty, Dirty Fe
next stages of Elvis’ film career but, first, there He even duets with his army buddy Charlie Hodge on
ur Love 1 was the small matter of his new album. a version of The Golden Gate Quartet’s “I Will Be Home
The Thrill Of Yo After a brief press conference at Graceland, Again”, a record that Hodge had given to Elvis as a present
1
Elvis spent a couple of weeks reacquainting and that he had listened to time and again in Europe.
Soldier Boy himself with his friends and civilian life in The first session continued right through the night.
Memphis. Then, on Sunday, March 20, he “Stuck On You” was a simple update of “All Shook Up”,
Such A Night set off on a specially chartered Greyhound “Fame And Fortune” a doo wop ballad, “A Mess Of Blues”
bus for the RCA Studio in Nashville. It had was the first time Elvis sang a composition by Doc Pomus
t
It Feels So Righ been booked under a false name, and the and Mort Shuman, the songwriting duo who would later
g musicians told that they were to be working provide him with classics such as “Viva Las Vegas”. The
or Went A’Walkin
The Girl Next Do on a session by Jim Reeves, but it actually session concluded, appropriately, with the down and
proved to be a reunion for the crew who had dirty groove of “It Feels So Right”, just as the sun came up.
Like A Baby played on Elvis’ last recordings in 1958. RCA wasted no time. They had 1.4 million pre-
Alongside guitarist Scotty Moore, orders for the new Elvis single, and within 72 hours the
Reconsider Baby drummer DJ Fontana and The Jordanaires requisite number of copies of “Stuck On You”/“Fame And
was the Nashville A-team of pianist Floyd Fortune” were pressed up and shipped out in generic
Cramer, guitarist Hank Garland, bassist sleeves stamped with “Elvis’ 1st New Recording For His

74|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


PICK OF THE PERIOD

FOR LP FANS
ONLY/ A DATE
WITH ELVIS
1959 [UK -/4 US 19/32]
With Elvis nine months
into army life, record
label RCA trawled
his back catalogue
for ‘new’ product.
The result was two
compilation albums,
both recycling tracks
that had appeared
on early Sun and RCA
singles. A Date With...
even found room for
a few songs left over
from the Love Me
Tender and Jailhouse
Rock soundtrack
EP sessions. The
albums were cobbled
together, but provided
a perfect way for more
recent Elvis converts to
discover earlier, hard
to find – and gloriously
raucous – tracks such
as “That’s All Right”,
“Good Rockin’ Tonight”
and “Mystery Train”.

GI BLUES
1960 [UK 1/ US 1]
A candyfloss-light
collection of 11
songs made up the
soundtrack to Elvis’
first post-army picture.
50,000,000 Fans All Over The World”. There were no also wrote “Candy Man” for Roy Orbison, and features can hear the musicians knocking their instruments Presley’s enthusiastic
gaps in the schedule either. Six days later Elvis set off some incredible, chiming guitar from Hank Garland against their microphones in the darkness. tilt at Carl Perkins’
riotous “Blue Suede
by train for Miami to meet Frank Sinatra and record that presages Merseybeat by a few years; “Are You As dawn broke and the Nashville sessioneers Shoes” is a highlight
a TV special, Frank Sinatra’s Welcome Home Party For Lonesome Tonight?” was a sentimental ballad dating worriedly checked their watches to make sure they as is quirky ballad
“Wooden Heart”.
Elvis Presley. Ol’ Blue Eyes agreed that Elvis still had from 1927, and was recorded at the behest of Colonel weren’t missing their first Monday session, Elvis
what it took, telling his tuxedoed guest that “the only Parker as it was his wife Marie’s favourite song. When picked up his Gibson J-200 and began strumming the
thing you’ve lost is your sideburns”. Elvis finally got around to recording it at 4am he opening bars of Lowell Fulsom’s “Reconsider Baby”,
On Sunday, April 3, Elvis returned to Nashville for insisted that the lights were turned down low in order a longstanding favourite that he had been playing
the second session and the same crew reconvened, to achieve the required mood. If you listen closely you since the Sun years, and promptly laid down one of
along with saxophonist Homer ‘Boots’ Randolph. the most ragged and soulful recordings he ever
The session kicked off at 7.30pm with Elvis backed made. And that was it. Elvis was well and truly back. HIS HAND
by just the two drummers and Bobby Moore’s bass The album hit stores at the end of April 1960 IN MINE
on a menacing, minimal version of “Fever” – Peggy with a cover photo of Elvis, without sideburns, 1960 [UK 3/US 13]
Elvis’ first gospel
Lee’s version of which was another staple on Elvis’ wearing a military-style corduroy jacket. It also album is also his
record player in Germany. Once again the 12 songs came wrapped in a gatefold sleeve, printed with a best, the songs’
sparse arrangements
that comprised the all-night session (eight more for number of “Bonus GI snapshots for your collection”, a contrast to the
the album, four for singles) took in a wide variety of showing the “Soldier Boy” himself on manoeuvres overblown nature of
styles. “It’s Now Or Never” was a rewritten version of and relaxing with his records. his later work in the
genre. Powerful and
TIMELIFE PICTURE/ GETTY IMAGES

the Italian classic “O Sole Mio”, which the Colonel was Two weeks later he was back in uniform, but emotive, Elvis gives it
very pleased to discover was out of copyright; “Such this time for the filming of GI Blues, and the shift his all on songs such
as “He Knows Just
A Night” was done as a tribute to The Drifters’ Clyde from Elvis The Singer to Elvis The Movie Star was What I Need” and the
McPhatter; “Dirty, Dirty Feeling” was a Leiber and complete. It meant Elvis Is Back! remained his finest soaring, inspirational
title track.
Stoller number left over from King Creole; “The Girl Of moment until the next Comeback Special some
My Best Friend” was written by Beverley Ross, who eight years later.

Elvis is home:
New Jersey
March2, U1960
NCUT LEGENDS  |75
Elvis with Jerry
Leiber (right)
and Mike Stoller
(left) in 1957

Otis Blackwell. It was called “Don’t Be Cruel” and Elvis “With Elvis no direction was needed,” Leiber
instantly fell in love with it. It wasn’t just the song that said. “Once the rhythm section started to cook, he
tickled Presley. It was the way Blackwell delivered it on a would just start singing. And the man never made a
home demo on which he’d beaten out the song’s rhythm bad take… he was like an Olympic champion. He could
on a cardboard box. After listening to it repeatedly during sing all day.”
his lunch break, Elvis all but parroted Blackwell’s phrasing Although Elvis would continue to record songs by
for his own recording. Leiber and Stoller, his manager became alarmed at the
Blackwell later claimed that Presley’s covers of his influence they had over him. When they went directly
songs – “Don’t Be Cruel” (1956), “All Shook Up” (1957), to Elvis with two songs, Parker was enraged. After
“Return To Sender” (1962) and other album cuts and they’d worked on the soundtrack to King Creole (1958)
B-sides – were “90 per cent exact copies” of his demos. he deftly severed their connection to Presley by
He would never meet Elvis, not least because Colonel demanding Leiber sign what was essentially a blank
Tom Parker made it his business to maintain a distance piece of paper. They never worked in person with Elvis
between songwriters and his client. again. “We could have made history,” Leiber reflected,

C
lyde Otis and Ivory Joe Hunter had just returned from The RCA session that Freddy Bienstock attended in “but those assholes only wanted to make another nickel
a day’s duck hunting when the phone rang. It was the 1956 had already produced the flipside to “Don’t Be Cruel”. the same way.”
song publishers Hill And Range calling from New York, A song Elvis knew from Big Mama Thornton’s 1953 R&B Among the many other writers who fed songs to
and the message was simple: “We need a song for Elvis original, “Hound Dog” was part of the live repertoire of Presley via Hill And Range – Brill Building veterans such
Presley and we need it now.” shows he’d played with Scotty Moore, Bill Black and DJ as Fred Wise, Aaron Schroeder and Ben Weisman, the
In Hunter’s Louisiana home, the two men pulled off their Fontana for two months. Written by the duo of Jerry latter of whom chalked up an astounding 57 co-credits
waders and set to work. The song they came up with was Leiber and Mike Stoller, it would – like “Don’t Be Cruel” for Elvis – the only real successors to Leiber and Stoller
the bluesy “Ain’t That Loving You, Baby”, and they rushed it – top the charts. were the similarly hip Jewish pairing of Jerome ‘Doc
off to Hill And Range’s Freddy Bienstock in time for a Presley Jewish hepcats in love with urban black Americana, Pomus’ Felder and Mort Shuman.
recording session in Nashville on June 10, 1958. Leiber and Stoller had established themselves
The musicians in RCA’s Studio B were still struggling with
the song at midnight, not even when Chet Atkins took over
as successful writers-producers after moving
as teenagers from their native East Coast to Los PARKER KEPT A DISTANCE
BETWEEN SONGWRITERS
the guitar part from Hank Garland could they nail it. With Angeles. R&B hits for The Robins, Little Esther and
the clock ticking, Elvis decided to move on. By 2am they had others followed in the early ’50s.

AND HIS CLIENT


“(Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I” – a country hit for Stoller had survived the sinking of cruise ship
Hank Snow five years before – in the bag. the Andrea Doria off Nantucket Island on July 25,
Elvis’ “Fool” would reach Number Two on the Billboard 1956. Arriving back in New York he was greeted by
singles chart. “Ain’t That Loving You, Baby”, on the other Leiber with the news that Elvis had covered “Hound Dog”. Felder was a polio-crippled Brooklynite who’d started
hand, stayed in the can for another six years. Such was the “I heard the record and I was disappointed,” Stoller out singing – on crutches – in the black clubs of the late
hectic business of soliciting songs in the relentless career of admits. “It just sounded terribly nervous, too fast and too ’40s. Helped by Otis Blackwell and by Leiber and Stoller,
America’s biggest pop star on the eve of his induction into white. But you know, after it sold seven or eight million he began writing with pianist Shuman, penning hits for
the US Army. records it started to sound better.” Fabian, The Drifters and Dion & The Belmonts.
For Freddy Bienstock it was a full-time job gathering Elvis loved Leiber and Stoller and wanted them In 1960 Elvis recorded “A Mess of Blues”, the first of
material and striking deals for the Gladys Music and Elvis involved in sessions on the West Coast. They were sceptical, over 20 Pomus-Shuman songs (“Little Sister”, “(Marie’s
Presley Music companies Colonel however, and loathed Presley’s version The Name) His Latest Flame” and “Viva Las Vegas” being
Tom Parker had set up with Hill And of their “Love Me”, a sickly hillbilly others) that he cut in the early years of the new decade.

ELVIS SAYS…
REDFERNS, COURTESY OF THE FAMILY OF DOC POMUS

Range – deals that generally entailed spoof that reached Number Two on This time, however, Colonel Tom Parker wasn’t prepared
Presley taking a third of the publishing the Billboard chart at the end of 1956 to take any chances.
royalties on songs whose composition “I don’t know anything (as part of the Elvis, Volume 1 EP). But, “Doc and I never got to meet Elvis,” Shuman wrote
he’d had nothing to do with. about music. In my line in April of the following year, the pair shortly before his death in 1991 – coincidentally the year
The Viennese-born Bienstock you don’t have to” became overnight converts to the Pomus died. “Now I realise I would have at least liked to
first met Elvis on July 2, 1956, at the Elvis gives away his secrets Presley cause when have shaken his hand and told him who I was.
singer’s second New York recording Elvis recorded “He gave strangers Cadillacs and I never even got a
session. Bienstock, 28, brought with their thrilling Christmas card!” So much for the backroom songsmiths
him a new song by a writer named “Jailhouse Rock”. that did so much to make rock’n’roll. BARNEY HOSKINS

76| 
Elvis hitmakers:
(clockwise from top left)
Leiber and Stoller, Otis
Blackwell, Mort Shuman
and ‘Doc Pomus’ and
Ivory Joe Hunter
These should be happy times for the newlywed Elvis. But as the British Invasion sweeps
America, creative stagnation means his record sales decline and movie audiences dwindle.
Increasingly dependent on drugs, Elvis embarks on a spiritual quest

1963 1964 1965


The King
impersonates
FEBRUARY
9 Elvis and Parker send a
Queen on the set
of Fun In Acapulco telegram congratulating
The Beatles on their first
appearance on Ed Sullivan,
which is read out on-air.

MARCH
Elvis begins
filming
Roustabout.
Desperate
to be taken
seriously as
an actor, Elvis
fumes when
a press story
quotes his
long-standing Larry Geller:
Publicity shot
producer would you
buy God from from Harum
Hal Wallis Scarum, 1965
this man?
saying that
“In order to
make artistic pictures, you JANUARY 27 The Beatles visit Elvis in Bel Air.
have to make the commercially 8 Elvis celebrates his 30th birthday. John and Paul jam Charlie Rich’s
successful Presley pictures”. He spends the day quietly at ”Mohair Sam” with him, while
Graceland reading the books Colonel Parker and Brian Epstein
APRIL Geller has recommended to him. play some roulette.
Elvis meets Larry Geller – a Colonel Parker hammers out a
hairdresser who becomes his MARCH new deal with RCA that takes Elvis
spiritual guide and introduces During a drive from Memphis to to 1972, with the option of an
JANUARY JANUARY him to Eastern mysticism. Elvis’ LA, Elvis looks out the bus window additional two years. As ever, the
28 Elvis begins production on Fun Elvis buys the condemned USS gang hate Geller, believing he and sees the face of Stalin in a figures are favourable for Elvis but
In Acapulco with Ursula Andress. Potomac, Roosevelt’s former is brainwashing Elvis. cloud, which then turns into Jesus. he feels creatively stymied.
“floating Whitehouse”, for According to Geller, this was Elvis’
MAY $55,000. He wants to donate JUNE spiritual epiphany. Elvis declares OCTOBER
24 Priscilla turns 18. To celebrate it to a charity but the first two Elvis begins work on Girl that he wants to become a monk, 21 Bill Black, Elvis’ original bass
her graduation from high school he approaches knock him Happy, the last film of his 1961 but instead starts work on new player, dies during an operation to
shortly afterward, she and Elvis back because of prohibitive contract with MGM. His single MGM film Harum Scarum. remove a brain tumour. He is 39.
lock themselves in his bedroom restoration costs. Finally, he sales start to stutter. With the “I can hardly explain how much
in Graceland for three weeks. gives it to St Jude Children’s exception of “Kissin’ Cousins”, MAY I loved Bill,” says a distraught Elvis.
26 Elvis records “Devil In Disguise”. Research Hospital none of the Shooting begins on United
It will be his last non-movie record in Memphis. six singles Artists picture Frankie And Johnny. DECEMBER
release for more than two years. The handover released in Elvis is becoming increasingly 25 Priscilla buys Elvis a racing car

©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., KOBAL, REDFERNS


ceremony takes 1964 (not despondent about the poor set for Christmas. He loves it so
JULY place in Long even “Blue quality songs he has to record for much, he talks about getting
15 Elvis begins shooting Viva Las Beach, California. Christmas”) the soundtrack. However, “Crying a new room built to accommodate
Vegas. He and co-star sells more than In The Chapel”, recorded and a bigger track.
Ann-Margret deny 500,000. shelved five years earlier, is his 26 With Ann-Margret looking on,
rumours of an intense first million-seller since 1962 and Elvis takes acid for the first and last
affair. They remain OCTOBER a Number One in the UK – his first time. “He did it in a very Elvis way,”
close friends until Elvis, now with since The Beatles broke. says Larry Geller. “He watched The
Presley’s death. Allied Artists, Time Machine on TV and sent out
starts work on AUGUST for a pizza.”
SEPTEMBER Tickle Me. The soundtrack 7 Elvis heads to Hawaii to
Elvis begins shooting re-uses old Elvis begin location work on
his third film of the year material. Paradise, Hawaiian Style.
Kissin’ Cousins, having Elvis, the superstar, now Commentators are beginning
wrapped up work on commands $750,000 to take note of how fed up he is
the soundtrack. fee. By the end of the with the material he’s making.
By now, Parker has year, Elvis is the highest- Movie News reports he arrives
realised the films and paid star in Hollywood. in Hawaii “without his usual
records are cross- He has eight pictures smiling face…” Still, Hawaiian
promotional devices, scheduled over the Senator Daniel Inouye has
meaning Elvis doesn’t next three years with the visit officially noted in the
have to work on combined salaries of Congressional Record.
original albums. What might have Bill Black’s
been: Elvis and Combo (Black
Ann-Margret, second from left)
Viva Las Vegas |79
1966
years. It finds him
rediscovering a love for
the gospel music of his
youth, resulting in the
How Great Thou Art LP.

JUNE
Elvis is back in Hollywood
recording the soundtrack
for Double Trouble. On a
rare night out, Elvis and his
Deborah Wal
ley gang head to see Jackie
played Elvis’
drummer in Wilson perform in LA and
1966’s Spinou bump into James Brown.
t

SEPTEMBER
12 Elvis’ starts filming Easy
FEBRUARY Come, Easy Go. He is overweight
26 Elvis starts work on Spinout – a and totally uninterested in this
new picture directed by longtime contractual necessity.
associate Norman Taurog.
DECEMBER
MAY Elvis buys Priscilla a horse, and
RCA make it clear they builds a stable.
want an album, two He then formally
singles and a further proposes.
Christmas single ”If Every Day Was The newlyweds:
from Elvis, his first Like Christmas”, Elvis and Priscilla
non-soundtrack recorded in May, Presley, May 1, 1967
recording session reaches Number Two
in two-and-a-half in the US charts.

Elvis and
1967
equine The day that set
Elvis in flattering JANUARY the trend for
tasteful Vegas
wetsuit from Colonel Parker outlines a new weddings
Easy Come, deal that increases his stake in
Easy Go, 1967
Elvis’ profits in a new partnership Sgt Pepper to the Grammy for Best will show he can handle more
agreement. Engineered Album . serious roles, the soundtrack
reaches a career nadir with
FEBRUARY MAY “Dominick”, a song written
Elvis records soundtrack for 1 Elvis and Priscilla marry in a to be sung to an impotent bull.
Clambake, his 25th film. Taking private ceremony before a small
his new love of horses and the group of family and friends at the NOVEMBER
cowboy life to great lengths, Elvis Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, just Spiralling costs sees tractors,
KOBAL, REX FEATURES, REDFERNS, CORBIS
buys the 163-acre Circle G ranch after 9.30pm. Elvis wraps up some TVs and fittings from Elvis ranch
in Mississippi, minutes across over-dubs on Clambake. Then they auctioned off. Meanwhile, the
the Tennessee state line from return to Memphis. Colonel tries to sell the idea
Graceland. In the months to come, 29 Elvis and Priscilla stage a of a Christmas special to the
it becomes a happy diversion for second wedding reception in radio networks. Nobody bites.
Elvis as he becomes increasingly the trophy room at Graceland to It is then the idea starts to
frustrated with his career. accommodate those family and germinate for a TV spectacular
friends who were not in Las Vegas. the following Christmas.
MARCH
Arriving on the set of Clambake JUNE
in LA, Elvis is in bad shape – it Elvis gets busy on soundtrack
becomes obvious he has a drug of Speedway – which will be his
dependency problem. The Colonel eighth film with Taurog. Nancy
lays down the law and starts a Sinatra plays the love interest. As
clear-out of those around Elvis. with Ann-Margret, she and Elvis
Elvis’ box office appeal is slipping. become close but deny rumours
Easy Come, Easy Go fails to recoup of romance.
its costs. The soundtrack sells
fewer than 36,000 copies. Double OCTOBER
Trouble fares little better. How Great Elvis back in Nashville to record
Thou Art, released this month, is soundtrack to new film Stay Away,
more successful, and later beats Joe. Though Elvis hopes the film
Presley in what
was probably
80|  UNCUT LEGENDS  his worst movie,
1967’s Clambake
Everybody in the
whole cell block
dancing in
Jailhouse Rock

n April 1, 1956, Elvis Presley the Katherine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster
arrived at producer Hal Wallis’ film The Rainmaker, then in the early stages of
office on Melrose Avenue in LA production. “It was an awesome thing,” says Love Me Tender
for his first screen test. Wallis, screenwriter Allan Weiss of the screen test. “Like premieres in New
York, November
a Hollywood veteran who had an earthquake in progress. Like sticking your 15, 1956
produced Casablanca, was fingers in a live socket.”
famous for his track record of “After a few minutes I knew he was a natural
recognising and nurturing new in the same way Sinatra was,” remembers Wallis, Love Me Tender, which opened on November 15
talent – in his long career he had who hastily negotiated a seven-year contract with at New York’s Paramount Theatre. Despite the
discovered Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston and Colonel Tom Parker, tying Presley to Paramount fact that he was very obviously squeezed in at
Kirk Douglas. Impressed by Elvis’ appearances on studios and including a clause in which the young the last minute (the film was originally titled
Jackie Gleason’s Stage Show and The Milton Berle Elvis promised never to cut his hair without The Reno Brothers and Elvis’ role was supposed
Show, Wallis flew to see the singer perform at the Paramount’s permission. Parker asked Wallis to have been acted by Robert Wagner), dies
New Frontier in Las Vegas, convinced that Presley for $100,000 to star in his first film. When the two-thirds of the way through and only sings
had the necessary charisma and looks to make the producer pointed out that even Jack Lemmon one song, the movie recovered its $1 million
transition from playing state fairs, supper clubs didn’t get that kind of money, Parker replied that production costs in three days, while truant
and teen hops to starring on the big screen. Lemmon should probably get a new manager. officers across America were called out to deal
He wasn’t wrong. On that day in April, Elvis Elvis was eventually never cast in The with mass absenteeism. It was the last time Elvis
sang “Blue Suede Shoes” and acted a scene from Rainmaker, but his first screen role came with was to receive anything less than top billing.

82|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


Two down, 29 to
go: with Lizabeth
Scott in Loving You

his penultimate movie, 1969’s The


Trouble With Girls, he told co-star
Marilyn Mason that, “I’d just like
to make one good film before I leave
Hollywood. I know this town’s
laughing at me.”

E ver since his father had taken


him to the movies in Memphis
as a child, Elvis had always wanted
to be a movie star. He even spent a
summer aged 15 working as a cinema Presley movies are
usher at Memphis’ Loews State Theater in order almost a genre of their
to see all the latest films for free, but was fired for own. The sight of The
brawling with another usher. King breaking into song on, say, a surfboard
“When I was a child I was a dreamer,” he while an invisible band supply him with his
recalled in 1970. “I read comic books and I was backing music is occasionally enough to mask
the hero of the comic book. I saw movies and back-of-a-napkin plots, continuity errors,
I was the hero of the movie.” Elvis’ favourite interchangeable locations and simpering leading
film was Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without A Cause, ladies. In his 31 films, he plays three racing
which he eventually ended up seeing 44 times, drivers, invariably attends a fairground (probably
learning the dialogue off by heart. He even dated due to the influence of ex-carny Colonel Parker)
the movie’s female lead, Natalie Wood, when he and usually meets an initially frosty girl that he
first arrived in Hollywood. Later in his life, Elvis has to win over by singing and dancing in order to
would rent a movie theatre in Memphis and sit provide the necessary romantic conclusion.
on his own in the dark, endlessly watching the “It was pretty simple” remembers Girls! Girls!
same movies over and Girls! screenwriter Edward
over. Rebel Without Anhalt. “All you had to do
A Cause aside, his was find out how many
favourites included songs they wanted, and
World War Two biopic write the dialogue in
Patton, Shaft, On between the songs. Presley
The Waterfront and, liked cars, so a lot of the
curiously, Monty Python pictures had to do with
And The Holy Grail, cars. He liked Hawaii, so
which he saw seven times it seemed as if everything
in the space of a month. took place in Hawaii.”
But the story of Elvis in the ’60s is the story of Yet they also have a campy allure of their own
his movies. Between March 1961 and 1968 he – 1968’s Live A Little, Love A Little, for example,
was forced to give up playing live, because his features a dream sequence in which Elvis, dressed
filming schedule, which averaged three pictures in gold lamé, is pursued around a sound stage
a year, was so tight. This meant that the only by a man in a distinctly threadbare great dane
contact he had with his fans was in cinemas, costume. Plus, even the cheapest and tawdriest
while all of the music that he released in this of his films are worth watching purely just to
period came from soundtracks and film tie-ins. see Elvis, who manages to enliven the flimsiest
By the mid ’60s Elvis was making an a average plot with his immaculate comic timing and
Wallis was delighted and made arrangements of $1 million a film – plus a large percentage of charisma. Delving into the soundtracks for his
for principal photography on Elvis’ second film, the gross – making him the highest-paid actor ’60s films also yields some of the most overlooked
Loving You to begin soon after. The film was the in Hollywood and prompting Wallis’ famous gems from the Presley back catalogue: both
first to feature Elvis in an onscreen kiss. “It’s like boast that “a Presley picture is the only sure Junkie XL and Paul Oakenfold have recently
a dream come true,” Presley said in an interview thing in Hollywood”. scored Number One hits with remixes of songs
early in 1957. “My greatest ambition. All my life Perhaps more importantly, Elvis’ films from Elvis’ later films.
I’ve wanted to be an actor.” established him as an icon and made him a truly Still, it’s hard to believe when watching the
Elvis had fallen in love with Hollywood – and global star. In his life Elvis only left American flimsy likes of Clambake, in which Elvis plays two
the feeling was mutual. But 13 years and 29 films soil when he travelled to Europe with the army. roles – a singing, dancing oil tycoon’s son and a
later, it was a completely different story for Screen But his films were hugely popular all around the singing, dancing water-skiing instructor – that
Actors Guild member 42838. “Love Me Tender globe, particularly in Africa and on the Indian in the early stages of his film career he was hailed
finished me off in the business,” complained Elvis sub-continent, acting as a sort of makeshift as a serious talent, heralded in some quarters
in 1970. “They rushed me in the thing to get my world tour, despite – or maybe even because of as the new James Dean. In 1958 King Creole,
name on the marquee.” – the fact that they were mostly gaudy, cheap- directed by Casablanca director Michael Curtiz
In his most private moments Elvis confided looking, formulaic and called things like Tickle and featuring Walter Matthau and Carolyn Jones
in his family and close friends, expressing his Me. Indeed, the highest grossing of his films were in supporting roles received excellent reviews.
bitterness and disappointment at never being the ones most lacking in either a point or a story, Elvis’ best picture, 1960’s Flaming Star, was a
afforded the chance to make a movie that really simply allowing Elvis to be Elvis, cavorting in solid western originally intended for Marlon
CORBIS

offered him the chance to really act. On the set of front of assorted glamorous backdrops. Brando and was assigned to director Don Siegel,

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |83


Diminishing returns?
(Clockwise from left)
Speedway, Charro!
and Change Of Habit

who had helmed


the original and restless in Hollywood. “Same movie,
Invasion Of The Taurog, who was responsible for different location” became his standard response
Body Snatchers more Elvis pictures than anyone when people asked him about his new film, while
and was later else, made his first film in 1920. reports from the set of 1964’s Kissin’ Cousins recall
responsible for When he first met Elvis he was Elvis being too embarrassed to leave his trailer
Clint Eastwood’s blind in one eye and was forced after being forced to wear an ill-fitting wig for
Dirty Harry. to give up directing after his half of his role as a set of twin brothers.
The massive ninth Elvis movie when the His health began to deteriorate and he began
success of 1961’s sight in his other eye finally failed. to suffer from the insomnia that afflicted him all
Blue Hawaii, however, trapped Elvis in the Many of the lapses in quality were the result his life, eventually leading to a reliance on Valium
profitable but artistically stultifying sun’n’singing of Colonel Parker’s penny-pinching and corner- in order to stave off his nightmares, sleepwalking
formula. The movie’s plot – Elvis plays Chad cutting attempts to increase his profit margins. and even sleep-punching. The trauma of being
Gates, an ex-soldier trying to avoid going to work In 1964 he enlisted the help of producer Sam trapped in a cycle of terrible movies was too much
for his domineering father’s pineapple business Katzman, whose reputation for producing for Presley, who not only watched his childhood
– was secondary to the music. Blue Hawaii’s films on ludicrously tight schedules earned dream of being an actor eroded, but had to
soundtrack album (which contained 12 songs, him the nickname ‘The King Of The Quickies’. do it three times a year, mostly in Hawaii and
including “I Can’t Help Falling In Love”) sold Katzman applied the same ethos he’d honed on invariably playing a racing driver.
two million copies and stayed on the charts no-brain B-movie fare such as Jungle Moon Men
for 70 weeks, a record only broken in 1977 by
Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Following the relative
commercial failure of Blue Hawaii’s predecessor,
and Creature With The Atom Brain, borrowing
costumes and sets from films that were already
in the can and making films in intensive bursts.
P resley’s film career would’ve been very
different were it not for the influence of
Colonel Parker, a man who learnt much of what
Wild In The Country, which featured only four Principal photography for 1965’s Harum Scarum, he knew about public taste while in charge of
songs, Parker was convinced that for example, began on March 15 and finished just a fairground act called Colonel Tom Parker
Elvis’ future lay in lightweight, 12 days later. That year Katzman delivered Tickle And His Dancing Chickens.
music-heavy movies. A formula Me so far under budget that it single-handedly Not only did Parker conspire with Wallis
was established that Presley saved its studio Allied Artists from bankruptcy to make sure that Elvis was kept in the kind
stuck to with increasingly and swiftly became the studio’s third highest of films he himself had enjoyed as a teenager
diminishing returns for most grossing movie of all time, earning six million in Holland in the ’30s –frothy musicals with
of the ’60s. dollars from a $1.4m investment. wobbly stage sets and awkward acting – but
It hardly helped that most But by the mid ’60s Elvis’ movies were already David Bret’s book Elvis – The Hollywood Years
of Elvis’ films were directed by starting to look dated, especially when compared even alleges that Parker blackmailed Presley into
arthritic Hollywood mainstays to The Beatles’ energetic, inventive and modern appearing in these movies by wielding potentially
whose greatest success was A Hard Days Night and Help!. The highest- career-damaging knowledge of the young Elvis’
KOBAL

well behind them: Norman paid movie star in the world soon grew bored affair with actor Nick Adams (who had himself
Easy Come,

32| Easy Go:


easy money?  UNCUT LEGENDS 
played a minor role in Rebel
Without A Cause) to keep
him under control. Other
sources claim that once
Elvis arrived in Hollywood,
Parker was so afraid that
Presley would discover just
how unfair his contract was
that he employed Adams as a
companion for Presley – a companion whose job was
to keep the people Parker saw as “subversives” at bay.
What is certainly true is that Parker was as naive
about the workings of Hollywood as his young
the same time that Presley
moved from Sun to RCA in
1955. Hill And Range was
useful to Parker in that the
company insisted that the
songwriters in its employ
surrender all rights to
their compositions once
they handed over their songs. All
royalties then went to Presley and, by extension,
Parker. This arrangement also meant that Presley
had to resort to recording the weaker songs in the
Hill And Range songbook when forced to find 12
ELVIS
H H H H H H H H H H

THE BEATLES
H H H H H H H H H
charge. Not only did he persuade Presley to sign long- songs to make up a movie soundtrack. So while
term contracts with studios just as most other actors Dylan and The Beatles were busy expanding the

I
were attempting to avoid the strictures of the studio vocabulary of the pop song, Elvis was condemned
system – a move which further encouraged Presley’s to recording and releasing fluff like “Song Of
t could have been the greatest jam session in the
typecasting – but the list of roles in artistically and The Shrimp”, “Queenie Wahine’s Papaya” and
entire history of rock’n’roll. Sadly, we’ll never
commercially successful films that Presley was “(There’s) No Room To Rhumba In A Sports Car”
know, because on August 27, 1965, the day The
offered but Parker turned down is astonishing: just to keep his three movies a year well stocked
Beatles not only met Elvis but actually played and
Parker rejected West Side Story, Cat On A Hot Tin with musical numbers.
sang with him, nobody bothered to tape it.
Roof and Midnight Cowboy in favour of churning Things changed in 1967. The previous year
That this momentous summit ever happened in
out endless insipid musicals. “Colonel Parker had a Frankie And Johnny (Elvis plays a singing, dancing
the first place was miraculous given the Fab Four’s
golden goose and he wanted to keep turning out the riverboat gambler) and Paradise, Hawaiian
catastrophic impact upon Elvis’ mid ’60s commercial
same eggs,” says Elvis songwriter Mike Stoller. Parker Style (Blue Hawaii redux, essentially) had
decline. A week before the meeting took place, they
himself was open about the role of Elvis’ movies. underperformed at both the box office and in
were playing to 55,000 screaming Beatlemaniacs at
“All we want is songs for an album,” he used to boast. terms of album sales, but 1967’s tired Easy Come,
Shea Stadium. Elvis, meanwhile, was just finishing
Indeed, maintaining this strict three movies a year Easy Go (Elvis plays a singing, dancing frogman)
Paradise, Hawaiian Style in which he played a helicop-
schedule meant that Parker was able to earn money was the first Presley film to actually lose money
ter pilot singing gossamer dross like “Queen Wahine’s
from technical credits on movies such as consultant causing distributors in Europe and some parts of
Papaya”. Yet whatever humiliation Elvis must have
or advisor; earning money for simply doing nothing. the US to start to refuse to take his films.
felt was cast aside when circumstances conspired to
In a further attempt to maximise Elvis’

A
instigate a private audience with John, Paul, George
earning potential, Parker fter his marriage to Priscilla in May 1967,
and Ringo at his Hollywood home.
had orchestrated an Elvis bought the Circle G ranch in Mississippi
First impressions weren‘t good. Lennon was so para-
exclusive deal with and began to spend less time in Hollywood with
noid about embarrassing himself in front of his idol
a floundering Parker and more surrounded by his entourage,
that he, well, did just that: spending most of the eve-
country music brooding over the state of his career. This new-
ning impersonating Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau
publishing found independence meant that Presley, now
(his opening line: “Ah, so zis is ze King!”) and making
company, Hill aged 32, finally began to stand up to Parker.
the seriously dangerous error of leering at Priscilla
And Range, at They disagreed first over the televised comeback
whenever she glided past. Even when he tried to be
special, which Parker wanted to be a staged
sincere, enthusing over Elvis’ Sun records and asking
Christmas concert and then over “Suspicious
Minds”, which was nearly never recorded H H H H H H H H H H
LENNON WAS SO PARANOID
due to a rights disagreement but Elvis was
certain would be a hit.
The result of this split was that in his
next movie Elvis was allowed to stray ABOUT EMBARRASSING
from the formula, although the fact that
his films were gradually losing money
HIMSELF HE DID JUST THAT
was almost certainly a factor in Parker H H H H H H H H H H
allowing Elvis to change direction.
him, “Why have you dropped the old stuff, the rock?”,
Charro!, a spaghetti western with a
Presley took it as an insult. Elvis took a slightly more
soundtrack by Hugh Montenegro, was
sympathetic view of Ringo (his favourite Beatle),
the first Presley film not to feature any songs,
Harrison and McCartney, the latter even compliment-
although it did boast scenes of nudity, violence
ing Elvis on his bass playing during an informal run
and Elvis with a beard. It was a vast improvement
through, of all things, Cilla Black’s “You’re My World”.
on his preceding pictures, but by this stage Elvis’
The very next day, McCartney was asked to sum up
box-office selling power had waned to such an
his impression of Elvis. His one-word response: “Odd”.
extent that his next movie, the passable The
Bizarrely, given his behaviour, it was Lennon who
Trouble With Girls was sold to distributors as
was the most ingratiating, telling friends it was “the
part of a package with a dubbed
greatest night of my life”. A shame nobody relayed
Japanese science fiction film called,
these words to Elvis. Otherwise, he may have possibly
unpromisingly, The Green Slime.
changed his mind about scheming with the FBI in a
Elvis’ last movie, 1969’s Change
clandestine bid to have the “anti-American” ex-Beatle
Elvis with Cynthia Of Habit, in which he played an
Pepper in the deported in the early ’70s. SIMON GODDARD
somewhat syrupy
Kissin’ Cousins
 UNCUT LEGENDS  |85
inner-city doctor He could have been an
alongside Mary Tyler excellent movie star,
Moore as a nun, and not just a freak
contained some gentle attraction, if he
social comment and hadn’t limited
an ending that could himself, and had
be construed as mildly done things like
blasphemous, but so few people saw it that it a drama or a light comedy. But it never
passed withoutcausing a scandal. By the time it happened because Tom Parker wouldn’t
was released Elvis was already preparing for his allow it to happen. It’s very sad because
residency in Vegas: most of his income in the ’70s Elvis wanted to do more.”
was to come from touring rather than films. The Elvis’ frustration at being coerced
era of the Presley picture was over. into appearing in films where he wasn’t
called upon to act – and realise his James

E lvis never recovered from his failure as a movie


star. “He still talked about it, even in those
last few years,” remembers cousin Donna Presley
Dean fantasies – meant that his musical
renaissance with the Comeback Special had
an air of quiet desperation to it. He had
of Elvis’ thwarted ambitions. “He had mastered something to prove to the world after almost
everything else he set out to do professionally and a decade playing singing frogmen.
it still rankled.” As Allan Weiss, the man who was at Elvis’
“His manager thought there should first screen-test remembers it: “I think when
be more songs, but he was wrong,” is Don he realised it wasn’t going to happen, he just
Siegel’s evaluation. “Elvis could have become started walking through the movies. All that
an acting as well as singing star. You could see natural gift, that extraordinary ability he had
that he had a lot of layers, a lot going on. God was squandered. It’s a shame.”
that boy had potential.”
Sadly Colonel Parker never allowed his
charge to realise his promise, preferring
instead to concentrate on short-
term profit. Blue Hawaii
scriptwriter and Loving
You director Hal Kanter
remembers: “Elvis had a
natural ability to perform
in front of a camera.

Elvis with
Nancy Sinatra
in Speedway
and (below)
Ann-Margret in
Viva Las Vegas

42|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


E xMALEpCoOs-SeTAdRS
FE

ELVIS PRESLEY’S
CELLULOID SIRENS
Some of The King’s films may have been a bit lacklustre, but there was never
any doubt about the allure of his many female co-stars. By Neil Howie

E
lvis’ celluloid forays have rarely been held up as Amazingly, hers is the only character in the film who
his finest work, indeed churn ’em out quickies comes out sympathetically. Tragically, three days after
such as Tickle Me (plot: Elvis is a singing rodeo filming had finished, Judy and her husband died in a car
cowboy who sidelines as a handyman at an all-girl accident. Legend has it that The King refused to watch
ranch full of beautiful young women!) and Paradise, Jailhouse Rock again.
Hawaiian Style (plot: Elvis is is an ex-airline pilot who soon The critics – for once – loved King Creole and Carolyn
finds his new charter helicopter sightseeing business Jones, who plays femme fatale Ronnie, got to provoke one
attracts a variety of beautiful young women!) have of Elvis’ best ever lines in his favourite film. “That’s a pretty
proved themselves so exquisitely unique that they’ve piece of material,” he says. “You ought to have a dress
inspired a whole sub-genre of amazed appreciation of made out of it someday.” Sadly, it was this sort of easy
the recycled scripts, the handful of new songs and the sexuality that was soon bled from Elvis’ movies.
gently exotic locations. Presley was no fan of GI Blues, but took comfort in an
While the films themselves could be pretty startling, affair with co-star – and Frank Sinatra squeeze – Juliet
what was never in doubt was the lure of Elvis’ female Prowse. Girls! Girls! Girls! is famous for two things, For one,
co-stars. From Debra Paget (who was billed above screen- Presley had little or no chemistry with his co-stars Laurel
husband Presley) in 1957’s Love Me Tender, through to Goodwin and Stella Stevens. For another, his erect penis
the irrepressibly sexy Nancy Sinatra singing the brilliant, – The King never wore underwear – is clearly visible as he
Lee Hazlewood-penned number “Your Groovy Self” in sings “The Walls Have Ears” – a first, and a last, for Presley
Speedway, all the way to Mary Tyler Moore and Barbara who complained that his manhood was “sticking out like
McNair in the (n)undercover caper Change Of Habit 13 a sore thumb!”
years later, Elvis’ films were never short of a wholesomely Ursula Andress smoulders despite her ridiculously
delicious type of co-star. unsexy bikini in Fun In Acupulco, as does Elsa Cárdenas,
The three phases of Presley’s film career – biographical not that Presley gets any. For that, he had to wait for Viva
’50s, early to mid ’60s lightweight travel pieces, late ’60s Las Vegas and the arrival of Ann-Margret. Presley and
maturity – all showcased different types of leading ladies his co-star fell in love during filming and, consequently,

VIVA LAS VEGAS


ANN-MARGRET, 1964
for Elvis to act against. Because The King always had to
have a macho job (he was, in his time, a racing car driver
there is incredible on-screen chemistry – off-screen they
discussed marriage.
– three times! – a rodeo rider, a boxer, an ex-frogman and Raquel Welch has her movie debut in Roustabout while
Elvis and Ann-Margret were lovers on-screen and off a soldier), his leading ladies needed to be suitably big Elvis and Barbara Stanwyck sizzle suitably. Elvis’ only
throughout the filming of Viva Las Vegas and the chemistry
targets, although Presley was forever shackled by the rigid British co-star, Jocelyn Lane, is the best thing about Tickle
between the two of them is obvious in this lightweight but
morality of Eisenhower-era America. Me, but it was Nancy Sinatra’s appearance in Speedway
very likeable film.
Five-foot two-inch Paget, who Elvis had first met with that marked the beginning of the end of Elvis’ lo-concept
on The Milton Berle Show in June 1956, was already a star movies. Playing a hard-bitten tax inspector – often seen
when she played Confederate farmer’s wife, Cathy Reno. in boots so groovy you’d gladly let her bite you as hard as
Lizabeth Scott, who played manipulative press agent she likes – Nancy steals the picture despite the first choice
Miss Glenda in Loving You was a classic Presley co-star. She for the part being Petula Clark. Never again would Elvis
taunts Elvis, tricks him, sacks his band, all with icy froideur. have such incredible on-screen chemistry with one of his
“That’s how you’re selling me,” Presley moans as his world co-stars. Perhaps it was this chemistry that made Presley’s
falls apart. “Like a monkey in a zoo?” wife Priscilla so sure that the two were having an affair, as
In Jailhouse Rock, Judy Tyler, who had been a children’s was much of Hollywood. Rumours persist of Nancy’s dad
TV star, plays Peggy Van Alden, a record promoter Frank having a “quiet” word with The King. What a picture
who persuades Vince Everett (Elvis) to make a record. that would make.
KOBAL

 UNCUT LEGENDS  | 87
LIZABETH SCOTT,
1957
(Top) Scott, who had one JUDY TYLER, 1957 STELLA STEVENS, 1962
of the world’s largest (Above) A former (Left in picture) Stevens
collections of carved glass chorus girl and Life magazine graced the cover of the first
animals, was unfairly cover star, Judy Tyler came Playboy of the ’60s. “Bella
dubbed “the poor woman’s from a showbiz family and got Stella” – as the mag dubbed her
Lauren Bacall”, but her her break presenting kids’ TV – had been a wife, a mum and a
performance as pushy show Howdy Doody!. She was divorcee all by the age of 17. Now
press agent Glenda was one close to Elvis before her tragic lives in Beverly Hills with a former
of the movie’s highlights. death in the summer of 1957. member of Alice Cooper’s band.

LAUREL GOODWIN, 1962


RONALD GRANT ARCHIVE, CORBIS, KOBAL

(Right in picture) Laurel


Goodwin’s not been on TV since
1969, but her appearances post
Girls! Girls! Girls!, most notably
in Star Trek, gave kept her name
and memory alive even if her
career’s gone south.

88|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


 UNCUT LEGENDS  | 89
SPEEDWAY
NANCY SINATRA, 1968
Speedway was that
rare beast, a not half bad
Elvis film. Nancy became
the first singer to have a solo
performance on an Elvis
album with the brilliant,
Lee Hazlewood-penned
“Your Groovy Self” and
duetted with Elvis on “There
Ain’t Nothing Like A Song”.

PARADISE, FUN IN
HAWAIIAN ACAPULCO
STYLE
ASSORTED GIRLS,
URSULA ANDRESS AND
ELSA CARDENAS, 1963
Lady bullfighter (Cárdenas,
1966 right) and temptress
(Top) Not much rock’n’roll (Andress, left) are both love-
on offer in this lame re-write interests, but the shocks
of Blue Hawaii, nor much come from Elvis’ ‘double’ who
quality acting, but naturally goes to Acapulco while The
the Hawaiian lovelies just King shakes his hips in front
keep on coming. of bad Mexican backdrops.

90|
E xMALEpCoOs-SeTAdRS
FE

LIVE A
LITTLE, LOVE
A LITTLE
MICHELE CAREY, 1968
Looking like a late
’60s J.Lo, Michele Carey had
been a model with the super-
heavyweight Powers agency
before appearing in The Man
From UNCLE.

LOVE ME
TENDER
DEBRA PAGET, 1956
A film star since the
age of 15, Paget’s work
with Elvis never hampered
her true calling: costume
dramas. Her roles in Princess
Of The Nile and The Ten
Commandments made her
20th Century-Fox’s favourite
star after Marilyn Monroe
and Betty Grable.

BLUE HAWAII
JOAN BLACKMAN,
NANCY WALTERS,
PAMELA KIRK, 1961
The originator of the Beach
Movie genre, Blue Hawaii was
chock full of bikini-wearing
lovelies. Perhaps the loveliest
of which was Joan Blackman,
who would also appear in Kid
Galahad and The Kinks’ Ray
Davies’ 1985 head-scratcher,
Return To Waterloo.
KOBAL, SNAP/REX FEATURES, CORBIS

 UNCUT LEGENDS  | 91
Going Dutch: The
Colonel secured
Elvis’ lucrative
contract with RCA

The full truth eventually emerged in 2003’s The wringing all the enthusiasm and the vitality out of
Colonel, a superbly researched biography by author him. In 1961, while still at his peak, he let Elvis play
Alanna Nash, which traced him back to his Dutch roots just three shows.
and attributed his sudden disappearance from the Damage to his name was inevitable and by 1968
country to an unsolved murder. Elvis’ career was flagging. When NBC’s Comeback
The Colonel took the truth to the grave in 1997, but Special reinvigorated him, The Colonel took the credit.
it explains many previously unanswered questions Yet he fought it every step, initially demanding Elvis
about his career, particularly his refusal to tour abroad. sing only Christmas schlock on the show.
Van Kuijk had materialised in the US in 1929, had a Straight after, Elvis briefly seized back the initiative.
brief stint in the army then worked the carnival circuit He had suffered because of the restrictive publishing
for years before entering the country music scene. As deal set up by Parker, which forced writers to hand over
for his title, it was honorary, bestowed on him by the a large cut of the royalties. Good songs were no longer
Governor of Tennessee. offered to him since there were plenty of other major
Elvis Presley was well on his way to becoming a artists willing to record them. Recognising for once
major star when he first crossed paths with the Colonel that he needed to assert himself, Elvis picked his own
in 1955. He was part of a country music package songs and recorded them with producer Chips Moman
headlined by Hank Snow, who was looked after by in Memphis. The Colonel hoped Elvis would “fall on his

T
here is a black and white photograph of a young Parker. When the manager saw the audience response ass”. Instead, in one glorious session, Elvis recorded “In
Elvis Presley horsing around with his new manager to Presley, he decided to switch horses. The Ghetto”, “Suspicious Minds” and “Kentucky Rain”.
in 1956, putting his wallet in the fat man’s back In the short term he transformed Elvis’ affairs, In 1969, by way of revenge, The Colonel booked Elvis
pocket. It serves as the perfect visual metaphor for cutting a deal which saw him switch from Sun to RCA into the International Hotel (later the Hilton) in Las
his career, because Colonel Tom Parker was a parasite for $35,000 (an astonishing sum at the time) and Vegas for $150,000 a week, whereupon he became a
who sucked up prestige and riches then stood back setting him up with his own publishing deal. He was supper club act performing to a mature audience. The
while his client slowly killed himself. the first manager to turn a pop artist into a brand, megabucks that rolled in came in handy for stemming
Those who defend him by saying he devoted himself arranging a merchandising deal that would, during the the Colonel’s soaring gambling debts. When matters
to the singer and made him a fortune miss the point. artist’s life, pull in $20 million alone. When that
Elvis succeeded despite, not because of him. Colonel was tied up he began charging fans to become
Tom Parker was the kind of man who knew the price members of the official Elvis Presley Fan Club.
of everything and the value of nothing. He didn’t care Then he levered increasingly huge sums from
whether Elvis played rock’n’roll or crooned chintzy film-makers to cast Elvis in their movies.
ballads as long as the cash kept rolling in. He knew how Parker only dealt in cash, but more than that
to exploit talent but he didn’t appreciate it. And he grew he loved prestige, lording it over everyone.
fat on a deal which gave him an extortionate 50 per cent Rude, obnoxious and pompous he bulldozed
cut of his earnings – sometimes more – while friends, promoters, producers and label bosses, destroying came to a head one time in 1974 and Elvis finally sacked
partners and associates struggled to get by. goodwill towards his artist. his manager, he was presented with a multi-million
Officially Colonel Tom Parker was born When Elvis’ call-up papers arrived out of the blue dollar bill to buy out his contract. He had effectively
to travelling carny workers in June, The Colonel had him sign up rather become indentured to him for life.
1910 and learned to wheel and than cut a deal, shattering the rebel When the end finally came for Elvis on August
deal in circuses during the Great image forever. It was not the first 16, 1977, the Colonel was in Maine preparing for yet
Depression. The story held up for time he had undermined his star’s another tour of soulless venues. Taking the news of
two decades until a handful of “Elvis didn’t die. The body impact, having colluded with Ed his client’s death as if he had long prepared for it, he
people began to poke around into did. We’re keeping Elvis alive. Sullivan to shoot him from the waist hightailed straight for New York to tie up the first of
his background. Shortly after Elvis’ I talked to him this morning up and allowed another show to many licensing deals that would ensure The King kept
death a journalist, Dirk Vellenga, and he told me to carry on.” have him sing “Hound Dog” to paying out long after his passing.
began to file pieces in De Stem Colonel Parker’s unemotional a basset hound. A year later he put on a “fan festival” at the Las
answerphone message left on the
suggesting Colonel Tom Parker Over the years he pumped Vegas Hilton charging fans $15 entrance fee, then
day Elvis Presley died, August 1977.
was actually a Dutchman named his cash cow harder and ripping them off along the way, just as he done at
To underline his disrespect
Andre Van Kuijk, who had fled for his deceased client, he
harder, threatening the carnivals 40 years earlier. The huckster had
Breda in 1929. later turned up at Elvis’ and cajoling, returned to his roots. MIKE PATTENDEN
funeral wearing a
baseball cap and
seersucker pants.
92|
Colonel Parker
lording it in Las
Vegas, 1969
63-67
“ELVIS THE ARTIST – KEEN TO PROVE HIMSELF ABLE
TO STAND UP TO THE NEW GENERATION OF ROCKERS –
MUST HAVE FELT THE NEED TO CHANGE THE FORMULA”

,
A superb cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” showed Elvis still had much
to offer, even after many years of artistic underachievement. By Gavin Martin

A
ll but ignored on its original release in The year 1966 was arguably the high summer
December 1966, Spinout was the album of rock’n’roll diversity and achievement: Motown
where Elvis’s late ’60s comeback really was at a peak with The Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be
began. If just for one track, his gorgeous, There”, The Beatles released Revolver, Brian Wilson
SPINOUT tenderly appraised version of Bob Dylan’s and The Beach Boys made Pet Sounds, Jimi Hendrix’s
Y
1 ELVIS PRESLE “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, Spinout was debut single “Hey Joe” unleashed the greatest
RCA
worthy of attention. instrumentalist in rock history, The Rolling Stones
Oct 66(US) It included at least one other track – a found new levels of sonic shock and emotional
Listen
Stop, Look And Nov 66(U K) rollicking, unapologetically sleazy version of meltdown in “Paint It, Black” and Bob Dylan unveiled
The Clovers’ “Down In The Alley” – that showed his double album masterpiece Blonde On Blonde.
Adam And Evil Radio Elvis was alive and not completely drowning And where was 31-year-old Elvis? Living it up with
Recorders, in Hollywood soundtrack schlock. Yet it is a selection of starlets, enjoying the life of a pilled-up
Hollywood hardly surprising that the album failed to poor boy turned king of the world, but gradually
All That I Am
awaken interest on release. In the run up to becoming bored. RCA house producer Chet Atkins,
Never Say Yes Christmas it was seen as an afterthought in a tired of too many of Elvis’ late night recording sessions
Felton Jarvis year that had already seen the release of two and perhaps sensing his boy was beginning to stultify
substandard, often laughable soundtrack decided to bring new blood into the mix.
Am I Ready
filler LPs – Frankie And Johnny and Paradise, May 26, 1966, the date of Elvis’ first non-soundtrack
- Hawaiian Style. recording session in two-a-half years, was an
Beach Shack Speaking to the press in August, Tom opportune time for Felton Jarvis to enter the King’s
18
Parker revealed the cynical and cut-throat domain. Young, engagingly eccentric and far more
Spinout attitude that persisted in the Elvis camp. in touch with developments in modern music than
“We’ve made 22 pictures, 19 have been box Atkins, Jarvis developed an immediate rapport with
Smorgasbord *Recorded office successes, two haven’t completed Elvis. Hardly surprising as Jarvis had started his career
at RCA their run and one hasn’t been released. as a Presley impersonator.
I’ll Be Back Studios, How do you argue with that kind of The pair worked together through the night on
Nashville
success? It’s like telling Maxwell House to a series of gospel songs that would appear on the
ng Time*
To morrow Is A Lo change their coffee formula when the stuff How Great Thou Art album the following March. After
is selling like no tomorrow.” expressing a desire that Jarvis help him get the sort
ley*
Down In The Al But Elvis the artist – naturally of immediacy and sound that matched The Beatles
competitive and keen to prove himself and Stones, Elvis recognised a kindred spirit and gave
u*
I’ll Remember Yo able to stand up to the new generation it his all.
of rockers – must have felt the need to Jarvis had made slight but significant adjustments
change the formula. to the usual Presley studio band, too, introducing

94|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


PICK OF THE PERIOD

ELVIS FOR
EVERYONE!
1965 [UK 8/ US 10]
A compilation of
studio leftovers dating
all the way back to
1954 (an original Sun
Studio recording of
“Tomorrow Night”).
Elvis’ soundtracks were
so dire by 1965 that this
was actually his best
album for two years.

HOW GREAT
THOU ART
1967 [UK 11/ US 18]
The comeback started
with this beautifully
understated gospel
album. Elvis – with
new producer Felton
Jarvis and singer Jake
Hess – took charge of
a session for the first
time in years and the
conviction shows.

CLAMBAKE
1967 [UK 39/ US 40]
The soundtrack to
one of Elvis’ worst
films also featured
a number of top
quality extra tracks,
including the then
recent singles “Guitar
Man” and “Big Boss
Man”, the former
bass and harmonica-playing wiz Charlie McCoy, publishing blockade by finding out what Elvis’ harking back to the old folk and mountain ballads featuring the guitar
who had set Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde recording personal listening preferences had been over the Dylan had studied. It was a place where the talents of Jerry Reed.

sessions alight only a couple of weeks previously. last few months. rogue warrior and the regal king could connect
Also on board was steel guitarist Pete Drake, who Surprisingly, these had often been weighted – timeless poetry, elegant melodic flow, Elvis
was to be a future Dylan sideman on his John towards the ’60s folk revival. Dylan had originally reincarnated as the Dark Folk Lord, apprising an
Wesley Harding album. The session developed in written “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” for The uncertain future, breathing ache and humility.
the loose but swinging style that brought out the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963 and, although he When the Spinout album was released,
very best in Elvis. had never recorded it, the song had appeared on weighed down with the usual Hill And Range
Sometime around midnight he had built up albums by both Ian & Sylvia and Odetta. It was hackwork, the performance barely raised an
such momentum on the future gospel album title the version by Odetta – a female blues and folk eyelid. And yet in a year of rock glory it was surely
track that observer Jerry Schilling feared Elvis singer from Birmingham, Alabama – that was a a highlight, the longest single track Elvis had ever
was about to faint – he turned white and looked firm favourite of Elvis’. recorded, an epic of feeling and nuance gilded
drained. Perhaps he had become unused to such Naturally conservative, Elvis would have with a spare, acoustic Dobro inflected backing.
passionate exertions but his musical athleticism recoiled from many of Dylan’s more political Sadly it was to be one of only two studio
would not let him quit. Indeed once the songs. “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” was different, recordings by the first king of rock’n’roll and the
Lord’s work was done it was time for Elvis newest (Elvis recorded a ramshackle
to fly his own flag. Elvis jokes on the “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” in
At 4am in the morning his gospel vocal set of Spinout: 1971). Heard now it leaves a tantalising
bad film, slightly
support, The Imperials, left the studio better soundtrack sense of what might have been.
and Elvis let the bible bashing go. It was Imagine Presley singing Blood On The
time for the roaring, sexually abandoned Tracks! Dylan, who called “Tomorrow
“Down In The Alley”. Then it was time for Is A Long Time” his favourite cover of
the masterstroke. Jarvis had been able to any of his songs, would certainly have
circumvent the almighty Hill And Range liked to hear that.

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |95


Elvis waves
goodbye to
‘serious’ acting in
Clambake, 1967

playing a character who ultimately gets pally – after initial But at the head of Presley’s Pantheon sat James Dean.
aversion – with a black man. (Tony Curtis and Sidney When he learned that the producer of Rebel Without A
Poitier were eventually cast.) And Elvis never got to belt Cause, David Weisbart, was also producing Love Me Tender
out “Tonight”, or jive with the Jets, because Tony died on- he immediately offered himself to play Dean in a mooted
screen – a no-no after the adverse reaction to Elvis’ death biopic. In an interview with Parade in July ’56 he talked of
in his first feature, Love Me Tender. his imminent departure for Hollywood. “I’ve made a study
Elvis had been entranced by the silver screen from an of poor Jimmy Dean, I’ve made a study of myself and
early age, and during 1951 he worked as an usher at I know why girls go for us. We’re sullen, we’re broodin’,
Loews State Theater in Memphis. He was at the flicks we’re something of a menace. You can’t be a rebel if you
when guitarist Scotty Moore first phoned him to set up a grin…” It’s difficult to imagine Brando or Dean analysing
get-together. And when local DJ
superstar Dewey Phillips played “That’s

A
ndy Warhol famously ‘borrowed’ a film still of Elvis as All Right” umpteen times on that
gunslinger – from his watchable Western, Flaming Star epoch-instigating night in July 1954,
– and duplicated it to give us an iconic pair of Kings. Presley had to be dragged from the
Rock critic Greil Marcus took Double Trouble, one of cinema to do his first interview.
Presley’s very worst movies, as the title of a book exploring As with his musical tastes, his filmic
America’s metaphorical schizophrenia. In the dreadful predilections were catholic, ranging
Kissin’ Cousins, Tupelo’s finest plays both a sophisticated from Westerns to musicals via science fiction and drama. their approach to, or motives for, acting in such terms. Even
military officer and his hillbilly kinsman. Dualities, inversions He had a particular and slightly unusual liking for Rudolph less, making a statement such as, “I don’t think that you
and mirror images of this sort refract throughout Elvis’ life Valentino. The nearest he got to emulating him was when learn to become an actor, I think you just, maybe you’ve got
and films from the very moment of his birth and his twin Johnny Tyronne, his character in the hopeless 1965 outing a bit of acting talent and develop it. If you learn to be an
brother’s death: rags/riches; blues/country; fat/thin; gent/ Harum Scarum, played a fake sheikh. There are also echoes actor, in other words, if you’re not a real actor you’re false.”
savage; body/spirit; the scintillatingly brilliant/the mind- here of 1952’s Son Of Ali Baba which starred Tony Curtis, There is certainly something of Jimmy D in Presley’s
bogglingly awful. His movie career was heavy on the another of his celluloid heroes. Elvis consciously dyed his early films, though he never quite achieves the complex
latter… but, ah, what might have been. hair black for the filming of Loving You in order to look mixture of “fuck you” and “help me” that lies at the centre
In a parallel Presley-verse he would have made his more like Curtis. of Dean’s talent. But Elvis can act, there’s no doubt about it.
screen debut in The Rainmaker alongside Katharine Indeed, it’s productive to see Elvis as a shadow version Seasoned co-stars with no agenda, such as Walter
Hepburn and Burt Lancaster; played opposite Elizabeth of altogether more successful actors; actors he often Matthau and Elsa Lanchester, have paid testament to that;
Taylor in Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof; sung adulated. In the opening sequence of King Creole he leans and he has comic timing – watch his charming command
and danced through West Side Story as tragic anti-hero from a New Orleans window dressed in a white T-shirt, of comedy biz in the engaging GI Blues. But if he is
Tony; portrayed Robert Mitchum’s younger brother in a reference to Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski in A essentially playing himself in the good films, the tackiness
Thunder Road; been handcuffed to Sammy Davis Jr in The Streetcar Named Desire. The part of half-Kiowa Indian Pacer of the majority of the ’60s films also reflects aspects of his
Defiant Ones; and depicted a fading entertainment god to Burton in Flaming Star was written for Brando, and director personality. Presley’s priapism is bodied forth in the
Barbra Streisand’s ascendant singer in A Star Is Born. It will Don Siegel was initially unhappy about having Presley on cringeworthy Girl titles (three of them); the chav-paradise
come as no surprise that Colonel Tom board, but he changed his mind after settings of Hawaii and Vegas were Presley faves; and thrice
Parker nixed most of these beguiling working with him. “You could see he – in keeping with his automotive obsessions – he plays a
possibilities. In the case of the films with had a lot of layers, a lot going on,” he racing-driver. It wasn’t just Colonel Tom who put the
Babs and Liz, Parker wouldn’t accept said. “God that boy had potential.” kibosh on his career as a ‘serious’ actor.
equal billing for his charge – and “I knew by heart all the Siegel went on to greater success But, perhaps snobbery and traditional critical
anyway, the part of Brick Pollitt in Cat On dialogue of James Dean’s directing Clint Eastwood; and Elvis’ approaches are redundant when dealing with Elvis films.
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

A Hot Tin Roof was a closet homosexual. films; I could watch persona in Charro!, one of his final films, There are moments of proto-promo-video genius in even
How could a red-blooded Southern boy Rebel Without is a direct cop of Eastwood’s the worst of them. Presley took the baton of all-round
countenance that?! The Colonel vetoed A Cause a ‘Man With No Name’ entertainerdom from Bing Crosby and handed it to MTV.
the collaboration with Sammy Davis Jr hundred shtick, though he These tacky packages are not about linear narrative, they are
as he was worried about the potential times over.” does it well in a about pleasure, performance and presence, and Elvis shines
effect on record sales if El was seen Elvis makes no flabby film. forth from each and every one: undivided. JOE CUSHLEY
secret about who
is his matinée idol

96|
Guitar man (and
racing-driver, natch)
in Speedway, 1968
The King attempts to wrestle control of his destiny from Colonel Parker and scores a major
victory with his Comeback Special. Elvis makes some of his finest recordings,
but Parker has plans for the rejuvenated artist

1968 1969 1970


JANUARY
13 Elvis records new sessions at
the American Studio in Memphis
with producer Chips Moman.
“In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious
Minds” are the highlights.

FEBRUARY
26 Parker inks a $500,000 deal
for a four week residency at the
International in Vegas. Elvis returns
to American for more sessions.

MARCH
Charro! is released, to abysmal
reviews and flat box office.

MAY
From Elvis In Memphis released.

JUNE
“In The Ghetto” becomes Elvis’
first Top Ten hit since 1965.

JULY
26 Elvis’ first performance at the
2,000-seater International. Cary
Grant and Fats Domino are in the
invitation-only crowd.
31 Elvis’ Vegas shows open to the

JANUARY JUNE
NBC-TV VP Tom Sarnoff announces 12 Speedway premieres. It will gross JANUARY–FEBRUARY
the 1968 Elvis Christmas Special, $3million in 1968. Elvis starts second four-week
sponsored by Singer sewing 17 Rehearsals begin for the TV run at the International. The Massive security detail springs into
machines. A disillusioned Presley special. Binder suggests bringing new show is strikingly different, action. Elvis performs with a pistol
sees this as Parker’s plan to force him in Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana featuring tunes like Neil Diamond’s in each boot. Nothing happens.
into making another Christmas LP. for two improvised “jam and chat” “Sweet Caroline” and Creedence
sessions, interspersed throughout Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary”. SEPTEMBER
FEBRUARY the show. It is a stroke of genius. public and rave reviews. Screaming Elvis begins seven-date US tour
1 Lisa Marie is born in Baptist Hospital, 27-30 The show is taped. Although Lord Sutch offers Elvis £1million JUNE in Phoenix. The Memphis Mafia
Memphis, exactly nine months Elvis is nervous, it doesn’t show and to play one night at Wembley. Elvis returns to RCA Studio B in and his favoured physician, Dr
after Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding. his first public performances for Nashville to work with long-time Nichopoulos, accompany him in
Soon after, Elvis and family head nearly ten years are triumphal. NOVEMBER producer Felton Jarvis. The session the road. After the tour, he flies
to Trousdale Estates, California, to Double album From Memphis To includes “I Washed My Hands In to Nashville for another brief
shoot Live A Little, Love A Little. JULY Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis is Muddy Water” and Willie Nelson’s recording session.
22 Elvis moves to Arizona to shoot released. “Funny How Time Slips Away”.
MAY grim western Charro!, the only film OCTOBER
Producer Bob Finkel persuades the in which he is not seen singing. AUGUST 11 He is officially sworn-in as a
Colonel to change the ’68 special. Elvis begins new residency at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Deputy.
Director Steve Binder tells Elvis SEPTEMBER International. Cary Grant comes
a Christmas show would “finish 28 Dewey Phillips, the DJ who backstage to tell Elvis he’s the NOVEMBER
him forever”. The pair write a brief first played Elvis on the air, dies. “greatest entertainer since Jolson”. An eight-date tour. Promoter Jerry
based around “Guitar Man” and He is 42. Four of the nights are filmed for Weintraub demands a $1million fee.
commission new songs including what will become Elvis: That’s The
“If I Can Dream”. Elvis approves the DECEMBER Way It Is. However, boredom and DECEMBER
black leather suit designed by Bill 3 The Comeback Special airs. the pressure of two shows a night In a three-night splurge at Kerr’s
Belew, who will design Elvis’ stage Following an aggressive PR lead him back to prescription drugs. Sporting Goods in LA, he spends
gear until his death. campaign by the Colonel, it is 14 Patricia Ann Parker launches a $20,000 on guns as Christmas gifts.
watched by 54 million paternity suit claiming Elvis got 21 Elvis meets President Nixon at
viewers. Having her pregnant during his last Vegas the White House and presents him
reconnected with engagement. Elvis’ marriage in with a custom Colt .45. He promises
his love of live crisis as rumours abound of a string to help in the war on drugs and
performance, of affairs. is promised an agent’s badge
Elvis starts to talk of 26 Threats made to kidnap from the Bureau Of Narcotics And
touring again. Elvis during Saturday 29 show. Dangerous Drugs.

Elvis poses Sutch had to up


with director  his
U original
N C U offer
T LEGENDS
of five dollars
 |99
Steve Binder
REDFERNS

After years in Hollywood, by the late ‘60s Elvis was out of the charts, out
120|  UNCUT LEGENDS 
By the late ’60s Elvis was out of the charts, out of shape and out of time. Simon
ofGoddard
shape and out of
charts hissynch.
road toSimon Goddard
redemption chartshistoric
via 1968’s his road to redemption
Comeback Specialvia
 UNCUT LEGENDS  |121
The Comeback
Special
reintroduced the …the “swinging
iconic quiff… little guitar man”…

IN CAPTURING THE ESSENCE OF MAN AND PERFOMER THE COMEBACK SPECIAL WAS A TRIUMPH
t’s April 1967. In London, The Kinks are in to be refitted. Hardly surprising, though, its quasi-religious spectacle. In capturing the
the studio recording their three-minute pop considering Elvis has spent the last month stoned essence of both the man and the performer,
masterpiece, “Waterloo Sunset”. The Who, out of his mind on his private ranch in Mississippi the Comeback Special was a career-defining
likewise, are busy committing their seventh (the Circle G) eating so many hot dog buns that, triumph, freeze-framing Elvis at his brooding,
consecutive top ten hit to tape, “Pictures according to Memphis Mafioso Marty Lacker, superhuman zenith. The portrait it paints – a
Of Lily”, while Jimi Hendrix is also in when he spoke “it was just this muffled noise, man cellophaned in black, his face the exotic
town working on his debut album, Are You somebody talking through bread”. hue of an Apache brave, his features the chiselled
Experienced?. Not forgetting The Beatles, who Worse still, the week filming begins, Elvis is perfection of a Michelangelo, an extra terrestrial
have just completed Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts hospitalised with mild concussion after falling just beamed down to Earth from Planet Cool
Club Band, a record which will completely while blocked on pills. Clambake itself turns out – is one which nearly four decades later has lost
change the face of rock’n’roll as the world knows to be a prize turkey, even by Presley’s standards none of its awe-inspiring charisma. But far from
it. With the Summer Of Love just around the of disposable celluloid hokum. When it finally some carefully choreographed master plan, the
corner, the ’60s are well and truly swinging. hits cinemas towards the end of the year, The Comeback Special was borne of a haphazard and
Hollywood Reporter cannot contain its anxiety chaotic battle of creative nerves versus corporate

M
eanwhile, five and a half over the quagmire into which The King has constraint which threatened its very existence
thousand miles away in Los slunk: “Elvis can’t continue for long to rely from the off.
Angeles, Elvis Presley – the man on the same scripts and songs which have Typically, the catalyst for Elvis’ renaissance
who, without whom, no Kinks, been anachronistic in the increasingly was to be the same exploitative money-grabbing
no Who and certainly no Beatles – is sophisticated and ever-changing world against which the eventual programme seemed to
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., REDFERNS

in the pits of despair in Hollywood, on of pop music and pulp films.” so gloriously rebel. He was Hollywood’s highest
the set of his latest movie, Clambake. Something, clearly, had to give. paid star of the decade, but by early 1968 and
Director Arthur H Nadel is equally It did, with the following year’s Christmas the likes of Clambake, even his most blinkered
unhappy, mainly because his leading TV special, Singer Presents Elvis, which we devotees were starting to tire of Elvis’ movies, as
man’s weight has ballooned to now know and savour as the Comeback indicated by steadily declining box office returns.
200 pounds prior to shooting, Special. As the archetypal Elvis Colonel Tom Parker demanded a cool million
necessitating his entire wardrobe moment, nothing compares to dollars per picture, but in January of that year

102|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


…and ushered in
the new, socially
conscious King on
“If I Can Dream”

Y ou’d imagine that any meeting between


the two most towering figures in American
music of the last half-century would have been
one of the most documented encounters of all
time. Instead, the question of whether Elvis
Presley and Bob Dylan ever met remains one of
the enduring mysteries of popular music history.
Dylan’s reverence for Elvis is well documented
from the time he first heard his voice as a
teenager in Hibbing, Minnesota in the mid ’50s.
After Presley recorded his “Tomorrow Is A Long
Time” in 1966, Dylan told Rolling Stone: That’s
the one recording I treasure the most.” Dylan
was equally delighted when Presley recorded
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” five years later.
Dylan wrote another song that he thought was
suitable for Elvis’ voice and asked producer Bob
Johnston, who had worked with both men,
to arrange a meeting. However, Colonel Tom
Parker was less convinced it was a good idea

FREEZE-FRAMING ELVIS AT HIS BROODING, SUPERHUMAN ZENITH and it’s unclear whether the idea was even put
to Presley. The identity of the song is unknown,
too, but many believe it to have been “Tell Me
was categorically refused such a sum by the studios medium during his historic hip-censored broadcasts
That It Isn’t True” from Nashville Skyline.
of MGM. Purely in order to keep his bank balance on The Ed Sullivan Show in the mid ’50s, Elvis’ only
But did they ever meet? The ‘evidence’ that
in the manner to which he was accustomed, Parker small-screen appearance of the decade had, until
says they did comes in Dylan’s song “Went To
negotiated a one-off deal whereby he would deliver then, been Frank Sinatra’s Welcome Home Party For
See The Gypsy” on his 1970 album New Morning.
one Elvis movie (that year’s Live A Little, Love A Little) Elvis Presley following his return from the army
Various lyrical clues suggest the “gypsy” is Elvis
throwing into the bargain a separate TV special in March 1960. In the interim, Presley had been
and the first verse describes a meeting in a
enabling himself to maintain his standard seven- seen only on the big screen as the All American
“dark and crowded” hotel room. Yet this is Dylan
figure sum. high-diving, stock car racing, helicopter pilot-cum-
shrimp fisherman in some 20-odd cheap and cheery

S
ponsored by the Singer sewing machine musicals. He with the pelvis which once threatened
company, the programme was scheduled to be America had become he last seen warbling “Old “I DIDN’T TALK TO ANYONE
broadcast that December on the NBC network.
Considering the seasonal schlock that already
MacDonald” to a truck full of chickens (1967’s
Double Trouble). Binder could see this even if Parker FOR A WHOLE WEEK AFTER
littered Elvis’ past, the Colonel, naturally, assumed
the show’s content to be in keeping with the same
refused to, so he set about the Herculean task of
bringing Elvis kicking and screaming back into the ELVIS DIED” BOB DYLAN
cosy, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”, bell-jingling ’60s at the eleventh hour.
clichés of similar jamborees by Perry Como and At a time of increasing insecurity (Presley hadn’t
we’re talking about and with no corroborating
Bing Crosby. had a decent hit in years, his last US Number One
evidence, the meeting the lyric describes could
Young NBC producer Steve Binder, however, being 1962’s “She’s Not You”) and private isolation
easily be fictional.
had other ideas. An Elvis fan as opposed to some (protected by his ubiquitous roster of Memphis
What is indisputable is that Dylan was deeply
payrolled sycophant, like many he mourned The Mafioso) two specific incidents were to allow Binder
affected by Presley’s death. He later admitted it
King’s descent into the mediocre maelstrom of into Elvis’ confidence, each providing a rapport
was one of the few times in his life that he has
family entertainment, seeing the project as a personal which was to become the dynamic crux of the show’s
ever broken down. “I didn’t talk to anyone for a
challenge to bring back The Hillbilly Cat of yore. creative development.
whole week after Elvis died,” he recalled. “If it
Significantly, this was to be Elvis’ first network TV The first involved the producer cautiously trying
wasn’t for Elvis and Hank Williams, I couldn’t be
appearance in eight years. Having conquered the to fathom the direction the disillusioned idol wished
doing what I do.” NIGEL WILLIAMSON

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |103


A pensive Elvis in
rehearsals for the
Comeback Special

The iconic – and


much-imitated
image of the
Comeback Special

W
to pursue. When asked would he have hile Parker, Singer and NBC were Apeshit best describes Parker’s initial reaction.
been willing to tackle the epic Jimmy obliviously banking on a bog The further revelation that, as far as Binder was
Webb ballad “MacArthur Park” (in the standard Santa’s grotto affair, Binder, concerned, there were to be no Christmas songs
charts at the time sung by actor Richard musical producer Bones Howe and provoked further outrage while the proposal that
Harris), Presley replied a sincere, writers Alan Blye and Chris Beard began the show should end not with Parker’s favoured
enthusiastic “yes”. Elated, Binder took shaping a far more radical showcase. “Silent Night” but the specially commissioned
this admission as an explicit indication They decided, instead, on a programme “If I Can Dream” – a humanitarian anthem
of the show’s ultimate artistic objective, celebrating Elvis’ roots: blending gospel, embracing the civil rights crusade of the recently
even if Elvis himself kept it for one of rockabilly and powerhouse ballads with assassinated Martin Luther King – added insult
the Comeback Special’s more bizarre funky production numbers culminating to pig-headed injury.
in-jokes: mimicking Webb’s song during in the elaborate “Guitar Man” pop- In the end, against all the odds Binder just
recording in a falsetto evocative of operetta. The chosen songs would be about got his way. The inclusion of “Blue
“Tiptoe Thru The Tulips” freak Tiny Tim. a reassessment of Elvis’ 14-year discography, Christmas” in the original broadcast (later
The second turning point in the Binder-Presley overlooking obvious million sellers such as “It’s substituted for the far superior cover of Rufus
partnership occurred during a now mythical Now Or Never” in favour of hitherto neglected Thomas’ “Tiger Man”) was his only contractual
impromptu daytime stroll down Sunset Strip. movie songs (Lieber & Stoller’s “Little Egypt” concession. That, and the censoring of the
In a further bid to convince Elvis just how far his from 1964’s Roustabout, “Let Yourself Go” from sassy “Let Yourself Go”, cut due to its camp, if
reputation had slipped, Binder persuaded the the recent Speedway) and less obvious hits (the inoffensive, brothel scenario. The fact that Elvis
reluctant singer to walk with him, unprotected lush “It Hurts Me”, which had actually been the avoided all such artistic battles, ego clashes and
in broad daylight, finally stopping outside the B-side to “Kissin’ Cousins”) and new material general shit dodging for Binder to deal with alone
Strip’s Classic Cat go-go bar. Hesitantly expecting fresh to the Presley repertoire. Even the planned
public pandemonium, Elvis instead found himself ten-minute gospel sequence, wherein he
just another face in the crowd, unrecognised could have easily wallowed in the Sunday
and shoved out of the way. Presley was human school sobriety of “Crying In The Chapel”,
enough to joke about the incident but sufficiently would instead become a superbly overplayed
disturbed by the humiliation of a career in crisis orgy in the Church of Elvis with the scarlet-
this experiment suggested to seek help. If Elvis clad King hamming up the salvation pastiche
knew he needed saving, he also recognised the “Saved” among a chorus line of demonically-
unique lifeline now offered by his new confidante. possessed dancing freaks.

Elvis with NBC


producer Steve
104|  UNCUT LEGENDS  Binder (right)
goes a long way in explaining the shameful abuse The figure-hugging black leather suit Elvis
of talent that so frequently blemished his career. wore for the majority of the show was another
Having spent an eternity mute to the Colonel’s inspired move on Binder’s and costume designer
management, The King was quite content to say Bill Belew’s part. By 1968, the leather rebel image
nothing and let the producer fight his corner. was considered something of a cliché, exhausted
The material and vague shooting script decided, nearly a decade earlier by Gene Vincent and British
the production itself began at NBC’s Burbank rocker Vince Taylor. To see Elvis in similar attire,
Studios in June 1968, marked by a launch party however, was to turn tradition on its head. A healthy
where everybody, even the star himself, was forced reminder of what Binder saw as Elvis’ “basic,
to wear introductory name tags. In another stroke of sadistic quality”, the suit exploited an admittedly
genius on Binder’s part, he reunited Elvis with Scotty hackneyed rock’n’roll dress code to recast Elvis as a
Moore and DJ Fontana, the original musicians of subversive, fetishist prince of darkness.
his earliest Sun and RCA recordings. With “general The desired effect remains one of the most
flunky” Charlie Hodge conspicuously thrown in enduring visions of Elvis. Nevertheless, come the
for moral support, the ‘boxing ring’ performance eventual live recording, the black leather sex god had
(as it became known on account of its square, raised fretted himself into a hyper-ventilating, gibbering

A
platform in the round) would become the show’s wreck, so physically ill with stage fright he resolutely
mong the most notorious, and weirdest,
distinguishing highlight. Ad-libbed anecdotes of refused to face the crowd until Binder half begged,
incidents in Elvis’ remarkable life occurred
the good old days, off-the-cuff Southern wisecracks, half booted him out on to the sound stage. Watching
on December 21, 1970: the day he turned up at
furious hoe-down assaults on “That’s All Right” the show today, as Elvis first enters like a gladiator
the White House demanding to see President
and “Heartbreak Hotel”, seeing Elvis not just pose from the past into the harsh arena of the present,
Richard Nixon with the ulterior motive of being
with his guitar but actually playing, actually rocking he appears noticeably self-conscious. It takes a few
given a Federal Agents’ police badge.
and rolling was to witness a great master at work. numbers before he finally awakes to the hysteria of
Two days earlier he’d stormed out of Graceland
Leering, wincing and sweating his soul out on “One his own stage presence, toying with the words of
after an argument with his father about Elvis’
Night”, a whole generation suddenly remembered “Love Me Tender” (“you have made my life a wreck…
overspending in the run up to Christmas. To the
what they’d been so sorely missing. uh… complete”) and raising his mic-stand like a
concern of the Memphis Mafia, whose duty it
But it, too, was an accident, a spontaneous last harpoon, yelling “Moby Dick!” On the outside
was to guard his every move, he boarded a plane
minute addition provoked by similar rockabilly basking in his own legend, on the inside Elvis was
to Washington DC by himself after deciding that
tomfoolery Binder had witnessed in the dressing baking in his own leathery Turkish bath, ending his
he desperately needed to see the President.
rooms where Elvis and his Memphis rent-a-crowd performance so dehydrated he had to be aided back
Dressed in a purple crushed-velvet suit with
took up temporary residence during recording. into his dressing room in a state of near collapse.
matching cape and a cane, he looked less like
Originally, the producer had asked for cameras to However gruelling a process for Elvis, the
The King Of Rock’n’Roll than he did Count
be allowed backstage, a suggestion Elvis violently Comeback Special was to mark the completion of a
Dracula. In fact he barely looked like Elvis at all,
objected to. Considering the more sordid personal rite of passage from idol in
having consumed so much chocolate that his
activities on the NBC lot this was perhaps exile to re-instated pop monarch.
face had ballooned in an allergic reaction.
understandable. The naive producer had Closing the show with “If I Can
Nevertheless, Elvis was unwavering in his
seen the jamming but not the shameless Dream” (so heavy with emotion he
mission, penning his now infamous introductory
whoring and high-living, a succession of recorded its studio take in a darkened
letter to Nixon in which he begged to be made
girls smuggled in for the sustenance of recording booth while writhing on the
an undercover agent in order to tackle “drug
Elvis’ ego. (Wife Priscilla and baby Lisa floor in a foetal position) Presley made a
culture and the Hippie elements”. In spite
Marie were out of sight and out of mind.) sincere vow never again to sing a song or
of the absurdity of the request, he was duly
Instead, the intimacy of these private make a movie he didn’t believe in.
granted a meeting with Nixon, who listened to
acoustic shindigs were to be recreated

S
his concerns over drugs, anti-Americanism and
under more orthodox conditions in inger Presents Elvis aired on
the negative influence of The Beatles before
front of a studio audience. A prophetic December 3, 1968 (boasting a
nodding: “I think we can get you a badge.”
blueprint for the entire ‘Unplugged’ genre, higher audience share of women
And so, The King returned to Graceland with
the ‘boxing ring’ sessions possessed a purity second aged between 18 and 49 than any
the Bureau Of Narcotics And Dangerous Drugs
only to the original Sun recordings themselves. Still, other programme that year). The following day
badge he so desired: a badge that gave this
the ever unscrupulous Colonel Parker came close to The New York Times’ Jon Landau noted: “There
35-year-old chemical timebomb, whose
sabotaging its final inclusion in the show by failing is something magical about watching a man who
every waking hour was ruled by the
to distribute satisfactory ticket quantities prior to the has lost himself, find his way home. He sang with
ritual abuse of prescription drugs,
evening of scheduled performance. A severely panic- the kind of power people no longer expect from
permission to carry any substance
stricken Binder only just managed to pull together a rock’n’roll performers. And while most of the songs
GETTY, ©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., JAT PUBLISHING/JOESPH A TUNZI

upon his person, from Aspirin to


convincingly packed studio by desperately ringing were ten or 12 years old, he performed them as
angel dust, legal or otherwise.
friends, relatives and dragging patrons from a nearby freshly as though they were written yesterday.”
Nice one, Nixon. SIMON GODDARD
diner to fill the empty seats of what would ironically A month after the broadcast Elvis stoked the
be one of the finest concerts of Elvis’ career. With rediscovered fire it had ignited in American Studios,
two separate sessions to be recorded that day, Binder Memphis and recorded many of his greatest
had no choice but to rotate the same punters around moments, among them “Suspicious Minds” which
for the second show so as to fool the cameras into rewarded him with his first US Number One in
portraying a separate crowd. A shrewd move, though seven years that November – by which time he’d
one probably subconsciously influenced by Parker, already returned to live performance in Las Vegas.
who had choreographed one of the Special’s previous The neutered, hellish, hula-dancing puppet of the
live recordings to ensure the rows closest to Elvis were Hollywood movies was dead. Not before time,
made up of the most attractive girls in the audience. The King Of Rock’n’Roll had returned.
President meets
Presley, December
21, 1970
“A TOWERING TESTAMENT TO PRESLEY’S
GREATNESS. PROBABLY THE GREATEST
WHITE SOUL RECORD EVER MADE”

When Elvis decided to call the shots, he recorded in Memphis for the first time since
the Sun years and came up with a country soul masterpiece. By Stephen Dalton

D
espite the revitalising effect of the Presley’s minders were similarly unimpressed when
Comeback Special, Elvis Presley was deeply Moman began directing Elvis in the studio, defying
out of step with rock fashion in the late ’60s. his sycophantic courtiers and demanding multiple
MEMPHIS The rising counter culture, The Beatles and takes. When an ugly tussle over producing and writing
Y FROM ELVIS IN the new wave of politically charged singer- credits almost scuppered the sessions altogether, the
1 ELVIS PRESLE songwriters had rendered the singer’s toothless producer told Parker where he could stick his $25,000
RCA
party rockers and goofy Hollywood star fee. But, crucially, Presley had overriding faith in
May 1969 vehicles virtually redundant. Moman, and two sessions duly went ahead in January
ved On Look
Wearin’ That Lo Between the last gasp of his woeful film and February. Elvis put his foot down. Musically, it was
career and his first Las Vegas residency, Elvis the smartest decision he ever made.
Survive
Only The Strong American was scheduled for a routine recording session His first recordings in his hometown since his
My He art Studios, in Nashville. His regular studio producer Felton fabled Sun Studio work 14 years before marked a
I’ll Hold You in You in My Arms) Memphis Jarvis and his stable of songwriters were duly bold departure from his usual stable of producers,
(Till I Can Hold notified. But then Presley took an unusually musicians, songwriters and arrangers. Indeed, the
usine independent step, cancelling Nashville Memphis sessions arguably spawned Presley’s first
Long Black Limo
Chips Mo man and booking time at a small local studio and only truly adult album, steeped in soulful self-
On A-Hurtin’ recommended by Memphis Mafia stalwart doubt and emotional complexity. As a married father
It Keeps Right George Klein. In a rare act of defiance against in his mid 30s, Elvis is addressing grown-up concerns,
1 manager Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis began from adultery to social injustice to single parenthood.
I’m Movin’ On calling the shots. The result is an epic nocturama of defeat and
13
Run by Lincoln ‘Chips’ Moman, a no- deceit, almost every track coloured by loss and
Power Of My Love nonsense producer who had been involved longing. In the velvet-lined waltz “I’ll Hold You In
in founding the legendary R&B label Stax, My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms)”, Presley’s
nd
Gentle On My Mi American Studios was a small operation mighty voice becomes a faraway yodel of impossible
with a big reputation. In the 18 months yearning. On stoical sermons like “True Love Travels
u
After Loving Yo before the Elvis sessions, it had turned On A Gravel Road”, borne aloft by lush strings, or “It
ad out dozens of hits for the likes of Dusty Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’”, pain is an ever-present fact
s On A Gravel Ro
True Love Travel Springfield, Wilson Pickett and Dionne of life. The grown-up Elvis is coming to realise that
Warwick. Hence Moman’s seasoned you might check out of Heartbreak Hotel, but you can
Any Day Now in-house players were nonplussed never really leave.
when a nervous Presley arrived with his It may be a conspiracy theory too far, but it is
In The Ghetto entourage on January 13, 1969, especially hard not to hear Presley’s own untimely death
as they had postponed a Neil Diamond foreshadowed in the spooked, gospel-infused
session to accommodate The King. cautionary tale “Long Black Limousine”, the first track

106|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


PICK OF THE PERIOD

IN PERSON/
BACK IN
MEMPHIS
1969 [UK 3/ US 12]
A two-record set. The
first disc, subtitled
From Memphis To
Vegas, is Elvis’ first –
and best – Vegas live
album recorded at the
start of his residency
at the International
in 1969. The second
disc, aka From Vegas
To Memphis, collects
together more of the
tracks recorded with
Chips Moman at his
American Studios in
Memphis, including
the amazing finale,
“Without Love
(There Is Nothing)”.

NBC TV
SPECIAL
1968 [UK 2/ US 8]
A mixed bag from the
Comeback Special,
but the new cuts of
vintage rockers pack
a hefty punch, while
the newly funked
up version of “Guitar
Man” twangs itself
into the pantheon
of Elvis classics.

he cut on January 13, about an ambitious small- entertainer, stepping into the social-comment into bad habits. His decline accompanied by a glut
town starlet who returns home in a hearse. ring with Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye and John of lazy live albums and cheesy novelty collections.
But for all its bruised emotions, From Elvis Lennon seemed a risky move. From Elvis In Memphis is a teasing taster of the
In Memphis also showcases Elvis at his most But when Moman suggested offering “In The heights Elvis might have reached if had cut loose
funky and rhythmic, The King Of The Swingers Ghetto” to another singer, Presley changed his and challenged himself more often. But whatever
digging deep into his deep-fried soul roots. Even mind. The resulting masterpiece, a mini-movie his tarnished legacy, it remains a towering
as he challenges an unfaithful lover in “Wearin’ of social deprivation set on the snowy streets of testament to Presley’s greatness. Almost four
That Loved On Look” or dispenses tough-love Chicago, finds Elvis quietly imploring for a fairer decades later, it is still probably the greatest white
life lessons on “Only The Strong Survive”, the world over funereal drum beats and haunted soul record ever made.
American in-house band stir up a muscular racket guitar flourishes. Striking a chord in an era of
of syncopated basslines, bustling brass and Civil Rights marches and anti-war protest, it hit
chrome-plated country-funk. “I’m Movin’ On” is Number Three in the US charts and Number Two in
a defiant gospel-rock kiss-off to bad times, while Britain, Presley’s first Top Ten hit for half a decade.
“Power Of My Love” positively radiates Dionysian The other track from the Memphis sessions
virility. This is key to this album’s enduring appeal that rivals “In The Ghetto” among all-time Elvis
– even the most desolate tracks are brimming favourites is “Suspicious Minds”, a propulsive cry of
with desire, pulsing with hard-won pleasure. despair for a relationship ravaged by mistrust and
Ironically, one of the towering classics most infidelity. As a stand-alone single, it gave Presley
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

associated with the Memphis albums was an his first US chart-topper for seven years and
afterthought that Presley initially seemed became a staple of the singer’s Vegas shows.
reluctant to record. Written by Mac Davis, “In The When Presley walked out of American Studios
Ghetto” was deemed too close to a protest song in February 1969, he was perfectly aligned for
by The King’s cautious career custodians. After a glorious third-act career revival. But instead,
being groomed for years as an apolitical family damaged by divorce and drugs, he soon fell back

Comeback
king: Elvis
Presley in 1968
 UNCUT LEGENDS  |107
E x p osCKeSPdECIAL
‘68 COMEBA

KING OF THE
SMALL SCREEN
When Elvis recorded the Comeback Special for NBC-TV in 1968,
he reclaimed his throne in style and left behind some of the
most iconic images of ’60s pop culture. By Nick Hasted

“I
f you’re lookin’ for trouble”, snarls Elvis, “just Now we’re at the show’s real heart, its only sustained
look right in my face”. The tight close-up on his stretch in the informal ‘boxing ring’, where Elvis can
cold eyes that opens the Comeback Special improvise according to his whims. Tossing a sweat-
lets you think he might mean it. “Guitar stained hanky into the girls around him, detonating
Man”’s cocky words match his saturnine garb of black shrieks, he tears into the Sun-era “Trying To Get To You”.
silk shirt and jeans, meant to remind you that Elvis was a First shrugging lazily to the camera as if it’s nothing,
rebel, long ago. Still, when the lights go up behind him his eyes are soon closed, his legs zig-zagging, his body
to reveal a catwalk of guitar-swinging dancers, as brassy starting to strain from his chair. Then he decides he
orchestration kicks in, normal Christmas Special service will stand. But the strap he’d need for his guitar can’t
seems sure to be resumed. be found. He makes to stand anyway, as if his legs are
But then, in what must have seemed like a hardcore chained to the floor, as if it’s something superhuman,
Elvis fan’s utterly unlikely dream in 1968, we fade into a before swaying to his feet. The show’s feeling of freedom
close-up of Elvis in a skin-tight black leather jumpsuit, after a decade in chains is caught in that symbolic
raucously singing “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, with guitarist moment, one of rock’n’roll’s very greatest. He closes
Scotty Moore and drummer DJ Fontana. You can watch the segment by sitting down again for the saccharine
the sweat streak down Elvis’ face. They are circled, in what “Memories”, as the orchestra swells behind him.
looks like a boxing ring, by seated fans, close enough to The next long section is where director Steve Binder
touch. Then Elvis talks, and laughingly disowns the movie put all his energy, building an intricate sequence of
career that had seemed to consume him. theatrical set-pieces around Jerry Reed’s song “Guitar
The shock builds as we cut again. Elvis is standing Man”, and veering campily close to the awful movies
alone now, still in black leather, tensely pacing the same he otherwise deplored.
fan-circled stage, before beginning a medley of his Elvis, strolling down a neon road in blue denim,
biggest ’50s hits. “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog” guitar on his back, is waylaid first by pink-boa-swathed
are orgiastic, his voice an unsuspected, manly roar. By floozies who lure him into a bordello (a scene censored
“Jailhouse Rock” he’s on his knees, practically pumping on original transmission). Leaping back onto the

TROUBLE CREDITS
his groin at the camera, giddily gleeful to be back onstage highway, he’s soon on a circus midway, in a kung-fu
after all these years. His personal black gospel trio The battle with the minions of the “Big Boss Man”. Switching
Elvis finished As the credits roll, Blossoms, and a glimpse of the NBC Orchestra behind to a gold lamé jacket, Elvis sings “Trouble” in a belly-
the “Guitar Man” Elvis stands him, tell us that this won’t just be a rock revival. But as dancing bar that becomes a red-strobed disco, then
production number medley impassively in the huge he half-laughs at “Love Me Tender” before losing himself a high-class joint where he wears black velvet. Finally,
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., JAT PUBLISHING/JOESPH A TUNZI

– meant to symbolise his life red neon letters of his own in it, the impression grows that Elvis is aching to tear loose back standing on the boxing-ring stage, he goes from
– by singing this song in a regal name. Guitar in hand, of ten years of sappy sentiment. “Trouble” into “Guitar Man”, before stepping again
belly-dancing club. The gold throne reclaimed, the energy Back in the ‘boxing ring’ for “Are You Lonesome Tonight ?”. onto the neon highway, tying together the show’s
lamé jacket was supposed to of what he’d just achieved
Elvis mangles this too, in no mood for ballads, even as the disparate threads.
represent Elvis’ success. He would fuel at least three
camera pans to a girl weepily overcome by it, or him. It’s been a lengthy anti-climax after the elemental
baulked at the suggested full more years of greatness.
gold suit, as he had when the Cut again and a black man dances alone to a spiritual, power of the “boxing ring” section: the place where
Colonel originally made him the start of an affected, Broadway-style gospel suite, Elvis really risked himself, and refound his soul. “If I Can
wear one in the ’50s. complete with spinning, kicking dancers. Appearing Dream” provides a more fitting finale, as a white-suited
on top of a gantry in a sharp red suit, this mysteriously Elvis, standing in front of his own giant name in red lights
powerful new Elvis slices through the production’s artifice name, rips open his heart one more time, transforming
to find his own mix of heaven and hell. As he roars into the trite lyrics with raw power he’d never known before.
climax of “Saved”, he’s almost speaking in tongues. Astonishingly, Elvis was back.

108|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


E x p osCKeSPdECIAL
‘68 COMEBA

THAT’S
ALL RIGHT
(Right) Elvis gives
America a history
lesson, going right back to
his rocking birth. Smirking
with playful confidence, he
roars the words as if he’s back
at Sun Studio 14 years earlier.
Original guitarist Scotty
Moore smiles with pleasure.
He’d never see Elvis again.

IF I CAN
DREAM (Above right)
Producer Steve
Binder’s desire to mould Elvis
into civil rights era social
relevance resulted in this
nod to racial brotherhood.
Elvis’ performance found
something more nakedly
personal, summoning his
own inarticulate hopes after
a decade’s frustration. At
song’s end, he looks spent.

GUITAR MAN
(Right) Steve Binder
picked this recent hit,
which seemed so suggestive
of Elvis’ desire to rock again,
as the theme that knits the
Comeback Special together.
JAT PUBLISHING/JOSEPH A TUNZI, ©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., REDFERNS

HEARTBREAK
HOTEL
(Opposite page) At
the start of the formal
concert segment, Elvis roams the
‘boxing ring’ stage, eyes flicking
nervously upwards, as if looking
for guidance. Strapping on a
guitar for just one song, he slowly
swivels his hips, and turns his first
RCA single into a sultry cry of lust:
“Well, since my baby left me…”
Like any girl would leave this.

110|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


E x p osCKeSPdECIAL
‘68 COMEBA

CAN’T HELP
FALLING
IN LOVE
(Right) The only ballad
sung straight, replete
with strings and sweet-voiced,
unseen female choir. But in
a foretaste of Vegas shows
to come, this re-energised
Elvis climaxed a delicate
performance with a display of
karate-chopping exuberance.

MEMORIES(Opposite page) At
the formal close of the
informal segment, Elvis sings
this sentimental, orchestrated
ballad, returning to showbiz
special normality. Initially
sitting flanked by two carefully
picked, adoring girls, he stands
almost bashfully to take the
applause. The clear sound of
his exhausted breathing brings
even this tableau to life.

IF I CAN
DREAM (Right) In saintly
white after the black
leather devilry, Elvis seems
set to stand and deliver a
pure-voiced sermon. Steve
Binder originally wanted
him to close with a speech
setting out his beliefs.

GUITAR
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., GETTY, REDFERNS

MAN (Far right) One of the


most iconic images
from the Comeback Special,
a variant of which graced
the cover of The King’s finest
album, From Elvis In Memphis,
the following year.

112|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


Elvis’ one
concession to
flower power

almost sarcastically dressy, subversive in its contrasting worthy of a regal rock’n’roller. However, like a
tones. You see how it impacts on the early Elvis. On his metaphor for the burden of stardom, it was stifling, heavy
second appearance on The Milton Berle Show in 1956, for and uncomfortable to wear and Elvis soon dispensed
From ice-cool ’50s hip- example, the black shirt and white socks are a deliberate with it.
sartorial offence – conservative taste deems they should Elvis’ next sartorial gesture was a dismaying one to
wiggler to jumpsuit-clad ’70s be the other way round. many, as he submitted to the GI look, his greasy locks
crooner, Elvis remains pop For the young Elvis, however, the way he looked at last shorn, the army succeeded where his old school
culture’s mos t icon ic fi gure and dressed, and coiffured his hair, weren’t a gesture of football team had failed. Throughout the ’60s, Elvis would
arrogance but manifested how different he felt, how eschew the longhair fashions of the decade he all but
lonesome and apart, how difficult he found it to fit in. He sat out. His wedding photos in 1967 show him pointedly
didn’t feel King of nothing back then – “I wasn’t trying to untouched by ‘hippiedom’, hairstyle caught in a ’56 time
be better than anyone else,” he once said. Indeed, part of warp. But for his 1968 TV comeback, aged 33, he looked as

B
e it the two tone shoes, upturned collars, satin his motivation to dress like he did was to try and capture good as he ever did, perhaps never more timeless, clad in
jackets and quiff of his early years, or the white some of the self-assurance and self-possession of those retro black, yet looking a sleek, well-preserved jet-sharp
jump-suits and garish shades of his twilight, so he emulated, be it the black folks on Beale, laconically paradigm of rock’n’roll cool. He certainly looks a great deal
beloved of his legions of imitators, from flyover cool movie stars or even the hard-bitten truck driver types better than, say, the beardy Beatles did in ’68.
country trailer dwellers to Chinese restaurateurs, Elvis he’d encountered from whom he took his greased back His comeback outfit was designed by Bill Belew, who
Presley’s look is beyond cliché – it’s ingrained in the hairdo and sideburns. It all amounted to
collective consciousness. So much so that it’s all but something altogether weird, however,
impossible to imagine how shocking, how strange and left him prey to the jocks in his
a proposition he was when first he crash-landed on school football team who often ganged
popular culture, how traumatically different he appeared up on him for refusing to get with the
to austere, buttoned-up, monochrome, belligerently programme and cut back his locks.
conservative ’50s America. The responses he provoked When Elvis became a public
were huge – swoons, laughter, fulmination, tears. spectacle in the mid ’50s,
Not that Elvis was without precedent, some alien from it wasn’t just his dressing funny that caused consternation. would be responsible for the template for Elvis’ costumes
the blue. He owed a debt to the movies, way back to the His swarthy, soft features, coupled with him wearing the for the remainder of his career – in 1969, white jump-suits,
ill-fated Latin heartthrob Rudolph Valentino from the sort of duds you’d expect black guys on the wrong side of designed to reflect Elvis’ love of karate and accentuate his
’20s, through to the male creatures of the film noir era, like the tracks to wear, marked him out as dangerously ‘trans- trim figure – then afterwards to conceal his girth. Elvis co-
Robert Mitchum. James Dean and Tony Curtis he idolised, racial’. Moreover, his peculiar penchant for wearing pink designed the outfits that were his ’70s trademark – with
ditto Marlon Brando, who exuded rock’n’roll as early as with black, a little twist of his own, his constant preening, their tassles and frills they were inspired by a book of 19th
1951, in A Streetcar Named Desire. From them he derived awareness of his own beauty, his sexual swivels and century Victorian fashions he had seen.
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., REX FEATURES, CORBIS, GETTY, LFI, PICTORIAL PRESS

a broody narcissism, a consciousness of the electricity the passive, sultry air, the way his excessively lubricated hair As the ’70s progressed, Elvis became, in the opinion of
right appearance could give off. tumbled into his eyes, were altogether too effeminate, too many, a parody not just of himself but also of rock’n’roll.
Clothes-wise, he was taken as a teenager with a shop perverse for many. There was something wrong with the Encamped in Las Vegas and surrounded by his Memphis
called Lansky’s, on Beale Street in Memphis. They were his boy, a ’50s white male apparently in clear revolt against Mafia, his outfits became encrusted with rhinestone and
earliest outfitters. Elvis would go down ’50s whiteness and maleness. jewellery, his jumpsuit signifying a notion of rock’n’roll
to Beale and look on with fascination at By 1957, Elvis had attained glitz and pizzazz that sat in stark contrast to the skinny
the black lifestyle on display, the natty superstar status, was a burgeoning new punks now popping up on the block. Yet this is the
eccentricity. Similarly, when watching Hollywood star and firmly under Elvis his myriad imitators love and whom even Nick Cave
early R&B performers, he was as much the thumb of manager Colonel Tom has claimed as his “favourite” Presley incarnation – the
taken with the way the piano player’s “The image is one thing and the Parker, who had in mind a showbiz more human Elvis who is the patron saint not of cool but
trousers ballooned as with the chords human being is another... future for his boy. To mark of uncool, a flawed and vulnerable trouper to the last.
it’s very hard to live
they belted out. Zoot suits, dress pants this, a gold lamé suit This is an Elvis who has not descended into the showbiz
up to an image.”
with stripes, loud checks, all this was was created for Elvis swamp, but has ascended phoenix-like high above the
– Elvis quoted before
part and parcel of the black street his record-breaking
by Hollywood fashion fickle vagaries of rock’n’roll, truly Kingly in his girth and
look since the ’40s. It was mega-sharp, shows at New York’s designer Nudie. It was outrageous finery. DAVID STUBBS
Madison Square
Garden in 1972.

114|
Elvis Presley’s many
looks, from the
’30s to the ’70s
8

Despite unprecedented popularity and a satellite concert broadcast reaching an audience of


over a billion, drugs, divorce and the demands of near-constant touring hasten Elvis’ physical
and mental decline. The guitar man is in trouble

1971 1972 1974


– though he dates Cybill Shepherd
Elvis and
executive toys in
JANUARY for a time too. Separation from
26 Begins a month-long run at the Priscilla is formalised.
a Denver motel International (now called the
room, 1971
Hilton). The show is now more AUGUST
cabaret-like, with showstoppers 4 Back to the Vegas Hilton.
like ”An American Trilogy”. 18 Elvis and Priscilla divorce.

MARCH SEPTEMBER
In LA for recording tied in with 5 Elvis and the Colonel hold press
filming for MGM documentary conference to announce Hawaiian
Elvis On Tour. “Burning Love” laid show in January 1973. It will be
down, but Elvis’ melancholic first ever full, live concert carried
mood evident in “Separate Ways” around world by satellite. With Governor
George C
and “Always On My Mind”.
NOVEMBER Wallace, 1974

APRIL 1 Elvis On Tour opens to good


New tour starts in Buffalo, NY. reviews. It will win a Golden Globe. JANUARY
He Touched Me released. It will Elvis embarks on ten-date tour. 26 Two more weeks at the Hilton.
win Elvis his second Grammy, for
Inspirational Performance. MARCH–MAY
Elvis is on tour throughout most of
JUNE this period. His March performance
9 A 12-date tour starts with four at Houston Astrodome breaks
nights at Madison Square Garden, his own attendance records. Two
Elvis’ first New York shows, dates of his May residency in Lake
attended by Lennon, Dylan and Tahoe are cancelled due to “flu”.
Bowie. One show is recorded for
live album Elvis As Recorded At JULY
Madison Square Garden, rushed During a brief break, Elvis considers
out nine days later. making a Bruce Lee-style karate
movie.
JULY
5 Introduced to Linda Thompson, AUGUST
who will become his girlfriend Back at Hilton in Vegas for another
month. A bored Elvis tries a new set
and reviews improve. But parts of
JANUARY
16 Elvis is at the Memphis Municipal
JUNE
10 Highway 51 South, part of which 1973 the show focus more on karate and
his rambling monologues. After
Auditorium to receive a prize as runs past Graceland, is renamed one show, Barbra Streisand tells
one of the year’s Ten Outstanding Elvis Presley Boulevard. JANUARY Hawaii is released and stays in the Elvis she wants to cast him in her
Young Men Of The Nation, awarded 12 Performs relatively intimate US chart for a year. remake of A Star Is Born. It does not
by the Junior Chamber Of JULY warm-up show for 6,000 people. happen.
Commerce to high achievers under A fortnight run at the Sahara Hotel, 14 Over one billion people across JULY
40. UN ambassador George Bush Lake Tahoe, Nevada is followed by the world watch the live satellite 21 Elvis records at Stax in Memphis. OCTOBER
gives keynote address. a month at the Vegas International. broadcast of Aloha From Hawaii. RCA pressure him to produce 24 Back on the
26 He starts another month-long Elvis’ marriage is in tatters. Priscilla 26 Elvis starts another month at tracks under the terms of his new road, back on the
run at the International in Vegas. is having an affair with karate Hilton, but sickness causes him contract. Elvis is constantly late. drugs and hugely
instructor Mike Stone, while Joyce to cancel four dates. His drug Only eight tracks are completed. overweight,
MARCH Bova has an abortion. intake is leading to throat and Elvis returns to
15 Recording session begins for Colonel Parker starts to gamble lung problems while his weight is AUGUST Lake Tahoe.
gospel album He Touched Me. massive amounts in Vegas casinos. ballooning. Another residency at Hilton. The
Versions of “The First Time Ever reviews are devastating, focusing
I Saw Your Face” and “Amazing NOVEMBER MARCH on his weight and lack of interest.
Grace” are put down before Elvis 5 Another 12-date US tour opens 1 The Colonel sells Elvis’ entire
OCTOBER
REDFERNS, REX FEATURES, CORBIS, JAT PUBLISHING

is admitted to Memphis Hospital in Minneapolis. Regular backing back catalogue to RCA for a paltry
with serious glaucoma, thought band The Imperials are junked and $5.4million. He also sets up new 15 Elvis is admitted to hospital in
to be caused by dye from his JD Sumner & The Stamps hired. seven-year deal with RCA. Memphis with severe breathing
eyebrows. His mistress Joyce Bova Elvis’ jewellery and costumes difficulties, enlarged colon,
nurses him further at home , but become increasingly ostentatious. APRIL glaucoma and liver problems. He
the condition will dog him until Another tour, starting in Phoenix. is also prescribed methadone to
his death. DECEMBER The live album of Aloha From wean him off Demerol.
Priscilla leaves Elvis, taking Lisa
MAY Marie with her. Elvis announces DECEMBER
15 Back in the studio in Nashville to the split, although divorce Elvis back at Stax.
record Christmas album Elvis Sings proceedings will not begin until Records 18 tracks
The Wonderful World Of Christmas. the following summer. in seven days. Onstage in South
Bend, Indiana,
October 1974
1975 1976
Presley’s jet: Elvis also purchases and JANUARY
Note distinctively renovates a 96-seat, 8 Elvis celebrates his birthday on a
Elvoid livery $250,000 Convair 880 skiing holiday in Colorado.
jet – the Lisa Marie. 28 Elvis attends the funeral of a
friend in the Denver police force,
JULY wearing a police uniform.
Another tour starts in RCA, desperate for Elvis to record,
Oklahoma City install a mobile studio at Graceland.
27 Elvis spends Sessions produce “Way Down”,
$140,000 on 14 Cadillacs plus the From Elvis Presley Boulevard
which he gives away and most of the Moody Blue albums.
to family and friends,
plus one for a woman MARCH No encores:
named Menni Person Money problems arise. He borrows
JANUARY who is window shopping at the $350,000 against Graceland. A
The final show,
Indianapolis 1977
8 Elvis turns “fat and 40”, says Life dealership when Elvis arrives. costly divorce, another plane and
magazine. buying binges force the need for
AUGUST
1977
29 Elvis returns to hospital with April shows in Lake Tahoe.
similar symptoms and problems as 18 Elvis opens another stint in
before. He stays in for observation Las Vegas. MAY
and recuperation for 17 days. 20 Ill health causes Elvis to Another cross-country Elvis’ terrible physical and
pull out of remaining shows. tour. Elvis is frequently mental state, announces an
MARCH He returns to Memphis and is incoherent and stumbling upcoming CBS TV special.
10 New sessions in Hollywood. No hospitalised until September 5. across stage, but it eases
notable tracks beyond a cover of money worries. JUNE
“Green, Green Grass Of Home”. DECEMBER Vernon Presley fires Elvis’ 26 Elvis performs his last
2 Elvis returns to the Vegas bodyguards Red and Sonny concert at the Market Square
MARCH Hilton to make up for the earlier West and Dan Webler after A grim-looking Arena, Indianapolis, Indiana. It
Back to Hilton in Vegas. The live cancelled performances. series of arguments. Few Elvis relaxes lasts one hour and 17 minutes.
album of Elvis’ 1974 Memphis 31 Elvis performs in Pontiac, of the old crew of cronies with Ginger
show wins him his third Grammy. Michigan, a record breaking are left. JULY
All three of his wins have been for show in front of 62,500 fans Elvis rarely leaves Graceland. By
gospel recordings. – the biggest audience for a JULY JANUARY now he is on constant medication
single artist in an indoor concert. Elvis’ touring treadmill restarts in Elvis quietly celebrates his birthday of Seconal, Placidyl, Valmid, Tuinal,
APRIL/MAY The performance grosses over Kentucky. It’s a money-spinner, but with Ginger in Palm Springs. A Demerol and other downers.
A mass of live dates $800,000, the largest sum reviews focus on how listless and recording session in Nashville is
across the country. ever earned for a one-night fallen Elvis has become. aborted after Elvis complains of AUGUST
performance by a single artist. sore throat. 11 Colonel Parker calls Elvis to tell
JUNE Following the show, Elvis and his AUGUST 26 Elvis proposes to him to get ready for the next tour,
18 Elvis has bags entourage fly back to Memphis Elvis now has a Ginger, in his bathroom. starting on August 17.
under his eyes in the Lisa Marie and ring in the full-time nurse to His new fiancée will 14 Elvis tries on his new jumpsuit.
removed at Mid South new year watching tapes of medicate him. He’s accompany him on a It doesn’t fit. He initially blames
Hospital in Memphis. Monty Python in Elvis’ bedroom. back on road until short February tour. the tailors, then says to Billy, “I’m
well into October. too damn fat”.
MARCH 15 Elvis has appointment with
OCTOBER 4 Elvis and Ginger (plus his dentist Dr Lester Hoffman to
The Wests and most of her extended replace a crown, returning late.
Gebler look set family) head to Hawaii 16 After an early hours racquetball
Ginger at
to publish Elvis: Dr Nick’s
on holiday. It’s cut short game, Elvis relaxes playing piano
What Happened?, a trial, 1980 eight days later when and singing Willie Nelson’s
PICTORIAL PRESS, REDFERNS, CORBIS,

behind-the-scenes Elvis gets sand in his eye “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”. At
exposé of the reality and Dr Nick worries he 2.30pm, Ginger discovers Elvis’
of life with Elvis. He tries to block it. has scratched his cornea.. body in the bathroom of his
23 Back on the road, but Elvis is in private suite. He is pronounced
NOVEMBER bad shape. He wears the only two dead 30 minutes after his arrival at
19 Elvis meets 20-year-old Ginger suits he can now fit into. Memphis Baptist Hospital.
Alden, after inviting her twin sister,
the reigning Miss Tennessee, to APRIL
Graceland. He is smitten and flies 1-5 Exhausted and faltering, Elvis
her to Vegas the next is back in hospital.
day, where he begins yet
another tour. APRIL–JUNE
Yet more live dates. Elvis’

Elvis, Ginger and


DECEMBER behaviour is totally erratic.
Another run of shows at Stories circulate about the
friends take a Hilton in Vegas. Elvis is Colonel selling Elvis’ contract to
joyride around
Graceland “Out of control,” admits pay gambling debts. Parker, to
the Colonel. everyone’s surprise considering
Elvis leaves the
building: the last
118|  UNCUT LEGENDS  photo, August
15, 1977
Elvis meets his
public onstage
in Vegas, 1970

Elvis during his first season


at the International Hotel
in Las Vegas, 1969

pril 5, 1972 and it’s all going off in the aisle and launching herself “like an SAM
Buffalo, New York. Elvis is in the missile, like an Evel Knievel motorcycle” in
building ready to meet the faithful the direction of the singer. He explains the
at the Memorial Auditorium. scene to writer Jerry Hopkins thus: “She took

H
The orchestra strikes the a leap and sailed through the air, and landed
thunderous tones of “Also Sprach with a splat, skidding across the stage the way e’s bored with many of the old rock’n’roll
Zarathustra”, which masses up you’d see a seal or walrus at Marineland. Elvis saw tunes and the voice that he used back then.
the awe and the mystique even more. So when her coming and sidestepped her and she slid right He reckons they’re like the sound of a chicken
Presley hits that stage, nervous and unsure, into the drums.” squawking, and often they will be reduced to
nobody really notices. A multitude of cheap little Business as usual, then. Elvis looks well, and medleys and parodies. He’s more comfortable
cameras are fizzing, the band is playing a sure his singing is exceptional. Age and a little extra with the drama and the texture of the music
groove and the ceremony is royally on course. weight have allowed him to reach the lower notes that he’s been evoking since the 1969 Memphis
As promised, promoter Jerry Weintraub has in the register, while he can also soar remarkably sessions. “Suspicious Minds” and “In The
made sure that the first 20 rows are full of proper, high, closing “American Trilogy” with a piercing Ghetto” are perfect examples and, on this tour, he
hysterical fans. This isn’t one of your hard-to- call. Lesser mortals use a falsetto technique to performs the likes of “You Gave Me A Mountain”,
please, cosmopolitan crowds and, again, this is get up there, but Presley doesn’t need it. This is an immense outpouring of hurt and difficulty.
part of the plan. Elvis and the Colonel are happy his bel canto phase, when he can apply himself The narrator of this Marty Robbins lyric has dealt
to entertain the plain people of America, and this to just about any tone or mood, and sound like with poverty and mean times, and he’s weathered
15-date tour will also visit the likes of Dayton and he’s in command. Many of those tunes are spiked it all. But now his woman has grown tired of the
Knoxville, Greensboro and Little with emotion, revealing a difficult personal life. unending grief, and she’s left him, taking their
Rock. There’s an understanding His wardrobe designer, Bill Belew, has also child away. There’s no easy resolution in the
that Elvis will be close to his responded to the times. His first commission song as the singer tells God that he may never
public, that he will touch and had been the leather catsuit from the Comeback overcome this obstacle.
embrace them, that he will give Special, but now he’s decking the singer And for his audience, this is all relevant.
them scarves soaked in his own out in karate-style suits in crimson, Most of them were party to the fun of
perspiration and perhaps even powder blue and pure white. These are the ’50s, and they never really got into the
gold rings and glittering trinkets. accessorised with jewels and patterns, weirdness of the following decade. They’re
How can you not be excited flared at the wrist and the ankle. married with kids, managing financially,
by this? The documentary The sunglasses are cantilevered but otherwise lost. They have patriotic
film-maker, Bob Abel, is and gleaming, the collars are feelings, but Vietnam has been such
stunned as he upstanding and the singer’s a downer. Yet in the face of the
watches a woman sideburns have grown to accentuate anti-war movement, Richard
sprinting down this pimp-emperor chic. Nixon will be re-elected in a

 UNCUT LEGENDS 
B y 1974 when Led Zeppelin got to meet
Elvis, there was some confusion about who
was now the king. Presley and Zeppelin shared
the same American promoter, Jerry Weintraub,
and so all concerned knew by this time that the
group they called The Hammer Of The Gods was
the hotter ticket.
When Zeppelin turned up to see his show
one night at the Forum in Los Angeles, Elvis
was intrigued to meet this bunch of long-haired
English barbarians who were selling out venues
faster than he was. After singing “Love Me
Tender”, he told the audience: “I want to let
everyone know my favourite band Led Zeppelin
is here tonight. I’d like to have the spotlight
put on them and I hope you’ll join me in
landslide 1972 campaign, taking he also bends and slides the
welcoming them.” According to the not-
every state except Massachusetts. notes with ease. James is the
always-reliable account of the band’s road
The squares still rule, even effective leader of the Taking
manager, Richard Cole, when the lights
though the looming Arab oil Care of Business band, and he’s
came up, they revealed drummer John
embargo will hit them hard. Like in constant communication
Bonham to be fast asleep.
Elvis, they’re considering divorce with Elvis onstage, his Fender
Afterwards the band were shown up to
and fretting about parental Telecaster tacking the songs
Presley’s penthouse suite at the Inglewood,
custody. And so when he sings, around the voice.
over the street from the venue. Determined
they feel they’ve got company. Songs such as “Polk Salad
to show who was the real star, he kept them
Hence the spectacular theatre of “American Annie” and “Proud Mary” are rooted in the
waiting until the room was full before making
Trilogy”. It was Mickey Newbury who had spliced South, and Burton steers the band into a country-
his entrance. Elvis asked if the wild stories
together these old songs, but it was Elvis who soul dimension. Elvis is happy here, as the songs
about Zeppelin on the road were true. Robert
wore the idea like a personal declaration. swing on the offbeat and the drums of Ronnie
Plant mumbled something about them having
With the “Dixie” section of the trilogy he’s Tutt, a Texan boy, drive the action. The bassist,
the actual boy who was born in a wretched Jerry Scheff is from California, and his speciality
cabin, all forlorn. He looks to the skies for relief, but is jazz and rhythm and blues. But he’s able to
soon we’re into “All My Trials”, facing mortality, the accent his style to fit.
father just about at the end of his days. The kettle Scheff was never a Presley fan before he got
drums thunder, the horns blare and it’s the final the call to Vegas. He reckoned he was just an
stretch of “Battle Hymn Of The Republic” a prayer imitation of the black artists of the day. But
for deliverance that’s surely going to be answered, he soon revised that opinion when rehearsals
sometime soon. started. “It was kind of punk lounge music… for
As ever, the Colonel has been trying to save the first couple of years he almost demanded that
families and how easily rumours were spread.
on overheads, but Elvis gives his audience total we kick him in the butt.”
Presley laughed – and the ice was broken.
extravagance. On a previous tour, they’ve tried to When they’re not on tour, the TCB band
“The four of us and him talked for a couple of
make do with a pick-up orchestra at every gig, but it are highly valued for their session work. Gram
hours,” Plant recalls. “We all stood in a circle and
wasn’t a success, so now there’s a dozen players on Parsons hires some of them for his GP and
discussed this whole phenomenon, this lunacy.
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

the salary, plus a core band and two vocal groups Grievous Angel albums. Emmylou Harris is also
You’d have to go a long way to find someone
and a soprano. At the heart of it is James Burton, a a subscriber and, later, Elvis Costello will reunite
with a better idea of what it was all about.”
magnificent guitarist from Louisiana, who’s worked Burton, Scheff and Tutt for his 1986 release,
According to Cole, Plant and Presley even ended
with Ricky Nelson and the house band of the Shindig King Of America.
up trading lines from “Love Me” before – to
TV programme. He’s got a distinctive, picking style, But, for the main part, these boys are on the
Bonham’s embarrassment – Elvis asked Led
partly derived from country player Chet Atkins, but Presley firm. It’s their job to play over the finale
Zeppelin for their autographs. NIGEL WILLIAMSON

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |121


King of America:
squeezing out every
extreme of glory
of the shows, when the last “hallelujah” has been and pathos
sung, when every extreme of glory and pathos
have been squeezed out on the night. Elvis leaves
the stage and he’s in the limo before the band have
finished. But if he’s feeling upbeat, then the music
will resume back at the hotel.
He may call on the vocals of The Sweet
Inspirations, who have backed Aretha Franklin
and a host of the great names on Atlantic Records.
Or he’ll reconvene with The Stamps Quartet,
who harmonise in the Southern gospel way. Elvis
loves their leader, JD Sumner, and he had watched
him intently as a teenager at the all-night sings in
the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis. JD had sang at
Elvis’ mother’s funeral – and he would
have another mournful farewell to perform in
1977. He wears plenty of expensive
rings on his “Elvis hand”, purchased
for him by his grateful boss. So,
on a good night, they’ll gather
around the piano and conjure
up some of that old-time religion,
happily competing for the best lines,
Elvis is trying to sing deeper that JD’s
impossibly profound tones, and it makes them
laugh. It’s never going to get any better than this.

E lvis opened at the International Hotel, Las


Vegas on July 31, 1969. It was his first live
show since a Pearl Harbor benefit in 1961. This
new venue was the biggest, most expensive
throwdown of its time, dwarfing (Below) Onstage at
Caesar’s Palace. They needed a Providence Civic
good draw and the Presley camp Center, Rhode
Island, May 23, 1977
was confident after the NBC Special
of 1968 and the Memphis recording
sessions. Colonel Parker booked his
charge for a four-week residency,
two shows a day. Elvis had stiffed
out in this town in 1956, when his
act at the New Frontier was too
lewd and the clientele was too old to
appreciate it. But his opening show,
attended by Hollywood friends and
players, was a joyous event. Even his
manager was elated, and paid his
respects in the dressing room.
“That old man had tears in his pack them in during the spins. It was also the cape-wearing era, when he’d
eyes,” said Sonny West, one of the quiet season. stride the board like a Marvel comics character,
minders. “His face was twisted with emotion. Elvis played for a dinner audience, singing flapping with gusto.
I had never seen him like that before. They just over the clanking of cutlery and wine glasses. If Vegas made him work as an entertainer, it
put their arms around each other in a big hug. The second shows of the night were mostly just wasn’t always good for his art. The older crowds
The Colonel’s body was shaking.” drinking affairs, which the band preferred. And, liked to hear familiar tunes, and so he obliged
Parker calmed down enough to endorse in a while, the tables got smaller and the food was with Beatles covers, with a perfunctory try at
a five-year contract, blocking his artist out cut out of the deal, as the hotel realised they could The Bee Gees’ “Words” and Neil Diamond’s
for month-long stays in February and sell the gig on Elvis alone. “Sweet Caroline”. It was James Burton who
August. It was good for everyone’s The singer had adopted some of his bump- put the vim into “See See Rider” and “Johnny
business: the take from slot machines and-grind routines from the Tom Jones revues. B Goode”, saving the show from cabaret hell.
doubled, as the Colonel earned His own signature style came from his karate Shortly afterwards, Elvis introduced “Bridge
plenty from the merchandise stalls routines, a practice that he’d picked up in Over Troubled Water” and this was also tame.
and then blew his earnings in the the army and which he would It was only when he took the song on the road
casino. The women’s toilets began flaunt ad nauseum in the that it began to make sense. Paul Simon had
stocking fresh pairs of knickers. later years. But in the early appropriated the song from gospel music, and
Even a series of dates in January ’70s, he would seemingly direct Presley took it back there, making it sound raw
proved that the Presley name could the music with these kicks, flips and and anxious and finally transcendent.

122|
Las Vegas, according to Ronnie they’d been as keen as those
Tutt, was “the ultimate gilded small-town crowds. Elvis the
cage”. The singer had money and brand name hadn’t been fully
adulation and, in private, he could exploited yet. The next major
indulge himself in sensual binges event was Aloha From Hawaii,
of food and women and pills. His a 1973 show beaming across
entourage had became known as the globe from the Intelsat
the Memphis Mafia back in the IV satellite. In Japan, it was
’60s and now they were much watched by 98 per cent of the
more visible. Armed with .38 TV audience. By the time the
Smith And Wesson revolvers, they recorded version was shown
cased out the venues for assassins, across America, well over a billion
wary of death threats. They people had seen it.
procured women for their boss There were many less
and laughed at his jokes. Earning his approval could glamorous stints and, in 1974 alone, Presley

“E
result in a new car, maybe a loan on a house. Offering played 152 shows. Sometimes a little retail therapy
criticism could get you off the payroll. was needed. He brought a jeweller on tour, the lvis and me were the best of friends that
So they stayed up all night with their charge, notorious Dr Nick was flown in for special medical ever were. Swear to God.” So says The
watching his moods change with the chemicals, needs while his hairdresser, Larry Geller, also Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis, a fellow graduate from Sun
mindful of the guns that Presley would produce in doubled as a spiritual adviser. All were rewarded Records in Memphis where, in December 1956, he
anger. He shot up a television because the entertainer handsomely, even the splendidly named pilot, and Elvis sang together on the legendary Million
Robert Goulet was on the screen. Later, he took aim at Milo High. He could spend $38,000 on firearms Dollar Quartet session.
a light switch and nearly killed a girlfriend in the next and twice as much on cars. His most legendary In stressing the extent of their friendship, Lewis
room. The roof of the hotel suite was also peppered shopping binge occurred on July 27, 1975, when even makes the unsubstantiated claim that they
with bullet holes, proof of another bad session with he stopped off at Madison Cadillac, Memphis and once went to a party together and ended up
too much energy and not enough to do. bought 14 motors. One was for a passing lady who riding motorcycles “buck naked” down the street.

1
merely said that the cars looked nice. He even gifted Yet if The Killer and The King really were the best
972 was the year when films like The Godfather her some extra dollars for a couple of new dresses. of buddies, then why was Lewis arrested outside

T
and Superfly made a case for stylised violence. Graceland on November 23, 1976, where he
Elvis also came to see himself as an enforcer, with he recording dates were thinly spread now. was threatening to shoot his way in with a .33
his police badges, his connection to President Nixon By the end, he barely cared at all. His health Derringer pistol?
and his private army. He even dreamed up his own was shot, and his remaining life was regulated Lewis’ version of the story is that Elvis had
movie called New Gladiators, in which a retired secret by enormous doses of uppers, downers and rung him up and told him to come over because
service agent comes out of retirement to avenge a prescription narcotics. He favoured the sedative “he was depressed“. The Killer, admittedly
drug-dealing low-life. Demerol, he was also forever reaching for the “knee-walkin’ drunk” after a champagne bender,
In February of that year, Priscilla announced she Valium, Placidyl and Quaaludes. He had a shelf- jumped in his limousine and drove to Graceland
was leaving him for a karate instructor, Mike Stone. full of amphetamines. And, increasingly, there was where he “misjudged” the length of the car
While he had been persistently unfaithful, he was Dilaudid, a synthetic opiate normally reserved for bonnet and crashed into the front gates. Worse,
sincerely hurt, his pride was affronted and he literally those with terminal cancer. he’d “forgotten” to put away the pistol he’d just
wanted blood. A version of the story is recounted by His internal organs were all shot. He was been given “as a present” and “accidentally” left
three of the Memphis Mafia (Red and Sonny West incontinent, physically and emotionally. He on the dashboard. When security guards saw the
and Dave Hebler) in their 1977 book, Elvis: What slagged his backing singers off onstage, muttering gun they asked if he’d come to shoot Elvis. He
Happened. It pictures Presley with an M16 combat about the smell of catfish on their breath. He sacked “jokingly” said yes so they called the police.
rifle stomping around the Imperial Suite at the Hilton a bunch of his old minders, and they responded So says Jerry Lee, but the real story,
in Vegas, demanding Stone’s death. Even after he had with a lurid book. The later tours were under- according to eye-witnesses who were at
been sedated, he woke with the request that Sonny rehearsed, lacking in new material, and sometimes Graceland that night, is somewhat different.
should hire a hitman. It was only after Sonny made a featured rambling discourses on karate theory Whatever possessed Lewis to stop by, it certainly
call that the singer backed down. and any other stray thought that showed up. The wasn’t a phone call since Elvis never rang him.
Outwardly, he was the wounded husband, and the performance that encapsulates that sad delirium As for the “accidental” crash, when Lewis was
songs on the 1972 tour were tainted with grief. He took place in Rapid City, Omaha in June 1977.
already had a stash of such material, and they were His body has ballooned, and he’s only got two
supplemented by “Separate Ways”, “Always On My suits that fit him for the duration of the tour. And
Mind”, and then maudlin dross like “My Boy”. the old songs aren’t hanging too good. He must
There were other recordings, such have sung “Are You Lonesome
as “Merry Christmas Baby”, Tonight” thousands of times
which showed him in a more before, and it was a deathly chore
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC., REDFERNS, CORBIS

spiteful and, arguably, a more to go back there. But on this


creative mood. occasion, Elvis is severely stoned.
Even in such poor form, A medic who examined him refused entry first time round he rammed
Presley was driven onwards, at the end commented, “he the gates on purpose, unaware that Elvis
to a four-night stopover at had the arteries of an 80- was actually watching the whole incident in
Madison Square Garden, New year-old man. His body was disbelief on CCTV before giving the order to
York. He was mistrustful of completely worn out”. call the cops himself. And what does Lewis say
the city’s sophisticate ways, but Actually, Elvis Presley was in the face of such contrary evidence? “Bullcrap!”
80,000 people had turned up, and about 10,000 years old. SIMON GODDARD
The outfits (and
the waistline)
got bigger
during the ’70s
|123
Elvis Presley
the balladeer
onstage in 1977

one of the spookiest and weirdest of his career. Sun (“How Great Thou Art”) provided his passageway back to
marketed Elvis as a rocker and left the ballads he recorded the old, rapidly fading America of riverside baptisms and
there – masterful versions of “Blue Moon” and “Harbor tent show revivals.
Lights” among them – on the shelf. While unwilling or The movie years may have kept him largely cut off
unable to show Sun Elvis in his full glory, Phillips sounded from the developments in ’60s songwriting. Later
Elvis took songs from a overwhelmed when years later he acknowledged the attempts to play catch-up – covers of “Hey Jude” and
breadth of his talent. “He had a photographic memory for “Proud Mary” – were hardly definitive. Then at the heart
host of different genres every damn song he heard and the intuitive ability to hear of the ’60s one of his finest, wisest, most singular
and elevated them with songs without having to classify them – or himself.” moments – “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, Dylan exalted.
som ethi ng uniq uely his It took others to realise his full potential. In 1955, The ’68 comeback introduced him to a new generation
when Mae Boren Axton co-wrote a song inspired by a of writers, and songs that, if not written for Elvis or with
newspaper story about a suicide, she presented it to Elvis Elvis in mind, fitted him like a glove – Mickey Newbury’s
personally in Nashville. The next year, when “Heartbreak “American Trilogy”, Mac Davis’ “In The Ghetto”, Gamble
Hotel” was recorded, RCA A&R man Steve Sholes fretted and Huff’s “Only The Strong Survive”.

N
o single performer had as much effect on the that it wasn’t at all what he’d bargained for when he’d Who but Elvis had the ability to touch the highest
development of the 20th century popular song as signed The Memphis Flash. Sam Phillips gave an interview mountain top, to feel the pain of the poor, the bereaved
Elvis Presley. He was the bridge between established to the New York Post slamming the record. But Elvis was and to go into the darkest corner of a lover’s heart? Songs
and yet to be discovered worlds – blues, pop, gospel, ahead of them, making an instant connection to the next were his lifeblood; they gave him so much freedom – from
country, folk, crooning, rock and much more. generation of rock singers and writers. Dylan, Lennon and his poverty, freedom of the imagination and, in the end,
The amazing thing about the Sun King – anointed during McCartney, Keith Richards all had
the sensationalism of the 1950s teen rock phenomenon – their world turned upside down on
was that he was to have a much greater influence than both hearing the record.
his early champions and early detractors imagined. Though Elvis may not have been an
Colonel Tom Parker’s Hill And Range company dubiously intellectual giant, but he was a
engineered the only songwriting credits he earned, Elvis’ polymath when it came to song
transforming zeal cannot be denied. knowledge and interpretation. He
His ability to overhaul and recreate a song instantly was like a master magician mixing
sprung forth on his earliest releases. The gleeful way Elvis up rare combinations that none
approached the blues wail on Arthur Crudup’s “That’s of his followers could second guess – broad humour, freedom from his sadness and addiction. In 1971, when
All Right”, forging something totally new, was both an heart-rending sincerity, ironic double-takes and an almost honoured with a Man Of The Year Award, Elvis naturally
influence on, and intimation of, the wave of future style bottomless, near fatal appetite for kitsch. quoted a song – “Without A Song” – to underline his life’s
and song composition, freeing up an index of possibilities. He could bring sleek pop star flash and rockabilly philosophy. “I learned very early in life that without a song
Similarly the way he bore down on the shuddering rhythm hepcat cool to the lusty gutbucket blues of “Shake, Rattle the day would never end/Without a song a man ain’t got a
of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” was a complete & Roll”. He could turn the fake hokum of Red Foley’s “Old friend/Without a song the road would never bend/So I keep
reinvention of a bluegrass tune: the birth of a new pop form. Shep” into a semi-spoken word epic of a young man’s singing a song”.
And yet the totality of what Elvis apprehension of love and death. And so he did. There’s astonishing film shot six weeks
sought to do by sheer force of will, pure For all the ways he was controlled before his death – Elvis, a bloated man, seemingly lost
instinct and love of the song was much and kept on a treadmill during inside himself, but at the piano, playing the melody on a
greater, far stranger than the Southern his post-army career, Elvis got the mighty version of “Ebb Tide”, clinging to the song as the
wildcat image Sam Phillips had foisted “What kind of singer are you?” opportunity to indulge his love of high water of his trapped life threatened to engulf him.
on him. Some think that after his Sun “I sing all kinds.” the song in all its manifestations. His Perhaps it was fitting that Elvis died as hip-hop and the
REDFERNS, ©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

rockabilly days Elvis’ career was an anti- “Who do you sound like?” mastery swaggered, paired with Frank widespread culture of cut-up was being born. His whole
climax, in reality it was only a beginning, “I don’t sound like nobody.” Sinatra on the post army TV special, he project – covering as many songs as he could – seemed to
because it was only after he left Phillips “Hillbilly?” could easily out-croon Frank, but Frank be to unite the entire world of song in a big embrace.
“Yeah, I sing hillbilly.”
that Elvis was able to show the world the couldn’t go where Elvis went. Without ever originating a lyric or a melody, Elvis
“Who do you sound
full extent of his interpretive talent. Gospel recordings became a regular could grab and inhabit a song, driven by the belief that
like in hillbilly?”
He had, after all, come to Phillips “I don’t sound like nobody.”
feature following his mother’s death with it both he and his audience could transcend their
primarily as a ballad singer, and that first Exchange between Elvis – traditional spirituals and earthbound selves.
recording – “My Happiness” – remains and Marion Keisker, the hymnbook favourites GAVIN MARTIN
studio manager who
discovered him.
Marion
124| Keisker:
kingmaker
The Comeback Special
was a genre-busting mix
of blues, ballads, gospel
and good old rock’n’roll
With That’s The Way It Is, Elvis entered the 1970s as the decade’s greatest balladeer… and
then a young country rocker called Gram Parsons stole his band. By Simon Goddard

“S
omnolent”. “Lackadaisical”. “somnolent” and “lackadaisical” King long after the
“Sleepwalking”. Hardly adjectives charred husk of Parsons’ body had been recovered
befitting of The King Of Rock’n’Roll. from the Joshua Tree desert where it had been
Y IT IS Nevertheless, all three were used by ceremoniously burned by his road manager.
Y THAT’S TH E WA Variety magazine to describe Elvis’ erratic Yet the fact that the James Dean of modern
1 ELVIS PRESLE performances onstage in Las Vegas during alternative country should turn to the Vegas Elvis
RCA
the summer of 1973. It was a depressing band to help crystallise his vision of “cosmic American
Nov 70 (US) deterioration not lost on 26-year-old ex-Byrd, music” is an anomaly only to those who buy into the
lp Believin’
I Just Can’t He Jan 71(U K) former Flying Burrito Brother and disillusioned cliché perpetrated by a million and one end-of-pier
Presley fan, Gram Parsons, then in the impersonators: that those final Vegas years were
d Twenty Nights RCA Nashville
Twenty Days An process of recording his second solo album in those of a bloated whale slurring his lyrics while
Las Vegas Hollywood. Indeed, Parsons was irked enough bursting at the seams of a gaudy, rhinestone jumpsuit.
Woven International
How The Web Was Hotel
by his hero’s visible disintegration to take a True, such an abomination would eventually come
swipe in the lyrics of the album’s opening to pass, but when Presley began his first residency
Patch it Up track, “Return Of The Grievous Angel”: “The at the International Hotel, Las Vegas in July 1969, he
Felton Jarvis news I could bring/I met up with The King/On not only looked great (a trim, bronzed, karate-kicking
rning his head an amphetamine crown”. Lothario) he sounded even greater. At the age of 34,
Mary In The Mo
Though an accurate description of his voice had reached its mature, lung-busting apex of
Me
To Say You Love 12 Elvis at the time (hooked on a cocktail expressive intensity, and with musicians the pedigree
You Don’t Have of uppers, downers and unable to walk of Burton (Rick Nelson, Phil Ochs), Hardin and Tutt
21
Lovin’ Feelin’ onstage without being administered behind him, as well as bassist Jerry Scheff (The Doors),
You’ve Lost That emergency shots of B12) the lyrics would he was about to make the last, truly great album of his
assume drastically ironic significance for career: 1970’s That’s The Way It Is.
I’ve Lost You Parsons, whose own amphetamine crown Before it became, artistically speaking, the death of
would soon prove fatal when he died of him, Vegas marked the culmination of his rebirth, one
Just Pretend an accidental drug and booze overdose which had begun with the ’68 Comeback Special and
on September 19, 1973. More ironic still blossomed with the ’69 “Suspicious Minds” Memphis
e Crowd
Stranger In Th was the coincidental detail that like its sessions. Vegas was the final challenge, one which
predecessor, GP, Parsons’ Grievous Angel after an eight-year absence from concert performance
Love
The Next Step Is album had been recorded with none he would rise to with triumphant aplomb. The extent
other than Presley’s current backing band to which Elvis’ self-confidence had been restored
bled Water
Bridge Over Trou – James Burton (guitar), Glen D Hardin became clear when, in June 1970, he entered RCA’s
(piano) and Ronnie Tutt (drums) – all of Nashville studios with no set brief, only to cut a
whom would continue to play with the staggering 36 songs over a five-day period.

126|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


PICK OF THE PERIOD

ELVIS
COUNTRY
1971 [UK 6/US 12]
Subtitled I’m 10,000
Years Old, his only
‘concept album’ saw
Elvis consciously
revisit his country
and blues roots with
fervent enthusiasm.
Recorded in tandem
with That’s The Way
It Is, this is very
nearly its equal.

GOOD TIMES
1974 [UK 42/US 90]
By the mid ’70s it
was rare to find more
than one decent
song on an Elvis LP.
This boasted several,
from the barfly
philosophising of
“Good Time Charlie’s
Got The Blues” to
the funky, wah-wah
gospel of “I Got A
Feelin’ In My Body”.

FROM ELVIS
PRESLEY
BOULEVARD,
MEMPHIS,
TENNESSEE
1976 [UK 29/US 41]
Recorded at home in
The label could have easily assembled a straight Throughout That’s The Way It Is, his naturalism for his early blunder – bodging it three-lines Graceland 18 months
before his death,
studio album from such a wealth of material, is awe-inspiring, not so much performing a song in by laughing mid-lyric – though by its finish Elvis’ penultimate
but chose instead to select just eight tracks as crawling inside its skin. Nowhere is this more he’s so entranced he refuses to stop, directing studio LP was a
teary-eyed croonfest
alongside four live cuts from his subsequent Vegas palpable than the opening live cut of “I Just Can’t the backing chorus to keep repeating its title of MOR schmaltz.
engagement that August in order to mock an official Help Believin’”, one of the album’s few moments mantra (“one more”) until, at last, he can bring But thanks to that
voice, even “Danny
soundtrack to the new MGM live documentary, of genuine optimism. Originally an MOR hit himself to let go (mumbling “take it” with audible Boy” sent spine-
and Elvis’ first non-acting movie, That’s The Way earlier that year for BJ Thomas, in Elvis’ hands it satisfaction). Just as affecting is the closing tingling shivers.
It Is. Shared title aside, whereas the film itself becomes a larger-than-life, spiritual showstopper. treatment of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, the
remains, alongside the Comeback Special, the His reading of the song is all the more humanistic Simon & Garfunkel standard transformed into a
ultimate visual document of Elvis’ stagecraft, the soul-purging gospel powerhouse, the climax
album was a very different affair, marking the point so dramatic that RCA were compelled to tag on
where the greatest rock’n’roller of the 20th century false audience applause at the end.
metamorphosised into its greatest balladeer. Tragically, his inability to choose material
With the exception of the sassy “Patch It worthy of his extraordinary talent ensured Elvis
Up” and the country funk of “Stranger In The never surpassed That’s The Way It Is. If there’s
Crowd”, That’s The Way It Is saw Elvis set the mood a third and final twist in the tale of Parsons’
(introspective) and the tempo (slow) for his disappointment with Elvis, it’s surely the fact that
twilight years. Now a mid-30s soon-to-become Gram’s lovelorn odes to “the truckers, the kickers
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

divorcee, the album wore its creator’s misery and the cowboy angels” were exactly the kind
upon its sleeve: metaphorically on the wistful of songs that Presley should have been singing
philanderer’s regret “Twenty Days And Twenty instead of vulgar Perry Como cast-offs (Elvis
Nights”, and literally in its monochrome cover still pouring his heart out on “In My Hour Of Darkness”
of Elvis onstage, his eyes downcast, his expression – can you imagine?). Still, if it’s any consolation, at
that of a man who knows he’s fucked it. least both EP and GP got the band they deserved.

“I don’t do up my
top button – that’s
the way it is!”
|127
128|  UNCUT LEGENDS 
g in th e ea rly sp rin g of 1977 Elvis Presley
ne sunlit mornin uous
the or n ate be d th at dominated his sumpt
woke up in gy an d disturbed. His brain
m feel in g gr og
Graceland bedroo d be en torturing his stoned
night m ar e th at ha
rewound the
.
subconscious all night

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |129


H e dreamed he was in court on trial
for his life. Colonel Tom Parker was
the prosecuting lawyer, his recently
dismissed bodyguard Red West was
one prosecuting witness, ex-wife
Priscilla another. No-one would defend him.
A judge clad in a white robe sat at a bench with
a large black medical bag down by his side.
Unsteadily Elvis pulled on a pair of tracksuit
bottoms and negotiated the stairs down to the
kitchen where his friend and confidant Lamar Fike,
one of the so-called Memphis Mafia, was drinking
coffee. Elvis told him about the dream.

“What the shit does it mean?” asked Fike.


“It means the end is near,” replied Elvis.

Three days after the dream his father,


Vernon, had a heart attack and the gilt
cocoon surrounding Presley finally
began to crumble.
Within the month he had signed
into the Baptist Memorial Hospital for
a ‘break’. Assailed by the burden of obesity
and a punishing drug regime, Elvis was in
desperate need of relief.
Desultory attempts were made
to detox, but he quickly discharged
himself and returned home. The
last real opportunity to turn his life
around had evaporated. Presley’s body was
weak but he lacked the strength of will necessary to
save himself. Such was the combination of fear and
patronage he bestowed on his inner circle that no
one dared lay it on the line. Abstention was not part
of his vocabulary.
Elvis was caught in a loop, a victim of his own
success and his ingrained addictions. To consent to
treatment in a San Diego clinic, as suggested by his
wife Priscilla, would be to admit to a problem and
The King did not have problems. He had always
been portrayed as clean and wholesome. He was a

Elvis had been self-medicating


for years, yo-yoing between
uppers and downers that disrupted
his metabolism hugely
Drug Enforcement Agent for heaven’s sake. If the
truth got out, the veil of mystery surrounding him
would be rent asunder forever.
Two weeks after the failed detox session he
almost overdosed on sleeping tablets and muscle
relaxants in a Palm Springs hotel. Then, in June, he
BETTMANN/CORBIS, CORBIS

played a gig in Rapid City, South Dakota at which he


And now the end bumbled around the stage sweating profusely. His
is near: Elvis in speech was slurred and he forgot the words to songs.
Lincoln, Nebraska
on June 20, 1977 The infamous footage was shown posthumously

130|
as an In Concert TV Special two months after keeping to himself. In the afternoon of the following losing control in bed. A trunk of Fleet’s enema went
his death. If no-one realised before they certainly day Elvis went to have a crown fixed on his teeth. on tour with him to relieve the condition.
understood how far he had fallen when it was He assembled fiancée Ginger Alden, Billy Smith As the pills began to kick in his heart-rate ‘red-
screened. Somehow he made it through his last ever and Charlie Hodge and drove over to Dr Lester lined’ and his stomach convulsed. A massive seizure
show at Market Square Arena, Indiana on June 26. Hofman’s practice in his Stutz Blackhawk. pitched him forward from the toilet seat onto his
Billy Smith, Elvis’ cousin, spent almost 18 hours They arrived back at Graceland just after knees, vomit splashed onto the yellow rug and he
a day with Presley in the months leading to his death midnight, whereupon Elvis held meetings about the lost consciousness. There he lay, his tongue hanging
and was as close to him as anyone. The picture tour. He was due to fly off in his private jet at 7pm out and his pyjama bottoms round his ankles for
he paints in Elvis Aaron Presley,
Presley, an excellent oral the next day. Around 4am he had Smith wander four hours. Death is rarely dignified but in Elvis’
history by Alanna Nash, is of a paranoid, tortured across to the gym at the back of the house where case it was cruelly humiliating.
and fearful man, sensing he was at a personal they played racquetball. Elvis gave up after hitting At around 2.30pm Ginger awoke and found the
impasse but incapable of turning away. himself on the leg and sat down at the piano to bed next to her empty. Wondering where he was, she

S
knock out “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” wandered into the toilet. It was not unusual for Elvis
hortly after his birthday on January 8, 1975, and Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”. to crash out in there after his pills kicked in. There
he had been mortified to read an article It was the last performance he would ever give. she was confronted by the sight of her husband-to-
titled “Elvis: Fat And 40”. It was nothing but The group left the building at around six in the be doubled up in a foetal position. Gripped by panic
the truth. His weight had ballooned to more than morning. Smith washed his hair, and Elvis finally she pressed the intercom to call for help. Joe Esposito
250lbs, the grim result of pure overindulgence. retired to his room with Ginger and his pills. There and Al Strada rushed up the stairs.
The stories about the peanut butter sandwiches is endless debate about how many tablets he took Frantic efforts were made to revive him. There
and the cheeseburger diet are true. He would bolt and how quickly, but the assumption is that the first was chaos as the household gathered around the
three burgers at a sitting, with several banana splits two ‘attacks’ failed to put him under, so he put in a bathroom door: Vernon Presley, Aunt Delta, Aunt
for dessert, then would attempt to compensate by call to Dr Nick for a third to be delivered. Nash and Charlie Hodge stood horrified as Esposito
eating nothing for days. When the pack arrived Elvis picked up a book pummeled at his boss’ chest. Attracted to the
With a 12-date tour of New England due to begin and wandered across the red carpet to the bathroom source of all the consternation Presley’s daughter,
on August 18, Elvis was desperate to lose weight, with its 12-foot long marble counter, purple sink Lisa Marie, rushed up the stairs but found her path
cutting back on food and using an Exercycle housed and black and gold tiles. He swallowed the contents blocked. Vernon Presley began wailing, “Son don’t
in his bedroom. By then shows proved enormously of the third envelope, dropped his yellow pyjama die! Don’t leave!”
debilitating, leaving him a wreck. In 1976 he toured bottoms and sat on the padded seat of his black Within minutes an ambulance from the
nine times, often playing twice a night, pushing toilet to peruse Frank O Adams’ book The Scientific Memphis Fire Department pulled past astonished
himself to the brink of exhaustion. No-one thought Search For The Face Of Jesus.
Jesus onlookers and through Graceland’s open gates.
to scale down his workload. For all the millions As the pills boiled in his empty stomach, Elvis’ Elvis, his knees locked right up to his chest in rigor
he had made, Presley’s extravagant lifestyle had system recoiled. His bowel movements could be an mortis, was manhandled into the
seriously undermined his finances. unpleasant experience given his intestine
Elvis had been self-medicating for years, yo-yoing had suffered a blockage and his colon
between uppers and downers that disrupted his was three times its normal diameter. He
metabolism hugely. He was sustained by a daily suffered bouts of constipation followed by
pill regime supplied by his physician Dr George terrible bouts of diarrhoea, occasionally
Nichopoulos in envelopes (nicknamed ‘attacks’)
containing a pharmaceutical pick’n’mix of up to a Dr George
dozen tablets at a time. They got him up and they Nichopoulos and
put him down, but each time they took a little piece (left) one of many
‘prescriptions’ he
of him. It was subsequently revealed Elvis had taken wrote for Elvis
5,000 tablets in the seven months before his death,
making him a walking pharmacy.
August 14 was the vehicle and taken to the Baptist Memorial Hospital.
19th anniversary of his Further attempts at resuscitation were made, but he
beloved mother Gladys’ was finally pronounced dead by Dr Nichopoulos in
death. Elvis was quiet, Trauma Room No. 1 at 3.30pm. Elvis Presley had
reflective, placing left the building.

T
fresh flowers on
her grave and he exact cause of Elvis’ death
has long been the subject of
debate. Shelby county medical
examiner Jerry Francisco put it
down to a heart attack at the
time, announcing he had
died of “cardiac
arrhythmia,

|131
due to undetermined causes”, adding A nation mourns: 75,000 fans assembled outside
he had a related “hypertensive Graceland, 20,000 of them filing past the Presley coffin
cardiovascular disease”. to pay their last respects. A motorcade of 16 Cadillacs
escorted Elvis´ copper-lined coffin to its final resting place
However, a leaked toxicology report
from the autopsy ordered by Vernon
Presley, who maintained his son had been housed), DJs on radio stations tore up their play gates open so fans could pay their last respects.
murdered, revealed the body contained 14 different lists and put Elvis records on constant rotation. Members of the press were invited in first, then
drugs, including butabarbital, codeine, morphine, Radio Luxembourg cancelled all commercials and 20,000 people filed down the hall for three-and-
Elavil, pentobarbital, Placidyl, Quaalude, Valium followed suit. Vernon Presley was persuaded to go a-half hours to view the coffin where it sat among
and Valmid. His weakened system had finally on local radio and give a short interview. plastic palms.
imploded under the strain of it all. Steadily the shockwaves spread across the globe. Some celebrity fans arrived at the house,
Word began to spread rapidly about the death. The following day the story was lead news just about including James Brown and Sammy Davis Jr.
Calls were made from the hospital office. Dr everywhere. ‘Death Captures Crown Of Rock George Hamilton apparently sneaked in to the
Nichopoulos, fearing another heart attack, drove And Roll’ lamented local Memphis paper The Presley home on a bread van.
over to Graceland to tell Vernon Presley in person. Commercial Appeal
Appeal. ‘All
All Roads Lead To Memphis’ The first inkling that Elvis was going to be bigger
More family and friends arrived at the house as said the London Evening Standard,
Standard ‘Fat, 42 And dead than alive came within a day of his passing
everyone tried to cope with the news. Joe Esposito Fazed’ screamed the Melbourne Sun less charitably. as his records sold out across the States. The RCA
called Priscilla in Los Angeles, who dropped the Even the Soviet newspaper Pravda put the story on pressing plant went into 24-hour production to cope
phone in shock. He then called Colonel Tom Parker its front page, with the headline ‘Elvis Is Dead: The with demand. Eight million copies of his records
in the Dunfrey Sheraton hotel in Maine, where he USA Has Given Us Three Cultural Phenomenons were sold across the globe in the seven days after his
was staying with assistant Al Dvorin, Lamar Fike – Mickey Mouse, Coca-Cola and Elvis Presley’ Presley’. death. Meanwhile Colonel Tom Parker, still taking
and other members of the tour party in preparation Within hours fans began pouring into Memphis. care of business, flew to New York to meet with
for the first night’s concert. The Colonel took the By morning 75,000 people were crowded onto Elvis record executives and cut a rapid merchandising
news remarkably stoically. Presley Boulevard. Over 300 national guardsmen deal with Factors, Inc in order to counteract the glut
A call finally intercepted the plane carrying the were called in to maintain order, with hundreds of souvenirs destined to flood the market. When he
members of the backing band and of hysterical fans needing medical observed, “Elvis didn’t die. Just his body is gone.” he
singers. It landed in Pueblo, Colorado attention (a combination of grief and the was not talking in spiritual terms.
where an announcement was made. Memphis sun’s punishing heat). Hotel In the UK “Way Down” rocketed up the charts to
Many were overcome with grief. The rooms filled up rapidly, further fuelling give Elvis his first posthumous Number One single.
BETTMANN/CORBIS, CORBIS, GETTY IMAGES, REX FEATURES

Sweet Inspirations’ Myrna Smith had an all-night Graceland vigil. TV stations rescheduled his movies and specials
to be sedated. The body of Elvis Presley was taken were shown about his life. Just about anyone who’d
By this point a short statement to a funeral parlour, placed in an ever met him was interviewed. Many published thin
to the media had sent open coffin and dressed in the white memoirs, including a nurse at the Baptist Memorial
proceedings into overdrive. suit his father had given him for Hospital whose effort is titled I Called Him Babe
Hundreds of reporters Christmas, matched with a light blue – Elvis Presley’s Nurse Remembers.
Remembers
and TV crews beat a trail shirt and white tie. Outside Graceland floral tributes were piled up:
Newspaper
to Whitehaven (the district headlines The following day Vernon Presley wreaths and other ornate arrangements spelling
in which Graceland was following announced he was throwing the out his name. There were crowns, broken hearts,
Elvis’ death

132|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


Elvis would not be allowed to rest in peace. Three men entered the
cemetery intent on stealing Elvis’ body and holding it to ransom
hound dogs and even blue suede shoes. It eventually the porch way a large branch snapped from a tree a front-page photograph purporting to show an
took 100 vans five hours to remove the flowers from and landed on the driveway. Given it was another embalmed Presley lying in his coffin, under the
Graceland to Forest Hill Cemetery. oppressively hot day and there was not a puff of headline ‘Elvis: The Untold Story’.
Story’. It sold seven
August 18, the day of the funeral, was declared wind, everyone took it as a sign that The King was million copies and has since become the most
an official day of mourning by the governor of watching from above. sought after back issue in newspaper history.
Mississippi and flags in the state were lowered to The motorcade of 16 white Cadillacs finally Around the same time three armed men entered
half-mast as a sign of respect. eased out of the Graceland gates just after midday to the cemetery intent on stealing the body and
Still the madness continued. At four in the receive the salutes of the many uniformed officers holding it to ransom. They were apprehended by
morning 18-year-old Treatise Wheeler careered keeping order. A dozen motorcycles then escorted police on a tip-off. Later, ringleader Ronnie Lee
south down the road towards Graceland in his it past thousands of fans to the Woodvale Church Adkins said, “There’s only two people on earth that
battered white 1963 Ford. Drunk, he piled into a of Christ at 2pm, where The Reverend CW Bradley everybody’s heard of and that’s God and Elvis. I was
group of mourners who were part of the all-night delivered a brief sermon: just trying to get at the only one I could.”
vigil. Three girls, Alice Marie Hovatar, Juanita “Perhaps because of his rapid rise to fame and Following the attempt to steal the body Vernon
Joanne Johnson and Tammy Baiter, took the brunt fortune he was thrown into temptations that some Presley had his son and wife exhumed and moved to
of the impact. One flew into the air and landed on never experience. Elvis would not want anyone to Graceland, where their remains were reposed in the
the car’s windshield. A second was spreadeagled on think that he had no flaws or faults. But now that Meditation Garden and remain to this day. Over at
the bumper, the third dragged under the vehicle for he’s gone, I find it more helpful to remember his Forest Hill his memorial bears a rambling epitaph:
20 yards. Two died instantly. Wheeler, meantime, good qualities, and I hope you do too.”
kept going, but was forced to abandon the vehicle a Stumbling eulogies were given by comedian “He was a precious gift from God
block away where he was apprehended along with Jackie Kahane and TV evangelist Rex Humbard We cherished and loved dearly.
the three 16-year-old girls he had in the car. before a gospel choir, featuring Kathy He had a God-given talent that he shared

A
Westmoreland, Jake Hess, James Blackwood and With the world…
s the sun came up more mourners gathered The Stamps performed some of Presley’s favourite …God saw that he needed some rest and
for the funeral, including Priscilla Presley, gospel numbers, “How Great Thou Art” and Called him home to be with Him.
Lisa Marie, James Brown, John Wayne, “Sweet, Sweet Spirit”. We miss you, Son and Daddy. I thank God
George Hamilton and Ann-Margret (star of Viva Then the procession set off for Forest Hill That he gave us you as our son.”
Las Vegas). ). Caroline Kennedy, daughter of Jackie, cemetery, three miles from Graceland, where Elvis
arrived to cover the proceedings for Rolling Stone.
Stone was interred in a short ceremony next to his mother It is such a clumsy piece that the final line’s
A little after midday pallbearers Charlie Hodge, as helicopters whirled overhead. The grave was analogy to the crucifixion is probably unwitting,
Joe Esposito, Lamar Fike, George Klein, producer carefully sealed. but there can be no doubt; Elvis rose again. The
Felton Jarvis and the good Dr George Nichopoulos The first signs that Elvis would not be allowed music lives on, the marketing machine continues to
picked up the cripplingly heavy copper-lined coffin to rest in peace came on September 6 when tabloid turn. Where The King Of Rock’n’Roll is concerned,
and moved towards the hearse. As they exited newspaper, The National Enquirer,
Enquirer, published death hath no dominion.

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |133


|135
verything about Elvis Bleeding love:
Presley was big: his hair, “performance
artist” Extreme Elvis
his voice, his appetite,
his sales figures, his
legend, his waistband. the ’80s, a jump-suited crooner calling himself
The curious thing is, in Tortelvis fronted the surreal Elvis-meets-Led
death he just keeps getting bigger. Zep spoof reggae covers combo Dread Zeppelin.
In fact, Presley’s tragic demise only Meanwhile, Edinburgh indie striplings Jesse
hastened his elevation to the status of secular classic rockers, from Dylan to Lennon to Bruce Garon & The Desperadoes took their name from
saint, crackpot cult icon and messianic religious Springsteen, have copped their moves from Presley’s still-born twin brother, a quasi-Biblical
icon. In 2005, the 70th anniversary of his birth, The King’s early years as a lean, cool, one-man narrative that Nick Cave explored further on
The King is back in the charts and enjoying his youth revolution. Classic Elvis tunes have been nocturnal howls such as “Tupelo” and “The
biggest comeback yet, with all 18 of his Number covered by everyone from the Pet Shop Boys to U2. Firstborn Is Dead”.
One singles being reissued. Almost three decades Meanwhile The King has been endlessly referenced More musical offshoots of the mighty Presley
after he left the building, Elvis is everywhere. in lyrics and album artwork, from The Clash to river include the ‘Female Elvis’, rockabilly singer
Every generation gets the Elvis it deserves, The Smiths, Manic Street Preachers to Eminem. Janis Martin, and the ‘Mexican Elvis’ El Vez,
and each new wave of Presley’s bastard offspring Others have delved further into the Elvis aka LA punk rocker turned karaoke crooner
has paid homage in different ways. Countless myth, even remaking themselves in his image. In Robert Lopez. Left-field rockers like Elvis Hitler

Bad Wisdom from


the man who
BILL DRUMMOND of Elvis at the North Pole. Whether this
escapade ever really took place is beside
all that, Dionysus swaggered on,
leering and lurching. Rock’n’roll in
burned a million

and ELVIS THE the point, since Drummond is riffing on the all its ugly, debased and exploited
mythic power of The King as a Dionysian god forms, tore out of and built up from
PAGAN GOD of pleasure, back to reclaim his throne. the black man’s basic 12-bar blues,
In his gonzo 1996 memoir Bad Wisdom, “Elvis was Elvis because within him so is the soundtrack to every Viking
a collaboration with Zodiac Mindwarp, much was right,” Drummond writes. “The voyage. Once again the white boy
former KLF pop terrorist turned time, the place, the looks, the heartache, can rape and pillage, lie and lick, lust
conceptual art prankster Drummond the rage, the depth, the shallowness, the and kick, swagger and swear across
relives a deranged voyage to the Arctic hips, the fire, the ice, the voice, the name, the the universe, the chains of Christian
wastes of Finland to plant a statue wantonness and the tragedy… but through doctrine smashed on a pagan altar.”

136|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


Bono addressed similar themes in a
U2 and ELVIS AS poem called American David, lending
GUIDING SPIRIT Elvis further Biblical significance, and
again on “Elvis Ate America” for the U2
“Elvis is alive,” Bono claimed in the offshoot project Passengers. U2 have
programme for U2’s Zooropa tour. also covered the Presley standards “Are
“We’re dead.” You Lonesome Tonight?”, “His Latest
The King is so rich in musical and Flame”, “Suspicious Minds” and “Can’t
metaphorical importance for U2, they Help Falling In Love”.
can hardly keep away from him. The It was the lean, mean, ’50s Elvis
fascination first surfaced in the semi- whose spirit haunted Rattle And Hum.
improvised rant “Elvis U2 drummer Larry Mullen, who named
Presley And America” his son Aaron Elvis, paid homage at
The King’s Graceland grave in the film. MacPhisto
on 1984’s The
The B-side to “Desire”, recorded at channels
Unforgettable Elvis Presley
Fire, the first a specially re-opened Sun Studio in
of several U2 Memphis under a watchful portrait
tracks to treat of the young Presley, shrine was even lamé devil costume. Behind the kitsch, the
Presley’s rise titled “A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel”. singer claimed, was “the gravitas of a guy
and fall as an But by the time of their Zoo TV and who’s run out of life and love.” Many Zoo
almost divine Zooropa tours in the early ’90s, Bono was concerts ended with the announcement:
parable. performing karaoke King tunes in a gold “Elvis is still in the building.”

The first recorded sighting of Dead Elvis, two


and Jesus Presley pressed the iconic days after his death in August 1977, filling
rocker into a cartoon battle between up his Cadillac at Waxman’s filling station in
good and evil. Even comedians like Sanderson County, Georgia.
Freddie Starr and Andy Kaufman
made warped Presley impersonations
key to their routines. Extreme Elvis, Spotted by Tammy Sue in a Florida McDonald’s
a blood-splattered, faeces-throwing in July 1985, eating dinner with a mysterious
performance artist, is just the latest woman and a bag full of cash.
bizzarro living tribute.
The first reason for this ever- Spotted by Steven Patrick in a Swiss late-night
growing Elvis Afterlife phenomenon is, naturally, interpretation. “Elvis Presley is now an anarchy of cafe at 2am in the summer of 1986. After
the music. Presley sold over 300 million records possibilities,” Marcus writes, “a strain of freedom less claiming to be from “Las Vegas”, the lean and
during his lifetime and more than twice that since a clear, but no less suggestive, than the man ever was.” bearded Elvis promptly slipped away
drug-induced heart failure finished him off at just 42 Presley’s image has become a blank canvas
on August 16, 1977. That sultry, rumbling volcano for every obsessive disciple, cash-in merchant or
Spotted by Paul Doe in Berlin, Germany, in July
of a voice still cuts across the decades, radiating plain fruitcake with an offbeat theory to peddle.
1991, talking to the driver of a horse-drawn
pleasure and anarchy, too powerful to be confined Depending who you choose to believe, Elvis was a
carriage. Doe and his fellow backpackers did
to history. monster, messiah, martyr, style guru, anti-fashion
not approach him “out of respect for Elvis and
Which is why most of Presley’s early rock’n’roll icon, mother-fixated hick, cabaret clown or towering
our strong desire to eat lunch and get beer”.
peers sound distant and tinny today whereas an emblem of the American Dream. It’s not that The
unchanged Elvis vocal from 1968, wedded to Junkie King was none of these things – he was all of them,
XL’s beefed-up mix of “A Little Less Conversation”, to some degree. Spotted by Oscar Peterson in a restaurant toilet
topped the UK charts in 2002. Presley’s youthful in Miami, Florida, in July 1996. Elvis claimed to
ghost even toured the world in 1998, accompanying be Ted Kennedy and left the building.
his original backing band via a giant video screen. JOE
Not even Jesus gets that kind of Second Coming. STRUMMER Spotted by Isaaco de Banco in Taste of Raj curry
On a prosaic level, the enduring Elvis cult is
and THE PUNK house in Palmers Green, London, in December
clearly a triumph of marketing and re-packaging,
with huge-selling hits collections like Elv1s and ELVIS 1996. The tracksuit-clad Presley ordered a
mushroom bhaji and a chicken biryani.
2nd To None still racking up high chart positions. Ever since they stole the typeface and
Meanwhile Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc, controlled design of Presley’s self-titled debut
by the late star’s former wife Priscilla and daughter album for the sleeve of London Calling, The Spotted by Edna Hankins, Elvis was “in a
Clash marked their cards as disciples of prime-time Elvis
Lisa Marie, holds the reins of the vast Presley tight thong wearing a smile and blue suede
the whipsmart hillbilly punk. For all of punk’s Year Zero
merchandising empire. This is the company that posturing, Joe Strummer was a Presley fan to his dying day. In shoes” at Le Butt strip club in Stroudsburg,
runs Graceland, the super-tacky Memphis mansion 1989 he even played a character called Elvis in Jim Jarmusch’s Pennsylvania, in early 2001.
where Elvis lived and died, which still attracts up to Memphis based film Mystery Train. “I know everything there
is to know about The Beatles
600,000 Presley pilgrims every year. Spotted by Tony O’Connor in a pub in Ebbw
and Elvis,” he boasted in 1999.
But the Elvis cult is more than mere dollars and Two years later, Strummer Vale, Gwent, March 2001. Elvis was drinking
cents, vinyl and celluloid. It is bigger than the 35,000 contemplated stealing one of pints, claimed to be a US tourist, and disap-
or so devotees who trek to the annual Elvis Presley The King’s guitars from the
Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas,
peared during a trip to the toilet.
festival in Tupelo, The King’s Mississippi birthplace,
but an autograph hunter
three hours south of Memphis. It is even stronger distracted him.
GETTY, REX FEATURES, STEVE DOUBLE

than the millions of Elvis impersonators singing, Spotted by Nicholas Scott Kohler as he watched
sobbing and even stripping in seedy bars and hotel Monsters, Inc. at a Hollywood cinema in June
lounges across the globe. 2001. Elvis spilled popcorn everywhere.
As Greil Marcus remarks in his 1991 book Dead
Elvis, part of The King’s evergreen appeal is that Spotted by Jason R in Stanley Park, Vancouver,
his historical legacy is open to almost endless Canada in July 2001. Elvis sped past on roller
Joe Strummer
clearly wore blades and stole a bucket of KFC.
his influence on
his sleeve (left) |33
Some Elvis
Presley
impersonators,
yesterday

Pick your own Elvis. There are thousands of found to contain 14


versions out there. different narcotics
For traditionalists, Presley’s proud patriotism including
and God-fearing Deep South values remain codeine,
potent reminders of a more wholesome, innocent morphine,
America. Yet perversely, for a younger generation Valium, and
more interested in kitsch excess and superstar “close to
sleaze, The King symbolises quite the opposite. toxic” levels of
His tragicomic decline into sordid sex, drugs Quaaludes, the ’70s
and suicidal self-abuse provides a spectacular love drug. A real feelgood
Nick Cave: blueprint for all future celebrity deaths. hit of the summer.
“Ghetto”
fabulous
Alongside Presley, even majestically sordid Indeed, The King’s twilight
celebrity burnouts such as Marvin Gaye, Michael years sinking into depraved kitsch
Hutchence and film producer Don Simpson start continue to exert a powerful love-hate
NICK CAVE to look like lightweights. appeal to devotees of grotesque rock
and OLD Of course, the Satanic majesty of Presley’s death folklore. Just how out of touch and off your
TESTAMENT on a Graceland toilet, allegedly reading a book face must you be to drop in on President
ELVIS called A Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus, Nixon at the White House begging to be made
has only boosted his posthumous reputation as an undercover narcotics agent, warning that
In the 1980s, Cave summoned up
a quasi-demonic Dark Elvis on the unsurpassed emperor of rock’n’roll excess. The Beatles are corrupting the youth of America
banshee-blues howls like “Tupelo” Elvis had been prescribed almost 6,000 pills in with their “filthy, unkempt appearances and
and “The Firstborn Is Dead”,
exploring this ravaged Deep South
the previous six months and his body was later suggestive music”. That was in December 1970,
mythology further in his novel And a full eight months after The
The Ass Saw The Angel. At the peak Beatles split.
GETTY, STEVE DOUBLE, KOBAL, CORBIS, WENN

of his heroin addiction, Cave also


covered the Presley classic “In The Cocooned from reality by
Ghetto” with no hint of kitsch, and drugs and money, Elvis turned
became obsessed with footage of weirder than Michael Jackson,
Elvis in drug-damaged decline.
“Here’s a man who’s got lonelier than Kurt Cobain.
everything and he’s getting up For conspiracy theorists,
onstage only to fall apart,” Cave Kurt Russell in
told NME.
The King’s shock demise John Carpenter’s
opened the floodgates for biopic Elvis

138|
infinite plots-within-plots of feverish
speculation that rival even the paranoid
death cults surrounding JFK, Marilyn
Monroe and Princess Di. Ever since
someone claimed to see Elvis at
a filling station in Georgia on
August 18, 1977 – just two days
after his death – rumours of
cover-ups and unconfirmed Christ-like religious icon, dying for mankind’s
sightings of the fugitive rock icon sins, only to be raised again from the dead.
have become an open-ended Preposterous whimsy, of course, but try
subculture of urban myths telling that to those who worship at the First
and internet rumours. Presleyterian Church Of Elvis The Divine in
Running in parallel with Las Vegas or The 24-Hour Church Of Elvis in
these post-modern Portland, Oregon. Not to mention all those Elvis
jokes is the half- wedding chapels in Vegas.
serious notion of A quick trawl on the web will throw up dozens
Elvis as a of pictures of Elvis with a crucifix or a halo. The
religious allegory is made even more explicit in
Louie Ludwig’s 1995 book The Gospel Of Elvis,
which rewrites the King James Bible around
Presley and his life story. As one Washington
Post reviewer quipped, “If Elvis really isn’t
dead, this will kill him.”
While the Afterlife Elvis is a global cult,
the UK remains one of its key nerve centres.
A disproportionately high number of

Nicolas Cage as
the Elvis-like Sailor
Ripley in David
Lynch’s Wild At Heart

EMINEM
and THE POST-
MODERN ELVIS
Chuck D has branded Marshall
Mathers “the new Elvis” and,
whether it is the white artist cashing
in on African-American innovation,
an outsider who becomes a working-class hero, or a pop
sensation softening his rough edges for a movie career,
Eminem fits the bill. On “Without Me”, Slim Shady pleads
guilty. “Though I’m not the first king of controversy/I am the
worst thing since Elvis Presley/To do black music so selfishly/
And use it to make myself wealthy”.
The not so Slim
Shady as Elvis

 UNCUT LEGENDS  |139


Joe Strummer (left)
in Jim Jarmusch’s
Mystery Train

Morrissey spends
more money on
lightbulbs than
his inspiration

unconfirmed Elvis sightings occur in


Britain. Which is all the more bizarre
considering that Presley never once
performed on these shores, only ever
passing through Scotland’s Prestwick
airport in March 1960.
In London you will find Paul Chan,
owner of the Chinese restaurant Graceland
Palace, belting out Elvis numbers between Dim
Sum courses. Also in the capital is Elvisly Yours,
the mini-chain of memorabilia shops whose homages and ghostly guest appearances. Kurt Pilgrimages to Graceland provided classic
owners recently won a landmark legal victory Russell played The King in John Carpenter’s scenes in This Is Spinal Tap and U2’s unwittingly
against the might of Elvis Presley Enterprises. sanitised 1979 biopic Elvis, then donned the Tap-like tour documentary, Rattle And Hum.
Not forgetting the new armies of British fans who spangled jumpsuit again 20 years later in Demian Phantom Presley figures spooked The Clash’s Joe
booted the latest run of reissued singles back into Lichtenstein’s comic crime caper 3000 Miles Strummer and Steve Buscemi in Jim Jarmusch’s
the UK charts. To Graceland. The King was also kidnapped Memphis comedy Mystery Train, as well as Tony
Since his death, Elvis has continued to enjoy by desperate fans in the 1988 Chris Columbus Scott’s True Romance, an extended homage to
a healthy sideline in movies. Not re-runs of comedy Heartbreak Hotel, and brazenly The King written by former Elvis impersonator
Presley’s own wretched musicals but knowing impersonated by Nicolas Cage in Wild At Heart. Quentin Tarantino. In 2002, the elderly rocker

CHUCK D and to slur Presley with allegations of Klan-style “I detested the iconic building up of Elvis
DEBBIE SMYTH, KOBAL, REX FEATURTES, ALL ACTION DIGITAL, GETTY

bigotry based on his dirt-poor Southern because it pretty much obscured every
ELVIS THE RACIST roots, conveniently ignoring that he spent element of black creation all around him,”
On Public Enemy’s ferocious his youth singing in black bars, says Chuck. “He was a door, a gateway
1989 single “Fight The recorded songs by black writers and through to the roots. In the beginning of his
Power”, Chuck D performed with black artists. career he admitted where the roots came
aligns The King But as PE’s militant mainman from, but did anybody care? After a while
with decades of explains, Presley’s culture- they just started to leave that part out of the
American racism, blurring genius still played story. The whole American building of his
booming “Elvis was into the hands of a racist icon that made it seem like he was the king
a hero to most but he music industry hungry of everything and there was nothing before
never meant shit to for a white artist playing him – that’s what never meant shit to me. But
me”. Many have tried black music. as a talent, he was unquestionably brilliant.” Chuck D: Elvis
was never much
of a Public Enemy
fan either

140|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


even joined forces with JFK at a
haunted retirement home in Don
Coscarelli’s pulp horror comedy,
Bubba Ho-Tep.
As a graphic image alone, Elvis is
everywhere today – on stamps and tea
towels, websites and T-shirts. From Andy Warhol’s
silkscreen cowboy prints in New York to guerrilla
graffiti in Berlin of The King’s face superimposed
onto Che Guevara’s head. From highbrow to kitsch,
BILL CLINTON there is an Elvis for every taste.
But The King is beyond bad taste now. Like
and PRESIDENT Everest, he is simply there, and these days there
ELVIS is little bit of Elvis in everyone. Simply take your
Clinton is a huge fan of his fellow pick which King you want: the youthful rebel, the
Good Ole Boy made good, even
turning the White House into kitsch cabaret entertainer, the wacko conspiracy
his very own Disgraceland of generator or the earthly Messiah figure – not
illicit pleasures. According to forgetting the supernaturally gifted and hugely
Basic Instinct screenwriter Joe
Eszterhas in his scandalous and influential singer.
heavily fictionalised 2001 memoir Elvis Presley is not dead. He lives on
American Rhapsody, America’s first
rock’n’roll president even had a
Morrissey’s glittering stage backdrop,
special nickname for the hunka spelling out his name in towering lights
burning love in his pants. Yep, you in wry homage to The King’s 1968
guessed it: “Elvis”.
“You know, Bush is always Comeback Special. He lives on
comparing me to Elvis in sort of in Liam Gallagher’s lip-curling
unflattering ways,” Clinton said sneer and “TCB” tattoo, a
of George Senior during their
1992 election showdown. “I don’t reference to the Memphis
think Bush would have liked Elvis Mafia motto Taking Care
very much, and that’s just another
thing that’s wrong with him.”
of Business. He lives on in
Eminem’s anti-authority
swagger, Jack White’s delirious
Delta-blues yelp, Josh Homme’s
chemically crazed redneck rampage,
Polly Harvey’s whip-cracking voodoo
yowl, Nick Cave’s gospel-punk mania
and a million more crazed cultural
echoes. He lives on in all of us. Elvis is
everywhere. We are all his children now.
The biggest and weirdest personality
cult on the planet, The King is still
as alive today as he was when he first
unleashed the frenzied teenage desires
Bill Clinton: of the world half a century ago. Elvis
“Elvis” thankfully
not pictured may have left the building, but his truth
is marching on.

MICHAEL STIPE in it than anything he’d written. I certainly


didn’t intend to present Andy Kaufman as
And then, in 1984 when
Andy Kaufman, Elvis
and THE ELVIS / a central character. What the song is about, impersonator and
I think, is some crackpot theories of the prankster extraordinaire,
ANDY KAUFMAN ’70s, the most primary being that NASA died, the rumour began
CONNECTION and the US military and the government that he had faked his own
conspired to fake the 1969 moonwalk. death. And that’s what “Man
REM scored one of their biggest singles Second, that Elvis Presley was still alive. On The Moon” is about.”
back in 1992 with “Man On The Moon”, a
lopsided tribute to the ill-fated comedian
Andy Kaufman, a frequent onstage Elvis Andy Kaufman
impersonator. After asking Andy if he is goofing on Elvis
“goofing on Elvis” in the lyric, Michael
Stipe throws in his own brief Presley
impersonation. The tune later became
the title theme to Milos Forman’s biopic
starring Jim Carrey. But as Stipe later
explained, it was never originally written
as a homage to Kaufman or Presley.
“I was spending a lot of time with
Nirvana,” Stipe told MTV. “I told Kurt I was
going to write a song that had more ‘yeahs’
CREDIT

|141
Francisco record PAUL SIMON
shop (he was fired for GRACELAND
incompetence), and just Metaphor alert!
before a tour with REM Actually concerns
a reconciliation
PASSENGERS between black
ELVIS ATE AMERICA and white America and
Hopefully this will be the only U2-related track ever to between a father and son
feature Howie B on “decks” and Bono attempting rap
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
TINY TIM I SAW MR PRESLEY JOHNNY BYE BYE
COWBOY JUNKIES BLUE MOON TIP-TOEING THROUGH THE TULIPS Should have been on Nebraska,
but wasn’t. A short, sweet and
REVISITED (SONG FOR ELVIS) The last album the lanky banjo-botherer ever
recorded. In all honesty, not this, or any other season’s, rather moving rockabilly number
From the band’s brilliant 1988 debut, this mixed a must have recording about a guy – could it be Elvis?
new CJ track with the Rogers and Hart classic ‘Blue – who dies of a drugs overdose
Moon’. It has since appeared on the soundtrack of six
(rubbish) Hollywood films
KIRSTY MACCOLL THERE'S A GUY WORKS MANIC STREET PREACHERS
DOWN THE CHIP SHOP SWEARS HE'S ELVIS ELVIS IMPERSONATOR, BLACKPOOL PIER
KLF ELVISONTHERADIO, MacColl’s first Top 20 hit from 1981, suggested a A biting indictment of those idiotic idiots
STEELGUITAR IN MY SOUL novelty future that, happily, was not to follow in gold shades who don’t understand
From the duo’s Chill Out how they’re, like, the absolute opposite of
album, this features not U2 ELVIS PRESLEY AND AMERICA what Elvis actually stood for
so much an Elvis sample, From The Unforgettable Fire, this was Eno and U2’s
as almost the entire vocal valiant attempt at improvisation. NICK CAVE TUPELO
from The King’s 1969 classic, “In The Ghetto” Cave was so fascinated with
GILLIAN WELCH ELVIS PRESLEY BLUES the birth of Presley that he
ROBYN HITCHCOCK QUEEN ELVIS Presents Presley as an anti-hero. Never immortalized it twice, here and
Recorded in London in 1988 just after Hitchcock shies from The King’s inglorious end, (albeit obliquely) in his novel,
had spent three weeks working incognito in a San wasted talent and sad legacy And The Ass Saw The Angel

uninterested in procreation on this my gun/And aimed it at Shep’s head”.On QUEEN WAHINE’S PAPAYA
jaunty polka number. reflection, more sinister than weird. This cut from the Paradise, Hawaiian
SONG OF THE SHRIMP THE BULLFIGHTER Style soundtrack is notable for the fact
that its constantly increasing speed
A shrimp leaves his parents to visit the WAS A LADY sounds like Elvis is running down a
big city. He is eaten, but perhaps more Olé! More bull-related oddness as a very steep hill while singing.
shocking is the fact that this song is vicious bovine is tamed by a comely
delivered with a straight face. female matador. (THERE’S) NO ROOM
THE FORT LAUDERDALE TO RHUMBA IN A
YOGA IS AS YOGA DOES LIFE SPORTS CAR
A bold attempt to squeeze an CHAMBER OF COMMERCE This cut from 1963’s Fun
On which the King complains about his Infinitely zippier than its bureaucratic
intense dislike of yoga. Features the explanation of Big Bang theory, In Acapulco shows how
Darwinism and the meaning of title would suggest, this is still a
immortal line “I should probably take brazen Elvis’ movie
existence into three and a half minutes. distinctly strange subject for a song.
this yoga serious/but all I get is a pain in scriptwriters could
HE'S YOUR UNCLE,
©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC.

my posterious”. be in using songs


OLD SHEP NOT YOUR DAD to advance the
DOMINIC Hear Elvis croon his sadness at having Pained and heartfelt lament about plot, no matter
(THE IMPOTENT BULL) to put down his faithful hound. “With having to hand over high levels of how ridiculous
Elvis berates a prize steer for being hands that were trembling/I picked up income to Uncle Sam in the form of taxes. their titles.

142|  UNCUT LEGENDS 


21 Number of Elvis singles
to make number one in the
UK charts – more than any
other artist (including The
Beatles, with a mere 17)

43 Number of songs written


25 Amount in 23,000 Amount in dollars
for Elvis by his most prolific
songwriters, Sid Tepper and
THE OFFICIAL ELVIS WEBSITE –
Salacious rumour and innuendo not
dollars Elvis a pair of designer sunglasses Roy C Bennett welcome WWW.ELVIS.COM
received for his belonging to Elvis were sold
fi rst nightclub
gig, at the The
for at auction in 1994 150 Number of Elvis singles ELVIS’ STUFF Stale-smelling Presley
DNA for sale here WWW.ELVISOWNED.COM
and albums certified gold,
Eagle’s Nest in 31 Number of films Elvis platinum or multi-platinum ELVIS MEETS NIXON Not one
Memphis made in his career by the Recording Industry of America’s proudest moments
Association Of America WWW.ARCHIVES.GOV/EXHIBIT_HALL/WHEN_NIXON_
150MILLION MET_ELVIS/
11D Amount of
(RIAA)
GIRLS’ GUIDE TO ELVIS Jus’ lookit
Elvis’
shoe size
money, in US 12 Number of Top 40 hits them thighs! Swoon! Etc etc
dollars, the movies Elvis had on the UK charts in GIRLSGUIDETOELVIS.COM
took at the box office
1956 Year in 1957. The Wedding Present
equalled this record in 1992
SIGHTINGS OF ELVIS From people
which Elvis 3764 Street number of who live with their curtains closed
WWW.DEADELVIS.COM/SIGHTING/SEEDEAD.HTML
became a
millionaire
Graceland, which is located 7 Number of hits Elvis had ELVIS KILLED JFK! What the
on Elvis Presley Boulevard, on the UK Top 30 singles internet was invented for
Memphis, Tennessee
45 Calibre of chart on two occasions in
November 1957
HOME.PACBELL.NET/HRWHITE3/CONTENTS.HTM

the army issue 22 MILLION Number of ELVIS’ CADILLACS As rare as pandas.


side-arm Elvis
took with him
copies sold worldwide of “It’s 14 Number of Grammy Fiat Pandas
MEMBERS.TRIPOD.COM/~COOL59/ELVIS.HTM
Now Or Never” (1960), Elvis’ nominations received by
everywhere biggest-selling single Elvis in his lifetime from ELVIS DISCOGRAPHY A record collector’s
he went the National Academy of window shopping paradise, Elvis style
1:43 Length, in WWW.SERGENT.COM.AU/ELVIS/MENU.HTML
6 Elvis’ minutes and seconds,
Recording Arts and
Sciences (NARAS). HOW ELVIS WOULD LOOK AT 70
height in of “Teddy Bear” (1956), He won three, all for WWW.NEWS-MEDICAL.NET/?ID=7208
feet Elvis’ shortest US gospel recordings
Number One single THE FIRST CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST
ELVIS Not entirely serious, we reckon
57 Number
999 Number of UK of shows Elvis
JUBAL.WESTNET.COM/HYPERDISCORDIA/SACRED_HEART_
ELVIS.HTML
Number One singles performed at the ELVIS COOKBOOK RECIPES Free
before Elvis’ “One International Hotel in defibrillator with every copy
Night” became the Las Vegas during his fi rst VILLAGE.FORTUNECITY.COM/RADCLYFFE/778/RECIPES.HTML
1000th top seller four-week residency in 1969
on 16 January, THE LOST ELVIS JOURNALS A bit like the
2005 600,000 Annual visitors to Hitler Diaries only with better gags
WWW.JUMBOMUMBO.COM/BLUESUEDEPAGES/BLUESUEDE.HTML
Graceland, which is now on
the US National Register Of FIRST HOUSE ELVIS BOUGHT $29,100
Historic Places worth of white-trash nastiness
WWW.ELVISTYLE.COM

“Elvis had an influence on everybody “Elvis was a major hero of mine. I was “Before Elvis there was nothing.”
with his musical approach. He broke probably stupid enough to believe John Lennon
the ice for all of us.” that having the same birthday as him
Al Green actually meant something.” “When we were kids growing up
David Bowie in Liverpool, all we ever wanted to
“No-one, but no-one, is his equal, or be was Elvis Presley.”
ever will be. He was, and is supreme.” “When I first heard Elvis’ voice I just Paul McCartney
“Describe Elvis Presley? He was the Mick Jagger knew that I wasn’t going to work for
greatest who ever was,is or ever will be” anybody: and nobody was going to “Elvis is the best ever, the most
Chuck Berry “He was the most popular man that be my boss. Hearing him for the first original. He started the ball rolling
ever walked on this planet since time was like busting out of jail.” for us all.”
“I wasn’t just a fan, I was his brother. Christ himself was here.” Bob Dylan Jim Morrison
He said I was good and I said he was Carl Perkins
good: we never argued about that. “I remember Elvis as a young man “Elvis was God-given, there’s no
Elvis was a hard worker, dedicated, “People don't realise what they hanging around the Sun Studio. other explanation. A messsiah
and God loved him. Last time I saw had ’til it's gone. Like President Even then, I knew this kid had comes around every few thousand
him was at Graceland. We sang “Old Kennedy – there’s nobody like him. a tremendous talent. He was a years, and Elvis was it this time.”
Blind Barnabus” together, a gospel Like The Beatles, there will never dynamic young boy. His phraseology, Little Richard
song. I love him and hope to see him be anything like them. Like my man, his way of looking at a song, was
in heaven. There’ll never be another Elvis Presley. I was the Elvis as unique as Sinatra’s. I was a “Elvis is my religion. But for him,
like that soul brother.” of boxing." tremendous fan.” I’d be selling encyclopedias right now.”
James Brown Muhammad Ali BB King Bruce Springsteen

|143
Two for the price
of one: Elvis at the
Warwick Hotel,
New York, 1956

The definitive guide to


the must-have compilations,
books and DVDs

The essential best-ofs, boxsets, alternative


takes and live recordings BY SIMON GODDARD

Artist Of The Century The King Of Rock'n'Roll Tiger Man (RCA/BMG) A Golden Celebration
(3CD RCA/BMG) – The Complete The second of the two intimate
‘boxing ring’ sets from the
(4CD RCA/BMG)
Originally released on vinyl
If you’re going to dig your Fifties Masters (5CD RCA/BMG) Comeback Special in its raw, in 1985 (reissued on CD