Interview with Bill Medley
Q : Tell us how you first met Elvis.
A : First time I had any contact with Elvis I was in the hospital and Elvis sent me a telegram, you know, hoping that I would-- you know, wasn't gonna be in there long and good greetings. But first time I was with him is when he was doing that television special with the leather, and the Blossoms were on that show with him and they were real good friends of mine. They had work with the Righteous Brothers and just good friends. So Elvis had Darlene Love call me on the phone and tell me to come down and watch the rehearsals and stuff. So I went down and hung out and with Elvis a lot and it was great.
But no, that was later because I had been to Graceland before that-- I went to Memphis to record with Chips Moman and Marty Lacker. Picked me up at the airport and took me right to Elvis' house, took me to Graceland. And so I hung out with Elvis a lot there, you know, and really got to know him. And he was real gracious, he drove me all around Graceland in a golf cart and was showing me the horses, the stuff, the things, the trailer where he lived when they-- you know, whatever. And I think it was Lisa Marie's second birthday party. So I just remember him every time we would go into some amazing great room, beautiful gold trophies, stuffed things, and I would say, 'Wow, man. This is amazing'. Every room he would say, 'Yeah, Bill. They really been rough on me, man. They really been rough on me'. I would say, 'Yeah, they're killing you'. And so when he came to see me at the Sands Hotel I had a dressing room that was like this and he walked in, he looked at me, say, 'Yeah, Bill. They really been rough on you, man'. But it was amazing to have him at the Sands Hotel and people just freaking out. But it was really great being at Graceland, you know, at his home with him. When I was at Graceland Elvis used to rent the theater and go down and to see movies that he wanted to see. So he says, 'Bill, we're going down to see some movies'. I said, 'Well, cool'. And so we get out to the limousine. He says, 'Bill, you get in the back'. I said, 'Well, okay', And Elvis and Priscilla got in the front and we drove out down to the front gate and there was like, I don't know, 75, 150 people. They see that limousine come, they start screaming. And everybody looked in the back thinking Elvis was gonna be in the back and it's me and I'm waving, and nobody looked in the front and we just drove right off to the theater. And so that's one of my claim to fames. Two of 'em. Ray Charles' son asked me for my autograph and Elvis Presley chauffeured me to the movie show.
Q : Did Elvis used to come to see you at the Red Velvet?
A : Yeah. Yeah. Red Velvet. Geez, this is probably before we had Lovin' Feelin'. This is when we had hits like Little Latin Lupe Lu, Koko Joe and doing 'Shindig', you know, the TV show back there in the early '60s. And apparently Elvis would watch 'Shindig' and apparently he liked what we did and he loved that real hard rock and roll that we would do. So every week on 'Shindig' the producer would say, 'You know, I just got a call from Elvis or Elvis' people and Elvis wants you to do Koko Joe again' or this and that. So we would have to do all these hard rock and roll songs 'cause Elvis wanted and they wanted to do anything in the world to make Elvis happy, hoping that he would do the show. So he kinda of became a fan I think and then a lot of Elvis' guys and friends would come and watch us. And so he came into the Red Velvet, this great little funky place in Hollywood where everyone went and Bobby and I would sing there once in a while and he would come in and check us out, see if we were for real.
Q : You mentioned the '68 special. Was Elvis really up for that and really excited to do that?
A : I thought he looked phenomenal, you know. I would have had his children. I mean he looked unbelievable. And yeah, he was really up. Seemed like it to me, you know. And I think that's why that special was so great, especially that section or maybe that was the whole show, him and the guys, you know, up on that little stage and without all the fanfare. And you really got a good shot at who Elvis was as a guy and who he was musically. It was terrific.
Q : Were you there when Elvis opened in Vegas the first time in '69?
A : I was working at the Sands and couldn't go over. I think I was doing probably three shows a night, so all my friends and everybody went over to see him. So the first chance I got I went in to see Elvis, and I can remember I was recording and I got done just in the nick of time to jump on a plane and get in there, and I was just a little late. And I got there, I said, 'I'm Bill Medley. Elvis made a reservation for me'. Said, 'Yeah, come--' and this place was just wall to wall y'all. You know, just you couldn't move. And so they walked me and they walked me and they wa-- and they walked me right to the front. I'm here, the stage is here, Elvis is there. And I loved the show and I loved seeing him. And but I just remember that I had to go to the bathroom so bad and there was no way I could go. I almost-- I swear to God, I almost said, 'Elvis, can I use your head?' And I got a-- but it was a great show. So I went backstage first off so I could use the restroom and was talkin' to Elvis and I was gonna get a flight out that night back up to L.A. I said, 'I gotta go and boy, it was great to see you'. And he said, 'No, no, no'. Says, 'Don't go'. Said, 'I never get a chance to talk to anybody, you know?' So I thought that was pretty amazing. The guy that everybody in the world wanted to talk to had-- you know, or maybe he didn't have the opportunity to talk to another artist, you know, that maybe he related to. And so I really found that kinda sad, you know? And geez, I wanted say, 'Well, geez, let's go out and drink and gamble and--'
Q : If there's anything you could share, what type of things would Elvis like to talk about?
A : Well, when I was at Graceland we just pretty much talked about music a little bit, but he mainly talked about us, and obviously I was a big fan and he was curious why I sounded so black, as black as I did. And so we talked about that, but we mainly just horsed around a bit. I remember we spent an unbelievable amount of time there and he just showed me all around. Took me upstairs to see the bedroom, which nobody'll believe that I was there except Joe Esposito will know, attest to the fact that there was the two televisions on the ceiling and this and that. And so we just mainly talked about our--, he was interested in my influences. And we were both huge fans of Roy Hamilton. I was an enormous fan of Roy's because he was kind of a baritone singer and there wasn't a lot of people for me to as a bass baritone to relate to, and that's why I related to Elvis quite a bit, 'cause he had a huge range, but he was a baritone. And so we just talked about our influences.
A : Well, yeah. Another story-- I worked the Hilton. Usually when Elvis was there they had me in the lounge, which seated about 600 people. And I always thought that maybe Elvis had something to do with me being there when he was there. But I get a phone call in my dressing room and I don't remember if it was Elvis or one of the guys, and they said, 'Elvis wants you to come down to the dressing room'. And I said, 'Okay'. So I came down and it was the first time-- and I'm never sure about the name J.D. Sumner. It was the first time that J.D. was with him. And I come into the dressing room and Elvis says, 'Bill, you gotta hear this guy. You gotta-- he's a bass singer'. And I said, 'Cool'. And they started singing this gospel-- there was a piano in his dressing room, and they started singing this gospel song and he had J.D. standing right next to me and singing right into my ear. And he went down and down and down and my ear was like going. I mean it was going bah-- that way down there-- and but singing and in pitch and I just couldn't believe what I was hearing. And he was so exci-- Elvis was just freaked out. 'Can you believe it?' And I said, 'No, I can't'. So every time I'd see J.D.-- and God bless him, rest his soul, he's passed now-- he would say, 'Yeah, Bill thought he was a bass singer until he heard me, and he's right'. So yeah, Elvis was knocked out about bass singers and he knew that I could sing low and sing black.
Q : There was one night that I was told about where you and Bobby were singing in the lounge at the Hilton and Elvis and the guys just walked behind you and you had this tremendous applause.
Do you remember the story?
Video : Bill Medley Remembers Elvis Presley
Bill Medley Remembers Elvis Presley (09:43). I was working the Hilton Hotel, Elvis was in the main room, I was in this lounge and Elvis was doing You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' in his show. And so I'm doin' Lovin' Feelin'. 'You never close your eyes--' And I'm right at the place where it's 'Baby, baby, I get down on my knees for--' and I sense some rustling going on backstage, you know, when you're onstage it's like your living room and somebody walks onstage it's like somebody walking into your home at midnight. So I hear this rustling going on and I'm 'Baby, baby I get down on my knees for you'. And here comes Elvis and he walks right by me, in front of me, hits me on the arm and says, 'Hi, Bill' and keeps right on walking. And there was about four other guys with him and they just walked right off. And I didn't say anything. Well, the place went crazy.
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A : Yeah. Actually it wasn't the Righteous Brothers, I was working the Hilton Hotel, Elvis was in the main room, I was in this lounge and Elvis was doing You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' in his show. And so I'm doin' Lovin' Feelin'. 'You never close your eyes--' And I'm right at the place where it's 'Baby, baby, I get down on my knees for--' and I sense some rustling going on backstage, you know, when you're onstage it's like your living room and somebody walks onstage it's like somebody walking into your home at midnight. So I hear this rustling going on and I'm 'Baby, baby I get down on my knees for you'. And here comes Elvis and he walks right by me, in front of me, hits me on the arm and says, 'Hi, Bill' and keeps right on walking. And there was about four other guys with him and they just walked right off. And I didn't say anything. Well, the place went crazy. Went crazy!
And so I had another show at two and I go onstage and I mean the place was packed to the wall. Not that it wasn't always packed to the wall, but it was mobbed. 'Cause the town was small enough in those days, Elvis Presley walked onstage, everybody in town knew. Truly. Everybody in town. Couldn't do that today. I mean maybe a fourth of the town would know. And so they all show up, see if he's gonna come onstage with me again. Obviously he's not. So I'm going 'Baby, baby, I get dow--' and here he comes again and he walks right in front of me and he hits my arm and he says, 'Hi, Bill' and kept right on walking. Now he's got about ten of his guys and ten hotel security guys and they all walk by me, hit me-- 'Hi, Bill. Hi, Bill' and I just keep straight. 'If you would only look. We had a love--' and I do the whole song and people are going-- throwing babies out windows. I mean it was-- they're going cra-- and I just right-- I finished the song, they finally quiet down and I looked at the audience and I said, 'I don't know who he is, but he's now starting to piss me off'. And Elvis called me after the show and said, 'Bill, come up to the suite'. And so I came and he says, 'Man', he says, 'I hope I didn't wreck your show, man'. Yeah. I said, 'Yeah. Yeah, don't show up every night and do that'. I said, 'I could probably make some money in this business'. But he literally was concerned that he had messed up my show.
And then-- and Elvis was doing Lovin' Feelin' in his show and the way he would do it would turn his back to the audience and go, 'You never close your eye--'and turn around and do the song. And so a few of the guys, his boys, thought it would be funny if he turned around and get ready to do it that they would kill his mike and have me backstage and do the real voice. I didn't do it because I didn't want some security guard to pull out a gun and blow me away. But it would have been funny. It would have freaked him out. 'You never--' 'Boy, I do sound like Medley'.
Q : He would have loved it.
A : Oh, he would have loved it, yeah, but I don't wanna overstep my-- you know.
Q : Seems to be going away there.
A : Yeah, I just had always felt now that Elvis is gone. And I had written and recorded this song called Old Friend and in the song it says, 'Would you be here if I could have been there?' in the song and that really means that at one point I think it was the second time maybe he went into the hospital or something I wanted to come to Memphis and talk to Elvis as a friend, you know, didn't want a Cadillac, didn't need anything, didn't want anything, just loved him. And so it always bothered me that I didn't have that shot, you know? I mean I don't think it would have made any difference, but, you know, I wish I could have unloaded and said, you know, 'Man, what are you doing? What's--' you know.
Q : When did you write the song Old Friend?
A : I probably wrote Old Friend in the late '70s. You know, probably a couple of years, three or four years after he passed away. And yeah, there was one time I took my son down to see Elvis in his dressing room and I remember Elvis was sitting in the stairway with one of the Sweet Inspirations just talking and he just looked pretty tired. And I can just remember him always looking up at me and say, 'Yeah, Bill, I'm gonna--' said, 'It's gonna be all right'. And I was having a lotta throat trouble in those days and I never knew if he was talking about me or himself. But in the song Old Friend it says, 'Everything's gonna be all right' and I can remember him saying that. If I close my eyes I can hear him saying that. And some of the great times that I had with Elvis was in his dressing room because I was off right before he was going on and vice versa. His show would break, mine would go on. His would break-- So some of the great times I had with Elvis was before he went on. I think everybody else kind of was upstairs preparing whatever and it was just kinda me and the guy that was doing his hair. And so those were some really cool moments because we just talked as two guys, you know?
Q : I was gonna say that must be Larry Geller.
A : I believe so.
Q : Connie Stevens told me that you and she went up to or tried to get Elvis to get out at one point.
A : Yeah. Connie and I, we dated for a while and she was friends with Elvis and both of us were friends. Yeah, we came up to the Hilton, we went over there and tried to get him out, but I think he moved room, went from the living room to the dining room was about as good as we did. No, we never got him out and I just always felt bad, you know, that-- I mean the Righteous Brothers got pretty big. Certainly nobody was where Elvis got and was, but we never let it get in our way. You know, we would go out, but Elvis was just a whole nother animal, man. He couldn't go out and if he did go out he literally had to take all of his people with him because something could or would happen. And it was an unfortunate thing. So the crowd attracted a crowd, you know what I mean? It was kinda one of those things. And he looked like he was in living color anyway. It wasn't like he was gonna be able to walk through the casino and nobody'd see him. If Bobby and I weren't together I could go walk around. You know, maybe somebody would say, 'Aren't you--' and I would say, 'No'. And so I always felt bad that he never-- you know, that he was, it was good news and bad news, man. Good news is you're Elvis Presley. Bad news is you're Elvis Presley and can't do much.
Q : What type of places were you thinking of taking Elvis? Did you tell him?
A : No, no, no. I don't know. Just go out and find a small little place where we could have a couple of drinks or this and that or just go hang out. I don't know. I don't think we had thought it out.
Q : When was the last time you saw Elvis?
A : I believe it was in that stairway when he said, you know, 'Bill, it's gonna be all right'. I believe that was it and he mighta died a couple of years or a year after that.
Q : Did you get to know Priscilla well?
A : Yeah. First time I saw Priscilla she looked like Elvis. She had black hair and I think that's Elvis in drag, but I'm not gonna say nothing. And then, you know, that time that I was at Graceland for a couple of days. Like I said, it was Lisa Marie's second birthday party and I walked in and I think Priscilla opened the door and her hair was light brown I believe and up in a bun or something. And I just had never seen anybody that gorgeous. She just was absolutely stunning, and real sweet and just great. You know, and the last time I saw Priscilla she brought her mom and dad in to see Bobby and I probably about four years ago at the MGM. And she came backstage and I got to meet her mom and dad and talk to her a little bit. And actually last time I talked to her I had called and asked her if she could send me the video that she did a special that they used Old Friend in the special and she was kind enough to send that to me. But really sweet girl, sweet woman and I think she did a great job with Lisa. You know, that's a tough job. I'm glad I'm not Elvis' kid. That's pretty tough shoes, you know?
Q : Did you get to know the Colonel?
A : No. Talked to him a coupla times. Saw him playing roulette, you know, coupla times, but no, I didn't get to know Colonel. He was just in and out and kinda quiet and--
Q : What other performers besides you would be with Elvis? Like Tom Jones?
A : Yeah. There was always a million performers around, but when I was around Elvis it was just the two of us. And I remember one night I saw his show, he started Lovin' Feelin', turned around and sang and I was right in the front and he looked down and gave me the finger and laughed. And one night he didn't introduce me. He introduced some other people and I saw him backstage, says, 'Bill, I'm really sorry, man, that I didn't introduce you'. And everybody's like, talking, this and that. I said, 'Nah, that's all right, but I'll never come back see you ever again'. And the whole room just went, whoosh. Like that. I mean everybody had their ears and eyes on him. And said, 'Hey, I'm just-- I'm j--' and he went, 'I'm just joking'. And he laughed and then the room noise came right. It was weird.
Q : Where were you when you found out Elvis had passed away?
A : I was living down here in another house down the Peninsula and I forget who told me and it was a real, real shock. Real, real sad, real sad time because Elvis Presley just wasn't gonna die, you know? He was just too big. He was too strong. How can Elvis Presley die? You know? Before his time. You know? How does that happen? So when somebody goes before their time it's just tough. You can't get it and you can't put it in place and it's just very sad. You know, especially with his daughter and it was tragic, you know, and it shouldn't have happened.
Q : What do you think there is about Elvis that his legend is continued so much now?
A : Yeah, he just was one of a kind. Lotta guys have come and gone and this and that, but he's Elvis Presley. And the people that were raised in that era couldn't let go of it even if they wanted to. You know, I mean he's an enormous part of their life. He's a part of my life, so that's never gonna go. And then different generations on down hear about him and he was a phenomenon. He pretty much started rock and roll.
Q : You were saying he was one of a kind?
A : Yeah, he just one of a kind. There'll never be anything like him. And because it's a little like the Marilyn Monroe and that gone before their time. And the world wasn't done with him. If he was alive today he would be happening. So the world wasn't done with him, you know.
Q : What does Elvis mean personally to you?
A : Well, I mean when I do Old Friend on stage I just thank him for opening the door for all of us guys. You know, if it wasn't for Elvis rock and roll could have become a fad. And he just knocked down doors for all of us other guys to go to walk through and work and still have a career. He knocked down a lotta doors. He was palatable. He was the first white palatable guy. You know, in early '60s there were still white stations that wouldn't play black music, you know? Black artists. And Elvis just created this thing, and he snuck through. And parents maybe reluctantly said, 'Okay, you can listen to him' or whatever, you know, and then slowly but surely the walls broke down. But he was a great looking guy, great looking white guy and a lotta the stuff he was doing was Little Richard and some of that stuff, but white radio or someone said okay, and they played it. They played it, 'cause I know Bobby and I, the Righteous Brothers had a lotta trouble getting our music played, the early, early stuff. Lovin' Feelin', forget about it. That was pretty much kind of a white R & B record, but the first stuff they wouldn't play. They said it was too rock and roll. Too hard rock and roll. What they were really saying, 'It sounds black and we can't play it'.
Q : Did Phil Spector sign you? Is that what happened?
A : Yeah. Yeah. He leased the remainder of our contract from Moonglow Records and asked Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil to write a song for us and they wrote Lovin' Feelin'. Why they did, I don't know. God bless 'em. And I mean it was a career song.
Q : What did Sonny Bono do for Phil?
A : Sonny Bono kinda did everything for Phil. I don't wanna use the word gofer because it wasn't that, but he was. He would go get this or that and played. I think he played tambourine on Lovin' Feelin'. And I don't remember Cher in those days, but I remember Sonny. Then I obviously knew and was aware of Cher when they started doing their first records, even before they were Sonny and Cher.
Q : Did Cher ever back the Righteous Brothers up?
A : I believe Cher told me that she sang vocal background on Lovin' Feelin'. And when Sonny and Cher were huge we were all in Lake Tahoe at the same time where I was working the lounge up there and Cher called me and said, 'Bill, I wanna come in and see the show, but I wanna sing with you'. I said, 'Cool. Great'. I said, 'What do you wanna do?' She says, 'No, I wanna--' 'cause I had two girl background singers. She said, 'No, I wanna sing background for you'. And so she came in, stood in the back with the other two girls and sang, did my whole show and did vocal background. I don't even know if I ever introduced her. I don't think she wanted to be introduced. And here's people watchin' my show and here's Cher over here and I'm not makin' any mention. So it was kinda strange, but it was wonderful. She's a good friend and she's really a great girl.
Q : Thanks a lot, Bill.
A : My pleasure.
If you like reading this article, you will love the book; Writing For The King - a 400 page Book with more than 140 interviews with songwriters like Paul McCartney, Leiber & Stoller, Pomus & Shuman, Red West, Mark James and Tony Joe White. Included are two CDs, the first contains previously unreleased RCA recordings of Elvis performing live in Las Vegas (1969 through 1972), the second a selection of the original demos submitted to Elvis.
The demo CD takes us from Heartbreak Hotel through classics like Teddy Bear, Trouble, Burning Love and Way Down.
'Writing for the King' by Ken Sharp is a fascinating behind-the-scenes story of politics, money, inspiration and great trivia about Elvis and the songs he turned into classics.
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Interview with Ronnie Tutt
Interview with Ronnie Tutt #2
Interview with Jerry Scheff
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Interview with Sherrill Nielsen
Interview with Terry Blackwood and Jim Murray
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Interview with D.J. Fontana
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Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD + 16 page booklet.
Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.