Interview with Jackie De Shannon
In 1975 with Donna Weiss, she composed 'Queen of the Rodeo' and 'Bette Davis Eyes' for her album New Arrangement. The song 'Bette Davis Eyes' later became a worldwide Number 1 single for singer Kim Carnes in 1981.
Q : When was the first time you saw Elvis?
A : May have been Milton Berle. I'm really not sure.
Q : Tell us how you first met Elvis.
A : I was lucky enough to first meet Elvis at his house in Bel Air and he used to invite different artists, singers and musicians, to come and jam with him at his house. And in the lower room, we had a jukebox and just played records and sang together and just had a great time.
Q : What were nights usually like?
A : Elvis was, at least the times I was around him, Elvis was a practical joker. He was always, had some little mischievous something going. And I know I laughed an awful lot. It was an interesting time because he made it so interesting. He would get the Jordanaires. He would get, again, as I say, these different people would come up. He was extremely down to earth. He really set the standard, Elvis set the standard as far as I'm concerned on how a star should act. He was the first star. He will always be the king. He will always be the biggest star there is. No one can ever take his place, and what he got across was that spirit, that generous spirit. He was generous with the artists that he worked with and I always felt kinda special because he's very picky about his singers. So I felt very honored to be there and to be a part of that special time.
Q : Did Elvis have a nickname for you?
A : Yes, he did, and I'm thinking now. He used to call me Jacqueline, Jacqueline Child of God. I don't know why but that was one of his nicknames. And I sent him a turtle once. We were talking about turtles. He said, 'Oh, I don't have a turtle'. So I sent him a turtle. I forgot the name of the turtle, though. Just lost it for a moment. But just something so simple like that or I had an opening night or I was working, he would send me a little note, very sweet.
Q : Did he introduce himself when you first met him?
A : I don't think Elvis needed an introduction. I have a great little story that before I went up to the house. He said, 'I'm gonna send one of the guys down to pick you up'. And I said, 'Well, I don't think that's gonna work because my mother'. I come from a background where, no matter who you are, you come to the door and you say, you know, 'Is Jackie home' or whatever. And I said to my mother, 'This is Elvis Presley. He will not be coming to the door so you can forget that and you're making it impossible for me to go up and sing with the Jordanaires, to sing with Elvis, have this great jam session'. And he would call and track me down and say, 'Come on up. We're gonna sing tonight' or so and so and I'd say, 'Elvis I can't come. My mother will not have it'. And I was living at home and this went on for several months.
And so finally I came home from ballet class one night and there was Elvis talking to my mother with a huge pink dog, bigger than I was. And that was it. And he always said to me that my mother reminded him so much of his mother. And from then on my mother didn't care how I got there. Because he actually, that is the generous person that I know and that is the person who, you know, he was so unassuming and with no airs or graces or anything like that. He was just so real. And I think that's why everyone clings to him and he's still very much a part of everybody's music world because of the person he was, let alone the talent that he had. He was so special. He just had something that God gives.
Q : Did you start dating Elvis?
A : No, I never dated Elvis. I wanted to but I wanted to have a relationship with Elvis that was more than a one date or two dates. I wanted to be able to be with him on a level that I could always feel comfortable calling him and saying, 'Hey, let's get together' or 'Wanna come up' or 'I'm coming to Vegas' or something. And it was a very tough decision for me to make. But I wanted to have that long lasting kind of relationship.
Q : Did you talk about spirituality?
A : Not in, it's just something he carried with him and something that I carried with me and I think that was the spark and connected us. It was a, for me it was very special and he always treated me very special so I think there was a bond there in many ways that just was something that you feel.
Q : Did Elvis talk about his goals or his films?
A : Yeah, I don't remember it, you know, it was a little while ago, but yes, he did say he wanted to tour Europe and that he wanted to do more acting and not singing in a film but acting and I always thought he was a fabulous actor. And had he had an opportunity to do more dramatic parts, I think he would have gotten an Oscar. I mean, he was so gifted and I don't think that he was really given an opportunity to show the kind of actor and the kind of talent. He had so much talent and but he, you know, it was a Catch-22.
Q : Talk about the camaraderie around him and the fun.
A : Oh, Elvis' group around him had an amazing time. As I said, it was always such fun to be around him and the guys. They were always doing funny things, you know. Doing karate, doing, making jokes. It was, you know, it was really great.
Q : Were you able to go to any screenings with Elvis?
A : No, I did not go. I think it was date night and much more of that sort of thing. No, I was mainly at the house and jamming and, you know, just kind of riding around in the car and singing and talking about things and kind of a buddy sort of thing.
Q : Elvis told you he appreciated your songs?
A : When I first saw Elvis in Las Vegas, he made certain that I had the, I guess, celebrity booth where he would have his personal friends sitting, actresses, actors and singers. And he made sure that I had that booth and he introduced me, made me stand up. It was just an amazing evening for me.
Q : What was Elvis like as a performer?
A : I don't think that, we haven't had anything like Elvis. He just had that gift and he was able to make you feel like every performance was only for you. And you'd catch his eye or he would take a look or something. It was very, very personal and that generosity was given to the audience. He had that generosity and he gave everything that he had. He did not hold back anything on stage.
Q : Was there a special buzz when Elvis was in Vegas?
A : When Elvis was in Vegas, the buzz was how do you get in? How do I get a ticket? Who do I know? What can I do? That was the buzz and everybody just stopped what they were doing. When Elvis was performing, you just tried to figure out a way to get there. I think he set all the records and anyone that has ever had the good fortune to see him, you know what it's like to try to get in to see Elvis. It was impossible, practically.
Q : Comment on the relationship between Elvis and his fans.
A : Well, I think that I don't know if this is true or not but it's a story that I heard and it sounded so much like him I assume that it is. It's supposed to have taken place in Memphis or somewhere back when he first exploded. The fans were so excited they were pulling things off the Cadillacs and they were like going wild and reporters were there covering everything and they said, 'Well, don't you get mad or angry when the fans tear everything up or when they want to take things and just anything to be a part of you?' And he said, 'No, they bought it for me so they can tear it up'. I mean, he was that loose with it and that I didn't hear it but it sounds very much like him.
Q : Would there be a throng at the gate of Elvis' home?
A : When I used to go to Elvis' house was always a nightmare trying to get into the house because of so many fans outside the gate and he really couldn't go anywhere without sneaking in or doing something because people just wanted to be around him and to be with him.
Q : Do you have a story of Elvis' generosity?
A : Well, as an artist, I think that Elvis' generosity to me he always talked very highly about me, he always spoke very highly about my work and singing and my writing. And he was very generous with other artists. I mean, it wasn't like, well, I'm Elvis Presley and I'm the greatest thing. And he was always talking about how he loved Roy Orbison or how he loved this one and he was, you know, he was the king and he wore his crown very, very well.
Q : Did he ever talk to you about his musical roots?
A : Well, it was kind of something that was just rather understood because we both, I believe, came out of that same gospel pocket. And he was a great admirer of the people that were making records and recording rhythm and blues and gospel music. I think they were a tremendous influence on him.
Q : What do you think is the highlight of Elviss career?
A : I think to just single out a highlight of Elvis' career is pretty much impossible. As far as being a fan of his, a lifetime fan, there were just too many highlights. And every time that you had an opportunity to see Elvis in person was, of course, my biggest highlight, because to watch him on stage and to know him and there was not a lot of, there was no difference, really. That energy and that restlessness and that kind of thing that persona, he took that onstage and then you added the great songs and the great band and the great music and it was a spiritual awakening every time that you had an opportunity to see him. And I think that's why it was so impossible to get to see him and all the fans that did, it's a great gift he gave us all.
Q : If you could describe Elvis in one word, what would it be?
One word or one sentence.
A : One sentence. Well, I couldn't do it in one word, that's for sure. I think, describing Elvis for me would be a very generous king. He was the king of rock and roll, will always be. He's whats made it possible for everyone to be performers and to do the things they do now. We all owe that to Elvis. And I'm really proud to have known him and he was generous with his spirit, generous with his talent and wore his crown very well.
Q : Do you have any memories of the 68 special?
A : Yes, I just sat down like a three year old when I saw Elvis do his special, I just sat there mesmerized. I didn't get up. I didn't move. It's never, you know, nothing ever changed. He always had that magic.
Q : Where were you when you found out Elvis had passed away?
A : When I heard the news that Elvis passed away, I believe that I was here, I was in Los Angeles. And I just remember, you know, breaking into tears and feeling so empty because, as long as Elvis was in the world, you always knew something was going and he always had something that kept everybody mesmerized. And he may perform, he may not, you know, Elvis is, he was just Elvis and everybody followed him and everybody wanted to know all the time what he was doing and what was going on and it's a great, great loss. But he left us so much. Elvis left us all so much and I start my Christmas holidays with the Elvis Presley Christmas album and it's not Christmas till Elvis says 'It's Christmas'.
Q : Is there a particular memory that makes you smile?
A : Yes, I think that I, my special memory about Elvis is after he did his concert in Las Vegas and I was going backstage, when I saw him and he saw me, I ran to him and he gave me the biggest hug and just, you know, kind of picked me up and was so happy to see me and that was, you know, a memory I'll carry with me always.
Q : Did Elvis ever tell you anything that stuck in your mind?
A : Yeah, every time in all the time that I spent with Elvis, again, I go back to his generosity. He was always very encouraging to me to keep going and keep doing it and, you know, I just have the greatest memories and everything, every time that I was with him was very wonderful and I cherish all my memories so they're all pretty equal.
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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.