Interview with Ronnie Tutt July 2002
ET = The Elvis Touch RT = Ronnie Tutt DT = Donna Tutt
ET: Hello Ronnie. Are you enjoying your stay in Scotland?
RT: Oh yeah, very much. We had a day off and did the typical tourist thing. We went to the Castle in Edinburgh then we came back, Neil [Diamond] wanted to see the latest Steven Spielberg movie Minority Report with Tom Cruise. We went to the Odeon complex. It's just nice to take a break from the concert. It's nice to have a day when you don't have to think about it.
ET: There are quite a number of breaks in this tour, 13 shows in 20 nights.
RT: I've never counted. It's never enough for me. I always enjoy taking a little excursion. With the economy of the world lately, touring, time off is no remedy, nobody's paying when people are off, everybody needs help, both mentally and physically.
ET: What we have done is construct a short interview, with questions we thought people would like to ask. Do you mind if we follow this?
RT: Please, go ahead.
ET: First could you tell us a little about yourself up until the point where you started to play drums professionally or semi-professionally?
RT: I studied in a Music University in Texas, which was known for having a great music school. I had no idea of becoming a professional drummer. I'd been involved in music since I was old enough to walk, just about, always singing and playing the guitar, played some trumpet in a band. Then in my last year in High School, my senior year I switched over to drums. So going to college was basically going for an education than to study music seriously. I had gotten into music more than I had realised; I had jumped into some pretty deep water. College allowed me to break into a melting pot of musicians from all over Northern America, that allowed us to go out and work in the Dallas, Fort Worth area, and actually hone your skills of playing while going to school while you're there. I finally became so busy, so involved doing gigs that I didn't have time to go to school anymore. I thought this wouldn't be a bad way to make a living, so this led to this studio gig 'serious project' and that led to a staff position in a recording studio. We mainly did jingles, but we did records and things for lots of different people, that was in Memphis. It was Dallas first then I transferred over to Memphis. That's where I met Larry Muhoberac.
ET: He also worked with Elvis.
RT: Well he was instrumental in putting my name in the hat for the '69 gig, my claim on Elvis at all. For the whole time I lived in Memphis I never met Elvis. So, I knew Marty Lacker, I knew one person, he was one of Elvis' guys.
ET: Did you ever-meet Elvis before 1969? I think I read somewhere that you both appeared on the same bill. Is that correct?
RT: Yes I did. The first band I was playing with in my last year of High School, we were playing for the Texas equivalent of the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ol' Opry in Tennessee. It was called The North Side Jamboree and it was on Saturday night, it as a live broadcast and I was in the house band. The first band I started working with happened to be a great Western Swing band. So, we were the staff band and Elvis came in one Saturday night and I had my girlfriend, my High School sweetheart, we'd driven over from Dallas, and in comes this kid with all these black clothes and the hair and all this. My girlfriend is looking at him way too much for my taste but anyway during the show he broke the strings on his guitar. He [Elvis], Bill Black and Scotty, no drums.
ET: So this would have been before 1956? DJ Fontana came on board around January of that year.
RT: Mid-1955 I think. So anyway he borrowed our guitar and he just thrashed it. So I didn't have a high opinion of him at all. This punk, who does he think he is, I wasn't aware of his music, he was just an up and coming artist then, you know.
ET: Wasn't he a local star at that time?
RT: No he wasn't a big star at all.
ET: Not even in Texas?
RT: No, he'd only just started travelling. He maybe had just a couple of records out at the time. I told him this story when we started working and he got a big kick out of it.
ET: When you started working with Elvis in 1969 there would have been an audition of some description. Did Elvis take any active part in the Audition?
RT: Oh yeah.
ET: Did James Burton as the bandleader have any say?
RT: No, No it was Elvis.
ET: So Elvis chose his own people?
ET: Were there any other major drummers at the audition that you had to compete with?
RT: Well I don't know who auditioned, I've never gone around and researched who were the drummers who auditioned. The same night as I did was a guy named Gene Pello and Gene was the drummer for all the Mo'town sessions. He was well known in town and I was totally unknown. I just flew in the day before, because of Larry Muhoberac's recommendation. Larry and I were both on the staff at the same studio in Dallas, which had a branch in Memphis. We were running a studio in Dallas and Larry said a few weeks, maybe a couple of months earlier 'they contacted me and Elvis is going to do a comeback'. He said 'He's going to appear in Vegas at this big new hotel';. He said, 'we really need to go to LA to get the studio position well known. This would be the perfect vehicle, because every record producer, every entertainment entertainer on the west coast, and maybe they'll come from all over too see Elvis, because it's been 10 years'; I said, 'sure, sure enough, put my name in the hat too'. You know he [Larry] had done some piano work in the Blue Beats with Floyd Cramer.
ET: He worked with Elvis also.
RT: Yeah. Through all those dumb movies that showed Elvis' hands playing piano. You know. But Larry was my mate.
ET: So Larry had helped you secure the post, though Elvis had the final say.
RT: You know they'd been auditioning drummers for weeks and they still weren't happy. It was the last night and I came in there and brought my drums, I hauled them in on the airline. So I'm sitting down at the back and this drummer comes in, Gene comes in, he walked over and says hello to everybody. This is kind of an interesting story. I hear him start to get on my drums and I see somebody say something about, he thought they were rental drums, somebody said those are this guys over here. So he comes over and says, he's real nonchalant about it 'hey man, is it OK if I use your drums'. I said 'sure'. So I watch as the evening's going on and Gene's playing very well and everybody's nodding very approvingly like. They obviously were very tired of auditioning drummers; they'd found somebody who played well. Well they said, that's it, they didn't verbally say it but you could see it. So all this transpired before my eyes and I'm sinking slowly, going lower and lower into my seat. I'd brought my drums all the way from Texas and I'm not even going to get the chance to play. Sure enough, as the night came they played a few songs, and as the evening wore on everyone kind of says like that''s it. It was like, thank goodness we've got a drummer. Then my friend goes over to Col. Parker and says 'you know this guy that you just bought an airline ticket for, he's over there at the back, these are his drums, the kid can play'. So Col. Parker goes over to tell Elvis, and its like, oh no, not another drummer. So I get up and play, and instantly Elvis and I had this rapport, this eye contact, and that's what he said made the difference for him. He said 'you know Ronnie those other drummers were good, but he was doing his own thing, you were watching me all the time. I knew that I could look around at anytime and I could see you, and you could see me. That's what I wanted. All the other drummers were good'. Obviously, they were all well-known drummers out on the West coast, He said 'they're all good but nobody watched me'. Like I told him one time, I needed to have that rapport as well.
ET: Obviously after you got the job, you would have been involved in lots of rehearsals, before that first concert in 1969. Do you have any recollections of that opening night after all it was your first time working with him?
RT: Oh yes. Well it was extremely exciting, because we were also recording it, so everything we did was recorded from that first show, through '69. I think he had an album coming out 'From Elvis to Memphis'.
ET: From Memphis to Vegas.
RT: From Memphis to Vegas. See they had the studio sessions and we were doing the live stuff, we were doing our own thing. That's one thing Elvis was always good about. He'd say, 'I don't care what we'd done before or what the other records are like', even his old standard records, whatever they are 'I want us to do now, what we do now, I don't want us to try and imitate what we did back then'. So the challenge was to play wide open and interpret the music, follow him and the excitement, and even though it was a Vegas type dinner, the first show was always a dinner show. It was terrible from the point of all this clanging of plates, it was not the best concert environment even though that went on it was still incredibly exciting. He looked absolutely fantastic. It was just one of those special times.
ET: After this you missed the second season in February '70, returning to the band in July/August '70. That was filmed and became 'Elvis, That's The Way It Is'. In the rehearsal scenes there seems to be a lot of fun and enjoyment, and it seems the whole band is gelled together, acting as a single entity. Was it like this all the time or was part of this playing to the cameras?
RT: No. I think the cameras copied it pretty closely as to the way we did conduct rehearsals. That's the way it was.
ET: There was a lot of seriousness but a lot of fun. Was it an awful lot of fun?
RT: That's the way he was. The cameras really captured him as silly as he is or was, you know. I think, and of the filming there could be one or two percent of something he might not have done if the camera where not in front of him, but pretty much right on they captured him. He'd been around enough cameras in his life, where he could relax, so he allowed the cameras to not get in his way. It was always his thing, he would tell us 'I don't care if we're recording or filming, we're doing our show. This is what we do, don't let any of that bother what we're trying to do, don't think about anything but what we're doing'. That's good because you know coming from him, because all you had to do was be on him and that's all you had to do. That's what endeared those kinds of films to the fans because it seems so real, it is contrary to anything else he had done on film.
ET: That's interesting. TTWII was recently re-edited about two or three years ago and has been very successful in Europe. It's still occasionally running to good-sized audiences in Glasgow. Have you seen it?
RT: Yes. The Turner Classic Movies people were allowed to put that together, they found that [film] in a vault. We did an interview, a short interview and promo when they promoted it in the United States and actually all of Northern America, and interviewing us and just promoting it. You know it's really well done, the editing made it a totally different movie. The original is a joke.
ET: How does it feel looking back. Someone looking back on their life always finds old photographs or films that they decide will remain hidden. Looking at that film, you must be proud of your part, after all the entire core band members are a predominant part within it. It's simply Elvis and his core band members with no hangers-on, though there are a couple in some small scenes. Where you pleased with the way the second edit came out?
RT: I think so, I think we're all pleased in the way that it showed, it really captured the way we were. I think that's what's rewarding after all these years. Because Col. Parker had a tendency. I'd like to say that right off, that's the reason I wasn't in the second gig in 1970, because he didn't let anybody know until the last minute, when he was going to do anything. Because, he was always hoping to get another musician, and maybe get them a little cheaper. That's the reason Glen D. Hardin left, he was working a lot with another band. He just would not let us know the schedule. I was doing a network television show on ABC television, The Andy Williams Show. I had a verbal contract and I would have been able to get away from it if I had known, that was always the case with him [Col. Parker] a problem with scheduling. Yeah, I think we're all pleased with the way it came along, and that the fans enjoy it so much, the people who are really into music.
ET: I've always felt that getting all the fans out of it, screaming girls etc. improved it.
RT: That was just Col. Parker that was all his idea, his wanting to promote Elvis. You know, you didn't have to promote Elvis, Elvis could promote himself, just turn a camera on him, that's all you've got to do, that's it.
ET: Shortly after this Vegas season Elvis started to go on the road again. Did you find a major difference between what was happening in Vegas, because it was tight, tight audience, tight crowds and a tight room. What you then got was like in Portland in 1970, a large auditorium, and possible sound problems. Was there a major difference between events?
RT: I wouldn't say major. The main difference as I alluded to you before was the dinner show was very unrewarding, as a performer. To think some man is watching his meal rather than Elvis, or he's brought along his wife or girlfriend who wants to see Elvis, you know he'd rather be out gambling than there. But when we played these concert halls regardless of whether there were 10,000 or 100,00 people there to see Elvis, there were no distractions. We felt very excited it was energetic, from the stand point of that you had a captured audience, for the first time rather than a lot of other extenuating circumstances, reasons that people where in Vegas. That was the main difference, of course we always had second shows in Vegas that where just seating, no food, just drinks and that was more like a concert. But we were always very relieved to go out on the road, even though travelling is always very difficult, we where always very relieved to go out on the road and feel that enthusiasm. That's why he loved to do it, Vegas it got to be a big drag for him, it sucked him physically and mentally, he was like a caged lion. The power of being captured out there, it was the ultimate gilded cage shall we say.
ET: There have been lots of bootleg recordings and you can notice that what he was doing in 1969 up to late 1972, maybe, but by 1973 he was getting bored, you can tell this even from an audio recording. He just got bored. he seemed to need a challenge and there where not enough of them through the 1970s.
RT: I think that's true. I think the one thing if you knew anything about Elvis at all, I think a very insightful person, whether it be management or whoever, would have realised that Elvis does get bored easily. He's was one very impulsive type individual, and just the fact that anytime he would do something he would go all out. With him it's all out or nothing. He'd be doing a movie one time and decided that it would be a good idea to have dirt flown into Graceland from Texas, you know, for his horses, I mean, he felt like that was the thing to do. Then he'd started wearing Western clothes and everybody wore Western clothes, then it would be one thing and then it would be something else. Karate was the latest phase and we all studied karate, which was a good thing. But on the other hand the fact that the underlying problem of people was really not being in a position to influence him, that many didn't understand what was best for him, sometimes it was what was best for them. But I'm not trying to create controversy, but I'm just saying that all kinds of people are motivated by different reasons, and I feel his best interests were not served by a lot of different people throughout his career.
ET: In March 1972 you went into the studio with Elvis for the first time. We have seen the filmed rehearsals in TTWII and it looked like a lot of fun. Obviously that couldn't carry over to a studio environment. Was it still fun to work in that kind of confined environment with Elvis?
RT: At times it was but it became difficult, basically because we were on call. One of the albums we did at Graceland.
ET: Yeah, that was 1976, I was going to ask about that.
RT: Yeah, we'd show up in the evening, Elvis might not decide to come down until one or two in the morning. So it became a matter of sitting around occupying yourself, you know. They had a pool table in one of the rooms in Graceland and a racket ball court. So I'd take some shorts and gym clothes and go and play racket ball until I got the call saying Elvis wants to come down and get ready to record. Or maybe we'd go in for the evening and he might decide that he didn't want to come down, so that was a little difficult. I think the best environment we where in was, I don't recall the date, we were recording with RCA in Hollywood where he had to physically come in every night, we'd work, we'd work and work and work. That's where Burning Love came from.
ET: That was March 1972.
RT: Yeah, that was a good environment because he could focus on it, not be distracted, you know, not get too comfortable, he needed that edge, a little push sometimes.
ET: While we're talking about the Graceland sessions. It's interesting that the first major interview our club ever did was with James Burton and Glen D. Hardin, that was February 1976, one week after recording what became From Elvis Presley Boulevard. They both walked out a couple of days early on that session because of that very same thing, they just got very annoyed, basically of Elvis' attitude.
RT: I honestly don't remember them walking out.
ET: Well Glen D. he never went back.
RT: Yeah, well Glen Ds problem was more than with Elvis, it was the Colonel. It had to do with information and letting people know, co-ordinating, times of when we were going to do this and the schedule, it was disgraceful. You know, I later had a conflict too, I'd booked a session and a short two week tour with the Gerry Garcia band, we did an album and they'd asked me to do this tour way in advance, so I said OK. Then at the last minute the Colonel pops up with this little short tour, he figured, everybody was just waiting for their call, to be brought to them, I said sorry I can't do it.
ET: With all the 100s of concerts and sessions you were doing throughout the 1970s with Elvis, you continued to work with other bands?
RT: Yes, oh yes, I was working a lot.
ET: It would be like almost 365 days then. It must have been hard on your family life.
RT: Yes it was, but we managed to get through it.
ET: One of the highlight performances of all time was the Aloha From Hawaii show. Do you recall that what so ever? That was beamed around the world.
RT: Oh yes. I remember that very well. My wife, then my fiancee, she came over with me and we had a lovely week rehearsing and relaxing before we actually did the concert. To me there's no better place to cool out than Hawaii, the smell of the air, it's just magic. So it was a great time and he was at his best at that particular time. He really worked hard at getting himself into shape. It was an emotional time as we realised the importance of what we were doing, he was pretty nervous at this particular point in time, he knew a great deal of the world would be looking in at this show. It was not something you could do one night the do it again the next night, it was a one of a kind thing, it was pretty amazing. Then Jerry Schema was getting ready to leave, he was leaving the band, and he was going to Canada, so it was a highlight.
ET: That particular night, it's one show we have seen on film, there was very little audience interaction, in the sense that he doesn't talk much, stop, have a rest, joke about. That show is just so tight.
RT: He was so nervous. You can imagine, that was the most nervous I think I've ever seen him, other than opening night in Las Vegas. Every opening night when we played there you could hear and see he was nervous. He would probably loose his temper a little bit with somebody, one of his gophers; it was never any of us. He had a tendency to get uptight I don't know whether, the beautiful thing about Elvis, he always had the ability to laugh at himself and take himself serious at the same time. But, that was when opening night, the taking himself seriously would override the fun parts that's where it stopped. The Aloha special, he became so wrapped up, plus, you can imagine, it was a production, the producer had everything timed, there as no allowance for problems within the show.
ET: Yeah, they pre-recorded the show two nights earlier just in case anything went wrong during the actual satellite transmission.
RT: Yes that's right. With a normal concert, sure it's exciting to perform in a stadium, like with the Silverdome with 175,000 for example. But, that show had to be timed, it had to be.
ET: Since we're talking about concerts do you mind if I ask about a few specific shows that where slightly different or unusual. The first is the Houston Astrodome in 1974, you where on a moving stage, which we've seen on some home movies.
RT: It was kidney shaped.
ET: Did a moving stage create a problem for instance if you have a drum kit, surely there was some movement, vibration?
RT: There was a little movement, you could feel it, it was moving a little bit, it would go round like one turn then go back again. It became kind of humorous actually, again Elvis' ability to laugh at a crazy situation. We'd be going on doing the song and he'd make a little movement or something, the sound had a two and a half second delay, so it would be bang (makes the gesture of striking a drum) then after two and a half seconds you would hear boom. So that became funny to him and he started to play with that a little bit. Then finally, we had, they had us all in these plexi-glass compartments that the sound was so atrocious, he finally just turned around, away from the audience, he turned around in front of us and we had our own little show. This is interesting, we recently played there with Neil [Diamond] and he could leave the stage as he has a radio mike. He started going over to the fans and singing while we were playing, the people loved it, it's sad Elvis couldn't have done that. It's all the changes in technology, you know.
ET: Earlier you spoke of the need for Elvis to make eye contact. There was one show Pontiac, Michigan 1975. The stage was actually split and on two levels. We have seen photographs of Elvis on one level and the group on another. That must have caused a real problem with both eye contact and knowing exactly what Elvis was doing?
RT: I don't remember the stage at different levels, I do remember the stage being really high, like it was 10 feet high and it was in a round. All the speakers where set in a round, all the PA., it was the Clair Brothers who did the sound, they didn't normally do our sound, but Bruce Jackson, a very famous engineer from Australia had come on board, to do a couple of shows. Being in a round containment situation like that was very unusual for him [Elvis], because he liked to work from side to side.
ET: I've heard almost 300 concerts and my all time favourite concert is the New Year's eve show at Pittsburgh in 1976. It was one of the longest shows at one and half-hours. Do extensions to concerts cause a problem as they usually lasted between 50-70 minutes?
RT: No, the reason is probably that the people were really enjoying it and he was enjoying it, having a good time, if that's the case let's go a little longer, that was his way. There where nights when it was hard to play on, when the audience wasn't responding like he thought they should, the sound was bad or whatever reason. He'd turn to me and say 'Let's get the hell out of here', and he'd go right into Can't Help Falling In Love, he'd like cut the show.
ET: You can see that there can be as much as 20-25 minutes of a variance in shows, sometimes.
RT: Yeah, if he didn't feel the audience was responding the way he was in the mood for. With Elvis you saw he was the pillar of your life or you saw something that maybe, wasn't as good as it should have been. It depended how people reacted, he took to the way people responded, very much so, there where big, big highs and lows.
ET: A lot of both?
RT: Yeah, a lot of both.
ET: One of those lows for Elvis fans was Indianapolis 1977, the very last show he would perform. Obviously you didn't know that that was the last concert. You where going on tour, what was the day after he died. When you look back do you have any recollections of that particular show or time? Elvis was not in the best of health.
RT: All I know, someone sent me a video of that last piece of footage, and I'd forgotten quite frankly, I'd forgotten how badly out of shape he was. I saw that concert and I said to myself, that I don't ever want to see it again. That's one of those pictures you spoke about earlier, that you put on the shelf. I just hadn't seen it since we did it you know, and I do'?t want to ever see it again. My memories I have are not that. We did so many years of great shows.
ET: There are some parts on that where he is so good, the range is as high as he'd ever been throughout his career.
RT: He knew he had to try, Elvis had that wonderful thing about him, and he had that thing of not allowing himself too. I don't know how to actually say it. He would try even harder in a difficult situation; he would try even harder to make it right. I think that's a good example of him pushing his voice, because physically he was not doing well and his weight and all of that, he was not blind. Here was one of the most fantastic looking guys in the world for so many years, you get to that point in life but you can't help but feel a little down, he wasn't going to let it get him down. The singing is fine regardless; I don't like to look at it myself.
ET: If you are living with someone, you don't see changes in the same way as if you only see them regularly. You would see Elvis, than have a few weeks before seeing him again. At the time did you notice major changes in Elvis?
RT: Yeah I could, I always used to say that Elvis was like superman, he would jump into a convenient phone booth, you know. Elvis would have had his jump suit and his black hair. You know he was rumoured, in fact I knew for a fact that he had white hair for several years and he had to dye it black. They had to dye his eyebrows. I'd look around on stage and after something Suspicious Minds or something where he was working really hard and sweating, I'd look around and there'd be all this black dye pouring down his eyes, you know. They had done a bad dye job on the poor man. Charlie Hodge or somebody like that had done the work, they weren't professionals you know.
Ronnie's wife, Donna, came into the room at this point and joined us for the remainder of the interview
RT: Oh this is my wife, Donna.
RT: They where just asking if I'd saw changes in Elvis. She was around a lot too. So we would notice it, there where times when he really was in good shape, He'd really watch his weight, exercise, work-out a lot, practice his karate, whatever. There where times when he, he was very resilient, like starting rehearsals. He would have like maybe a week before he had something major to do, and we could see that by the time he got ready to do the actual gig he'd be Elvis again, he'd jumped into that phone booth, you know. He'd be that guy again that's the way we saw him for so many years, even though he got heavy at that terrible time, we all thought and in my own mind, oh well he'll settle down it's just a bad phase he's going through. He wouldn't let on, like all his medical problems. The only one he ever told me about was his eye problem.
RT: Yes, so when I'd go in and talk to him before shows he'd be sitting there with an eye patch on his eyes. When he took it off he'd have tears streaming down his face. It was the lights, the spotlights; here again it's technology they didn't know how to hang things, so everything had to be done from the front. There was always these intense spotlights on him, I know because I was sat behind him. I have the same, not the same intensity of problem, but my eyes are really light sensitive, after all the years I've sat behind him, because the lights where hitting him all the time, you know. These are incredibly powered spotlights, there where four of them hitting him where ever he was. That was very difficult for his eyes.
ET: I know that through 1970, 71, 72 Elvis was doing a lot of rehearsals before going on tour. But by 1975-76 was Elvis still doing rehearsals? Or was the show that tight by then as there wasn't a great deal of variance in Elvis' stage repertoire? Was there a need for rehearsals?
RT: That's right, no there wasn't, there wasn't a great need, the personnel had played together for a long-time. Unless there was a specific show or tour or whatever. If there was to be different songs, but I have to say the show's repertoire didn't change that much they didn't really. Then again he was a creature of habit like most of us are, but particularly he'd get comfortable with something that worked for himself, there again I think that's maybe a problem with him not realising the need to push himself a little more. We all wanted to do more and more Rock 'n' Roll, you know get out of the show type stuff, though some of it was really good, some of it wasn't so good.
ET: He tried changing in 1974 but for one night, tries for one evening then reverts on the second night of the season back to a more standard show.
RT: The audience didn't respond well.
ET: I think that was the problem. Elvis fans and the public in general had to see him sing Hound Dog. You're now on tour with Neil Diamond, he must be sick singing Sweet Caroline, surely the musicians must get sick playing it. But people go along and have to hear these songs sung.
RT: Well it's true in one view. The difference is that Elvis didn't write these songs, they weren't created from his heart, he made the songs his, obviously. But the difference with Elvis and Neil, these songs are part of Neil, so when he goes out there that's part of him, he's sharing part of himself in the show. With Elvis he was only a performer in that sense, an interpreter, a singer. So that's why he did get bored with them easily. The old songs that people thought they just had to hear, he'd almost throw them away.
ET: You do notice that, like in 1970 you would hear whole versions of Don't Be Cruel, All Shook Up and Hound Dog. But by 1972-73 they where just part of a medley put together, like let's wrap this up and get rid of that quickly, move on to something more meaningful.
RT: I don't know about musically, but I think personally, It was a psychological thing. Those years he wasn't necessarily proud of anymore, he'd evolved into a totally different man, you know he'd become very self educated, very well read, he'd had a whole career, years in Hollywood. A lot of water had come and gone under the bridge in his life. He was a pretty raw, wild individual in those days, so he wasn't necessarily proud of what he called 'those spastic days'.
ET: It's sad that forty going on fifty years after that, people like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins are all still remembered for that first two or three years. Sadly, forgetting about what came after, though they all had long careers. My personal favourite period with Elvis is his work after January 1969, but that may have something to do with being young, my age.
RT: Yeah, that very well could be the reason.
ET: With all the concert and studio work going on throughout the 1970s with Elvis. Was there anything else you where doing?
RT: We were taking karate lessons, Donna too (pointing to his wife). He'd said he wanted to make a movie, a kind of international karate spy thriller, a kind of Enter The Dragon that Bruce Lee had done. I think he actually started writing out a script.
ET: They actually filmed two reels. They filmed forty minutes in Memphis, in a studio. The idea was a film to be called The New Gladiators.
RT: Really, well that's news to me, all I know is he talked to me, us about doing it, he wanted to get all of us involved in the class with all the karate masters that would come around, my wife as well.
ET: In a recent interview, keyboard player Bobby Ogdin, he did fifty plus shows with Elvis, he said he never really met him.
RT: (Laughs) Is that right.
ET: Is that the way it worked? He said he would come onto the stage, Elvis would come in do his turn and then he was gone, Elvis had left the building. In a way he'd never got a chance to meet him.
RT: I don't know, if he says so, it's sure possible.
ET: What he explained, there wasn't any rehearsals going on, he just came in, he's given what to play by somebody, he appears on stage, Elvis comes from his dressing room, does the show, Introduces Bobby and gives him his turn in the spotlight, then Elvis leaves. He says he never met Elvis and I was wondering if there was any contact away from the shows, excluding the core band members?
RT: Possibly not. It's possible that some of those guys have never met him.
ET: One of the things that's happened more recently is the virtual Elvis concert. Unique in its own right, in that the star the people are coming to see is no longer with us. Does that feel funny? How does it feel, it must be so repetitive?
RT: Well, repetitive in the sense that I cannot see the show, I cannot see the full effect of what is really happening. The screen is right above me or right behind me, so I can't sense what, or see what everyone else sees and feels during the show. I can only go on what people tell me. Everybody says its an amazing situation and I won't go on and on about what everybody thinks. But evidently it is, I look at it this way, the bottom line in the whole experience of the virtual Elvis The Concert is that through the years when people find out who I am, I'd be talking to someone. It'd be 'Oh, one of my great regrets is that I didn't get the opportunity to see Elvis when he was alive'. I can honestly say this to someone, well it is a shame but if you can see the virtual Elvis show that's as close as you can get. It's close enough to really be able to sense what it was like. So I think in that sense we're really giving something to the people. Sure it's a commercial venture.
ET: All entertainment is.
RT: Well its entertainment, there's no doubt about it. But, I feel good about doing the show, particularly when we take it to Europe because the fans there go absolutely crazy, it's just amazing how they respond, they just never got the chance to see Elvis as he never came over. So in a way like it or not we have become his ambassadors over here, and people treat us just like, you know there's hundreds of people outside the stage doors when we come out, waiting for autographs or to talk. It's a great thing, not just for the ego, you feel like you're doing something worthwhile. It's not the most musically rewarding thing, because I've got headsets on, I'm driving the bus you know. We're making this thing happen because I set it up so we can do it live, we've tried to work it out technically, where we're trying to repeat, trying to recreate what we did in the first place. I'm playing to a television track basically. We didn't even have the luxury of going in and taking individual tracks, re-mixing and all that, we didn't have that. The whole thing was put together to do one show in 1997, in Memphis. And it did so well, they said 'well how about, and how about.....', and here we are continuing to do it. Technologically it's a nightmare for me.
ET: I've seen the show four times and each time after ten minutes you forget Elvis isn't actually there.
RT: Well there you go. It's a phenomenon.
ET: There's a reverse theme to it. If Elvis had been there you would want to be in the first few rows of seats. With the virtual show you want to be at the back, because that way you can't see exactly who is there. It's more like these super stadium shows with large screens, so the further back in the audience the better it is for you.
RT: Yeah, and you can see the collage effect, what they tell me is that the large screen and the two live cams cause a collage effect.
DT: You get sucked in. I was just talking to somebody this morning, he [Elvis] had and has such charisma, hes the only person I know that had that charisma on screen and you just do not think that he is not there. He just penetrates that screen so wonderfully.
ET: I don't think another artist could do a virtual show. As much as there have been a lot of good artists out there, I think it would be hard. I think Elvis is the only artist that fans can name the band. It's no disrespect to other musicians; it's just the way it is.
RT: Yeah, I understand.
ET: I think that's partly because he introduced and gave the musicians spotlights during the shows.
RT: No, I don't know, because he took pride in the people he had around him it was part of his sharing nature, he had a very giving nature, so he'd say 'hey, play a solo or do this', that's just the way he was. He wasn't like I want all the glory, I want all the attention, he wasn't insecure in that respect. He was a team player though he was very much an individual, but he felt very strongly about people he surrounded himself with.
ET: In the last couple of years, especially, he gave a large amount of time on stage over to each individual musician, a solo. I know a lot of people didn't like that, but what a lot of people forget is that Elvis needed a band, he needed an orchestra, or he'd just be singing up there on his own. You can't just look at the individual, you've got to look at the whole package.
RT: I think that's right, I think it was a multi-purpose thing with that. One of the reasons for it is that he really wanted to recognise the people he was surrounded by. He liked the talent, he felt very encouraged by all the talent that was around, so he would share that with the people. The other thing is that it also served the purpose of allowing him the chance to rest, as he kind of got into, maybe worse condition, he maybe would want to rest his voice or physically, I don't know. But I know it was, getting back to that terrible show in '77, it went on for so long with so much you could tell that he was struggling, maybe more than he was comfortable about, so he wanted more time to go on, instead of coming out, you know. The reverse would be to come out and do a two hour show himself, like we do with Neil [Diamond]. Two hours plus every night.
ET: Neil Diamond stays on stage for two hours?
RT: Yes, oh yes. Two hours and twenty minutes every night.
ET: He's a phenomenal artist in his own right, Neil Diamond. Do you see any comparisons between what you're doing with Neil and what you did with Elvis?
RT: Well they're totally two different people but the comparison, they knew each other and did a couple of each other's songs. The comparisons are that they both have that attraction, or that capacity to be able to make people feel like you're right there one too one. I think that's their main similarity, wouldn't you say.
ET: Though we are here as members of the Elvis Presley Fan Club. I'd like to ask about another Elvis you worked with, Elvis Costello. He was an artist before his time. What exactly did you do with Elvis Costello?
RT: Well we did an album called King of America with him in the studio and we also did a Roy Orbison, black and white night project. I don't think that Elvis [Costello] did any singing in that, but he played guitar and stood right next to me all night. That was a week project, doing rehearsals then doing the show, it later became a CD. He's a great talent, I wish we could work together more. In fact there's a rumour that we may do a project. Jerry Schema played with him quite a while on tour and Jerry has been talking to him about just, the idea of maybe doing an album with the TCB band, like songs we wish Elvis had done or write new songs or something. It would be Elvis [Costello] with the TCB band that would be great, he's one of my favourite singers, without a doubt, such a powerful voice.
ET: I know we've been going on now for over an hour, so to try and wrap it up. What does the future hold for Ronnie Tutt? Is Elvis The Concert coming back to Europe?
RT: Yes it's highly possible it will be back in the spring, April or May of next year. It will be like a 15-20-show tour. They're talking about it - offers are coming in.
ET: Do you think it will come back to Glasgow?
RT: I hope so, those kind of things I'm not working with any new artists per se.
ET: Have you any further work with Neil Diamond? Any studio work? Are there any albums on the way out?
RT: Not on the way out. He'll probably do one next year, so there's a possibility of that. I hope to plan some time to get to some festivals, get-togethers with Elvis clubs, the conventions, that kind of thing. I'd like to get more involved with that, I haven't had the time to do that. Next year I hope to make a little time to get around the country a little bit. There's a big fan club in Brazil too, people in Italy, Europe would be great, it would be great to figure out how to connect, to do one, like I've never been over to your club. I did a little bit of appearance in Germany through Peter Kransler. So, I haven't played any solo appearances or with the band or whatever, but hopefully I can do more of that.
ET: One thing I?d like to say. While researching for this interview there are two people in the Elvis world that rarely give interviews, yourself and John Wilkinson. When you're on tour with Neil Diamond do you get asked by many Elvis fan clubs for interviews?
DT: We're always too busy.
RT: From time too time.
ET: Trying to get through Neil Diamond's people is hard. It's quite an organisation.
RT: Yeah. He has his organisation set up to control it as he sees fit, you know. But if somebody approaches me, too talk about me and Neil, anything that concerns anyone in the organisation first has to go through our PR people. On the other hand if somebody wants to speak to me about Elvis or Gerry Garcia then it's up to me as to whether I want to take the time to do it.
ET: Well we certainly appreciate the time that you have given us today. And what you did for our club two years ago when you came back to our club dance. The TCB band came into our after concert party. Do you remember that?
RT: Yeah. The fans were very appreciative. Well I'll be perfectly honest with you the way that whole thing was presented to us was that whoever had promoted it had not necessarily checked with us and Stig, and charged money for people to come. We found out about it after it had already been publicised and everybody was coming, and we made a decision as a group of people to support the fans. Because the fans would be the only ones that would be hurt if we'd decided not to come. So it started to get political, someone started saying it's because, you know someone was trying to make money off them. But I said 'I don't care about all of that, that's somebody else's problem' but at the same time it's only the fans that would have been hurt and they deserved for us to come and say hello. So that's what was in our minds.
ET: We can tell you that nobody made any money out of that. Paul is on the committee and he can tell you about it. It was actually myself and another two committee members who organised it. I'll not say any names, but a certain person in England had told us to go ahead and organise it. We where told to go ahead as it had all been arranged with Stig, so we sold tickets. As it turned out it had not been arranged and it was through a meeting with Stig and Kelly. We're taking Kelly out for dinner when we're in Memphis next month, to thank her for what she did for us, what you all did for us.
RT: Kelly's a great lady, she's a good friend of ours. So when they explained that the people where coming, they had no idea of all this other stuff was going on, we just realised that the fans would be disappointed. So that's why we came.
ET: You made a lot of people happy that night.
RT: Yeah. Well they were very enthusiastic and very nice. It was great to be able to talk to them for a little while. So that made it all worthwhile, regardless of monies or politics or whatever.
ET: If you have any influence in it Ronnie, Please make sure the concert comes back to Glasgow.
RT: I'll certainly talk it up, I'll tell Stig that we had a great concert and I'll tell Stig we had this interview. I'm in constant touch with him by e-mail and so hopefully that's where they'll start things.
ET: Well thank you once again. It's been a pleasure talking to you. Hope to see you again soon.
During the interview there where other comments made that are repetitive, missed during the recording or non-distinguishable on the recordings. We where using a small dicta-tape recorder with tapes that lasted only 15 minutes, and we had to continually change tapes. We hope you enjoyed the above and found it as interesting as we did, from one of the few people connected with Elvis who has been rarely interviewed.
Interview with Larry Muhoberac
Interview with John Wilkinson
Interview with Michael Jarrett, songwriter, I'm Leavin'
Interview with James Burton
Interview with James Burton Sydney Australia 2006
James Burton : First Call For The Royalty Of Rockabilly
Interview with Ronnie Tutt
Interview with Jerry Scheff
Interview with Glen D. Hardin
Interview with Sherrill Nielsen
Interview with Terry Blackwood & Jim Murray
Interview with Tony Brown
Interview with Scotty Moore
Interview with D.J. Fontana
Interview with Charlie Hodge
Interview with Ernst Jorgensen
Elvis Presley & the TCB Band
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