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Interview with Elvis Presley + Review of Elvis in concert July 31, 1969

By Ray Connelly
Source: London Evening Standard
May 15, 2008 - 9:05:12 AM

This is the review of Elvis' first concert at the International Hotel on July 31, 1969.

It was written by Ray Connelly and originally published in the London Evening Standard August 2, 1969. Included with the review is an exciting interview with The King, again by Ray Connelly.

Review of Elvis In Concert - July 31, 1969

For a reputed fee of £225,000 the god of rock and roll returned to the stage in a blaze of advertising at the brand new International Hotel in this hot and lunatic town of Las Vegas. I've already seen the show three times and I can tell you he is sensational - better than any of us could ever have imagined.

Elvis Presley July 31, 1969 International Hotel, Las Vegas
Elvis Presley July 31, 1969 International Hotel, Las Vegas

Twice nightly for 28 days he will be appearing for the rich and their womenfolk. 'It is, 'he says, 'the most exciting thing I've done in years'. But it was the first appearance on the first night that had all the drama.

He was out of this world, better by far than I - always the greatest Presley fan in world - could possibly have hoped for, and a lesson in himself to the entertainment media of our generation.

For a full hour he worked and sweated, gyrated and shuddered, warbled and sang, and grunted and groaned his way through 20 songs. It was a sensational comeback.

Looking as slim as a ramrod, and not a day over 23 (he's actually 34 now), he ambled back on to the stage after a nine year absence like a sheepish young lad going to meet his girl friend's parents for the first time. Hardly daring to look or acknowledge the audience,which was composed mainly of over-30's, since young people could never normally afford the price, he went straight into Blue Suede Shoes, and had completed I Got A Women and That's All Right Mama before finding it necessary to begin any chatting.

For over an hour he flogged himself to near exhaustion moving wildly and sexily around the stage all the time, and now and again reaching for a handkerchief or a glove from the ecstatic and many-splendoured ladies in the front row. Although his early fans are grown up and mothers themselves now, Elvis has remained the boy from the South - awkward, shy, full of evil promise and a dynamic performer.

As backing, a group of girl singers, the Sweet Inspirations, joined with the Imperials to add strength to an outstanding six-man group on electric piano, drums, bass and three guitars.

Elvis Presley 1969 International Hotel, Las Vegas
Elvis Presley 1969 International Hotel, Las Vegas

The balancing of combo was perfect, and there was little need for the full 30-piece orchestra which helped out occasionally on some of the ballads like Love Me Tender and Can't Help Falling In Love (With You) and Yesterday.

It is difficult to describe the exact appeal of the man. True he is a great and rhythmic singer, but there's something more. His perfect looks and style add a charisma that is magnetic.

Having seen his show it is easier now to understand how became the legend that he is in pop music.

Surprisingly the biggest applause of the night, and it was generous always, came of a brand-new song called Suspicious Minds - his next record and almost certainly 51st million seller.

While his act is concentrated mainly on a selection of his own many hits he also found time to include some great versions of Ray Charles's I Can't Stop Loving You and Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode.

It was indeed a memorable night. The night when Elvis Presley, the founder of much of modern day pop music, discovered that he is still one of greatest performers and went back to doing what he always did best.

Interview with Elvis Presley - July 31, 1969

Getting to interview Elvis was a much more complex task than getting to see him - since the International Hotel anxious for lots of publicity during its first few weeks of business was being particularly generous to journalists who had flocked from all parts of world to see if Presley was as exciting as his memory.

Immediately after his first show he gave a Press conference, guarded carefully by the Colonel, and during which he was only once thrown when someone asked him why he always dyed his hair ('I guess it's something I've always done . . . I guess', he said). But after three days and nights of refusing to let me see his star, the Colonel finally changed his mind (as I'd been told he would) and gave me five minutes to get ready.

We were in between shows and suddenly I was ushered backstage past the guards and into his dressing room. I'd have to make it quick, said the Colonel. An hour later I was back in my room telephoning this article over for the first edition of my paper the following morning.

Elvis Presley 1969 - Backstage The International Hotel, Las Vegas
Elvis Presley 1969 - Backstage The International Hotel, Las Vegas

'Sometimes when I walk into a room at home and see all those gold records hanging around the walls I think they must belong to another person. Not me. I just can't believe it's me' - Elvis Presley.

This is the legend himself talking. The man who virtually started the rock and roll group as we know it today. The man who changed the course of pop music, and in so doing helped to change the course of social history.

Because that, and exactly that, has been the influence of Elvis Presley - the boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, who has probably had more hit records than anyone else in the world. (At the last count it was well over 70 - with 50 of those selling more than a million copies.)

Getting through to Presley is practically impossible. security guards with guns and walkie-talkie sets shadow him day and night, and it took an interminable amount dealing with his extremely canny manager, Colonel Tom Parker, to be given the VIP treatment and meet the man they created into a legend.

And when one gets through how does one speak to a legend?

Elvis Presley 1969 - Backstage The International Hotel, Las Vegas
Elvis Presley 1969 - Backstage The International Hotel, Las Vegas

He's sprawling on a red Spanish settee in the sitting room of his back-stage suite, sipping a soft drink from a bottle. The walls are plastered with telegrams (including one from the Beatles).

He's wearing the black karate-style suit designed for his season at the hotel, and his hair, dyed pitch-black as always, is swept back off his face in the style he created 14 years ago. His sideboards are now very long and spiked again, and are also jet-black.

He is incredibly handsome, with possibly the best film profile since Rudolph Valentino. Fittingly enough, he would pass for a stereotyped Las Vegas gambler in a movie. But, he says, he never gambles himself.

Still the Southern gentleman, he rises to greet me with an almost athletic enthusiasm, then rubs his great wide rings which are virtually clustered with diamonds against a silver wrist bracelet bearing his name. he looks ever so slightly nervous. The room is scattered with aides and friends. There are no women present. Priscilla Presley, the Memphis girl Elvis married two years ago, is up in the 30th floor penthouse suite. Baby Lisa, 18 months old, is at one of their homes in California.

The Colonel watches his creation like a benign mother, only interrupting when money arises. There is a story, it may be a myth, that says he takes 50 per cent of what Elvis earns. If that is true, he must be a multi-multi-millionaire by now and worth every penny of it to Presley.

'We didn't decide to come back here for the money, I'll tell you that', laughed Elvis, at such an absurd prospect, for after all, what's another £225,000 to him? 'I've always wanted to perform on the stage again for the last nine years, and it's been building up inside of me since 1965 until the strain became intolerable. I got all hyped up about it, and I don't think I could have left it much longer'. 'The time is just right. The money - I have no idea at all about that. I just don't want to know. You can stuff it'.

He laughs, and throws his head back, showing all those perfectly-kept teeth, and striking me with the smallness of his eyes and the exaggerated length of his eyelashes.

'Can we just say this', says the Colonel, all homespun, folksy humour. 'The Colonel has nothing to do with Mr. Presley's finances. That's all done for him by his father, Mr. Vernon Presley, and his accountant'.

Mr. Presley, Snr., a fatter and greyer version of his son, if ever saw one, nods at the formal third person way of speaking and takes another beer from the bar. 'He can flush all his money away if he wants to. I won't care', the Colonel adds. the humour easy, and good-natured - country style, if you like.

'We've now completed all the deals I made when I came out of the army in 1960', he says, almost apologetically. 'And from now on, I'm going to play more serious parts and make fewer films.

'I wouldn't be being honest with you if I said I wasn't ashamed of some of the movies, and the songs I've had to sing in them. I would like to say they were good, but I can't. I've been extremely unhappy with that side of my career for some time. But how can you find 12 good songs for every film when you're making three films a year? I knew a lot of them were bad songs and they used to bother the heck out of me.

But I had to do them. They fitted the situation'.

'I get more pleasure out of performing to an audience like tonight, than any of the film songs have given me. How can you enjoy it when you have to sing songs to the guy you've just punched up?'

And there's more laughter - the black calf-high cowboy boots he wears being swiveled up and around on to the table in front of him. 'How do you combine marriage and show business?' I asked. He pauses and smiles: 'Very carefully - just very carefully'. 'Did your wife object to you returning to being a sex symbol?'

'No. We plan a big family. When you're married you become aware of realities.

Becoming a father made me realise a great deal more about life'.

But marriage hadn't reduced the sexiness of his act. His left knee still trembles when he sings, his guitar still becomes a sort of phallic tommy-gun, while with the microphone he appears to simulate an act of rape.

And then there are his off-the-cuff on-stage comments which are full of ambiguities.

'Don't pull my cord, lady', he asks, as a fan reaches for the microphone lead.

On the first night of his performance a woman in the audience began stripping, overcome by the excitement.

Another took off her panties to mop the sweat from his brow.

He gratefully accepted them, his face in the frills and tossed them back. After the show young women climbed up on to stage to neck with their idol as the curtains fell.

It was this threat of sexuality which 14 years ago prompted clergymen to call for his banning and imprisonment, and won him title of Elvis the Pelvis. In those days his hip-jerking was considered total obscenity. His clothes were of gold, like his Cadillacs, and his image was one of unchained anti-respectful youth.

If you want to go any way at all towards understanding the music and corresponding sub-cultures of the under-30s, you have to know about Elvis Presley. He was the beginning of the rock generation. And after the startling impact he made in 1956, nothing could ever be the same again.

In England the fans have been particularly avid. 'I don't know why they've been so loyal', he says. 'They've really been fantastic to me. I still can't believe all the letters that come in after all this time'.

'I know I've been saying for years that I must visit Britain, and I will, I promise. But at the moment there are personal reasons why I can't. I shall be doing more shows in America now, though. I'm very satisfied with the reaction I've had here. It's been tremendously satisfying. That's what the business is all about for me. There will be films, too, but of a more serious nature. And I'll be making another television show for NBC'.

He's thinner now than he's been for years and the workout he does every night on stage is bringing his weight down even more. He looks like a man in his early twenties.

'I don't understand it', he said, in his slow deep drawl. 'People keep telling me I look young. I don't know how I do it, either. I got very heavy at one time when I was in all those movies, but I lose it quickly, you know'.

He is unbelievably friendly and unaffected. Once the barrier is broken down you won't find a legend, just an ordinary, helpful, warm and co-operative young man. He tries hard to answer the questions, but is floored when I asked him to name someone he'd rather be.

'I can't', he says.

He's also a shy man. He has few friends in show business - Tom Jones being the closest to him by a mile.

'I guess I'm just a boy from the South and I've never been connected with show people.

I have my own friends'.

But he remembers well the meeting he had with the Beatles during Beatle mania, and particularly their road manager, Mal Evans. 'I've recorded Hey Jude', he says. 'They're are so interesting and so experimental. But I liked them particularly when they used to sing She Was Just Seventeen. You Know What I Mean' - and he sings, and plays an imaginary guitar, Lennon-style.

'Did you see the telegram they sent me?' You can see Elvis Presley is very proud.

The pop world has changed overnight with the reappearance of the man they know the King. Mark my words - He's going to be immense all over again'.

By Ray Connelly and originally published in the London Evening Standard August the 2. 1969

Buy Viva Las Vegas CD (August 21, 1969)
Buy Elvis At The International FTD CD (August 23, 1969 - Midnight Show)
Buy All Shook Up FTD CD (August 23, 1969 - Midnight Show)

This special limited edition Viva Las Vegas double CD set (Listed above) features a previously unreleased concert, recorded at The International Hotel in Las Vegas, August 21, 1969. This was the first concert recorded by RCA records mobile unit during Elvis' triumphant return to Las Vegas.

More Interviews and Press Conferences with Elvis Presley

Note! Elvis Presley Talks About Cars, Kids, Love & Loneliness [1956]
Note! Interview With Elvis Presley : August 28, 1956
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Note! Interview with Elvis Presley : July 31, 1969 By Ray Connelly
Note! Interview with Elvis Presley : The 1969 Press Conference : August 1, 1969
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Online Shop Elvis Presley Talking And Interview CD's

Other aricles contributed to Elvis Australia by Nigel Goodall ...

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Note! Elvis Presley Video Interview with Elvis Presley : The 1972 Madison Square Press Conference : June 9, 1972

Visit Nigel Goodall's Website and see his Elvis work for Sony New page link

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