The first email I read on turning on this computer this morning was from Ken Sharp saying 'looks like your books will be delivered today'. (They were sent by UPS Courier so precise tracking was available to both of us) Now for those of you that can't immediately place the name, the book I am referring to is Elvis: Vegas' 69 by Ken Sharp. Within no more than a minute there was a knock on the door, and yes it was UPS with our order of these books ... I quickly emailed Ken back, 'just got then now', and then eagerly started opening the first box.
Took one out, started to look through .... Impressive!
[Review originally published; July 31, 2009]
Then the phone rang. And I knew who it was before I picked up the handset ... Ken was calling from the US to check everything was okay, he knows how I care about the condition of the books I receive.
This was the third time I have talked with Ken but it was only after spending some time with his book that I could see for myself how much he had put into it, his heart and soul!
Vegas '69 is without doubt the best book on Elvis Presley produced to-date
And it is something altogether new ....
It is not a photo book.
It is not an information book.
It is not an interview book.
Yes it has all three elements - and in abundance - but the way it is formatted -- presented -- is completely new, refreshing, easy to read or just to flick though - (when time is limited) - and enjoy some great photos of Elvis, or read some quotes taken from the many interviews Ken has conducted.
And it is a quality hardcover with good weight paper. Well produced.
Now the very first page with text is titled 'Cast' and lists all those that are quoted in this book.
From the super famous who need nothing more mentioned than just their name to Elvis' TCB band members, back up singers, hotel staff, hotel owner! and fans that were simply lucky to witness not only Elvis' first concert on July 31, 1969 but also the following press conference. It is stunning just to read the names listed.
Turn to page 13 and to my surprise we have the first section, 'Resurrection: The '68 Comeback Special'.
This section comprises of 11 pages and is a very clever start to the book, as part of the 'back story' leading to Las Vegas. And immediately the clever format of comments culled - carefully - and placed precisely - by those named in the above mentioned 'Cast' flow as if each person were in the same room and following on from the previous statement, whether it by a line, a paragraph or a whole page. This section starts appropriately with Steve Binder and includes comments from Steve Binder, Priscilla Presley, D.J Fontana, Bones Howe, Lisa Marie Presley, Tom Jones, and many more. All following on in a sequence that is very readable.
Oh, and will on that subject, 'Readable', this book is big enough to be a photo book, but small enough to be a book you can comfortably read. About 9" (22cm) x 10" (26cm) (They make novels the size they do for a reason!) I much prefer the size of Vegas '69 to larger books that are big to show large size photos and yet try to be information books at the same time. They are not so easy to comfortably sit back and read.
Vegas '69 is easy to read, while at the same time providing ample sized images. In a word, perfect.
Return To The Stage
Next is a look at Elvis' preparation to return to the stage in Las Vegas ... Tom Jones: He Told me, 'You've given me the confidence to make a comeback in Vegas'. And again more back story in these two pages.
The Back Story
The next section is titled 'International Hotel : The back Story', I thought, oh god I don't need to read this, but I did, and I Did! Very interesting, with Kirk Kerkorian, Joe Esposito, Colonel Parker - fascinating - to my surprise.
This details Kirk Kerkorian's establishing of the hotel, really very interesting, and how the artists were chosen to open the new venue and the fortune passed up by the Colonel!
Contacting The band Members
Ok, now we get serious. This is the start of the '69 comeback and we read all about it from those that know, James Burton, Glen D, you know the cast, plus Larry Muhoberac, Cissy Houston, Gordon Stoker: '.... So we had to turn down the offer and we've always regretted it since'.
This is followed by six pages about the rehearsals.
The Main Event
July 31, 1969, wouldn't you have loved to be there.
Opening Night: July 31, 1969
The Opening Night section contains 60 pages, including many photos, with several from the actual opening night show and many comments from those in attendance.
Now to blow your mind......
... Ian Fraser-Thomson arrived in Las Vegas on the day of Elvis's opening show. Dropping off his belongings at a six dollar a night fleabag hotel, he headed across the street to the International Hotel where by a twist of fate he wound up being a first-hand witness to a final dress rehearsal. Lady luck would strike a second time as the enterprising young adult was able sneak into the opening night invitation only show.
Ian Fraser-Thomson (concert attendee): .... I heard Elvis music being piped in and thought, 'How great!' I heard 'Love Me Tender' and suddenly realized it was a version that I'd never heard before.
I went, 'Oh my God, it's live, Elvis must be rehearsing!' So I immediately left the restroom, went downstairs and found the showroom. There was a security guard at the front door. I watched and waited and eventually someone came up to the security guard. While he was being distracted I sneaked up a winding staircase which got me up to the balcony without being noticed. I could hear Elvis rehearsing so I crept down very low and peeked my head over the barrier. There was Elvis, dressed in black pants and puffed sleeve green shirt, sitting on a bar stool and he was just finishing 'Mystery Train'.
... He was working through the numbers with the band and a full orchestra. He called out a few names of songs like 'Memories', 'Yesterday' and a couple of rock numbers. He remained seated most of the time on the bar stool in an effort to conserve his energy. Sometimes they'd run through an entire song, other times they'd work on an intro or work on the ending of a song. There was a lot of fine tuning going on.
'Suspicious Minds' really sticks out in my memory because the song wasn't released yet
'Suspicious Minds' really sticks out in my memory because the song wasn't released yet and I'd never heard it. It was really exciting and it gave me chills. I thought, 'This is a killer song'.
Before they did 'Suspicious Minds', Joe Esposito, Elvis's right hand man said, 'Hey, there's someone up there!', pointing up at the balcony. My cover was blown. He said, 'Let's get 'em!' I immediately got up and ran into the fire escape corridor and luckily found an unlocked door. It turned out to be the door entry for the person who was running the spotlight. There was a seat behind the spotlight with a clear view of the stage. That's where I hid and watched and listened to the rest of the dress rehearsal ...
... there is a lot more Ian has to say, including how he found out there was a show that night, July 31, 1969, and how he got in to see it and the following press conference!
Elvis Australia club member, Ian Fraser-Thomson meets Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley, August 1st, 1969 - from the book Elvis: Vegas '69
To finish, I have to say I cannot do justice to this book with a review.
But this book is essential, along with The Concert Years 1969-1977.
In the words of David Neale summing up the concert years book ....
... Buy it, enjoy it; I am sure you will not regret it!
Buy Elvis: Vegas '69 200-page hardback book
What Now, What Next Where Too?
Now believe me after getting into this book you are going to want to put on a couple of CDs or more.
The first one Elvis In Person is a Double CD FTD Special Edition in the FTD Classic Album Series and includes bonus songs recorded live in Las Vegas in August 1969 plus disc 2 is the complete show from August 22, 1969.
Elvis In Person FTD Special Edition 2 CD Set
Another must listen is All Shook Up containing a concert from August 26, 1969. This CD also includes the laughing version of 'Are You Lonesome Tonight'.
In Closing - The Pre-Release Description
Elvis: Vegas '69 a new 200-page hardback book, packed with over 150 stunning full color and B&W images, that commemorates the 40th anniversary of Elvis' historic return to live performance is to released. Written by Ken Sharp, author of the critically acclaimed FTD book, Writing For The King, the book tells the remarkable story of Elvis' return to the concert stage told through first-hand accounts by those lucky enough to be on hand to witness Elvis' miraculous artistic and creative rebirth. You'll go behind closed doors with Elvis and the band in pre-show rehearsals and revel in the excitement and anticipation of opening night. We'll also exhaustively chronicle the opening show on July 31, 1969 through the eyes of the people that were there, press conference, after show celebration and more. Buy Elvis: Vegas '69 200-page hardback book.
Buy Elvis: Vegas '69 200-page hardback book