He was not primitive, like people think. He was an artist and he was into being an artist. Of course, he was also into rockin' his ass, but that was part of it. Onstage, he encompassed everything - he was laughing at the world, and he was laughing at himself, but at the same time, he was dead serious.
Elvis with his Mother, Gladys
When we played Memphis, we decided we wanted to get something to eat after the show. We told the cab driver, take us some place quiet. He said, 'Are you guys celebrities?' Yeah. So he said he'd take us out along the highway, by Elvis' house. I said, 'You gotta take me to Elvis' house'. He says, 'Okay. Do you mind if I call the dispatcher and tell him where we're going?' So he calls the guy, says, 'We got some celebrities here. We got..' and he shoves the mike in my face, so I say, 'Bruce Springsteen'. They didn't know who I was, but they were pretendin' to, you know? He told the dispatcher we were going to Elvis' house; he was crackin' up because the dispatcher thought we were gonna drink coffee with Elvis.
When we got to the gate, I looked through. It was three a.m., but all the lights in the house were on. I said, 'I gotta go see if he's home'. So I climbed over and started up the driveway; it's a long walk 'cause the house is set way back. And I was almost at the front door, just getting ready to knock, when I see this guy looking at me from the trees. He says, 'Hey, come here a minute'. I said, 'Is Elvis here?' He said no, he was in Lake Tahoe or somewhere. Well, now I'm pullin' out all the cheap shots I can think of - you know, I was on Time, I play guitar, Elvis is my hero - all the things I never say to anybody. Because I figure I've gotta get a message through. But he just said, 'Yeah, sure. Why don't you let me walk you down to the gate.
You gotta get out of here'. He thought I was just another crazy fan - which I was.
To me, he was as big as the whole country itself, as big as the whole dream. He just embodied the essence of it and he was in mortal combat with the thing. It was horrible and, at the same time, it was fantastic. Nothing will ever take the place of that guy. Like I used to say when I introduced one of his songs: 'There have been a lotta tough guys. There have been pretenders. There have been con-tenders. But there is only one King'.
Steve Allen: In 1956, the summer replacement for the Jackie Gleason Show was a musical show that the Dorsey brothers did. I watched it a couple of times because I liked big-band music, but it wasn't a very popular show in terms of ratings. And therefore the world really didn't notice that one of the guests one night was Elvis, totally unknown at that time. But I happened to catch it just by accident, and I immediately saw a quality of strangeness about him. I was just then starting my Sunday-night comedy series for NBC (which ran opposite the Ed Sullivan Show), and I instructed my people to book him.
His style of performing, his physical style, began to create a controversy in the minds of some people.
By the time he did the show, we did all the shows live then, there was a great deal of tension.
It was our second week on the air, and we got a much higher rating than Ed Sullivan.
Actually, it was Presley that got the higher rating.
When I was trying to think about how we might introduce Elvis, the most noteworthy thing about him in the public's mind at that time was all the controversy about his wiggling his hips, which used to alarm old ladies.
So naturally we had to work with that. Eventually we got the idea of having him sing one of his hits at the moment, 'Hound Dog'. But we set the stage as we would have if, say, we had had Charles Laughton on, reading Shakespeare. We had Greek columns, a very dignified, open-space sort of look, as if we were in ancient Athens or something. We had a sky in the background, and we got a basset hound and we set it on top of a small green column. Then we put Elvis in tails....
Mick Fleetwood: I was a real little toddler when I first heard 'Hound Dog'. I learned to play drums listening to him - beating on tin cans to his records. I'm sure his immeasurable effect on culture and music was even greater in England than in the States. People there are still really, really fanatical about Elvis. The news came over like a ton of bricks. I was driving back from the mountains and I had the radio on. They were playing an Elvis medley and I thought, 'Great'. And then they came back with the news.
Carl Perkins: I first met Elvis in 1954 in a little town called Bethel Springs, Tennessee, south of Jackson. I had heard 'That's All Right, Mama,' and I was playing a club there and heard he was playing at the schoolhouse down there, so we took off and went down to catch his show.
He was very much the same as the last time I saw him and the first time I saw him.
I last played with him July 4th, 1976, [Elvis Australia: Actually the concert in Memphis was July 5] for the Bicentennial in Memphis. He didn't hardly move as much as he used to - I think it was the overweight problem.
But he turned the crowd on, just the same.
He never changed; he just polished what he started with. But he always had it.
Elvis took life back in those days like everybody wants to be happy all the time, and he never seemed to be depressed. We'd stop at gas stations to fill our old cars with gas or buy whatever amount we could afford, and he'd just pile out of his car and shoot you with a water pistol or jump over the hood of his car.
He was full of life - this boy, he made you feel good around him.
Even back then, when people would laugh at his sideburns and his pink coat and call him sissy - he had a pretty hard road to go. In some areas, motorcycle gangs would come to the shows.
Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley swap autographs, Memphis June 1, 1956
They would come to get Elvis, but he never worried about it. He went right out and did his thing and before the show was over, they were standing in line to get his autograph, too.
Roy Orbison: I last saw him last in December '76 in Las Vegas.
Had a fantastic visit, oh, almost two hours, from the time he came off to the time he went back on. We talked about the early days and the recent days. We talked about the people we admired - each other - and people who tried to really perform, from the heart, with soul, as opposed to trying to make commercial records.
I hope people remember the impact - it's not only historical fact, but it's definitely lingering fact.
Pat Boone: The first time we met was at a record hop in Cleveland where Elvis was my supporting act. Which was the only time that happened. I never again wanted to follow Elvis. I was very glad I had this big hit record going for me so that when I came onstage it wasn't totally anti-climactic.
Elvis Presley, Charlie Hodge and Pat Boone
About a year ago, we met in Memphis at the airport. This black limousine was sitting on the runway as we were going to the gate. The airline people said, 'That's Elvis sitting out there. This is the third time he's been here. The other two times he's driven away at flight time. He's afraid to fly and he keeps canceling, but he has to catch this one because he opens tomorrow night in Vegas'. So we just waited, and eventually he got out of the car and came across the runway and up the ramp to the waiting area. We just laughed and hugged and slapped him on the stomach and kidded him about gaining weight. He said, 'I'll sweat it off in Vegas'.
He said, 'Where are you going?' I said, 'I'm going to Orlando'.
He said, 'Man, that's the wrong direction. But then, you were always going the wrong way, weren't you?' We all laughed, and I said, 'Well, Elvis, that all depends on where you're coming from'.
Felton Jarvis: He was a great, great man, and a very dear friend. I'm saddened, I can't believe it. I thought nothing could ever happen to him. It's like someone just came up and told me there aren't going to be any more cheeseburgers in the world. He stuck by me when I needed him most. When RCA wanted to record him live at Madison Square Garden, I was flat on my back with kidney problems. When they asked Elvis and Colonel Parker whether they could record the show, they said, 'Yes, but only if you pay Felton Jarvis as if he were there'. My whole life itself, my home, my jewelry, everything I've got is owed to him.
Felton Jarvis, Ronnie Tutt, Elvis Presley - November 14, 1970
Paul Simon: I never saw him in the earlier years...he never played in New York until a few years ago when I saw him at the Garden. He was in good shape, looked real good. The first time I ever heard his music, back in '54 or '55, I was in a car and heard the announcer say, 'Here's a guy who, when he appears onstage in the South, the girls scream and rush the stage'. Then he played 'That's All Right, Mama'. I thought his name was about the weirdest I'd ever heard. I thought for sure he was a black guy. I felt wonderful when he sang 'Bridge over Troubled Water,' even though it was a touch on the dramatic side - but so was the song.
Later on I grew my hair like him, imitated his stage act - once I went all over New York looking for a lavender shirt like the one he wore on one of his albums. I did stop liking his music pretty early, though.
Glen Campbell: It was just incredible. In Vegas, I was kidding him. He introduced me and said, 'Campbell, I understand you're doing an imitation of me. I just want you to know it will always be an imitation'. And I said, 'I'm not gonna do it no more, I got to gain some weight first'. He laughed, and the audience went, 'Oooh, hey, booooo'. I said, 'Can't you take a joke?' Elvis could take it, but the audience just got on my ass. And Elvis said, 'Well, when you're down here next, I'm coming down and I'm gonna sit in the front row and read a newspaper and heckle'. The audience laughed, and I said, 'Elvis, if I'm singing as good as you are, I won't care!'
But backstage we were talking, and I said, 'Did you believe the way, you know, the people reacted?' Elvis said, 'Yeah, I know, it's like everything is supposedly taboo because people are afraid they will say something that will upset you or make you feel bad, so they tell you something that isn't true'. He didn't say 'lied,' he said, 'They tell you something other than the facts. That makes life so much harder to deal with than if people tell you what they think. People are afraid to say, 'Hey Elvis, you're fat'.'
I didn't say, 'Hey Elvis, you're fat'. I just said, 'You better back away from the table'. I mean, there are cool ways of handling it. In fact, I was teasing and I said, 'Can I have some of your old clothes?'
He said, 'You ain't gettin' 'em, Campbell, I'm gonna grow back into them'.
Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell, December 5, 1970 (At George Klein's Wedding)
[From Rolling Stone Magazine -- Issue 248 - September 22, 1977]
Read what we wrote for the 30th Anniversary;
Why Elvis? By Paul Simpson
Elvis - 30 years on ... and the world turns ... By Mark Cunliffe
Elvis Presley - 30 Years On and Still The King By David Troedson
A personal Presley pilgrimage By Scott Jenkins