She has charted a staggering 111 hits on pop, country and r&b charts ('Tennessee Waltz' was # 1 concurrently on all three charts), a feat no other artist in recording history can claim! Patti had the multi-million record seller '(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window'.
Q : When was the first time you remember seeing Elvis?
A : My husband (Charles O'Curran) at that time was working with him at Paramount Studios and although I had seen him on the show that he did with Jimmy Dorsey and Tommy Dorsey, the television show that caused such a splash in those days where they only shot him from here up. I did see that show, so that was my first time seeing him as a performer. But then the next time was when Charlie went to work at Paramount with Hal Wallis, and Hal had signed Elvis up for 'X' number of pictures with his studio.
And he assigned Charlie to be the choreographer, dance director. And so I really knew him more than met him at that time. He came to Las Vegas where I was appearing at the Sands Hotel, and he brought his mother in to see the show, and he sent a note back saying that I was his mother's favorite singer. He wanted to bring her in to see me. That was the first time that I believe I met him.
Q : When you first met Elvis, what was he like?
A : My impression was that he was a little kid. I just thought he was like in a candy store and later on, when I got to know him better, I felt that he had such charm and that was the innocence that he showed, at least that I saw. Every mother wanted to take him and make him her little boy. And I felt that was what they did to Frank Sinatra, too, when he was such a hit, you know, in the 40's. Every woman wanted him to be either her son or her lover. But it was that mischievous little look on his face that I loved.
Q : Elvis' mother loved a song you did....?
A : Right. Well, we both did a song called 'I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine' and I'm trying to remember, so many years have passed and so many song writers in between, but I know that Burt Bacharach wrote a song, and I'm not sure if he wrote that one or not. I was the first one to record one of Burt's songs. Even before Dionne Warwick did them. He was writing a little different then too. But, Elvis' mother loved that song and so I don't know if she was the reason that Elvis recorded it. Elvis recorded it in '54. Well, I think I must have done it first then. 'G.I. Blues' or not. I think it was. I was naturally interested in all of the songs that they were doing because my husband kinda had a little to do with that. I just sat there in awe because to me he was a big movie star even then. Even when I did my first picture, 'Elmer Gantry', years after that, I sat on the sound stage as was in awe of Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons and so forth. So, I really enjoyed watching the celebrities. I enjoyed watching Elvis. I always thought that Elvis could have been a great actor, and that he was put in a lot of unimportant movies when he could have done a lot of great ones.
Q : Did Elvis ever talk to you about his acting?
A : No, not really. When we were together, we were mostly in the dining room there at the hotel in Hawaii when he did 'Blue Hawaii'. After dinner he'd go to his room and get his guitar and some of his guys would get their instruments and come back down, and we would just sit around in the lounge there and sing. And that was fun. So we never really had much occasion to talk'.
Q : Did you get to do any duets with Elvis?
A : No. We did them when he played the guitar and I sang with him. That was fun, and no one ever recorded it.
Q : Tell us about you being an extra in 'Blue Hawaii'.
A : It was Elvis' pal Lamar and I who rode in this little canoe down the lagoon going into the wedding when they got married in 'Blue Hawaii'. And they didn't have enough extras to do this, so Lamar and I offered to do it. I remember, we didn't get paid either. We weren't members of the Extras Union, so I hope nobody catches us after all of these years. Since we didn't get paid, we gave each other a half a dollar bill, and just tore it in half. He signed mine and I signed his. And I still have it. Well, believe it or not, I was an extra in 'Blue Hawaii'.
Q : Did you get to see any of Elvis' hijinx on the set?
Was he serious? What was it like with Elvis on the set?
A : I think he probably was fun, and from hearing my husband talk about him, he was fun.
And I felt very honored to be allowed on the set because there weren't that many people to be allowed on the set. You know, some of the sets are closed, although since he did so many of his pictures on location, it was harder to close them on the public. But, we all stayed in the same hotel in Honolulu, when we were there. And I remember some of the girls screaming, and you'd hear the commotion, and they had to get guards around to keep them from running up to Elvis' room. I always thought that Colonel Parker kinda planned all that. Other than that it was fine.
Q : What are your impressions of Colonel Parker?
A : He was with him for many, many years. He did great things for him. They helped each other.
Q : If you have a memory of Colonel Parker ...
A : I always saw Colonel Parker at the casinos playing the slot machines. And I'm not sure if Elvis was around. He was in Vegas at that time he was in the army, and Colonel Parker was playing the slot machines. Through the years my husband did four or five pictures with him at Paramount Studios.
Q : Did Elvis tell you the songs he enjoyed playing?
A : Well, naturally, he was partial to Tennessee Waltz. There was one other. The song I'm talking about starts with that...Cross of Gold. and 'Croce di Oro'. He liked that.
Q : Did you get to see Elvis perform live in Vegas?
A : No. We were always working around the same time and the only times that I spent with him were when my husband had been out with him on the movie sets. And, as I said, Charlie was with him for a few years and I did get the enjoyment of being on those sets. But, whenever I was working, he was in Vegas. When he did his last concerts, I think they were in Hawaii, I'm not sure. I was over here on the mainland, so I couldn't enjoy those, but I did enjoy them on television. My husband and I have a daughter that is, was, and always will be an Elvis Presley fan. She had all of his concerts on video that she could buy. But I missed seeing him those years when he was in Vegas.
Q : From seeing him on the movie sets and also on video, what was Elvis like as a performer?
A : Oh, I thought he was wild. I thought that he just had a charisma that very few people have. I think it's something that just came from inside. As I said earlier, some of the things I thought were staged, where some of the girls were concerned, knocking on his door because at the beginning they didn't even know him. But it was not staged in later life. He was their panacea, really. He was just everything to them. I could see why.
Q : What qualities about Elvis do you think really struck a chord?
A : Well, I think the one that I mentioned was the reason I related to Elvis, was his innocence and shyness underneath all of the movement and everything, it came through, to me it did. And you wouldn't really think that when you see someone supposedly gyrating on stage. It was all a put-on to me, I thought he was putting everybody on. But, that little boy quality came through.
Q : There's the Spiritual Side of Elvis and also his gospel music. Can you touch on that?
A : Very much so. I think that was the core of what Elvis felt and was.
This was his love, I believe the gospel music.
Q : Tell us about gospel music?
A : I think that one of Elvis' charms was that he could sing almost any kind of music. I am sure that in his heart, which I don't know what was there, but just from his singing I could feel that he was very partial to gospel music. But then he kinda fused them all together: the rock, the gospel, the country. And that made him set apart. He really was an individual performer, and no one has ever reached that or attained that goal since.
Q : You have been one of the most successful female vocalists of all time, so I wan't to ask you this question. How did Elvis change popular music in this culture?
A : How did he change it? I think he brought a lot of country to the floor. It was in the beginning of country and rock and all of that kind of meshing together. The beginning of rock, and Elvis was like a trailblazer along those lines, because he performed like a rockstar. He was loud, he was boisterous, yet he had that down-home, country quality that came from some of his gospel music. He wasn't afraid of anything, that was him singing and that's what he wanted people to hear. And I think that's how he had a hand in changing the music industry. I think that he changed it also in our being able to visualize what he was doing as he recorded, because I don't think he was ever still. I don't think he was. Even when I was at the recording sessions at Paramount, when he recorded the songs for the movies, he was always moving.
Q : What were the recording sessions like, seeing Elvis in studio with the guys and so forth?
A : It was my first inkling of what it could be a natural, because that's my favorite place to record. And it's really like you're all one big happy family. Nobody is being aware of their ego. The musicians are all there with you, and you're all working together. And you enjoy it. Sometimes the microphone would be on, and they didn't realize they were on. Sometimes that caught the best things, and it does sometimes when you're recording and you don't realize that they are recording you when you do something, and a lot of the times it's lost in very organized studio arrangements and so forth. As I said, it was my first time having any experience with any of the Nashville musicians, and I never knew that they had their own music way of writing. I mean, they just filled by numbers. They called out numbers and everybody know what they're talking about.
And I was amazed when I first saw that.
Q : Was that RCA studio?
A : No, this was at some little studio in LA, and a lot of the times they recorded right on the Paramount lot. But this was at another little studio they rented for that evening.
Q : When did you learn of Elvis' passing and what was your rection to that?
A : I was appearing in Wildwood, New Jersey in the Summertime in August. I had my two children there with me. We were just coming in from taking them out on the beach or something, and we were coming inside of the hotel to start getting ready for the show and to get their dinner and so forth, and that's when I heard the news. And they were young, they didn't really know what had happened, but it was quite a thing.
Q : Do you feel that he also changed music when he passed away?
A : Oh, I'm sure he did. And the thing that always surprised me was that none of his were ever up for a Grammy. And I don't know why. They were hit records and they were never put up, and I thought that was an oversight that should have been rectified. And now they have by putting him in the Hall of Fame, but, at that time, it would have been nice if he knew that.
Q : Why do you think he's so popular now after his passing?
A : Well, we never had anyone like him since. We've had different people, but never anyone unless they were someone saying they were a copy of Elvis. He was unique. I think the charisma that he had with his fans was something else. It's too bad he didn't realize how much he was loved.
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