'I always wanted him to do Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me. He coulda sung the shit outta that sucker', laughs Joe Guercio, who first teamed up with Elvis in the summer of 1970.
Guercio, who's in Australia heading up the Elvis Presley in Concert tour which will arrive at the Entertainment Centre on Thursday night, was music director and conductor for all Elvis' concerts until his death in 1977. The two-hour concert features 28 songs identified with the King, performed by the original Elvis band and a 16-piece orchestra. Elvis may have left the planet, but his voice and image will be to the fore on two giant screens at Boondall. A similar production graced Oz stages at the turn of the millennium, but the current line-up represents a more substantial production.
This writer had the pleasure of catching the 25th anniversary show commemorating Presley's passing at the Pyramid Coliseum in Memphis in 2002, and it was a magnificent occasion. We won't have Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley in Brisbane, but there will be thousands of satisfied fans. Those attending the show will also have the opportunity to see a rare exhibition of Presley memorabilia from Graceland, including the distinctive stage outfits he wore in the 1969-73 period.
'I think it's fantastic', beamed Joe Guercio. 'It's like getting in the trenches with the guys'.
Guercio, who first visited Australia as music director for evergreen R&B act Gladys Knight and the Pips 25 years ago, was musical director for the International Hotel in Las Vegas when he first encountered Elvis and company. He was flown to LA to meet up with the King's manager, Colonel Tom Parker.
'I went out to the MGM studio lot and found that the Colonel's bungalow was in fact a kitchen. So my first meal with the Colonel and Elvis was a bologna sandwich (a cold meat something like our windsor sausage) and a Diet Pepsi'. A bit of a fan of the Colonel, Guercio said he gave him a plaque for his 85th birthday which read: 'Happy 85th and thanks for the education'.
'And that's my feeling about him. No matter what stuff they came up with about him later, there would have been no Elvis without him. Who would have taken him out of Memphis?' Guercio spends about a third of his working life on the Presley touring agenda: 'I do a lot of stage production stuff for other people, such as the group Trick Pony. I recently did a gospel album with the Stamps and the Imperials'. One aspect of the Elvis tour life closely associated with Guercio is the opening music the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey (Also Sprach Zarathustra) which was his suggestion.
'I'd gone to see the classic sci-fi film in a theatre with my late wife, and when the dramatic music began for the movie, she whispered to me, 'You'd think Elvis was about to enter'. It went on to become a classic opening in itself for the Elvis concerts', he says, rather proudly.
Interview with Joe Guercio
Natalie Cole owes 'Unforgettable' idea to Joe Guercio
Natalie Cole is the proud possessor of eight Grammy Awards, eight gold albums and three platinum albums with a repertoire that includes adult contemporary, pop, jazz, rhythm 'n' blues, soul and gospel best-selling singles and albums.
'Inseparable', her 1975 debut album on the Capitol label, earned her a gold record and two Grammy Awards, one as Best New Artist ... Critics hailed her as the "next Aretha Franklin" ... At that stage of her career, Cole was determined to make it on her own and not rely on the name of her famous father, the late Nat 'King' Cole.
This story has been told by me, but it bears repeating ...It was at the start of the 1980s that Joe Guercio, then Las Vegas Hilton musical director and personal conductor on tour for Elvis Presley, convinced Cole not only to acknowledge her father onstage but to sing a duet with him using one of his recordings ... Nat Cole died in 1965.
Guercio chose 'Unforgettable' and prepared the arrangement, for which he was paid at the time ... I was present at one of those performances and later heard an audio tape of that performance ... The arrangement that appeared on the 1991 multiple-Grammy Award-winning album virtually duplicates the original Guercio arrangement from nearly a decade earlier.
All Guercio has ever asked for is an acknowledgement that he created the original concept for 'Unforgettable' -- the song, not the album ... His efforts have been in vain ... Guercio also created the arrangement on 'My Way' for Elvis Presley and with his late wife, Corky, created a hit for Gladys Knight covering Streisand's 'The Way We Were'.
'Unforgettable', the album, made Natalie Cole a superstar ... It resulted in numerous other prestigious awards, plus a world tour that was documented as a PBS special ... Throughout her career she has been active in various good causes ... In the mid-1990s she was named Person of the Year by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences' Music Cares program.
Happy today and in full control of herself, Cole is an artist who continues to expand her horizons ... Her father would have been very proud ... It would also be nice if she would make a phone call or drop Guercio a note.