But he couldn't be a pop artist, not in those days.
Elvis Presley, Charlie Hodge and Pat Boone
But Bill Randall, who was the nation's number one disc jockey brought me in for an old fashioned sock hop, to the big thing in the fifties, where a dj would bring teenagers and school kids in by the hundreds or thousands to a big gymnasium, they'd play records, and sometimes if the dj was powerful enough, he would bring in a recording artist to surprise the kids. So I was his big surprise that night. And he also brought an unknown fellow up from Louisiana, way out in the country, named Elvis Presley. Now, when I heard that Bill was bringing this country singer whose records I'd seen on the jukebox in Texas, I thought he was a little bit crazy, because a country artist was not going to be exciting to these teenagers who wanted rock and roll. My record at the time was Ain't That a Shame - 'You made me cry when you said good-bye'.
Now, here comes Elvis, his collar's turned up, this is backstage, lots of hair hanging down in his face. We shook hands, I said, 'Hello, Elvis. Bill Randall says you're going to be a big star'. 'Well, thank you very much'. He just mumbled and looked up at me like this, stayed back against the wall, and I thought, 'This guy is hopelessly shy.
How can he possibly perform? This is going to be a disaster'.
Well, Bill Randall introduced him as an up and coming star, he was saving me for last. Elvis went out there and swiveled around the stage, and sang, 'That's all right, mama. That's all right with me'. And the kids - 'Whoo, who is this, what is this?' And even though he seemed very country, very raw, they liked him. And I had to follow him. Thank God I had two hit records then, and I was the star that night. Of course I never followed Elvis again in any show. We never appeared together after that.
Of course, a person would have been a fool to go on after Elvis. Elvis would have to always be the star.
Juliet Prowse, Elvis Presley and Pat Boone - G.I.Blues Set
But we became very good friends, and we both had, we leased homes in very exclusive areas, Bel Air, here in Los Angeles, and we visited each others' homes. And back then, of course, I had a wife, and four little children, he was not married, and he would come over some afternoons, by surprise, just come in unannounced, and want to visit with me and my wife and my children. My children would maybe jump out of the swimming pool, and come running up and get in his lap, and he would become soaking wet, you know, and I would say, 'Girls, don't do that'. And Elvis said, 'Oh, no, let them, let them'. And I knew that he wanted a family.
He was missing... He saw that I had something he didn't have.
He had all this fame, and of course, we both had a lot hit records, and we were friendly competitors, but I had something he didn't have, Which was a wife, a family, children. And I could tell that he wanted this. And so of course he married Priscilla, and they did have a little Lisa Marie, but they didn't live a normal life. Priscilla said later that they were never alone, although they might to into a part of the house alone, they could hear the laughter of his buddies in some other part of the house, always. So he didn't live a normal life, didn't go to a movie like we would go to a movie theater. He would rent the theater at night, after midnight, and bring a few friends, and just he and his friends would watch the movie themselves, at two or three in the morning. I think if Elvis had allowed himself to have a more normal life, he would be alive today. He lived in hiding rather than a person who wanted to have a normal life, which Elvis, at least part of him, wanted to have. So I've been very, very fortunate, and very grateful that I've had a lot of hit records, movies, and all this stuff.
I even did an album, a tribute album to Elvis. I wanted to call it 'Pat Sings Elvis', that's the logical title, but his manager, Col. Tom Parker, wanted to charge us a huge extra royalty for the use of his name in the title. And I said, 'Colonel, this is my friend, I'm doing a tribute, I'm honoring Elvis'. 'Yes, but this is business, you know. You got to pay for the use of his name and sell more records'. It was really sort of unscrupulous of him. So we didn't call it 'Pat Sings Elvis'. We called it 'Pat Boone Sings Guess Who?' And I wrote, I don't know how this will translate, but I wrote backliner notes all about my friend Guess Whosely. I never said his name.
And Tom Parker eventually tipped his hat to me, and said, 'Well, you've conned the con man. You've out-hustled the hustler, and I salute you'. But the album was one of the best albums that I've ever made, musically, and very much like, in a way, my new album - that is, doing songs that were hits for somebody else, and never really recorded, most of them, by anybody else. And then I did my own versions, which were light, commercial jazz treatments. And I'm very proud of that album, Pat Sings Guess Who?
Over a couple of decades, these music and film idols became neighbors and friends
When Elvis Presley and Pat Boone met in 1955, it was an awkward backstage encounter at a sock hop in Cleveland, Ohio. Boone's cover of Fats Domino's Ain't That A Shame was a No. 1 hit record.
Elvis had recorded That's All Right and Blue Moon of Kentucky for Sun Records in Memphis, but they were local hits with very little airplay outside the Mid-South. He was turning heads as an act on the Louisiana Hayride, but Elvis wasn't yet a star. 'I had heard That's All Right and Blue Moon of Kentucky, and I said, 'He's a hillbilly. Do you think he's going to do all right?' 'Boone said in a recent telephone interview from California. Like much of America, the singer wasn't sure what to make of Elvis' rockabilly '50s onslaught.
That night, he thought Elvis seemed 'very ill at ease. I was backstage in my button-down shirt, thin tie and white bucks. He comes backstage. His hair was long. He was wearing white shoes, too, but they were scuffed up'. When he introduced himself to Elvis, Boone says Elvis looked down, seemed to mumble and wasn't communicative. 'Then he went out and lip-synched those two songs. He was sort of hyper and twitchy, and he created some real buzz. I had to follow him'.
Boone and Presley came to know each other through the years, first as singing sensations, then as movie idols. They would live within a block of each other in Bel Air, Calif.
Boone would later gently remind Elvis of their first awkward meeting. 'I once told him, 'When we first met, you looked nervous'. He said, 'I didn't know how to talk to you. You were a star'.
By the late '50s, Pat Boone was one of the most popular singers in America, but soon to be displaced by Elvis.
Pat Boone was born in Jacksonville, Fla., and moved to Nashville with his parents. His father was a building contractor and his mother a registered nurse. Unlike Elvis, he didn't grow up trying to figure out how to break into show business. 'When I was in high school and trying to decide what I was going to do in my life, I thought I was going to be a school teacher-preacher', he said. 'I thought all this entertainment stuff was temporary on my way through college (he would graduate from Columbia University in New York) until I graduated magna cum laude with eight or ten hit records and a TV show'.
After graduation he married Shirley Foley, daughter of country star Red Foley.
Boone, the well-groomed, fresh-faced essence of American values at the outset of his career, was from a religious family with strong Republican ties. His versions of R&B recordings became the palatable replay to a record-buying public of mostly white Americans who tended to think of R&B as devil music and rock and roll as a sign of the apocalypse. Boone says that in age and career, he had a head start. 'I had a six-month head start on Elvis in life and about six months in career. I was the first white solo artist to do R&B and have a rock 'n' roll hit. People think Elvis was. I had five chart rock and roll hits before Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel. ' He had recorded Little Richard's Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally; the Five Keys' Gee Whittakers!; Ivory Joe Hunter's I Almost Lost My Mind; and Joe Turner's Chains of Love.
Boone's fame in the music business set him up to move to TV with 'The Pat Boone/Chevy Showroom' from 1957-60, and the 15 films that include 'State Fair', 'Bernadine', 'April Love' and 'Journey to the Center of the Earth'.
His last big hits were the No. 1 Moody River in 1961 and a No. 6 novelty record, Speedy Gonzalez, in 1962.
With four daughters, the Boone family toured in the '60s and '70s as gospel singers, and Boone later turned out several country hits, including Indiana Girl and Texas Woman, in the '70s. One of his daughters, Debby Boone, won a Grammy for You Light Up My Life, the best-selling single of 1977.
Living as a neighbor to Elvis in California meant occasional unannounced visits from the King of Rock and Roll.
'He loved being at our house, and when he came over, the girls would get out of the pool and jump all over him, getting him sopping wet', Boone says. 'We both had contracts with 20th Century Fox at the same time. Elvis' dressing room was next to mine, and on the other side was Cary Grant'.
When Elvis invited the Boone family to his house, it often meant meatloaf, chicken-fried steak, okra, peas, mashed potatoes, 'things like that', says Boone.
Elvis, he says, made it clear he was unhappy with his movie roles, and wanted to be taken seriously as an actor. 'I think one day he anticipated going into some more nonmusical dramatic roles. There was a yearning for recognition as a genuine artist, not just a pop sensation. If he'd lived, he would have done some dramatic roles and surprised quite a few people, like Bing Crosby (did) maybe'.
Boone, always staunchly religious, held Bible study classes in his house, and Elvis and sometimes Priscilla Presley were guests. 'Once he asked me if I knew Oral Roberts, that he'd like to meet him sometime. I called Oral, and they met in Lake Tahoe. Oral told me later he had a wonderful chat with him, that he was looking for some anchor in his life, some direction. He was giving thought to turning his shows into some sort of evangelical outreach, sort of like Bob Dylan did'.
Boone last saw Elvis about a month before his death, at an airport in Pittsburgh. They were going in opposite directions, and Boone said Elvis told him, 'You're always going the wrong way'.
'I told him, 'It depends on where you're coming from'.