A New Light On Colonel Tom Parker | Part II

By: Michael Werner
Source: Elvis Australia
August 19, 2018

A New Light On Colonel Tom Parker | Part II

Michael Werner


Still, Parker had his principles and ethical standards that were more important to him than a few dollars more. This became most obvious when after Elvis' death everyone who had delivered him a pizza felt appointed to write a book about Elvis. Parker could easily have earned a fortune revealing tons of private details. He never did so. His loyalty did not end with Elvis' death; not even with his own death, as he took everything to his grave. Parker knew about his own bad image and felt misunderstood and unfairly judged towards the end of his life. But he accepted his fate and never tried to justify anything because it was more important to him not to inflict any damage to Elvis' memory, while most of his so-called 'friends' would have instantly betrayed all his secrets for a few bucks. Thus, Parker proved character, manner, and class until the very end.

By the way, even if most fans might not like to hear this: Money came first for Elvis, too, so in most cases when he had to choose between artistic claim and commercial success, he would rather take the money. Also, he surely wouldn't have hired Colonel Parker as his manager if he hadn't cared that much for financial profit. A lifestyle as costly as Elvis' had to be paid for somehow.

Parker made Elvis join the Army for image reasons

False. Elvis was drafted. There is no remedy for compulsory military service. Many fans claim Parker could have prevented Elvis from being drafted but they overrate him at that point. How can they assume that a man who supposedly didn't even have a passport was able to outwit the mighty U.S. Army? Elvis could have tried all sorts of tricks to duck out of military service but that would only have harmed his image in a country where the army enjoys a good reputation and patriotism has an enormous status. Parker simply realized the advantages of serving in the army might bring for Elvis and exploited them to the largest degree possible.

Colonel Tom Parker.
Colonel Tom Parker.

After the army, the Colonel drove the rocker out of Elvis and softened him

This is just another widespread false claim that even renowned musical journalists are being taken in by so that this nonsense can be read over and over.

In fact, Elvis has always been passionate about ballads, melodious songs and gospel music. The first tracks he recorded with SUN were exclusively ballads: 'My Happiness', 'That's When Your Heartaches Begin', 'I'll Stand In Your Way', 'It Wouldn't Be The Same Without You', 'Harbor Lights', 'I Love You Because'. Out of sheer desperation, when R&B-oriented Sam Phillips was already about to give up on him, Elvis finally delivered an up-tempo track called 'That's All Right'. Phillips simply wouldn't let him sing ballads and only released up-tempo tracks on his SUN singles. All ballads Elvis recorded at SUN – among them, the atmospheric 'Blue Moon' – were first released later on by RCA. So actually, it was the highly respected Sam Phillips who pushed Elvis into a certain style of music that he originally didn't want to do. The success that followed meant that Elvis stuck with it – for the moment. Elvis' private taste in music was, however, quite different which can easily be proven by his personal record collection and even more by his various, well-known private recordings, where almost no Rock'n'Roll was involved. Thus, Elvis turning to other material after 1960 could by no means be blamed on the Colonel, as it rather matched Elvis' own preferences. Here as well, success approved his decision because the classic Rock'n'Roll era was long over by the time of Elvis' return from his tour of duty. In the 1970's he even completely lost interest in up-tempo songs, so he virtually had to be urged to recording 'Burning Love'. Parker never pushed Elvis to a certain musical direction or even to certain tracks; the only exception is 'Are You Lonesome Tonight' which he particularly asked him to record because it was his wife Marie's favorite song. Certainly, nobody would want to miss this beautiful recording today, which also became a worldwide smash.

Since 1967, Parker collected half of Elvis' earnings

False. Parker got 50% of the shares only from joint businesses with Elvis, which is a common division for partners. Of Elvis' other earnings (e.g. fees from record sales, movies, and concerts) he collected 25% – which is a common rate for an exclusive personal manager serving only one client.

There are artist managers that collect only 10% or 15% but they are in charge of several artists at the same time so they still have a save income even if one of their clients is not doing too well. In this case the disadvantage is that every artist will only receive a smaller amount of the work capacity and commitment of his manager. In other words: Elvis paid the Colonel the highest rate but in return he got all-inclusive service and Parker's undivided attention, particularly as this is the only possible way to successfully manage such a huge career.

Elvis was offered merely inferior song material because Parker forced songwriters to give a part of their royalties to Elvis

It is true that Parker or respectively the music publishing house Hill & Range requested most songwriters to hand over 50% of their shares in royalties to Elvis. Unfortunately, people keep forgetting (or simply do not know) that this wasn't an invention of Parker's, but rather was common practice in the music business (and still is today): The bigger the star, the more the songwriter has to give up to have the star cut his song.

As the FTD book 'Writing For The King' clearly tells, this was alright with most of the authors because 50% of an Elvis song was usually still a whole lot more money than 100% of the recording of another artist.

The frequently cited claim that this practice made big hits slip through Elvis' fingers is only a myth. There is not one concrete example of a song that wasn't recorded by Elvis for these reasons and then resulted in a notable success for another artist to prove this assertion.

Besides, in Elvis' case this practice was gradually dropped from the late 1960's on.

The Colonel was an unscrupulous businessman who fleeced and diddled everyone

False. Those who actually did business with the Colonel described him as a hard negotiator (which in no way speaks against him) but especially as a correct and reliable man of honor who always stood by his word. This cannot be said about all managers (not only in the music business), by the way.

Considering the amount of Elvis' business activities (movies, concerts, record releases, television appearances, souvenir sales etc.) it becomes obvious that while working for Elvis, Parker must have closed hundreds, if not thousands, of contracts. Astonishingly, there never were complications or complaints while many other artists quite often have to face trials due to dubious practices. That also speaks clearly for Parker's seriousness.

Even though they preferred keeping a distance from the Colonel, Elvis' musicians concurringly report that he was always fair and correct with them. He even paid them the full fees for cancelled concerts unsolicited, which is not common in the music business.

Parker was a heartless and humorless person

Parker didn't trust strangers and appeared cold, stand-offish and distanced to them at first sight. It took a while to get through to him but to his friends and his family he was extremely loving and warm-hearted. There never were any affairs and scandals in his marriage with Marie; he touchingly took care of her during the long years of her illness until her death, and he spent every spare minute with her. He never forgot his old friends from the carnival and always had time and a sympathetic ear for them when they were in need. Just like Elvis, he generously donated to charity and also loved to surprise complete strangers with gifts. Other than with Elvis, in his case this is less known as he never did it in public.

Parker's slightly bizarre humor is legendary and not unlike to Elvis' humor. Both loved to play tricks on people; concerning this the Colonel had an almost childish nature. Countless photos exist of Elvis and the Colonel showing that they shared a certain kind of humor. Parker loved weird costumes with a slightly odd background; that is how he danced at a party at the set of 'G.I. Blues' with his wife Marie, wearing a Southerner uniform. With his funny stories from his time at the carnival he entertained Elvis and his boys for hours.

Many fans might have heard about the club the Colonel founded called 'Snowman's League of America', which is a parody of the 'Showman's League of America', a syndicate for carnies. Only handpicked friends and business partners were made members by the Colonel who called himself 'chief potentate'. Joining the club was for free but the exit cost 500 dollars. A newly nominated member received a 'book of rules' that consisted of only blank pages. The club didn't have any sense at all, it was purely a joke – still, everybody wanted to become a member, as it was regarded a special privilege to be part of it, especially in Hollywood. Priceless!

Furthermore, the Colonel was able to joke about himself which can be seen in his closing dictum at the 1972 Madison Square Garden press conference: 'To live up to my reputation of being a nice guy – this is it, folks!' Humorless? No!

Just ask yourself if Elvis would have tied himself that close to a heartless and humorless person for such a long time.

Parker was the right man for Elvis in the 1950's, but at the latest in the 1970's he was a yesterday's man not at the height of time anymore

This has been constantly repeated by fans and journalists over and over again, which doesn't make it right, particularly as there is rarely ever any explanatory statement following this claim.

Facts are speaking differently: With the Aloha-Show of 1973, which was Parker's idea, the Colonel set new standards. The logistic and technical dimensions of this event, including the risk of a satellite breakdown, beat everything that's ever been there at the time – it was a world sensation. Today, in the internet age, people tend to forget this. Putting on this spectacle, Parker was even far ahead of his time. Since then there has never been another concert by a single artist broadcasted via satellite; for similar events like 'Live Aid' (1985), an army of world stars was brought up. Thus, Parker was actually a pioneer.

The fact that in the four years following that spectacle nothing world-shaking happened anymore in the career of Elvis Presley is not a consequence of decreasing inventiveness on Parker's part but rather – we have to face the truth, even if it hurts – due to the circumstance that the Colonel couldn't implement pioneering visions with a disinterested and partially sick Elvis who just reeled off his shows in boring routine and could hardly be motivated to enter a recording studio. At the end of the day, a manager can only commercialize the product that actually exists. Measured on what Elvis was willing and able to do towards the end, Parker even got the maximum out of it. Considering the fact that since 1974, Elvis was permanently in breach of contract as his record deal with RCA obliged him to record two albums and four singles per year which he hardly ever did, Parker rather pursued damage limitation. Every other artist would have risked his neck not meeting the deal but Parker was able to make Elvis get away with it again and again. In this context he could only be accused of having been too mild and understanding with Elvis instead of making him do his work and fulfill his contractual obligations.

Colonel Parker is to be blamed for Elvis' death because he rushed him into compulsive pill-taking

As hard as this may sound: Elvis was a grown-up man and thus fully responsible for himself. Getting into this mess is solely his fault. Nobody else is to be blamed: neither the Colonel, nor Priscilla, nor Dr. Nichopoulos, nor the army, nor anyone else. The Colonel (who never drank or took drugs himself) was certainly not interested in his only cash cow wiping himself out.

The Colonel did nothing or not enough to get Elvis away from prescription drugs

As the conversations between Elvis and Colonel Parker always were strictly confidential, nobody knows if and how often Parker hauled his protégé over the coals on the subject of his suicidal drug abuse. Anyone once having dealt with an addict (may it only be a harmless cigarette smoker) has certainly made the bitter experience that nothing in this world could ever make the addict fight his addiction if he himself doesn't have the iron will to do so. As sad as it may be, Elvis never ever seriously tried to get his addiction under control; that already started with him denying it. Not even his responsibility for his family and his love for his little daughter could save him from taking that path – what could his manager have done to save him? Let's face it: Absolutely nothing! That is pure utopia.

Parker didn't offer any real challenges to Elvis to motivate him in the final years of his career

Well, what does a singer do? Recording songs and playing concerts! What else could he do? There are certainly vast numbers of more boring jobs in this world to lose interest in.

In January 1977 a recording session was scheduled – Elvis didn't show up. In June 1977 a TV special was set up – Elvis appeared on stage in a wretched condition and delivered a shattering performance.

He could have chosen brilliant songs and produce a groundbreaking album. He could have performed a bombastic TV show. It was all up to him. Did he care for it? Absolutely not! What could his manager have done about it? Nothing! What else should he have offered to Elvis to motivate him? There were challenges indeed; Elvis just didn't accept them.

Elvis was overworked due to the constant tours organized by the Colonel

Compared to other artists that made month-long, extensive tours, Elvis was a vacationist. His tours only lasted a few days with week-long breaks in between. He used to be on stage for only one hour per night, or two hours (with a three-hour break) in Las Vegas. Other stars had to work as hard as they could on stage for nearly three hours and still had to fulfill other duties like TV-show appearances, radio interviews, promotion campaigns, charity events and gala gigs. Counting Elvis' effective working days per year, it becomes obvious that he had anything but a life filled with work. Especially not in relation to the money he earned. Just as other stars spend weeks or even months in the studio to produce one album, Elvis usually cut two albums and four singles in two or three nights. Notably, Elvis did not die after an exhausting tour but at the end of a six-week vacation which he spent doing nothing. This can by no means be called 'overwork'.

In my opinion the Colonel even made it too easy for Elvis to make that much money with relatively little effort. If Parker had given him more of a hard time, Elvis wouldn't have had the time to get up to mischief.

In this context it shouldn't be forgotten that it was Elvis who in his final years urged Parker into booking more and more concerts because he desperately needed the money to maintain his excessive life style. So, nobody forced him.

Parker manipulated or even hypnotized Elvis to be a spineless and weak-willed subordinate

This is sheer nonsense. If Parker had the power to manipulate Elvis or to even hypnotize him, he certainly would have manipulated or hypnotized him to stop taking pills in order to live longer and bring more money in.

Elvis always had to do what Parker told him

False. The legal definition of the relationship between an artist and his manager is as follows: The artist is the boss, while his manager is virtually his assistant. The manager can bring forward arguments, advice, and offers, while it's the artist's sole decision what is actually being done in the end. It may well be that Elvis followed Parker's advice in most cases; but not because he had to but because he wanted to, as he found Parker's arguments convincing. It would be completely moronic to hire an experienced and successful manager and pay him a fortune, just to always do the opposite of what he advises. Does that make sense?

Because of Colonel Parker, Elvis had to make undemanding movies in the 60s

Nobody has to make movies, nobody is forced to be a Hollywood star. Wouldn't that be funny? All movie contracts bore Elvis' personal signature, so he knew what he was getting into. Screenplays can be read in advance and rejected in case they are crap. If Elvis didn't do so, it's not Parker's fault.

If Elvis had wanted to shoot a critically acclaimed movie, he could have produced one at any time that would have been tailor-made for him. He knew everyone in the business and had enough money to do so. But he didn't do so. Instead, he never rejected a contract for an undemanding but well-paid movie. The bottom line is, he obviously wasn't as dissatisfied within his movie career as is often claimed, or at least, he just didn't care enough for becoming a serious actor to even take the smallest risk.

Articles about Elvis Presley A New Light On Colonel Tom Parker | Part I

Next week Part III

Articles about Elvis Presley Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite | Fact & Fancy

Elvis Presley Video Interview with Colonel Tom Parker : Elvis Presley's Manager : 1987
Elvis Presley Video Interview with Colonel Tom Parker : Elvis Presley's Manager
Elvis Presley Video Peter Guralnick, Talks About Colonel Tom Parker

Elvis Presley Photos Photos: Colonel Tom Parker's Birthday on the Set of the '68 Special
Elvis Presley Photos Photos : Elvis Presley and Colonel Tom Parker

Interviews with or about Elvis Presley Interview with Kenny Wynn : Colonel Tom Parker's assistant

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