Elvis Presley July 1969 | The King of Las Vegas


By: Elvis Australia
Source: Various
August 5, 2019

Elvis Presley July 31, 1969.
Elvis Presley July 31, 1969.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley's Vegas comeback show, on July 31, 1969 - a milestone being celebrated by a new Sony 11-CD boxed set of his '69 Vegas performances. Then, on August 23, Follow That Dream (FTD) will release Elvis: American Sound 1969, a 5 CD collection of rare and unreleased recordings from Elvis Presley's sessions at American Sound Studio. The final versions from the sessions became Presley's 1969 album From Elvis in Memphis.

Dressed in a chic black tunic and bell bottoms that matched his long but neatly combed black-tinted hair. Elvis Presley stepped onstage last week at the International Hotel in Las Vegas and launched into the driving beat of 'Blue Suede Shoes'. The audience of 2,000, most of them over 30, roared and squealed in nostalgic appreciation. In spite of his updated look, Elvis hadn't changed at all in the nearly nine years since his last personal appearance. Shaking, gyrating and quivering, he again proved himself worthy of his nickname, The Pelvis. Through nervousness caused him to sing 'Love my, me tender' for 'Love Me Tender', the pasty-faced enchanter quickly settled down to work his oleaginous charms, backed by a 30-piece orchestra, a five-man combo and a chorus of seven. Oozing the sullen sexuality that threw the America into a state of shock in the 50's, he groaned and swiveled through a medley of 'Jailhouse Rock', 'Don't Be Cruel', 'Heartbreak Hotel', 'All Shook Up' and 'Hound Dog'. It was hard to believe he was 34 and no longer 19 years old.

For the 1969 comeback, and at least a year or two after, Elvis was at his peak as a stage performer, and he created a show that not only revitalized his career but changed the face of Las Vegas entertainment. The king of rock 'n' roll and the city had a long relationship. Elvis first appeared in Las Vegas in 1956, when he was just breaking out - he hadn't appeared on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' yet - and found himself booked into the New Frontier Hotel, on a bill with Freddy Martin's orchestra and the comedian Shecky Greene. The show was pretty much a dud; the middle-aged nightclubbers didn't know what to make of him. 'For the teenagers, he's a whiz', wrote Variety's critic; 'for the average Vegas spender, a fizz'.

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But Elvis loved Las Vegas, and the city became his favorite getaway.

He came back often: retreating there between movie shoots, seeing shows, picking up showgirls, partying all night with his Memphis pals. He shot his movie 'Viva Las Vegas' there in 1963. He married Priscilla at the Aladdin Hotel there in 1967. So when his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, finally decided it was time for a return to the concert stage, Vegas was not as odd a choice as it might have seemed.

Las Vegas also needed a boost. At the beginning of the decade, with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack riding high, the town was the white-hot center for live entertainment in America. By the end of the '60s, however, the golden years were fading fast. The arrival of the Beatles, the rise of the counterculture - all of it was making Vegas look decidedly worn. None of the major rock artists of the era - the Stones, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin - wanted anything to do with the city. The younger generation was going to arena concerts, not hanging out in the Sands Hotel lounge. So it was fitting that Las Vegas, a town blindsided by the rock revolution, would turn to a megawatt rock 'n' roll star as the agent of its reinvention two weeks before Woodstock would take place in upstate New York.

Elvis' return to the stage in Vegas was a make-or-break career gamble. Colonel Parker had envisioned a traditional Vegas show, with chorus girls and choreography. Elvis wanted something different: a concert to reconnect him with his fans and showcase all the music he loved.

Elvis Live 1969 Boxset.

'This was the deprived musician, who had not been able to control his music, either in the recording studio or the movies', said his longtime friend Jerry Schilling. 'And now he was going to satisfy all his musical desires on that stage'.

Elvis handpicked a new backup band (headed by the guitar great James Burton), added two backup singing groups (a male gospel quartet, the Imperials, and a female soul group, the Sweet Inspirations, whose lead singer at the time was Cissy Houston), and filled out the sound with a 40-plus-piece orchestra.

The International's 2,000-seat showroom was twice as large as any other in Vegas, and the sold-out venue was packed on opening night with celebrities and Vegas VIPs, along with dozens of rock journalists and critics, many flown in from New York on the hotel titan Kirk Kerkorian's private jet. Behind the scenes, Elvis was so nervous he almost had to be pushed out onstage. 'I saw in his face the look of terror', said the comedian Sammy Shore, his opening act. But when Elvis walked out, to a throbbing rhythm intro, grabbed the microphone with a trembling hand, and launched into 'Blue Suede Shoes', the audience went wild.

Elvis Presley : Live In Concert : International Hotel, Las Vegas : July 31, 1969. 
Elvis Presley : Live In Concert : International Hotel, Las Vegas : July 31, 1969.

It was the old Elvis, rocking as hard as ever, on a song he hadn't done in a decade. He followed with more vintage hits - 'All Shook Up', 'Don't Be Cruel', 'Hound Dog'. He did them faster than in the old days, almost as if he wanted to get through them as quickly as possible, to get to the more mature and varied material he was starting to record. He sang 'In the Ghetto', the social-protest song that had been released in the spring and became a hit. He did covers of songs identified with other artists - Chuck Berry's 'Johnny B. Goode', Ray Charles's 'I Can't Stop Loving You', the Beatles' 'Yesterday'.

The high point of the show was a galvanic, seven-minute version of a song almost no one in the crowd had heard before: 'Suspicious Minds', which would be released during his Vegas run and give him his first No. 1 hit in seven years.

Elvis Now In Person 1969 Large Hardcover Book.
Elvis Now In Person 1969 Large Hardcover Book.

The show lasted an hour and 15 minutes, and Elvis was on fire throughout - prowling the stage like a panther, doing karate kicks, sweating and downing water and Gatorade. He was huffing and puffing after just a few minutes, but the voice never faltered: richer, more expressive, more powerful than ever. 'I never saw anything like it in my life', said Mac Davis, the singer-songwriter who had written 'In the Ghetto' for him and was in the audience that night. 'You couldn't take your eyes off the guy. It was just crazy. Women rushing the stage, people clamoring over each other. I couldn't wipe the grin off my face the entire time'.

Elvis talked to the audience too - nervously, with a few corny jokes and a lot of self-deprecating asides (much in evidence on the full-show recordings in the new boxed set). But that was part of the appeal: this was no slick Vegas performer with polished jokes and programmed patter. Elvis seemed just as awed by the occasion as everyone in the audience.

Elvis Presley : Live In Concert : International Hotel, Las Vegas : July 31, 1969.
Elvis Presley : Live In Concert : International Hotel, Las Vegas : July 31, 1969.

He played for four solid weeks, seven nights a week, two shows a night - not a single evening off - and every gig was sold out. The critics raved; David Dalton in Rolling Stone called Elvis'upernatural, his own resurrection.' Richard Goldstein, writing in The New York Times, said watching him 'felt like getting hit in the face with a bucket of melted ice. He looked so timeless up there, so constant.' The hotel instantly signed him up for five more years.

Elvis brought something new to Las Vegas: not an intimate, Rat Pack-style nightclub show, but a big rock-concert extravaganza. He showed that rock 'n' roll (and country and R&B too) could work on the big Vegas stage. And he brought in a new kind of audience: not the Vegas regulars and high rollers, but a broader, more middle-American crowd: female fans who had screamed for Elvis as teenagers, families who made Elvis the centerpiece of their summer vacation. It was the same audience that Vegas would discover, over the next couple of decades, as it embarked on its own reinvention - a foretaste of the Vegas we know today, the Vegas of Cirque du Soleil, theme-park hotels, and (more recently) a new generation of pop-star residencies, from Elton John to Lady Gaga.

Elvis Presley : Live In Concert : International Hotel, Las Vegas : July 31, 1969.
Elvis Presley : Live In Concert : International Hotel, Las Vegas : July 31, 1969.

Elvis soon grew bored with Vegas, and the shows began to deteriorate. But it's easy to forget what an engaged, dynamic, even inspiring performer he was in 1969. Elvis in the '50s had been the great divider: the musical artist who split the culture in two - between the adults, who listened to the pop standards and Hit Parade tunes, and the kids, who were listening to a newfangled music called rock 'n' roll. By the end of the 1960s (a decade in which that divide grew even starker) Elvis was the great uniter: gathering all the music he loved, from rockabilly to operatic ballads, in one great democratic embrace. He didn't need to be the coolest thing in rock. He wanted to sing to everybody.

He did. And in the process he helped transform a city.

Richard Zoglin is the author of 'Elvis in Vegas; How the King Reinvented the Las Vegas Show'.

Buy Elvis Live 1969 Limited Edition 11 CD Boxset from Sony Music
Buy Elvis | American Sessions 1969 5 CD Boxset
Buy 'Elvis Now In Person 1969' 400-page Hardcover Book

Live In Concert 1969

Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley International Hotel | Las Vegas | July 31, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley International Hotel, Las Vegas | August 1, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley Las Vegas | August 12, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley Las Vegas | August 17, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley International Hotel, Las Vegas | August 18, 1969
Elvis Presley PhotosElvis Presley International Hotel | August 26, 1969
Articles about Elvis Presley Reinventing Elvis: The American Sound Studios Sessions}
Articles about Elvis Presley Interview with Elvis Presley + Review of Elvis in concert July 31, 1969
Articles about Elvis Presley Interview with Elvis Presley | The 1969 Press Conference | August 1, 1969

January 1969

Elvis Presley Photos Aspen Colorado | January 24, 1969

February

Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley with Jeannie C. Riley | Ferbruary 6, 1969 | Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas, NV.

May

Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley on Holiday, Hawaii | May and October 1969

June

Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley and Tom Jones | The Flamingo Hotel | June, 10, 1969

July

Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley in the driveway of his Hillcrest home, leaving for a rehearsal at RCA | July 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley July 14, 1969 | Rehearsal song list
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley 6363 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, CA | July 18-23, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley International Hotel | July 31, 1969

August 1969

Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley Las Vegas Press Conference | August 1, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Interview with Elvis Presley The 1969 Press Conference | August 1, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley International Hotel, Las Vegas | August 1, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley Backstage Las Vegas | August 6, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley In Concert 1969 + Summer of 1969 at Graceland
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis hasn't lost it | review / aricle | Chicargo Times | August 10, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley Las Vegas | August 12, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley Las Vegas | August 17, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley International Hotel, Las Vegas | August 18, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley August 21, 1969 | Live In Las Vegas
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley August 22, 1969 | Live In Las Vegas
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley with fans | August 23, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos
Elvis Presley International Hotel | August 26, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley at Nancy Sinatra's Opening Night Post Show Party | Friday August 29, 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis and Priscilla Presley | Barbra Streisand's Vegas show | 1969
Elvis Presley PhotosDon Ho and Elvis Presley Las Vegas 1969
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley Graceland | 1969 (Rare photo)
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley and Jeannie C. Riley (August 1969)

October

Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley on Holiday, Hawaii | May and October 1969

The Movies of 1969

Elvis Presleys Movies 1969, Charro!, National General
Elvis Presleys Movies 1969, The Trouble With Girls, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Elvis Presleys Movies 1969, Change Of Habit, Universal

The Movies In Photos

Elvis Presley Photos Charro!
Elvis Presley Photos Change Of Habit

DVDs

DVD. Charro!
DVD. The Trouble With Girls
DVD. Change Of Habit

CDs

CD. From Elvis In Memphis | FTD 2 CD Special Edition
CD. Elvis | Back In Memphis | FTD 2 CD Special Edition
CD. From Elvis At American Sound Studio | FTD 2 CD Special Edition
CD. Elvis In Person FTD 2 CD Classic Album | Compilation + August 22, 1969 DS
CD. Elvis At The International | August 23, 1969 Midnight Show
CD. Elvis | Live In Las Vegas | August 26, 1969 Dinner Show

CDs | In Concert

CD. FTD Soundboard Recorded Concerts
CD. FTD Stereo Recorded Concerts

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