Interview With Elvis Presley | August 28, 1956
Source: Elvis Answers Back magazine
February 8, 2020
Elvis Presley and The Official Elvis Presley Fan Club
Location: 20th Century-Fox studios, Hollywood, California.
- About the 'Criticism'
- About the 'Show'
- So I'm Never Nervous, Huh?
- My Special Girl
- What, No Singing Lessons?
- The Green Scrapbook
- My Greatest Ambition
- My Sideburns
- My True Religion
- Have I Changed?
- Who Am I Going to Act Like?
- Do I Really Play the Guitar?
- Do I Say All Those Things?
- On Amusement Parks
- Why Do I Sing Like I Do?
- And Now, What Can I Say?
- Fan Club Address Change
Hi! This is Elvis Presley! Well, at last I'm getting the chance to sit down and talk to you, to speak right out and tell you all the things that are on my mind. I've wanted to tell you about myself for a long time, a real long time. And now that I've got the chance to speak right out to you, I hope you won't mind if I get a lot of things off my chest. Things I think you'll understand, though I know that a lot of people don't. I want to tell you in my own way and in my own words why I do the things I do and why I feel the way I feel. And I know that if I can just sit down with you alone somewhere if I can just talk with you personal like, you'll understand.
When I first started doing my performances, everyone was happy. All the kids came out and had a good time and released a lot of energy and no one was getting hurt. It lasted that way about two years. I kept singing the songs everyone liked and kept doing what I'd always been doing on stage.
But during the past six or seven months, I've gotten criticism from a lot of people for 'losing myself' in my performances, for singing the way I do on stage. I can't really understand it. This is the only thing I can say, this is the only explanation I've got for it. I've been doing the same thing ever since I started singing on stage, for at least two and half years now. It's only been the past few months that I've felt criticism.
So I guess it's because my records have become bigger and everything. I guess the more popular you are, the more criticism you get. If I was still back at a Music Jamboree in Memphis, nobody would care what I did when I sang. But now, as I'm meeting more and more people every day and singing more and more places all the time, it's a different story. I can tell you this, though. I don't scheme up any actions for the songs I sing like I've heard some people tell. I sing the way I do, and act the way I do because it comes naturally to me while I'm singing. I wouldn't do it if I thought it wasn't the right thing to do, or if I thought someone was being hurt by it. If I thought that, I'd pack up and go back home and never sing another note.
There's one other thing, too, that I think people should try and realize. There's a big difference in singing on a record and singing for an audience. People can stay home and listen to your records on the radio or phonograph and it doesn't cost'em anything. But when they pay their money to come out and see you at a personal appearance, these people want to see a show. They pay their money to see something with life in it, not just to hear something on a phonograph. If I stood up in front of an audience and did nothing but sing, I'd be holding myself back deliberate. I wouldn't enjoy myself, I couldn't enjoy myself if I did that. And the audience would know it. They'd know I didn't enjoy what I was doing, and they wouldn't come out to see me again.
One of the things they've said about me is that I'm never nervous. They say I don't worry about a thing and they say I get eight or ten good hours sleep at night. I wish they were right.
But they aren't. I've been kind of nervous all my life. And now, going out on personal appearances all the time, I get so keyed up that I just can't relax. After a show, I'll go back to my hotel room and go to bed and try to get some sleep. But you know how hard it is, getting to sleep in a strange room and in a strange bed away from home, particularly when you're kind of nervous and jumpy. I'll go to bed at night and close my eyes and just lay there. And then I'll start turning. And twisting. And a couple of hours will pass, and I won't have had had a lick of sleep. They say you learn how to relax when you get older. I hope they're right.
I can't help it. I just feel restless sometimes. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's that I've never been away from home and all my folks and friends for so long. I don't know. But it's a funny feeling. A lonesome feeling.
I guess everyone's' felt it, sometime or another.
I like the sun and the outdoors and swimming. I have to be careful of chlorine, though, because I react to it. That's why we don't use it in the pool we just had built back home. The neighbor kids love the pool. They come on over all the time. And momma, my best girl, is learning how to swim, too.
Elvis Presley with fans.
I know what you've read about that 'special girl' I have back home in Memphis. You've read that we went steady through high school and that we've been dating each other steady for the past three years. I know. I've read about her, too. But that's the only way I know about her, because to tell you the plain facts, I don't have a special girl. Now or ever. I've never gone with anyone girl three weeks, or three months in a row, let alone three years. And right now, with all the traveling and work I'm doing, I don't have time to date very much. I'd like to, of course, but I just don't have the time.
When I get back home to Memphis every so often, it's easier to get me a date because I still know a lot of girls I went to school with. But I've never gone steady with any of them. We all have a good time together, and that's about all there is to it as far as any 'special girl' is concerned.
Maybe it won't always be like that. I hope not.
Yes, I phone home to my folks in Memphis a lot.
Almost every day. But I like to know how they are and how things are going. And I don't get time to write much or like that, so I call instead. It sure sounds good, hearing their voices. Makes me a little homesick sometimes.
I'm not a loner, I don't think. But I've go to admit. Sometimes I like just getting off by myself. You know. Just off somewhere alone. No crowds or anything. Where it's just peaceful. And quiet. And you can think.
I've never had a singing lesson in my life. No music lesson of any kind, in fact. I just started singing when I was a little kid like I told you, and I've been doing it ever since. I was 11 years old when I went in front of a real audience for the first time. It was at a fairground in the town I was born, Tupelo, Mississippi. I was shaking like a leaf, but I'd set my heart on singing, and nothing in this world could have stopped me from going ahead and entering the talent contest at the fair. I did it all on my own, and I didn't have any idea what I was going to do once I got out there in front of all those people. All I had in my head was the idea that I was going to sing.
I didn't have any music or anything, and I couldn't get anybody to play for me and I couldn't play for myself because I didn't know how. So I just went out there and started singing. I sang a song called Old Shep, the story of a dog, and I know they must of felt sorry for me because they gave me fifth prize and everyone applauded real nice. Man, I'll tell you, I was really scared and shaking and all turning over inside.
But I felt good, too. I'd been on a stage for the first time in my life.
Later on, when I was 13 or so, me and a bunch of the kids would fool around singing. I never tried to go into any of the High School shows or anything like that, but I sure enjoyed beating up a storm with the other kids. And you know how it is. You get to trying different ways of using your voice and singing the words and such, and pretty soon you're singing in a style of your own.
Everyone does it, no matter whether you want to be a singer or not. So that's how I got my practice in singing, just experimenting around and singing with the other kids and having a good time. And most important, singing the way I felt. And to tell you the truth, I think it's the best kind of practice I could have had.
Yes, it's true that I keep me a scrapbook of a lot of the stuff that's printed about me.
But you know something? I don't save the articles or stories that tell nice things about me. My scrapbook only has stuff in it that isn't very friendly. I'll tell you why this is.
When I first started out, my momma wanted to save all the programs and pictures and things that everyone put in the papers and magazines. I wasn't much interested in doing this, because I was so busy singing and working and learning that I just didn't want to take the time to sit down every so often in the middle of something and start cutting out pictures and things. Momma bought her a big green scrapbook, though, and asked me to send her stuff whenever I got the chance. For the first year or so, I didn't send her a thing, and the scrapbook was empty, except for a couple of clippings she got out of the Memphis papers.
Then one day I saw this article about me not being a very good singer. I cut that out and send it to momma and she wrote back and told me I didn't want to fill my scrapbook with things like that. But I wrote back and told her, 'Momma, anyone can fill a scrapbook with good things. But what good does it do? I'd like to know the things people don't particularly like and study them and try to make myself better if I can.' So that's how The Green Scrapbook got started. I've got a lot of pages filled, and a lot of them are still empty, but I'll tell you this. Every time I go home to Memphis, I take down that scrapbook and study it. I know most of the things in it by heart, and I'm always going to do my best to improve whenever and wherever I can.
I know I've been lucky in an awful lot of ways. But I think the luckiest thing that ever happened to me is that I'm beginning to realize my biggest ambition. All of my life, I've wanted to be an actor, though I never was in any school plays or recited a line other than the Gettysburg Address for my sixth-grade homeroom class. But always sticking in the back of my head was the idea that somehow, someday, I'd like to get the chance to act.
I came out to Hollywood almost three months ago, and Mr. Hal Wallis of Paramount Pictures asked me to take a screen test. I jumped at the chance. I went in to take the test and Mr. Wallis told me not to worry about trying to act like John Barrymore or anybody. He told me to just act like myself. I studied up on what they wanted me to do, and then before I knew it I was in front of the camera. I wonder if you can ever know what it's like to be standing in a movie sound stage and hear a bell ring and people shout 'Quiet', and then all of a sudden realize that everyone's watching you, and you're supposed to be acting out a part. I'll tell you, it's enough to make your legs slide out from under you.
Whenever I get excited, I stutter a little bit. I have a hard time saying 'when' or 'where' or any words that start with 'w' or 'i'. Well, I can tell you I really had a hard time with the w's and i's that day.
When the test was over, I thought I'd been awful. But Mr. Wallis came up to me and he told me that things like my missing letters of some words is actually good in acting… it makes the performance more natural. I kind of smiled and thanked him, but you can bet I didn't say a thing about not missing those letters on purpose! If that was natural, what I'd done, and they were satisfied with it, then it was great by me. And it was a real relief, too. My screen test was over. I'd gone through the first step of realizing my life's ambition.
I've heard so many stories about why I grew my sideburns that I just can't help from laughing sometimes. One magazine said, '… he started wearing sideburns at 15 because they made him feel mature and important. He still wears them for the same reason…'
Man, that magazine made me laugh because there wasn't a lick of truth to the things they said. Heck, I couldn't have grown sideburns when I was 15 if I'd wanted to! I wasn't hardly even shaving by then! I was 17 when I first started growing ‘em. And I sure didn't feel 'mature and important' when the sideburns started coming in. I grew them for one reason only… because I'd always admired them. I never thought they make you look older, and certainly never thought they made me look important. Nope. I just like them, that's all. That's why I wear ‘em. A lot of people ask me why I don't cut them off now. You know what I tell them? I tell them that I got started off wearing sideburns and I'm like those folks who don't like to change horses in the middle of the stream. All my friends have liked me with the sideburns on, so I don't really see any reason for cutting them off. And, oh yes, there's one other thing, too. I still admire them very much, just like I did when I was a little kid.
They ask me why I wear the clothes I do. What can I say? I just like nice clothes, that's all. I like colour and such. Is there something wrong with that?
The other day, I read this: '… Presley got his start by singing in a church choir, but fame has made him forget all about religion…' I sat right down and cut that out of the paper and put it in an envelope and send it home for my momma to put in my scrapbook. I expected they'd start saying things like that. About me not being religious. I mean. But this was the first time I'd seen it anywhere.
Well, I'm not exactly sure what they mean by 'religious' in that article, but I can tell you this much. I don't think they're right in saying things like that. No, I don't go to church regular anymore, if that's what they mean by religious. Being on the road all the time, and traveling every minute I'm not working, I can't ever be sure when I'll have a Sunday free to myself. I wish I could, just like I wish I could be with my folks more often, but I can't.
So if they mean just going to church regularly makes you religious, then I guess I don't fit up to what they want. But I want you to know this. I believe in God, I believe in Him with all my heart. I believe all good things come from God. That includes all the good things that have come to me and to my folks. And the way I feel about it, being religious means that you love God and are real grateful for all He's given, and want to work for Him. I feel deep in my heart that I'm doing all this. And I pray that if I'm wrong in feeling the way I do, God will tell me. Because I owe everything that's happened to me to Him.
I guess everyone wonders what he'd do if he got lucky and got in front of the public and got real well-known. I remember I used to think about that when I was driving a pickup truck in Memphis I used to dream about being a success and wondered how my life would change if it should ever happen. Well, I can tell you how I feel about it now. I don't feel a bit different now than I did before all this happened. I'm just like I always was.
Of course, I guess everybody says this. And even though they say it, a lot of people change anyway, without knowing it. But actually, I'm sure I haven't. I've never felt a change. I feel the same now as I did five, ten years ago. The only difference I've felt since then is happiness, and that things have gotten better for me… that God has blessed me and that He's given me a lot of the wonderful and good things in life. I hope I won't change. I hope I'll never be like some of the people I've seen, who forget that they never could have been successful or happy at all without God's help. And I wish, I just wish, that everybody could know the same kind of happiness I've known from all this. I wish that, more than anything, with all my heart.
There've been a lot of articles come out lately that I was going to imitate or copy the late James Dean.
Well, I want to set you straight on that.
Like I told you with my singing, I don't want to copy anyone. The same thing goes for my acting. I was a powerful admirer of James Dean. I think he was one of the greatest actors I've ever seen. He and Marlon Brando, and a whole bunch more I could call. But I'm not going to try and copy anybody. I'm trying to be myself in my acting, with my own name and my own kind of style. Sure, I hope I can be even half as good as James Dean one day. He was the greatest. But I won't try and copy him. I know I couldn't, even if I tried.
And another thing. Some magazine a month or so ago already had me playing in the life story of James Dean on the screen. Well, I'm not. It would be a great privilege to be good enough to play the part of James Dean in his life story, but it certainly isn't being planned for now. All I hope is that I'll do an acting job that will make you proud of me. And I want you to know, I'm going to keep on trying always to do my very best.
I'll tell you something about Hollywood. It's a really great place. At least, I've had the kicks there. I just finished my first movie for 20th Century-Fox, Love Me Tender, and you know, it was the biggest thrill of my life. Making pictures is, well, I don't know exactly what to call it, except that it's different. It's something I've always wanted to do. And I just hope you'll like me on the screen because I'd sure like to keep on making pictures for you.
There's been another rumor of sorts that's kind of amusing. I read in one magazine that I can't play a note on the guitar, and in another, the same week, that I'm the greatest guitar player in the world.
Well, both of those stories are wrong.
I've never had any music lessons like I told you. But I've always enjoyed music of any kind, and musical instruments. My daddy bought me a department store guitar when I was pretty young. I learned to pick out a couple of chords on it, but I didn't try to get fancy or anything like that. I can plunk on it pretty good, and follow a tune if I'm really pressed to do it. But I've never won any prizes and I never will.
Then when I went out on stage in my first personal appearance, I just naturally took my guitar along with me, to sort of keep me company. I used it as a prop or whatever you want to call it. To me, in that first appearance, it was the best friend I ever had because it kept me company and I knew I wasn't alone out there making a fool of myself. I've just kept on taking it out there with me, and I've got a new one now, a gift to me, that even has my name carved on it. There's always another fellow in the band who does most of the playing, and if you'll watch me real close in a performance sometime, you'll see how it works ...
... He follows my motions and hits the chords at just the right time.
Along down the years, I've just naturally take to some other instruments, though. I like the drums, and I really would have like to take lessons on them someday. I try'em now just for fun, and sometimes it almost sounds like I know what I'm doing. I also like the piano, though I guess I don't play it exactly the way you're supposed to. I just hit whatever keys look good to me. It's a lot of fun, and sometimes I'll play along while I'm singing. Never in a performance or on record though. I'm not that good. I bought my mama and electric organ, which we now have in our home in Memphis. The whole family takes a whack at it, and I guess it's about the easiest thing of all to play. Sounds great, too, when you're in the mood to experiment around.
Maybe someday I'll learn to play some of these things better. But in the meantime, I keep trying out all kinds of instruments. As I say, I do it because, of everything I know, I like music the very best.
It's not just the rumors. It's the things they claim I say that kinda gets me down ever so often. I don't know why people claim I say things that I don't, but that's what happens sometimes. And they go off on a whole big business about teenagers being so different today and that kind of stuff.
I'll tell you honestly. I can't understand it.
And you know something? I'm sorry that these people who try to put words in my mouth and read something into my actins on the stage don't try, instead, to understand about kids our age. I'm sorry that they don't try to understand that we've got a lot of energy that we've got to do something with and that the main reason we stick together is that we understand each other and that we can help each other work off some of this energy by sharing our feelings together. Is this wrong for us to do? I can't believe that it is. And I'll bet that if the people who criticize us would only try to understand instead, they wouldn't feel we were so bad either.
I'll tell you, though. I guess no matter how hard you try to be fair and good with people, there're always those few who are gonna make up stories no matter what you do.
One fellow wrote in a magazine that he knew a 'secret' about me. His piece went, '… Presley's secret? Simple. He's popular because he throws himself around the stage. Without his contortions, he wouldn't stand a chance in the big-time music business.' I wonder what this fellow would say if I told him that most of my records have been bought by people who have never seen me in person!
Sure, I like amusement parks. I like'em a lot. And I like winning pandas and that kind of stuff. That's about the only relaxation I get when I'm on the road. That, and going to movies. And as for food, give me home cooking. My mouth waters every time I think of momma's bacon and egg breakfast. I sure fill up on 'em when I'm home!
Everybody asks me: Why do I sing like I do? I know as well as you what some people are saying. I'm not deaf. I can hear it same as you. They don't like dancing. They don't like western music. They don't like rock and roll.
And they don't like me.
Well, my momma taught me one thing right from the very beginning, and that's that everyone's got a right to his own opinion. I believe that. And I also believe that you can't make everyone like you.
I can't explain it. I can't explain what happens when the music starts. But I think I know. I think you know what it is to get all tied up in something, to get lost in it. That's what singing and music does to me. It ties me up. It makes me forget everything else except the beat and the sound. It tells me more than anything else I've ever known, how good, how great it is just to be alive.
I've been singing the way I do now as far back as I can remember. I don't know what style you'd call it or anything like that. All I know is I sing the way I don because it comes to me natural.
A lot of people ask me, 'Are you trying to copy somebody, the way you sing?' All I can tell'em is what I honestly know in my heart. I've never tried to copy anybody.
One girl said I reminded her of Johnny Ray, but I laughed and told her that I don't pull my hair or roll on the floor or anything like that. And I never intend to. No, I've never copied anybody, and I've also never heard any style like mine. I just originated it accidentally, more or less.
When I was called to make my first record, I went to the studio and they told me what they wanted me to sing and how they wanted me to sing it. Well, I tried it their way but didn't work out so good. So while most of 'em were sitting around resting, a couple of us just started playing around with That's All Right, a great beat number. We were supposed to be resting for ten minutes or so, so we just did it natural. It came off pretty good, and Mr. (Sam) Phillips, the man who owned the recording company, said I should go ahead and sing all the songs my own way, the way I knew best. We tried it, and everything went along a lot better. They decided to put That's All Right on record and backed it up with Blue Moon of Kentucky.
That was my first record. I'll never forget it. Lately, as you probably know, there's been a lot talk about all the 'bouncing around' that goes on during one my shows. I'd like to tell you how the bouncing around all got started. When Mr. Phillips called me to make that first record, I went into the studio and started singing. I started jumping up and down, they tell me, and I wasn't even aware of it. My legs were shaking all over, mostly because I was so nervous and excited, but also because I can feel the music more when I just let myself react. After the third rehearsal Scotty Moore, the guitar player for the band, came over to me and said, 'You still scared, Elvis? You shake all over when you start singing.' I told him I wasn't scared once the music started, and that I didn't even realize I was moving around at all while I was singing.
I told him I'd try to just sit still during the next rehearsal. But at the next rehearsal, the same thing happened. The minute the music started, I wasn't me anymore. I couldn't have stopped moving around if I'd wanted to. Because all that motion was just as much a part of the music to me as the words I was singing. I told Scotty and he said, 'Okay, then, do whatever comes natural.' So that's what I did.
After that first record was a success, I appeared on this big Music Jamboree in Memphis, my hometown, in an open-air theatre. I'll never forget how it was, standing backstage and listening to all these great performers and knowing that I'd have to get out there in just a couple of minutes and try to be as good as all the others. When my time came, I was scared completely stiff. Me and my band went out there and set up and we were ready to begin. But man, we couldn't move! We were all like a bunch of dead people, we were scared so bad. I guess there were four or five thousand people in the audience, and they stared at me and I stared at them. Then someone in the bass section got up the nerve and started playing, and the others followed, and before I knew it I was singing. And then the audience got to squealing a little, and then someone started hollering, and then they all got with it and we really had a ball. I left the stage and they applauded and called me back and kept calling me back. I couldn't figure it out. I didn't have any idea what I was doing that they liked. My manager gave me a push toward the stage and told me to get back out there and do what I'd been doing, and I said, 'What have I been doing?' and he said, 'You've been shaking all over.' He said, 'Your legs have been shaking with the music and your eyes twitching and your shoulders twitching and everything!'
'Get out there and keep doing it!' So I went back on, and we picked another rock and roll song real quick. And I said to myself, 'Now listen, try and do it again.' And then the music started, and I never did remember to do what I said to myself, but I must have done it again because the audience was whooping and hollering like crazy when the song was through. That's when it really started, that night, and it's happened ever since.
I wish - how can I explain it – that I could do everything with music. I wish I could play every instrument. I wish I could know every song. And I wish I could thank all of you who feel the same way about music and who tell me so. I've been so lucky. From that first wonderful start on the Stage Show TV program until now, and Mr. Sullivan. I've been so lucky. I just can't believe it sometimes.
I just don't know what to say about how I feel now, about all this. Since that first night, things have happened so fast that I really don't know. I like it, of course. It's been the most wonderful thing in the world. The way you've bought all my RCA Victor records, and come out to my performances and watched me on Mr. Sullivan's TV show, and all the others. I just don't know exactly what to say.
And now that I've made my first movie out at 20th Century-Fox, I'm hoping to learn how to become as good an actor as I can. Making 'Love Me Tender' was something I'll never forget. You'll never know how nice Debra Paget was to me, helping me learn my lines and study and such. And the same goes for everyone out there.
What can I say, except that I'm thankful to all of them.
And what can I say to you? All I can say is the same thing. Thanks. I know it's not enough, but I want to tell you something. With that one word goes out a big part of me. A part of me that never could have existed at all save for your help and encouragement. And I want you to know that my thanks to you comes from right down here, right from the deep bottom of the happiest heart in this whole great big old world.
Yes, I've been lucky. And you know something? I just feel sometimes like it's all a dream like I'll rub my eyes and wake up and it'll all be over. I hope not. I hope it never happens. I hope it never ends.
I'm ever grateful to my fans everywhere. They really are responsible for my acceptance and success. So that the ever-increasing mail from those wonderful people can be properly and quickly approved, we are moving the Elvis Presley Fan Club Headquarters to Australia. Now that I have finished Love Me Tender for 20th Century-Fox, and am making another picture for Paramount, it looks like I'll be spending a lot of time in Hollywood.
So please address your mail to me to ;
Syndal, Vic, 3149
A million thanks!
Source: Elvis Answers Back magazine.
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Interview with Elvis Presley : The February 1970 Houston Astrodome Press Conference
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Rare Elvis Presley : 1973 Aloha Interview
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Visit Nigel Goodall's Website and see his Elvis work for Sony
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Interview with Ronnie Tutt #2
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Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.