Interview with Red West
May 29, 2008 - 4:32:00 PM
Elvis Articles, Elvis Interviews
Red west may have been one of the best friends he ever had, and Sonny West, because they cared about him, watched over him, trying to keep him alive. Elvis may have been the most beautiful man in the world. His face was carved like a stone, chiseled out of rock, he was just that good looking, and his voice was unbelievable. Waylon Jennings.
In 1955, Red West was the driver for Elvis and band members Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and later D.J. Fontana when they toured the U.S. South performing live concerts as the 'Blue Moon Boys'. In 1960, following Presley's discharge from the United States Army, Red West went to work for Elvis as a bodyguard and became known as one of the media-dubbed Memphis Mafia. When Elvis was making films in the 1960s in Hollywood, Red West appeared in small roles in sixteen of Elvis' films. During this time, West became good friends with actor Nick Adams and his physical abilities got him hired on as a stuntman on Adams' television series, 'The Rebel'. From there, West went on to do more stunt work in film as well as developing a career as an actor in a number of motion pictures and on television. He was often on screen as a henchman in the television series, 'The Wild Wild West'. He was also a stuntman on the series and developed a strong friendship with the star Robert Conrad. He is best remembered as Sgt. Andy Micklin in the 1978 Robert Conrad series 'Baa Baa Black Sheep'. In addition, Red West was a talented songwriter who wrote songs that not only Elvis Presley recorded but also were recorded by teen idols Ricky Nelson, Pat Boone and Johnny Rivers.
Interview with Red West
It's said, as legend has it, that you rescued Elvis from being beaten up at Humes High when a group of boys wanted to cut his hair. What's the real story, and was that what happened?
Red West: That is the real story. The story is Elvis was always different. We had crew cuts, wore tee-shirts and blue jeans, Elvis had the long duck-tail, the long sideburns and he wore the loud clothes and naturally he was a target for all the bullies, and one day luckily I walked into the boys' bathroom at Humes High School and 3 guys were going to cut his hair just, you know, to make themselves look big or make them feel big or whatever, and I intervened and stopped it, and I guess that stuck because a couple of years later after Elvis had his first record he came over and asked me if I would like to go with him, I think it was Grenada, Mississippi or somewhere, and I went and I was with him from then on, except for a couple of years in the Marine Corps. Whatever, Elvis and I were great friends. Some things happened that... I want to dwell on the happier times at this get-together because they out-weigh the bad times. We had some good times, some great fun times, and in my opinion there's nobody that will ever compare to Elvis.
He was my good friend and I'll always remember him as that.
It must be very difficult to walk in the shadow of someone that is so loved, so adored, so worshipped.
Was there ever a time when you felt, 'I wish that could've been me', or were you happy to be in the shadow, so to speak?
Red West: I wouldn't trade places with him for the world. Bull. Anybody would... you know, what he had, the adoration and the money. I mean that's what life is about, I imagine everybody here would like to reach that plateau, to have what he had, and to say 'No I wouldn't trade places with him' - that's a hard statement to make. He had it all except he didn't have the privacy he should've had, that's the main thing that happened to Elvis. He was a prisoner of his own career.
Was being a prisoner sort of counteractive to what Elvis could've actually done?
Do you think he was too frightened, or was it instilled in him to be so protected and protective that he dared not go out into the general public?
Red West: No, he tried. Even in where people like Frank Sinatra, many of the stars, Sammy Davis - they could go out and pretty well mingle. They could go down if they wanted to gamble or whatever. People didn't bother them too much. But Elvis tried it - once - and the whole casino... everybody stopped playing and came around just to watch and see what he was doing, and he could not get out and do what most people do, and everything had to be at night. And still, I mean he would rent movies at night because he couldn't go to a regular movie, but still the gate was always crowded with fans and they would follow and they would be at the movie when it was over, and it was constant. We were always trying to find different ways to go places but he didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings, but he did wish he had a little more privacy.
Elvis signs autographs for fans after leaving the luncheon at the Holiday Inn Rivermont on January 16, 1971
where he was honored by the Jaycees as one of the Outstanding Young Men In America. At his side is bodyguard, Red West.
This photograph appeared on Page One of The Commercial Appeal when Presley died in 1977.
Working in an environment where you're obviously expected to be 'the great protector', were you personally always on edge for something untoward to happen?
Red West: I guess always, because you never knew, even back in the early days we had our problems. Later on it got to be a real problem because the threat became bigger. You know what happened to John Lennon. Well, this could have happened to Elvis much earlier. In fact there were threats. We tried to keep it under wraps because of the people out there, the copycats, that would do it. We were getting threats in the later years, we took them all seriously. Everybody was on edge. In fact, one night in Las Vegas, we got one before he went on stage and even the management said you don't have to go on stage tonight because this looks real, and he said, 'Well, I'm not going to stop a show because of some so-and-so making threats'.
But the lights were up in the audience more, the curtains were closer, my cousin Sonny and I were a lot closer and that was one of the strangest feelings I've ever had because when he did his last song he went down into a very low karate stance to make him like a small target, and Sonny and I came rushing out and stood in front of him, and we're standing there waiting for whatever was coming. That is a strange feeling but that's what we were going through toward the end, so a lot of things were happening that people don't know about.
Were you frightened? Was Elvis frightened?
Red West: Yes, but he did the show. He said I'm not going to be bullied by some idiot like that, you know, and we're watching every move, everything that moved in the audience, and sometimes we over-reacted on other occasions maybe, but I'd rather I over-reacted than not be there on time.
But were you permanently hyped up? Were you always on edge, expecting the worst?
Red West: Always. Always. Especially after these things. We saw what happened to people by not being prepared, or not thinking things could happen, so we were always ready as we could be.
Let's go back to the early days. When did you first talk to Elvis about him being signed up by Col Parker? Were you aware what was going on at that time?
Red West: No, not really. I had nothing to do with that. I was just having a good time and I saw that Colonel Parker had a lot more influence and a lot more experience in that field than the people who handled Elvis before, so things started immediately he went to RCA. He did the Jackie Gleason Show with Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey which made him visible to the world and not just around so I knew that something big was happening but I didn't know it was going to be as big as it became.
In the early days, did Elvis Presley mix with lots of other stars, or did he tend to keep apart?
Red West: No, when he was doing the tours with the Browns, Hank Snow and when he did the Louisiana Hayride Johnny Horton, George Jones that's a funny story, before I forget it! Elvis had had 3 hit records. He was doing the Louisiana Hayride and George Jones went on right before him and George Jones, who was probably put up to it by Johnny Horton and the rest of the old-timers, he did all 3 of Elvis' hits. We're standing backstage watching this and George came off, said 'I'm sorry, I haven't had a hit in a long time' and he walked off. Elvis went out and sung 3 gospel songs, came off and said, 'Let's get the hell out of here'. That was funny! Not at the time, but later on we laughed about it.
Elvis obviously worked with these people, but did he socialise with them?
Red West: Oh yeah. We have a picture at home. The Browns, they were a country group, brothers and sisters. They had a hit called 'Little Jimmy Brown' and we have a picture at home of them celebrating their father and mother's wedding anniversary and around the table was Hank Snow, Junior, Floyd Cramer, this was a whole musical group. He hung out with them then.
Later on, it was different, but when he first started out he liked to hang out with those guys -Jimmy Horton and those guys. We'd go out to dinner after the show, but later on he kinda stayed by himself.
Was there a time when you thought that Elvis made a conscious decision that he couldn't go out any more, he could no longer go to the local hamburger place, to shop, to do anything that normal ordinary people have the opportunity to do.
Did it come all at once, or was there a gradual learning that there were going to be problems?
Red West: I think it was gradual. When he started making the movies it became even more evident, became more of a visual thing that people would come around to see him, and that's when it really started that he couldn't even go out the gate and we'd go the back way out, jump over the fence, whatever, but when the movies started after Love Me Tender it became pretty hard to go out in public.
Do you think that you personally wouldn't have gotten into the movie industry had it not been for knowing Elvis Presley, being associated with Elvis, or was that a way in your life that you personally wanted to go?
Red West: That's what I always wanted to do, but no, I would never have made it without knowing him because the people I met with him were the ones who helped me get into it when I came back early from Germany and went directly to Hollywood. It's what I always wanted to do but knowing him opened doors that would never have been open, so Nick Adams did a series called 'The Rebel'.
He was a friend of Elvis' and I went to Hollywood and met him.
He helped me get into the first door and then Robert Conrad who did 'Hawaiian Eye' and 'Wild Wild West', we played football every Sunday when Elvis got back and all those people would come out, Pat Boone I met these people and ended up working with them so, no, everything I got I owe to Elvis.
That really is a statement to make isn't it.
Red West: Yeah, it was real, it's true.
Did you have to have any drama coaching of any kind, or did it come naturally?
Red West: No, I studied acting with a guy who's still around, Jeff Corey, an old character actor. And Robert Blake I think studied with him, Jack Nicholson studied with him. No you don't just go out and start acting. Elvis could have been, I think, a tremendous actor if he had had the chance to study first instead of being thrown right into it. Anybody who wants to be an actor, you study acting first. You don't just step in front of a camera, you'll forget your name which I did!
Did you enjoy the films, the films that Elvis did?
Red West: Yes, I enjoyed the first ones. Blue Hawaii, GI Blues, Flaming Star especially, I could count on one hand the ones that were good and the rest of them were things that were thrown at him with no thought of anything other than making a buck. Forget the songs were bad, the scripts were bad, but for those of you who saw Wild in the Country and those movies I just mentioned, he had the ability if he had some training, and also he could have done better in the others.
Elvis signs autographs for fans after leaving the luncheon at the Holiday Inn Rivermont on January 16, 1971 where he was honored by the Jaycees as one of the Outstanding Young Men In America.
He just kinda breezed through the others to get them out of the way because there was nothing to them as far as he was concerned. I mean, Wild in the Country was some of the best acting without a doubt he ever did, and the one in New Orleans - King Creole - those were two.
King Creole was written for James Dean and they changed the name, of course James Dean was killed and Elvis got the part. But that was a heavy, dramatic acting part for him and I think he did it very well, but then he lost interest as the movies went by.
I guess when the British invasion first started to penetrate the charts in the States, Elvis at that time, and you all at that time, must have taken a step back and said to yourselves what's happening here, we need to reassert our place in the marketplace because all these limeys are coming over and taking our money.
Red West: No, Elvis always said there's room for everybody. He was never threatened, in fact when he had his home in Bel Air, and I guess everybody knows about when the Beatles came to his house.
It was one of the best, fun times we ever had. We just sat around. Ringo, myself and my cousin played pool. Ringo was kind of a loner, the rest of them and Elvis sat and chit-chatted all night and had a ball. The only thing, when he was in the Army, he felt like his hands were tied and everybody was doing their thing when he was in the Army but he said I've got this to do, and then I hope they'll remember me when I get out, but he never wished anybody any bad luck or anything like that. Maybe you've heard he did, but don't believe it.
I guess when Elvis was in the movie studios, your duties of being a protector, looking over your shoulder, were less of a problem once Elvis went back into live entertainment. Initially it was a relatively easy place I think to protect, but once on tour, it must have been a nightmare.
Red West: The tours and the personal appearances we were on guard, but in the movies, we were doing the movies with him. I was in every fight scene, either doubling him or fighting with him or doubling for somebody else. That was fun, we didn't worry about anything then, maybe to and from the studio, but not too much. We were all involved in the movies and having a ball.
But I guess whilst you're in greater Los Angeles, driving round Beverly Hills and so forth, it's not that unusual even these days to see famous people driving in the back of limousines, so the fact that Elvis was driving in Bel Air really wouldn't have made that much difference to people, or would it, or did it?
Red West: No, although there was always somebody that was at the gate all night waiting for him to come out and they'd jump in their car and follow us, but that was just people who loved him and no real problem there.
Did he get up to anything that you don't want to talk about? Did you have a secret thing that you all would go and do which nobody really knew you were doing, and I'm not talking about the other thing, I'm talking about the normal. (RW - what other thing??). How did you escape from it all basically?
Red West: We just don't talk about it. I don't really know how to answer that. He did have a crap table in his house that people weren't supposed to know about that we shot craps and gambled a little bit.
No, there was nothing really unusual.
Did you visit or go fishing, or was there any way you were able to escape where no-one would see you. That's the point I'm making.
Red West: No. The only time we went fishing was early in his career. He used to love going to. We went out on this boat - his cousins, his girlfriend and whatever, and that was fun. We fished, I remember I caught a shark, he caught a bunch of these benita, whatever. But that was in the early days, that was the late 50s - 54/55
There's some charming film footage of Elvis going to. Did you accompany him when he did that?
Red West: No. I think I was in the Marine Corps then. That had to be in 56/57 when he was doing his first movie. I miss that, I miss those days because that had to be - his cousin Gene was with him - and the first time in Hollywood had to be an experience, I wished I could have seen that, but I'd gone into the Marine Corps.
Did you feel you missed out by not being there?
Red West: No, I think things worked out the way they were supposed to for me. Yeah, I missed that initial changeover from Memphis to movies, I missed the first two, and I wish I could've been there because I've seen pictures, that was really some crazy times for Elvis because he was young and all this thrown at him, and he handled it pretty well, but I heard there were some pretty wild times in those first couple of movies.
Going on to Las Vegas because I think there's the three schools of fans - the fans that like the 50s, the fans that do like the movies, but the songs to us all here have their own magic. But I guess it's easier to relate to Elvis in the 70s which of course was a combination of very happy times, with Elvis' success at getting back into live entertainment, and very sad times. I mean, I always remember at one of these early sessions several years ago there was a guy at the back who stood up and he said, 'I would never believe that Elvis Presley would ever take drugs, and that bastard that prescribed them should have been shot'. We all have a tendency of, from time to time, putting on those rose-colored glasses, but was it for Elvis,was the majority of his lifetime a happy experience?
Red West: Yes. That's what I was saying earlier. I want to remember the good times because they were exceptionally good. He was like a brother, he was closer to me than my own brothers, we grew together from high school to a year, a couple of years before his death. There were many, many good times. Like I said, we used to go to Biloxi, go fishing, we had these wild fireworks fights at night, on the golf course, the crazy things we did on the road, we had a certain little game we would play to break the boredom. We'd drive along the countryside, we'd be going over a bridge. We had this little thing where somebody was talking about something they thought was really important, you'd tap them on the head, they were supposed to like change the channel, go to completely something different. You'd say, 'I thought the thing we did ...', you'd tap his head, he'd say 'Oh, to hell with it ..', take his shoes off and throw them out the window into the river!! Things like that, stupid little things just to break the monotony, but they were fun, they were crazy.
Bill Black was one of the craziest guys I ever met, you know, the bass player. We had some good times on the road in those early days and they far overshadow the bad times, although the bad times were bad, but we had too many good times to dwell on that. It's just something that happened. Now we're talking about it, like me, I'm dying for a cigarette right now!!! I have a brother who's addicted to gambling. I might as well get into this now and tell you. People have come up to me and said, 'Why the hell didn't you do something to stop it'. They don't know that I did try. They didn't know I got fired because I tried, but his step-brothers and a member of one of the singing groups were bringing these things to him. When I found out about it I kicked the door in, I stomped the guy's foot and broke his foot, said 'You keep bringing them I'm just gonna work my way up'. Elvis of course found out about it and I was gone. I'd been with him since junior high school, but the drugs took over in the end and I can understand it in a way because he had no privacy, he was bored with his life. Let me go through the thing here. He started out great doing personal appearances, then he went into the movies, the movies got to be a drag because of what we've been talking about - the songs were terrible, the scripts were terrible. So he went to Vegas instead of working maybe 5 nights a week and 2 nights off or 6 nights and 1 night off for a couple of weeks, like Frank Sinatra and everybody else did, he worked for 4 weeks for 7 nights a week, 2 shows a night. The Colonel was downstairs gambling enjoying himself. So, this got to be .. OK I want to go back on the road, I want out of this. The movies got to be a drag, this is getting to be a drag, I want to get back in front of the audience around the country, the world. The Colonel started booking him into the same towns. Each tour we'd hit Roanoke, Virginia, we'd hit so-and so and so-and-so, Atlanta, Georgia. He wanted to come here. He wanted to go to Australia, he wanted to go to Germany, he wanted to go anywhere but Roanoke, Virginia and Atlanta, Georgia, but no, and why the Colonel did that? I asked the Colonel why can't we tour Europe. Why can't we go to Australia. Can't handle security, can't handle security. We didn't know he was an illegal alien and he could not go outside the US. I wondered why he never came to Germany while we were there. He always sent other people there. He never left the USA, once he got there he never left, and that hurt Elvis. If Elvis could have gotten out and seen you people and entertained you and everybody else, it could've been different, but he was a prisoner of his own success and let's just say the Colonel got him where he was, but he also put him where he is.
A release from RCA, the album 'Private Elvis' and I know that most of the tapes, if not all of them, were supplied by you to Ernst Jorgensen. Is there more material, or does he now have it all?
Red West: I don't believe so, unless there's something up in my attic - I've got a couple of tapes up there that I need to listen to - but I don't think there's anything else out there at all. I think these Home Recordings was the end of it. I can't think of anything else laying around that they can come out with.
You, during your lifetime, have worked with an awful lot of stars. A lot of stars.
Who's the best, who was the most fun to be with?
Red West: Elvis. He was the most fun to be with. I worked with John Wayne in 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance', Lee Marvin, James Stewart, I've worked with a lot of people. Robert Conrad, we had a lot of fun, he was crazy, still is! I worked on 'Wild Wild West' as a stuntman, broke every bone in my body, then was fortunate enough to get the co-starring role in 'Black Sheep Squadron'. I don't know if you ever saw that show over here or not, about Pepe Borington, the World War 2 ace. I would have to say Elvis was the most fun because anything went with him. We did things on the set that drove directors crazy, like one time for instance he was in there getting his hair all slicked back, took 30 minutes to get that hair in place, I was up in the rafters. This was at Universal. We were on the old 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' set. I was up in the cat-walk with a water balloon. After the make-up man did all his hair he stepped out, took about 2 steps and I dropped this water balloon. It hit right in his hair, and his hair of course went right down the side of his face, he didn't even look up! He just turned around and went back into the trailer and started over.
Another thing on that same set, Charlie Hodge - somebody had thrown water on him. He took his shirt off, they had a big fan there for circulation, a big floor fan. He hung his shirt on this fan to dry out, then walked away and got another shirt, but every once in a while he'd come back to check if it was dry. But while he was gone we just poured more water on it! All day!
Alan Fortas, when we were doing King Creole, Alan was always pulling jokes on everybody else, so we got him with one. We said, 'Alan, you gonna do a line today, you're gonna be an actor', go to make-up. So he went to make-up, they made him up, they put the make-up on, they put this little tissue on his shirt so he wouldn't get make-up on his shirt. We said 'You sit here, and don't take that tissue out or you'll mess your shirt up'. So he sat there all morning, we gave him some line, made sure he had this line memorised, so he sat there doing this line with this tissue on his shirt. Lunch came, we're getting close, we're going to break for lunch now. After lunch I think that might be the first shot. And after lunch they always touched up your make-up because you might have gotten some chicken grease on your mouth or whatever.
So, they retouched his make-up, said keep the kleenex in, he sat there all afternoon doing his line, waiting on his little line. At the end of the day, the first assistant came over and said 'Alan, we've run out of time, we're gonna have to do this tomorrow'. You guy's been putting me on he said, and everybody had a good laugh at that! We were always doing things like that.
There is of course that famous story about you all going into the showroom of the Hilton and painting the cherubs black. Now everybody knows the story, but the question I would like to know is where did you get the paint, because paint shops in Las Vegas aren't that easy to come by?
Red West: The back of the stage had this very tall mesh wire thing. Behind that was all the stuff for the stage, paint, whatever. So we were backstage after the show was over, the showroom was empty and Elvis said, ' I want to paint those black'. So I took my shoes off and I climbed over, and this thing had to be 20 feet tall! I went over, down the other side, got the paint, hooked it on to my belt, came back over, put my shoes on and we went and painted them black. And the next night nobody seemed to notice it, and he said 'I want you to notice what we done last night to change the showroom and to acknowledge my back-up group, the Sweet Inspirations. Everything is white. No longer. Look. The spotlight went over to these black faces and the Sweet Inspirations were falling about! That's how that came about.
Did you do these things out of boredom or was it just to be plain stupid?
Red West: We were mischievous, even in our later years. I was always thinking of crazy things to do, that was his idea, and it was just to break the boredom but also to have a good time and probably shock the people at the Hilton. I mean who'd dare do something like that. But they left it alone, it was there for a long time before they changed it. In fact, the last time I went back I looked to see if it was there. It's been changed, but that was fun, every night we'd go out on stage and look and it was still there.
Did he want ever to change his music? He never thought that he wanted to become more of a gospel act?
Red West: No, we were in the audience watching Bobby Darin once. Bobby Darin, if you're familiar with Bobby Darin, started out with 'Splish Splash' then he got into Frank Sinatra, started sounding a lot like Frank Sinatra. We were in the audience one night and he did 'Splish Splash', stopped in the middle of it, and said that was another time, then he started on one of his later hits that sounded like Frank Sinatra. Elvis yelled out, 'Don't knock what got you there'. And he stopped, he knew who it was, and he said 'You know what, you're right' and that's what he felt, you know, Bobby Darin made the changeover from 'Splish Splash' to Frank Sinatra type songs. Elvis was so embarrassed when he did that show with Frank Sinatra after he got out the Army. He was singing one of Frank Sinatra's songs and Frank Sinatra was singing one of his. That was the most horrific, embarrassed he ever was because that was not his type of song.
Did you and Elvis sneak into many shows in Vegas?
Red West: We sneaked into a lot of them, yeah. That's what he did before, see we were there a week early to rehearse then we'd go through the 4 weeks of hell, then we'd stay for the week after to unwind, and he went to (shows), especially Tom Jones, he would go to as many shows as he could, Andy Williams. We were talking earlier about him socialising with people. He did. He would always invite Tom Jones over and the quartet was always up there, and after doing a show for an hour and a half or whatever he would go upstairs and Tom Jones would come over and Elvis and the group would sing. Tom Jones maybe joined in a couple of times but Andy Williams, people like that, he liked to invite them over and stay up, so that's what we did after the show. Elvis was always singing, he loved to have the gospel quartet up there and the Sweet Inspirations and they would sing gospel songs, whatever, and just have a good time.
Were there lots of girls?
Red West: There was hundreds of girls, in fact my wife one time was there and I took her up to see him. I mean, that's what he wanted. He wanted an audience of just people to talk, he had his religious quotes and he liked to talk to all these people. Of course he would be looking through the crowd and seeing how they look, but that was the norm after the show to unwind, he wanted a lot of people up in the suite and there always were a lot of people up there.
What was Elvis' mother like?
Red West: His mother was an angel. He loved his mother, she loved him, she worried herself sick about him, she didn't take any crap off anybody and she was a very strong-willed woman and I miss her.
The last time I saw her I was in the Marine Corps. I was home on leave. Elvis was making King Creole and I went by Graceland to see her and Vernon and they called Elvis. They said Elvis wants you to fly out and then ride the train back to New Orleans.
Elvis wouldn't fly in those days and they were finishing up in Hollywood, and then we got a ride in the train to New Orleans. I had a week's furlough and the last thing his mother said to me was, 'You take care of Elvis', and I took that seriously for the rest of my life.
Do you think Elvis needed the 68 Comeback to get back on the hit trail again?
Red West: He was wondering, after all the movies, he was a little unsure of himself and that's exactly what that was for, to see if he still had it. The thing the Colonel had for him would have destroyed him.
He wanted him to come out and do a bunch of Christmas songs! And Elvis said to hell with that, I'm doing this, so that was his 'testing the waters'.
You say you became as close as brothers, did you ever have a fight with Elvis?
Red West: Never. Never. Like I just said, his mother said take care of him, don't hurt him.
There were three times that I came very close, but he would've had to almost pull a gun or a knife on me before I would hit him. No, I would do that.
Did Elvis ever want to meet Marilyn Monroe when he had the chance, and are there any photographs anywhere that you know of?
Red West: Yes, he did want to meet Marilyn Monroe but she was busy. It never happened.
Did Elvis have anyone to confide in other than those who were on the payroll or depended on him financially?
Red West: No.
When you wrote the book discrediting Elvis and he died a few weeks later, did you feel any responsibility for his death?
Red West: No, I did not feel any responsibility because Elvis was dead once before but we found him just in time. I knew it was coming and that was one of the main reasons I wrote the book because, like I said earlier, I tried to stop what was going on while I was with him and that didn't work, so we wrote this book to just put right in his face what was going on and it still didn't do any good, but it was a coincidence, I grant you that, but I know what kind of shape he was in.
You people don't know what kind of shape he was in. I knew and everybody that was with him knew if we hadn't been there a couple of times before he would have been gone, and we were trying to open up his eyes and, like you said, there was no place to put him and we couldn't put him into hospital, the only person who could put him there was his father and that didn't happen. So he was just kinda out there, helpless.
When was the last time you spoke to Elvis and was it on good terms?
Red West: Last time I spoke to Elvis was when he called me, when he knew the book was being written. In fact that conversation was in the book, and he called me to see how I was doing. I think he was a little nervous about what was in the book. We had a long conversation. That was the last time I spoke to him.
Could you have done it differently?
Red West: Yeah, I could've lied a lot but everything in that book is the truth. I don't know if you read the book, but did anybody see the good things in that book? 90 percent of that book was the positive things but you've got to cover it all. One thing about these other books, they're a bunch of bullshit!
Where were you when Elvis died?
Red West: I was in the middle of an episode of 'Black Sheep Squadron' called the 200 Pound Gorilla. It was about me, I was filming with Robert Conrad and the stunt coordinator - we were rehearsing a scene, it was early in the morning, and Chuck came running in and said 'Man I think I just heard something on the radio about Elvis dying'. Well, Robert Conrad had become friends with Elvis, and we talked many times about what had transpired. It's the only time I know of a show shutting down. Nothing shuts down a movie or TV show, the show must go on, well that show shut down that day. My wife and my two sons came over crying, and we weren't worth a damn the rest of that day or the rest of that episode, but I remember it well.
Did Elvis ever consider writing songs with you, Red?
Red West: He would give me titles. He gave me the title 'That's Someone You Never Forget'. I think he sat down once. Charlie, he and I sat down and tried to write something but he couldn't stay still long enough. He would give me a title and say go write it, so that's how that happened.
You were saying earlier that you've always considered yourself as one of Elvis' closest friends. This is a sort of two-part question. If that were the case, I think had it been one of my friends I wouldn't have felt that I wanted to write a book like that and make it public, and also I think you've been quoted as saying that you did it to help Elvis and make him aware. If that is the case, if you just did it to help him, would it be fair to say that any money made from the book you donated to charity?
Red West: I agree with you myself but I was broke. No, I wrote it for money. Is that what you want to hear? I wrote it for money and to try to help him. You're gonna dwell on this goddam thing? I'm sorry you feel that way but I loved the man very much. You don't know what I went through trying to keep him away from this. Yes, you got your opinion about me writing the book. OK, I've told you my side of it and you can't accept that, then I'm sorry, but yeah I wrote the book to try to save him and I wrote it to make money.
Is it true Elvis carried a gun everywhere and have you any stories to tell about that?
Red West: Yes. We all did. After we'd all been deputised in Denver, in Las Vegas and Memphis. We had security investigations of our past. We were all armed and dangerous.
Of all the pranks that Elvis pulled on members of the Memphis Mafia, what do you consider to be the funniest?
Red West: OK. This is one of the things we did to break the boredom in Las Vegas and this was in the book, one of the good times. We had these threats and they had come and gone, so we didn't have anything to do, we were going to pull something on the Stamps Quartet. Elvis, Sonny and myself got together and said lets pull one on the Stamps, let's tell them that we've had another threat, go through this, this, this... OK, so that's what we did. First we got the real security guards from the hotel to empty their guns, afterwards we thought what if somebody had really tried something that night. But anyway, down in the dressing room after the show we got the Stamps and said, 'Hey fellas, now this is serious, we got another threat tonight so I want you to take the elevator, go up to the 30th floor, get out of the elevator, walk through a hall into the suite'.
So, all the way there, Sonny and I are priming these guys, 'Man, be on your toes for this sound'. Bad. They were nervous wrecks all along the way to the elevator, we went upstairs, we went into the suite and there was a way around to the front of the suite and there was a way around to the back through the dining-room, down into the living-room. I went in with them, closed the door, Sonny fell back and went around the other side. As soon as we got in the suite I said, 'OK, looks like we're OK'. Then all of a sudden Sonny shouted 'Son of a bitch', boom ... we put blanks in our pistols. JD Sumner knocked Elvis down and laid on top of him, Donnie Sumner jumped over the bar, hit his knee on the top of the bar and almost broke his legs. He was hiding behind the bar. I went running up these three steps, fired a couple of shots, Sonny fired a shot. I grabbed my stomach and said, 'Oh, I'm hit' and I fell down these steps.
All the guards that followed had been shot, all these shots going off, all these guards were 'dead'. One of the Stamps was underneath the table, he was very religious and he was praying! And the other one, the wild man of the group says 'Give me a gun, give me a gun'. He went over and actually grabbed one of these 'dead' guard's guns. 'The son of a bitch is empty'. By that time, Sonny stuck his arm around Elvis (who was still on the floor with JD Sumner on top of him) and all Donnie Sumner could see from behind this bar was this hand with a gun. He picked up a big tomato juice can and threw it, it missed Sonny's hand and Sonny turned around and he said 'Son of a ..' and fell about (laughing). That's the sort of things we did to amuse ourselves.
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD + 16 page booklet.
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.
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.