Paul McCartney Remembers Elvis Presley

By: Elvis Australia
November 29, 2020

Paul McCartney: 'I nearly did very well at grammar school but I started to get interested in art instead of academic subjects. Then I started to see pictures of Elvis, and that started to pull me away from the academic path. 'You should see these photos ..'. Then you'd hear the records – 'but wait a minute, this is very good!' – and then the tingles started going up and down your spine, 'Oh, this is something altogether different. And so the academic things were forgotten'.

'They weren't playing much of Elvis' stuff on the radio in those days. To hear Heartbreak Hotel I had to go into a record shop in Liverpool and listen to it through headphones in one of those booths. It was a magical moment, the beginning of an era.

'Elvis is a truly great vocalist, and you can hear why on this song. His phrasing, his use of echo, it's all so beautiful. It's the way he sings it, too. As if he's singing it from the depths of Hell. It's a perfect example of a singer being in command of the song. Musically it's perfect, too. The double-bass and the walk-in piano create this incredibly haunting atmosphere. It's so full of mystery, and it's never lost that for me. The echo is just stunning. When The Beatles were recording, we'd often ask George Martin for 'the Elvis echo. I think we got it down perfectly on A Day in the Life'.

Elvis Presley Video Paul McCartney sings 'Heartbreak Hotel' with Bill Blacks Upright Bass

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'The healing power of music is serious. I remember I had a mate called Ian James, just my little teenage mate, school mate, and we used to go down to the fairs together and things. I remember one day I went back to his house and I had a headache, steaming headache, and I thought, 'Oh God'. 'But we put on All Shook Up by Elvis. By the time that record had ended, I didn't have a headache'.

'We'd often get in the little glass-paneled porch on the front door looking out onto the front garden and Menlove Avenue. There was a good acoustic there, like a bathroom acoustic, and also it was the only place (John's Aunt) Mimi would let us make noise. We were relegated to the vestibule. I remember singing Blue Moon in there, the Elvis version, trying to figure out the chords'.

Hard Headed Woman - great title, we thought; Oh, this is going to be great! Then there's a dreadful great big trombone right in the middle of it, and we thought, Good God! What in hell has happened? We were very disappointed about that, and we never really thought he got it back'.

'I always thought it (Elvis being drafted into the army) ruined Elvis. We liked Elvis' freedom as a trucker, as a guy in jeans with swivellin' hips, but didn't like him with the short haircut in the army calling everyone 'sir'. It just seemed he'd gone establishment, and his records after that weren't so good'.

'We'd tried for years to (meet Elvis), but we could never get to him. We used to think we were a bit of a threat to him and Colonel Tom Parker, which ultimately we were. So although we tried many times, Colonel Tom would just show up with a few souvenirs and that would have to do us for a while. We didn't feel brushed off; we felt we deserved to be brushed off. After all, he was Elvis, and who were we to dare to want to meet him? But we finally received an invitation to go round and see him when he was making a film in Hollywood'.

The legendary meeting between Elvis and The Beatles finally took place on August 27, 1965, at Presley's Perugia Way home in Los Angeles. At that time, Elvis was trying to learn to play the electric bass, the same instrument Paul played for The Beatles.

'That was the great thing for me, that he was into the bass. It was a great conversation piece for me. I could actually talk about the bass, and we sat around and just enjoyed ourselves. He was great - talkative and friendly, and a little bit shy'.

When Paul was asked to list his favorite records. The first one he mentioned was 'Louisiana Hayride: Elvis in '55'. '(It) is just unbelievable, the sound on it. It was recorded live at the Louisiana Hayride, and it's got all his stuff like I Was The One. It's got him doing comedy, being funny, which I remember Elvis being. It all got deadly serious later. Well, in people's minds it did. I don't think he ever took it seriously'.

Bill Black's bass gave Paul McCartney a direct link to Elvis

In 1976 Paul McCartney made a tangible connection to Elvis when he acquired the standup bass that Bill Black used on stage with Presley in the fifties. In a PBS performance a few years ago, McCartney unveiled the bass before a small studio audience. With the instrument in his hands, he visualized himself being on stage with Elvis. 'If I were Bill Black, then Elvis would have been right there', he observed, pointing to a spot just a few feet in front of him. Then McCartney played the bass while singing Heartbreak Hotel.

Elvis Presley Video Paul McCartney talks Elvis, and Bill Black's Bass (with Ronnie Wood)

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In his UNCUT magazine article, Paul explained how he came to own the historic instrument. 'Funnily enough, I ended up owning the double-bass that Bill Black played on Heartbreak Hotel. Linda bought the bass for me as a present. We knew this guy in Nashville who knew Bill Black's family. At that point, Bill had died and the bass was sitting in his barn. They didn't know what to do with it. So Linda got hold of it. When it arrived, I was astonished. It was all intact, right down to the white trim around the sides, except that the letters spelling 'Bill' had fallen off'.

'I can't honestly say that Heartbreak Hotel is Elvis' best record. I love Elvis so much that for me to choose a favorite would be like singling out one of Picasso's paintings. What I will say is that it's Elvis' most alarming performance. When I hear it, I always get this image in my head ... Elvis driving his Lincoln down the interstate on a clear night in Tennessee. The stars are twinkling. The air is balmy. They're on their way to a show, Bill Black and Scotty Moore in the back, with Bill's double-bass strapped to the car roof. And now that bass belongs to me. It's my link to Heartbreak Hotel'. Elvis has always had his detractors, but Paul McCartney's steadfast respect has done more to preserve Elvis' legacy than the efforts of a thousand critics to diminish it. McCartney's recent visit to Graceland reminded us again how the glow of musical genius passed from one cultural icon to another in the early days of rock 'n' roll. Read more | Paul McCartney, Elvis, and Bill Black's Bass.

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