Charlie Hoge Talks Elvis Presley (02:53)
Q : Charlie, can you give us a little background about yourself before you met Elvis.
A : Well, I was like Elvis in a lot of ways. I wanted to be in a gospel quartet. And I went out to the Stamp School of Music when I graduated school and met a young man out there named Bill Gather. And we formed a quartet together, sang together about a year before we broke up. And then I worked for another group for a short period of time. And we happened to work with a group called the Foggy River Boys on the ABC network on the Ozark Jubilee. And they needed a lead singer. So, they hired me. And at 20 years old, I went on network television. And that's how I met Elvis. We played Memphis with Red Foley. And he came backstage and met Mr. Foley and then over to meet my quartet. And I didn't see him again until we both were drafted in the military.
The Foggy River Boys always ran out on stage to begin their show. I started carrying an empty Coke case out on stage with me to stand on. I was only five feet and three inches tall. The other guys towered over me if I didn't have something to stand on top of. The Coke case gave the audience a reason to chuckle. It had them on my side from the start. And that was the way Elvis and his cousin, Billy, saw me singing on the Ozark Jubilee show at the auditorium in Memphis, just before we both were drafted.
Elvis saw me standing on an old crate, singing. The memory always gave him a chuckle. And Elvis liked to have people around him who knew how to bring a chuckle to the world. 'Every great person in history has had a kind of court jester, or a comedian, around him', Elvis told me once. He's always had someone who can make him laugh. 'The comic can get away with saying just about anything to him - and he can say anything he wants to his jester and the guy won't get mad at him'. That was to be part of my job for Elvis.
Q : Tell us about that meeting in the army.
A : When I met him again, I was at Fort Hood. I never was stationed with Elvis. I was in 15th. Cavalry there.
Wen I found out where he was, I went over and renewed my acquaintance. I said, 'I'm Charlie Hodge. I was the lead singer with the Foggy River Boys'. And he said, 'Hey, man, I used to watch you every Saturday night on TV, you know'. And I think our friendship was a natural friendship, because when we met there at Fort Hood and got on the ship going to Europe, we knew the same people in the gospel field. We knew the same people in the country field. We knew the same gospel songs. We were singing songs together on the way to Germany.
Q : Tell us about the days of you and Elvis in basic training.
A : Well, at basic training, I didn't see him very much. Like I said, I would see him briefly, say on a Saturday morning, and he would be going back, because he was living off post with his parents. And so, I'd only see him briefly. George Klein and some of the guys who would come and visit him there. And going up on Fort Hood to New Jersey on the train, I'd go up and sit and talk with Elvis. And that's where our friendship began just talking about people we knew in the field. You know, like Wanda Jackson was on our show. And she was Miss Rockabilly. And Elvis always wanted to date her you know. And so we had a lot to talk about.
Q : So, when Elvis went to Germany, you were over there with him too.
A : Yes, but again, I wasn't stationed with him. And Elvis took me over and said, 'Charlie, just watch the paper, and you'll know where I am'. Well, the first weekend I was able to get off post... They keep you in quarantine for a while when you first get there, and you can't leave the post. So, I went up to the Park Hotel. It's the first one that he stayed there. And I called up from the lobby, and Lamar Fike answered the phone. And I said, 'Hello, Is Elvis there? This is Charlie Hodge'. And Lamar said, 'Charlie Hodge?' And I heard Elvis yell, 'Yeah, Charlie, come on up'. And so, that's how we got together after we got to Germany. And then every weekend, almost the whole time we was in Germany, I was up at his house there. And I was at first at the Park Hotel. And then he rented the top floor at the Grunewald Hotel, a small family hotel. And we had a few parties and things there and almost burnt down the hotel one time. One time, we were playing a game, and Elvis went in his bedroom and locked the door. And we piled up paper out there and set it on fire. We were going to burn him out of there. And so anyway, that's what got him out of that hotel. And he rented a house. And that's where he more or less settled into a family type life because it was a home.
Q : So, would you play piano and Elvis did...
A : We had a piano in there after he got there a while.
At first, we only had a guitar. But then he got a piano in there. And we would sing on weekends. On Sundays, he wanted to go play touch football. And a bunch of the guys would come over, Joe and guys that were in his outfit there. I never did play, because I was too little. I get hurt.
Q : Were there when Joe first came over?
A : Yeah, Joe and I began to see each other there around like the Sundays when we was there. And then Joe and I were bunkmates on the way back after we got out of the army. And then, of course, he was going to work for Elvis then. And I came up from my home in Decatur, Alabama, after visiting my parents, to see Elvis because he wanted me to record a song with him on his first album. And that was the first singing we ever did together on record which was the Elvis Is Back album. We did a duet called 'I Will Be Home Again' which was from an old Golden Gate spiritual album. And we started singing that in Germany.
Q : So, were you there the night Priscilla came in?
A : Yes, I was. Yes, I was. And when she left that evening when she was over there, he looked at me, and he said, 'Charlie, did you see the structure of her face?' He said, 'It's like almost like everything I've ever looked for in a woman'. And her dad, at that time, was a captain. And eventually, different ones of us would ride with each other going up to take her back to the post when she'd come down to visit Elvis. But that first meeting with Priscilla was something else. Like I said, he was just in enraptured, you know, looking at her.
And like I said, he had expressed himself after she left by look at her bone structure.
Q : So, did he just walk over and introduce her?
A : Yes, Elvis would do that. Yes, he would come in. He went over and said, 'Hello, I'm Elvis Presley'. I swear, that's he'd do when somebody new came in. You know, he was always friendly.
But he could stand his ground if he needed to.
Q : So, did Priscilla come to visit Elvis a lot?
A : Her father allowed it as long as she was brought over there at a certain time and brought home by a certain time. And Elvis, of course, having to go get up in the morning about 5:30 and go for reveille and all whatever they do over there. Would have Lamar or one of the other guys or sometimes his father would take her back to their post where she lived up there with her father.
Q : You seemed to be there to really comfort him and talk to him.
A : Not till we were on the train. You know, I comforted him all the way over on the ship, as matter of fact. I didn't see him right after his mother had taken ill and until he came back. We didn't see each other again until we were on the train going to New Jersey. And then we were just talking about people we knew. But on the ship going over, they put him sergeant quarters so that other soldiers wouldn't bother him for autographs all the time. So, he requested that I be up there with him. And I said, 'Well, I can't just go up there'. I said, 'You got to ask the commander'. And the commander told him, he said, 'Well, after everybodys settled, yeah, he can move up there'. So, I moved into the sergeants quarters with and was there like all the way across the ocean. We put on a show on there. They usually put on three, but we put on five.
Elvis didn't sing, but he played piano for some of those that did sing. And of course, everybody was watching him while he was doing it. But I would hear him at night...
Q : You heard Elvis dreaming.
A : On the way over to Germany, on the ship, I could hear Elvis start dreaming sometimes at night.
I'd get out of my bunk and sit down and start talking to him and maybe joking with him a little bit, get him in a little better mood. And then he'd kind of drift off to sleep. He said, years later, 'Charlie, if it hadn't been for you', he said, 'You kept me sane all the way across the ocean'. And he said, 'Then you did the same thing for my father when he got over here' Because of the jokes that I'd tell and everything.
Q : You had experience with Elvis in Paris.
A : Yeah. We went there. Lamar Fike called me and said that Elvis was getting a 15-day leave.
He said, 'Can you get a 15-day leave, Charles?' And I said, 'Yeah, I think I could. I'll go see'. So, I went and asked my sergeant. And he said, 'Yeah, you can have one'. And I told him that Elvis wanted me to go to Paris with him. So, we did. We went up to another city for a couple of days. And then, we caught a train and went to Paris. And when we got there, we went to see the guy that handled Elvis' music, publicist Freddy Bienstock. And one of the owners of the thing... I can't tell you his name right now. But anyway before we could go to bed or anything, we got there early in the morning and they took us up on a hill overlooking Paris. They wanted us to see that. And we were so tired. And it was cold. And then we stayed at the Prince De Galles Hotel. And we went to a different club down there, the Lido de Paris, the Moulin Rouge.
And then there was a little place behind where the Lido de Paris was called the Bantu on a back street.
And you go all the way through the building over to that street. And that's where all the entertainers in town went after the shows. And so, we'd go over there and hang out. And Dorothy Kilgallan was over there wanting to get an interview with Elvis. So, we come up, and I remember saying, and guy came out and said, 'There's a newspaper reporter, Dorothy Kilgallan'. Elvis said, 'Charlie, you and Lamar and Rex go in there and just see what's going on'. So, we just went in and sat down and didn't even look over there. And the kids there were wonderful in the service. She said, 'I understand Elvis Presley comes in'. They said, 'Really? When was that?' You know, they protected him. And then when she would leave, we would go out.
And there was one time that one of the soldiers was talking to this girl, or what he thought was a girl. Because one of the people that was in the show come over and said, 'Elvis, that soldier, that's not a girl he's with. That's a man in drag'. And so Elvis went over and said, 'Hey, look, Ace'. He called everybody Ace in those days. And he said, 'Now, look, Ace, now don't get excited. It's just get up and leave'. He said, 'That's not a girl, that's - you're having a drink with - that's a man'. And the soldier said, 'Really, Elvis?' He said, 'Yes. Don't cause us any... Just get up and leave'. And Elvis went back and sat down. And the guy got up and left.
There was another thing. We come out of there one night. We'd been to some show. And a guy stopped, and he said, 'Gee, I'd just like to tell you'. Because Elvis always wore his uniform when going out. He said, 'I'd like to tell you that it's nice to see young men that will stay in the army and be in the military for their country'. He said, 'I think that's wonderful'. He said, 'Yes, thank you very much'. And he gave Elvis his name. He said, 'My name is so-and-so'. And Elvis said, 'Well, my name is Elvis Presley'. And the guy took him by the hand and pulled him out in the light and said, 'By God, you are'. Oh, but we really had a lot of fun.
We had one instance where we were dating some of the show girls in Lido de Paris.
We were up in a suite one afternoon. And Elvis would get up. And it looked like a banquet for breakfast. Because all those show girls were coming over there. And they'd come in, and we'd just order up some more breakfast. I mean, you ordered like ten dozen eggs. You know, it was just a banquet there. And everybody would come and eat breakfast. We got a call from the guy at Lido and said, 'Listen'. 'You mind sending the girls over here. We got to start the show in a few minutes'.
Q : Are there any other times in Paris that come to mind?
A : Well, there was one time when Rex Mansfield who was a good friend of Elvis' was over there. He eventually married Elvis' secretary. He and Elvis and I would sing gospel songs together. And Rex sang tenor. Elvis would sing, and I'd sing baritone. Or Elvis would sing tenor sometimes, and I'd sing lead. Because he liked to sing harmony. And we got in the back of this car. And we were doing 'Beyond the Reef' or one of those songs like that. It was going from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe and turn around and come back. And we'd just sing it all the time, same songs mainly, over and over. And then we'd go back up again. And we'd have a thing to go in to see Lido, because we had reservations that night. And Elvis stopped the car and said, 'Lamar, go in and cancel the reservations. We're going to sing for a while'.
And we went up and down there singing all night. But he liked to do things like that.
Q : So, what was it like to be with Elvis at the Champs Elysees?
Isn't that where he found out Mario Lanza had passed away.?
A : I don't recall. No. But we were staying in a little hotel just off the Champs Elysees. They called it Prince De Galle. It was right around the corner. And it was interesting. They told Elvis, 'Now Elvis, you can go for a walk here in Paris. Because it's not to the French nature to bother celebrities when they're over here'. So, we thought, great. We went out for a walk. So, we just rounded that curve going down the Champs Elysees and you would have thought that Charles De Gaulle had just driven up.
The people swarmed around Elvis. And we literally pushed our way till we got to the theater, bought tickets, went in, called the driver. He come around the back, and we went through the theater and out the back and back to the hotel. That ended our walking around in Paris.
Q : When did Elvis ask you to come work for him?
A : This was after we got back out of the army. And I came to Memphis to do the album with him, the Elvis Is Back album. Joe Esposito was already working for him at that time and was made foreman of the group, because Joe did something... On the trip that I missed to Paris, Joe went with him. And Joe did something that no one had ever done for Elvis. And that's when they'd pay a bill or something, Joe would get all the receipts. And Elvis said, 'Why are you doing that?' And Joe said, 'Well, you can count this off on your income taxes'. Well, nobody had ever done that for Elvis. I mean, all his friends and hanger-ons and whatever just spend the money and enjoy it, you know. And so, he saw a man of value there. And he asked Joe to go to work for him.
And when I went up there, I wasn't working, you know. I just stayed there at the house. And we went up to Nashville, did the session. And then we came back, and they went down to Florida to do the Frank Sinatra TV show. And I went to Alabama because I wanted to spend some more time with my parents. And then I came back. And we went and recorded the second half of the album. And then Elvis was going to go to Hollywood to do the movie he did just after he came out, 'G.I. Blues'. And I was down at the train station. I even left my clothes at his house. And I was down there. And Elvis looked down, and he says, 'Do you want to go to Hollywood?' I said, 'Why not?' I said, 'But I want to have my clothes here. They're out at your house'. He said, 'We'll buy you some out there. Get on the train'. And so that's how it started.
Q : Could you mention the RCA studio in Nashville, and what it was like recording there?
A : Well, I had recorded at Studio B with Homer and Jethro when I was with the Foggy River Boys. I was on the Ozark Jubilee and knew Chet Atkins briefly from him being a guest on the summer months on Eddy Arnold's TV show. But when we went there the first time, I think the Jordanaires and some of the other musicians were here just this new guy with Elvis. 'What's he doing?' You know, and then I'm out there singing a duet with him. No one had ever sang a full duet with Elvis like we did on album, 'I Will Be Home Again'. And I think everybody was a little suspicious at first. In fact, I think the Colonel, until he got to know me better, thought that I was going to try to use Elvis to further my career. Because the Colonel was a suspicious man knowing my background of being on the Ozark Jubilee and everything. But I didn't try to use Elvis.
Q : What were the recording sessions like with Elvis?
A : I'd never seen such a relaxed situation. Elvis would go in there, and he might get to the piano and start singing. And maybe the Jordanaires would come around, or we'd do something until he was comfortable, you know. And then he'd be ready to record. But I'd never seen anything like that. Usually like when we went in to do our sessions for Decca and went in there to do this session with Homer and Jethro, you went in there all business. You know, you'd go in and do your songs and get out. But there Elvis was. And we went in there about I guess about 7:00 or 8:00 at night and then didn't start recording till almost 10:00. And then, it was all night long up until I guess about 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning or something like that. And it felt like it was fun. It was relaxed. And Elvis had people around him who were very creative. And somebody would have an idea, and they would give it a try and see if it fits, you know. Elvis was wide open to suggestions. I mean, they stayed as close as the demonstration record as they could. But they came up with some great ideas that were used.
Q : Tell us about Elvis' train trip out to Hollywood.
Did he talk about some of the movies he wanted to make? And how was it when you arrived?
A : Well, I know even in Germany, he talked about that he would like to do most serious movies. And I think he had it within him too. Going out on the train, though, to California, it was amazing to me. Every little whistle stop where trains no longer stopped there was mobs of people all the way across the United States of America. Every little whistle stop. And they'd be waving when the train went by, because they knew Elvis was on there. But at every whistle stop in every town, all the way out there.
And then when we got there, to Los Angeles, they put us in about five or six different cars. And each car went in a different direction. And they didn't know which one Elvis was in, so they didn't know which one to follow. And then we, of course, went through the hotel there in Beverly Hills.
Q : Which hotel was it?
A : The Beverly Wilshire. Well, it's a famous place in Hollywood. You could go down to the coffee shop there and see almost any star might be sitting down and having coffee. I never will forget... Of course, I'd been overseas and hadn't seen him here, but Soupy Sales was in one day and sat down. And he said, 'This is Soupy Sales'. Oh, I forgot who it was. And I said, 'Well, nice to meet you. What do you do?' And there he was a big star on television. And then he went and told me. I said, 'I'm sorry. I just got back from Europe, two years in the army, I don''t know what's going on in television here'. And I apologize. He said, 'It's all right', you know.
Q : Elvis didn't stay long in a hotel before he rented a home, right?
A : Well, we stayed there for a little bit. And there were residents who lived in that hotel.
And we used to get into little water battles. And we'd start out with water guns. And that wouldn't be enough. Then we'd get glasses of water to drip on each other. And then we'd start putting heads on it with shaving cream, just any wild idea. And I think one time we came in water was dripping from the ceiling, you know. And somebody ran down the hall, and somebody had given Elvis an old, cheap guitar. And he threw it down the hall, and the lady looked out and ducked back in, because it went right by her head and broke in all pieces when it hit down there. Well, not long after that, we began looking for a house.
I don't think they wanted us to stay there much longer.
Q : What was the first house in Los Angeles?
A : It was the Perugia Way house. And it was a round house, more or less. And you could walk all the way around the garden inside the house. And it was unique. And, you know, it was right on the fairway of the golf course there. That's where Elvis met the Beatles at that house when they came over.
Q : What films do you think Elvis really enjoyed making after he came back from the army?
A : Well, I remember once in 'Charro', which is one of the movies he didn't sing in, and we were back off location, and we were in the studio. And they had the house sitting there. And they were setting up the scene. And Elvis was standing over at the end of the porch. And I walked over there. And he looked down. And he says, 'Charlie, I'm beginning to feel like this character'. So, the depth was there for Elvis to do some serious acting. But what they were giving him were actually B musicals.
Q : Did Elvis tell you what type of film he really wanted to do?
A : Well, you can't say that, what kind of picture he wanted to do, he would have to, like anyone else, see the script and then see if it's good. You know, and somebody would bring him maybe something. But everything had to go through the Colonel to bring him anything. And the Colonel... In fact, I'll tell you what. I did the Dick Clark movie with Kurt Russell. And Shelley Winters played his mother in that film. And she said she saw Elvis' test, and heard Hal Wallis talking to Colonel Parker. And he said, 'Colonel, we think Elvis can do some really serious acting'. And this is Hal Wallis, the producer, unless you want to keep doing these B musicals. And the Colonel supposedly said, 'Well, these musicals is what's making us money. So, we'll just do them'. And Elvis was never consulted about it. Now, that's what Shelley told me on the set when we were doing that.
Q : I'd like to talk about a couple of locations. 'Blue Hawaii'.
How was it when you guys went over there?
A : I didn't go. I was in Vegas that time working in Nevada. Now, I helped them do the soundtrack. And then I had to go in Nevada and work. And the guys all went to Hawaii. And then when they came back, Red and I were renting a house together at the time. And I know he invited everybody over from there, and we had kind of a luau there at the house Red and us had rented down in Hollywood.
Q : Did you have a favorite film to work on with Elvis?
A : Well, we had a lot of fun on a lot of films. I mean, in between Elvis being in a scene or something, again, we'd have water battles. And we'd do things in order to shoot firecrackers, something like that. I remember once when Elvis was doing some movie, and we started this water battle and everything. And I was standing around the end of the trailer. Elvis had a dressing room trailer that they pull from different locations. And I was standing there waiting for somebody to come out. Well, Red West had taken two buckets of water and crawled to the top of that studio. And I'm sitting there waiting. And all of the sudden, a bucket of water hit me right all over my head. And when I looked up, the second one got me right in the face. And then I went to wardrobe and got a dry shirt. And I hung my shirt up. And I went over there about 30 minutes later, it was still ringing wet. And we broke for lunch. And when we come back after lunch, it was still soaking wet. Well, I went around. About an hour later I come, it's still soaking wet. Well, this time I shot around the trailer, and I stopped and looked back where my shirt was hanging. And Elvis had one of these pumps, you know, that they use to keep the greenery looking good on the set. They keep it wet so it looks real and everything. Every time I'd walk away, he's go pump it up and drown my shirt again. So, it was him keeping it wet all the time.
But that's the type of thing we'd do just for fun.
Q : When was the pie fight?
A : Yeah. We were doing something and on a picture one time. And we had this director that Elvis didn't really care for. Because he could sit and do his jokes with his cronies, so to speak. But Elvis would be cutting up and come over, You know, we're trying to do a picture here. And I think that's when Elvis said, 'Look, the only reason I do these pictures, as silly as they are, is to have some fun. The day I can't have any fun, You won't be working'. Because Elvis, in the 60's, honest to God, kept Hollywood alive. Everyone else was shooting their pictures outside this country in different locations and everything. And Hollywood was hurting. They had movies. And Elvis was the only one that wasn't leaving town. He was doing movies right in Hollywood.
Q : What were Elvis' favorite co-stars like Ann-Margret and Shelley Fabares?
A : Shelley Fabares I think was probably his favorite star. I mean, I seen them just start a scene sometime, and Elvis would be singing. And there would be a P in the song (Puppet On A String). And when he'd say the P in the song, her hair would go... And they got to laughing. And Norman Taurog, Elvis' favorite director, by the way, just sent them home. He said, 'We'll shoot around you. Go home'. And they came back the next day and finally got it shot. But loved doing things with Shelley. He loved, like when we did the movie with Frank Sinatra's daughter, Nancy, Elvis was a lot of fun. Yeah. That was a lot of fun. He did with Bill Bixby, you know, we did the country movies with him. And that was so much fun, you know, because Bixby said that what he did on 'My Favorite Martian', used to, like as soon as the scenes over, they grabbed their bicycles and just leave the set and get away from it, you know. and the things we were doing were the things that were break to relax you while you're waiting for them to set up. Because sometimes it would be 45 minutes or an hour before they'd get the scene set to shoot again. It's only three minutes long.
Q : What about 'Stay Away, Joe'?
A : We used to get like $29 a day being an extra. But if one of the stars touch you, you got $100 that day. And not only that, they pushed me of to the thing, and then one of them poured a beer over me. So, I got a wet check on top of that. I want to tell you this though. Because all the guys had become extras except me. And Elvis said you got to get you an extra card. And this is when I'd come back full time after I'd stopped working with Wakely. So, I go down, join the union, get my extra card and everything.
And I'm in this scene. And I'm playing piano. And Elvis sings (We'll Be Together) in Spanish. Which, by the way, he had me go learn it phonetically. And then when he was in make-up in the mornings, I would do everything phonetically for him to learn it for the picture. So then, I started cutting up because my backs to the camera. And I'm playing... And Elvis is singing, Un dos des remos siempre por siempre. And I'm singing like Louis Armstrong, Un dos des remos... And if you watch that scene, they cut it all to pieces. Because Elvis would be doing something, and they had bust out laughing. Well then, they'd have to cut and set it up for another angle. And the same thing, he never did tell them... And he'd bust out laughing again.
He never did tell the director what was causing him to break up. But it was me just sitting there having fun, you know. At the end of that scene, he stood up and he went ha-ha, but you can't hear it.
Because I stood up, and I said, 'My, my, Mr. Elvis, that certainly was nice'.
Q : That was at Paramount then.
A : Yeah, well we liked to have fun on the sets. And like I said, I'd been in front of television before and then if trying to make movies is this easy shoot I was going to have some fun.
Q : Do you remember celebrities like Pat Boone and Johnny Mathis coming to visit Elvis?
A : Yeah. Well, in fact, I've really known Pat Boone longer than I have Elvis. Because he married Red Foley's daughter. And I used to date Red Foley's youngest daughter. So, me and Pat Boone could have been brother-in-laws. But I've known Pat that long. Yes, he liked Pat and like the singing. It's a different style and everything.
Q : I wanted a little line on Pat and Elvis.
A : Well, I like went down to Warner a couple of times to Pat's house. And they invited me to have with them. And so, I knew the girls when they were just babies. But I had met them before. I know we did... We were in Berea, Kentucky, Red Foley's home town. And Pat was there for the solo too.
Q : What did Elvis think of Hollywood?
A : Well, I think that he thought there's a lot of phonies there, because that's the reason he wanted his friends around him. When he started back shooting again in movies, he wanted all the guys to become extras.
Q : Did Elvis and you guys get out some in those days?
A : I remember one time Red West told us about a club out in... which became famous later. They shot a lot of movies, the Palomino Club. And the first night we went out there, and we pulled up there, two or three guys come rolling out the front like that, you know. We said, 'Oh-oh, it's a fight'. We just cranked up and left there. Now, later on, there was a place that we used to go down called the Red Velvet. And we knew the people who owned it. And Elvis didn't go down there, but all the guys used to go down there. It was a place for them to go relax where they could feel safe too. You know, like I said, it was in those days the Palomino and out in that area was a very rough area. Later on, it became a little more modern and everything. And a lot of big stars started playing there. In fact, that's where I met James Burton. I used to go out there and sit in sometime and sing or do a comedy. James would come out there and sit in, because he was working with Ricky Nelson then. Glen D. Hardin was there too, the house piano player. And so, it worked out good, because when Elvis came time for us to go to Vegas and everything, I remember Lamar Fike, he was so serious, man. He said, 'Who in the heck is Elvis going to get on guitar, because Scotty doesn't even play anymore?' I said, 'James Burton'. And he turned, and he said, 'You're right'. And that's what happened. That's how that thing started.
Because I was going to Reno and Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe working for Harrah's Club. And I was learning pacing a show. I didn't realize that at the time. When it came time for Elvis to start in Vegas again, I had the experience of laying out our shows. And we talked through what we should do on each number and everything. And just my experience on the road with Jimmy Wakely gave me what I needed to do for Elvis later. I've said this before to people. I said, God put me... He let me do what I wanted to do when I first started, which was in gospel quartet. Then he put me where he wanted me. Because there I was in the military, and then I'm with Elvis in Hollywood. And then I'm with Wakely in the Nevada circuit learning pacing, timing and all that which became Elvis' show. 'How are going to finish a show like this?' Elvis said one day during rehearsal.
'It would be beautiful - and different - if you ended with a ballad like 'Can't Help Falling In Love'', I said. 'Then into a hard rock walk-off with a vamp. That way, they'll never know you ended a concert on a ballad'. 'That's different, all right', Elvis said. 'Can't Help Falling In Love' became his signature song, the one he ended on, and he never changed it. I remembered Jimmy Wakely ending his show on a ballad like that, sometimes.
It was beautiful and now it was a part of Elvis.
Priscilla and Lisa
Q : Can you tell us about when Priscilla first came?
A : Well, she was still very young. And so the deal was that she would stay with Elvis' parents.
And he would see that she went to school, which she did. She got a good education. And I don't believe he ever touched her till they were married. I believe that with all my heart.
Q : So with Priscilla, can you tell us about when they got married?'
A : Well, I knew about it because I was driving the Colonel to Palm Springs. And a lot of the guys thought I was going to Palm Springs, and we really were going to Vegas. The Colonel set that up at the Aladdin Hotel. And I was told I wasn't to say anything, as Joe Esposito was told. He said 'You guys can't say anything'. So, nobody knew it. When we got there and everything was set up, I knew I wasn't going to be able to be in the wedding. Because they had set up one room to be in. And there was just room enough for the immediate family and Joe and Marty as best men. And it didn't bother me, but the rest of the guys really got upset, because they thought they was all going to get to be at the wedding. But they all were at the wedding breakfast, which I thought was fine, you know. I knew couldn't everybody be in there. But some of those people really got upset. I'm sorry they did, because it wasn't meant to upset anyone. It was just the Colonel doing what he always tried to do with Elvis, and that was keeping something like that, a wedding, from becoming a circus. He wanted Elvis to have that. And then there was the wedding breakfast where the Colonel could control the media.
So, it was done very well. The Colonel knew what he was doing.
Q : Could you mention the honeymoon at Palm Springs?
A : Well, we were staying in an Egyptian modern house Elvis was renting at that time. And I remember this. You know, we come back there after the wedding and just hung around there. I don't remember that much about it. Because truthfully, I was kind of busy with the Colonel and everything and some of the other guys too.
So I was just glad it was over with, you know.
Q : Then you had another reception in Memphis.
A : Yes. He did that for all of his relatives and friends in Memphis who weren't able to attend the wedding breakfast. He and Priscilla both dressed up in the wedding gown and he in his tuxedo.
And everybody came. And in something like that I just stayed out of the way.
Q : Can you tell us about the Circle G Ranch and how Elvis came to get that?
A : Well, Elvis had taken, and he and Priscilla into riding horses a lot. And he only had like 13 acres there at Graceland. And there would ride around. So, he started looking for a place. And they found this place just across the state line down there that was 165 acres. And this guy was willing to sell it. And Elvis bought it so he could have his horses down there. And he had 165 acres to ride on. Well, they had some Gertrudis cattle there that came with it. And so the guy that looked after the cattle ended up putting a fence across there between Elvis' trailer and the rest of the farm. And so, Elvis sold all the Gertrudis cattle. But that was where we had an awful lot of fun. And Elvis loved to get out. He's wear a big old jacket, a western jacket and his cowboy hat, you know. And I know before we left, I got so tickled at Graceland. He was going along and putting everybodys name on the stall where their horse was. And he said, Daddys. He didn't say Vernon.
He put Daddys, Priscilla's, Mine. He didn't put... He named it Mine.
And then we got down there, and at first, I know, they had a place over there to keep the horse. And Elvis said, 'Well, we got to build new'. And I said, 'No, Elvis, that barn's okay'. I said, 'All it needs is paint. If you paint it white, it'll be fine'. And that's what he did. So, it saved him from having to spend some extra money which I always tried to do and Joe always tried to do. Because we knew when people was trying to get him to spend money on things. And that's another thing we'd do to is some time one guy knew Elvis had bought everybody Cadillacs. So, he went up and they picked him out a fine looking Cadillac and everything. And he come back down there and Elvis called me in the room. He said, 'I was going to buy Steve a car as a wedding gift. He wants a Cadillac. What do you think?' I said, 'On his salary, he can't afford the insurance on that, Elvis'. He said, 'That's what I think. I wanted to give him a Pontiac or something like that'.
I said, 'It would be much better'. So he ended up getting a Pontiac.
Q : You guys took care of Elvis.
A : Well, you had to, because you could see people who were going to... Yeah, like there was this one guy there that was for a while, his wife was divorced. And she was hitting him for alimony. And he wouldn't pay her any more alimony. And yet he was hinting to Elvis about a house he wanted to buy, figuring Elvis would buy it and give it to him. So, you let Elvis know about those things.
Q : Didn't Elvis actually live in a trailer there for a while?
A : Oh, at the ranch, all the time. Well, when we were out at the ranch, they had a hundred-year-old house there that had been restored and was beautiful. But Elvis had bought all the guys trailers and had put cement slabs all along the fence. And he bought himself a trailer and one for his grandmother. And Alan Fortas who made like kind of foreman of the ranch, he let him and his wife live in that hundred-year-old house that had been restored and everything. He lived in a trailer. That's where Lisa Marie was conceived.
Q : Do you remember Elvis' reaction when he learned he became a father?
A : Well, I don't remember the exact time he said it. I remember when he said she's pregnant. Because at that time, we were in the Trousdale Estate house. And everything was family. We knew that, you know, Elvis' cousin Patsy... I know her husband G.G. was living there with us, because G.G. could handle Elvis' clothes and everything. And Patsy could be a companion to Priscilla. And Patsy, by the way, was Elvis' double first cousin, you know, two brothers married two sisters. And so it was just a family thing around the table that we'd have. And one of my favorite times was when we lived in that house. But that house there, Joe and Joannie used to come up, and it like a family, you know. Because it was a round table. And the Colonel and Mr. Diskin would come up and sit there. And the Colonel would tell some of his carney stories and have us laughing and everything. And it was really a fun family time. And it was more like a family and not like a boys club.
So, I think probably Joe and I knew about before any of the rest of the guys. Because, you know, you find out about those things. I never will forget when we was going to the hospital the morning when she felt she had to go and have the baby. And Jerry Schilling... I said, 'Now, Jerry, where are we going?' He said, 'Methodist Hospital'. I said, 'No, Jerry, Baptist'. He said, 'Charlie, I swear I thought..'. I said, 'Jerry, let me be wrong. You drive to the Baptist Hospital'. And then on the car, on the way to the hospital, we had a phone in the car. I said, 'Call Joe'. And so, call Joe. He was in Los Angeles. And Joe got on the phone, and I told him. 'We're on the way to the hospital'. He said, 'You tell her not to have that baby till I get there'. And she didn't.
He got in time for the baby to be born. Yeah.
Q : I'm sure when the baby was born, Elvis was very elated.
A : Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, it's just... You know, there's not an experience like that anywhere. That, you know, she was like my niece or something, because we were that tight as a family. And I felt like it was a miracle or something like that. I know Lisa Marie asked me one time when I used to go pick her up at Priscilla's house and bring her to the house in Hominy Hills there, I'd bring her there for the weekend. And she asked me one time. She said, 'Charlie, are you my uncle or what?' And I said, 'Probably what'.
Q : Did Elvis have nicknames for Lisa?
A : Well, he called her an Injun and different little names like that. Mine for her was Punkin. In fact, I wrote a book. And it says in the front of it, 'For Punkin'. And Lisa asked me one time, she said, 'What's Punkin?' I said, 'It's a southern pronunciation of pumpkin'. And I said, 'And that's what we call like little children is Punkin'.
She said, 'Oh' and then no more comment.
Q : What was Lisa's favorite things to do around Graceland when she was a little girl?
A : She had some children her own age to play with. And Elvis slept all day. And she just more or less ran wild. I mean, she did what she wanted to. I remember they used to take Pepsi-Colas and put sugar in them, you know, and shake them up and drink them, things like that. I remember one time his Aunt Delta who took care of the house for Elvis. She said, 'Charlie, can you get Lisa Marie to go take a bath?' She said, 'She won't do it for me'. And I think Joe and I was the only one that could handle her this way. I went over, and I said, 'Lisa, let's come on'. She said, 'What?' I said, 'Come on upstairs. I'm going upstairs and give you a bath. You won't do one for Delta. So, I'm going up and give you a bath. And when your daddy wakes up, I'm going to tell him who done it'. She said, 'You don't have to do that, Charlie. I'll take a bath'.
Q : Was Elvis nervous about coming back to Vegas?
A : Yes, he had a bad experience on that the Dorsey Brothers Show. And that was that Elvis heard women scream, he stopped for a minute. Well, the orchestras way back then, when everythings going in meter. When come back in, it wasn't with the orchestra. And that spooked him. So, when we did start back, we had some fellows that I knew like Billy Strange who was -- I had worked on when I was a guest on Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, and his managers, TV show at that time. And I knew Billy and knew he and Elvis would get along. And when we first did the '68 comeback, we had the full orchestra and a choir in the same room. Elvis said, 'Charlie, I can't read music. I don't know when to come in'. I said, 'Don't worry. I'll tell Billy to turn to you when it's time to come in'. And I said, 'After you do that a few times, you'll feel when it's natural to come in'. And he said, 'Okay'. He trusted me on it. And I told Billy. And so, when it come time for him to start singing on like the first thing, Billy turned to him like that. And after that, Elvis was home free. He was comfortable working with the orchestra again, because he had a conductor working with him.
Q : How was Elvis working with Steven Binder on the 68 Special?
A : The Colonel wanted that to be a Christmas show. And Steve Binder, over a period of time, talking with Elvis and what he thought it should be, it evolved into what it was. But Elvis was very much in control. I mean, he knew what was going on. And he knew these people and what they were trying.
Like some of the numbers he did he felt were just like the movies he's been doing, you know, where they'd choreograph him and had a fight scene like that.
When the sit down portion in the circle, when they first did that, they had us out there by ourselves.
And the fans were back about 30 yards there, or something like that. And Elvis just talking softly, said, 'Man, I don't like this being this far from the audience'. I said, 'Well, it's your show. Ask them if they want to come down here'. And Elvis stood up and said, 'You all want to come and sit down around here?'
And the director said, 'No'. It was too lake. They were all down there around him.
And that and the gospel segment was the most popular part of the 68 Comeback.
Q : Talking about the 1968 Special, did the Colonel come around to supporting Steve Binder?
A : Yes, he did. Well, the Colonel finally came around -- saw that Elvis was agreeing with Steve Binder. And the Colonel didn't want to seem to disagree with Elvis. They would never do that in front of anybody anyway. And so he just came around slowly. But he kept his finger in by telling them, say, yeah, remember this now. And he'd keep them back also. I remember on time that the producer went up to Colonel Parker, and he said, 'Colonel, Do you think you could tell Elvis to use a lighter dye on his hair? It's just too black'.
Colonel said, 'I don't think I'll do that'. Said, 'Just let's come on, let's go back over to the studios'. And he left. Well, the guy went up, and he said, 'Elvis, you think you could do your hair just a little lighter? It's just too dark'. He said, 'What do you mean it's too dark'. He said, 'I don't say nothing about that damn toupee you got on and how bad it looks'. And just backed the guy down.
Q : When the Special was finished, did Elvis seem really pleased with it?
A : Yes, it did. Like I said, he liked the sit down portion and the gospel bit. Because those were comfortable things to do. The other things were a lot like the movie. Because they were poorly choreographed. But it still was probably the most watched special of the year when it come on.
Q : Which brings us to 1969, and you helped with a lot of the preparation of Elvis coming back.
A : We all did. We had a group of people, especially Joe and I hope so myself, that could think. He didn't have to tell us to do anything. We could do it. So, I'd be working with music and everything. And Joe would be sitting over there timing the songs, about how long each song lasts. Because that's where you got to pace the solos according to how much time you got there, when it adds up. And so, we had that going for us, that Joe was over there taking care of business without being told. And I was doing what I had to do, whatever it was. And we used to sit and go through songs for a picture or for just a recording however. And we'd sit and listen to songs. Like Red West and I would do it. And, you know, sometimes Joe would be around, and we'd listen to these records. Because Elvis didn't want to listen to all of them. I mean, you get a hundred songs then for a 12-song album. And sometimes 200. And you'd go through those, and we'd try to save the ones that we thought were very good, fair, terrible and so forth. So, Elvis would just listen to the ones that we thought were real good. And then he would select ones from that what he thought would fit the scene.
You know, and we had a lot of scenes because like some songs are good for the picture, but they're not good played on the radio. Like there was a song called 'The Walls Have Ears'. But you had to see the movie to see the walls bouncing back and forth and, you know, things coming off of there and everything. You can't see that on a record. And that was the only bad thing about having some of the recordings that was done on recording sessions for pictures. And 'Stay Away Joe' was so funny to me. We was cutting out the session. And Elvis had a song in there where he had to sing to a bull. Moo, moo, moo, you little fadoo. Well, when they played the demo, Scotty Moore looked over to Elvis and said, 'Elvis, has it come to this?'
Yeah, and Elvis just busted out laughing. 'Dominic'.
Q : In Vegas at the International Hotel, how was it that opening night?
A : Well, the first time Elvis played Vegas, he didn't do very well. Because in those days, see there was many adults in there. And all his fans were under age, couldn't get into casinos. And he failed. And Merv Griffin ended up the sings star of the show, because he was a band singer in that orchestra at that time that was there. So, Elvis was concerned about that. But again, when we was recording for the 68 Comeback, he got comfortable with an orchestra. And too, I think one of the things that helped Elvis want to get back on stage and get back touring again was he and Tom Jones became very good friends, I mean, very good friends. And he'd see Tom doing his act up there. And he thought, well, 'I can do mine'. You know, I'm sure he thought that even though he never expressed it that way. But that must have been something he looked at and said, 'Well, gee, I think I may be able to try back'. And that 68 Comeback helped set it up.
And so, when we started into Vegas, the first thing we did is we had all these musicians, like James Burton. When we got to RCA, RCA had a list of the hot guitar players in town. And top of the list was James Burton. But I'll tell you who was before that, the top guitar player was Glen Campbell. And he played on some of Elvis' sessions before he became a star on movie things. But James Burton. And then, James would suggest somebody, because he knows who's the good recording, who's the good basses. That's how we got Jerry Scheff. I think Scheff suggested Ronnie Tutt. And they all became the nucleus of band. It really the band was this. It was Ronnie Tutt on drums, Jerry Scheff on bass, Glen D. Hardin on piano. At first, we had another piano player Larry Mahoberac, but he just went through the first time. And Glen D. came in later.
But that was the nucleus of the band.
I wanted the other guy, John Wilkinson, who played rhythm guitar in the band... I wanted to balance out the look of the band up there. Because without John there, it would have been top heavy on this side and just James over there by himself. It wasn't necessarily for me to be there or for John to be there. But Elvis wanted us there or wanted me there. And I wanted to balance the picture. Because I'm looking in my minds eye at what the people are going to be looking at. And it worked. We ended up at one time there, I know, during those last tours, over the years, you wouldn't know we'd done this many songs, but we had over 500 orchestrations for songs that we had done on stage. It changed that much.
It was an interesting thing one time to the Colonel.
Q : Elvis had nicknames for all you guys. Do you recall those nicknames?
A : Well, I know Joe was Charmin Carmen. And they used to say that except for Burton, he called me Slewfoot. But I think that was one time in 17 years. Because it was always. Actually, he never said Charlie.
If you listen to my introductions on his live performance. 'And the guy who plays guitar and sings higher than me, Cholly Hodge'. That's C-H-O-L-L-Y, Cholly Hodge, you know.
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