Recalling Elvis Presley's Iconic 1969 Las Vegas Run


By: Ken Sharp
Source: Rock Cellar Magazine
December 14, 2019

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley's triumphant 1969 return to live performance with a sold-out engagement at the newly opened International Hotel in Las Vegas.

Energized by the galvanizing global success of 1968's Singer Presents … Elvis NBC TV special, Elvis was primed and ready for a long-awaited return to the concert stage. Yet for Elvis, it was still a mighty gamble, as Vegas was the same town that treated him like an alien from a traveling freak show during his ill-fated 1956 appearances at The New Frontier Hotel. Elvis knew what was on the line and was understandably nervous about how he'd be received.

'He tried to crack Vegas in the '50s and they weren't ready for rock and roll then', relates Tom Jones. 'So he always wanted to go back to Vegas and become a success there'. And just like any obstacle in his career, when he put his mind to it Elvis summoned the fortitude, determination and courage and rose to the challenge - and karate-chopped it into oblivion.

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

In 1969, his highly anticipated shows at the newly opened International Hotel - 57 shows in total - were the talk of the town, drawing fans from around the world and racking up record sell-outs in the process. In an interview filmed for the 1972 documentary, Elvis spoke about assembling the band: 'I wanted musicians who could play any kind of music. All of the musicians are all handpicked. I auditioned musicians for days and days, drummers and guitar players. I said, 'Who's the best guitar player around?' And they said, 'Glen Campbell and James Burton'. I said, 'Well, Campbell's out, he's on his own so James Burton'.

There's a lot of good men around me, it was just a matter of finding them. They all just fit in, and fortunately they knew most of my songs. I wanted voices behind me to help add to the fullness of the sound and dynamics of the show'. Backed by the TCB band, which included guitarists James Burton and John Wilkinson, bassist Jerry Scheff, drummer Ronnie Tutt and keyboardist Larry Muhoberac, his expansive sound was augmented by not one but two vocal groups, the Sweet Inspirations and The Imperials, each disparate in styles and sensibilities, but somehow coalescing into a weighty stew of gospel, soul, R&B and country. The addition of Bobby Morris & his orchestra helped broaden the sound into a huge cinemascope sized production.

TCB Band pianist Larry Muhoberac remembered the rehearsals as being ' … fun but pressurized. But things went smoothly. No hassles, no arguments. We were focusing on the music, refining it and getting the songs into shape. I could tell Elvis got a kick out of doing his early Sun songs like 'Mystery Train'. Everybody was behind him. We wanted it to work for him so badly. Elvis would ask, 'Hey, do you know this or do you know that?' and he'd play a little of it on guitar. Everybody already knew most of the songs, and if someone didn't remember how it went you'd pick it up by ear. Everybody had that kind of ear where they could pick up songs quickly. They were used to playing a lot of styles. All the members of the band were very versatile, which worked with the type of music Elvis was doing'.

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

On July 31, 1969, inside a packed International Hotel showroom, 2,000 fans, celebrities, dignitaries and high rollers witnessed Elvis' electrifying debut performance, marking his first live shows in eight years. His tour-de-force performance was heralded as a shining artistic triumph with Rolling Stone, Newsweek and the New York Times lavishing mighty praise on 'The King's' dynamic return to the stage. Elvis' then-wife Priscilla was in the audience and recalls ' … it was magical. The energy was incredible. He was like this tiger on stage that was unchained with this magnetism that drew everyone in. I'm sitting there in the first row seeing him perform and my mouth dropped open, 'My God, it's a totally different Elvis from the one you saw on the '68 special'. When you saw him onstage that first night you saw who he was as an entertainer and there's nothing or never will be anything like it'.

Rolling Stone writer David Dalton was on hand to review the show for the magazine: 'I went to the Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock and Altamont. I covered the Manson story for Rolling Stone so to cover Elvis' first live show in many years was a must see for me. Elvis was still a huge idol. We saw him as a god. It was a quasi-religious experience. It was one of those wonderful symbiotic events where the audience and the star are both creating a combined energy field. Elvis was getting off on it. It was like some sort of a strange play starring this little kid from Tupelo, Mississippi who was made King. That show was a really ecstatic event for me to witness. Much of the audience was the same age as him but they looked a lot older. Time had somehow taken its toll on them, but Elvis seemed ageless, almost like a folk hero'.

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

Noted LA DJ Rodney Bingenheimer is a major Elvis fan and was lucky enough to be in attendance at the historic opening night show and offered his first-hand report: 'I was writing for a free national music newspaper called GO magazine. Nick Naff, the publicity director for the International Hotel, arranged for me to cover Elvis' opening show. He provided two tickets and I brought Screaming Lord Sutch, a British rock and roll singer. We sat at the third table from the front. Rock columnist May Mann was at our table. She later did a book on Elvis. On all the tables was a gift box set - and I still have it. Inside were two record albums - From Elvis in Memphis and Elvis, the soundtrack for the '68 TV special, a bio, a color photo of Elvis, a program and a '69 calendar.

'I remember seeing celebrities everywhere. I took notes and wrote down all the people I saw: Fats Domino, Governor Pat Brown, Phil Ochs, Barbara Stanwyck, Sonny and Cher, Paul Anka, Donald O'Connor, Henry Mancini, Dionne Warwick, Johnny Rivers with Lou Adler, Mac Davis, and Herb Albert .On the table was a sheet of paper, which had that night's set list. I have the set list right in front of me and here's what it says:

Blue Suede Shoes
I Got a Woman
One Night
Love Me Tender
Medley: Jailhouse Rock/Don't Be Cruel/Heartbreak Hotel/All Shook Up/Hound Dog
Memories
Can't Help Falling In Love
My Babe
I Can't Stop Loving You
In The Ghetto
Suspicious Minds
Yesterday
Hey Jude
Johnny B. Goode
Mystery Train
Tiger Man
What I'd Say

I remember that all of those songs were played on the first night. Not only that, but I had a cassette player and I recorded the show. I'm not sure where that cassette is, it might be lost. After Elvis' first engagement in Las Vegas ended the next month I went to Toronto for the Rock and Roll Revival Show. It had the Doors, Alice Cooper, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Gene Vincent. And of course, John Lennon and Yoko came to the show and played.

The guy who arranged the festival, John Brower, and I went to the airport in a Cadillac limousine and picked up John and Yoko. In the car, I told John that I taped Elvis' opening show in Vegas. I played him the tape of Elvis singing 'Yesterday' and 'Hey Jude' from that first show and he was excited. He said, 'Very cool, man, very cool'. He got a big kick out of it'.

Concurrent with his glorious return to live performances was Elvis' commercial and creative renaissance as a recording artist with the recent top five chart placing of 'In The Ghetto' and the future number one single, 'Suspicious Minds'. Throughout Elvis' '69 Vegas engagement, the set list was wide and stylistically varied. Elvis reconnected with his rowdy rockabilly '50s roots on 'Tiger Man' and 'Mystery Train', delivered commanding power-fueled renditions of his smash hits, 'Heartbreak Hotel,', 'Hound Dog' and 'Jailhouse Rock', and displayed his versatility and robust vocal range on contemporary fare like 'Memories', 'In the Ghetto', and 'Suspicious Minds'.

'I was in Vegas for his first engagement and 'Suspicious Minds' was headed up the charts and on its way to becoming a big hit', recalls hit songwriter Mark James. 'For me, it was so wonderful to see him perform a song that I'd written. What a once in a lifetime experience! You could tell right away that the song meant more to than him than just being a hit record. He put everything into it, the emotion, the passion and all the choreography with his karate moves. It became his song'.

From 1969-1976, Elvis was the must see concert attraction in Las Vegas and his legacy in 'Sin City' set the stage for decades to come with musical luminaries, Elton John, Celine Dion, Cher and countless others following the path that Elvis forged. Always ready to rise to a challenge, Elvis' transformative return to live performances in Las Vegas established him once again as a giant in rock and roll music.

Memphis Mafia member Sonny West contends 'when you think of Elvis now you think of Vegas. When you think of Vegas you think of Elvis. That city came alive when he was in town. For those two months a year he played Vegas, he made that city jump and you could just feel the excitement that he created. Elvis is the all-time king of Vegas. He set attendance records that no one is ever gonna break'.

The newly released Sony Music 11-CD box set, Elvis: Live 1969 (recommended) showcases 11 complete concerts that lend powerful testament to the enduring magic of Elvis Presley live in concert and what made him the world's most explosive, charismatic and dynamic performer around.

Buy Elvis Live 1969 | 11 CD Boxset from Sony Music
Buy American Sessions 1969 5 CD Boxset

Articles about Elvis Presley Elvis Presley's 1969 Rebirth In Las Vegas
Articles about Elvis Presley Elvis Presley July 1969 | The King of Las Vegas

Live In Concert 1969

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

January 1969

Elvis Presley Photos Aspen Colorado | January 24, 1969

February

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

May

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

June

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

July

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

August 1969

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

October

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

The Movies of 1969

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

The Movies In Photos

Elvis Presley Photos Charro!
Elvis Presley Photos Change Of Habit

DVDs

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

CDs

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

CDs | In Concert

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

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Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.

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