Elvis 42 Years Later

As I (Steve) write this, it’s August 16th, 2019.  Elvis Presley died 42 years ago.  When he died, he was 42 years old.

A few thoughts 42 years on:

I clearly remember the night, in 1956, when my mom and I adjusted the antenna on our 9 inch TV so we could get a good picture to see Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey’s “Stage Show.”  One of the headliners that night was pianist Roger Williams and, as the announcer ran through the list of other guests, we both laughed at the name Elvis Presley because we thought, with a name like that, he must be some up and coming comedian.

By the time the show was over we knew the “up and coming” part was the only thing we were right about … and we were fans.

We eagerly tuned in all six of his “Stage Show” appearances and, along with the rest of the country/world, became swept up in “Elvismania.”

As much as I credit Les, Chet, Duane and the usual suspects for my love affair with guitars, if I’m REALLY honest, I’m sure Elvis had a little to do with it, too.

I never saw Elvis in concert in the 50s. While we watched together when Elvis was on the Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan shows, my Dad was a little concerned that a riot might break out when Elvis played Chicago, in 1957. So, my first live Elvis concert was in 1972, when he again played Chicago. At that point, he was still in good shape and looked and sounded great. Over the next several years I saw him a total of 5 times.

I hesitate to share this next part with you because I know there will be some eye-rolling as you read it but, it happened so, I’ll share it with the class.

In the final year and a half of his life, I saw Elvis 3 times. I mention this because, as anyone who saw him at that point could tell, he was not in the best of shape and there were nights when it was increasingly apparent that he was walking through his performance. Some nights he only seemed to be into it when he got to a song like “Hurt,” which he really dug into and, on some nights, would repeat. It was interesting to watch the audience reaction to “Hurt,” too. It was one of the few points in the concert when they were not just applauding Elvis but, in fact, applauding a REALLY good vocal performance.

So, what about the “eye-rolling” part? OK, here goes.

I was at his last performance, at Market Square Arena, in Indianapolis. Mid-way through the show, even though I was used to seeing him in poor shape, something just seemed and felt different. I had the VERY STRONG feeling that this was the last time I would ever see him. The person sitting next to me had the same feeling and we talked about it after the show. Make of that what you will .. or nothing. Your guess is as good as mine about what the significance is/was. All I know is that’s what happened.

That August I was doing the 10PM-2AM shift at Chicago’s WLS radio and, even though we had a very tightly formatted station, when I got the news about Elvis having died, I knew I had to break the format and pay tribute to “The King Of Rock & Roll.” I wanted to do something a little different and get a perspective from someone who had been a part of the craziness that accompanied the early days of rock. At first, I wasn’t sure that my choice was the right one but, the more I thought about it, I knew it was.

Pat Boone and Elvis spent their early years in Tennessee, started their careers covering R&B hits and, along with Fats Domino, battled for the most charted record totals in the 50s. Pat was nice enough to join me and share stories of the friendship he and Elvis began in those early days when screaming teenagers followed every move both of them made.

No, although I frequently talked with his guitarist, Scotty Moore, and drummer, D.J. Fontana, I never got to interview Elvis. But, like many of you, he played a pivotal roll in my life that extended far beyond my teenage years.

And, speaking of those later years, wasn’t it cool to see him reclaim his “crown” on the 68 “Comeback Special?” Yeah, it was … and still is.

Long live “The King.”

About steveandjohnnie

Award winning Chicago Broadcasters, inducted into WGN radio's Walk Of Fame. Authors of the Les Paul memoir, "A Little More Les." http://alittlemoreles.com You'll find even more about us at http://www.steveandjohnnie.com/
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3 Responses to Elvis 42 Years Later

  1. JOAN M STOCKHOFF says:

    Steve: You can remember things that I can’t. I was just too young or none of my friends were really interested in Elvis. I remember hearing about the 1968 comeback concert and I did have a cassette concert in my collection, but I never had the money to go to one of his concerts. And about you feeling that you might not ever see him again, I have heard that other said the same thing about someone they knew, so you are right in what you are feeling, I just believe that it has been 42 years since he died, boy did that time go fast! Thanks for the rememberance.

  2. sanford943 says:

    I read Last Train to Memphis. But never read the second volume. I suppose I should. I would assume it would go into how and when he started taking drugs, why he let him self go. I suppose some questions are left unanswerable. Where was Tom Parker in all of this? Did he intervene? Were people in his entourage afraid to speak up?

  3. Michael says:

    Well the ’68 comeback was what made me a fan in the first place as I wasn’t around yet in the 50’s and didn’t see that special until sometime in the ’90’s. I learned a lot about Elvis on the Elvis radio channel on Sirius XM radio during my truck driving years. George Klein was still broadcasting live on Fridays back then from “the blue suede chair” and he had more stories than anyone since he went back to high school days with Elvis and Red West. I used to be around the Memphis area a good deal back then and I remember the night I was bobtailing back to our yard in West Memphis, Arkansas and I thought doggone it I’m going to take the time tonight to go see Graceland. I started down that road and it was late at night and I remember the first thing I saw was the nose of the Lisa Marie airplane and was puzzled as I saw Graceland Harley Davidson and was wondering where the house was because I hadn’t looked across the street yet thinking it would all be on the same side. I guess it was late enough that I was down to a slow crawl or even stopped in the road and I somehow swung my head around and saw those gates with the music notes across the street and it took my breath away which I didn’t expect to have happen but it did. It was around Christmas and there seemed to be snow on the ground in front of the house and there were Christmas lights all over the property. It was one of the most special moments in my life that I experienced alone that night. I regret now that I never got the chance to go back during their annual Elvis week which I kept thinking back then that I would. I wanted to meet Scotty Moore mostly and meeting the rest would have been fun as well. I seem to remember someone mentioning some years back that the guest book had been signed by 15 million visitors at that point all who made their pilgrimage from places around the world to visit the home of an entertainer that was no longer alive. It was and is a phenomenon unlike any other relating to an entertainer that I’m aware of. His life to me was emblematic of America coinciding with his own life from the dust bowl era and his impoverished beginning in Tupelo, Mississippi and the move by his family to a city for better opportunity for work and then his meteoric rise to fame beginning in 1954 during our nation’s robust post war period of the fifties and then the tumultuous 1960’s when it seemed like all the greatness and joy of the 1950’s was somehow being erased and by the awful year of 1968 with so much tragedy having already occurred as if by fate somehow that kid from Memphis that caused so much excitement in a past decade somehow emerges at just the right moment perhaps to remind us that Elvis the movie star still had something left in the tank as far as as being a live performer and what a performance it was. I can’t imagine the Elvis story if that night hadn’t happened. It would’ve left a huge gap in his story I think but it did happen and as if that night wasn’t special enough he finishes with a new song that was not only timely in lyrical content but was performed with such passion and pain that it couldn’t have been any better or necessary as it was on that fateful night in that otherwise awful year. Elvis now rejuvenated as a live performer goes on to the great performances he gave at the International Hotel in Las Vegas as well as national tours which included the legendary concerts at Madison Square Garden in NYC where even the NY press that went to see him couldn’t help but wind up enjoying the shows and then writing about it. But alas things changed for Elvis and America as we entered a period often referred to as malaise during the seventies. There was the resignation of a president embroiled in scandal and the problem of inflation leading to stagflation and a new president whom however well intended seemed to struggle and send the message that our country’s best days were behind her and we were told to lower our thermostats and put on sweaters when our homes got chilly and to just accept the long gas lines to fuel our automobiles brought about but a newly formed oil cartel called OPEC. It was a period of dwindling confidence about the future prospects of our nation and somewhere in that morass our King was struggling to get back to his past glory as well and then he just quietly slipped away in his home at a time when his public image was typically some unflattering pictures on the tabloid covers where he had supplanted Liz Taylor for awhile in their fascination with her fluctuating weight cycles. However the tabloid vultures were now circling Elvis during that period as if they knew or at least were wishing that what did happen would happen. Anyhow he was an important entertainer by anyone’s measure and he was so much the parallel of twentieth century America from 1935 until 1977 and I don’t know how much longer the Graceland phenomenon will continue. Most of the Memphis mafia as they were known have now passed away and I don’t know how many of the young and future Americans will care or be aware of who he was or discover his music or watch his movies and let’s face it they can’t feel those moments in real time and therefore can’t experience the same emotional connection that the fans of the past had with him. In closing I’m glad I discovered him when I did and then came to learn so much about him from George and Red and Scotty and Jerry and Charlie and Joe and Lamar and the others that worked with him and were his close friends so that by the time I made my pilgrimage to Graceland it meant so much more. As far as that special song in ’68 “If I can dream” I was glad to hear the story by somebody that said they were there that day when Elvis first heard it and said he liked it and mentioned using it and supposedly Colonel Parker exclaimed “over my dead body” as he thought it was too controversial but Elvis overrode him on that one and supposedly once it was clear that Elvis was serious it was said that Colonel Parker pulled out his boiler plate contract for publishing rights and had the wriier or writers whichever it was sign it right then and there. Elvis quite often deferred to the Colonel’s judgement throughout his career but he seemed to know in that moment that it was exactly the right song at that time controversial or not. Way to go King, way to go !

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