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.”