1970 Interview

By Unknown | 1970 for an unknown publication

Can you remember what you thought of Elvis in the days before the two of you met?
It’s very strange that I never met Elvis personally until the Las Vegas trip, when you think he started out in my hometown in Louisiana at the “Louisiana Hayride.” I remember seeing some of his shows when he was just beginning. To me, he was fantastic!
I’d never seen anything like that in my life. And now it’s even more of an experience because I get to work up there with him and he’s really a fantastic person. I’ll lever forget those early shows, though. It was the real thing! It’s hard to describe, you just have to experience it.

Would you call yourself an Elvis fan in those days?
Sure! I bought his records. I can’t say I was really a big Elvis fan over the years, because I sort of had different things going on at the time: I was working with Ricky at the time and, although it was similar, the music was of a different taste.

What were your feelings about Elvis before you met him? Did they change after you met him?
I’ve always had the feeling that he might be a little . . . with his prestige and everything . . . well, I had the feeling that he would be the kind of person that you would have to really get to know. But my attitude really changed after I met him, because the guy is so down to earth. He’ll talk to anybody. He just loves people and he could just talk to people for hours. At that first rehearsal with him, he came in and we shook hands and talked like we’d known each other for years. It was nothing like “let’s get acquainted” or anything like that. It happened so quick I couldn’t believe it.

How did you happen to be chosen to appear with Elvis in Las Vegas?
I really don’t know. I’ve heard several stories. I know he does have a guy who works with him (and appeared with him on stage) named Charlie Hodge, and I’ve known Charlie for a long time. Charlie told me he recommended me. Then there’s another guy who works with Elvis named Lamar. The two of them had a little argument one day because Charlie said he recommended me and Lamar told Charlie he did! Then, I have a very, very good friend who works for RCA, Rick Gerrard and Rick recommended me also! When you really get down to it, I don’t know who’s responsible.

What did you think about, before going to Vegas, how did you feel?
It was very exciting. I think anybody would be excited, and there’s prestige involved, which gives you a good feeling. On the other hand. I look on my job as the most important thing. I’m not there to make myself look good just because I’m working with so-and-so. I think if you do a good job for anybody, it’s going to help you just that much more.

At the early rehearsal sessions, was Elvis uptight because he had so much material to go over?
I’m sure he had quite a bit of work to do getting it together, but he was always very relaxed. We always had fun at the rehearsals. We all just did whatever we wanted to do, we worked and we helped each other.

Can you describe how a rehearsal session went?
Elvis, if he had a song, might sit down at the piano and go through it. He plays the piano. It’s very casual. At a big recording session, you have charts, you have an arranger, but at our rehearsals, Elvis just sat and listened to the songs and put them together with the musicians.

Do you like his music now?
Oh, yes, I do. I like it even better than I did back in the old days. I have to go back to some of his first tunes because they were exciting. It was a new style. A very good style. But I really like the type of music he’s doing now. “In The Ghetto” is a very good song. “Suspicious Minds:” I think he has a much better feel. beat-wise, these days.

Did you have a favourite song from the show?
I thought “Suspicious Minds” was one of my favourites. To me it was the type of song you can really get into and just never stop. It was very exciting.

Can you remember some of the things you talked about when you would all sit around in the dressing rooms or whatever?
We talked about some of the old times. Elvis told us some stories about him riding motorcycles. One time he was riding this bike and it had been raining. There were some kids standing around and so he was showing off a little. He wasn’t really watching what he was doing and the streets were wet. He turned his head and wasn’t watching in front of him and by the time he turned around there was a car stopped right in front of him. He hit the brakes and slid right under the car. He was laid out for a few minutes and then he got up laughing. Nothing happened but he said he was scared later when the whole thing hit him.

Did he tell you about touring in the old days?
Oh, yes. He was telling us about one show he did that the audience turned the stage over! It was very exciting. He remembered the policemen were dragging him off the stage and he still had the mike in his hand and was trying to sing. And as they dragged him off-stage, some 10.000 kids were turning the stage over!

Can you remember how you felt opening night at the International?
It was like there were all those spotlights and either we do or we don’t. The audience was largely made up of actors and actresses, anyone involved in the music business, press, and it’s only natural for everyone to feel a little shaky. Even so, I was pretty calm. I think everyone was. The opening night show was fantastic. Elvis just turned the show on and didn’t stop!

How did his act change over the weeks? I know when I returned after two weeks, he had added a great deal to the show.
I think after Elvis really got into the thing and realised it was actually happening after nine years. he got a little freer. At least, I thought so. To me. every night was a different night completely even though we were doing generally the same songs. Each one of his songs had a different excitement, a different feeling.

Did the guys in the band have any nicknames for Elvis, or did he have any for the band members?
E.P. mostly. We called him E.P. I can’t think of anything also, except once in a while he’d call me Chuck Berry.

During the rehearsal sessios, did you ever jam?
We did that several times. Even during a straight rehearsal, he’d start out playing a boogie beat or some old blues song and we’d just jam. He knows so many songs, he could do a whole new show every night.

Did you ever get any unusual audience reactions, above and beyond the ever present hysteria?
We had a few panics. Several peole jumped up on stage, including guys. Then the Colonel would come out and help get them off. The Colonel is so great.

Did Elvis stay in the dressing room between shows? Did you spend much time talking?
We just sat around and talked quite a bit. But there were so many people in and out, movie stars and important people.

Did you get to know Priscilla at all?
Yes I did. She often came down to the dressing room. She’s a lovely person. Just really down-to-earth. They make a beautiful couple because they’re so much alike.

Was closing night any different than the other shows? Was the show extra long?
Every night he stayed at least a half-hour over his regular time for the show. I don’t think there was one night that he closed on time!

How do you compare working with Tom Jones and with Elvis?
I don’t know how you would really compare them, That would be hard for me to answer. because I don’t know Tom Jones that well. From my experience, meeting Tom and working with him on a recording session. he was very nice, very talkative. We sat and talked. He asked me questions about Las Vegas. He was very friendly.

Did Elvis mention any other singers or artists he especially likes?
I do know that he likes religious songs. He likes that very much and I do know he follows different groups of that style. The Bee Gees he likes very much: he likes the lead singer. We did “Words” on the album. I’m sure he has quite a few favourites, but we didn’t talk about any others.

Is there anything else you can think of that would be of interest?
Just that my experience with him was great. He’s a fantastic person. All the time I worked with him he was just great. I’m really looking forward to working with him again. Elvis called me last night when he got back into town and he’s very happy we’re gettin’ it together again. He’s very anxious to get back on the stage!