THE LAS VEGAS STORY
(Originally published in “Strictly Elvis” issue 17 ? )
I don’t know how to start. The trip to Las Vegas was the greatest experience of my life and I want to share it with you…but, even if I wrote 100 pages, I would be leaving out so much. I really don’t think that one can describe seeing Elvis performing in person. It’s something you’ve got to see for yourself.
The night before, I had seen Elvis’ TV special, and now I was actually driving to the airport to leave for Las Vegas. I was beyond the stages of excitement; semi-conscious would of been a better word. I’ve always had this “thing” about planes, and had never even been in one before. The next thing i realized, a little light came on ordering us to fasten our seat belts.
I was making the trip with a friend of mine, Bob Mooradian, from Livonia. In Las Vegas, we were to meet another Elvis fan, Bill Lund. The three is us had reservations at the International.
Before I had gotten used to being in the air, the plane was sitting down in Denver, Colorado. We had about thirty minutes before take-off, so I called home to talk to my folks. They couldn’t believe that I had already covered 2,000 miles. If i hadn’t flown the trip would of been impossible. I had several commitments at home and driving or taking a train would of been out of the question. Before long, we were in the air again, heading for Las Vegas. By this time, I was considering myself quite brave, and was telling Bob how much I loved flying. The view was breathtaking.
We arrived at McCarran Airport, in Las Vegas, shortly after noon on August 18th. The first thing I noticed about Vegas, obviously, was the 110 degree temperature. We went into the airport to collect our suitcases and to search for Bill. I had never meet Bill before…only talked to him on the phone, so when this guy in a suit waled up to me, smiled, and asked if I had a nice trip… I thought it was someone from the airport and started handing him my suitcase. He then mentioned the magic word (Elvis) and it dawned on me that this was no airport porter, by my friend Bill Lund from Washington. i felt a little dense, but the feeling passed quickly as we started for the International.
We didn’t even get outside of the airport before we met some Elvis fans. They must of heard us talking about taking a cab to the hotel because they walked up and introduced themselves. The man with the camera was from Chicago, and the girl was from Israel. They had both made the pilgrimage to see Elvis.
Directly across the street from the airport was a huge sign telling about Elvis appearing at the International Hotel. On the way to the hotel, the cab we were riding in passes many signs….large billboards with just the single word E…L…V…I…S on them. It was really impressive, and quite an extensive advertising project. You could tell that the Colonel had been at work. The cab driver told us that the whole town was in an uproar over Elvis. When we arrived at the International, we found out exactly what he meant.
The International is the tallest structure in Las Vegas, and can be seen from far away. The first thing that really impressed me was the huge marquee that can be seen from over a mile away. The twenty-foot letters which spelled ELVIS shook us up before we were even inside the International.
The International is the most impressive building in Las Vegas. As soon as step through the front doors, you are immediately in another world. No expense was spared in creating the most exciting, luxurious building in Las Vegas.
When first arriving, we were notified that our room wouldn’t be ready for an hour or so, and we walked around, examining the International at close range. Usually, the publicity on a hotel far exceeds the actual hotel, itself ….. but the International was more beautiful than I had ever imagined. The largest resort hotel in the world…30 stories , 365 feet tall…Five International restaurants…worlds largest swimming pool…Las Vegas’ largest casino………
The International Hotel is America’s finest showcase, and I think if no one location that would be better for Elvis to perform at.
When we checked back at the front desk, we found our room to be ready. The room had a beautiful view, remote control radio and color TV, and was very reasonable. We realized in a few hours we would be seeing Elvis.
Bill and Bob went down for a swim, but I really didn’t feel like it. Instead, I went down and took a peek at the room where we would be watching Elvis perform in a few hours. It was beautiful beyond belief. Seating 2,000, plus more on the balcony, the Showroom Internationale is the largest restaurant- showroom in the world. The tables were built on tiers, so that you could see the stage well from all seats. Beautiful chandeliers hung down from the blue, star sparkled ceiling. A large gold curtain covered the stage, and the room contained the most elaborate lighting system i have ever seen. The walls were covered with golden angels and roman styled columns. It was the perfect setting for an Elvis setting.
I started walking back to my room to start getting ready for the concert. I saw Bob in the lobby, and took a picture of him standing in front of a large Elvis display case that included several covers of Elvis single and LP’s, a plug From Elvis In Memphis, and a picture of Elvis in his gold suit.
We went up to our room and started getting ready. By the time we left our room, it was about 5:15 p.m. We figured we would be the first one in line, since the first show didn’t start until after eight o’clock. HA! By the time we got down to the showroom, a large line had already formed… and it was three hours until show time.
The International started letting people into the showroom shortly after 6 p.m. It didn’t seem like we stood in line TOO long, but after we were seated …it seemed like years and years waiting for Elvis to come on stage. the cover charge was $15, which included a great meal…and the opportunity to see Elvis. I consider it to be the “buy” of the century.
After dinner, there was no food or drinks served during the show. At eight o’clock sharp, the lights began to dim and the curtain went up. The announcer said “ladies and gentlemen, the International is proud to present the Elvis Presley show featuring Sammy Shore, The Sweet Inspirations and the Imperials, with the Bobby Morris orchestra.”
The stage was the largest i have ever seen. It was lit to a beautiful red color in the background. The Sweet Inspirations, backed by Bobby Morris, were first on the show and did three numbers. Their selections were, Born Free, How High The Moon and For Once In My life. They had a vocal style somewhat similar to the Blossoms, and they were exceptionally good.
Then the curtain came down and the announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the International now present America’s third most popular comic, Sammy shore.” His opening line when he comes out and looks at the packed house every night is, “And they told me I wouldn’t draw.” Shores humor is good and he is well accepted.
When Sammy shore finishes, the huge gold curtain comes down and the orchestra starts laying a fanfare. The air is filled with a super-charged electricity as everyone knows it is time for Elvis. The Bobby Morris orchestra continues to play while Elvis’ band sets up their equipment behind the curtain. The band consists of James Burton-lead guitar, John Wilkinson-rhythm guitar, Ronnie Tutt- drums, Jerry Scheff-bass guitar, Larry Mohoberac-piano, organ and electric piano, and Charlie Hodge-guitar and other assignments.
The Bobby Morris orchestra hit and high note, and all of a sudden, Elvis’ combo takes over. It is the heaviest sounding music you have ever heard. It is IMPOSSIBLE to sit still. You look for Elvis but don’t see him. You strain looking for him and all the time the band is kicking and driving like crazy. Then, when you have been straining and straining-trying to see him- he suddenly casually walks out from the right side of the stage. You can’t believe it. There he is, not more than a few feet in front of you. You have waited so long for this and it somehow just doesn’t seem real. The crowd is applauding and screaming now. A few are on top of their chairs. Elvis seems to understand. He walks across the stage and nods on appreciation. All the time the band keeps driving. You’ve never heard a beat like this. Heavier, heavier. Elvis clowns around by picking up his guitar throwing it around him and letting it fall to the floor. All the time, ever since they started, the band is driving and kicking on this rhythm pattern on one chord. Elvis smiles, waits …his timing is perfect, he steps up to the mike and motions to the band to stop. Then “Well it’s one for the money…two for the show.” SCREAMS! The second he opens his mouth, you realize that he still has the power…MORE THAN EVER.
THE KINGS GOES TO WORK!!!
Elvis opens with Blue Suede Shoes just as he used to in the mid and late 1950’s. His voice sounds exactly like it did in 1956, and nothing like it did on the version on the G.I. Blues LP. He is moving around so much, it makes it look like he was sleeping on his TV Special. He’s all over the stage. He didn’t move this much in 1956.
Elvis is dressed in all black. An open tunic-like jacket with bell bottom pants that have colorful slits at the side. Elvis sure looks thin…in fact, thinner than I have ever seen him before. His hair is long and perfectly combed when he comes out. This lasts for about 2 seconds. He looks so young. Sound-wise, he is perfect. Never, NEVER in better voice and the new group he has behind him is by far the best he has ever had. They communicate. He’s reading what the band is setting down, and they are groovin’ right along with Elvis . It’s totally unreal. I’ve been a fan since 1956, and (honest) I never knew how great Elvis really was until I heard him in person. During Blue Suede Shoes there is a guitar ride. Elvis back peddles from the mike and swings into a crouch as he points his guitar towards James Burton, who is playing the lead. Elvis’ body seems to vibrate all over at the same time. The effect is fantastic. Elvis is singing again now. He grabs the mike and points it towards some of the girls on the front row. They scream for more. Elvis gives them more. He immediately establishes rapport with the audience as soon as he steps out in the stage. It is a God-given gift which is granted to only one or two during an entire generation. Elvis has it. Elvis definitely has it. “You can do anything but lay off of my Blue Suede Shoes.” The song is over. Applause. Screams. Elvis still has it- and always will. After seeing him live, you are assured of this.
After the cheering has died down, Elvis clowns it up on stage. He keeps vibrating that left leg of his, bats it and talks to it as if he were trying to start a motor or something. ummmmmm! “Well I Got A Woman…” Elvis is into his second number. I Got A Woman is much heavier than in 1956 disk, although the basic bluesy is still there. The Sweet Inspirations and The Imperials, who were sitting in chairs at the right of the stage, and now up and answering Elvis in a chant-like chorus. “The Elvis-ending” is on the end of the song, and Elvis drags the mike along the stage and he bends down on one knee, then back up and shakes the mike stand around in a circle.
A little more clowning, and Elvis goes right into All Shook Up. Aside from the stronger beat, and the change of words which Elvis throws in, it is very similar to the original. Elvis accentuates the beat by throwing a fist toward the crowd or “playing catch” with the mike stand.
After the song, Elvis welcomes the crowd all to the International. He jokes with the crowd and they all respond. Elvis says “This is my first appearance in nine years and I hope you enjoy it.” The crowd shows their appreciation and how much they have missed Elvis. It is a mutual thing between the audience and Elvis . They appreciate him, and Elvis appreciates the fans. It is so evident by his reactions and the look on his face….Elvis is really enjoying himself. This is his forte. This is where he really belongs. Elvis says, “Before that night is over, I will make a complete, total fool of myself, and I hope you enjoy watching it. ” Then he makes some cracks about the “wah-wah” and Gator-Aid he drinks between numbers when his throat gets dry. Gator-Aid is a drink, used mainly by athletes, that replenishes your system 12 times faster than water….and the way Elvis moves and sweats, he needs it.
Elvis then goes into Love Me Tender and the crowd goes wild as Elvis comes right to the front row to kiss some of the girls. A great vocal performance, but at times, Elvis was laughing so hard that he had to stop singing.
Then Elvis says, “I’d like to do a medley of some of my biggest records……well, actually they were no larger than the rest of them.” Bang bang! Here comes Jailhouse Rock and Don’t Be Cruel. A much wilder Jailhouse Rock than on the TV Special, and right into Don’t Be Cruel. This has always been one of my favorites, and Elvis redid some of the words.
Next comes Heartbreak Hotel. By far, the best version Elvis has ever done of this great song. So so so bluesy. Elvis sings the entire song bent over in a crouch, just out of reach of the girls on the front row. You’ve got to hear this one. It is completely different than either the 1956 recording or the way Elvis presented it on his TV show. Elvis then jokes around with the audience some more. He says, “When I tried to think of special song for tonight–a song that really had a lot of meaning, this is what I came up with.” There is quite a bit of funny dialog here, then a chord, and Elvis wails into Hound Dog. A frantic performance. Unbelievable guitar licks.
Elvis the sings Memories. The first performance I saw, Elvis ripped his pants during Hound Dog and changed (off stage) while he was singing Memories. When he came back out he teased the audience by pretending to throw his pants into the crowd. Elvis sang Memories with much more feeling that he did on the TV. Also, you wonder how the band can get such a professional sound during a live performance. Bobby Morris’ Orchestra joined Elvis’ group several times during the show and Memories was one of them. Elvis gave the crowd memories that last last forever.
After finishing Memories, Elvis announced he was going to do one of his first records. After a little more clowning, he went into a fantastic medley of Mystery Train and Tiger Man. This was one of the exciting highlights of Elvis’ performance. The sound was great, Elvis’ voice was great, and the bluesy feel of the performance was great. This is another one of my favorite numbers, and he sure didn’t let me down. The guitar ride is, once again, really outstanding. When Elvis goes into Tiger Man he literally moves all over the stage. Colored strobe lights are put on Elvis at times, and he appears to be leaping right out at the audience.
The above picture is of Elvis performing Tiger Man. That isn’t smoke above the stage but part of the strange, but very effective, lighting that was used on this number. Elvis at his rockin’ best.
After this number, Elvis is running a little short on breath. He brings a chair to the front of the stage and tells the audience “his side” of the Elvis Presley story. He tells how he started out as an electrician, and got wired the wrong way. This is a lengthy dialog and it is often funny… but always down to earth, and shows the “real” side of Elvis. Elvis tells about his years in the army, all the pictures he’s made, and winds it up by saying that the reason he is here, is that he missed the “live” contact with the audience, and it was becoming harder and harder for him to perform before the cameras in Hollywood. The crowd shows its approval. This part of the show lasts over 10 minutes and is definitely one of the highlights.
Elvis then grabs the electric guitar and does a variety of songs starting with Baby, What Do You Want Me To Do. Vocally, this is similar to the version on the TV Special, but the backing is much, much heavier. The next song Elvis performs is Runaway, which was a hit for Del Shannon. This version is far superior to Shannon’s with Elvis in excellent voice. The backing is strong and rhythmic.
Elvis then swings into a beautiful ballad titled Funny How Time Slips Away. This is an old song and has been done by many people, but never quite as good as Elvis’ version. Elvis sings in a very soft voice with ultra feeling. The first time I heard Elvis do this, I felt like making a sign for Elvis to see, saying “Please record this song so all your fans can hear it.” It is seriously, one of the finest ballads Elvis ever done. The backing is simple and to the point with Elvis riding above it. A fantastic performance and my personal favorite slow song on the show.
Next. Elvis sang Are You Lonesome Tonight? I thought this version was far more superior to the record because of Elvis’ phrasing, and the solo high voice from the Sweet Inspirations, which gave the record a more flowing affect. Elvis also joked around with the words in the talking bridge. Elvis received the biggest ovation of the evening, so far, for this. Then Elvis went into The Beatles’ Yesterday. This version would have made John Lennon and Paul McCartney very proud of their composition. Of all the versions of this song, Elvis’ was way out in front. If you apply Elvis’ vocal style to a great song like this, you’re bound to come up with a winner. This was so beautiful, I felt like crying. Immediately after the end of the song, Elvis went in Hey Jude. The Sweet Inspirations and The Imperials were featured on this as Elvis went out front to kiss the girls in the front row, and shake hands with all the guys. When Elvis shook my hand, well, it was quite an experience for me. At the end of “Jude” Elvis went through a series of karate motions while the band played accents. What showmanship.
Elvis then introduced the band to the audience. There was quite a bit of comedy in this, also.At this point in the show, Elvis often introduced some of the celebrities that were in the audience. The first night I attended he had Jerry Lee Lewis stand up and take a bow. Paul Anka and Robert Goulet were there the next night, and the list goes on and on.
“I’d like to do a song that did very well for me recently,” says Elvis, and we’re into In The Ghetto. His stage version more powerful, and had a much stronger beat than on the record. The string section of the Bobby Morris Orchestra was outstanding on this song. Elvis was at his dynamite best.
Next, came the greatest piece of showmanship the world has ever seen. I mean that sincerely. You probably know that I am talking about Elvis’ performance of his latest hit, Suspicious Minds. The Vegas version was much faster, with a stronger beat to it. Elvis was vibrating all over the stage. When he came to change the tempo, he fell to his knees and just screamed into the mike. His voice was so full of emotion that it took an obvious effect on everybody in the house. Quickly jumping to his feet, Elvis again was swinging his arms, moving his legs, and spinning all over the huge stage. In the record, you will notice a fade out, and then it comes back on strong. In Las Vegas, Elvis motioned for the lights to go down, and he bent down on one knee. Just a single spotlight was now on Elvis’ face. All other stage lights were dimmed. Then, all at once, the music is louder than before…Elvis jumps up, spins around three times, and drops down to one knee as he is really into the music. Elvis motions for the lights to go down again with just a single spot on his face. The music becomes very soft as Elvis chants, “We’re caught in a trap….” Suddenly, the music is louder than before, and Elvis leaps towards the crowd.
The audience begins to run towards the stage as Elvis gets up, and starts moving like never before. Elvis calls, once again, for the lights to dim….and you are certain the song is over. He is down on one knee and the music is so soft, you almost have to strain to hear it. Then unbelievably, the music comes in louder than it has been all evening and Elvis does a somersault towards the audience…..he lands on one knee and drags it across the stage. People are rushing to the stage…trying to reach Elvis, trying to touch Elvis…hysteria breaks out. Elvis is in control. Elvis is the master. He is back in the center of the stage now…vibrating, pulsating to the music. You’ve never seen him move like this. This is Elvis’ classic and finest hour. His performance of the song is totally unbelievable. The 45 rpm single is over four minutes long…but his stage version is OVER TEN MINUTES LONG! How I wish this was videotaped so he world could see. At the end of the song, Elvis lays down on the stage, like he is going to sleep. Hundreds of people are rushing to the stage, screaming for Elvis, standing on their chairs yelling for Elvis… people who didn’t even like Elvis before they came to the show…people who disliked Elvis before coming to the show.
Elvis has the audience in the palm of his hand. Hut does he stand on stage and take a car load of bows? NO! He goes immediately into the most frantic version of What’d I say ever heard. He is dripping with sweat, and I don’t have the slightest idea of where he gets the energy …BUT HE DOES! Everyone is up front now…screaming, jumping, yelling, as Elvis screams into the mike…”I gotta go” The crowd yells “NO” in unison as he runs off the stage. In ten maybe fifteen seconds he’s back. Down in front with the fans who love him. The band continues to play the What’d I say vamp. He then heads for the microphone and says “Ladies and Gentlemen, you’ve been a great audience. This next song is especially for you.” He then does the most beautiful version of Can’t Help Falling In Love you could possible imagine. At the end The Sweet Inspirations, The Imperials, and Elvis are singing for all their worth. It almost sounds like an opera at the close. The huge gold curtain comes down as you are yelling and paying tribute to the number one entertainer of all time. Suddenly it’s over and you realize that you’ve just seen history being made.
I was so filled withe emotion after seeing the show, that I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. This was an example of ONE particular show. Each show, although following the basic format, was different and contained different songs.
I had the greatest time of my life, and realized that every fan MUST see Elvis in person, if they don’t they can never truly visualize how truly great he was.