UpClose: Jerry Scheff interviewed by Arjan Deelen
“When Elvis sang a song, you just knew
that the song was going through his mind”
“I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, Played tuba in grammar school and Started playing string bass in the seventh grade. I played in junior symphony as well as the school orchestra and played tuba in the Vallejo municipal band at age twelve. We moved to Sacramento, CA when I was fourteen . My mother was very supportive and took me to see concerts such as Jazz at the philharmonic and Lionel Hamptons band. I played mostly Jazz and classical music at the time and listened to black R&B as well as Jazz stations from Oakland ,CA.
At about age fifteen, I started to play in clubs and “after hours” sessions. I played with mostly Jazz musicians who were into the east coast Jazz scene. In 1957 and 1958, I hung out in San Francisco some and played in an after hour club called “Jimbos Bop City” All the jazz musicians who came to town would come to play there. Miles Davis sat on as well as John Coltrane and his band. I never got to play with them, I would have been scared to death!
It was the “beat” era and there were a lot of drugs floating around. I would beg some of the musicians to shoot me up…. I was a skinny towheaded white kid and I always felt like I was being protected. Fortunately they did not give into my desires. One morning at about 3:00 a.m. at Jimbos, a women came up on stage to sing. She had on a pendelton shirt with a skirt and work boots. This was 1958 and I had never seen anyone dressed like that. She turned around and said “blues in F” as she stomped the time with her work boots. The dust flew up from the carpet into the spotlight and away we went. I was in heaven! The singer was “Big Momma Thorton”.
My senior year my school attendance had become spotty and my mother suggested I join the service. So I went into the navy and wound up in the navy school of music in Washington D.C., it was a nine month college accredited course, and I got to study theory and harmony as well as play with some great musicians. I stayed on after the course to become an instructor. Out of the service in 1961 into an ill fated marriage from which came two sons. Darin and Jason, both musicians now.I was tentative about moving to Los Angeles so I played in various groups for a couple of years winding up in Palm Springs where the hotel we were working and living in burned down along with all my instruments an belongings .With no excuses left I moved to Los Angeles, I worked with Billy Preston ( who was sixteen at the time) in watts at a club called the Sands. His mother would bring him into the club, and he would do James Brown songs dancing at the organ. I played electric bass and valve trombone. The lead trumpet player and I became friends so he turned me on to record sessions.
Also I was doing demo sessions for a producer named Gary Paxton ( he produced hits such as Cherry Pie with skip and Flip, Monster Mash and others) . One day I went to Gary’s house. We recorded in his house, the control room was in an upstairs bedroom and we played down stairs in the living room. There was no “talk back” so we had to communicate through the drum mics. He had a four track machine so the bass and drums shared a track. As I was setting up a group of the oddest people came into the room (Hippies). They were the group ” The Association ” we cut their first album which included the hits, “Along Comes Mary” and “Cherish.” Along comes Mary was the first hit record I played on. That really started my career as a session player in Los Angeles. Within a month I was very busy I cant remember half the albums I played on. I never was into listening to myself. Even now I have a hand full of albums that I have played on… Also we are talking about the wild sixties and everything that entails. I worked a lot with a drummer Jim Gordon, pianist Larry Knectel and saxophone player Jim Horn. Played on many bubble gum hits, i.e.: Tommy Rose “Sweet pea” Bobby Sherman and later Tiny Tim. We recorded with Johnny Mathis , Johnny Rivers, Neil Diamond , Nancy Sinatra, Pat Boone, Sammy Davis Jr., Bobby Vinton, The Everly Brothers, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Ventures, Dionne Warwick, Barbara Streisand, Linda Ronstadt with the “Stone Pony’s” “Sky Saxon and the seeds,” Flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya, Jazz guitarist Howard Roberts, Jim Neighbors, Leonard Nimoy, Judy Collins etc.… I don’t remember which albums. We started in the morning and went from studio to studio, sometimes twenty-three hour sessions a week. I dont want to get into drug stories but I was influenced greatly by hallucinogens at the time. I had a bag full of mescaline tabs, and I started nibbling on them in the morning to maintain a certain place during the day.
The first recording session I did stoned, we did a take and went in to listen. I thought my part sounded like bullshit so on the next take I pared it down. This went on for a few takes and the producer walked up to me and said, “Jerry, do you realize you are only playing down beats in each bar?” ” I said yeah, aren’t the beautiful”. Right about this time I got a call to do an album with “The Doors.” We spent six weeks in the studio recording “L.A. Woman” Which turned out to be their last album. They always used keyboard bass live, and I was approached about joining the group. Jim Morrison went to Paris and died. One of those things!
Sometime about 1968, I did an album that James Burton was on. I dont remember the artist, but I guess James liked my playing because he called me one day and told me they were putting a band together for Elvis Presley. Going to work for Presley was like going to school for me. I had never played much country or rock and roll. I just approximated What I thought it should be. For the first couple of years he almost demanded that we kick him in the butt. The music was so intense. It was a kind of punk lounge music. I was playing very busy parts and to this day, I can’t listen to any of the albums we did , because everything is so intense feeling. For an example, listen to “Elvis Live at Madison Square Garden” my only excuse is, I dont think anyone else was playing bass that way at the time.
In 1971 for the sake of my sanity, I left L.A. at the height of my career and moved to a small island in British Columbia. I continued to work with Presley and flew to L.A. on occasion to do album projects.
In 1973 we did the “Aloha From Hawaii” special and I quit the Presley job Finally in 1975 with a divorce looming and the recording industry tightening up, I moved back to L.A. and went back to work with Presley with whom I worked with until his death. We were on a private plane on our way to Bangor Main when the pilot got a message to land at “I think it was” Pueblo Colorado. Someone called Memphis and we were told Elvis had died. We just stood on the tarmac for a while. The only sound was sobbing from some of the people. We got on the plain and flew back to L.A. in silence…. There was a terrible thunder storm as we landed and everyone just got off the plane and disappeared into the rain.
I remarried in 1976 to my present wife Diane and we settled in a beach apartment in Malibu, CA while I built my recording career back up. During this time I put an album for Tanya Tucker. They were talking about taking the band on the road when I got a call from saxophonist Steve Douglas telling me that “Bob Dylan” was rehearsing and had fired his bass player . I went down to play with him and all of a sudden we were on our way to Europe to tour on a private train, wives included…. It was a wonderful year except that the availability of cocaine was such that I quickly became strung out. I ended up in early 1979 in Paris doing an album with “Mink DeVille” called “Le Chat Blue” One night after two days of being up, I was in my room in at the Hotel Meurice with a bottle of brandy and a gram of cocaine . I wondered what difference it would make if I jumped out of the window. I had the window open and I saw the brandy by the bed. I walked over and took a big slug and passed out. The next day I came to and remembered what had happened. It scared me so badly that I called my wife and told her that my drug days were over and they were.
The early eighties were spent once again rebuilding my recording career. Some of my old pals James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Jim Horn and Hal Blain had been working with John Denver for a few years. Emery Gordy was the bass player and he left so I went to work for John. John was a very gracious and generous person in material ways, and I worked with him on and off till 1993. In the meantime in 1986, I was doing sessions in L.A. when producer T-bone Burnette called me to come play on a couple songs for Elvis Costello. The album was called “King Of America” and I wound up playing on most of it. I toured with Sam Philips (T-bones Burnette’s wife on virgin records) in 1994. T-bone played guitar and a young minimalist drummer named Josh Labell rounded out a tough small group. I’ve done five or six albums with Sam over the past six or seven years….
I think the reason I still work is that I’m not afraid to take chances. Most of the producers I work for know this and many times when the part I try doesn’t work, they give me some time to go into the booth and get a different slant on things. I dont do well with head phones. There are so many wonderful bass players out there that my little eccentricities and may be sometimes, (not always) my feel is what sets me apart. If the song calls for a minimalist part , I do that! But I try and use the simplicity as a hook. Anyway, I feel I am still growing as a bass player. Oldies dont interest me very much, I still go out and “sit in” to play a little Jazz every once and a while just to keep the cobwebs clear!”
According to the session-files, you played on the sessions for DOUBLE TROUBLE and EASY COME, EASY GO, both in 1966.
Well, I was working a LOT of sessions every day, a LOT of hours. I had three sets of equipment, and a cartridge company would deliver them to the studios. I’d just drive from studio to studio, play, walk out and go to another studio. I don’t remember playing bass on any Elvis soundtrack. A man called me one day and asked me about that, and I accused him of making it up, ’cause I didn’t remember it. He said: “Well, I have the Union contracts right here in front of me”. So I couldn’t argue with that. But it was just one of those things that I didn’t pay attention to (Ed. note: at this point, Jerry was looking at the session-facts in Recording Sessions, and said: “I do not remember that at all”). I don’t remember any of that stuff. All I remember is that trumpet-session, ’cause I needed the money. Red West called me up, and he said: “Are you Jerry Scheff the trumpet player?”. And I said: “YES!!!” (laughs). I played tuba my whole childhood and through my navy years, and the fingerwork is the same. So I borrowed an old silver, just horrible beat-up looking trumpet from this guy, no case, and I just walked in with that trumpet. We played for two days and I made $900 for these two days. Back then, that was a LOT of money. I never played anything that they could hear. I never played any high notes, I played everything so that it blended with the other horns. Nobody said anything! They didn’t call back, but… (laughs). I used to tease Red West about that. I said: “See, Red, you didn’t do very good research on me…”.
Did Elvis show up on any of these sessions?
I can’t remember. You know, I played with a lot of people then, and I used to just literally… I was a hippie, and I used to wear cut-off jeans, a pair of sandals and a t-shirt, and I’d take a jug of wine to the sessions. I’d plug in, and play whatever they wanted, have some wine, and play, and maybe have something else every once in a while… Then I’d go to the next session. I used to do this day in and day out.
Were you politically active?
Yes, I was. I attended three demonstrations actually. I was opposed to the war in Vietnam. Very opposed to it. It was sad, ’cause I liked Lyndon Johnson and some of the things he did, the domestic things he did. Then when Richard Nixon came in, I was very furious because he campained saying that he was gonna stop the war, and he didn’t do it. It escalated. The biggest demonstration was at Hotel Century Plaza in Los Angeles. There were thousands of people. There was some police violence… They shoved people over the side in a construction hole. That was very frightening. I played at peace rallies and stuff. The native Americans took over Alcatraz in San Francisco harbour, which was a deserted prison. We went over there, and did a benefit concert for them. I used to do things like that.
In 1969, you were invited to play with Elvis in Las Vegas.
Yeah, that turned my mind around about Elvis, but it also turned my mind around about other kinds of music. It was very educational, very mind opening for me. Because up to that time I basically thought that jazz and classical was what was happening. Even though I was playing pop and rock before that, I wasn’t playing rock Elvis’ way, and playing with guys like James and Ronnie really opened my mind. It was an education. I went down the first night, but I wasn’t going to take the job. I said to my wife: “I’m just gonna check this guy out”. She didn’t like him either. I went in, and it was just the band and him. I had always loved the blues, you know, I grew up with that, and he sang some blues songs. There was just something about the way he sang, and also the way he’d interact, that was really really good. It was the musical communication and personal communication. He was just really nice to us. It was fun to play, you know. “Let’s do this”, clowning around, “Let’s play that”. I don’t remember him every saying to any of us: “I don’t like that, don’t play that. Play it this way”. I think the reason he liked the band was that we sort of listened to eachother, we listened to him, and we instinctively picked up on what should be there. And me, not having any background in this music, I just listened to what everybody else was doing. I tried to pull out of my brain things that I’d heard in the past in that kind of music. At that time there hadn’t been a lot of bass players that played that kind of music, you know. The string bass, the bass violin had been Bill Black and those people, but that didn’t translate to electric bass. So I had to make up what I thought should be there. If I were starting the whole thing now, the interesting thing is that I wouldn’t do it the same way, ’cause I don’t play that way anymore. I do it when I play these Elvis concerts.
Do you remember what songs you rehearsed?
Oh, I can’t remember. Blues songs, and ‘Trying To Get To You’, ‘My Baby’… things like that.
I read somewhere that you rehearsed about 150 songs.
Oh yeah, we went over a LOT of songs, and then later we never rehearsed at all, so it’s a good thing we rehearsed then! (laughs).
It surprises me a little that you rehearsed so many songs, and yet stuck to the same 12 – 15 songs the entire engagement.
Well, that wasn’t up to us. It does after a while when you play the same songs, you know… But the saving grace was that Elvis never did anything the same way twice. We always had to keep our eye on him. You never could just, you know, relax (laughs), you had to pay attention. You never knew what he was gonna do. Never.
When you compare the first Las Vegas season with the second, there’s a definite change of accent. During the first he did a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, while during the second, he seemed to concentrate on songs like ‘The Wonder Of You’ and ‘Let It Be Me’.
Yeah, I think that was one of the sad parts of the whole thing. Elvis didn’t want to be a rock ‘n’ roll singer. He just didn’t want to. I’ve seen this happen to other artists. They’ve done that, you know, you get older and want to go on to something else, but people won’t let you. That was part of the tragedy of this whole thing, because Elvis felt trapped. He had a great voice, and wanted to be known for that voice. He wanted to sing songs that showed off the virtuosity of his voice. Rock ‘n’ roll songs didn’t do that, and he didn’t want to do them. Anytime anybody does a medley of some songs, you know that they don’t want to do these songs.
My personal favorite from that season is ‘Polk Salad Annie’.
I think he liked doing that song, too. I think he enjoyed it because of the physical routine that he would do. It was a cool song. It wasn’t fifties rock, he wanted to get away from that.
Can you tell a little more about your personal contact with him?
We went up to their house in Beverly Hills, and Priscilla made chili. My wife and me and Glen D. and Betty Hardin, we went there, just the four of us. And sometimes we’d go up to his suite, or down to his dressing-room. Mostly we talked about music, but sometimes we talked about some meta-physical things. When he got into karate, he’d want to show you, moves and stuff like that. I would be polite, but he could tell that I wasn’t very interested.
Did you ever discuss political issues with Elvis?
No, I never discussed politics with him. But in some ways Elvis was more conservative, and in other ways he was very liberal. He wasn’t someone that was following some political line, you know. He’d figure out for himself what he thought was right.
In 1973 you did the Aloha special with him, that was transmitted all over the world by satellite.
I was living in Canada in a little farm at the time, and I flew from Vancouver, Canada to Hawaii to do the show. I didn’t really think about it at the time. I don’t mean to sound blasé or anything, but I was in the middle of this musical world. I was doing albums with a lot of people, you know.
You have told me earlier that you had some problems during this period, which is why you left Elvis in June 1973.
I got to the point in Los Angeles where I felt I needed to move from L.A. for my own mental and physical health (laughs). So I left L.A., and I moved up to Canada. Then in 1973 we did the Aloha From Hawaii Special, and I decided that I needed just to get away from everything. I discussed it with Elvis. He wasn’t very happy about it, but he understood. He was very loyal, so if you left him and went to work with another artist, you weren’t being loyal to him and he didn’t like that. Because of the fact that I didn’t do that, I remained “okay”. The Colonel’s office would call periodically and say: “Elvis wants to know if you want to come back”, and I’d say: “No, I’m not ready yet”. In 1975 I was getting a divorce, and I was ready to go back to Los Angeles, and then the Colonel’s office called and asked again. And I said: “Well, your timing is just perfect!” (laughs).
You’ve been quoted earlier as saying that there were some major changes.
Well, not in Elvis… They sent me a tape of the show, but I didn’t listen to it. I went right on stage with no rehearsals. During that first part, ’69 to ’73, we would play and it was just WHAAMM!!!, you know, punk lounge music or something. So I walked on stage, we started the show, and I just hopped in on it automatically just where I left off. Elvis turned around to me and went: “WHOA, WHOA, WHOA!!”. The whole energy of the show had… Actually it was in a better place after that, because energy-wise some of the stuff was too fast, you know. But then it had settled down to, probably where it should have been. But I didn’t know that. So yeah, he did click down the whole show, tempo-wise and energy-wise, he clicked down a notch.
He went basically from a rock ‘n’ roll show to a C&W show.
That’s a pretty astute observation. Yeah, I think that’s a good point.
One of the things that makes shows from that period enjoyable to listen to is the improvisation. It seems that in particular Glen D. always knew those off-the-cuff songs that Elvis would do…
That’s the way it happened, exactly!! (laughs). Glen D. was usually the one that would know the songs. I told you about my background, so I didn’t know any of those songs. But that kind of stuff kept the show alive for us. Elvis knew that, too. Maybe he would feel that people were getting complacent about the way they were playing things, and thought: “Let’s shake things up a little bit, get these guys attention”.
According to the Guralnick book, Elvis started making tasteless remarks about Kathy Westmoreland on stage during the Summer 1975 tour.
There’s a real good possibility that part of him thought it was funny, humorous. And a way to get his point across, without having to go up and say: “Hey, Kathy, I don’t like this and that…”. Maybe he felt that way was the only way he could get his point across.
Do you remember those concerts where the audience was asked to put their requests in a box, and where Elvis would select songs from that box?
You know something… I don’t remember very much about that. It’s amazing, but there’s a lot of things I don’t remember very much about.
But I bet you remember the New Year’s Eve concert in Pontiac!
(starts laughing)… Well, what I remember about that was that the Colonel had a bluegrass group. You ever heard about that bluegrass group? It was three guys, and he made them wear diapers! (laughs) Diapers, nappies, big pins holding them together and stuff, and it was FREEZING… these poor guys. There was supposed to be a Father Time, and they were supposed to represent the new year. These guys were trying to play, and they were just freezing to death. That was also the first concert that my wife came to. I don’t remember a lot about that concert, except that the conditions were not real good. The conditions were horrible. We didn’t have any communication on the stage. I just thought: “It’s a gig, let’s do it and get it over, out we go”. I just didn’t care. We just thought: “The next will be better”.
Around that time he introduced band solo’s into the show.
When he started to ask us to play solo’s, I had to follow Ronnie Tutt. For anybody to have to follow a drum-solo is impossible, but for a bassplayer to have to follow a drum-solo is just terrible, horrible. If I tried to play as exciting as Ronnie, I’d fail. So I decided to play a slow blues, and then that will take it to another place. And he’d say (in a deep voice): “Play the blues, Jerry”. One night in Louisiana I was tired of playing the blues, so I told the guys in the band: “I’m going to play this cajun thing in D”. And Elvis came up to me and said: “This is Jerry Scheff on bass. Play the blues, Jerry”. And I went into this other thing, and he just looked at me. So the next night he came up to me and said: “This is Jerry Scheff on bass. What are you gonna play, Jerry?”, and I said: “Oh, I’m gonna play that cajun thing”, and played that. Two nights later he came up and asked me again: “What are you gonna play, Jerry?”, and I said: “I think I’m gonna play some Wagner”, so I played some Wagner, and he laughed. I had it all set up the next night with David Briggs, I was gonna answer: “I’m gonna play the piano”, and David Briggs was gonna be hiding under the piano. I was gonna go over and pretend that I was playing it. Somebody, I think it was David Briggs, told Elvis what I was gonna do, because Elvis came up to me and said: “This is Jerry Scheff on bass. What are you gonna play, Jerry?”. I said: “I’m gonna play the piano”, and he said: “Play the blues, Jerry” (laughs). I think that’s the only time in the whole time that I was with him he told me what to play! But we had fun, it was good, you know.
Many say that Elvis was never the same after his divorce. Did you observe any of that?
One thing that sticks in my mind, and in my wife’s mind, ’cause she saw it too. When he had this airplane built, the Lisa Marie, he had it delivered and flown into Las Vegas. He had his daughter Lisa Marie in Las Vegas, and he had to take her back to L.A. to Priscilla. He invited my wife and I to fly along with him, you know, “C’mon and fly in my new plane”. “Sure”. So Diane and I went out there, and we got on and took off. He gave us a guided tour of the plane, he was very proud of it. He showed us everything, even the soap and the towels! He was very proud of it. So we got to L.A., landed in Burbank Airport, and Priscilla came on the plane. When she got on the plane, his whole demeanor changed. Diane said to me at the time: “You know, he knows he’s blown it with losing her”. He was just very, very… On the flight back he was very quiet. I think he was still sad about it.
The first recording-session you did with Elvis was in February 1976 at Graceland. Do you have any special memories of that?
You know, we’d go down there and shoot a lot of pool! (laughs). Just hang out, and record songs. I have to confess to you, that during that time… That whole period of my life, I had myself been into the drug situation. A lot of my memory of that period in my life has been clouded by that, you know. In 1978, I stopped taking all drugs, except for alcohol. And it took up to a couple of years ago to get rid of that. This is all pretty cloudy for me. But I think that Elvis had lost interest. He wasn’t real happy with the songs that Felton found for him. One of the songs was one that I wrote…
But that was at the October 1976 session…
Yeah. It was a rock ‘n’ roll song, and we worked on it for an hour. One night we were sitting in the Lisa Marie, and I asked him: “How come you don’t do rock ‘n’ roll songs anymore?”. And he said something like: “I can’t find any that I like”. So I went home and wrote ‘Fire Down Below’. I played it for Felton Jarvis, and he said: “Oh man, yeah!”. So he set it up. We worked on it for an hour, and then Elvis… It wasn’t just that song, but we stopped recording altogether. He called me up to his bedroom about an hour after that, and said: “Listen Jerry, you guys go ahead and cut a track on it, and I promise I’ll put my voice on it”. But it was a throwback to what he didn’t want to do again. It was in that rock ‘n’ roll vein, and I’m sure that Elvis didn’t want to be a rock ‘n’ roll singer anymore. People were trying to force him in that direction, and he’d just go: “No way, man. Time out”.
And yet he recorded a song like ‘Way Down’.
Yeah, figure that out. Maybe my luck was that my song didn’t come up before ‘Way Down’ came up.
Towards the end of his life, Elvis was criticized badly for his appearance, his weight gain and so forth.
You know, I’ve always been the kind of person that… I don’t judge people on what they look like or on their faces. Period. I think that it very well could be that Elvis thought that he was a normal American man approaching middle age, and let himself go a little bit: “It wasn’t anybody’s business”. The idea that it was Elvis’ duty to keep himself pristine looking is ludicrous. It makes me angry to think that people think that. Why, what does he owe them? He doesn’t owe them anything.
The press really went after him for it.
The press was just horrible. But then again, I don’t remember a good review, even in the early years. The press was always horrible. I discounted what they said. There were jokes about him on television-shows and stuff, and people were really really cruel. They don’t say that about, let’s say Neil Diamond. They don’t say: “Neil Diamond is bald now, why doesn’t he get a toupet?” or “He’s got a paunch”. Or David Crosby of Crosby, Stills and Nash. They don’t go on about him, and he’s overweight. But it was Elvis, you know. It makes me angry, it really does. People wanna make money, you know, and if they need to be nasty about it, they’ll do that. They’ll crack jokes… Saturday Night Life will have a parody of Elvis, some fat guy with a jumpsuit on, and everybody goes Ha, Ha, Ha. They’re like grave-robbers, you know. I don’t have any respect for them. That part of human nature is not a very positive part of our make-up. A lot of the troubles between human beings are the lack of compassion of one another, and a lack of tolerance between human beings. How many of these same people that are saying this about Elvis and putting these parodies on the screen, how many of them have potbellies, how many of them have let themselves go, how many of them have other faults that are far worse than than the “sin” of letting yourself get a little overweight? Or being so unhappy that you’re… Because I have been there. I had a really bad bout of clinical depression some years ago. I was in that syndrome, that whole thing – drugs, alcohol and stuff. I understand that, you get caught in that. It’s not a nice thing. Elvis was obviously in a depression in his last years. Feel some compassion for him, you know. He’s a human being, for crying out loud – no worse, and no better. But he was certainly not as bad as some people. He always treated me with respect. We had an extremely good relationship. He was NEVER disrespectful to me. He was always there if I wanted to see him. During the last years, these people in the so-called Memphis Mafia got into this Howard Hughes thing, where they could pick and choose who could see him. One night Charlie Hodge came down in the dressing-room, and said: “You know, Elvis is really bumped out because you guys don’t wanna see him”. And Ronnie and I said: “Charlie, we have been down there to see him, but these guys always say: ‘Oh, Elvis is busy'”. So Charlie went back and told Elvis that, and Elvis hit the ceiling. Charlie came back and told us that Elvis just blew a stack. So there was that kind of stuff. I’m sure that all these people fulfilled some need that Elvis had, and I don’t mean to question their motives. They just did what they thought would be best for him. So I don’t try to judge that. But I do know that Elvis was always there for me.
Were you surprised by his death?
Yes, it surprised me. I just always assumed that he’d pull out of it. I have known many many other people in this situation, but with him I just figured he’d pull out of it. It really surprised me. I was just in shock, you know. I never went back down to Graceland. In 1997 they had organized a tour for everybody to Graceland, but I wanted to remember it as it was.
A trick-question maybe: RCA’s current marketing campaign is titled ‘Elvis – Artist of the Century’. Who, in your honest opinion, is the artist of the century?
Artist is a word that encompasses a broad spectrum, and I don’t think it’s fair to say ‘Artist of the Century’. What about for example Pablo Picasso? He’s also an artist. But if you say ‘Entertainer of the Century’, I think that Elvis is right up there. I think there are two singers that communicated more directly from the heart than anybody else, and that’s Frank Sinatra and Elvis. When Elvis sang a song, you just KNEW that the song was going through his mind. It wasn’t just coming out of his mouth, but it was going through his mind, and affected his emotions when he sang. So many singers sing a song, and they’re thinking about the way they’re going to sing – the projection, the phrasing and so forth. When Elvis sang a song, it was just going through him, and it came out to the people that way. He was probably better at that than anybody that ever lived.