Oral History of the Month
©2022 By Legs McNeil
In one of his many interviews, John Lennon called it the most exciting day of his life. I rather doubt it, but then I grew up with the Elvis that was making movies like “Clambake” and “Girls, Girls, Girls,” so I was never impressed. Like Lennon, I loved Elvis’ early Sun Records stuff and believed Presley went to hell when he joined the army. Still, I would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall the night the Beatles finally met Elvis. I hope you enjoy this!
Larry Geller: On August 27th, 1965, Elvis Presley had a home in Bel Air, a cool place overlooking the Pillar Golf Course, only this night was Friday night, and there was this music group coming to meet him called the Beatles. They tried to see him a few times, because he was the King, but tonight was the night!
Paul McCartney: We’d tried for years, but we could never get to him. We used to think we were a bit of a threat to him and Colonel Tom Parker, we ultimately, we were. So we tried many times, and Colonel Tom would just show up with a few souvenirs and that would do us for a while. We didn’t feel brushed off; we felt we deserved to be brushed off, after all, he was Elvis, and who were we to dare to want to meet him?
John Lennon: There’s only one person in the United States we ever wanted to meet, not that Elvis wanted to meet us.
“NOT THAT ELVIS WANTED TO MEET US…”
Paul McCartney: But we finally received an invitation to go round and see him at the end of our stay in LA.…
Larry Geller: Elvis and I spent every day together alone, for an hour, as I did his hair. So we would talk just talk about everything: sex, girls, God, the soul, whatever right? So that night before the Beatles came over, I’m doing his hair and Elvis was withdrawn, his legs were shakin’, and he was drumming his fingers on the marble edge, staring off into space.
I knew the Beatles are coming and everyone’s talking about them, when all the sudden Elvis snapped out of it, and he goes, “Man, I know what these guys are doin’! I respect them, I’ve been there and I’ve done it, and what they’re doing is where it’s at!
Then he said, “What the fuck am I doing making these teeny-bopper movies? It’s the same old flick, all they do is they change my name. Same set, same story. Tell ya the truth, I’m embarrassed to go out and meet these guys. They’re coming to meet me and I’m making these movies and singing these fucked up songs they make me sing?
“There’s so much more to Elvis Pressley than what people see on that screen and see in these stupid movies, I’ve gotta do something more, I’ve GOT TO!””
So Elvis was flashed that the Beatles we comin’ over, ya know?
“COLONEL PARKER WAS SUCH A CONTROL FREAK!”
Tony Barrow: The Beatles did want to meet their rock & roll idol, but not with a gang of reporters and photographers around. So the first fundamental ground rules to be set were: no press to be invited, no pictures to be taken, no recordings to be made, and no leaking of our plans in advance.
Larry Geller: Colonel Parker was such a control FREAK; you never saw a picture of the meeting between Elvis and the Beatles, have you? Because the Colonel was afraid that maybe the Beatles or Brian Epstein would get the pictures, there were cameras in the house, but everyone was told, “No pictures, no pictures…”
John Lennon: It was very exciting; we were all nervous as hell.
“WHERE ARE WE? WHAT’S GOING ON?
OH YEAH, WE’RE GOING TO SEE ELVIS!”
Tony Barrow: It was shortly before ten when we drove over. We were in a convoy of three big black limousines, led by Colonel Parker and his people.
George Harrison: It was funny, because by the time we got near his house, we’d forgotten where we were going. We were in a Cadillac limousine, going round and round along Mulholland, and we used to smoke these herbal cigarettes, and we had a couple of those, and we had the giggles. It didn’t really matter where we were going; we were just having fun, we were all in hysterics. Then we pulled up at some big gates and said, “Where are we? What’s going on?”
And then somebody said, “Oh yeah, we’re going to see Elvis!”
And we all fell out of the car laughing, trying to pretend we weren’t silly: just like a Beatles cartoon.
John Lennon: We hoped it would be a secret, but the fans and the press still got wind of it and were there in their hundreds trying to get in, and although we were used to crowds, the thought of Elvis and the Beatles being together at one time just blew the minds of some of the people.
Larry Geller: It was like someone dropped a bomb in Beirut, because the people outside were just going crazy! They were just screaming, and then Brian Epstein, the four guys, and a couple of their entourage came into the den.
Tony Barrow: Once inside the front door, our feet seemed to sink inches into deep, white shag carpeting.
Priscilla Presley: When John, Paul, Ringo and George walked in, Elvis was relaxing on the couch, looking at the TV without the sound. He barely bothered to get up.
“IF YOU GUYS ARE GONNA STARE AT ME ALL NIGHT, I’M GOIN’ INTO MY BEDROOM…”
Ringo Starr: Elvis had all his guys around him, and we said, ‘Hi, Elvis…’
Larry Geller: Elvis stands up, everyone gets introduced, and Elvis sits in the chair, and they sit on the floor, in a semi-circle, cross-legged, staring up at him, mouths open, they didn’t know what to say.
All of the sudden everything went silent in the room, and Elvis said, “Well if you guys are gonna stare at me all night, I’m goin’ into my bedroom…”
And he gets up and everyone laughs, and that broke the ice, ya know?
Then John and Paul started, “Elvis, man, you’re it! If it wasn’t for you, we’re here because of you, I started playing the guitar because of you, you are the King…”
They just applauded him, paid homage to him, ya know?
Ringo Starr: Elvis was pretty shy, and we were a little shy, but between the five of us, we kept it rolling. I felt I was more thrilled to meet him, than he was to meet me.
“LIKE BUSTING OUT OF JAIL.”
John Lennon: Elvis was bigger than religion in my life. When I heard Heartbreak Hotel; it was so great I couldn’t speak; I didn’t want to say anything against Elvis, not even in my mind. We can’t tell you how we felt. We just idolized him so much.
Bob Dylan: When I first heard Elvis’ voice, I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.
Carl Perkins: This boy had everything. He had the looks, the moves, the manager, and the talent. And he didn’t look like “Mr. Ed,” like the rest of us did. In the way he looked, the way he talked, the way he acted, he really was different.
Phil Spector: You have no idea how great he is, really you don’t. You have no comprehension; it’s absolutely impossible. I can’t tell you why he’s so great, but he is. He’s sensational.
Chuck Berry: Describe Elvis Presley? He was the greatest who ever was, is, or ever will be.
Buddy Holly: None of us could have made it without Elvis.
Little Richard: Elvis was God-given, there’s no other explanation. A Messiah comes around every few thousand years, and Elvis was it this time.
John Lennon: Before Elvis there was nothing, and nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.
“LOOK! COLORED TELLY!”
Tony Darrow: They quickly exhausted their initial bout of small talk and there was this embarrassing silence, and it was John who spoke up, asking, “Why do you do all these soft-centered ballads for the cinema these days? What happened to good old rock & roll?”
John Lennon: I asked him if he was preparing new ideas for his next film and he drawled, “Ah sure am, Ah play a country boy with a guitar who meets a few gals along the way, and Ah sing a few songs…”
We all looked at one another. Finally Presley and Colonel Parker laughed, and explained that the only time they departed from that formula, for “Wild in the Country,” they lost money.
Hal Wallis: A Presley picture is the only sure thing in Hollywood.
George Harrison: Elvis was sitting on a couch, watching TV, playing a Fender bass. He had a few of his mates around, and everyone was just like wandering around, having a drink, saying, “Hi, how are you doing?”
Priscilla Presley: I don’t think Elvis asked the Beatles a single question
Larry Geller: John nudged Paul, because in every room there were televisions on with no sound. And John said, “Look! Colored Telly!” Cause they didn’t have colored television over in England yet, ha, ha, ha!
John Lennon: Elvis had his TV going all the time, which is what I do; we always have TV on. We never watch it; it’s just there with no sound on. And, in front of the TV, he had a massive amplifier with a bass plugged into it, and he was up playing bass all the time with the picture up on the TV.
And he had pool tables! Maybe a lot of American houses are like that, but it seemed amazing to us; it was like a nightclub!
Larry Geller: There was a little pool table where Colonel Parker had a roulette wheel also brought in for the occasion, a roulette wheel! That was his drug of choice, he was an addicted gambler. So the Colonel and Brian Epstein went in there and talked shop.
“I DON’T REMEMBER SEEING PRISCILLA.”
Tony Barrow: Colonel Parker put his arm around Brian Epstein, who grabbed his chance to bring up the subject he’d been waiting to raise, he hoped to persuade Parker to let him present Elvis in a series of UK concerts. It was a hopeless project from the outset, although Colonel Parker pretended to leave the door open, by saying he’d think about it.
Paul McCartney: Priscilla came in, and I got this picture of her as a sort of a Barbie doll with a purple gingham dress and a gingham bow in her very beehive hair, with lots of makeup. We all said hello, and then it was, “Right, lads, hands off, she’s going…”
She didn’t stay long. I can’t blame him, although I don’t think any of us would have made a pass at her. That was unthinkable, but she didn’t need to be put away quite so quickly.
George Harrison: I don’t remember seeing Priscilla.
John Lennon: He was just Elvis, you know? He seemed normal to us, and we were asking about his making movies and not doing any personal appearances or TV. He just wasn’t articulate, that’s all. So we just played music.
Larry Geller: Elvis’s guitar stands were up with his Martin and other guitars, and John said, “Elvis can I play your guitar?”
He said, “Yeah sure, man.”
So John picked up a guitar and started to strum a bit and there was a bass guitar, and Paul picked it up. So Elvis picked his guitar up and they started jammin’, they started singin’, and I’m sitting there thinking, “Oh fuck! I’m in the center of the universe, there cannot be a better place to be!”
“I SPENT MOST OF THE PARTY TRYING TO SUSS OUT IF ANYBODY HAD ANY REEFERS.”
Tony Barrow: Everybody was singing. Elvis strummed a few bass guitar chords for Paul, and said: “See, I’m practicing…”
Paul came back with some quip about, “Don’t worry, between me and Brian Epstein, we will make a star of you soon!”
I can’t remember all the things that they played, but I do remember one of the songs was “I Feel Fine,” and Ringo, who of course didn’t have an instrument, tapping out the backbeat on chairs…
Larry Geller: Only Ringo looked a bit down. He could only watch us and drum on the side of his chair.
“Too bad we left the drums in Memphis,” Elvis said, as if trying to console him.
Tony Barrow: [Ringo] soon wandered out of the jam session and started playing pool with some roadies.
George wandered off too….
George Harrison: I spent most of the party trying to suss out if anybody had any reefers, but they were uppers and whiskey people. They weren’t really into reefer smoking in the South.
Larry Geller: They sang Johnny B Goode and Memphis and one or two others. It was hot and I’m sitting there thinking, “Wait a minute, where’s George?”
So I get up and I couldn’t find George, he’s not there and I go in the kitchen and I go in the back, we’ve got police everywhere, right? Ringo’s playing pool with the guys, I’m thinking, “What’s he playin’ pool for? Elvis is here! Pool?”
“GEORGE, WHERE’S GEORGE?”
Mal Evans: Elvis asked, “Has anybody got a pick?” And Paul turned round and said, ‘Yeah, Mal’s got a pick. He’s always got a pick. He carries them on holiday with him!” So I went to go in my pocket for one, and there they were all sewn up. I ended up in the kitchen breaking plastic spoons, making picks for Elvis!
That was a disappointment; I’d have loved to have given Elvis a pick, have him play it, then got it back and had it framed.
Larry Geller: There was a mystery as to where George was, so I was thinking, “George, where’s George?” There was one possibility; there was this staircase that went down to the backyard. I thought he couldn’t be there, but who knows?
So I went down, opened the door and the minute I opened the door I knew George was there, because the atmosphere was filled with just this beautiful fragrance of weed, ha, ha, ha!” And all the sudden, from under a tree came an arm out, holding a joint!
George handed me the joint; so I just walked up, took it and started smoking and we talked about Elvis, because George knew that Elvis was involved in spiritual stuff.
I said, “Hey man, Elvis is into self-realization and Paramahansa Yogananda…”
George said, “Wow! I didn’t know that?! Really?”
At any rate, we go back in the house and Elvis wanted to show the guys his Rolls Royce. So we go outside to the car compound and the fans get to see Elvis and the Beatles together. It was an EXPLOSION of screaming! It was like these two mantras, “We love you the Beatles! we love you Elvis!”
It was like this back-and-forth thing, so we quickly went back into the house.
Mal Evans: They had a record-player with the arm up the middle, and Muddy Waters just seemed to be playing all night. And the color TV in one corner with the sound off, and there was Elvis playing bass. Paul and John on guitars, and I was just sat there with my mouth open all night.
“I THINK ELVIS LIKED US.”
Larry Geller: Elvis wanted to show them a gift he just got from Colonel Parker, a wooden sauna. So we all walked up to the sauna and Paul looked in the glass little window and said, “Who’s that?”
We opened the door and under the wooden seat there was this fifteen-year-old girl, scrunched down under it, and she screamed and leapt into Elvis’s arms.
Elvis was looking at us, we’re all laughing and we pried her off of him, but we never could figure out how she got in that house?!
The security was tighter than anything, just unbelievable.
After they left that night, Elvis and I walked back to his bedroom and he said, “I like those guys, I like ‘em, but what the hell’s wrong with their teeth, man?”
Paul McCartney: I think Elvis liked us. I think at that time he may have felt a little bit threatened, but he didn’t say anything. We certainly didn’t feel any antagonism.
Tony Barrow: As we got into our limousines, John said, “Elvis was stoned,” to which George Harrison replied, “Aren’t we all?”
Jerry Shilling: When the Beatles left, I happened to be walking beside John, and he said, “I know Elvis can’t get out, but we’re up on Benedict Canyon, and we’re gonna be here another three days if you wanna come up!”
I said, “Great,” but I never planned on going up. There was a very pretty girl at Elvis’ gate, and I was going on a motorcycle ride.
She said, “Can you give me a ride down to Sunset?”
I said, “Sure, hop on the back…”
So we’re going down Sunset, and she said, “You know, the Beatles are in town…”’ And I go, “You wanna meet ’em?”
She laughed, and I pulled right up the canyon. I knew where the house was; it was one that we almost leased for Elvis. It had six or seven bedrooms. So, I got up there, and the police wave me off, and boy, was my ego back down.
But Mal Evans happened to see me and called, “Come back, Jerry!”
By the time I got off the motorcycle, John was at the door.
We went in and talked a little bit. Paul and George were sitting at this little table out on the patio. Their hair was all in towels. So, I sat at the table with John, Paul and George. Ringo was in another room on the phone with his wife, who was in England.
That’s when John said, “Jerry, can you do me a favor?”
I said, “Sure.”
He said, “See these sideburns? I almost got kicked out of school because I wanted to look like Elvis. I wanted to tell him that last night, but I didn’t have the courage. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here.”
That night when I got back to the house, Elvis was in the little den, and I was sitting there, so I related the story to him.
Elvis just looked over and smiled.
Priscilla Presley: Elvis liked hearing that, but even such a compliment wasn’t enough to invite them back.
Tony Barrow; Beatles’ press officer (1962-1968) Interview copyright 2021 BBC News. And from the Beatles Bible, copyright the Beatles Bible 2022.
Chuck Berry; Legendary Rock & Roller. Unattributable.
Bob Dylan; Singer, musician. Interview from US magazine, copyright 1987 US magazine.
Mal Evans; [May 27, 1935 – January 5, 1976] Beatles Road Manger and Personal Assistant (1963-1970) Interview from the Beatles Bible, copyright the Beatles Bible 2022.
Larry Geller; Elvis Presley’s Personal Hairstylist. Interview by Legs McNeil 2014 Copyright 2022 by Legs McNeil. And from the Beatles Bible, copyright by the Beatles Bible 2022.
George Harrison Member of the Beatles. Interview from The Beatles Anthology, copyright Chronicle Books, 2000-10-05.
Buddy Holly; Legendary Rock & Roller. Unattributable.
John Lennon; Member of the Beatles. Interview from The Beatles Anthology, copyright Chronicle Books, 2000-10-05.
Little Richard; The “Architect” of Rock & Roll! Unattributable.
Paul McCartney; Member of the Beatles. Interview from The Beatles Anthology, copyright Chronicle Books, 2000-10-05.
Carl Perkins; Legendary Rock & Roller. Author of the song, “Blue Suede Shoes.” Unattributable.
Pricilla Presley, wife of Elvis Presley: Interview Elvis Australia © Copyright 2021 by www.elvis.com.au & www.elvispresley.com.au And from the Beatles Bible, copyright the Beatles Bible 2022.
Jerry Shilling; Member of Elvis’ Memphis Mafia. Interview by Sean Coons, Atlantic magazine August 3, 2011. Copyright 2022 by Atlantic magazine. And from the Beatles Bible, copyright the Beatles Bible 2022.
Phil Spector; Legendary Record Producer.
Ringo Starr; Member of the Beatles. Interview from The Beatles Anthology, copyright Chronicle Books, 2000-10-05.
Hal Wallis; Legendary Hollywood Film Producer. Unattributable.
INTRODUCTION TO MY COURSE:
ZEN AND THE ART OF THE NARRATIVE ORAL HISTORY
©2021-2022 by Legs McNeil (Based on the techniques developed by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain)
Too long has the Oral History format been thought of as the bastard child of literature; assumed to be a “cut and paste” job for hack writers looking to make an easy buck. In other words, the bottom of the prose barrel. But when the art of the narrative oral history is mastered, it can transform the written spoken word by primary subjects—people who were in the room when the event occurred—into actually experiencing the event being described, with all the human emotion, even more so than the traditional omnipotent narrator.