INTERVIEW - with Brandon Yip author of Elvis Presley: “All Shook Up” in Canada
Interview conducted by Nigel Patterson, January 2021
Elvis only performed outside the USA on five occasions – all shows in Canada in 1956-57. Canadian born and bred writer and author, Brandon Yip, formed an obsession about Elvis’ Canadian concerts. Dissatisfied with what information was available about the shows, particularly Elvis’ final Canadian performance in Vancouver, Brandon went in search of more information, tracking down and interviewing people who were lucky enough to see Elvis “live” in Canada. The result of his research is his new book, Elvis Presley “All Shook Up” in Canada. It includes first-hand accounts by fans and legendary Canadian radio DJ, Red Robinson.
EIN: Brandon, thank you for taking time out to talk with EIN. It is appreciated.
Brandon Yip: My pleasure Nigel. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you.
EIN: Firstly, who is Brandon Yip.
BY: I am a writer and author. I was born and raised outside of Vancouver, BC. I studied at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, obtaining a BA in Communications, as well as a History Minor. I have been a writer for over 20 years. My articles have been published in the "Vancouver Courier," "The Globe and Mail" and "The Other Press" newspapers. My interests and topics have been focused on entertainers and pop culture celebrities: James Dean, Johnny Depp, George Harrison, Bruce Lee (and Brandon Lee), Marilyn Monroe, River Phoenix, Dorothy Stratten, and of course, Elvis Presley. I also work as a public address announcer for sports teams and organizations near where I live. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I have not been able to announce for the time being. In addition, I love to sing karaoke and I have belted out many Elvis songs: "Don't Be Cruel," "It's Now or Never," "Love Me Tender," and "Can't Help Falling in Love." But I am not sure I am doing the King any justice with me singing his songs. ;-)
EIN: When did you become an Elvis fan?
BY: I first became an Elvis fan when my parents played his records when I was a child. There was just something about his music that made me stop what I was doing and listen. I was captivated by his versatile voice and his vocal range (low to high). Notably, his songs were incredibly catchy, upbeat and still are today: "All Shook Up," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Don't Be Cruel," "Jailhouse Rock," "Teddy Bear," and "Too Much." I also loved the guitar playing by Scotty Moore and Chet Atkins in the 1950s. They helped to drive the Presley sound. I would later become a fan of Elvis' gospel music after listening to the 1960 album, "His Hand in Mine." In addition, I remember watching many Elvis movies on television: "King Creole," "Blue Hawaii," "G.I. Blues," "Clambake," "Viva Las Vegas," "Loving You," "Jailhouse Rock," and "Change of Habit." Notably, I recall my grandmother taking me to a local record store and buying me my first Elvis Presley record when I was seven years old. It was a compilation album released in 1978 entitled, "Mahalo from Elvis." It is a memory that has stayed with me to this day; and my book is dedicated to her.
EIN: How did the idea of Elvis Presley: “All Shook Up” in Canada come about?
BY: I have always been fascinated by Elvis' tour of Canada in 1957. I had seen some local news stories on television and in newspaper articles over the years about his Canadian tour in 1957. When I was 12 years old, I bought the compilation album, "Elvis: A Canadian Tribute" at a record store near where I live. And that was the first time I realized that the King had appeared in Canada. I would become obsessed with Elvis' 1957 Canadian tour. I wanted to read and know more about it. I wanted to read more details, especially about his concert in Vancouver on August 31, 1957 at Empire Stadium, which was the last concert Elvis gave outside the United States. I was never satisfied with what I had read. I wanted to know more and I was not getting that as a reader and Elvis fan. As a writer, I wanted to be like Jacques Cousteau and dive deeper and further explore the Elvis Vancouver connection.
So, I was able to contact and interview many people (fans and media) who attended the concert at Empire Stadium. And some had the fortunate opportunity to meet the King when he was in Vancouver (many of these people have since passed away). When I started writing the book, I had no blueprint in terms of how I wanted to structure my book. I just wanted to write. My motto was "write now" and "fix later." Therefore, the idea for my book was me not being satisfied. I needed to find out more about what I was not reading and seeing about Elvis' tour of Canada--notably his Vancouver concert.
EIN: How did you go about, and how difficult was it, gathering information for the book?
BY: I write about how I conducted my research in the introduction chapter of my book. I began reading numerous Elvis biographies as a starting point (Peter Guralnick's two books, "Last Train to Memphis" and "Careless Love"). I then began going to several libraries searching and printing newspaper articles about Elvis’ concerts in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver. Regarding the photos, I had assistance from the wonderful staff at the York University Libraries (Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections), City of Ottawa Archives, Vancouver Public Library and City of Vancouver Archives. As well, several people generously gave me photos and other items to use for the book. Also, I was able to find people using the phone book (online) and called them. Some of those people included the late Hugh Thomson, music critic for "The Toronto Star," late Vancouver impresario, Hugh Pickett (who booked Elvis into Vancouver), and the late Marke Raines, former CKNW reporter in Vancouver and later Liberal MP in the 1970s.
I am grateful to everyone who helped me throughout this long 20-year journey of writing and publishing my book. This was a life long dream of mine to write a book about the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I am so happy that the book is finished. I hope that Elvis fans worldwide will enjoy and love what is contained in the book. The book is a new and fresh interpretation of Elvis’ tour of Canada in 1957. And most importantly, the book is a tribute to honor the memory of the greatest entertainer of the 20th century.
EIN: What were some of the highlights for you in researching the book?
BY: There were many highlights in researching the book. Some of those include tracking down people and phoning or emailing them for interviews. I had the privilege of interviewing legendary Vancouver disc jockey, Red Robinson, the emcee of the Elvis concert in Vancouver. Red has been very good to me. He is a pioneer; being one of the first disc jockeys to play rock 'n' roll music on a regular basis in Canada. I was initially nervous phoning Red for an interview. However, he was kind, warm and patient with me; taking time out of his busy schedule to help me in sharing his memories of the King in Vancouver.
Another highlight was starting a pen pal relationship with the late Carol Vanderleck (native of Toronto). She has been credited for bringing Elvis to Toronto by gathering a petition with over 2,000 signatures and mailing it to Colonel Tom Parker. Vanderleck was 14 years old when she met Elvis inside the dressing room at Maple Leaf Gardens. Carol and I exchanged letters over many years from 1999 until 2003. Some of her letters to me, with her recollections of meeting Elvis are in the book. I was saddened to later find out that she had passed away in 2011. Furthermore, I was also able to interview the children of the late George Corrie, who was the chauffeur driver for Elvis when he arrived in Vancouver. Also, I wanted to mention that many of the people who I interviewed have passed away. This was another reason and motivating factor for me to finish my book. I could not let their "words" lie dormant on a manuscript collecting dust.
EIN: How big were the crowds at Elvis’ five concerts in Canada?
BY: Well, Elvis performed two shows at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto; "The Globe and Mail" reported that 23,000 fans had watched or more accurately screamed during both performances (afternoon and evening shows). The next day in Ottawa, Elvis performed two shows at the Ottawa Auditorium with approximately 12,000 fans in the audience (afternoon and evening shows). And four months later in Vancouver at Empire Stadium, the crowd was 25,000. It is safe to say that Colonel Tom Parker had no issues selling out venues for his most "famous client" in 1957.
EIN: How strong was the audience reaction to his performances?
BY: I would say the audience reaction to Elvis' performances was equivalent to a hurricane striking a shoreline: loud and unrelenting. There are audio excerpts of Elvis singing at Maple Leaf Gardens; and you could barely hear him. The audience was that loud. The noise from the audience continued throughout his concert like a flowing waterfall; it would not stop. Elvis was very used to not being able to hear himself sing during his live shows in 1957. So, it shows you the power, magnetism and command that Elvis had on his audience. In addition, there are audio excerpts of Elvis being introduced by legendary Vancouver DJ, Red Robinson (emcee of the Elvis concert in Vancouver). You could barely hear Robinson's introduction; and when Elvis came out of tunnel and appeared in front of the crowd at Empire Stadium -- the crowd began to scream even more. It was deafening. Nonetheless, Elvis had a great sense of humour regarding his inability to hear himself sing during his live concerts.
During his Vancouver press conference, the King was telling jokes that would have made Henny Youngman jealous. Elvis was asked by the media what he thought about not being able to hear himself sing. Elvis said, "Actually, it’s good because it covers up my mistakes, you see. Whenever I hit a sour note, nobody knows it but me!” Also, Elvis was asked what his opinion was of his audience and he quipped, "Well, I mean, it would look pretty funny out there without one!"
EIN: Was there any discernible difference in how Elvis was received by his Canadian fans across his shows in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver?
BY: I would say that Elvis received an enthusiastic response from every audience he performed to in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver. There was no discernible difference in terms of the crowd reaction Elvis received. However, the only difference was that the Vancouver concert ended quicker than his performances in Toronto and Ottawa. At Maple Leaf Gardens, police were successful in managing the crowd; the same in Ottawa. Unfortunately, in Vancouver, there were not enough security to control 25,000 screaming fans at Empire Stadium; many of whom left their seats to run onto the field where Elvis, Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana and the Jordanaires were performing. The policemen and air cadets hired to control the crowd at Empire Stadium were overwhelmed. With the stage situated at the north end of Empire Stadium, and the crowd moving closer towards the stage, Elvis quickly ended his concert after 22 minutes.
The concert was a letdown for many who left disappointed; but it was historical because it was one of Vancouver's first big time rock concerts during the rock 'n' roll era. Also, prior to Elvis' appearance in Vancouver, no other entertainer had been booked to perform at a stadium. Elvis Presley in 1957 was a giant in the entertainment world of both the music and film industry. Notably, Vancouver fans witnessed Elvis at his apex during his final live performance he ever gave outside the United States.
Elvis with DJ Red Robinson in Vancouver
EIN: There have been several other books focusing on Elvis’ five shows in Canada in 1957 – Elvis in Canada (Bill E. Burk), Elvis ‘57 The Final Fifties Tours (Alan Hanson), and One Night in Toronto (Sweeney, Carisse and Lorentzen). How does your book differentiate itself from these?
BY: I would say that my book differentiates in terms of the people who I was able to contact and interview--especially pertaining to Elvis' concert in Vancouver. As a writer, I was not satisfied with what I had seen in other publications (I am not trying to criticize anyone, let me preface that). But I felt as a writer, I wanted to write my book the way I wanted to see it written if I was the reader. I wanted to know more about Elvis' Vancouver concert; since it was the last live concert he ever gave outside the United States. I wanted to go deeper into the Elvis Vancouver connection and discover hidden stories that have not been told before. Notably, I was able to track down and interview several people who had fortuitous encounters with Elvis when he arrived in Vancouver. In addition to interviewing legendary Vancouver disc jockey, Red Robinson, I was also able to contact and interview Vancouver impresario, Hugh Pickett, who was responsible for booking the King into Vancouver.
Furthermore, I was able to find more behind-the-scenes stories about Elvis in Vancouver. This includes one woman who was invited to attend Elvis' party in his hotel room after the Vancouver concert. There is also another woman who met the King at the train station in Vancouver on the morning of September 1, 1957. She had a photo taken with Elvis and he signed her right hand -- just as Elvis was set to board his train to Washington State to give concerts in Tacoma and Seattle that day. Moreover, I had my own vision of how I wanted to write my book. I was not focused on trying to compete or compare my book with other Elvis books that have been written, which have mentioned or referenced Elvis' tour of Canada.
I wanted to be authentic and be the best writer that I could be for myself. I wanted to challenge myself and push myself to stay focused and motivated. I wanted to write my own version of Elvis' tour of Canada with a fresher approach--from my own perspective and research that I had conducted. At times, I never thought the book would ever be published. I am glad that I did not quit. I am happy the book is finished. And most importantly, no one can ever take away what I have done.
EIN: Brandon, is there anything else you would like to say to EIN readers?
BY: I just want to say hello to all the EIN readers and I wish them all the best and a very healthy and safe 2021. I hope they enjoy the book. The book took me 20 years to write and publish. There were a lot of challenges and setbacks. As I stated in my answer above, at times, I did not think the book would ever be published. I am glad that I did not quit. The book was a life long dream of mine and I am happy that my dream has finally come true. Without the kind assistance from everyone who helped me over the past 20 years, there would be no book. I am grateful.
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Interview by Nigel Patterson.
-Copyright EIN January 2021
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