World's GREATEST Showman
Anne E. Nixon
is one particular show that stands out in my memory, that combined
many of Elvis' moods; an absolutely riveting show that anyone
who saw it could never forget. From beginning to end it underlined
the supreme showmanship that is Elvis Presley. Let's relive
this superb performance, Elvis' closing show in Las Vegas on
3rd September 1973.
have seen many "live" Elvis performances, and several
Elvis "moods". Sometimes he's serious and singing hard
and strong; sometimes he has the "sillies", as Tom Diskin
calls them, and breaks up laughing throughout the show;
sometimes he's in an infectiously happy mood, and sometimes
he's a little uptight. Elvis never attempts to cover up
his moods, and the audience invariably gets caught up
in whatever mood he's in.
of all, though, a flashback to the 3 am show on Sunday, 2
September, when Elvis startled us by coming onstage riding
on Lamar Fike's back, and, when he'd stopped laughing, asked,
"How can you top that entrance, man?"! The closing show crowd
was excited, and waited impatiently through "2001 ", anticipating
Elvis' entrance. He surprised us all again. Out came Lamar
Fike, a mountain of a man, carrying the king on his back,
but on Elvis' back was a monkey!
brown-and-white stuffed toy was taped to Elvis' shoulders,
its arms around his neck. The astonished audience watched
as Lamar carried on right across the stage, then came back
centre-stage and set Elvis down.
was laughing as he took his guitar from Charlie Hodge, but
he couldn't manage the guitar very well with the monkey on
his back. He began "C.C. Rider", with a few lyric changes,
with reference to the monkey, and threw in a "Hang on, Kid!"
at one point. The audience was in disarray, laughing at Elvis'
facial expressions. He said, before singing "I Got A Woman":
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I brought one of my relatives
with me." More lyric changes in Elvis' second number: "I got
a monkey, way across town," and so on. Someone yelled out,
"Give him a kiss, Elvis," as Elvis was sinking down to JD's
low bass note in "Amen".
back at the monkey, Elvis thrust the microphone near its mouth,
and said, "He's an ape, that ain't no monkey." He began "Love
me", but didn't move along the front row as usual to accept
kisses and give out scarves. He stood centre-stage, and although
he laughed a little during much of the song he sang quite
seriously, almost making us believe he'd forgotten the monkey.
At the end of the song, Charlie unstuck the toy for him, and
it sat onstage for the rest of the show.
did a fine version of "Steamroller Blues", followed by a strong
"You Gave Me A Mountain". The show's mood had changed, as
Elvis' mood became serious. "Trouble" followed, and Elvis
pounded out his rock medley of "Flip, Flop, Fly", etc. At
the close of "Hound Dog", he began a "Ch Ch Ch" kind of sound.
It went on and on, as he continued to improvise. The band
behind him picked it up, and jammed along. Elvis was bent
over double, knees bent, and moving from side to side, real
gone!" The audience was half hypnotised, half screaming.
crowd of Scottish fans at my table were all screaming -it
was a tremendous atmosphere. We applauded, feeling wrung out.
"Elvis, I want your scarf," called a feller down front. "OK,
you can have it ... here you are," and the king passed down
his flame-red scarf to the up-stretched hand. The fans nearby
crowded in on Elvis, and handed him up a Summer Festival Boater.
He wore it for a moment and did a soft shoe shuffle.
walked back centre-stage; his serious mood became a "sillies"
mood, as on the way he kicked over a music stand near to Charlie.
"I'd like to sing a little bit of 'Love Me Tender'for you.
'Love me tender, love me true'," he squeaked in a high voice,
very rapidly. "That's a little bit of 'Love Me Tender', speeded
up!" He turned to Charlie and urged quietly: "Put a scarf
on, do it!"
the introduction began, Elvis fell flat onto the stage, and
began to sing, and Charlie walked over to him and draped white
scarves over his face. He adlibbed a verse: "Adios a madre,
bye-bye poppa too, to Hell with the Hilton Hotel," - the many
British fans present cheered, and the last line was lost on
the audience, due to the cheers - "Priscilla, too!" More adlibbing
in the same song: "I will help you all I can, because I know
you're blind." Elvis was back on his feet, as we applauded.
His jibe at the Hilton was unexpected, but welcome to the
British fans, whose reservations the hotel had tried to cancel
that season, and we felt that he was on our side.
ripple of excitement ran through the audience as "Fever" began.
Elvis stood out on the ramp, the spotlight picking out the
multicoloured stones on his white jumpsuit. His silly mood
continued as he adlibbed a verse about J. D. Sumner and Myrna
Smith of the Sweet Inspirations. After the line, "I light
up when you call my name," he mimicked the fans, by shouting
"Elvis" in a high voice.
continued to adlib until the end of the song, throwing in
lines like, "I'm allergic to cats," and "Fahrenheit or Siamese,"
and telling his shaking legs to, "Cool it, you fools!" Quite
the best "crazy" version of "Fever" I've ever heard him do.
The lights stayed off at the end of the song for a few seconds
longer than usual. From our table in the centre of the showroom,
we could detect something large and white moving across the
stage. The lights came on again to reveal - a BED!
audience, already in a state of disarray, went wild! Elvis
fell flat onto the bed, and commenced singing "What Now My
Love". He turned onto his side, and thumped the pillow, saying
in a high squeaky voice, "Where's she gone, where's she gone?"
Halfway through the song, Elvis got off the bed, and we applauded
as it was rolled offstage. Elvis continued the song, in a
remarkably controlled voice. The audience, however, couldn't
stop laughing, and for those of us who witnessed that amazing
scene, Elvis had ruined forever the "seriousness" of "What
Now, My Love"; we'd evermore giggle on hearing that song.
"Suspicious Minds" introduction began, but Elvis started
to sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water", fighting it out
with the orchestra, but giving up after a couple of verses.
"Hold it, hold it, hold it - hold the show! Just drop
everything, everybody fall out!" Charlie Hodge dramatically
fell over. Elvis walked over to him, to say, "Bless you,
son!" He apologised to us: "I don't really like to do
that, but I gotta stick to one song or the other. Let's
do 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'."
fooled around with the lyrics at the start of the tune. Someone
called out to interrupt him. "Shut up," intoned Elvis in a
deep voice, and the audience's laughter, and the smattering
of applause at this, made Elvis forget the words of the song.
He stopped singing, and the band took over. They stood up,
and sang in unison, and the audience joined in, as Elvis stood,
listening. "Oh, that's nice-listen, listen, the Ted Mack Amateur
Hour! Very nice. Thank you very much," said Elvis.
band sat down, and Elvis finished the song, giving it a powerful
rendition. Afterwards, he thanked the band for helping out.
A good version of "Suspicious Minds" followed, with a few
adlibs thrown in, and then Elvis began his introductions.
He paused as Charlie began to pick up the sheet music he'd
kicked over earlier. "Charlie, you don't have to do that,
get someone to come out here, somebody backstage come out
and pick the sheet music up. Joe, Sonny, Red, Lamar. . ."
West and Red West appeared and picked up the sheet music.
Elvis, satisfied, got on with the introductions. "OK. Over
on the left is Mr. J. D. Sumner and the Stumps-Stamps Quartet.
The young ladies up front are the Sweet something-or-other
- the Sweet Inspirations. The little girl that does our high-voiced
singing is Kathy Westmoreland. On the lead guitar," he said
in a deep voice, "is James Burton. On the rhythm guitar is
John Wilkinson," he emphasised the name, having got it wrong
so many times before.
a deep drawl he said, "And on the drums is Ronnie Tutt." So
the introductions continued, 'til Elvis came to Joe Guercio.
"Put that light back on Joe, please. Would you look at that
belt! Stand up, Joe, please. It's fantastic!" The usual personalities
were in the audience, including actor George Hamilton, Col.
Parker, and singer Bobbie Gentry. Elvis enthused over her:
"She's opening at the Frontier. Go and see her act, she's
a wow!" He introduced his dad, who came onstage, arms raised,
to great cheers.
walked to the front of the stage, to the corner seat between
the ramp and the stage, and leant down. "I want you to say
hello to Linda, she's a friend. Hello, dear!" And he raised
Linda Thompson's arm. The audience applauded - albeit politely
- obviously realising who Linda was. "I'd like to sing a song
that I hope you like."
fan yelled out. "Hey, wait a minute now, I'm running this
show! I'd like to sing a song that was done by, er, what's-'is-name"
- Elvis couldn't bring Richard Harris's name to mind - "It's
a great song called, 'My boy'." So beautifully did Elvis sing
this song, it was a joy to listen to him; "It's a good song,"
he told us. "I've saved Charlie Hodge 'til the last, because
he's the least! No - because he does this fantastic harmony
with me. He's been doing it for thirteen years, and he does
it so well, that it's almost like one voice."
Elvis paid tribute to a somewhat over-looked group member.
Elvis' next song was "I Can't Stop Loving You", ending with
his usual incredible voice-bending notes. At the start of
"American Trilogy" he sang, "look away, Disneyland," and urged
the Stamps to: "Sing it, fellas, sing it now, do it!" And
he emphasised the word "Disneyland" in their solo verse of
sang the remainder of the song completely seriously, a marvellous
rendition of one of the finest tunes he's ever sung onstage.
Oh, what a wonderful moment it was when the flute solo had
been played, and the music began to build! The look on Elvis'
face was one of total involvement. The applause reflected
the audience's appreciation.
created a mood of musical perfection, the king launched into
"A Big Hunk Of Love", a foot-stomping tune that took us back
to the early rockin' days. He took time to tell us, afterwards:
"I'd like to say something about the song that we did before,
'American Trilogy'. The guy that plays the flute solo, Jimmy
Mullidore, he's played it 144 times and never missed a note.
Thank you - stand up, Jimmy. The trumpet players, they've
actually split their lips blowing so hard, really. We kid
a lot, and have a lot of fun, but we really love to sing and
play music and entertain people. That's the name of the game!"
the applause died down, Elvis said, "I'd like to do a song
that's one of my favourites, and I hope you like it." His
version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" was tenderly
and beautifully interpreted, so much better than his recorded
version-but then, most of his "live" songs are. "This chain
that I've got round my neck," he indicated the heavy gold
chain, "was given to me last night by the hotel, the Hilton
Hotel. It has my initials here, and it's just a favour for
doing a third show last night." He hesitated for a moment,
and his face became serious. "There's a guy here, that works
in the Italian restaurant, his name's Mario" - a smattering
of applause - "and these people are getting ready to fire
him as soon as I leave, and I don't want him to go, 'cos he
needs a job, and I think the Hilton's bigger 'n that." We
applauded, a little surprised at Elvis' words. "No disrespect,"
he concluded, "but just wake up Conrad and tell him about
Mario's job, that's all."
began "Mystery Train", singing it very forcefully, then, as
the tune changed to "Tiger Man" Elvis interrupted his musicians
to say: "This next song is dedicated to the hierarchy and
the staff of the Hilton Hotel." And the king of the Vegas
jungle sang "Tiger Man" fiercely. "How Great Thou Art" is
the finest song I've heard Elvis do "live", and this was his
next selection. Elvis put so much power and sincerity into
his singing, that the whole showroom vibrated and you thought
the balcony must surely come falling down. This is one song
that Elvis never fools around in.
Elvis ended on his high note, he flung back his arm, and a
shower of sweat from his face was beaded in the spotlight.
"...Do it again?" he asked. "Yeah!" we encouraged. He repeated
the end of the song. "Do it again? I don't care, I'll sing
it all night!" He repeated the final verse again, so obviously
enjoying himself. "You're very nice," he thanked us.
our surprise, he began softly singing "Help Me Make It Through
The Night", afterwards asking Charlie to bring his chair onstage.
Elvis sat down on the blue chair, and tilted his head backward,
a look of exhaustion for a moment on his face. "I'd like to
tell you a little story." His voice was quiet and intensely
knew what he was going to say; we sat still, expectantly.
"There was a man in Florida, he was dying of cancer and he
was in a coma; he'd been in a coma for three days, and his
wife was sitting up by his side, and on the third morning
she lay down beside him and dozed off to sleep, and he felt
her as she dozed off to sleep, and at the same time he felt
himself starting to die..." The audience was gazing, hypnotised,
awe-struck, in silence, at the lone figure seated in the spotlight;
it was as though a spell had been cast on us.
continued: "And he took his notepad from beside the bed, and
he wrote, 'Softly as I leave you, long before your arms can
beg me stay, for one more hour, for one more day'..." The
orchestra had picked up the song, and were playing almost
imperceptibly behind Elvis as he spoke the poignant words
of this true story: "After all the years, I can't bear the
tears to fall, so, softly, softly, I will leave you... there."
His voice had become almost a whisper.
all, take it home," he told his musicians, barely waiting
for our applause. It took a few moments for us to come out
of the spell he'd cast. Then the whole audience stood up,
as he sang "Can't Help Falling In Love". He was distributing
white scarves as on a conveyor belt, fed by Charlie. At the
song's conclusion, he came forward on the ramp. The audience
Fike appeared, and Elvis jumped onto his broad back and rode
away offstage, then came back on his own two feet, to the
delight of the still wildly applauding crowd. The gold curtain
went back up, and Elvis came down the ramp again, giving out
scarves and shaking hands.
length, he turned and ran offstage, his hand rippling the
inside of the blue curtain, and he was gone. The mind-blown
audience was left to go its separate ways, having been fortunate
enough to witness a superlative and inspired performance by
Elvis, the world's greatest showman.