'Elvis: Vegas '69' - By Ken Sharp

EIN Book Review


'Elvis: Vegas '69 is the essential Elvis book purchase of 2009.


Written by Ken Sharp author of the critically acclaimed ' Writing For The King' the book tells the remarkable story of Elvis's return to the concert stage told through first-hand accounts by those lucky enough to be on hand to witness Elvis' miraculous artistic and creative rebirth.


EIN's Piers Beagley provides a detailed review of this absorbing and stunning book.



Elvis fans are an over-enthusiastic and perhaps gullible group. Our hero has been dead 32 years and yet we still spend our hard-earned savings on Elvis memorabilia, CDs and books. More often than not these photo books are over-priced and of little substance and rarely warrant a re-visit once read through once.

‘Elvis Vegas ‘69’ is NOT one of those books!
It is a stunning 208 page book packed with an abundance of stunning photos, memorabilia, plenty of text to read and opinions to explore.

The introduction explains that..

"Elvis: Vegas 69 tells the remarkable story of Elvis Presley's triumphant return to the concert stage, as told through first-hand accounts by those lucky enough to be on hand to witness the King’s miraculous artistic and creative rebirth."

..and it delivers in all senses.

The book is divided into several chapters giving both the back-story to Elvis’ 1969 return to live performances as well as the historical impact of Elvis’ legacy.

The text is well laid-out, featuring highlights from Ken Sharp’s interviews and the cool design (right) cleverly mimics the style of the original ’69 International Hotel placard.

Credit must also go to the designer Carrie Hamilton. In his interview with EIN, Ken Sharp noted that "Many of the images that came from the Graceland archives, especially images that had not been seen before, were not in great shape so she painstakingly brought them back to life through retouching."

The results of this meticulous work are remarkable - and all the new photos are a real treat. At the end of this review is an amazing photo of Elvis on stage during Opening Night - He knows that he was back at the top once again!

Reading the book often feels as if you are surrounded by well-known "friends" (Priscilla, Jerry Schilling, Terry Blackwood, the TCB band etc) as they relate their stories about why Elvis’ return was so triumphant. Ken Sharp interviewed over 100 people for the book and there are plenty of fascinating insights - including a few highlighted below.

The book is divided into several sections starting with a brief comment on the terrible mid-sixties ‘Hollywood Heartbreak’ and taking us through to the after-show ‘Press Conference’ and onto the ‘King Of The Whole Wide World’ with every chapter packed with marvellous comments and memorabilia.

Before the main course about the International Hotel concerts the book describes how the ’68 Comeback Special sowed the seeds for Elvis’ triumphant return and includes Priscilla’s comment ….

Priscilla Presley: Elvis was reluctant at first. Nothing had been done like this before. He knew he needed a change. He was so dissatisfied with his career. He really had no other choice. At the time, he didn't know it he had a career. His records weren't doing well. Musically he was a little in doubt. Then this wonderful concept came along and he went along for that ride. He would pace back and forth when he was nervous. "Is it the right thing to do?"

There is also an interesting chapter ‘The International Hotel: The Back Story’ which explains why Barbra Streisand and not Elvis opened this new hotel, even though there was a lot of press about Elvis signing his contracts as the hotel was being built.

It also tells the story of how the TCB band was assembled for the new concerts and includes this delightful story from John Wilkinson….

John Wilkinson: Elvis had seen me on a couple of local Los Angeles TV shows and he liked the way I fingerpicked the guitar and the way I sang. Somehow he found my phone number. I'd done a lot of work around Los Angeles in studios and clubs. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was sitting at home in my house in North Hollywood and I was half drunk on red wine and watching old Ozzie and Harriet reruns on a black and white TV. A lot of my buddies knew that I was an Elvis fan since the first time I met him in 1954, '55 when I was nine years old. Sometimes my buddies would call me on the phone and try to sound like Elvis and make me think it was him on the phone. I picked up the phone, "Hello?" This voice comes on that sounded like Elvis. "Hey John, this is Elvis." I go, "Yeah, right!" Click. And I hung up.
I thought, "Uh oh, that voice was awfully good, you don't suppose that I just hung up on Elvis Presley?" Almost immediately the phone rings again and I pick it up and I go. "Yes sir" and he goes, "Dammit Johnny, this is Elvis, don't hang up on me!" I said, "Elvis, I'm sorry" and explained what happened. He said, "Look, I'm putting a band together. We're gonna go back out on the road and I have one spot left for a rhythm guitar player. I think you'd be the one to fill it, would you like to have that job?" And I said, "Yeah, I would. I've only been a fan of yours since I was a little itty boy, I'd love to do it."

The main section is of course Elvis’ amazingly successful return to live performances and it is truly spectacular. The success of the book is that after all these years one can still recapture the excitement and importance of this momentous event.

Elvis’ musical renaissance started by the ’68 Comeback was validated by his stunning series of live concerts - and at last we have a book that is a worthy testimony to this great event.

While you may have seen a lot of the photos before, many are previously unpublished and all are printed in stunning quality.

The colour photos wonderfully stand out capturing a tanned, fit and enthused Elvis, while the black & white photos also capture Elvis’ fantastic energy.


(Two stunning shots but you will have to buy the book to see them in their true high-res quality)

Best of all Sharp has managed to ascertain the actual dates of a lot of these photos. Knowing that you are actually viewing a photo from Opening Night itself raises the impact of the story. There can be no doubt that a lot of hard work and investigation has gone into producing this very detailed book. Knowing how hard the author worked on the text driven FTD book ‘Writing For The King’ this is not surprising.

Ken Sharp has self-published the book which makes it all the more impressive. Vegas ’69 would have been a perfect collaboration with FTD so it seems a shame that they didn’t become involved. It would also have become FTD’s best book released so far!

There are a series of great stories from witnesses to this stunning event both from Elvis’ acquaintances, as well as concert attendees.

While hearing from the well-known (Glen Campbell, Pat Boone, Cissy Houston etc) is also fascinating to hear stories from fans who were present. In fact a real highlight is the interesting story of Ian Fraser-Thompson, an 18 year-old true fan, who happened to manage to sneak in to the final Dress Rehearsal and Opening Night - what an achievement!
Here is a taster of his fantastic story...

Ian Fraser-Thompson: Sometime in the morning I went across the street to the International and looked at all the Elvis decorations. I ended up on the second floor where there was a swimming pool, which was advertised as the second largest body of water next to Lake Mead. So I was hanging out by the pool and then I went into the restroom. When I was in there I heard Elvis music being piped in and thought, "How great!" I heard "Love Me Tender" and suddenly realized it was a version that I'd never heard before. I went, "Oh my God, it's live, Elvis must be rehearsing!" So I immediately left the restroom, went downstairs and found the showroom. There was a security guard at the front door. I watched and waited and eventually someone came up to the security guard. While he was being distracted I sneaked up a winding staircase which got me up to the balcony without being noticed. I could hear Elvis rehearsing so I crept down very low and peeked my head over the barrier. There was Elvis, dressed in black pants and puffed sleeve green shirt, sitting on a bar stool and he was just finishing "Mystery Train." I was obviously amazed. He was working through the numbers with the band and a full orchestra. He called out a few names of songs like "Memories," "Yesterday" and a couple of rock numbers. He remained seated most of the time on the bar stool in an effort to conserve his energy. Sometimes they'd run through an entire song, other times they'd work on an intro or work on the ending of a song. There was a lot of fine tuning going on. "Suspicious Minds" really sticks out in my memory because the song wasn't released yet and I'd never heard it. It was really exciting and it gave me chills. I thought, "This is a killer song."

This small excerpt is only one example of how the interviews and comments provide a exciting narrative throughout the book.

The quality and selection of the photos are truly stunning.


These are two more of my favourites, so if you want to see the images like these but in high resolution you will have to buy this book!

The book ends with three sections that some fans will really enjoy.
‘Elvis For Everyone’ features some wonderful new comments from Sharp’s interviewees explaining the impact Elvis had on their lives. From Paul Simon to KISS’ Paul Stanley to Chris Isaak.

Chris Isaak: "Skip ahead a few more years and I got to actually play with the Jordanaires, DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore. I think I just about passed out to meet Scotty Moore and getting to have him play "Blue Moon" while I sang was one of those moments that you think, "I'm dreamin'... I'm gonna wake up any minute'. And finally I was on the road with my band and I was reading an interview with Sam Phillips who produced all the Sun Sessions. At the end of the interview the writer asked Sam what new artists he was listening to or liked, and Sam said "Chris Isaak". I cried. I don't think any award I could ever win would mean as much to me, because it was Sam Phillips and Elvis and Scotty that made me pick up a guitar and just go for it. When I meet Elvis I'm gonna sure thank him for that."

There is a fascinating section covering the international media coverage and reviews plus at the end Elvis expert Keith Flynn provides a wonderfully detailed ‘Las Vegas Concert Index 1969’ with list of the concerts, confirmed set-lists and where they have all been released. This will be of major interest to hardcore collectors.

With the photos, interviews, text, detailed lists, quality printing and stylish design there truly is "Something For Everybody".

There is no doubt that ‘Elvis: Vegas ‘69’ is one of the very best photo/text books ever written about Elvis. Focussing on a specific period makes it all that more absorbing.

The concept is comparable to my favourite Elvis book of last year Steve Binder’s JAT book ’68 @40’ but this has nearly twice as many pages and is selling at a much cheaper price!

If you like Elvis in 1969, and who doesn’t, it is an ESSENTIAL purchase.

At a fantastically reasonable price you must buy it before it sells out.


(Right: Pages of photo collections also help to enhance the feeling of seeing Elvis LIVE on stage)

Overall Verdict: The presentation, text and wonderful photos of Elvis’ triumphant Las Vegas concert return could not be bettered. With plenty to read, lots of new insights to discover, as well as the best quality photos of Elvis in 1969 that you will ever see, this is a fantastic and detailed book that all fans should own. With over 200 pages in stunning quality it is also great value for money. One of the best Elvis books of all-time.

At only US$58 including P&P in the US. CLICK HERE for 'ELVIS Vegas '69' purchase details

Review by Piers Beagley
-Copyright EIN, August 2009

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Disclaimer: Please note that although I am credited in the book it was only for providing some Elvis contacts and I had nothing to do with the book's final production. Nor is EIN selling the book! Just make sure you get a copy!

Right: From the book a marvellous photo of the International Hotel under construction.

This is a delight since it features EIN contributor Joan Gansky standing in front!

She later saw 2 Elvis performances during the first season.

DO NOT MISS OUT on our eye-witness review of ELVIS LIVE August 22nd 1969 by Joan Gansky - Click here.

Ian Fraser-Thomson 1969 fan Interview: Ian Fraser-Thomson was the only fan to witness Elvis' astounding July 1969 rehearsal, Las Vegas Opening Night and the Press Conference afterwards. As we all know July 31, 1969 marked a historic milestone in Elvis' career. Bolstered by the runaway success of the '68 Comeback show and energised by productive recording sessions at American Sound Studios, Elvis launched his return to live performance at Las Vegas's International Hotel in the summer of 1969.  

In this insightful interview Ian Fraser-Thomson gives an incredible insiders viewpoint on what it was like to actually be there while Elvis went through the most important on-stage resurrection of his career.

Do not miss this great interview and rare Elvis 1969 photos.

(Interview, Source;EIN)

Click here for the ELVIS: VEGAS '69 website. 

Other relevant EIN articles

EIN interview with Ken Sharp about 'Elvis: Vegas '69'

EIN review of  the FTD book 'Writing For The King' by Ken Sharp

Ken Sharp's fascinating interview with Ernst Jorgensen.

In-depth article on 'In The Ghetto' the 40th Anniversary.

'IN PERSON’ at The International Hotel' FTD CD review:

The '68 Special - 40th Anniversary Celebration - By Paul & Joan Gansky

'From Elvis To Garth' Bobby Wood & The Memphis Boys 1969

The Night Elvis Reclaimed His Crown 1968

EIN review of the JAT Steve Binder book '68 at 40'

Spotlight: The Dark Side of Colonel Parker

'Elvis: Vegas '69' book gets Graceland launch:

Ken Sharp's 'Elvis: Vegas '69' book will be officially premiered at Elvis Week 2009 in Memphis.

Fans will be delighted to know that the book will be packed with over 150 stunning full colour and B&W images, many culled from the Graceland archives.

It will also include vintage Vegas/Elvis concert memorabilia, a '69 show index and much more, the book will transport the reader back to "the Strip" for one of the most electrifying moments in Elvis' monumental career.

'Elvis: Vegas '69' is an all new 200-page hardback book that commemorates the 40th anniversary of Elvis’s historic return to live performance. Written by Ken Sharp, author of the critically acclaimed FTD book, Writing For The King, the book tells the remarkable story of Elvis's return to the concert stage told through first-hand accounts by those lucky enough to be on hand to witness his miraculous artistic and creative rebirth. Sharp has also authored or co-authored many other music books including Overnight Sensation: The Story Of The Raspberries, Power Pop!, Meet The Beatles...Again!, Reputation Is A Fragile Thing: The Story Of Cheap Trick, and Small Faces: Quite Naturally.

With Sharp's latest book, you'll learn the backstory behind what led to Elvis's triumphant return to live performance. You'll go behind closed doors with Elvis and the band in pre-show rehearsals and revel in the excitement and anticipation of opening night. The actual opening show is then chronicled through the eyes of the people that were there along with the press conference, after show celebration and more.

Elvis Week 2009 in Memphis will be the site of the worldwide book premiere and launch.

Meet author Ken Sharp during Elvis Week 2009. Ken will be at the following events:

Conversations on Elvis - Session 2

Saturday, August 15
1:00 p.m.
Cannon Center for the Performing Arts
255 North Main Street, downtown Memphis.  

Elvis: Vegas '69 Book Signing
Saturday, August 15
5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Everything Elvis Store at Graceland Crossing

EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Elvis Presley, Elvis and Graceland are trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
The Elvis Information Network has been running since 1986 and is an EPE officially recognised Elvis fan club.



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