"Elvis Straight Up!"
I first met Elvis Presley in the Army in 1958 and began working for him soon after we were both released from the service in 1960. Literally, until the day he died seventeen years later, my life circled around his, and the incredibly bizarre and exciting world he lived within became my existence as well. It was a wild, crazy ride. And despite some very tense periods, I loved every minute of it!
Over the past thirty years, I have been asked by people of all ages from all over the world countless questions about him. There doesn't seem to be one detail about the man that people arent interested in. Over the years, I have always tried to be as forthright with my answers as I can. There's no question Elvis was a highly unique and gifted individual. But he was a person too. During the years immediately after his death, I grappled over how to answer some of the more difficult questions being asked about Elvis's life, and I came to the decision that telling the truth in as thoughtful a way as I can works best.
You have to realize, I was with Elvis for seventeen years. That's a long time, and being with Elvis was no nine- to- five job, believe me. Elvis's demanding lifestyle meant you had to be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He was a handful, and you never knew from one day to the next what adventure he would call upon us to explore with him, or what insane lengths we might have to go to fulfill one of his outlandish desires or elaborate requests.
So much was happening so fast during those years. Elvis was always so on the go that it's sometimes hard to pair events with the eras in which they took place. I have tried in the past to assemble my memories into a book, but it really is an unrealistic expectation. How could I possibly squeeze seventeen years of experiences with Elvis Presley into two or three hundred pages? Well, I'll tell you...you can't. It would take a hundred books to even come close. It may sound crazy, but that's the dilemma that inspired this "Elvis-Straight Up" series. Now, I'm not promising we're going to literally do a hundred books, but a series affords a lot more freedom to elaborate on a wider variety of stories, and in far greater detail than ever before.
I am thrilled to be working with noted writer and Elvis historian, Joe Russo, as my collaborator. Joe possesses an uncanny ability to recapture the thrill and intensity of living with Elvis almost as vividly as when it actually happened. Being involved in the entertainment field himself has afforded him incredible insight into the business and the personalities involved. He has been helping me unjar the details of those years with Elvis from my aging memory so we can put them out there for fans all over the world to enjoy.
Joe Russo's requisite for the book, and I thoroughly agreed with him, was that this project have no agenda other than telling the plain truth. No axe to grind. No ulterior motive. No score to settle. I was not to relieve myself from accountability, and I was not to absolve Elvis from his. What is told here is what really happened, for better or worse. I held nothing back this time and trusted Russo's talent, objectivity and compassion to do the rest. What we have created here is, I believe, the most balanced, thoughtful and heartfelt account of life with Elvis Presley I, or anyone, is likely ever to produce.
I'd like to start by giving you a thumbnail description of what I believe "Elvis Presley" was made of.
First, I'd like to make one thing very clear. Elvis Presley possessed a very special magic and power, not only as a performer, but also as a human being as well.
As a performer, there simply has never been any equal. That may sound like an extreme statement, but I am convinced it's true. Sure, there have been dozens, perhaps hundreds, of legendary singers and entertainers throughout history, all of them unique and important in their own way. But Elvis Presley's talent came from another place. Nobody has what he had. It's that simple. It was reserved only for him. He was the only entertainer in the world, and I have had the privilege to know and observe many of the greats, who could move and inspire people, all kinds of people, to the level he could. Once he "touched" you, that was it. You were hooked for life.
And as a human being? As long as I live, I know I will never see anyone have such a profound effect on people. He could make anyone, and I mean anyone, feel like he was the most important person in the world just by talking with him. He had charisma and charm that is just indescribable. And do you know something? He didn't even have to sing! When Elvis entered a room, even if you didn't see him come in, you could feel the energy of his presence tingle at your nerves because the power of his magnetism was that intense.
Trust me. Elvis was just as perplexed by this phenomenon as you or I are today. For the most part, he was a very humble man. But he was keenly aware of his unique gifts and spent most of his life searching the realms of spirituality for clues as to why he was chosen to be "Elvis Presley". Over and over throughout his life he asked himself, Why me? To be honest, in the years since his death, I have thought about my life with Elvis and have asked myself the same question, "Why me?
Before I met Elvis, I was a kid from a nice little Italian neighborhood in Chicago. Except for one trip to Montana, I never traveled anywhere. The last place I'd ever have thought to visit on my own would have been Memphis, Tennessee. Why, of all the people Elvis met in the service, did he pay special attention to me? In fact, why was I even in the Army? It wasn't until after I was discharged that I was informed I was exempt all along and shouldn't have been there in the first place! That was pretty amazing happenstance, don't you think? Did destiny lead me into the Army for the sole purpose of meeting Elvis Presley? Why was I selected to become "right hand man to one of the most celebrated and influential personalities in history, to see and do things in life that my friends and family back home could only dream of, and to be chosen by Elvis Presley as a best man at his wedding, for Chrissake?
It must have been that mysterious phenomenon known as fate. The whole situation was just too farfetched to be anything else. I can't explain it, but I know I am eternally grateful for it.
Not that I would or could ever forget him, but Elvis's immortality and enduring popularity all over the world assures me a day will never go by without me thinking of him in some way.
If even a small notion of how larger than life Elvis was, or how incredible a time I had being with him is conveyed to the reader by the stories and memories in these books, it will bring me one step closer to answering that question I mentioned earlier for myself... "Why me?
ELVIS & "THE BOOK"
Weeks prior to Elvis's death in August of 1977, a paperback book titled Elvis: What Happened? was released by Random House publishers. It was authored by a tabloid journalist named Steve Dunleavy based on interviews with former fellow "Memphis Mafia" members Red West, his younger cousin Sonny West and one of Elvis's karate instructors, Dave Hebler. The three bodyguards were unceremoniously fired in mid-1976, but instead of lying low until the situation resolved itself, they made a terrible, drastic decision that shattered Elvis's world and created the greatest devastating upheaval in his personal life since the passing of his beloved mother.
The book would become a blockbuster, one of the best-selling paperbacks of all time. It's timing couldn't have been better, or worse, depending on which end of the gun barrel you were on.
Red West and Elvis were very, very close. They were from the same part of Memphis and went to the same school together. The incident that cemented them forever happened during their days at Humes High School, when Red thwarted a group of bullies from beating up on Elvis. From then on, they were thick as thieves. Red eventually took on the role of protecting Elvis with his life until the day they parted company, over twenty years later. Red was there from the beginning, his sincerity proven by the fact that he befriended Elvis long before he was a star. Red was one of the few of us who knew his mother, Gladys. Elvis and Red were very tight. There's no question about it. In a way, they were brothers.
They loved like each other like brothers, and on more than one occasion, they clashed like brothers. Personally, I had no problem with Red. In those days we all basically put aside whatever personality differences we may have had with one another for the sake of getting along and enjoying the exclusive bond we shared as members of Elvis's entourage. Actually, Red had some showbiz talents of his own. At the time he was gaining exposure as a stuntman, actor, and later, acting coach (He eventually opened his own school.), a field he has excelled in over the years. Red was also an unlikely but very apt songwriter. He wrote some very fine tunes that Elvis recorded including "If You Think I Don't Need You", "Separate Ways", "If Every Day Was Like Christmas" and "Seeing Is Believing". Red was somewhat of a paradox; tough as nails but with the heart of a poet. To the outside world, he was tough. But he had to be in order to shoulder the responsibilities he had to shoulder for Elvis. And let's face it, if he hadn't kicked the hell out of those bullies that day at Humes, he might never have bonded with Elvis the way he had in the first place! Overall, I would say Red was a good guy during the years I worked with him, despite his short fuse.
The first time I became aware of this "short fuse" of his was the day I met him in Bad Nauheim, Germany, near where Elvis and I were stationed in the Army. Elvis flew him over from Memphis to be around and have fun with during his time off duty. I was sitting at a table in the local pub talking with some of my fellow servicemen when all of a sudden this fight breaks out behind me. Before I knew what was happening, Red West is beatin' the hell out of some guy at the bar. To this day, I don't know what that poor guy said or did, but Red knocked the hell out of him!
Perhaps it was an omen. Elvis eventually had to ask Red to return home to Memphis because the Army was giving him hell about these skirmishes his buddy, Mr. West, was having with the locals. Ironically, history would repeat itself about sixteen years later when Elvis's father, Vernon, actually fired Red and his cousin, Sonny, claiming it was because of some costly lawsuits leveled against Elvis that involved fights they had instigated.
Now, every one of us who had ever worked for Elvis had been fired at least once. It was something that was inevitable if you were around him for any period of time. But we also knew, one way or the other, sooner or later you would be asked to come back. So for the life of me I could never understand, until this day, why Red and Sonny turned against Elvis the way they did. Scorned, they retaliated by aligning themselves with a sensationalist writer and began work on an explosive "tell all" expose of Elvis's personal life, his faults, bad habits and temper tantrums. To be fair, they also covered a lot of the good times as well: Elvis's generosity, his immense talent, his love affair with his fans, etc. The main purpose of the book however, was to return fire and blow the lid off the Presley myth. But why was this even happening? Didn't they realize their being fired was likely only temporary? They were let go in July of 1976, and within six months we were reading sample chapters of this book eventually known as Elvis, What Happened?
Well, I'll tell you "what happened". As Elvis poured over the pages, reading the most salacious things he could ever imagine anyone saying about him, he became ashen. He was devastated. He was convinced this book would destroy his whole life. And in a way, I really believe it did.
After the contents of that book were revealed to Elvis, I believe a large part of his spirit just gave up. He lost his will to fight. Onstage, he was always singing the lyric, "Lord, this time you gave me a mountain...I may never climb. Although I never voiced my fears to a soul at the time, inside I had a terrible feeling this might be that mountain
We would like to thank you for taking the time to read this excerpt of our new book ELVIS STRAIGHT UP! ELVIS STRAIGHT UP! Is available for purchase online today at http://www.elvisstraightup.com or you may call 702-430-9867 to order by phone. (Not Sold In Stores)
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