Excerpt from "Elvis Still Taking Care of Business"
Courtesy of the publisher, Triumph Books, EIN presents here are excerpts from Sonny West's new book, Elvis Still Taking Care of Business:
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Excerpt #2: " The Comeback King"
As the Sweet Inspirations warmed up the audience, I felt a tap on the shoulder. A showroom captain said that Elvis wanted to see me backstage. I was escorted through a side door and along a hallway to a staircase leading down to Elvis’ dressing room. Inside were Elvis, Joe Esposito, Lamar Fike, Richard Davis and Charlie Hodge.
At the end of the Sixties, Elvis' career was booming again with his hugely successful TV special, a new batch of recordings and an upcoming engagement in Las Vegas.
Elvis invited me and my then-girlfriend Judy Jordan (who is now my wife of 36 years) to be his special guests at his first live stage show in almost nine years at the Las Vegas International Hotel. “It’s going to be fun being back on the stage again,” Elvis said.
Judy and I arrived in Las Vegas on July 31, and everywhere we looked we saw Elvis. Billboards, posters, taxi marquees and radio and TV ads shouted his name. The marquee in front of the International featured his name in letters taller than me. In the lobby was an Elvis souvenir booth that sold posters and 8 x 10s of the man of the hour. The excitement was something even for Las Vegas.
Elvis looked spectacular. His wavy jet black hair and gold jewelry meshed well with the dark blue karate-style Cossack suit and macramé belt designed by 2nd Elvis Excerpt Bill Belew. We hugged, and after visiting for a short time, we headed upstairs to the backstage area. Elvis was very nervous as we started the stretching routine we had always done before our karate workouts. We placed our right feet side-by-side, barely touching. Then Elvis leaned way back, pulling me forward, and I leaned back pulling him forward. Then we switched hands and feet and duplicated the process. Elvis said repeatedly, “It is here, it is here,” almost as if he were in a trance. When we finished, he shook his arms as if to release all that nervous energy.
As he paced back and forth, beads of sweat forming on his forehead, I told him, “Elvis, you’re going to kick ass. I just know it.” “Man, I hope so,” he replied nervously.
When the lights in the showroom dimmed and Elvis’ opening music filled the room, the crowd was on its feet. The gold lame curtain began its ascent and Elvis looked up as if to say, “Help me, God, do the best I can,” then took one last deep breath, exhaled. He nodded to me, then walked out on stage. The crowd roared its approval, and the sound seemed to move through him like an electrical current. All of a sudden, he was home.
There's an old saying in show business that was made for Elvis that night: “A singer needs songs, but an entertainer just needs a stage.” He grabbed the microphone, paused and launched into a raucous version of “Blue Suede Shoes.” The audience was screaming, swooning and dancing. Sammy Davis Jr. was right up front, pounding the stage in excitement and yelling, “Yeah, yeah, kick it, babe!” Sammy kept it up all night. Elvis did the same thing himself when he attended other entertainers’ shows.
There came a time in the show where Elvis introduced celebrities in the audience and he gave Sammy a very special one that night. When Elvis did the Frank Sinatra TV special in 1960, Sammy was there and noticed how nervous Elvis was. He went up to Elvis and spoke with him, and succeeded in calming him down, telling him, “You’re the man! Don’t worry about anything. Just do your thing!”
Elvis graciously told the audience in Vegas that night about it and then to thunderous applause knelt down and took a huge Black Star Sapphire ring off his finger and presented it to Sammy, moving “Mr. Bojangles” to tears.
For 90 minutes, Elvis's manic energy never waned. It was just him and a microphone. No pyrotechnics or backdrops, just pure raw talent. He electrified the crowd with rolls, kicks and gyrations. It was crazy, spontaneous, frenzied and over-the-top. That one show changed the face of Las Vegas-style entertainment forever and added a gilt-edge page to the Elvis legend. He was a superstar again.
And he knew it. “Damn Elvis, that was great!” I said excitedly when he came off stage.
“Thanks, Sonny,” he said, wiping his face with a towel. Then he said, “Yeah, I did it. I knocked them on their butts!”
The celebrities in the crowd paraded backstage to congratulate him. Sammy Davis Jr. and Cary Grant were especially effusive in their praise.
After the Colonel was done with business, he went backstage. The crowd parted as he and Elvis fell into a tearful clinch. Parker’s body was literally shaking with pure emotion. “We did it! We did it!” the Colonel said. “Yes, we did, Colonel,” said Elvis. “We sure did.”
|Looking back almost 30 years later, I am forced to concede that even though Elvis: What Happened? sold three million copies, it was largely a failure. The book, co-written with my cousin Red West and fellow bodyguard Dave Hebler didn't save Elvis, and neither did it convey to readers how much I loved the man. By focusing so much on Elvis’ addiction to medication and oddball behavior, I was remiss in not telling readers how much he meant to me. Let me state for the record – he meant the world to me.
In this book I want to give readers an insight to what Elvis was really like. Elvis had abundant charm, charisma, sensitivity and class. He was well-read on a variety of subjects from religion to philosophy to world history. Elvis had a God-given talent in music and gave 100 percent all the time on stage and in the studio. But he likewise put all of himself into every emotion, and when he was mad, you always prayed it was at somebody else. If not, you felt you needed to get the hell out of Dodge.
Writing this book has truly been a labor of love and a catharsis. At times it’s left me drained emotionally and physically. I have taken almost four years to put down my stories on my life with Elvis, and I truly hope you enjoy reading them. If you laugh a lot or are deeply touched and moved to tears, and feel you know Elvis more personally by the time you are done reading this book then I will have accomplished something very important to me.
Over the years there have been statements made by some concerning Elvis’ view on race, religion and politics. Elvis spent a lot of time discussing current affairs and articulating his positions. He purposely chose not to publicly convey his views so his fame would not influence anyone. Elvis served his country with distinction, and he believed that everybody is entitled to an opinion, and to have freedom of choice.
He was once asked at a news conference about his view on a political issue, and politely declined to answer. The reporter asked Elvis if he even had a position on the subject. Elvis stated he did, but preferred to keep it to himself. That’s quite a contrast to so many of our current celebrities who aren't at all shy about using their status to promote a political agenda.
In private, Elvis never shied away from telling anyone how great this country is. He was one of the most patriotic people I ever knew and was very proud of the men and women in our armed forces for doing their duty to protect our freedom. It’s no mere coincidence that Elvis is the symbol of
America to many people around the globe, and he would be very proud of that association. I am happy to have been associated with Elvis Presley, a man who profoundly touched the lives of untold millions, and enriched the lives of those who knew him.
Title: Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business
Authors: Sonny West with Marshall Terrill
On-Sale Date: Worldwide May 1, 2007
Price: $25.95 US, 400 pages, plus 16 pages of photos