Elvis Week 2008

The Elvis Insiders Conference

Spotlight by - Susan Graham

EIN's special reports looking back at the highlights of Elvis Week 2008.

This first part looks at The Elvis Insiders Conference and includes interviews with the following:

Comedian Sammy Shore,
The Imperials,
EPE owner Robert Sillerman,
Jerry Schilling and Joe Guercio,
Actors Susan Henning, Celeste Yarnell, Edward Faulkner and Francine York.

EIN thanks Susan Graham for this chance to look back at the highlights of Elvis Week 2008.

Susan Graham has worked on several Elvis projects including the production of the DVD & CD '200 Cadillacs' and is a regular visitor to Memphis. Go here for a previous EIN interview with her about her involvement with '200 Cadillacs' - a documentary about Elvis' generosity.

2008 was the first time in 10 years that EIN's special reporter Sanja Meegin could not make a trip from Australia to Memphis for Elvis week. So this year our good friend Seattle Susie, Susan Graham, has provided us with these three special reports looking at the highlights of this year's Elvis Week.

The Elvis Insiders Conference
Day 1. Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It was interesting to see Sammy Shore, the comedian who opened for Elvis in Vegas interviewed here for the first time.

Tom Brown (compere): Did you find it a challenge?

Sammy Shore – Nobody wanted to see the comedian. They just wanted to see Elvis.
I was an unknown. Opening night everyone in the world was there. Movie stars – Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, etc. I knew if I bombed my career would be over. If I did well, I’d do well in the business. I hadn’t gotten there yet. So this was it for me. Elvis and the Col saw me open for Tom Jones and they liked me. Elvis and Parker came backstage to meet him and I was speechless. Parker said “I like your humor” and I said I like your chicken”.

So, opening night there was a lot of pressure. This was it for me. It was me out there by myself. House lights dimmed and there was a tympani roll. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, a legend in his own time.. , but first here’s Sammy Shore. “ And the mike was dead! My big break and the mike was dead! They shoved out a new mike and I started to adlib to make it look like the second mike didn’t work. After 5-10 minutes I had ‘em. If the mike wasn’t dead I probably would have bombed.

When I came off I saw Elvis waiting. I shook his hand – and his hand was sweaty, too. He was nervous. After all, this was the first time in 12 years he’d been on a live stage. Of course we know what happened. My dressing room was next to his and I tried to get the celebs and the young pretty girls to come in to my room. But everyone wanted to see Elvis, of course.

Two older gentleman came in. They were very high ups in the William Morris agency!! They said what I’d done that night was incredible. We want to sign you at the WMA.

After all my small club experiences I was ready to handle what happened that night.
Vegas was the place to see and be seen. Everyone had an opening act. No longer. The hotels want everyone to see the show and get back to gambling. Nowadays there are few comedians playing there.

Tom: have you talked to people here that saw you in Vegas?

SS. Oh sure. But I tell you, working last night, opening for Shawn Klush.. I got my standing ovation – and then I watched Shawn. It was like going back in time. He was amazing. It was like going out on tour with Elvis!

Sammy Shore also talked about his book “The Man who made Elvis laugh”.
Go here for more info.

The Imperials. Joe Moscheo, Terry Blackwood, Sherman Andrus.

Joe Mosheo: It was the best time of our lives. “He Touched Me” album – who knew what that would become?

Tom: Dixie Locke mentioned that he seemed to be a different person when he sang gospel in church. What did you see?

Terry Blackwood: Elvis would go see the gospel events, coming in late, leaving early so he wouldn’t bother everyone. My family attended the same church. Gospel influenced his life.

Tom: You can literally draw a line from that gospel to rock n roll

Sherman Andrus: When I listen to Elvis’ interpretation of songs you can feel all that passion. You knew he had something special. We called it in the church being endowed or having the spirit. This guy cut through all the cultural everything. It didn’t matter what kind of song he sang, but you always felt his passion.

Tom: If he had not been the singer he became, would he have fit into a gospel quartet?

Terry: (laughing) How could you be in a group with Elvis? He’d always be standing out.

Joe: I thought he was an amazing gospel singer. Remember “If I Can Dream” he believes the lyrics, he’s selling the meaning. “I’m trying to tell you something”.

Tom: It is said that Elvis would always sing gospel during the Vegas years.

Joe: There was a special elevator up to the suite. Even before getting to the elevator he’d already start “I, John” or something. He was relaxing us.

Terry: Every time he initiated a song a capella it would be a gospel song. “Farther along” – we knew that song backwards and forwards.

Tom: When you were singing gospel, would Elvis stay on a part? Bass, tenor, etc.

Terry: (Laughing) Elvis could sing whatever he wanted!

Joe: He’d sit at the piano and hit a high note – ‘see that note up here’, he’d say. ‘That’s Millie.’ Then he'd play a lower note and say 'that's Joe's...' He actually arranged the songs.

Terry: . .  and he’d know if you missed a cue. You know that Elvis really was as nice as everyone has heard. He wasn't one of those stars who would do their job and leave. He wanted to hang around with us.

Richard Sterban- from The Stamps, and the Oak Ridge Boys

Tom: What was it like to be in a group with 2 bass singers?

Richard Sterban: JD wanted to spend more time on his business ventures so I was there about 6 months singing when Elvis called JD to get the Stamps to go on tour with him. So JD wanted to sing again and Elvis wanted JD there, too.

Tom: How often did the offstage gospel happen?

RS: More often than not. Sometimes even *before* we went on stage, as well as afterward. It was a very big deal to be on one of the largest tours around. It was a very exciting time for me. A lot of people questioned my decision to move on to the Oak Ridge Boys, but I really liked them, too.

Tom: What went through your mind last year when you did Elvis the Concert?

RS: The best part of the concert last year was being reunited with all the guys, the Sweet Inspirations, etc. I had a really long chat with Ronnie Tutt. But it was also unbelievable to sing with Elvis again (RS gets choked up here).

Tom: There have been tremendous changes in touring. How does it differ touring then and now?

RS: With Elvis we played the biggest venues. It helped set me up for touring with the ORB. Then, we had a few lights here and there – today it’s techno shows and all.

RS: Elvis was a big football fan. Because of the 3 TVs he had, he could watch several games at the same time. Nowadays that’s much easier.

Tom: What do you think of the Elvis phenomenon after all these years?

RS It will never happen to any other entertainer. Last year they sold out the FedEx forum – for a dead entertainer! That will never happen again. My daughters love his music. It’s got that magic, just the music, even without the image.

I was on “Burning Love”. He walked around the studio with a handheld mike. That would never happen today. He’ was an engineer’s nightmare.

Tom: Talk to me about how important it was to find the right song.

RS: The material is the most important thing in the music business. We’d spend hours listening to demos just to find that one right song. But Elvis had no idea what he was going to record before he went into the studio. We might listen to 4,5-10 songs and he’d decide which song to record. (He had a great ear for what would be good for him). So then someone would have to quick write an arrangement and Elvis would tell us what he wanted us to sing.

Tom: how have you guys (ORB) stayed together so long?

RS: the key is the love of what we do. We love the creative process. We’re not young anymore but I hope to continue working for a long time.

Also appearing on Day 1 of the conference were:
Sandi Pichon, Elvis' friend,
Mike Stoller and DJ Fontana.
JoAnn Cash, sister of Johnny Cash

The Elvis Insiders Conference
Day 2. Thursday, August 14, 2008

EPE owner Robert Sillerman opened the conference via a video-taped interview.
Q -What are your plans for Las Vegas?

Robert Sillerman: It will be a big, interactive (you will be able to “talk” to Elvis), maybe they can get the street names “Elvis Presley Blvd West”. Elvis deserves a bigger presence in Vegas for what he did there.

Q - What are your plans for Graceland?

Sillerman: The impact of economy may affect how fast what we do. Won’t be spending all of the money up front. But major pieces will be completed soon (“soon” being a relative term). Our current economic situation is pretty dire.

Q - Why did you want to buy EPE?

Sillerman: Society has changed so much over the last 10 years, principally driven by the devices we have – ipods, dvds, internet, etc. we can now deal with iconistic people. Since it’s impossible for anyone else to ever attain the heights that Elvis did, it was our desire to be associated with this kind of talent, a talent that needs no definition, explanation. I can’t say when the idea precisely came to me, but after we sold our last entertainment company, we were looking for something.  I’m an Elvis fan – put your earplugs in and I’ll do my rendition of an Elvis song. I’m a big Elvis fans. Elvis and I have a long history.

Q - What’s your earliest memory of Elvis? 

Sillerman: I was studying classical piano (quite good, if I must say so myself), I had no awareness of rock and roll or of Elvis. I had my little portable radio and there was no Yankee game on. So I heard an Elvis Presley song and was taken aback. I got out of bed to have my brother listen to it. He didn’t like it but I told him he was crazy. I was captivated then – by “Hound Dog”. I know it sounds funny, but it was almost a life-changing moment.

Q - Did you see Elvis in person?

Sillerman: I saw Elvis live 5 times – in college and after college. Once in Boston, 4 times in Vegas. When I watch the concert footage I am evoking the live experiences.

Q - Is there going to be an EP Theme Park?

Sillerman: No roller coasters and ferris wheels and things like that. There will be Elvis-themed features where you can come in with themes of Elvis’ life. Interactive. We can move things out of Graceland to display them elsewhere and restore the house to its original look.

Q - Are you a member of Elvis Insiders?.

Sillerman: Yes. (He pulled out his card)

Jerry Schilling and Joe Guercio

Tom – Take me back to 1969.

Joe Guercio: ’69- I wasn’t there. But when I saw he was coming, it blew me away.

Jerry Schilling: We had been there before. Elvis loved to visit Vegas and go see the shows.

Joe: First time I met Elvis was in Sammy Davis’ dressing room – right after he got out of the Army. To get to meet him was a thrill.

Tom: Reminded us of what Sammy Shore said about how nervous Elvis was before he went on.

Joe: I can understand his nervousness. He’d been there before and was not successful.

Jerry: His show was very different from what was out there in Vegas. Elvis would watch the first row in the audience. One guy would never look up. Finally, when Elvis did Trilogy, the guy stood up and saluted. Elvis could do what he wanted. Gospel in Vegas? If Elvis did it, yes, he could do what others just couldn't get away with.

Joe Guercio: Hilton flew me to LA to meet Parker and Diskin. I got the whole limo treatment, and we’re going to lunch. We got to this little hut – and we had bologna sandwiches!! Parker knows everything I’ve ever done. He asked me if I could do what they want. Mind you, I was not an Elvis fan at the time.

First days of rehearsal and Lamar brings a ton of music over and says ‘this is what we’re going to do’. I said “I’m not a librarian”.

Second rehearsal Elvis walks in. He hangs around for the first hour. Joe Esposito says would you like to meet Elvis. “I think it would be nice”. From the moment we shook hands – it was such charisma! We hit it off and were friends ever since.

Jerry: I was in LA when Elvis was picking the band. We had all these great musicians and we knew this one drummer’s name who was sure to be picked – but Elvis didn’t pick him. This heavyset guy keeps playing the drums – his family is in the van. Elvis comes over to me and says “watch this” and tells Ronnie Tutt what he wants. Elvis picked him because he had the same mindset as Elvis.

Tom:  and the gospel quartets?

Joe: I never saw anyone do church music before that.

Jerry: I worked on the recent ABC TV DVD for about a year (behind the scenes) for about a year. ABC Entertainment flew me to Vegas where we did the interviews. We went down to the dressing rooms where I told some stories about the time Elvis was there. It’s great to hear the next and current generations talk about how Elvis influenced them

Tom: His ear for picking a song?

Jerry: Elvis is the most underrated producer in music history.

Joe: He loved all music – he had a rock and roll band, an orchestra and church groups – all on the same stage.

Tom: Talk to me about Elvis, who had no musical training.

Joe: For the first night’s performance – he was in tune with everything that was going on around him. He sang to the back row all the time. He made the person in the back row feel as close as the ones up front. It was a good time. It was more of a happening than a “show”. He’d change a song as he went along so we always had to be paying close attention. The first time he did this we were in the middle of “He Gave Me a Mountian” – he switched things around but I’d told the orchestra that when I dropped my hands go to bar 32. Elvis changed something but we were ready. Made for interesting shows every night.

Tom: How difficult to transfer the Vegas show to the road?

Joe: It wasn’t difficult – he took his charisma with him. Elvis was one of only 4 stars I’ve worked with all these years that truly respected the rest of the people- on stage. He made everyone feel important.

Tom: Vegas then and now?

Jerry: We spent almost 3 months a year in Vegas – shows - and fun. Back then I thought it was huge but you could still interact. Elvis took it to the next level. Then hotels got bigger and bigger. Now we’re in the third phase now. It’s just huge. So big. But the good news is that Elvis will be even bigger than ever next year when the Sillerman project is done.

Actress Susan Henning.

Susan Henning was introduced by a video of 68 special the bordello scene and outtakes.

Susan Henning was the 'First face of milk commercials' and played Hayley Mill’s twin in “Parent Trap”. She was also in 'Live a Little, Love a Little'  as a mermaid..

Susan Henning: They fitted me for the mermaid tail sitting in a wheel chair – when Elvis walked in. That’s how we met. Instant sparks. He’d take me out on his motorcycle.

Tom: How did you get into the 68 special?

SH: During 'Live A Little' they took my number and called me back a few days with the offer. I was engaged at the time but I couldn’t help the feelings I had for Elvis. Broke off engagement. My character was called the “virgin hooker” in 68 special. When I came on to the set for the first time he had his back to me. I went up to him from behind and touched him and he said “my boy, my boy”

Tom: In the outtakes you seem to be having a special private moment with Elvis!

SH: When I saw the outtakes just now it really brought me back to a very, very special time in my life.

Tom: In talking about your time with Elvis, how do you draw the line with how much you want to tell vs how much people want to know more?

SH: Good question. People who really love Elvis respect his privacy and I think some things should be left up to one’s imagination.

Tom: Well, there go my next 3 questions… Over the years did anything change in what you thought about what could have been?

SH: A decision was made in our relationship – remember, I was a young 21 year old woman, I had lots of dreams I had not yet fulfilled. And he was there already living his dream. I wanted to live my life, not so much live Elvis’ life. So there was a path I had to choose. I chose to develop and see who “Susan” was. I honor everything he’s done. He is the king and there will never be another Elvis.

Tom: What is it about him that makes us be together 31 years after his death?

SH: He transcends gender, so he appeals to men and women. His sex appeal. His charisma. You can have that and be egocentric. But he was genuinely humble, so touchable. Add that to talent. It’s magnetic.

Tom: Tell us about your life after Elvis.

SH: I did a few more films, and some television. I was a successful commercial model. But I wanted white fences and meadows and horses. I have 3 wonderful children and a wonderful supportive husband that has allowed and been supportive of “Susan Henning”. Dating actors was a way of life. People ask if I saved a lock of Elvis’ hair. But it was just life and we didn’t think of things like that. But I’m grateful that you all want to hear about my time with Elvis.

Note that Susan said that she has put together a book about her time with Elvis. She also said that she had found some pictures for us that have never been seen before. No publishing date was mentioned.

Questions to a panel of actors, Celeste Yarnell, Edward Faulkner and Francine York.

Tom: What was being on the film sets with Elvis like?

Edward Faulkner: I had a very small part in GI Blues. Being 2 southern boys we had a very nice relationship. He and John Wayne had a lot in common. Both were very easy to work with and I never saw either of them on set with a script. The last time I saw him he was rehearsing a later movie. When he saw me he came right off the set, the set closed down and he talked with me for 20 minutes.

Francine York: I first saw Elvis on screen in a movie theatre. I was modelling in San Francisco. But when I saw him in person, he was very, very special. Elvis had a very sweet smell (not cologne). It was wonderful. One day we were having trouble with something on the set, so while we were waiting Elvis was blowing into my ear. Wow! We chatted about movies I’d made with Jerry Lewis and told me I’d have a great career. Elvis was down home – but gorgeous! He was so much more handsome in person.

Tom: A lot of people put the movies down, but it seems a lot of young people are discovering Elvis through his movies. What kind of reaction are you seeing from Elvis fans about how important these movies are?

Celeste Yarnell: The remixes – the first was of the song Elvis sang to me – and now it’s a number 1 song. But I’m not happy that there were hip-hop dancers in the video!

Tom: What did it take to get the fight scenes?

EF: They were professionally choreographed. Elvis and I staged one fight. We rehearse it a couple of times, we basically did the whole thing in one day. He made you feel extremely comfortable. Every event I do – people from around the world – it warms my heart to see people going back to these honest films as opposed to what is being shown these days. It’s amazing how many young people have found Elvis.

Tom: You worked with Jerry Lewis. Tell me how important it is for an actor to get along with the crew and the director How did Elvis stack up?

FY: Our set was very happy. The crew liked Elvis. At the time of this movie Elvis had bought a green convertible for his girlfriend. She drove it right on the set and Elvis was livid. You didn’t flash his gifts.

CY: Lots of rehearsal for kissing scenes. His makeup would end up on my face and we’d have to redo it. Elvis told me to pick out a car but I told him I didn’t need it. He said what do you want? I said just your friendship. His eyes welled up and he gave me a big hug.

Tom: How does it feel to come to these events?

CY: I’ve been amazed. I am filled with gratitude. You think you’re coming out for us, I’m saying we’re coming out for YOU.

EF: It’s a delight. I’m retired after 19 years in the business.. It is very heart-warming to meet the fans and it’s my privilege to give back to you. I enjoy talking to you all.

FY: I’m still working. I told my agent I’m going to this Elvis event, clear my calendar. It’s amazing that you appreciate something we did so many years ago. And as I’ve said, there will never be anyone or anything like Elvis ever again. I travel around the world and no matter where I go, everyone knows who Elvis is.

Also appearing at Day 2 of the conference were:

Tanya Lamani George, belly dancer, ’68 special.
Darlene Thompkins, Actress
Charles Stone, Tour Manager

Spotlight by EIN Contributor Susan Graham
Copyright by EIN/Seattle SusieQ September 2008.
ALL photographs & images by Susan Graham.

Go here to Part 2 - 'The George Klein Memorial' - Elvis Week 2008: The second EIN spotlight on the highlights of Elvis Week - the George Klein Memorial.

It includes tributes and memorials by the following: Knox Phillips, D.J Fontana, Dr Nick, Dean Nichopoulos, Ray Walker, Larry Geller and Marion Cocke.

Go here to EIN interview with Susan Graham about her involvement with '200 Cadillacs' - a documentary about Elvis' generosity.

Click here to comment on this article

Go here for our special EIN spotlight on Elvis Week 2007.













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