Elvis and The Beatles
Elvis Presley was emotionally never far from the two-room shotgun house in East Tupelo where he was born and raised. Artistically, it served as the very cradle, crucible and inspiration for the most successful singer and most beloved star in history. But it was the rich, vibrant gospel music he heard in church and the Black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager which were the primary and diverse influences that shaped Elvis, who ushered in a whole new era of American music and popular culture.
After starring in a string of highly successful films as the highest paid actor in Hollywood, Elvis became increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated. “I’ve got to do something more meaningful; there’s something else I’m cut out to do. I owe it to my fans, I owe it to myself. I’ve had it making teenybopper movies. They’re all just the same damn ol’ flick; all they do is change my character’s name and throw in a few new sets.”
Ironically it was with the arrival of The Beatles that a seed was planted in the fertile soil of his frustration, later to germinate into another of Elvis’ accomplishments – one of the greatest in his music career.
It was the summer of 1965 when The Beatles arrived in Los Angeles to perform their historic Hollywood Bowl concerts. After repeated requests, Colonel Parker finally agreed to speak with their manager Brian Epstein. Together they arranged an historic meeting to take place on the evening of August 27, at Elvis’ Bel Air house on Perugia Way. We were all very excited. Everyone in town wanted to meet The Beatles, but the only American they wanted to meet was Elvis.
That Friday night I drove up to Elvis’ house in my steel-gray Mercedes. The word of the Fab Four’s visit had leaked out, spreading through Los Angeles like brushfire. Elvis and The Beatles were stars to the stars, so I wasn’t surprised at all to find Elvis’ house under siege. Perugia Way was teeming with hundreds of people, carefully scrutinizing each car as it slowly passed, and craning their necks to get a glimpse of one of The Beatles. There were policemen everywhere, and it was obvious that the security had taken a great deal of planning. The cops apparently had a list containing the make, model, license-plate number and other information about who would be driving what and who should be admitted. I was waved right through and went inside the house.
I found Elvis sitting in the den; he jumped up when he saw me and motioned me to follow him into his bathroom. We had developed a comfortable routine of endless talks when I took care of his hair, but this night was different. Elvis was stone quiet; his eyes took on a faraway look. He seemed fidgety – his fingers snapping on the marble top, his right leg bouncing nervously. Suddenly his demeanor changed and he turned to me. “Man, I know exactly what those four guys are going through; I’ve been there and done it. That’s where it’s at, getting up there in front of live people, feeling the energy. Maybe that’s what I need to do again. To tell you the truth, Larry, I’m embarrassed. I mean, they’re out there doing what I used to do, and I’m here making these dumb-ass movies that don’t mean a thing, same as the music they make me sing.”
Several weeks later Elvis was at the wheel driving his Dodge motor home as we headed back to Memphis. He turned to me and said with quiet certainty,”Something came to me Lawrence, an’ now I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to record a gospel album. I want everyone to know who I am, and where I came from.”
The gospel album he recorded was “How Great Thou Art,” for which he received his first Grammy Award. Globally, Elvis has sold over one billion records, more than any other single artist or group who ever recorded. Yet the King of Rock ‘n Roll never won a Grammy for rock, pop, country or any other genre for which he was famous – only for the music of his soul.
To this day The Beatles have no idea of the very special influence they had upon Elvis.