Viva Las Vegas

August 1969 

By Steve Toli 

 

The International. A massive monument, henceforth to be termed the house that Elvis Presley built. Massive, but not massive enough to contain legions of Elvis fanatics who had descended en masse upon its golden boundries. You wouldn't believe the crowds. My wife, Sue, and I arrived there on August 21st, around one. . and had to wait almost three hours to get a room, even though our reservations were made two months in advance. Did I say crowds? One guard said, " I'll be glad when it's over and Presley leaves, I'm exhausted; " another said, " That guy ought to run for President. " His complete appearance was sold out... 2,000 filled seats ... hundreds of folding chairs, and standing room only. . . if you could find any, that is. 

Photographer unknown © August 1969

We got in line for the first show around four, they started letting us in at six, and the show itself started a little after eight. The prelude included The Sweet Inspirations and Sammy Shore. They were good, but we were waiting for the center of attraction. Then it was quiet... the jungle beat started. . . screams ... and out jumps Elvis with '' Blue Suede Shoes. " And that's how it all began! ! We saw seven shows together, and Sue saw an extra two while I slept (I'm only human, but I'm not sure that Elvis is). He can't be described in person... no film or photo does him justice. Pure animal magnetic pull... radiates sex on stage... he's just too good to be true. 

When we first saw him perform, he was unbelievable in a white bell-bottom pants outfit, with a dashing sash around the waist. On some nights, he wore a black outfit, with blue flares on the bell-bottoms. He termed most of his clothes "karate suits, restyled. No tux, no leather jackets. . . but then Elvis can wear anything and make it look like it was made just for him. 

The electricity in the air when he begins with " Blue Suede Shoes " is fantastic. You know Elvis is back, moving with the music, feeling the music as only he can. . . young and exciting. He hasn't lost a thing. . . in fact, he has gained complete control of everything, his subtle hands guide the spotlights and backing. 

Photographer unknown © August 1969

Elvis then relaxes for an instant, fakes it, then pours on " I Got A Woman, " and it is 1956 all over again. He hesitates near the end, takes stock of his audience, then strikes back with the " Rock-a-Hula Baby " type extended finish. Elvis quickly moves on to "All Shook Up. " Then he talks, welcoming his audience and kids with them. Then, " Love Me Tender " with a classical opening. Elvis even turns it on with a ballad... that stare, that smile! The memories it brings back (Yes, he sings " Memories, " though not during this performance). A brief rest and more joking, but back to business again with a frantic "Jailhouse Rock, " which transforms into an unbelievable wild " Don't Be Cruel. " Next is " Heartbreak Hotel, with Elvis showing his soul and sexiness. A cute lead-in to an astonishing " Hound Dog. " In Las Vegas, Elvis shows his remarkable flair for humour. . . a young Mark Twain; seriously! This is Elvis as he really is; and has never been captured on film. There is some more joking, and then the greatest " I Can't Stop Loving You " ever sung or performed. Elvis strong and very sensitive. Then, Elvis wails through the classic " My Babe. " Watch out for the screaming girls on this one. 

J.A.T. Publishing © August 1969

Elvis then relates how he started out in this music business, with only three pieces. Then, into '' Mystery Train, " followed by a walloping " Tiger Man. " Elvis gives his monologue on his rise to fame. . fantastic. Then comes " Baby, What Do You Want Me To Do, " and Del Shannon's " Runaway. " Elvis' version is just fantastic, beyond any comparison, as is his version of the Bee Gees' " Words. " I can't tell you how truly magnificent it is. He does his own "Are You Lonesome Tonight, " but with a vivid country backing. . . . stronger than the original. Elvis shows the Beatles how " Yesterday " was meant to be sung, and he adds the breathtaking ending of " Hey Jude " which makes it something else. Elvis then introduces the people backing him, and acknowledges guests in the audience, such as Tom Jones, Shelley Fabares, Nancy Sinatra, and Buddy Hackett. 

Elvis sings " In The Ghetto " and a lengthy version of " Suspicious Minds, " repeating the ending until it is a part of the audiences' mind. Smashing. 

Then a fast, hot, version of " What'd I Say ". . unlike anything you've ever heard before. Near the end, it's just instrumental as Elvis surrenders to his fans for a few moments of controlled panic. . . . then he thanks his audience, and rewards us with an outstanding " Can't Help Falling In Love. " This was beautiful. 

Photographer unknown © August 1969

Most of the performances we saw were basically of the same format,, with a few surprises. On the 28th, he brought back memories with '' Loving You, " One Night, " and " Love Me. " Instead of singing the words, he " Lah-de dah-dahed " " It's Now or Never ". During a few performances, he rocked and socked through "Johnny B. Goode. " Some parts of his shows, particularly on the 28th, were being taped for a live Vegas LP, He did a thundering, rockin', " Rubberneckin' " from "A Change of Habit. " He also did one of the strongest ballads he has ever done, I believe the title of it is "The Story That is Breaking My Heart. 

I can't name all the guests in the audience which he named, but some of the others have been Jimmy Webb, Wayne Cockrane, Mama Cass, and Barbara McNair. There were other guests, which I met, that are well known in the Elvis world. . Rocky Barra, editor of "Strictly Elvis;" Jean-Marc Gargiulo, head of everything that's Elvis in France; Judy Palmer, president of Elvis' Kissin Cousins fan club; and Maria and Gladys Davies from England. 

Photographer unknown © August 1969. Elvis meeting the fans from the France.

Every night, Elvis would give the Apache tie he wore to the audience. 

Cannons (girls) to the left of me, cannons (more girls) to the right of me. into the valley of death rode the 600, as the poem goes, and so did I. Listen, ain't nobody getting in my way. Honestly, Elvis must have been half scared to death when he saw me rushing towards him, to shake his hand. He did a double-take you would not believe, At first, Sue was too shy to join in the rush. . . but she came on strong when Elvis was doing '' Love Me Tender " on the 21st. She received a kiss from the King. 

Oops; more guests are complaining because El mentioned them and I didn't, so add Bill Cosby, Bill Medley, Jack Carter, and James Coburn to the list. 

We met Elvis' dad, Vernon, at the Cafe Continental on August at 3:30 in the morning. He is a great guy; very nice and sincere. It was through him that we met Elvis. 

Steve Toli © August 23rd 1969. Sue and Steve Toli with Elvis

We were taken backstage to Elvis' dressing room and that's all she wrote. What do you say when you first meet Elvis? Nothing! You become a complete idiot just like that, because he's breathtaking doing nothing at all. Somehow, we managed to have our pictures taken with Elvis. And we did manage to tell him that we named our son Stephen Elvis. He said, " Man, are you serious? I've known of people naming their dogs that. " The King autographed my copy of Elvis World No. 2 (for which I'm the New England representative). He gave us two fantastic 22 ½ x 16" photos, from the TV Special, which he also autographed. Absently, Elvis noted the International Elvis badge I wore (gold record with crown) and asked if we were from England ( with my accent? ) Of course, we set him straight. 

In closing, Elvis, during his last performance, said that Las Vegas was one of the highlights of his career. For Sue and I, it was THE highlight of our lives. As Elvis would put it at the end of "Such A Night, with gusto……." WHEW!

 Originally published in the magazine Strictly Elvis  No. 18