Vegas Venture

Las Vegas, NV August 1971 Season

By Dick Smith

 

 I left for Minneapolis at 5:00 a. m. by bus. I had planned to stop off at Dick and Ellen Smith's house for a few days "pre-Vegas" vacation. After watching a Laurel & Hardy movie and learning the art o playing "Finger Wiggle" and "Ear sy-Kneesy-Nosey, " Dick and I spent most of the rest of our time playing Elvis records, scrounging through his Elvis collection, and generally adding to the psychoneurosis that has plagued both of us for nigh onto fifteen years. When it became time to drive to the airport to catch the plane for Las Vegas, we began to leave articles behind that we had planned to take, get slightly sick to our stomach, and play this game that Dick devised where keys were locked inside the apartment, and people outside.... I never did catch on to it. But finally we attributed all of our maladies to the excitement of seeing Elvis again, and somehow did manage to get on the plane. 

No matter how many times I fly, I can never get used to the fact that we're really above the clouds and if my window should crack, it would be all over for Rocky Barra. Bill Lund and Maureen Hagen had joined us. The four of them; Dick, Ellen, Bill, and Maureen seemed very relaxed and comfortable on the plane as I tried to relieve my nervousness by playing some games with myself.

 

 I had a mock battle between my scrambled eggs and my salad, but even this didn't seem to help too much.The mountains are beautiful from the air, but to me they look a heck of a lot better from the ground. When we landed in Las Vegas, the dry heat made me wonder if the local residents appreciated the great weather that is part of the attraction the city has to offer. From the airport, you can see the lettering on the towering International Hotel in the distance. Although it is now officially the Las Vegas Hilton, the marguee and identification the hotel still reads The International... and I'm sure that's what the majority of the people refer to it as. 

 

 

 

Photographer unknown © Las Vegas, NV August 1971

 

We checked in the hotel on August 10th.................. the day after Elvis' opening. The fanfare that surrounds a Presley appearance was very much in evidence at the International. In the lobby was a huge teddy bear that was at least ten feet tall labeled with a sign that read, "Elvis' biggest fan. " Right next to the bear was the Colonel's house or the souvenir stand. This year, the variety of articles included posters, pennants, buttons, photo books, hats, portraits, records, and stickers all bearing the name and picture of Elvis. It should also be noted that the Colonel's staff had literally covered the walls of the lobby and casino with posters of Elvis. By the time I left the International, a good 90% of these had been ripped off the wall. It was enter­taining to sit in the lobby and watch Elvis fans try to dodge hotel personnel, climb up to the posters (they were all placed above arm's reach), and try to get them down without tearing Elvis' picture. I think for every person who managed to get one down intact, there were ten who didn't. Bill Lund can verify this. 

We didn't have a great deal of time before we had to get in line for the dinner show. I've said it before, but it sure is a lot of fun to meet other Elvis fans and talk to them. We spoke with Jerry Jay, the Elvis DJ from Phoenix, Mary Sue McCarty and her Mom from Louisana, Cricket Mendell, and Jean­Marc Gargiulo who had made his annual pilgrimage from France. I also spoke with Elvis fans from England, Japan, Australia, and from all over the USA. It was almost like a boy scout jamboree. 

Finally, after what seemed like hours in line (and it was hours) we made our way into the huge Showroom International. Dinner was served, and then it was time for Elvis. The lights dimmed and the Sweet Inspirations came out to open the show. One of the girls, Cissy Houston, had just quit the group.. . so now there were only three girls. The girls did a super job on the Honeycomb's "Want Ads. " Then they sang a ballad and finished strong with "Love The One You're With. " The Inspirations' set was very good, but perhaps not quite as powerful as last year.

 

Next came the comic, Bob Melvin. It's not fair to compare Melvin with Sammy Shore because their styles. are so different. Bob Melvin uses no music, but is a seasoned performer and always did a good job at what has to be the hardest gig in Las Vegas. Every night, over 2, 000 people with one thought on their minds... "We want Elvis, " and the comic not only has to contain them. . . but entertain them. I thought Bob Melvin did a very creditable job. His sketch about the barbershop was particularily funny.

 

    After his exit the lights went down and everyone knew it was time for Elvis. The Joe Guercio orchestra struck the opening chord for the 2001 Space Oddesy Theme. Every time there was a chord change, the lighting changed and got much brighter. Then Ronnie Tutt's drums kicked off the intro to "That's All Right" which has got to be the most exciting sound possible to bring Elvis on stage. The band is Elvis' regular crew. Suddenly, he just kind of saunters on stage to a wild ovation. Elvis is wearing a high-styled black suit with gold ornamentation all over it. The coat contains no sleeves which reveals Elvis’ red shirt with puffy sleeves underneath. Also, the coat (if it can be called a coat) is left open showing a metalic belt at least five inches wide. The outift doesn't even remotely look like his jumpsuits. I saw eight shows this time, and Elvis always wore suits in a similiar vein... although greatly varried in color and ornaments. Out of all the different stage garb Elvis has worn, these were by far my favorites. Most of the suits, whether black, red, blue, or white, were so gaudy that nobody but Elvis could have gotten away with wearing them. The visual aspect of Elvis’ show is very important and these suits accentuated the stature of "King" that Elvis enjoys. 

"That's All Right" was performed the same as last time... fantastic. I still can't understand why this live version hasn't been released, as it is one of Elvis' finest works. Next came "Proud Mary. " Elvis has changed the arrangement on this quite a bit and it is much, much better than the "On Stage" version. Elvis sings it stronger and it modulates up three keys at the end... a very frantic ending and Elvis really moves on it.

    The next song is "Sweet Caroline. " This is basically the same as in the movie "That's The Way It Is ‘’. Elvis uses a little more of his slurring style on it, but the arrangement is the same. "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" is up next. Elvisvoice seemed much stronger on this. I really don't know how Elvis sings better all the time... it just doesn't make sense. Aside from his voice being so strong, Elvis seemed to have more confidence in his range and hit a lot more high notes on this song than the previous version. 

 

Photographer unknown © Las Vegas, NV August 1971

The bass notes start off "Polk Salad Annie" and the screaming begins. During the eight shows I saw, Elvis never did the talking intro the same twice... in two shows, he seemed to REALLY rock out .on this... but it wasn't the "featured" number that it was previously. Jerry Scheff has a bass lead in the middle now. After "Polk Salad, " a voice came out of the audience saying, "You're good Elvis but your band is too loud. " Elvis replied immediately saying, "Come on man, your ears are too old. " I thought this was really a beautiful reply... and so true.  "Johnny B. Goode" was next. This was quite a bit better than ever before due to the different style in which Elvis sang it, and James Burton's terrific leads. This Chuck Berry classic really suits Elvis to a "T. " After the song, Elvis went to the front of the stage to kiss some of the girls sitting close by. As he backed away from one girl, her wig got caught in his sleeve and came right off. Elvis didn't notice it until he backed up a couple of steps.... but when he did see what had happened, he cracked up so hard he couldn't even stand up. Elvis was trying to be nice and apoligize to the girl, but every time he would try and say something, he would laugh all the harder. The next song was "It's Impossible, " (The recent Perry Como hit). It was beautifully done... but every time Elvis would look toward the girl, he couldn't control himself. He finally just layed down on the stage and finished the song. When he did finish, he took off his scarf and walked over to the girl to give it to her (as sort of an apology). But Elvis got tickled again and said to the girl, as he presented her with the scarf, "Tie this on your head honey. " It was really a funny incident. 

The next song was "Love Me. " For me, this was one of the highlights of the show. The backing was kept simple and it sounded almost exactly like the 1956 version... even down to The Imperials copping The Jordanaires vocal backing.Next came a medley of "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On. " This was done in a little different style than previously and Elvis really got down on it. There was no guitar solo in the song, and Elvis repeated the chorus "Blue, blue, blue suede shoes... " three times. "Heaftbreak Hotel" was the next song. This was done almost identically to the version in the film with one major exception. Elvis split his pants on this song and took the fresh scarf from his neck and tied it around his leg where the rip was. A medley of "Teddy Bear" and "Don't Be Cruel" followed. Elvis threw small teddy bears out to the crowd during this song... and then jokingly grabbed Charlie Hodge and pretended to throw him out too. Next, Elvis bent way over and most of the fans knew what was next. Elvis faked us out by singing a slow, bluesy version of "Hound Dog. " He then picked up the tempo and rocked on it. 

After he finished "Hound Dog, " some people started yelling out song titles. Elvis said, "I've recorded over 500 songs and we're gonna do 'em all tonight. " He went into an impromptu version of "Memphis. " Although it hadn't been rehearsed, it was a great version... and not short, but longer than on the record. After Elvis finshed, he said, "What now? " I yelled out "Trying To Get To You. " He looked over our way and Dick Smith echoed, "Trying To Get To You. " Elvis said, "You Got It Man. " As far as I'm concerned, this was the best job I had ever heard Elvis do on anything. He was at his bluesy, funkiest best. The band really kicked on this tune. In my mind, I don't really think I heard what I KNOW I heard. Elvis was unbelievable ! Music is my life, but I've never gotten this excited over anything. It was the best thing I've ever heard. 

Next, Elvis did "Suspicious Minds, " which was inferior to the dynamite August, 1969 version.... but still very presentable. "I'm Leavin' " was the next feature. This was far superior to the record. The Imperials strengthened the high notes. The audience was really getting into Elvis' reading of this song... and so was Elvis. Glen Hardin's piano started off "Lawdy Miss Clawdy. " Once again, Elvis proved he is still the master of rock music. This version was slower and much stronger than the TV Special track. The alto saxes were accentuating the piano lines and the overall backing effect was very effective. "The Impossible Dream" was next. This standard was tailor-made for Elvis. The bass singer from The Imperials had a solo on this also. Elvis didn't perform this song often this stand, but when he did it was a strong winner. 

 

Photographer unknown © Las Vegas, NV August 1971

The noticable added strength to Elvis' voice was never so obvious as on the next song... "Bridge Over Troubled Water. " This was truly vocal perfection. Elvis, after finishing the song, sang it over again from the bridge on. I don't know if Paul Simon knows it, but he wrote this song for Elvis. "Can't Help Falling In Love" was again the perfect closing number. Elvis hit some new astronomical high notes on this as the huge gold curtain of the International came down. We were in the front row for this show, and after the curtain came down and the people started to leave, Elvis .popped out and took a couple steps towards out table and screamed out, "Ahhhhh" or something to that effect. I like to think he was thanking us for suggesting "Trying To Get To You. '' .... but I'm not sure if that's what he had on his mind. I do know that it was very out of the ordinary for him to come out like he did. 

I'd say everything considered, this is the best Elvis has been. He is on stage considerable longer than before, and his voice is better than ever before. He isn't moving as much as August, 1969... but he more than makes up for it with his best song selection and best voice. Some of the other songs I heard Elvis do on other shows were "Jailhouse Rock, " "I Got A Woman, " a beautiful reading of Jimmie Rogers' "It's Over, " "Rip It Up, " a tremendously bluesy "Help Me Make It Through The Night (a personal favorite), "Tiger Man, " and a frantic version of "I Need Your Lovin, " the old don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford Rhythm and blues classic. 

Beyond a doubt, Elvis' band is the best in the business. Tutt and Burton were particularily out­standing this time. One thing I'm sorry to see is that Elvis has practically abondoned his guitar. I realize it is basically a prop on stage, but it is a prop we've associated with him for a long, long time. I also felt that the lighting was improved this time. This was especially true on the slower songs, which made them all the more dramatic. 

After my friends from Minneapolis had to leave, I stayed with Jean-Marc Gargiulo and his entourage from France. Although we had a little trouble with the language barrier, we had no trouble whatsoever with the Elvis barrier. The good news is out that Elvis is going out on tour again this fall. If you have any way of seeing him.... by all means make sure you do. You just don't know what a master he really is until you see him perform live.

Originally published in Strictly Elvis No. 41