A few months ago I received a Facebook message from an old friend I hadn’t seen since my early teen years. He now lives in Los Angeles and, after googling him and checking out his BIO, I discovered that he has had, and continues to have, a significant career in the music business. Pretty impressive. I just got back from a visit with my longest and dearest friend (friends since we were 4 years old) who lives in Redondo Beach. Since we had plans to see a show in L.A. I made arrangements to reconnect with Mike and we met for brunch (the 3 of us) before our matinee performance of School of Rock at the Pantages Theatre. We had a great visit and heard many stories about musicians he has worked with – Rod Stewart, for example. We talked about Elvis for some reason and he mentioned that he had written an article about the fact that he never did manage to meet him. This article is below. Mike is a very good writer and I thought it worth sharing with my friends.
January 5, 2010
I never met Elvis.
Came close a couple of times, but I missed that boat.
When I was writing for the Detroit Free Press a call came through saying Elvis was going to play in that city. The performance subsequently took place on Sept. 11, 1970.
At the time I wrote a lot at the Freep as it was and still is called, including a weekly column that appeared on Friday’s in what was named the Youth Page (hey, I was in my early 20’s at the time). The column was called Pop Pourri because I wrote mostly about pop music, although it was slanted towards what the youth of the day wanted to hear or talk about…some politics, a little fashion, some gossip. Due to the phone call regarding Elvis’ pending appearance in town, I wrote a sentence in my column about it.
The concert sold out.
With one sentence. Olympia Stadium. 15,000 tickets gone. Now, we could say that’s the power of Elvis. But wait, it was my column. People read it. One mention of Elvis in my column and the show is sold out…. I must have saved them a fortune in ad money they didn’t have to spend. Did I get an invitation to meet the man? Hell no. I did get a call from some woman who said her husband served in the army with Elvis and would I work it out that he got to say hello to the King of Rock. I can’t get to meet him myself lady. And he OWES me.
Ah well. They did give me free tickets so I got to see him perform live once in my life. And it was unbelievable. There he was. Up there on that stage. There was the man who at that time still looked sleek and silvery, cool and powerful. He walked on stage, the place went into bedlam mode. People who banned their kids from seeing him fifteen years earlier were going nuts. And he came forth and filled the stadium with song and handed out scarves to screaming women (not girls, women). It would have been nice to meet the guy, though.
As I said, I did come close a couple of times. The above close encounter doesn’t count.
In about 1975 I had the deep and wonderful pleasure of working for a while with the great Roy Orbison. (For you kiddies who don’t know, Roy had 22 songs hit the Top 40 and Rolling Stone Magazine listed Oribson as No. 37 in their list of The Greatest Artist of ALL TIME and No. 13 in their list of The 100 Greatest Singers of ALL Time. I say they listed him too low in both lists, but we can’t do much about that).
By now I was Director of PR for Mercury Records and for a while Roy was an artist on that label. He was in a career lull and all his legendary stature wasn’t doing him much good. I don’t know the specifics but he wasn’t selling records, and concert tickets for a Roy Orbison show weren’t that hot. He would eventually recover from that and by the time he died ten years later he was experiencing hit records as a solo artist and as part of the Traveling Wilburys (whose other members were Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Tom Petty). I always loved the comment from George Harrison, the so-called quiet Beatle, when the Traveling Wilburys came together. It showed Roy’s stature and level of importance. With glee, awe and some degree of disbelief the legendary Harrison said, “I’m in a band with Roy Orbison!”.
Orbison was a true gentleman. It was just such a pleasure to deal with him and although we as a record label didn’t revive his career at that time, he was grateful for the attention. He was soft spoken, humble and rather matter of fact about things. One day he, his wife Barbara and I were sitting in a hotel room in Nashville (Roger Miller’s “King of the Road Inn”) just chatting about things and the subject of Elvis came up. Roy asked if I had met him and of course I had to admit I hadn’t. And Roy just looked up and said, “If we are ever in the same town at the same time as Elvis, we’ll go over and say hello”. Oh My God! One legend just invited me over to meet THE legend of rock. It was a beautiful gesture and I know Roy would have lived up to it except…..Elvis died before we have had the chance to “say hello”.
The second opportunity was just that I was almost at the right place at the right time. Also in the 70’s a Canadian band called Bachman Turner Overdrive was experiencing a string of hits and a level of success nobody had suspected could happen. We didn’t doubt their talent, which was immense but because the leader, Randy Bachman had already had huge success as a member of the premiere Canadian band, The Guess Who. And in this music business, especially at that time, lightning just didn’t strike twice. Anybody who had success in one musical configuration just so rarely saw success again. In fact when BTO, as they became known, first met with the staff of Mercury Records we told Randy that it would be a slow build. We’d have to kind of re-introduce him to the rock audience in this new set up. Ok. Fooled us. Their first record sold millions and they became huge on the concert circuit. It was a nice mistake to make.
So, BTO is in Los Angeles making a record, probably the follow up to their huge debut and I happened to be in that city on business. At the time, by the way I lived in Chicago where Mercury Records had its headquarters. I visited the band in the studio and had a nice time with them and manager Bruce Allen, then I headed out to do some work and fly back to Chicago. Not long after Bruce called saying I should have stuck around. “We got a call from Las Vegas,” Bruce said. “Elvis wanted to meet us so we drove over and hung out with him one night”. Rats! Foiled again.
I never did meet Elvis.
L.A. Personal Development