Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Fabs and the King

Yesterday was the 46th anniversary of The Beatles' first and only encounter with Elvis Presley. On The Atlantic's website a few weeks back, there was an article about Jerry Schilling, a close friend of Presley's and a member of his inner circle, which was known as the "Memphis Mafia." Below is a long excerpt about the historic meeting between the Fabs and the King that took place on August 27, 1965.

August also saw the first and only meeting between Presley and the Beatles. The Fab Four showed up at the door of Elvis’ Bel Air home on August 27, 1965, to pay their respects. The Beatles were in Los Angeles to perform their music at the Hollywood Bowl; Presley was in town to begrudgingly fulfill his film contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Schilling was among those present that night.

The visit between two of the most influential forces in rock ‘n’ roll history was at first a bit awkward, Schilling remembers. John, Paul, George and Ringo—then at the height of their fame—seemed dumbstruck in the presence of their idol. “We didn’t know who was going to say what,” says Schilling. “And then Elvis, having a great sense of British humor, said, ‘OK guys, if you’re just going to sit here and look at me all night, I’m going to bed.’ Everybody including Elvis died laughing, and that broke the ice.”

If Presley and the Beatles played music together that night, Schilling doesn’t remember it. Neither did Paul, George or Ringo, though John Lennon later claimed a jam session took place. George Harrison at one point said he remembered smoking a joint out by the swimming pool that night, so his recall may have been a bit hazy. Nevertheless, the one memory still so brilliant that no one present could forget it is of Presley entertaining his guests by playing his Fender bass along with a Charlie Rich single called “Mohair Sam” that was looping on his jukebox.

The next day, before the Beatles’ concert, Lennon confided something to Schilling that the Elvis fan was too nervous to say in the presence of Presley. “John pointed to his sideburns and said, ‘Do you see these? I almost got kicked out of high school because I wanted to look like Elvis. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.’ Later that day, I told Elvis what John Lennon said, and Elvis just smiled. That said everything to me. He didn’t make a comment, but what John said really meant something to him.”

For Schilling, looking back on that night at Presley’s house on Perugia Way is bittersweet. Presley, though not jealous of the success the Beatles were enjoying, saw up close the creative freedom they enjoyed—something he once had but somehow had let slip away.

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