Readers of The State Journal-Register share their memories of seeing Elvis Presley in person.
This might be hard to believe, but if Elvis Presley were still alive, he would turn 75 years old later this week.
The King of Rock ’n’ Roll, of course, died in 1977. But for some residents, their memories of seeing Elvis in person are as fresh as if they were yesterday.
To celebrate the King’s birthday (Jan. 8), we asked readers to tell us about the times they saw Elvis in person. Some lucky few got up close and personal with rock music’s biggest star and have tales to tell for the rest of their lives.
Don’t tell my husband
In 1969, Marsha Miller of Athens was married to Ed.
It took exactly three days of marital bliss for her to be kissed by another man.
The happy couple went to Memphis, Tenn., Elvis’ home, for their honeymoon. And you couldn’t go to Memphis without visiting Elvis’ Graceland mansion. And at least in 1969, you couldn’t go to Graceland without at least trying to get a glimpse of Elvis.
Marsha tells us that after about three hours of waiting, Elvis rode his horse down his driveway. She says everyone screamed, but her voice apparently was among the louder ones, and the horse got spooked.
But Elvis knows his fan base. He came back, signed autographs and gave women kisses.
“All the woman were getting kisses and I thought, ‘My God, I’m right here I have to get a kiss,’” Marsha said. “ … He put his hand behind my head and pulled me to him, and he swallowed me whole!
“ … My new husband was a little angry that I had kissed another man when we were only married three days, but I guess he wasn’t too angry — we’ve lasted 40 years. Now he brags to everyone that his wife kissed Elvis.”
Strangers on a train
Ken Gorda of Chatham joined the U.S. Air Force in 1957 and was traveling by train to a base in Florida when he learned the biggest star in the known universe was on the same train.
And that said biggest star in the known universe wanted to have dinner with him.
It seems Elvis was traveling to New Orleans to work on a movie and wanted to share a meal with servicemen. Ken and another airmen were invited to the dining car, where they met Elvis’ friend actor Nick Adams (TV’s “The Rebel”), Elvis’ manager Col. Tom Parker and the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.
“I remember vividly my feeling of ‘unreality’ that I was actually talking to my idol, who was at the time the most popular entertainer probably in the whole world,” Ken said.
This wasn’t too long before Elvis joined the U.S. Army, and he wanted to talk to servicemen about what being in the military was like.
“I was painfully shy and totally in awe of him, so I didn’t want to bother him for an autograph or make him feel uncomfortable by my being ‘just another fan,’” Ken said. “I was trying to restrain myself by being really cool, and not let him know how exciting it was to be there with him.”
For the record, Elvis ordered a cheeseburger, ate his side order of sliced tomatoes with his fingers and smoked a Tampa Nugget wooden-tipped cigar.
So what did Ken do? “The first chance I had after getting off the train, I purchased my own pack of Tampa Nugget cigars.”
Viva Las Vegas
For a long period in the 1960s, Elvis didn’t perform many concerts. But over the last eight years of his life, Elvis sang live a lot. And among the most sought-after souvenirs were the scarves he draped around his neck before flinging them to fans.
Kathy Badger of Springfield received an unusual high school graduation gift: a trip to Las Vegas with her mother. Among the festivities: seats at a front-row table at an Elvis concert.
Kathy said The King wasn’t exactly in superstar form that night: “Elvis couldn’t remember all the words to most of his songs, so he would just sing what he could remember, and he was extremely overweight.”
But at the end of the show, “he reached down and put a scarf from his neck around mine. I still have that scarf with ‘Elvis Presley’ printed on it and have very fond memories of that trip to Vegas with my mother.”
EBay gold, ruined
Kevin Shea of Chatham remembers visiting Memphis, Tenn., at age 12 when his brother Rusty lived there in 1970.
And like any good tourist, Kevin visited Elvis’ Graceland mansion with Rusty. Elvis was riding a horse and came to the gate to greet fans and sign a few autographs.
Kevin says he tossed one of his brand new tennis shoes over the gate, and Elvis signed it. Wanting to preserve the autograph, Kevin wore flip flops during the rest of his visit and on the plane back to St. Louis.
But Kevin’s mother wasn’t too happy about spending money on shoes that wouldn’t get worn.
“She informed me that she didn’t care if Jesus Christ had autographed them, I was going to wear them. And so The King’s name faded away, just like The King,” Kevin wrote.
Gary Koch said he saw Elvis in concert four times over the years. The first: during the celebrated 1969 “comeback” era. The show was at the Las Vegas Hilton, and Elvis wore a black leather jacket, black leather pants and black Beatle boots.
After noting that women screamed and flash bulbs flashed like fireworks, Gary said he bought a black leather jacket the next day.
“It was a 100-degree day, but it didn’t matter. After seeing Elvis, I had to have that jacket,” he said.
Gary also had tickets to a little music festival that same month you might have heard of: Woodstock. “But for me, I was where I was meant to be, with an American icon,” he said.
Doing what it takes
You want a story that you can tell for the rest of your life? All it takes is some money to grease some palms, a willingness to stand in line for 10 hours and insider information.
Gary Watts of Springfield tells us he saw Elvis in concert eight times, including three in Las Vegas. Tickets to the Vegas shows weren’t always easy to get, particularly if you wanted to sit close enough to see the zipper on his jumpsuit.
By his third trip to Vegas, Gary had learned a few tricks. But then he met a woman who really knew the ropes.
“She informed me that most of the people gambling in our area, a few hundred at least, were waiting for ‘a guy’ to signal to form a line for the midnight show — which would happen around noon. They changed persons every day so no one knew who the guy was, but she said she had found out who ‘the guy’ was for this show. Having no better plan, I put all my eggs in her basket. We hung out near ‘the guy’ and waited.
“She was right. At noon, ‘the guy’ raised his hand, and before the guy could get a word out — boom. A stampede.
“I was 12th in line — no idea what happened to my informant.”
Gary had to stay in line (except for a few breaks) until seating began 10 hours later.
“When I reached the maitre d’, I handed him $100,” Gary said. “I was handed off to a subordinate, who I gave $20. Bingo.”
They sat so close, Gary’s wife, Mary, caught one of the famous scarves Elvis tossed into the audience. Elvis’ lead guitarist James Burton signed it, and the scarf sits framed on the wall at home.
One low price
Can you imagine paying $1 to see one of the biggest music stars on the planet in concert?
Or how about the low, low price of “free?”
Of course, it depends on your timing. If you catch a rising star early enough in his or her career, you have a story to tell for a lifetime that also leaves your wallet full.
Believe it or not, there was a time when the world had never heard the name Elvis Presley. The early rock ‘n’ roll superstar, who would have turned 75 later this week, was once just a guy trying to make it in the music business.
That’s when a couple of Springfield residents first encountered the man who would rise to astronomical levels of fame. They were among a number of readers who shared their experiences about seeing Elvis in person.
Jean Follin of Springfield describes Poagville, Miss., in the early 1950s as “a wide spot in the road about 30 miles south of Memphis. … There was a three-room, 12-grade school that also served as a community center. Once a month, people would get together for cakewalks, bingo and music.”
Elvis was dating a young woman from Poagville, and he used to “come roaring up to these get-togethers on a big black motorcycle.
“ … Of course, he would borrow a guitar and sing a few songs, which interested me even more than the motorcycle,” Jean wrote.
Jerry Harlow of Springfield was serving in the U.S. Army in 1955 when he caught an Elvis performance at the famous “Louisiana Hayride” radio broadcast in Shreveport, La. The admission price to see Johnny Horton and George Jones — two singers who did all right for themselves — was just $1.
And, there was this other singer named Elvis Presley. “The word was out that all of the young girls were going crazy over him,” Jerry wrote. “ … As he became more popular, I liked almost all of his music.
“Only a couple of months later, you couldn’t even get in to see him.”
More memories of Elvis from our readers:
I was in Memphis, Tenn., downtown in 1970 and Elvis was coming out of a store, I believe, walking toward his car. My aunt yelled out, “Look, there goes Elvis!”
I was a loyal fan, watched all his movies and loved his song, “Crying in the Chapel.”
— Debra Martin, Springfield
We had the pleasure of seeing Elvis in person in 1972. He was performing at the International Hilton in Las Vegas. It was our first trip to Vegas and we went to many of the shows out there and decided to go to his. We waited in line for about four hours and the cost was around $30 per couple. We were seated in the balcony and when he finished singing “Teddy Bear,” he threw out teddy bears to the audience.
A gal in front of us leaned over the balcony railing thinking she would catch one of them, and her hubby had to pull her back to her seat as she almost went over the railing! Needless to say, she didn’t catch one of them.
— Denny and Donna Meyer, Petersburg
I was a law school student at Indiana University when Elvis played at Indiana University’s Assembly Hall (in 1974). He stayed at the Poplars, a hotel on campus. A huge crowd gathered at the Poplars to catch a glimpse of his arrival. Elvis loved working the crowds, and he made a brief appearance before disappearing into the hotel. I did not attend the concert. I think I went over to the Poplars just for the sheer spectacle of it all, as opposed to a desire to see him specifically.
— Randy E. Blue, Chatham
My twin sister and I went to see Elvis in 1974 at 14 years old. My mom took us. She knew how much we loved him. We lived in California at the time and he was coming to the Orange Show in San Bernardino. We had long pink satin dresses to wear to the concert; they were from a wedding we had been in. We loved them.
We got in our seats and were so excited! They started the music, and you know what music I mean — “Elvis’s entrance music.” We started crying hysterically. Just the sound of that music.
When I hear it today I just get all teary eyed.
We asked mom if we could get out of our seats and get a little closer to get a picture. We headed toward the stage but we were immediately stopped and were asked to go back to our seats. It was so disappointing, but a memory we will never ever forget.
— Dawn Neuhoff, Riverton
My wife and I saw Elvis in Las Vegas in the 70s. The orchestra behind Elvis was memorable and his performance was outstanding. We saw him at the Las Vegas Hilton. ... I also saw the Beatles in Dallas in 1960s, but Elvis was the show of all shows.
As a former funeral director, I have the exact replica casket — velvet blue interior and 100 percent solid copper, silver-plated — that Elvis was buried in in Memphis. As far as I know, there are less than five of these caskets in the world, today.
— Lynn Berry Jr., former owner of Berry Funeral Homes, Ltd., Girard, Virden and Auburn
I was a student at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, in October 1976 when I saw Elvis. I have to admit I wasn’t much of an Elvis fan but a friend persuaded me to attend the concert and I figured it was an opportunity to see the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
I remember thousands of screaming women, hanging on railings and on the edge of the stage. Elvis had an incredible affect on women of all ages. He would wipe his brow with one scarf, give it to a fan, start with a new scarf and give it to yet another fan.
I had to do some research to remember that our tickets cost $12.50. And in 1976, that was a lot of money, particularly to a college student. Elvis put on a great performance and I was glad I decided to go to the concert.
— Reva Dawdy-Goodall, Springfield
We were staying at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas in the 1970s. In the early morning hours entering a hotel bar, I passed two men sitting at the bar. I’ve never been interested in celebrities but certainly recognized Elvis Presley.
I stopped and spoke to him and we had a short conversation. He was soft-spoken, very handsome with beautiful dark eyes .He was a perfect gentleman & treated me with utmost courtesy.
— Mariella Greenan, Springfield and Redington Shores, Fla.
Saw Elvis in 1971 at the International in Las Vegas. It was the first concert I ever attended. It was a dinner show (steak or shrimp at $15 per person). He was thin, wearing the white jump suit and the new thing was the strobe light. The show was incredible. No pictures were allowed.
I was not a huge Elvis fan before the show, but certainly was after this show. Very few concerts I saw afterward came close to this one.
— Christine Groves, Springfield
I went to an Elvis concert in St. Louis (Kiel Auditorium, I believe). I had just bought a 1976 T-bird and four girls had an extra ticket, so I drove them down.
… Although our seats were up high, just the excitement of being there was an awesome experience. When they dimmed the lights and the drum rolls started you knew it was going to be great, and it was.
He first appeared in his white jump suit I believe, but changed costumes several times. I remember the screams and even saw a few tears from the audience. I know the girls took tons of photos but I am sure they just looked like a tiny speck from our height.
— Mike Robinson, Chatham
I saw Elvis in concert at the Coliseum in Phoenix Arizona in 1972. I believe he was on the ‘Aloha From Hawaii’ tour. I was 9 years old. We had moved to Phoenix in 1972 from Taylorville. The biggest memories I have of that night were when Elvis came on stage at the beginning of the show. His band was playing the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and when he hit the stage, the whole place lit up with flash bulbs from those instamatic cameras that were popular back then. I had chills all over.
— Ron Cockrell, Springfield
I grew up in Chatham and all of the money I earned baby sitting went to buy Elvis albums. So when I heard Elvis was going to be in concert at Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis, Mo., the couple next door offered to take a friend and me to see him. Although a teenager but not yet able to drive I was so happy, although the seats were for the nose bleed section, it didn’t matter, I was going to see Elvis.
As we were walking from the car to get into line, I noticed my ticket was gone. I had lost it! The neighbor lady told her husband that if he couldn’t find it that he would have to give his ticket to me. He found the ticket and soon we found the mood of the crowd and fans to be so exciting.
When Elvis came on stage it was electrifying. With the help of binoculars I could see he was wearing a white jumpsuit with red macramé belt. The 17 plus songs included “Polk Salad Annie,” “Love Me Tender,” “In The Ghetto” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” — which was so mesmerizing to the audience. The photos I took from my seat show Elvis as a white speck, but have obtained better photos from that concert from other fans that were fortunate to be sitting closer.
… As if seeing Elvis was enough to last a lifetime, I was able to see him again in concert on Oct. 22, 1976, at the University of Illinois in Champaign. The excitement of the crowd was again present and Elvis was just as electrifying in his performance. He was wearing a gold leaf jumpsuit with a Chinese dragon head belt. The 20 some songs he sang included “You Gave Me a Mountain,” “Early Morning Rain,” “Fever,” a lot of the early hits and a very moving rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
— JoAnn Stone, Springfield
I saw Elvis in person at the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis. It was 1969. I had just graduated from high school and my boyfriend wanted to see him.
“ … The major thing I remember was his self-effacing style and his banter with the audience. He started a song with, “Uh-well-uh …” and the audience went up in cheers. Elvis stopped and chided them, “How do you know what I’m singing? I started about 20 songs that way.’”
— Pat Mees, Springfield
I met Elvis in August 1962 when I went to Memphis on a 30-day leave from the Air Force. I found out from my mom that my cousin … worked for Elvis as a driver for (Elvis’ girlfriend) Anita Wood.
He took me to Graceland to see it and Elvis was awake and eating breakfast when we got there. He invited us to have breakfast with him. We talked about me being in the service and a lot of other things.
He invited me to a movie party that night, which he gave for friends … he had me sit in row 15 right behind him so we could talk. It was “Strategic Air Command” with Jimmy Stewart. At the break, he told me it was played for me. He asked me how I liked the movie. I joked and said, “It was like I was at work.”
He laughed and said, “I like you.”
— James E. Knox, Springfield
My daughter, Chris Clary, and myself (Linda Clary Flare) were honored to see Elvis in concert in Atlanta, Ga., in the 1970s. This was the era of the huge capes, and he changed his very flashy outfits several times during the show. Elvis was heavy, but his voice and the delivery of his music were unmistakable. The audience was enthralled. When he threw his sweaty scarves, the women let out a collective scream!
What stands out in my mind was the level of security; everyone had been told not to leave their seats. We observed several instances of people standing up and attempting to leave their seats presumably to advance closer to the stage. In every instance, security was on it, and before the person could move two to three feet, a security officer was on each side escorting the individual from the building.
— Linda Flare, Virden