August 23, 2017

A Night to Remember: When the Beatles met Elvis




British Rock Royalty meet the American King of Kings. At least that’s the case if you’re an Elvis fan. If you worship the Beatles, then it might be the opposite. Regardless, it was an epic encounter, the meeting of these titans of early rock ‘n’ roll. It’s like when Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill met for the first time, face-to-face, in Tehran during World War II. Or if somehow today, Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Elon Musk and somehow Steve Jobs, back from the dead, all met at a single event. That would somewhat compare to what it must have been like when the Beatles met Elvis.

How the Beatles met Elvis

So when did this all occur? It started with the Beatles and their first tour of the US in 1964. The Beatles paid homage to Elvis everywhere they went and cited the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll as one of their major influences. Their manager, Brian Epstein, contacted Elvis’ ’manager, Colonel Tom Parker, about putting together a meeting. Unfortunately due to both artists’ busy schedules, this never panned out. However, the Beatles did receive a message from the King during their first appearance on the The Ed Sullivan Show, welcoming them to America and wishing them the best of luck.

In 1965, the Beatles returned for their second US tour. This time, things were different. The Beatles were in Los Angeles for a week during the time they were to play two sold out shows at the Hollywood Bowl. Elvis was also in town and at one of his homes in the posh neighborhood of Bel Air. He had just been shooting a movie in Honolulu, Blue Hawaii, and was coming home to rest. Epstein again contacted Parker and a quick meeting was arranged. The conditions of the meeting were that no reporters, photos or recordings would be allowed on the premises.

The Encounter


It was August 27th, 1965 around 10pm. A couple of limos came to the house where the Beatles and Epstein were staying to pick up the band and their small entourage. When they arrived in Bel Air, a group of Elvis fans was outside their sovereign’s home. They had apparently been tipped off by Parker that something big was going to happen at the house.

As the Beatles, Epstein and road manager Mal Evans entered the house, Elvis’ then girlfriend Priscila Beaulieu (who would later become his wife), along with several men (the so-called “Memphis Mafia”), came to great them. They all then went to a den in which there was a large screen TV, a stereo, a bar, and Elvis.

Bob Spitz, author of one of the more authoritative biographies of the Beatles, wrote of the initially awkward encounter:

Inside, Elvis was posed regally on a huge horseshoe-shaped couch, the King, larger than life, in a flame red blouse beneath a tight-fitting black jacket and black slacks. A big arm was thrown around his queen-in-waiting, Priscilla Beaulieu, and on either side, his loyal squires: Joe Esposito, Marty Lacker, Billy Smith, Jerry Schilling, Alan Fortas, and Sonny West.
The … Beatles were speechless, gazing around at the Vegas-like setup of pool tables, craps tables, and roulette wheels crowding the den. The room was bathed in red and blue light, which gave it the appearance of a cheesy after-hours club. No one knew what to do, or say. After a brief, embarrassing silence, Elvis summoned them to sit down beside him but grew weary of the Beatles’ vacant stares – “It was hero worship to a high degree,” Paul (McCartney) admitted – and started clicking nervously through the channels of a wall-sized TV-set.
“If you guys are just gonna sit there and stare at me, I’m goin’ back to bed,” Elvis huffed, tossing the remote control on the coffee table. Turning to his girlfriend, he said, “Let’s call it a night, right, ‘Cilla? I didn’t mean for this to be like the subjects calling on the King. I just thought we’d sit and talk about music and jam a little.” 1

Paul was the first to respond. “That’d be great,” he is reported to have said. 2 Guitars, a piano and plenty of drink were then brought out. They played various blues tunes including “That’s All Right (Mama)” and “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Perhaps the music and drink were all that were needed for the Beatles to loosen up. John Lennon throughout the night put on a French accent and apparently made some critical remarks of the King’s movie career and some of his singles. Presley reportedly just shrugged and half-heartedly threatened to knock Lennon out. The gathering ended around 2am.

The Morning After

The next day, reporters swarmed the Beatles for details about their historic meeting. The Beatles released press releases with quotes praising Elvis and their epic encounter. Only later did John Lennon admit that what had been provided for the press had been exaggerated.

“”It was all a load of rubbish,” he said. 3

Thus ended one of the most incredible encounters in all of rock history. It was only time the mega-artists would ever meet.

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