It’s been FIFTY years since Elvis Presley started performing in concert after an eight year absence from the concert stage. There’s been a LOT written about the event and a LOT of books will be coming out in 2019 to celebrate & commemorate. So I’ll do my best to keep this short, simple and FUN!
Presley was keen to resume regular live performing. Following the success of the “Singer Presents Elvis Special”, offers came in from around the world. The London Palladium offered Parker $28,000 for a one-week engagement. He responded, “That’s fine for me, now how much can you get for Elvis?
In May, the brand new International Hotel in Las Vegas, boasting the largest showroom in the city, announced that it had booked Presley. He was scheduled to perform 57 shows over four weeks beginning July 31. Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana, and the Jordanaires (his original band from the 1950’s), declined to participate, afraid of losing the lucrative session work they had in Nashville.
The International Hotel opened on July 2, 1969. The first artist to play the International Hotel was Ms. Barbara Streisand. On July 31, 1969, immediately following Streisand’s engagement, Elvis Presley performed the first show of what would become a seven-year run at the hotel, encompassing 636 consecutive sold-out shows. Presley’s appearances became a major part of the hotel’s identity, and an iconic chapter in the history of Las Vegas entertainment. The last show was Aug. 28th, 1969.
Presley’s opening night show was reviewed in Tiger Beat. I remember reading that, in between songs, Elvis looked at the stage floor and announced over the mic that somebody wrote “B.S.” on the floor! The crowd started laughing, then he said “Oh maybe it stands for Barbara Streisand”. Apparently the whole audience broke up in laughter.
Presley took to the stage without introduction He dressed in black and NOT a “White Jump-Suit”. The audience of 2,200, including many celebrities, gave him a standing ovation before he sang a note and another after his performance.
Elvis Presley stepped onstage at the International Hotel in Las Vegas and launched into the driving beat of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. The audience of 2,000, most of them over 30, roared and squealed in nostalgic appreciation.
Oozing the sullen sexuality that threw the America into a state of shock in the 50’s, he groaned and swiveled through a medley of ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘All Shook Up’ and ‘Hound Dog’. It was hard to believe he was 34 and no longer 19 years old.
Only celebrities and big spenders were there opening night to hear Presley sing a lot of oldies and a new song, with a new message, ‘In The Ghetto’ chronicles the evils of poverty in a Chicago slum and could signal the birth of a social conscience for Presley. Another recent record release, ‘If I Can Dream’, proclaims brotherhood according to the gospel of Martin Luther King, but did not appear on the Vegas program. When asked if these songs marked a new direction he might take, Elvis answered, ‘I go by the material. When I got ‘In The Ghetto’, I couldn’t turn it down. It was too big’. It’s selling big, too-more than a million to date. He actually did “Memories” as well. Another “New” song that was the second single released from the “Singer Presents Elvis” T.V. Show.
Now here’s one for all the musicians and historians. Possible Elvis’ Favorite guitar is the Gibson J-200. Above you’ve seen photos of him playing one with his name on the fret board and a special pick guard. That is actually the guitar he used in 1957 when he sang “Teddy Bear” in the film “Loving You”. It actually looked just like the one in this VERY rare photo from 1969. The original J-200 was sent to Gibson’s custom shop by Scotty Moore, then Presley’s “Lead” guitarist, in 1961. It was modified. Somewhere along the line Presley got this unaltered version as well. It was being played by one of the band members until Elvis broke a string on his modified guitar. So he borrowed this one until the string was fixed.
He slammed his way through KILLER versions of his 1950’s songs like “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Jailhouse Rock”, “Blue Suede Shoes”, ”All Shook Up”, and “Hound Dog”. This made up the set list for most of the nights with some variations in the song list here and there.
At a press conference after the show, when a journalist referred to him as “The King”, Presley gestured toward Fats Domino, who was taking in the scene. “No,” Presley said, “that’s the real king of rock and roll.”
Other “Lounge” pages with a “50th Anniversary – 1969” theme you might find interesting are: