|Ze King and I
John Describes The Beatles' Meeting
with Elvis...In His Own Words
by John Lennon
August 27, 1965, was an historic day in
the annals of celebrity--the Beatles met
Elvis Presley at his home in Bel Air,
California. The following is John Lennon's description of the evening.
There was only one person in the United States that we really wanted to meet--not that I'm sure he wanted to meet us--and that was Elvis. It is difficult to describe how we felt about him. We just idolized the guy so much.
When we first came to Hollywood all these people like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra wanted to come over and see us. But we didn't want to meet them particularly because we felt they didn't really like us or our music. It was a real thrill to get to meet Elvis, though--especially to play with him. And because we were both Peter Sellers fans, I remember saying to him, "Zis is ze way it should be. Ze small homey gathering wiz a few friends and a leetle music!"
We'd tried to meet Elvis during our first tour of the States in 1964, but couldn't make it because of his commitments and ours. But when we came in the summer of 1965, we found we'd be in Hollywood at the same time Elvis was filming there. And that's how we met Elvis on the night of Friday, August 27, 1965.
It still took three days of planning to set up the get together in Elvis's house--which we hoped would be a secret. But the fans and the press still got wind of it and were there in their hundreds trying to get in, and although we were used to crowds, the thought of Elvis and The Beatles being together at one time just blew the minds of some of the people.
Anyhow, Elvis was inside waiting to greet us. He looked great in black slacks, a red shirt and close fitting black jerkin. He said hello in his quietly spoken way and led us into this huge circular room. We were joined by some of his staff, as well as Colonel Parker and Brian Epstein.
I know Paul, George, and Ringo were feeling as nervous as I was. This was the guy we had all idolized for years--from way back when we were just starting out in Liverpool. He was a legend in his own lifetime, and it's never easy meeting a legend in his own lifetime. However, Elvis tried to make us feel at home.
He sat Paul and me on one side of him and Ringo on the other. George sat cross-legged on the floor. A huge color television was on in the middle of the room with the sound off, while a record player was playing the latest tunes. We could have just walked in on an average Elvis-at-home evening. Elvis obviously liked to treat everybody he met the same, whoever they were.
He finally broke the silence that had fallen over the room. "Look, guys," he said, "if you're just going to sit there and stare at me, I'm going to bed." He smiled, and we all laughed. "Let's talk a bit, huh?" he went on. "And then maybe play and sing a bit?"
That's just what we all wanted to do, and you could feel the tension in the room begin to ease. One of Elvis's staff brought us drinks, but while we all drank scotch-and coke or bourbon-and-Seven Up, Elvis only had Seven Up. He didn't touch any of the cigarettes that were offered around, either.
After a bit Elvis said, "Somebody bring in the guitars." Again one of his men jumped up, and within moments three electric guitars had been plugged into the amplifiers in the room. Elvis took a bass guitar, and I took a rhythm guitar. Elvis obviously wasn't that familiar with his instrument, so Paul gave him some instructions. "Here's how I play the bass," he said, strumming a few chords. "It's not too good, but I'm practicing."
George was busy looking over his instrument, and it was a few minutes before he joined in. If I remember correctly, it was Cilla Black's hit record You're My World that we first got off together. After that I said, "This beats talking, doesn't it"--and we had at last found a way of communicating through music. Only Ringo looked a bit down. He could only watch us and drum on the side of his chair. "Too bad we left the drums in Memphis, Elvis said, as if trying to console him.
After a while, Paul put down his guitar and went over to the large white grand piano that stood in a corner by the bar. He began to pick out some notes and we got into one of the Shadows tunes. While all this was going on, Brian and the Colonel sat chatting at the back of the room. Then they went out into the games room to play some roulette. I think Brian won a bit, and the Colonel lost a little.
Playing the instruments certainly helped us feel at ease with Elvis. After about an hour we stopped and began to talk about the thing we all knew best--entertaining. In particular, the experiences we'd all had on tour. "Some funny things happen to you on the road, don't they?" Elvis smiled. "I remember once in Vancouver we'd only done a number or two when some of the fans rushed the stage. It was lucky the guys and I got off in time. They tipped the whole damn rostrum over!"
Paul immediately followed up Elvis's words. "Yes, we've had some crazy experiences, too. I remember one fellow rushed on stage when we were performing and pulled the leads out of the amplifiers. Then he turned to me and said, "One move and you're dead."
Elvis replied, "Yeah, it can be pretty scary at times." I chipped in. "But you're on your own, I said. "At least we've got each other up there. If somebody pushed me on stage and said, You're on your own, like they do with you, I don't know how I'd cope."
The conversation then moved on to the problem of flying, which Elvis admitted could bother him. "I once took off from Atlanta, Georgia, in a small two-engined plane," he recalled, "and one of the engines failed. Boy, was I scared! I really thought my number was up. We had to take everything that was sharp out of our pockets and rest our heads on pillows between our knees. When we finally got down safely, the pilot was soaking with sweat, although there was snow on the ground outside."
George told Elvis a similar story about when he had been flying from Liverpool and the window beside him had suddenly sprung open. "Yeah," agreed Elvis again. "We pay the price for fame with our nerves don't we!"
I also remember I talked to him about cars. Everyone knew how much he loved them, and he'd just got himself a Rolls-Royce Phantom Five. "Snap!" I told him. "I saw it outside. Mine is just the same except I've had all the chrome bits painted black."
It was 2 a.m. when we finally quit. Elvis had been a great host and gave all of us a complete set of his records. It was a night none of us would forget. As we were about to leave, Paul said, "Elvis, we'd like you and the other guys to come up to the place where we are staying tomorrow night." "Well, I'll see," Elvis replied. "I don't know whether I can make it or not. But thanks all the same."
He smiled and shook our hands. We never saw him again. It was Elvis's sense of humor that stuck in my mind. He liked to laugh and make others laugh, too. Which was why I put on a Peter Sellers voice again as we walked out of the door and said, "Tanks for ze music, Elvis--and long live ze King!"
Copyright 2002 The Estate of John Lennon
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