Ze King & I: John Lennon's Relationship to Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley had a tremendous effect on the life of John Lennon
and this feature will explore the different aspects of John's
connection to the King of Rock and Roll.

Elvis Presley in the early days of his rock and roll career. Elvis took the world by storm in 1956.John Lennon: “It was Elvis who really got me buying records. I thought that early stuff of his was great. The Bill Haley era passed me by, in a way. When his records came on the wireless, my mother used to hear them, but they didn’t do anything for me. It was Elvis who got me hooked on beat music. When I heard Heartbreak Hotel, I thought ‘this is it’ and I started to grow sideboards and all that gear...”

Elvis Presley, the beautiful. It was a combination of incredible talent and amazing good looks that made Elvis one of the most memorable entertainers of the 20th century.June 15, 1955...Enter Paul McCartney
John Lennon: “I had a group, I was the singer and the leader; I met Paul and made a decision whether to--and he made a decision, too--have him in the group. Was it better to have a guy who was better than the people I had in, obviously, or not? To make the group stronger, or to let me be stronger? That decision was to let Paul in and make the group stronger. He was good. He also looked like Elvis.”

John Lennon gives his 'come hither type look.' This pose was most likely inspired by Lennon's then idol, Elvis Presley.October 9, 1956:
John spent some of the money he’d been given for his birthday on two new 78 rpm singles, Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel and The Goons’ The Ying-Tong Song.

March 1957:
Inspired by Lonnie Donegan and fired up by Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, John and his school friend, Pete Shotton, started a skiffle group, which they called The Blackjacks. John played guitar, bought for him at a cost of 17 pounds from Hessy’s Music Shop on Stanley Street and “guaranteed not to split.” He played it with only four strings and used banjo chords taught to him by his mother. Pete played washboard. The traditional skiffle-group line-up was completed shortly afterwards by the addition of Bill Smith on tea-chest bass. John handled almost all the lead vocals, with the other members adding backup support during the choruses. Featured in the group’s repertoire at this point were skiffle standards like Rock Island Line, Maggie Mae, Freight Train, and Don’t You Rock Me Daddy-O, which were being performed by hundreds of teenage skiffle groups across the UK.

John Lennon does his "Elvis thing" at an early band audition. Elvis was a major influence on upcoming musicians around the world, and the early Beatles were no exception.August 7, 1957:
John’s skiffle group, now called The Quarrymen, gets their first booking at the Cavern Club for an evening performance billed as a “Skiffle Session” (the Cavern was a jazz club in those days). The Quarrymen began with Come Go With Me, but then John blasted into Houng Dog, followed by Blue Suede Shoes. Club owner, Alan Sytner, sent a note on stage reading “Cut out the bloody rock!” (Paul was away at camp and, therefore, he wasn’t a part of this historic event.)

John Lennon: “You see, we wanted to be bigger than Elvis...that was the main thing.”

John’s “Fat Elvis” Period:
“When Help! came out in 1965, I was actually crying out for help. I didn’t realize it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I was really crying out for help. It was my fat Elvis period. You see the movie: He...I...is very fat, very insecure, and he’s completely lost himself.”

August 27, 1965...The Beatles Meet Elvis!
Click here to read about it in John's own words.

The Beverly Wilshire Hotel
9500 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California
Back in the late 50s/early 60s, Elvis lived at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for several years while making movies at the nearby Paramount Studios. A decade later, John stayed there for several months while he was separated from Yoko. He chose the hotel because he knew Elvis had lived there.

Elvis arrives back in the USA after his tour of duty in Germany in the 1950s. Behind him is his notorius manager, Colonel Tom Parker.August 16, 1977...Elvis Presley Dies
John was in Japan at the time, and when pressured for a public comment on Elvis’ passing, he issued the following statement through Elliot Mintz in New York: “Elvis died when he went into the Army.” Despite the coldness of his words, it has been said that John was deeply disturbed by the death of his teenage idol.

November 1980...About Double Fantasy
John Lennon: “I started out playing rock and roll because I absoutely liked doing it. So that’s why I ended up doing a track like Starting Over. It’s kinda tongue in cheek, it’s kinda hoo-de-hoo-de-ho-ho...sort of ala Elvis. I went back to my roots. I’ve had the boyhood thing of being the ‘Elvis’ and doing my own thing and getting my spot in the show. Now I want to be with my best friend. My best friend is my wife. Who could ask for anything more?”