BIG BOSS MAN IN VEGAS
August 19, 1974 - Opening Show
(by Anne E. Nixon)
Last year, an unofficial CD was released under the title "If You Talk In Your Sleep," and contained the opening show of Elvis' Summer Festival, 1974, the first such summer season to be just two weeks long.
The date was 19 August, 1974, and the vast showroom of the Las Vegas Hilton was crammed with patrons and fans eager to see the king open his eleventh stint in the desert city. Amongst the crowd sat Vernon Presley and his wife, and Elvis' girlfriend, Linda Thompson.
Being opening night, there was just one show at 10 pm. There was no "Theme from '2001"' opening; the king strode right out to be greeted by a huge roar of approval: the "Peacock" suit he was wearing looking stunning on him. The diamond-studded Maltese Cross around his neck caught the lights, sparkling brightly. A couple of rings adorned his long, elegant fingers. The king was ready and so was the crowd.
"C C Rider" was dispensed with; instead, Elvis began with a pounding "Big Boss Man." The guitar he usually used for the opening two songs was also dispensed with. Elvis' legs pumped up and down to the beat of the song that had made such an impact in his '68 Special. He wasn't satisfied with the sound, and had Charlie turn the volume of the amplifier up. The crowd wasn't reacting as well as they might, and Elvis seemed a little nervous, his voice at first a little hoarse with tension.
However, the beat carried on with a driving "Proud Mary," and then Elvis introduced himself thus: "My name is the NBC Peacock", a reference both to his suit and to the station logo of the American TV company. He joked that he'd done the next song "when Charile was a child," and launched into a bluesy "Down In The Alley," one of the bonus songs from the "Spinout" album nearly a decade earlier. This was Elvis at his brilliant best, singing the blues, and what a shame that it was to be a 'one off' for this show only.
The bluesy theme was continued with the wonderful "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues," which he'd recorded at Stax, Memphis, the previous December. A couple of telling ad-libs were included: after "Play around you'll lose your wife" he muttered "Already done that," and after "Play too long you'll lose your life" he added "Almost did that." Read into that what you will! Again, a pity this didn't become a regular song in his shows, because it obviously had a lot of meaning for him and was the kind of song that he did so well.
"I've done a lot of things in my life, but," began Elvis, using this as the introductions to "(I've) Never Been To Spain." The bluesy side of Elvis was getting yet another chance to shine. He said he'd do one side of his new disc, asking Charlie when it was coming out. "It's Midnight" got its' Vegas debut, and the strong ballad obviously had a lot of meaning for Elvis. The other side of the new disc also got its' first airing. "if You Talk In Your Sleep" was the title, and later in the season, Elvis would build a karate demo around this tune, don his black karate jacket and shades, and then add a monologue about his interest in karate. But for now, he just sang the song, and said it wasn't about him. He joked that Charlie wrote it, then said it was really Red West.
What to sing next? "I Got 'Fever', 'I Just Can't Help Bellevin" and 'I'm Leavin" all at once," he said, but chose the latter, and sang it beautifully. By now, Elvis was much more relaxed.
During the toe-tapping "Let Me be There" Elvis was given his only gift of the show - a yellow canary on a piece of elastic. He bobbed it up and down in time to the music. Telling the audience that there was something he'd wanted to do for along time, he began to narrate the story behind "Softly As I Leave You," and then let Sherrill Neilsen sing it as he spoke the poignant words. Their final line duet was perfectly executed, and Elvis gave due credit to Neilsen afterwards.
"OK, take it on!" urged the king, and everyone on stage put their best into the catchy "If You Love Me Let Me Know." A nod to the past then, as Elvis sang and kissed his way through "Love Me Tender," although he muttered, "I don't wanna do it." But he put his audience's preferences first, and he certainly enjoyed the audience contact, noticeably cheering up and with his eyes twinkling as he kissed the ladies, and he even blew a kiss towards Charlie jokingly. Something amused him, and he asked "Who was that girl who put that 'hoomey' on me?" Well, it sounded like he said "Hoomey."
An energetic "Polk Salad Annie" led into the introductions. Elvis was in a very jokey, witty mood. He said of the Stamps, "Some of the finest voices in the country - and some cities," and embarrassed Kathy Westmoreland by saying she had on a see-through blouse. He said Ronnie Tuft was one of his karate students, and "another weirdo" was Duke Bardwell. "is that D double-0 K?" he asked him. He asked Voice if they had opened the show, saying he'd been upstairs watching a movie.
Joe Guercio, the crowd learned, was from Wahoo, Nebraska. Elvis was laughing, and naturally he had to shout "WaHOO!" In more serious vein, he introduced Gunther Wiibms from the Barnum & Bailey Circus, whom he called "one of the greatest animal trainers in the world."
Continuing the theme of rare on stage performances, Elvis sang a dynamic "Promised Land," and then introduced another guest in the audience, He'd met this fellow for the first time when he'd visited the set of "Kid Galahad," he said, and the crowd gave a great reception to TV's "Kojak," Telly Savalas.
Obviously attempting new things, ELvis did a rare version of "My Baby Left Me," It was gutsy and he enjoyed singing it. He helpfully picked up a drumstick that Ron Tutt had dropped, and returned it to him at the end of the song.
Becoming really involved in the lyrics of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Elvis arched up onto his tiptoes to place emphasis on the word "Bridge" just before the song's close.
There was a lot of audience reaction when he sang and jiggled through "Fever," telling his legs to "quit, quit, quit!' The penultimate song began "You ain't..." and there was a clash of symbols. "Y'all from Mississippi round here?" Elvis paused to ask some people in the crowd. "Y'all ain't nothin"', he re-started "Hound Dog," giving the crowd more reason to go crazy, and especially so when he did a long and exciting "chang, chang," ending, sweat a-fiying.
Telling the crowd they'd been a fantastic audience to work to (despite their initial feeble response) Elvis began his traditional closer - this at least had not changed. He handed out scarves a-plenty during "Can't Help Falling In Love."
There was an amusing incident in the show that is not apparent from simply listening to it: a child of around seven was carded down to the ramp by her father, and looked really thrilled to get a kiss and a scarf; and upon seeing this, one man carried another man down over his shoulder, making Elvis laugh at their ruse as he gave him a scarf.
The show is refreshing to listen to, and must have been a very special one to attend in view of the rare performance of some songs. Why did Elvis revert to a more familiar pattern during the rest of the season? Was it because the opening night crowd was not as responsive as he'd hoped? Whatever, it is good to be able to listen to this innovative show in superb quality. (I based this feature on Chistine Colclough's report in the Elvis News Service Weekly." Thanks to D. for the tape).