“He was bloody rubbish” said my dad, “I’ve seen better Elvis’s at Harehills Working Mens Club”
That was my dads summary on the morning after the night before, when he and Ralph had been to see Elvis at The Hilton, Las Vegas.
Yes, the real Elvis, Elvis Presley, February 1974.
I’ve read all of the fan sites, I’ve researched a web site that lists every single one of Elvis’s live performances for his whole life down to such fine detail as what belt and what jumpsuit Elvis wore for each matinee and evening performance, if I could only remember the dates that we were in Vegas for in that February of 1974 then I’d be able to go to Ralph and say “He was wearing the red jumpsuit wasn’t he ?” but I know that Ralph would agree with my dad and just tell me that he was bloody rubbish and he’s seen ten Elvis impersonators since then who were better than Elvis.
Of course you wouldn’t describe the 1974 Elvis as being the ideal Elvis for your museum of recollection, that would probably be the Elvis from the 1968 comeback TV show, the 1974 Elvis was probably more memorable for wearing the XXL jumpsuit rather than what colour it was and the belt was probably on the last notch, but still, it was Elvis, a world popular music phenomenon, and my dad and Ralph got to see him, live, even if they did n’t stay all the way through.
The story of how we had come to be in Las Vegas in February 1974 is for another time, lets just say it was the culmination of a chain of extraordinary events, but there we were, and there was I, seventeen years of age and not yet old enough to go into any of the casinos and therefore the theatres, there was I locked into a motel room every night watching TV while just a few yards from my door was Las Vegas Boulevard, we were in the cheap rooms at the back of The Flamingo where Mama Cass was headlining, I could have walked ten yards to see Mama Cass while I was there, but I stayed in and watched Jeopardy on TV instead.
Truth was that all of the acts who were performing in Vegas at that time were doing so in the twilight or doldrums of their careers, Mama Cass had had no chart success since leaving The Mamas and The Papas five or six years previous, in four short months later she’d be found dead in a London hotel room, choked on a ham sandwich, I know what she must have felt like, I’ve seen those room service charges in London too.
If I’d walked over the road I could have popped into Ceasers Palace and seen Diana Ross in concert, Diana Ross, doing nothing in the charts and waiting for the disco rubbish explosion three years later, or I could have gone with my dad and Ralph to see Elvis, but alas I was only seventeen and whilst being seventeen would allow me, if not technically then “no questions asked”, to drink in pubs and nightclubs in the UK, in America and Vegas in particular it was a definite no-no to allow alcohol to even be in sight of minors like myself, although quite why they let prostitutes ply their trade on every street corner in broad daylight and openly advertise (with free photos of their buxom assets) in their free weekly newspapers was I admit slightly incongruous, but I had a great stash of porn to take home in my suitcase at the end of our ten days, all gathered from telephone box business cards (you’d be surprised what they can fit onto a business card with enough determination and a little contortionism) and free weekly newspapers, even flyers that were pushed underneath our motel room doors every night – I don’t think the rooms at the back of the Flamingo were really for holiday makers, more the rent-by-the-hour clientele.
So my dad and Ralph and the two Joyces were mooching around The Hilton one evening and the two Joyces were taking forever window shopping in the mall that they had inside the hotel lobby and so my dad and Ralph found themselves inextricably drawn towards the casino and hence the theatre beyond, for you always have to walk past at least a hundred fruit machines in Vegas before you get to the theatre, and there was music playing within and there was no-one on the door, this was not unusual in Vegas hotels of the time because “the turns” were just there as a side attraction, the whole point of having Elvis sing at your clients twice a day was to get those clients into your casino and with a bit of luck they’d never make it as far as the theatre but drop all of their holiday cash into your machines instead – remember, this was 1974, Vegas was a pretty sleazy place back then, had a reputation of being 100% under the control of the underworld, The Godfather doesn’t really exaggerate the place at all, free porn on the streets, wow.
So my dad and Ralph stroll into the theatre and its less than half full, don’t let the fan sites let you believe that Elvis sold out all of his shows at The Hilton, you didn’t have to buy tickets for the shows they gave them away on the streets like the prozzies handed out their calling cards, “Wanna go see Elvis? Wanna blow job?” they ask, thrusting tickets and business cards at you, “Hmm, can’t decide, is the blow job free ?”
“Who the bloody hell is that ?” my dad asked Ralph and Ralph squinted his eyes from the back of the auditorium, “Its Elvis” he replied, “the real one” he added, and so they sat down at the back to watch the show.
After only a couple of songs my dad had seen enough, he was concert secretary at Meanwood Con Club after all and was used to going to jim Winsors club in Leeds to auditions, he’d seen virtually every “turn” in the north of England, good and bad, mainly bad it has to be said, and so his summary is worth printing again for it surely carries some credence, “Bloody rubbish, I’ve seen better Elvis’s at Harehills Working Mens Club”.
They stood up and left.
And just to underline the highlight of the evening, it wasn’t Elvis who was the highlight of the evening, and Ralph still tells this story, if you ask him about the night he went to see Elvis he’ll tell you that Elvis was bloody rubbish but that the highlight of the evening was that as they left The Hilton and walked through the taxi rank Ralph bent down to pick up a piece of paper only to find that it was a fifty dollar bill – fifty dollars in 1974, he hadn’t taken fifty dollars with him as spending money for the whole ten days, it was like winning the lottery and he still re-tells the story with absolute glee 38 years later.