Elvis Presley's Conquest of NYC Shown in Rare Footage: 'It Was Very Emotional'
It was June of 1972. Though his career had enjoyed more triumphs than most any other in showbusiness, there was one city that Elvis Presley wanted to conquer: New York City. It had been over fifteen years since the "King of Rock & Roll" had performed there -- and he had not forgotten how he felt.
"He was back in a city that a few years earlier had caused him the most ridicule -- which actually turned out to be good," explained "Memphis Mafia" member Jerry Schilling. "He was really put down in New York for the TV shows, especially Milton Berle," he said of his controversial early performances. "It was a very strange environment for him. Being from the south, and being around Sam Phillips, New York was a scary place for a young boy from the south -- especially if you're in the spotlight and you're 21 or 22 years old."
However, this time around, Presley exerted his power over the Big Apple. The evidence can be heard on "Prince From Another Planet," released this week. It contains his Madison Square Garden show from the evening of June 10, 1972, as well as slightly longer afternoon rehearsal show. In addition, the accompanying DVD includes a 20-minute mini-documentary that includes a press conference (watch video below), and interviews with key players in the Presley story, and complete audio from the afternoon show - with roughly 20 minutes of fan-shot 8mm film synched with the newly mixed audio. The disc - never before seen commercially - is truly a piece of rock and roll history at work.
In addition to Schilling, legendary musician / journalist Lenny Kaye was there. Originally there to review the show for Cavalier, he told Billboard that reminiscing about it brought back a wave of memories. "It makes me feel like the old Calvarymen who talk about the bridge at San Luis Rey or something - 'Yeah, we came up the hill, then we went back down,' it's great to have that experience. I had the pleasure and the honor to grow up with rock and roll. I was small in the 50s when I first heard Little Richard, then Elvis. I know how much that music energized me, and helped me decide who I wanted to be when I grew up. To witness some of the greats as they showed themselves to the world is a great blessing, and I'm very happy to have witnessed Elvis in the flesh."
Kaye, who also contributed a 5,000 word essay to the liner notes of the project, also commented on the uniqueness of a Presley New York performance. "New York is not the south. When he was touring regularly, his base was the southern quadrant. He never played much live in the 50s. I think the Colonel moved him to movies and merchandising, and kept him away from his audience. I think that toward the end of the 60s, it started to get to him. He thought his movies were very formulaic and not challenging. No matter how much he was complicit in this, I think he had the heart of a performer. At the end of the decade, I think he put his foot down. But he never played New York -- even in the 50s. When he came here, it was to do a television show."
It was a packed house that witnessed the Presley magic at the Garden -- including many of his contemporaries. Paul Simon, George Harrison and a young Bruce Springsteen -- who had just signed with Columbia that week -- were all noted at the show. "Many of his fellow musicians wouldn't have missed the opportunity to see him -- especially if it was just a subway ride away," said Kaye. "David Bowie even took a plane from England to see the show. Here's one of the most iconic and most inspirational figures in music, and of course, you'd want to be there."
The set contains many of his greatest hits, such as "Don't Be Cruel," "Suspicious Minds," and a slowed-down version of "Hound Dog." Forty years later, Schilling still marvels at the artist Presley was. "When he went out on tour again, not only was he still a rebel, but he had developed vocally, as well as his stage presence," he says. "I think of all that when I look back on that time. His playing Madison Square Garden -- possibly the most well known venue in the world for the first time -- was so exciting. It was very emotional for him in a lot of ways."