It took a while – and lots of failed attempts by Epstein – but the Beatles did, famously, meet Elvis. Just the once, in Los Angeles’ lofty Bel Air suburb, during their second tour of the States, in 1967.
Whether or not the King tried to convince Nixon to ban the boys’ entry into the States the year before because of their ‘filthy and unkempt appearance and suggestive music’ and – oh the irony – their drug use, remains a heated debate amongst the type who care about such stuff.
It’s fortunately not a debate that troubles the new exhibition at the Beatles Story Museum. Elvis and Us promises a coming together of a slightly longer duration than that fateful hot August night during the summer of love. Two years longer, in fact.
Elvis’ personal entourage, the Memphis Mafia, welcomed the band, along with Elvis and (then girlfriend) Priscilla – after Lennon had put out a public proclamation, citing Elvis as a major influence: ‘if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be here,” he said on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Of course, by 1967, the King was reduced to goofing around in kitsch musicals and phoning in contractual obligation albums, cruelly distancing him from his vital past. Elvis knew it and, no doubt, wanted a bit of that Mersey magic to rub off on his jumpsuit.
“Just before 10 p.m. on the 27th, Colonel Parker and Memphis Mafia foreman Joe Esposito rode in limos over to the Beatles’ Benedict Canyon house, picked up John, Paul, George, Ringo, Epstein and the Beatles road manager, Mal Evans, and returned to the Bel Air mansion where Elvis was staying,” recalls Beatles chronicler, Chuck Crisafulli.
It was Elvis who broke the ice: “If you guys are just going to sit around and stare at me, I’m going to bed,” the sideburned crooner wisecracked. Before long, Lennon and Elvis were talking about their favourite scenes from Dr. Strangelove, while George rolled a spliff on the patio.
A strict no-photos rule meant that the four hour meeting – one of the most legendary in musical history – remains undocumented. Until now…
A bit of a first for the city, Elvis and Us marks the first time archivists from Elvis Presley’s Graceland have curated an exhibition of this scale in the UK. The exhibition features lots of Elvisabilia which, a bit like the man himself, has never been seen in this country before. Most has never left Graceland.
Together with his iconic Jailhouse Rock shirt and the rhinestone encrusted satin jumpsuits a la Suspicious Minds (and suspicious tailoring) the exhibition attempts to chronicle the influence Elvis Presley had over the young Beatles.
That fabled meeting between the King and successors to his throne is carefully explored through a series of video interviews shot exclusively for the exhibition, featuring Priscilla Presley, The Beatles’ 1960s press officer Tony Barrow, NME journalist Chris Hutchins, and members of The Quarrymen (who, we’re guessing, were closer to West Derby than the West Coast when the meeting took place).
All of which means, if you’ve always planned a Rock’n’Roll pilgrimage you really don’t have to follow Paul Simon’s advice and head to Graceland, Memphis Tennessee. The Pier Head, Liverpool, Merseyside will do just fine.
Let’s face it, the Mersey estuary shines just as brightly as a National guitar any day.
Elvis and Us,
Beatles Story, Pier Head
From October 5