The meeting of two great musical acts of the 20th century took place on this day: The Beatles and Elvis Presley.
This was The Beatles’ fifth day off at 2850 Benedict Canyon, the Beverly Hills mansion they rented from Zsa Zsa Gabor during a break in their 1965 tour of North America. Despite the tight security and attention surrounding the group, during the day Paul McCartney and chauffeur Alf Bicknell managed to leave for sometime. McCartney wore a disguise as the pair did some sightseeing around Los Angeles.
We met Elvis Presley at the end of our stay in LA. We’d tried for years to, but we could never get to him. We used to think we were a bit of a threat to him and Colonel Tom Parker, which ultimately we were. So although we tried many times, Colonel Tom would just show up with a few souvenirs and that would have to do us for a while. We didn’t feel brushed off; we felt we deserved to be brushed off. After all, he was Elvis, and who were we to dare to want to meet him? But we finally received an invitation to go round and see him when he was making a film in Hollywood.
It took place at Presley’s mansion at 565 Perugia Way, Bel Air, Los Angeles. The Beatles arrived at 11pm and were greeted by Elvis in his large circular living room. The room was bathed in red and blue light, and contained a colour television, jukebox, crescent-shaped couch, games tables and a bar.
The first fundamental ground rules to be set were: no press to be invited, no pictures to be taken, no recordings to be made and no leaking of our plans in advance.
It was shortly before 10pm when we drove over. We were in a convoy of three big black limousines, led by Colonel Parker and his people.
“The property consisted of two storeys nestled into a hillside. It was a vast, round building with a lot of windows and a spacious front garden. There was a Rolls Royce and a couple of Cadillacs lining the drive. Members of the famous ‘Memphis Mafia’ guarded the tall gates but they waved our line of limousines straight through.
Presley was watching his huge colour television with the sound off, playing around on a bass guitar, with members of his entourage nearby.
Meeting Elvis was one of the highlights of the tour. It was funny, because by the time we got near his house we’d forgotten where we were going. We were in a Cadillac limousine, going round and round along Mulholland, and we’d had a couple of ‘cups of tea’ in the back of the car. It didn’t really matter where we were going: it’s like the comedian Lord Buckley says, ‘We go into a native village and take a couple of peyote buds; we might not find out where we is, but we’ll sure find out who we is.’
Anyway, we were just having fun, we were all in hysterics. (We laughed a lot. That’s one thing we forgot about for a few years – laughing. When we went through all the lawsuits, it looked as if everything was bleak; but when I think back to before that, I remember we used to laugh all the time.) We pulled up at some big gates and someone said, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to see Elvis,’ and we all fell out of the car laughing, trying to pretend we weren’t silly: just like a Beatles cartoon.
It was very exciting, we were all nervous as hell, and we met him in his big house in LA – probably as big as the one we were staying in, but it still felt like, ‘Big house, big Elvis.’ He had lots of guys around him, all these guys that used to live near him (like we did from Liverpool; we always had thousands of Liverpool people around us, so I guess he was the same). And he had pool tables! Maybe a lot of American houses are like that, but it seemed amazing to us; it was like a nightclub.
The meeting had been arranged by Presley’s manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker, and was highly anticipated by The Beatles and Brian Epstein. As they arrived Presley took The Beatles into the enormous living room; Epstein and Parker stood aside to watch the meeting.
The encounter wasn’t a great success, with a somewhat stilted atmosphere and little conversation at first. Eventually Elvis told them, “If you damn guys are gonna sit here and stare at me all night I’m gonna go to bed.”
As the two teams faced one another, there was a weird silence and it was John who spoke first, rather awkwardly blurting out a stream of questions at Elvis, saying: ‘Why do you do all these soft-centred ballads for the cinema these days? What happened to good old rock ‘n’ roll?’
Elvis was fairly quiet – that was my first reaction. He smiled a lot and shook hands with everybody.
The ice didn’t really break in the early stages at all. The boys and Elvis swapped tour stories, but it hadn’t got going.
With the ice broken, Presley called for guitars to be brought out and a brief jam session took place. Among the songs performed was You’re My World, a ballad which Cilla Black had recorded in 1964.
I can’t remember all the things that they played but I do remember one of the songs was I Feel Fine. And I remember Ringo, who of course didn’t have an instrument, tapping out the backbeat with his fingers on the nearest bits of wooden furniture.
Everybody was singing. Elvis strummed a few bass guitar chords for Paul and said: ‘See, I’m practising.’ And Paul came back with some quip about: ‘Don’t worry, between us, me and Brian Epstein will make a star of you soon.’
It would be wonderful to have either photographs or recordings. That recording would be invaluable, surely. It would be a multi-million dollar piece of tape. But it wasn’t to be. It was an amazing session to listen to.