Paul McCartney taught Presley some bass licks, then played piano and guitar.
That was the great thing for me, that he was into the bass. So there I was: ‘Well, let me show you a thing or two, El…’ Suddenly he was a mate. It was a great conversation piece for me: I could actually talk about the bass, and we sat around and just enjoyed ourselves. He was great – talkative and friendly, and a little bit shy. But that was his image: we expected that; we hoped for that.
The conversation became easier, and they discussed their fans, touring and their respective films. John Lennon asked him whether he would go back to making rock ‘n’ roll records, to which Presley blamed his tight filming schedules.
At first we couldn’t make him out. I asked him if he was preparing new ideas for his next film and he drawled, ‘Ah sure am. Ah play a country boy with a guitar who meets a few gals along the way, and ah sing a few songs.’ We all looked at one another. Finally Presley and Colonel Parker laughed and explained that the only time they departed from that formula – for Wild in the Country – they lost money.
During their visit to Elvis Presley in Los Angeles, The Beatles also played a few games of pool with members of the Memphis Mafia and briefly met Priscilla Presley.
She came in and I got this picture of her as a sort of Barbie doll – with a purple gingham dress, and a gingham bow in her very beehive hair, with lots of make-up. We all said ‘hello’ and then it was, ‘Right lads, hands off – she’s going.’ She didn’t stay long.
I can’t blame him, although I don’t think any of us would have made a pass at her. That was definitely not on – Elvis’s wife, you know! That was unthinkable – she didn’t need to be put away quite so quickly, we thought.
Also present at the meeting were The Beatles assistants Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall, press officer Tony Barrow and driver Alf Bicknell. They were surprised to find Presley living with 10 road managers and their wives in the house, given the small coterie with which The Beatles surrounded themselves.
It was a thrill, but it was the biggest disappointment of my life in one way. I really am a big Elvis fan – at six foot three I’m one of the biggest. So I prepare my outfit to go and meet Elvis – send the suit to the cleaners, nice white shirt and tie – really ponce myself up. But when the suit came back from the cleaners, they’d sewn the pockets up. Now, I always carry plectrums – picks, they call them in the States. It’s just a habit. I’m not even working for them now and I’ve still got a pick in my pocket at the moment.
So when we get there, Elvis asks, ‘Has anybody got a pick?’ and Paul turns round and says, ‘Yeah, Mal’s got a pick. He’s always got a pick. He carries them on holiday with him!’ I went to go in my pocket for one – and there they were, all sewn up.
I ended up in the kitchen breaking plastic spoons, making picks for Elvis!
That was a disappointment: I’d have loved to have given Elvis a pick, have him play it, then got it back and had it framed.
Charlie Rich was there. I loved Charlie Rich, and so did Elvis. They had a record-player with the arm up the middle, and Muddy Waters just seemed to be playing all night. And the colour TV in one corner with the sound off, and there was Elvis playing bass. Paul and John on guitars – and I was just sat there with my mouth open all night.
The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein kept a low profile, choosing instead to speak to Tom Parker.
Parker and Epstein lost interest – they were leaving the children to play. Parker put his plump arm around Brian Epstein’s shoulder and led him away to a quiet corner of this playroom.
Epstein at this point grabbed his chance to bring up the subject he’d been waiting to raise, which was his secret agenda. He hoped to persuade Parker to let him present Elvis in a series of UK concerts.
It was a hopeless project from the outset, although at the time, Parker pretended to leave the door open by saying he’d think about it.
The meeting lasted around three hours, at the end of which Parker gave The Beatles presents including a complete set of Presley’s albums, gun holsters with gold leather belts and a table lamp in the shape of a wagon.
As they left, Lennon asked the others, “Where’s Elvis?” They came away with the impression he had been under the influence of something throughout the evening; Lennon later described it as being “like meeting Engelbert Humperdinck”.
It was one of the great meetings of my life. I think he liked us. I think at that time he may have felt a little bit threatened, but he didn’t say anything. We certainly didn’t feel any antagonism.
I only met him that once, and then I think the success of our career started to push him out a little; which we were very sad about, because we wanted to co-exist with him. He was our greatest idol, but the styles were changing in favour of us. He was a pretty powerful image to British people.
No footage or photographs of the encounter exist. It is rumoured that a tape of the music session was made, but it has never come to light.
I remember, as we went out to our limousines, John put on his Adolf Hitler accent and shouted: ‘Long live ze king.’ Also, John said, as we got into our limousines: ‘Elvis was stoned.’ George Harrison responded very quietly: ‘Aren’t we all?’
They tried to make light of it and not show too much adoration for their idol, but Elvis Presley was their idol and one of the prime influences of The Beatles’ music.
Also on this day...
- 1968: Tape copying: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Blackbird, Not Guilty, Revolution 9
- 1967: Interview: John, George and Ringo in Bangor, Wales
- 1967: Brian Epstein dies
- 1966: Day off in Los Angeles
- 1964: Live: Cincinnati Gardens, Cincinnati
- 1963: Live: Odeon Cinema, Southport
- 1963: Television: The Mersey Sound
- 1962: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (evening)
- 1961: Live: Casbah Coffee Club, Liverpool
- 1960: Live: Indra Club, Hamburg
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.