Fifty years ago today, on August 27, 1965, the most famous informal meeting in music history occurred when The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, met their idol, Elvis Presley.
The Fab Four were in Los Angeles on their second tour of the United States for a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Presley happened to have just returned from filming “Paradise Hawaiian Style.” The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein had attempted on several occasions to arrange a meeting–with Presley’s Colonel Tom Parker–between the most famous performers ever, but business obligations and the timing was never right.
“John was so nervous he told me,” May Pang, Lennon’s girlfriend during the Lost Weekend years of his life, explained this Examiner in 2011. “Elvis was everything to John and he said when he walked into Elvis’ house and actually saw him, all he could do was respond with an ‘Oh, zere you are, Elvis!”
Pang laughed. “John could imitate Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies and he had heard Elvis was a fan of Sellers,” she smiled. “It was pure fright and this was all that would come out of his mouth at the first sight of Elvis. He was very relieved when Elvis laughed.”
According to Pang, Lennon enjoyed telling the story and “reliving” the four hour visit with the King of Rock n’ Roll. The Beatles were renting the Beverly Hills mansion of Zsa Zsa Gabor at 2850 Benedict Canyon.
McCartney, in the Anthology publications, explained the Beatles had tried to meet with Presley many times but “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.”
“John said they were driven over to Elvis place (to 565 Perugia Way, in Bel Air, in a limo driven by Joe Esposito), late at night,” Pang reminisced. “It was a big two-story mansion up in a large gardened lot up on a hillside. Now, you have to remember this is 1965, so many of the amenities we enjoy today were rare and exclusive then. Like, color TV. John said Elvis was sitting there in this big round living room that had blue and red lighting watching color TV. He was on a curved couch and John was so impressed that there were pool tables in there. He was IN ELVIS’S HOUSE.”
Colonel Parker and Epstein laid out some ground rules for the visit that included no video, recordings or pictures would be used.
“Priscilla was his girlfriend at the time and there were others girls and all his guys, the Memphis Mafia guys were there too,” Pang explained. “John said he wanted to be nice to everyone, and he was, but he was so very nervous and actually wanted to spend his time with Elvis.”
“Elvis had music playing on his jukebox with the sound off on the TV and John, Paul, Ringo and George were sitting on the couch with him just staring at him,” Pang laughed again. “Elvis told them if all they are going to do is just sit there and look at him is was going up to bed. Then they all jumped in and started talking.”
The story goes that one of the Memphis Mafia brought in some guitars for John, Paul, George and Elvis while Ringo ‘drummed’ the side of an armchair. Some of the songs playing on the jukebox that they strummed to included “You’re My World” by Cilla Black, “Mohair Sam” by Charlie Rich and “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry.
“We just got in there and played with him,” John Lennon once recalled. “We all plugged in whatever was around and we played and sang…”
Since there were no left-handed guitar, McCartney went over to a white piano to play.
“John described it as more like a fine bar and nightclub, rather than a house,” Pang said. “It had everything a young man would dream of at the time. John’s ‘in’ with Elvis started with talking about Peter Sellers and the “Pink Panther” and “Dr. Strangelove.” It was something they had in common.”
Colonel Parker and Esposito entertained Epstein and the others at the roulette wheel and craps table in the adjacent den, while others played pool.
“I think there was probably some nervousness on both sides when the night began,” Esposito said later. “But it turned out to be a really enjoyable, down-to-earth, getting-to-know-you situation. Not a wild party, just a really fun night. For us, it was great to see Elvis enjoying himself that way.”
“Meeting Elvis was one of the biggest highlights of John’s life,” said Pang. “Every time he talked about Elvis, I noticed how happy he was.”