The most infamous rock and roll meeting of all time occurred when Elvis Presley met The Beatles on August 27, 1965. In the new book, Elvis: Behind The Legend, this legendary summit is recounted just in time for the 50th anniversary with some surprising and lesser known facts.
The Beatles were the ones who pushed for the meeting with Elvis. After all, it was Presley who was one of the main influences for John Lennon to start the band. “Without Elvis, there would be no Beatles,” Lennon famously remarked in later years.
The British press had been anticipating the meeting for a year since The Beatles’ summer U.S. tour in 1964. During the tour, Paul McCartney spoke with Elvis in a friendly chat over the phone, but unfortunately Presley’s filming schedule prevented him from meeting with The Beatles while they were in the States.
Finally, in August 1965, the stars seemed to align since The Beatles were in L.A. for their concert at The Hollywood Bowl and Elvis was in L.A. having just returned from Hawaii where he was filming Paradise Hawaiian Style.
John, Paul, George and Ringo along with their manager, publicist and assistants came to Presley’s house on Perugia Way in Los Angeles to meet their rock and roll idol. But of all The Beatles, who was the most excited to meet Elvis?
John Lennon was probably the most nervous about the meeting since Elvis was literally John’s hero. When John was in high school, he had grown sideburns just to be like Elvis. “If it hadn’t been for him, I would have been nothing,” Lennon told Elvis’ friend, Jerry Schilling.
Elvis was in the den when The Beatles arrived. As The Beatles walked into the den, John Lennon launched into an imitation of Peter Sellers’ character, Inspector Clouseau, by saying “Oh, zere you are, Elvis!” Everyone laughed.
After all the introductions, The Beatles sat down on the couch next to Elvis who was watching a muted TV, while music was playing in the background on a jukebox. Initially, there was an awkward moment of silence as The Beatles appeared star-struck and just stared at Elvis.
Finally, Elvis broke the silence: “If you guys are just gonna sit there and stare at me, I’m goin’ to bed.” The Beatles laughed. “I just thought we’d sit and talk about music and maybe jam a little,” Elvis proposed.
Elvis then called for guitars to be brought into the room for John, Paul and George. Since there was no drum kit, Ringo kept the beat on the side of an armchair.
Elvis started playing a Fender bass which excited Paul McCartney: “It was a great conversation piece for me. I could actually talk about the bass, and we sat around and just enjoyed ourselves,” McCartney said.
“We just got in there and played with him,” John Lennon recalled. “We all plugged in whatever was around and we played and sang…” Later in the evening, since there were no left-handed guitars on hand, Paul McCartney moved over to play the white piano that was in the corner.
However, the biggest fan there that night, had to be The Beatles’ road manager, Mal Evans. Evans was a huge Presley fan who was a current member of Presley’s fan club in England. “I really am a big Elvis fan – at six foot three I’m one of the biggest,” Mal said.
In all the excitement, Evans sent his suit to the cleaners to prepare for the big meeting with Elvis. However, the cleaners had sewn up his pockets where he kept a bunch of guitar picks that he always had on hand for the boys. So, inevitably when Elvis asked for a guitar pick that night, Mal went into a panic.
Evans couldn’t access the picks, or plectrums as they call them in England, in his sewn-up pockets, so he frantically ran into the kitchen and smashed up a bunch of plastic spoons to create makeshift picks.
Mal was so disappointed by that mishap: “I’d have loved to have given Elvis a pick, have him play it, then got it back and had it framed,” he explained.
The jam session lasted about an hour. “There was Elvis playing bass, Paul and John on guitars – and I just sat there with my mouth open all night,” Evans recalled.
And Mal definitely made an impression on Elvis. A few years later, when British journalist Ray Connolly interviewed Elvis in Las Vegas, Elvis recalled meeting The Beatles and even mentioned Mal.
While many stories circulated in later years that the meeting was a flop or that either The Beatles or Elvis were disappointed, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Elvis appeared to have enjoyed himself. He told Sonny West: “[That was] a lot better than I thought it would be. That’s some good times there.”
Later that year, Paul and John called Graceland to speak to Elvis. They wanted to thank him for the visit in Los Angeles.
Note: For more information about the book Elvis: Behind The Legend: Startling Truths About The King of Rock and Roll’s Life, Loves, Film and Music, visit elvisbiography.net.