Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
11 Amazing Elvis Covers, From Frank Sinatra To Kacey Musgraves
Baz Luhrmann's 'Elvis' hits theaters June 24 with a star-studded soundtrack. In honor of the King and his new film, GRAMMY.com shares 11 Elvis covers — because imitation is the highest form of flattery, thank you very much.
The legend of Elvis Presley still reverberates to this day, thanks to his knack for both boundary-pushing and genre hopping, as well as a unique style — all of which is embodied by his now-legendary discography.
It’s a legacy that’s currently exploding on the big screen thanks to musical-movie mastermind Baz Luhrmann. The simply titled Elvis, which arrived June 24, sees Austin Butler portraying the King of Rock and Roll and some of music's biggest names coming together for a star-studded soundtrack. Among some originals from the likes of Eminem and Doja Cat, much of the soundtrack consists of a series of Elvis covers from newcomers (Shonka Dukureh) and established stars (Kacey Musgraves).
But imitating the King is nothing new. From pop acts to blues artists, rockers to opera singers, generations of disparate artists have put their own distinct spins on Elvis classics.
These are some of the most memorable Elvis covers to date — including a few new additions, thanks to the film's soundtrack.
"Can’t Help Falling in Love"- Kacey Musgraves
One of the newest — and brightest — additions to the canon of classic Elvis covers comes Kacey Musgraves' heart-rending version of Presley’s 1961 standard "Can’t Help Falling in Love." While other artists have interpreted the song in fluffier ways (see: UB40’s reggae version), Musgraves lets the words shine in this acoustic version sung in the vein of her previous hit "Rainbow."
With a melody based on a three hundred year-old French love song ("Plaisir d'amour"), the tender track was originally recorded for Elvis’s film Blue Hawaii and is one of the most romantic songs in the singer’s repertoire — despite having a discography full of them. With lyrics that drip with passion, along with a nod to a previous Elvis hit "Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)." Musgraves rendition of "Can’t Help Falling in Love" serves as a poignant moment for the GRAMMY-winning star, a self-proclaimed longtime Elvis fan.
"In the Ghetto"- Dolly Parton
As Elvis grew older, his songs went from the rollicking and simple cuts of the '50s to tracks with deeper meaning, including this heavy story song "In the Ghetto." Chronicling the life of a doomed young man and the effect on his hapless mother, the song is one of Elvis’ more somber cuts and one Dolly Parton makes all her own. While it's musically similar to Presley’s version (right down to the repeating guitar hook), Parton’s voice and vibrato add an even deeper layer of sadness to its lyrics while a drumbeat foreshadows a mournful ending.
For Parton, her "In the Ghetto" cover was the closest she’d get to Elvis. "I was going to meet him for the first time when he was coming to the studio to sing ‘I Will Always Love You,’ which didn't work out, as you know, because Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, wanted half the publishing," Parton said in an interview earlier this year. "I was gonna meet him and I'm sorry, I didn't get to meet him."
"Don’t Be Cruel"- Cheap Trick
How did an ‘80s pop-rock band manage to pull off a cover of a 50s-era Elvis classic — somehow retaining its flair while also making it their own? A seemingly impossible task, Cheap Trick did just that with their 1988 spin on "Don’t Be Cruel," complete with the era’s signature electronic drum sound and a vocal flair from frontman Robin Zander.
Written by the R&B and country singer/songwriter Otis Blackwell — who first broke out at Amauetr Night at the Apollo before writing "All Shook Up," "Return to Sender" and "Don’t Be Cruel" for Elvis, as well as "Great Balls of Fire" for Jerry Lee Lewis — the song marked the first track Elvis’ publishers brought him to record. The track no doubt inspired Zander, who once said that Elvis was one of the artists who made the biggest impact on his approach to singing and phrasing
"Are You Lonesome Tonight?"- Frank Sinatra
The Chairman of the Board and the King had an interesting relationship, which started with Sinatra’s pure hate of Elvis before they formed a friendship. One of the most formidable music stars in America in the 1950s, Sinatra knew that when Elvis shook his hips on "The Ed Sullivan Show" that his own brand of music, standards and swing, was suddenly old news.
"[Rock and roll] manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth," Sinatra mused in an interview in the ‘50s. "His kind of music is deplorable. It fosters almost universally negative and destructive directions in young people."
Nevertheless, by 1960, Sinatra realized he better align himself with the King to stay relevant — and later that year, the pair starred in a blockbuster TV special together. By 1962, the crooner recorded this smooth cover version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", which allowed Sinatra to maintain his signature jazzy sound despite his earlier hatred of Elvis' aesthetic — demonstrating that maybe the pair weren't that different all along.
"I Got a Feelin’ in My Body"- Lenesha Randolph
Later on in Presley’s life, the King became deeply religious and as a result began recording a slew of spiritual and gospel songs from "How Great Thou Art" to "Amazing Grace." In 1973, he combined biblical lyrics with a disco sound in the form of "I Got a Feelin’ in My Body," which GRAMMY nominee Lenesha Randolph, recreated in the form of her cover of the track for the Elvis movie’s soundtrack.
Randolph, who plays Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the film, is supported by a powerful and seemingly massive choir on the track, with the whole affair transporting the listener into a Sunday service like no other.
"Viva Las Vegas"- Bruce Springsteen
The 1992 Nicolas Cage comedy Honeymoon in Vegas appropriately has a soundtrack populated with a bevy of Elvis covers by a disparate list of artists, from Billy Joel to Trisha Yearwood. However, one track that stands above the rest is Bruce Springsteen’s wild spin on "Viva Las Vegas," the otherwise corny Elvis song that the King released in 1964.
Springsteen plays up the song’s liveliness with a frenetic energy that could easily soundtrack a rowdy game of craps. Just like Presley did in his own career, The Boss deftly melds a country flavor to a rockin’ track. Top it off with his distinctive vocals and you have a worthy addition to both artist's stacked legacies.
"Love Me"- The Little Willies
Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller were the iconic songwriting duo behind a bevy of Elvis’s early rockin’ hits including "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock." In addition to the upbeat tracks they were known to concoct, the two also had a tender side.
Case in point: "Love Me," a sweetly sacrine song that the Norah Jones-fronted group The Little Willies covered for their 2011 self-titled debut album. Their version puts a twangy spin on the ode which, oddly enough, was originally penned as a farce.
"To be honest, when we first wrote ‘Love Me,’ we were thinking of it as sort of a take off," explained Stoller in a 2020 interview, who cited the satirical country duo Homer & Jethro as an inspiration. "It's got all these masochistic lyrics: 'Treat me like a fool, treat me mean and cruel but love me.' It could have been a joke, but Elvis' performance makes it genuinely touching." Alas, so does Norah’s.
"Baby, Let’s Play House"- Austin Butler
Actor Austin Butler is accumulating an avalanche of rave reviews thanks to his stunning performance of Presley — and after listening to his covers of the King, including early cut "Let’s Play House," it’s easy to understand why. Butler made it a point to sing every song himself, a brave move that ultimately paid off thanks to his impressive vocal mimicry. Even Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie was taken aback, tweeting "Austin Butler channeled and embodied my father’s heart & soul beautifully."
It was a meticulous process, the actor said in a recent interview. "I’d hear him say a certain word and I would clip just that bit out so I knew how he said that word," he recalled. "I created my own archive of how he said every word and every diphthong, and the way that he used musicality in his voice."
"Love Me Tender"- Andrea Bocelli
It was almost as if this romantic ballad was tailor-made for Bocelli’s velvety voice. Recorded for the Italian tenor’s 2013 aptly-titled album Passione, the singer brings out the song’s stark emotion with an orchestra that deftly compliments each lyric.
"There is no denying that Elvis had a great talent," Bocelli said in an interview earlier this year. "He possessed a pliant voice with extensive range and a soft and enveloping timbre. Plus, he was an extremely charismatic person." The song itself is a unique one in the King’s repertoire with Elvis receiving a rare co-writing credit on the track, which was inspired by the melody for the Civil War-era song "Aura Lee" and written for his 1956 western film The Reno Brothers.
"Hound Dog" - Shonka Dukureh
Just as Presley smoothly moved his hips, he also gilded between genres — and subsequently became a master of rock, country and blues. The latter artform is where the King got his start, including one of his earliest smashes, 1956’s "Hound Dog."
It’s a track that Shonka Dukureh brings to vivid life in both the Elvis movie and on its wide-ranging soundtrack, all in character as the legendary Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. Hearing Dukureh's powerful wails alongside the sparse — but monstrously impactful — guitar and drums, it's hard to not start moving yourself.
"I was very aware and wanting to really be intentional about making sure I was paying respect, respecting her, respecting her legacy, respecting her spirit, respecting everything about what she brought to music,"saidDukureh of Thornton. "And understanding that I'm able to do it because she's done it and laid that foundation."
"Jailhouse Rock"- The Blues Brothers
Let’s face it: the original "Jailhouse Rock" is a pretty kitschy track, from its hokey intro (who goes to a party at the county jail, anyway?) and right on through its cries of "Let’s rock!" But when one of the most successful satirical bands of all time fittingly put their spin on it, magic happened.
Released in the midst of the disco-70s, Dan Akryod and John Belushi formed the Blues Brothers as a Saturday Night Live sketch. It later became a smash move that featured the two (spoiler alert!) hauled off to jail. Antics, and this fun cover, ensue.
Photo: John Springer Collection / Getty Images
5 Ways Elvis Presley Forever Changed The Music Industry, From Vegas Residencies To Cultural Fusion
The music industry would be unrecognizable without Elvis Presley. Along with Colonel Tom Parker, the 20th-century innovator activated divergent spaces, helped architect the modern-day Las Vegas residency and so much more.
Is it possible to undersell someone by calling them "the King"? It might be when you're talking about Elvis Presley.
Despite rising from nothing to become one of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century — and posthumously weathering periods of wrongheaded associations, from "fat Elvis" to rumors of racism — Presley didn't emerge simply as a monarch, or an icon baked into culture and taken for granted. These days, it's more edifying to consider him as an innovator.
That's how Panos A. Panay, the co-president of the Recording Academy, views the three-time GRAMMY winner and 14-time nominee. Instead of regarding Presley as a figurehead reigning over rock's development, Panay calls him "a multi-faceted superstar" who, along with his savvy yet misunderstood manager, Colonel Tom Parker, drew the blueprint of the multidimensional pop titan of today.
"I think people forget that this is a kid who grew up dirt-poor in the heart of the old south," Panay, who co-authored the 2021 book Two Beats Ahead, about the intersection of business acumen and musical artistry, tells GRAMMY.com. "He fused all the different things around him — from styles to music — to create something that literally took the world by storm."
Need a reminder of how seismic Presley's impact was? Turn to the first few pages of almost any rock bio, and you'll find the artist as a young man or woman, hearing "Heartbreak Hotel" or "That's All Right" or "Jailhouse Rock" for the first time. Chances are, they described that moment in the language of natural phenomena: a meteor strike, a tsunami, a thunderclap.
Every star in his wake who repeatedly overhauled their image, staked claims in wildly various media spaces, and fused divergent cultural signifiers owes Presley a debt of gratitude — from the Beatles to Beyoncé, from Michael Jackson to Lady Gaga.
Of course, Presley wasn't the first rock star. He didn't invent the music, and he arguably walked so others (namely the Beatles, who worshipped him) could run. But the fact remains: there's never been another Presley before or since. Here are five ways he irrevocably changed the music-industry landscape.
He Helped Braid Disparate Cultural Threads
Granted, rock 'n' roll was a colorless cultural interchange years before Presley showed up.
For decades prior, musicians both Black and white — from what we might designate "country" and "R&B" and "gospel" and "rock 'n' roll" spheres, but who were really parts of the same primordial soup — perpetually inspired and influenced each other.
But nobody elevated that fusion to the world stage than Presley, and his large-scale disregarding of easy racial and sexual categorization was highly jarring to buttoned-up 1950s America.
Hip-swiveling shock value aside, what would pop music sound like without his revved-up amalgam of gospel, blues, country, and R&B? What would it look like without his tousled hair, twisted visage and skin-tight black leather?
It's anyone's guess what an Elvis-free world would be like, but it wouldn't include disciples like the Beatles, the Stones, or scores of other greats. In other words, it would be a drag beyond belief.
He Galvanized A Nascent Teenage Market
According to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstram, Presley could scarcely have arrived at a better time.
"A new young generation of Americans was breaking away from the habits of its parents and defining itself by its music," Halberstram wrote in his 1993 book The Fifties. And with the advent of new technology — namely the transistor radio — came a paradigm shift in authority.
"The important figures of authority were no longer mayors and selectmen or parents," the author continued. "They were disc jockeys, who reaffirmed the right to youthful independence and guided teenagers to their new rock heroes."
Who was the ideal leader for this emerging market? In the cinema space, you had Marlon Brando and James Dean as brooding avatars for the post-WWII cultural milieu.
Then, in music, you had Presley, who landed in culture like an ambassador from Andromeda, ready to lead a teenage exodus from suburban monotony to frenzied, life-affirming joy.
He Activated Film & TV Spaces Like Never Before…
When Panay considers how to shepherd the Recording Academy into the future in the 2020s, he looks to what Presley accomplished on small and large screens during his career.
"If you want to know the future of the business, man, look at Elvis Presley," he says. "Look at all the artists that followed the guy. He set the mold for what a prototypical superstar is."
One way Presley did this, Panay says, was by transcending the boundaries of a record or concert and strolling into your TV screen in any number of films — especially during the '60s, when he focused on that component of his work with flicks like G.I. Blues, Blue Hawaii and Girl Happy.
While Presley's films are sometimes contemporaneously criticized as formulaic dreck that stalled his creative evolution, the man did have serious aspirations as an actor — and presence in that space was important to pop's multimedia development.
…And Paved The Way For The Modern Music Video
As Panay says, Presley's participation in film wasn't just proof musicians could be actors. The entire point of a music video — to make an artistic statement while selling a record — is crystallized in Presley's films.
Through that lens, there's a direct thread from Love Me Tender and Jailhouse Rock to the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, Prince's Purple Rain and more.
Still, Presley's onscreen innovation extends beyond cinema: 1973's "Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite" was revolutionary in that it was the first live satellite broadcast to feature a single performer.
When you take it with the unforgettable "Jailhouse Rock" video and "'68 Comeback Special," a case can be made that Presley's DNA is encoded deep within in this modern artform.
Thank Elvis For The Las Vegas Residency, Too
Think the format of the Las Vegas residency is the province of wash-ups? Think again: This month alone, 2022 GRAMMY performers BTS, Silk Sonic and Lady Gaga will delight audiences in Sin City. (The 2022 GRAMMYs were held there, too.)
"People used to make fun of the Las Vegas residency," Panay says. "But name an artist right now who doesn't want a Las Vegas residency."
As Richard Zoglin explained in his 2019 book Elvis in Vegas: How the King Reinvented the Las Vegas Show, Presley's first Vegas run in 1969 — and more than 600 shows in the city afterward — set the stage for loftier, glitzier affairs.
This was a marked turn from the era's typical, intimate nightclub shows featuring older performers, like Nat "King" Cole or Judy Garland. "It opened the door to big shows," Zoglin told The New York Post. "All the modern residencies in Vegas, from Celine Dion to Lady Gaga — Elvis was the first of those kinds of shows."
So, next time Presley seems hopelessly fossilized in the past, a frozen face on a lunchbox, simply stream his greatest songs — they'll set your head straight.
"He sang from his heart," Panay says, summarizing Presley's genius. "He was an amazing interpreter of songs in a way that, frankly, few people before and after have ever been."
From there, consider how the pop universe would be unrecognizable without Presley — complete with the performers who never fail to wash away the drudgery of daily life, making it more vibrant, more colorful, more meaningful.
He was the King, indeed. But he was also something more.
Music's Television Empire
Netflix's "The Get Down" is the latest in a string of musical shows proving the new golden age of television is golden for music too
Television series about musicians and the music industry are almost as old as TV. The first network television season was broadcast in the U.S. seven decades ago and within a few years musicians were a central part of the story. When "I Love Lucy" debuted in 1951 Lucille Ball's husband, Desi Arnaz, played a bandleader, with plenty of music performance segments on the show. In the 1960s the Monkees parlayed a hit show into pop stardom and the '70s found "The Partridge Family" telling everyone to "come on, get happy."
Reality TV hit the scene in the '00s, and the small-screen focus was on a few unscripted series that took fans into homes of their favorite artists, from Ozzy Osbourne to Snoop Dogg.
But television is always evolving. The latest resurgence of music on TV arguably started in 2009 with Fox's "Glee" and has been further punctuated by the more recent success of "Empire" — the network's latest bona fide hit, which debuted in 2015.
Last year also saw the debut of Denis Leary's FX comedy "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll." The introduction of two acclaimed music-centric series was just a warmup for 2016, which has seen some of the biggest names in film bring stories of musicians to the small screen.
The shift coincides with what critics are dubbing the new golden age of television, a period of increased production of critically acclaimed television shows beginning in the mid-2000s. While television used to be dominated by broadcast networks CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox, scripted shows have found success on cable networks such as HBO and Showtime and, more recently, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.
Two Oscar winners, Martin Scorsese and Cameron Crowe, and Oscar nominee Baz Luhrmann, have all come to TV this year. Although short-lived, Scorsese, along with Mick Jagger, brought "Vinyl" to HBO in February while Crowe's "Roadies" premiered on Showtime in June. Luhrmann might be taking on his most ambitious project yet, bringing "The Get Down," his much-anticipated musical drama, to Netflix. Part one of the 12-episode first season premieres Aug. 12.
Working with everyone from hip-hop artists Nas and Grandmaster Flash to author Nelson George, Luhrmann is recreating New York circa 1977, specifically the South Bronx neighborhood, where residents witnessed the birth of hip-hop and the decline of disco all while salsa and punk infiltrated other areas of the city.
Luhrmann — the man behind films such as The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet — believes TV, or what we used to think of as TV, is currently the perfect home for shows about music.
"Television no longer describes what we're discussing here," says Luhrmann. "The streaming services are more in the nature of broadcast. It's so great. There needs to be a new word because television used to be the place where you were super constrained — you were constrained by the times and morally, the rules. Now those two things are almost reversed."
"[Today] you have much more creative freedom. When you're dealing with music, a story about music culture, the ability to do it in segments really suits that because it's a way and space to tell the story laterally, but also horizontally. You can explore in a way you simply couldn't within a two-hour sitting."
For Crowe, who won an Oscar for writing 2000's Almost Famous, a film about a young reporter covering the fictional rock band Stillwater, the new wave of TV shows centered around music validates his belief that music is as important as ever.
"I was just hearing all this stuff about music is dead as a meaningful art form. 'It's too available, there's too many formats, nobody's paying for it, nobody values it,' and I'm just thinking, 'Bull, that's just not true,'" said Crowe in a June interview with Forbes. "And that's kind of the thesis of ["Roadies"], music matters more than ever."
The value of music in 2016 — in the age of streaming and YouTube — is a topic of frequent debate, but the current omnipotence of music as well as the massive success of touring and festivals lends credence to Crowe's belief that even if people are not spending as much they still love music as much, if not more, than ever.
Fandom is exactly what inspired Luhrmann's vision for "The Get Down" back in 2006.
"I started this concept with a question 10 years ago, which was, 'How did a totally new idea [hip-hop] get born from a borough in a time where there was little care for that borough or the people [there]?" says Luhrmann. "How did they come up with a brand-new, pure creative idea? I realized when we started to look at 1977, disco was the reigning music form, but there's something going on downtown called punk, you have salsa and the Latin influence and then you have this invention going on by a bunch of kids, which is essentially a kind of folk music in a way."
It was on that journey of discovery when Luhrmann started to realize the story he wanted to tell wouldn't fit within the two-hour confines typically reserved for film, which was exactly what the executives at Netflix wanted to hear.
"I started thinking of it as a movie, and as I did I thought, 'How do you tell all of that? The very nature of it is that it's unwieldy, the very nature of it has to be sprawling.' And sprawling and unwieldy are not words executives who make movies want to hear," he says. "But sprawling and unwieldy are exactly what Netflix wanted to hear because they want to hear something that has an ongoing life and cannot just be linear. The evolution of television caught up with me, and at the right moment the two things met."
Unlike a movie, in which stories tend to be neatly wrapped, television allows Luhrmann to think of the future. He is optimistic "The Get Down" will be renewed for a second season potentially exploring 1979, when disco was symbolically destroyed in July at famed Comiskey Park in Chicago by Disco Demolition Night, a promotional stunt that saw disco records blown up on the field following a White Sox versus Detroit Tigers game. Two months later, in September, Sugarhill Gang released "Rapper's Delight," the song widely credited with bringing hip-hop to the masses, and one of the first hip-hop songs inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame.
For Luhrmann, as a fan of the music and the era, success is not his motivation. He is content to be the conduit to tell a story he loves.
"I care about [the story and] so many others care about it, I'm kind of the grand conductor. But it's a profound collaboration. That's also what drew me — it's a living history. In the past I've done things that were involved in the past. But this is a living history, the people are actually alive. And so I worked with them to help [tell their] story. And that's really enriching."
(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, Mojo, Chicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)
Photo courtesy of Jerry Schilling
Living Legends: Elvis Presley's Friend, Confidante & Business Partner Jerry Schilling On His Lifelong Relationship With The King
Jerry Schilling's tender friendship with the King is a core component of his identity, but his story wouldn't mean much if he wasn't a fascinating character in his own right. In this interview, he goes deep on how Elvis Presley irrevocably shaped him.
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Jerry Schilling, who enjoyed a decades-long friendship and business relationship with Elvis Presley — and has worked as a manager of other pillars of American music, like the Beach Boys and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Jerry Schilling holds a rare distinction in the music business, and in the human race writ large: he's possibly the one living person closest to Elvis Presley without being bonded by blood.
But as compelling as that story is — as Schilling lovingly detailed in his 2006 memoir, Me and a Guy Named Elvis — it's just as fascinating to wonder what Schilling would be doing had he never met the King, or if Elvis had never existed.
By the time he was quarterbacked by Presley at a 1954 touch-football game, Schilling had been throttled by circumstance. His mother died when he was a baby. A succession of illnesses stymied him at school. But he got physically and educationally back on track, with dreams of being a football coach and a history teacher.
All the while, the sounds of rhythm and blues inspired and galvanized him, charting the course for a life in music that would provide deliverance from his circumstances.
In other words, Schilling was made of stern stuff — which the perceptive Presley arguably picked up on early. That quality is partly what made Schilling a compelling character in his own right, rising from very little to work so closely with a foundational American figure. And after Elvis passed in 1977, he continued to carve out his unique place in music history.
Schilling went on to have fruitful business relationships with Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beach Boys and Lisa Marie Presley, and was depicted by Luke Bracey in Baz Luhrmann's 2022 film Elvis. (Note: this interview took place prior to the film's release.) But if you're curious about what it was really like to be around the King at pivotal points in his career, pick up Me and a Guy Named Elvis, which provides an exquisite glimpse into the King at his most human and vulnerable.
For a crystallized version of that story, read on for an interview with Schilling about his hard-knock origins, what it felt like to meet Presley and how he continues to carry the King around in his heart and mind.
This interview was edited for clarity.
Meeting Elvis was a fundamental pivot point in your life. But I'm curious: if you'd never met him, or if he never existed, where do you think your life would have gone?
My early childhood was so bad. Not having a mother, being sick all the time, missing so much school in the first grade that I had to repeat it, which was embarrassing. My grandparents were poor, just very poor — lower class, white, but just wonderful human beings.
I met Elvis about the time that my older brother had kind of forced me into football. I was playing grade-school football and I made the team in the fourth grade — fourth to eighth grade. And I don't know what's the chicken or the egg, but it's about the same time as when I met Elvis.
All of this is when I was 12 years old, between getting into sports, getting healthy, and becoming a friend of Elvis, before he was Elvis. Which, I guess, gave me a lot of confidence, too. That this guy took off immediately — the week that we met was the same week he recorded his first record.
So, if I hadn't met Elvis, to answer your question, I think because I became good at football through school, my scholastic [career got] better. I was president of the class for all four years of high school. I always wanted to go work for Elvis back in the '50s, but I was in grade school and high school. He went on the road and we kept a relationship.
When he came back to Memphis, we'd hang at the movie theater at night. When he bought Graceland, I was always welcome at Graceland at nighttime. I kind of went on with my own life. Forgot about working for Elvis. I got a football scholarship at Arkansas State University and majored in history. I was planning to be — hopefully — a football coach and history teacher.
You know, nothing wrong with that life either.
No, no, but I think I made the right choice. I got hurt in my junior year playing football, so I came back to Memphis and went to the University of Memphis for about a year and a half to finish my education.
I was chosen to practice teaching. They take one student out of education, and you practice teaching the last semester, a grade-school class. So, I was chosen to do that. I was loading trucks at night. I worked at the airport at the ticket counter in the daytime because my family didn't have money to send me to college.
So, when I would go home from the trucking company — which was 9:00 at night, or whenever — I would pass by the Memphian Theater. If Elvis and the guys were in town, I would go to a service station, change [out of] my trucking clothes, and act like I just showed up for the movie.
One night, Elvis was at the screening. He just looked really tired. He was down in front of the screen — these private showings at night. I walked in and thought, "You know what? I'll see them tomorrow. I'll come back tomorrow night." I didn't want to bother him.
One of the guys that worked for him said, "Jerry, do you want to go back to the film exchange with me, and then we'll have an early breakfast?" Elvis had access to the mid-South film exchange, and he could pick movies.
We got to the film exchange, and Elvis called Richard and said, "You know where I can find Jerry?" He says, "Well, he's here with me." He said, "Would you ask him if he'd come out to the house?" We never called it Graceland. It was always "the house." I go out there; Rich is living at Graceland. He goes to bed, and Elvis and his father walk down from upstairs.
His father leaves, and Elvis and I are out on the front porch. He said, "I need you to come work for me."
Elvis Presley and Jerry Schilling. Photo courtesy of Jerry Schilling.
Yeah. I said, "When?" He said, "Well, now." I thought for about 10 seconds, and said, "Well, can I go home and get some clothes?" He said, "Sure."
The next day, I had to quit two jobs. I had to tell the university that I wasn't going to practice to teach. I had to tell my father, respectfully, and he was so proud that I worked my way through college — because he only got through grade school.
He said, "Well, I've always trusted your judgment. You sure this is what you want to do? What are you going to do with them?" I said, "I don't know."
That night, I rush back to Graceland. Everybody's sleeping all day because they're very nocturnal — and what's now called the Jungle Room was a screened-in porch. I stood out there all day, and then people started loading up this little bus that Elvis drove. A Winnebago, believe it or not. And we set out for the 2,000-mile journey from Memphis to L.A.
That pretty much changed my life. We stopped at truck stops at nighttime. And when there were lights, Elvis would throw football passes to me, and we slept at the motels in the daytime. I went from the poor section of Memphis, and when we got to L.A., I was living in Bel-Air.
I couldn't go to sleep when we got there. There was a pool in the backyard There was this indirect lighting, and stuff I'd never seen in my life — not even at Graceland. That was the start.
And to flash back to that first football game, it seems like Elvis's personality and drive were immediately on display. The guy you would know for the rest of his life was right there.
Absolutely. I was unconsciously looking for a role model. I was a big fan of James Dean and [Marlon] Brando. When I went to the park by myself on a Sunday afternoon, the park was nothing but dirt, a little wading pool, and horses. A very poor part of Memphis.
I was there by myself, and one of the older guys, Red West, I knew was a big high-school football player. He said, "Hey, Jerry, do you want to play?' They only had five guys and needed a sixth player. They were all six or seven years older than me. So, I said "Yeah." It was three-on-three, go into the huddle.
Jerry Schilling and Elvis Presley. Photo courtesy of Jerry Schilling.
I had been listening to Dewey [Phillips'] "Red, Hot and Blue" since I was 10 years old, because he played rhythm and blues records — which was exciting. It was dangerous in the '50s, in the South, [and this was] Black music.
That night, before this day, Dewey played this record from a boy from Humes High, where my cousins went and my mother had gone. From my grade school, you could physically see Humes High, and vice versa. Dewey said "A boy from Humes High" when he played the record, to distinguish that Elvis wasn't Black.
The record kept getting requested, so Dewey got in touch with Sam Phillips, and they made a connection with the Presley family. Elvis knew they were playing the record that night. He was very nervous, so he went to this little movie theater in north Memphis. When this fellow went to interview him — that people liked his record — he just kind of stuttered, which was cool.
When I went into the huddle — me, Red and Elvis — I went, "Wow, that's the boy from Humes High. He had the rebel-ness of James Dean. If I remember correctly, he was in a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. There weren't the rhinestones or anything. He didn't have a hit record.
Elvis didn't even have a hit record in Memphis. But he was somebody that I went, "Wow, I want to be like that guy." He would laugh if he heard me say that today. He had Dean, Brando, and a quiet little smile that was on the warm side, so you could like him. "OK, I know you're the young kid. Can you catch the ball?"
He made me feel comfortable. That was my first impression, and over the years, I got to meet, work with, be friends with a lot of well-known entertainers and actors and whatever. Elvis was the only one without credentials.
(L-R) Richard Nixon, Sonny West, Jerry Schilling, Elvis Presley. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
As a figure, Elvis has been unfortunately been flattened with time, but I think that's changing. Can you talk about how he was an absorber and fuser of disparate styles?
He was so eclectic. He got stuff from everybody, and then he made it his own. He was the most eclectic human being I ever met in my life.
He could see somebody walking and go, "Hey, Jerry, look at that guy!" It might have been on a movie set. Now, I'm remembering this specifically. He said, "I'm getting ready to do the '68 special. I'm going to use that guy's walk." It was a good actor named Billy Murphy, who was quite a character.
By the way, Elvis loved characters to be around sometimes. You can think of a person that would get something from a famous person, right? But, a person that gets something from somebody that's not famous and puts it into his whole makeup? That was Elvis.
What about him would you like to correct? What do we get wrong about him today?
I think, most importantly, his genius in music. He was a very smart guy. I think what he didn't get were the opportunities to fully be the entertainer and actor he could have been.I've said this before — and I don't like to say the same thing twice — but I think I lost my friend at an early age because of creative disappointments.
I'm not blaming Colonel Parker. Being a manager is a big part of my career. If somebody can come in and make a deal with your artist, you're not going to be a manager for very long.
[Elvis] wasn't in good shape before the '68 special. Nobody would know that, but with that special, he went into training like Muhammad Ali and he looked great. Lost 25 pounds, got a suntan. Obviously, there were other problems, but they were caused by his embarrassment by some of the stuff he was doing.
He was 19 years old when all of this started to happen. By the time he was 21, he was the biggest star in the world. When he came back from the army and wanted to do meaningful stuff, the machinery was set up. He really didn't have an attorney; the attorney was controlled by the Colonel. The film companies, RCA, and the publishing companies were all controlled by the Colonel, who was doing what he thought was best.
The Colonel's going to get trashed, and has been. He was controlling, he was manipulative, but he was honest and hardworking and he had a lot of polish. No doubt about it.
Jerry Schilling in 1981. Photo: George Rose/Getty Images
Colonel Parker gets painted as the source of these disappointments and angst, but the more I read, I realize he was a genius who had the lion's share of the responsibility for all this success in the first place.
You're one of the few people that get that, Morgan, and you're right on it. I'm hoping everybody's going to get that at some point. I hope Peter Guralnick can do a book on the Colonel someday, since he got to know the Colonel quite well.
The Colonel's wife said that I was the closest person to him for the last 20 years of his life. The Colonel felt he could talk to me because I was the manager later on. Yeah, I miss the old guy very much.
You're reading my book, and it was one of the things that I'm so glad somewhat worked out. Loanne, his wife, had a problem with the book. I flew to Vegas just to meet with her, and she was a really good, smart lady. She said, "Jerry, I love your book, but when you talk about the creative disappointments, the fans will tend to think that the Colonel killed him." I said, "That was not my intent. That's not how I want it. We spent a whole day, and that was a really rough one."
I've spent a lot of time more recently with Tom Hanks, who played the Colonel. [The film] explains the other side of the Colonel. He was a good friend. If it was your birthday, he'd call and sing "Happy Birthday." Remember the answering-machine days? It was the Colonel singing "Happy Birthday" to you.
I was a loan-out to the Colonel one day a week, which I used to dread. It was just so different from my life with Elvis. He got up early and there were meetings. But every time I did that, I realized I really enjoyed it. It was really interesting.
I probably got a lot of who I am from Elvis, and from the Colonel — and a little bit from Sam Phillips, as well, who was the original genius.
Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
5 Takeaways From RM's New Solo Album 'Indigo'
BTS leader RM makes his official solo debut with his first studio album, 'Indigo,' which showcases a new level of artistry from the rapper.
Like many of his BTS cohorts, RM has shown off his solo musical talents long before this year. His first mixtape RM came out in 2015, capturing the rapper's raw hip-hop roots. His second mixtape Mono was released to critical acclaim in 2018, when BTS were just scratching the surface of their worldwide domination. But this year took RM's solo efforts to the next level with his first-ever studio album, Indigo.
Across 10 tracks, RM's official solo debut documents the multilingual rapper, producer and singer/songwriter's journey through his twenties. Meshing Korean and English, his reflections about life under the public eye weave through genres and moods organically. And with diverse collaborations — from R&B legend Erykah Badu to fellow South Korean star parkjiyoon — to boot, RM uses Indigo to bring fans deeper into his expansive musical universe.
Now that the highly anticipated project has finally arrived, take a look at five key takeaways from RM's debut studio album, Indigo.
It's Connected To The Art He Loves
RM is known for being a lover of nature and fine art, and that is reflected within Indigo. Promotional photos for the album featured Yun Hyong-Keun's painting "Blue"; RM is known to be a supporter of the late South Korean artist, so the rapper's inclusion of the work shows the intentionality behind his debut — musically and beyond.
He isn't afraid to mesh artistic mediums, and the sonic and stylistic choices made reflect this. From then sampling Korean Hyong-Keun's reflection on Plato's humanity in the opening track "Yun" to even titling a song "Still Life," the inspiration is present. RM may have refined taste, but he makes it easily digestible through his music.
It's A Reflection Of His Life Up To Now
According to RM himself, Indigo serves as a diary of the last three years of his life. Even so, the album's messages can be a blueprint for anyone going through a transitional period in life, thanks to RM's honest, open-minded and unfiltered lyrics.
On "Lonely," he candidly exudes his frustrations over a tropical beat. "I'm f—king lonely/ I'm alone on this island," he raps. He later sings, "So many memories are on the floor/ And now I hate the cities I don't belong/ Just wanna go back home."
The contrast between the song's upbeat melody and longing lyrics provide a dichotomy that perfectly captures the highs and lows of fame. That's a theme that carries throughout the album, further showcasing why RM has become so admired by his fans and peers alike.
The Features Tell A Lot About His Artistry
Eight of the 10 tracks on Indigo are collaborations, all of which display RM's love of diverse genres and musical eras. They also reflect the caliber of artistry RM has reached — he got Erykah Badu! — as well as his ability to bridge the gap across borders. Along with Badu, he teamed up with two other R&B stars, Anderson .Paak and Mahalia, along with several Korean artists: Paul Blanco, Tablo, Kim Sawol, Colde, youjeen, and parkjiyoon.
There's A Song For Everyone
Many praise RM for his ability to touch people with his leadership qualities and words, and this album may just be the strongest example of that. The project is noticeably more upbeat than Mono, but RM still takes time to break his emotions down lyrically.
His first verse on the opening track "Yun" declares "F-k the trendsetter, I'ma turn back the time," setting the tone for how RM feels artistically. Then, the high-energy track "Still Life" with Anderson .Paak expresses joy and resilience, proving that one can still stand tall despite difficulty. As he says to .Paak on the track, "S— happens in life, but what happens is what happens."
Overall, Indigo shows off RM's versatility in a much more impactful way than his previous mixtapes. This album is about the art of music, not breaking records or following trends. It feels like an exploratory culmination of various emotions, moods, and experiences, which helps each track feel relatable in a different way.
There's A Lot To Look Forward To
RM displayed an immense maturity in his artistic expression through Indigo. He explores emotions both good and bad, but what remains throughout the entire project is a lingering feeling of hope for a better future.
RM has always been a symbol of hope and grace as he has served as the spokesperson for his fellow members, both musically and in the public eye. But now, RM is getting to express himself for himself — and if Indigo is any indication, this is just the beginning of his journey inspiring the masses as a soloist.