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Gonzo’s Gems: “Elvis Presley – The 1970 Las Vegas Connection”

By Sam “Gonzo” Gonzales

It was the summer of 1970, it was the weekend, it was midnight and there I am, seven years old and sitting on the sofa in the dark and intently watching “Spinout”. Mesmerized was more like it. It was an Elvis movie! The musical comedy had an intricate storyline that twisted and turned (Pun) and it had Elvis playing the lead singer of a band and a part-time race car driver. He sang, he raced, he won the girl. Cool stuff. As I grew older I outgrew the Elvis movies and moved on to collecting and listening to his music. There’s no denying the impact Elvis made on many of our lives. Some more than others. He rocked us in the 50s, he entertained us in 60s and he performed for us in the 70s.

I‘m very fond of all eras of Elvis’ music, including the 70s. I know Elvis’ musical output in the 70s has taken a lot of flack. And it seems at some point, Elvis was even condemned for becoming the stage performer he became toward the end of his life. But always the true performer he sang to his fans from the heart. I believe the songs recorded and released specifically in 1970 were an impressive indication of what he believed his music should be and would become. These recordings capture his artistic diversity and adventurous spirit as he sang Country to Blues to Rock to Gospel to Light Opera. Elvis never wrote songs. He chose very carefully the songs he’d sing. The songs had to move him.

1970 found Elvis in top form, musically and physically. Having returned to live performing a year earlier and thirteen years after his first appearance in Las Vegas, Elvis had been booked for a 4-week, 57 show engagement at the International Hotel. That show broke all existing Las Vegas attendance records and set the blueprint for all future Elvis concerts. Now, with the debut of his one-piece jumpsuit, a six-man rhythm section, nine back-up singers and twenty horns, Elvis played the International Hotel Showroom from February 15 through Feb 18, 1970. The concert was recorded and released as “Elvis On Stage”. Two songs from that concert are standouts. The gorgeous “Let It Be Me (Je T’ Appartiens) and the beautiful “The Wonder Of You”. Listen to both songs back to back and you will hear the eerie similarity and you will realize that both songs are cut from the same cloth.

Elvis entered RCA’s Studio B in Nashville on June 4 and for the following 4 days laid down an amazing 35 tracks. Its very obvious that Elvis was now making music that pleased him. He sounded in command as he moved easily from one style of music to the other, his voice sounding rich and strong as he delivered his rich baritone with ease. Of the 35 tracks recorded, the standouts are “Twenty Days And Twenty Nights”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Stranger In The Crowd”, “Heart Of Rome”, “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”, “Just Pretend”, “Make The World Go Away”, “The Next Step Is Love” and my all-time favorite Gem, “It’s Your Baby, You Rock It”.

2 months later, Elvis returned to Las Vegas and played the International Hotel Showroom from August 11 through August 13. Billed as Elvis’ Summer Festival the concerts were filmed for the MGM documentary, “Elvis: That’s The Way It Is”, which would be released toward the end of the year. Behind Elvis, the TCB band, James Burton on lead guitar, Jerry Scheff on bass and Ronnie Tutt on drums recorded the live Gems, “I Just Can’t Help Believin’” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”. The following month, Elvis, yet again, returned to RCA’s Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee to record an additional 4 tracks. Of the 4 tracks, “Rags To Riches” and “Snowbird” were the Gems. Elvis’ delivery of “Rags To Riches” is priceless as he injects energy into it and “Snowbird” is sung beautifully with a charming sense of ease.

Looking back, living in Las Vegas during the 70s was a great time. You always knew when Elvis was in town, just like everybody knew when that Rat Pack was in town in the 60s. There was a certain buzz in the air. And whenever we drove by the International Hotel, I remember vividly looking up at the marquee to see if I could catch “ELVIS”. It was such a thrill to see his name up on the marquee. Awestruck, I always told myself that when I got older I was going to go see Elvis in concert. But sadly, I never got the chance, as Elvis left us on August 16, 1977. I remember I had crashed on my bed after a long football practice and when I woke up I could see the words scrolling at the bottom of the TV screen which read, “Elvis Aaron Presley, the King Of Rock And Roll has died today”. I was shocked and sad. He left us way too early. He was still very young.

Elvis lives on in his music and movies. A trip through Las Vegas and you see he is everywhere. There are shows like “Viva Elvis“, “Legends In Concert”, “American Superstars” and “Trent Carlini: The Musical History of the King”, on the Las Vegas strip which pay tribute to him. There are Elvis themed wedding chapels. There are souvenir stores with Elvis knick knacks and gold-rimmed glasses with big sideburns attached to them. Elvis’ music has even been re-recorded and re-mixed with his original vocals in front of new instrumentation.

Lester Bangs once said, “I can guarantee you one thing: We will never again agree on anything as we agree on Elvis.” So very true. So, if you get the chance, search out any of the songs I’ve singled out or any of Elvis’ other songs and you’ll see that Elvis was giving us his all through his beautiful voice and music. You will see that Elvis was using songs to speak to us in a personal way. He sang to us, sang to his friends, sang to his family and sang for himself. Its in his music where Elvis lives. Long live the “King of Rock And Roll”.

(DVD) “Elvis – That’s The Way It Is”
(CDs) “Walk A Mile In My Shoes – The Essential 70‘s Masters” (5 CD Box Set)
(Songs) Let It Be Me (Je T’ Appartiens), The Wonder Of You, Twenty Days And Twenty Nights, Bridge Over Troubled Water, It’s Your Baby, You Rock It, Stranger In The Crowd, Heart Of Rome, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, Just Pretend, Make The World Go Away, The Next Step Is Love, I Just Can’t Help Believin’, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, Rags To Riches, and Snowbird

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