Elvis, the Eternal Star
NORFOLK - There is a rumor going around that the 70s are actually the 50s.
There is a Republican in the White House, and Elvis Presley is on the stage.
The girls in pedal pushers and curlers who once listened to Elvis warble "Hound Dog" and moan "Don´t Be Cruel" are now pushing 40. The ducktailed boys of the 50s no longer have grease on their hair - if they have hair at all.
Yet, there he was Sunday in Scope. Elvis Presley, complete with coal-black (dyed) hair and bigger than ever (noticeably in weight). The tickets had sold out so quickly for the evening show that an afternoon event was added.
The coliseum holds 11,300 people for an event of this type and every seat was sold. Scalpers were pushing stray tickets at advanced prices (even through classified ads). Before the day was over, 22,600 people would see Elvis, and his take would be well over $200,000 - a bit to add to his estimated $5-million annual income.
Elvis´ afternoon show went smoothly - professionally - as expected. But the evening concertgoers witnessed a split between the performer and three female members of his musical entourage.
Midway through the hour show, two members of the black backup group, the Sweet Inspirations, and another backup singer a white, walked off the stage and never returned.
The incident followed some joking and not-so-joking comments that Elvis directed their way.
At the outset, Elvis was commenting on 12,000 people breathing on him. He mentioned an aroma of "green peppers and onions" and then said the Sweet Inspirations had probably been eating catfish.
Two of the three black singers didn´t laugh with Elvis and the audience.
Later, Elvis broke from his singing to tell the women to pay attention to the show. It wasn´t clear what prompted the remark.
He told the backup singers that the show may be old hat to them but that it was the first time the audience had seen it.
Minutes later, while Elvis was introducing members of his stage show, he looked toward the women and quipped,
The tension among the fans was noticeable. Reports on Elvis´ health have been rampant in the past year. Stories that he would never work again because of excessive weight-gain have also been printed.
The fan clubs, who had successfully snared downfront seats, were generous with gifts. As he sang "Teddy Bear," one woman came forward with a stuffed bear gift, knowing his fondness for collecting stuffed animals.
Another came forward with a handmade quilt. Another with a rose. Another with a bottle of Cold Duck.
Most were rewarded with a scarf, dampened dutifully with his own sweat.
Charlie Hodge from Alabama subserviently followed Elvis about, adding a new scarf around his neck each time he passed one to a fan. For those who couldn´t get a sweaty one, others were on sale in the lobby - in a choice of "Old Southern Mansion White" or "Baby Blue."
During intermission a man who looked much like the villain in Disney´s "Pinnochio," announced from the stage that Elvis posters were going for $2, photo albums for $3, and scarves for $5.
Someone revealed that the present hucksters is actually one of the first disc jockeys who ever played an Elvis record. Presley has employed him during the years since.
"It´s a hard way to make a living, fellows," Elvis said as he kissed yet another woman. His kissing score for the afternoon show muct have been about 20 - unsanitary perhaps, but higghly profitable.
"Bring the child down here," he said in supremely Biblical tones, as one woman held up her small daughter. He hugged the girl, as his band went "Ahhhhhh" in mocking tones. He later reprimanded them, good-naturedly.
"This place looks like a space ship," the Pres said as he looked out across Scope. When the lights flashed, later, he
Copyright: afternoon show photos below: Len Leech
interrupted a song to add, "I told you we were in a space ship. We´re taking off."
After a standing ovation, which would surely have been granted even if he had sung Gregorian chants, he rushed from the stage, surrounded by the Memphis Mafia with interference run by the Norfolk Police Department.
The character from "Pinnochio" shouted "Fans, fans. Elvis has left the building," just to let them know that there was no use in storming the backstage in an effort to get autographs.
A second show was set for Sunday night.
One may well wonder how many hundreds additional shows there will be for the King of the Golden Oldies. If Sunday´s flurry and cash outlay are any indication, he may well be singing "Hound Dog" when he´s 50.
After all, that´s only 10 years from now. A thunder of squeals and whistles permeated the hall as he entered, surrounded by men in white suits who are his bodyguards and are sometimes known as the "Memphis Mafia." He was clad in a Navy blue jumpsuit, trimmed in silver, with bell-bottoms and the front cut near the navel. He laughed and jumped back, as if surprised that there was anyone there. He strolled back and forth on the stage, accepting the plaudits of the crowd as if he were a Roman emperor.
It was the fifth time Elvis had performed in Tidewater and the first in Norfolk since the mid-´50s, when he appeared in the bottom half of a bill in the Arena.
He wears a large silver belt, similar to the trophies of wrestlers, which serves, somewhat effectively, to hide a pot tummy that was not with him on his last visit here. He has a puffy and pasty-faced look that is also new.
But if Elvis hit 40 last Jan. 8, he knows it. In spite of his heavy emphasis on nostalgia, his act has just enough humor to convince his fans that he knows he´s not still 19. After all, he has been a figure of fantasy for years, and he, apparently,
"Sorry for any embarrassment I might have caused you, but if you can´t take it, get off the pot."
One member of the Sweet Inspirations turned and left her spot at the right of the stage. The two other women followed seconds later, in what appeared to be an effort to bring back the first woman.
But none of the three reappeared.
One Sweet Inspiration remained and sang and clapped through the remainder of the performance.
Elvis obviously appreciated her staying. He walked ovr to her at one point, took what happened to be a diamond ring from his finger, and held it out to her.
"Take it, take it," he said. She took it.
Elvis only casually mentioned the walkout, and the incident didn´t detract from his performance.
He was kidding a guitarist and gave him a playful nudge with his leg. "Now, Charlie, don´t you get upset with me and leave the stage," Elvis said. "I was only kidding."
He arrived in the dark of early morning Sunday. The private jet touched ground at Piedmont Aviation, ad-jacent to the Norfolk airport, between 1 and 2 a.m. A second plane followed within moments, carrying the abnd and crew. Even with the lateness of the hour, about 20 people had gathered outside the fence, clutching the wire and peering through like concentration camp prisoners. The reports are that if they caught a glimpse of the superstar, it was a brief one. He was whisked away to a hotel.
At Scope the crowd began to gather at 1 p.m. and by 2:30 showtime, practically every seat was filled. The crowd was polite (extremely so) to a grou called the Voice, a comedian named Jackie something-or-other (who was about as predictable as tomorrow´s sunrise) and the Sweet Inspirations. The groups had the unenvi-able task of filling time up until intermission.
Finally, at 3:40, the band (an excellent ensemble and, in fact, one of the best heard on the road), broke into the pompous strains of "Thus Spake Zarathustra." In the movie "2001: A Space Odessey," it was used to herald the dawn of creation. Here, it was Elvis´ entrance music.
knows how to laugh at the whole thing. He will strike a pose and then laugh at himself. He will shake the one leg and wiggle the middle to prove that he still can handle the nick- name of The Pelvis. Then, he waits for the audience reaction - and laughs.
He maintains a certain ironic distance from his own image - a bit of self-parody that contrasts with his narcissism of the ´50s.
He broke into "C. C. Rider" and, upon finishing, asked Esther, a member of the Sweet Inspirations, what time it was. Learning that it was 3:40 in the afternoon, he replied that it was nighttime for him. "I just woke up," he said. "In my life, night is day."
He broke into "I Got a Woman," "Amen," "Big Boss Man," "Love Me," "All Shook Up," "I Can´t Help Falling in Live With You," and really let loose with the hymn "How Great Thou Art."
The emphasis was more on nostalgia than in past shows, as the granddaddy of rock ´n´ roll called upon his credentials. Elvis, above all else, is the very definition of rock ´n´ roll, to its veciferous defenders as well as detractors. If he sings like yesteryear, however, his attire makes him look like Mr. Tomorrow.
The words "You ain´t" drew an ovation, as he paused before adding "nothing but a houn´ dog."
One woman who kept screaming "Elvis" in rapturous tones was quieted, sighing, by his comment "Honey, just calm down until we get through with the show, and then we´ll get on with whatever you want to do."
Copyright: Norfolk, Va., Virginian Pilot, July 21, 1975
Copyright: afternoon show photos 1, 2, 3 below: Len Leech
Copyright: afternoon show photos 4, 5: unknown
Copyright: afternoon show photo 6 below: Carol Wheeler
A Kiss Was Planned, And Then She Won 2
NORFOLK - So you want to kiss Elvis.
Thousands of women in Scope Sunday would have mortgaged their souls to rub lips with the 40-year-old Mr. Presley of Memphis.
They rushed the stage, but the only hugs most of them got were from policemen who turned them back toward their seats.
All the while, Mrs. Carol Rippy was chuckling in her front-row perch. You can´t just run up willy-nilly and hope to get pecked by Elvis, she said. "You´ve got to plan."
She ought to know. It was almost 20 years ago that she first saw Elvis - a hip-swiveling, rocking lad of 21 doing his thing in the Paramount Theater in Newport News.
He captured her giddy, teen-age heart, and ever since she´s been planning for what happened Sunday.
She and other members of the Hampton Roads chapter of Return to Sender Club, the Elvis Presley fan club, grabbed up front row seats when tickets first went on sale.
"I´ve seen him five times before (in concert), and I never could get this close," said the 30-odd-year-old woman. "Never got a kiss, nothing."
Part 2 of the plan settled on by Mrs. Rippy and other local fan club members was to show up with eye-catching items they could wave to get Elvis´ attraction. The front row looked like "Let´s make a deal."
Nothing obscene mind you. Most of the fan clubbers had their husbands with them. The woman in the 10th row who aimed a bra at Elvis - and hit another woman in the 5th row instead - wasn´t a Return to Sender member.
When Elvis first tugged at the white scarf he wore on stage, Mrs. Rippy jumped up with a 3-foot red Return to Sender Key. The presentation was some type of fan club ritual, she said.
"Did you see me?" she asked. "I was the first one up there."
Elvis took the key, then handed her the white scarf. Mrs. Rippy shamelessly pulled herself up on Elvis´ neck and got what was to be the first of her two lip-to-lip kisses during the afternoon performance.
Other fan club members rushed up with other gifts for Elvis - teddy bears, a huge quilt embroidered with the titles and dates of all his movies, a let´s -get-acquainted plaque.
When it was all over, Mrs. Rippy not only had two kisses from Elvis, she had two of his scarves. One is going to her sister, also a fan club member, and the other "is going in my scrapbook."
And those kisses, how were they?
"Well, you know, there is dog food and there is steak. Elvis is steak all the way," she answered.
What did her husband think of a grown woman carrying on like that?
"You know how women are," he shrugged.
"Well let me tell you this," Mrs Rippy told her husband, "we (fan club members) knew Elvis before we knew our husbands."
Copyright: Norfolk, Va., Virginian Pilot, July 21, 1975
Copyright: evening photos below: Len Leech
Elderly Elvis´ swivel still stuns
NORFOLK - There was a religious service held twice in Scope Sunday, starring, honoring and, yes, almost defying, the Elder of rock, Elvis Presley.
At least it seemed that way at the evening show, Elvis´ second Scope performance of the day, where an almost communion-like ritual took place during a good portion of his hour-long set. It must be called something like "the laying on of the scarves," and it goes something like this.
A fan, a female fan, a worshipper, approaches the stage. At first, they seem shy. They just drift up one by one. Elvis, stuffed into a suit so white and sparkling that it makes that famous shock of shoe-polish black hair gleam like a mirror, takes the scarf from around his neck, wraps it around the faithful´s head and pulls her close to him.
Then an assistant (who sings and plays guitar, but could also be called lead scarf player), drapes another filmy object around Elvis´ neck. And on and on. By the end of the show, no one is shy, and it takes a little policy ingenuity to keep these emotionally bedraggled fans from zapping onto the stage.
The object of all this? None other than the grandfather of rock, the singer who learned the tricks of unsung black rhythm and blues artists well enough in the ´50s to set off a national revolution.
Twenty years later, he can still make them scream with "Hound Dog" and "All Shook Up" and "Teddy Bear" and all those goodies that almost change him back into the svelte-bodied slightly menacing star of the past.
Now, he doesn´t really seem to take himself seriously. The only songs in which he turns on the power remaining in his voice are gospel. Of course, it´s hard to slur through "How Great Thou Art," and on that and "Why Me Lord," he pulls out the vocal stops.
But the old material is fun. And on newer stuff, songs like "Promised Land" and "T-R-O-U-B-L-E," he rocks pretty well.
But it was on gospel, Sunday night, anyway, that he turned on the volume.
And he´s smart enough to surround himself with an army of singers - the Voice, the Sweet Inspirations, the Stamps Quartet - and a healthy orchestra.
The phase of his music most prominently missing was that of the late ´60s -warly ´70s, when he sang the songs of a relatively unknown writer named Mac Davis, giving a healthy boost to the career of both artists.
But not missing was a little friction between star and support, when he chided one of the Sweet Inspirations for not paying attention. The incident had started earlier when he quipped - in a ittle banter about all these people, 11,300 or so, breathing on him - that the Sweet Inspirations had probably been eating catfish.
One singer obviously didn´t think it was funny, and when he tried to joke with her later, she and another Inspiration, and another singer not in the trio, whisked off stage. To the girl who remained, Elvis gave a ring. Loyalty and thick hide pay in the business
But Elvis, who ended Sunday about $200,000 richer than when the day began, gave his fans what they wanted, no more, no less, and all in all the form of a slick, well-produced show that was satisfying, I guess, if not particularly daring. Every attempted bump, every swivel - just a shadow of the old days - looked choreographed. The little fracas with the Sweet Inspiration at least put something spontaneous in.
But it´s hard not to feel awe in the presence of a national institution, sort of like if Mount Rushmore suddenly started singing. And Elvis, who sells out houses in minutes, is definitely a national institution.
Copyright: Norfolk, Va. Ledger-Star, July 21, 1975