Mon, 19 Nov, 2018
What life was like with the king of rock: Elvis Presley
At the age of just 12, Jerry Schilling met someone who would change his life. It was a Sunday afternoon and he was recruited to play with a young singer by the name of Elvis Presley, who’d just laid down his first recording.
“He wanted to play, but they only had five people, so they let the little kid play – that was me,” says the now 74-year-old music industry veteran from his West Hollywood home, the same one Elvis bought him back in the 1970s.
“He’d recorded a record [That’s All Right] and by the next week it had become a huge hit in Memphis. We still played football every Sunday. I thought I’d be out because everybody wanted to play then.”
The friendship endured and, when Jerry was in his senior year of college, Elvis asked if he would work for him as part of a close, trusted group that would become known as the Memphis Mafia.
“He really knew human nature,” says Schilling. “He really wanted people around that he trusted and luckily I was one of those people. The people who worked for him – who handled his money or his security – we all lived together. We were the original entourage, if you like.
“He was the guy we worked for, but it wasn’t that kind of relationship. We were like a big group of dear friends. A lot of the time it was us against the world, because people forget in those early days Elvis wasn’t liked by everybody. Politicians, religious leaders … They didn’t like the controversy. He made Justin Bieber look like a baby.”
Then, of course, there were the encounters with other celebrities: the Beatles spent time at Elvis' home, the gang would hang out with Sammy Davis Jr in Vegas, and Schilling was with him when Elvis offered to swap pants with the members of Led Zeppelin.
Perhaps the most extraordinary experience, however, occurred in 1970 when Schilling accompanied Elvis to the White House to meet Richard Nixon.
“It was bizarre in a way, but in another way, it was a true American story. He was a poor boy from Mississippi, who moved to Memphis, with his roots in the projects, who went on to become one of the most – if not the most – popular guys in the world. And he met his President. To be honest I was more of a Kennedy guy, so I wasn’t that thrilled about meeting Nixon until I met him. And I’ve gotta tell you I saw two guys who were at the top and they were the only ones who know what it’s like to be in that powerful position.”
Eventually, in 1976, with Elvis on a path of self-destruction, Schilling left to manage the Beach Boys. He visited Australia a couple of times on tour with them, then again in 1976 when he was managing Billy Joel and the singer performed at the Sydney Opera House.
What is your favourite Elvis song?
Written by Carrie Hutchinson. Republished with permission of Wyza.com.au.