SONNY WEST , ELVIS
JOE KREIN : CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY?
SONNY WEST: I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN MEMPHIS , WHEN I WAS A BABY MY DAD DID A COUPLE OF JOBS. HE WORKED AT THE PEABODY HOTEL IN THE GARAGE PARKING CARS. HE WAS ALSO AN ELECTRIC TROLLEY DRIVER , THEY HAD THOSE IN MEMPHIS BACK THEN . THEN HE GOT INTO HOUSE PAINTING , AND HE STAYED WITH THAT AND DID IT FOR OVER FIFTY YEARS. HE HAD SEVERAL CREWS WORKING FOR HIM . MY BROTHER WORKED WITH HIM WHEN HE LEFT THE ARMY AND WHEN MY DAD RETIRED HE TOOK OVER THE BUSINESS.
HOW MANY WERE THERE IN YOUR FAMILY?
ONE BROTHER AND FOUR SISTERS , I STILL HAVE MY SISTERS BUT I LOST MY BROTHER ABOUT THREE YEARS AGO.
NOW WHAT IS RED TO YOU?
RED IS MY FIRST COUSIN , OUR DADS WERE VERY CLOSE BROTHERS . THEY WERE ONE OF SEVEN BOYS AND ONE GIRL . MY GRAND DAD WAS NOT A NICE INDIVIDUAL HE USED TO WHIP THOSE BOYS WITH HORSE WHIPS.
IS RED OLDER THEN YOU?
HE ABOUT TWO YEARS OLDER , I'M THREE AND A HALF YEARS YOUNGER THEN ELVIS.
DO YOU REMEMBER ELVIS IN SCHOOL?
I WAS THERE FOR THE SAME YEARS FOR TWO YEARS , I DON'T REMEMBER HIM OR REMEMBER SEEING HIM IN THE HALLS. I KNEW THE FOOTBALL PLAYERS , THE STARS . I KNEW THE QUARTER BACKS AND THE START PLAYERS.
WHEN DID YOU HEAR ABOUT ELVIS PRESLEY?
THE FIRST TIME I HEARD ABOUT HIM WAS WHEN I WAS LISTENING TO A SHOW , I WAS MAYBE FOURTEEN YEARS OLD. I WAS LISTENING TO RED HOT AND BLUE. I HEARD "THAT'S ALL RIGHT MAMA" . YOU KNOW ELVIS SOUNDED BLACK , AND HE INTRODUCED HIM IN A WAY THAT WAS NOT RACIAL AT ALL. BECAUSE HE MOSTLY PLAYED RHYTHM AND BLUES , RUFUS THOMAS AND PEOPLE LIKE THAT. SO HE INTRODUCED HIM AS A RECENT GRADUATE FROM HUMES HIGH SCHOOL. SO EVERYONE KNEW FROM THAT INTRODUCTION THAT ELVIS WAS A WHITE GUY. SEGREGATION WAS STILL GOING ON IN 1954. SO HE SANG THAT SONG AND I SAID WOW! THAT'S A DIFFERENT SOUND FROM ANYTHING I WAS LISTENING TO ON THAT SHOW. THEN LATER AFTER THAT SUMMER , BACK IN THE FALL . I WAS AT PECK HIGH SCHOOL , BECAUSE WE HAD MOVED FROM THE HUMES HIGH SCHOOL AREA. I WAS HAVING LUNCH ON CAMPUS. HE CAME WALKING UP , NOBODY KNEW WHO HE WAS . HE CAME UP AND INTRODUCED HIMSELF , SOME OF THE GIRLS HAD BEEN LISTENING TO RED HOT AND BLUE TOO. ELVIS SAID I WOULD LIKE TO SING A COUPLE OF SONGS TO YOU , SONGS THAT I HAVE JUST RECORDED. HE SANG SOME SONGS, HE JUMPED AROUND EVEN THEN . SOME OF THE GIRLS WERE SMILING AND THE GUYS WERE LOOKING AND THINKING HERE'S A CRAZY GUY. I LIKED HIM RIGHT THEN .
SO YOU WERE A FAN RIGHT AWAY?
YES , AND THE NEXT TIME I SAW HIM , I WAS OUT IN TUCSON IN THE AIR FORCE. HE DID A CONCERT OUT THERE. I THINK IT WAS 1956 . IT WAS AN EXCITING SHOW , AGAIN I SAID WOW THAT GUY FROM MEMPHIS IS UNREAL. I GOT OUT OF THE SERVICE AND WENT HOME , ELVIS WAS GETTING READY TO GO TO GERMANY , RED HAD INVITED MYSELF AND MY SISTERS TO COME OUT AND SEE ELVIS AT THE RAINBOW ROLLER SKATING RING FOR A PRIVATE PARTY ELVIS WAS THROWING. HE WAS THERE A LOT AT THE RAINBOW. I WAS VERY IMPRESSED WITH HOW FRIENDLY AND WARM HE WAS AS A PERSON. IT WAS JUST LIKE YOU AND I ARE TALKING. I WAS THINKING , GOD HERE IS A BIG STAR! HERE HE IS ACTING LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE. SO WE HIT IT OFF THAT NIGHT , HE WAS FIXING TO GET READY TO GO TO GERMANY . RED WAS GOING WITH HIM , RED HAD JUST GOTTEN OUT OF THE MARINE CORP. HE TOLD ME , SONNY , ELVIS LIKES YOU A LOT . HE WANTS YOU TO COME OUT AND SEE US WHEN WE GET BACK . I SAID OK I WILL . SO I CONTINUED MY JOB THAT I HAD , AND WHEN HE CAME HOME IN 1960 I WENT OUT THERE . I WAITED A WEEK OR SO , GAVE HIM TIME TO SETTLE IN. I WENT AND SAID HI , IN TWO OR THREE WEEKS HE ASKED ME IF I WANTED TO GO TO WORK FOR HIM .
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF GRACELAND , THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW IT?
MAN , I THOUGHT IT WAS ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL. I SAW IT IN 1958 THE FIRST TIME . I DROVE BY THERE. I SAID MAN , THAT'S A MANSION ON THE HILL! I WAS REALLY TAKEN BACK , AND THEN BEFORE I KNEW IT . I WAS LIVING THERE.
DID YOU LIVE DOWNSTAIRS OR OUT BACK?
I STARTED OFF SHARING A ROOM WITH JOE IN THE FRONT ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF ELVIS'S ROOM. IF YOUR LOOKING AT GRACELAND HE IS THE TOP RIGHT , AND WE WERE THE TOP LEFT. HIS GRANDMOTHER WAS IN THE ROOM BEHIND OURS , THAT LATER BECAME LISA'S ROOM. WHEN HIS MOTHER DIED HE MOVED GRAND MOM DOWNSTAIRS TO WHAT WAS HIS MOTHERS AND DAD'S ROOM.
WHEN HIS MOTHER PASSED , THAT REALLY DEVASTATED HIM , WAS IT LIKE THAT HIS WHOLE LIFE?
HE LOVED HER DEARLY , THAT'S SOMETHING YOU NEVER FORGET . I LOVED MY MOM AND DAD AND THINK ABOUT THEM EVERYDAY. BUT THERE WAS SOMETHING UNIQUE ABOUT ELVIS AND HIS MOTHER. BEING AN ONLY CHILD , AND BEING A TWIN AND THEN THE OTHER TWIN NOT SURVIVING. SHE THOUGHT SHE HAD THIS PRECIOUS GIFT AND SHE JUST POURED LOVE ON HIM , HE GOT ALL THESE GOOD THINGS FROM HER . A WARM GIVING NATURE , SWEETNESS, UNSELFISHNESS, JUST EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD GOOD. THEN FROM HIS DAD , EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD BAD. (LAUGHING) I'M JUST KIDDING.
WELL HOW WAS VERNON?
VERNON, I DON'T WANT TO SPEAK BADLY ABOUT HIM , HE JUST WASN'T A VERY WARM PERSON. HE WAS KIND OF COCKY. HE DEVELOPED AN ATTITUDE , HE DIDN'T LIKE ANY OF US GUYS.
OH YEAH. HE WISHED NONE OF US WAS AROUND. HE PUT CHARLIE OUT REAL FAST . HE SAID CHARLIE YOU HAVE TO GO. TO SAY THAT TO CHARLIE? (WHISTLED) HE JUST WASN'T A LIKEABLE PERSON ,
HOW WAS DODGER
I LOVED HER , AND I'M NOT TALKING OUT OF SCHOOL . ELVIS TOLD ME HIMSELF , DODGER LOVES YOU SONNY. YOUR HER FAVORITE , I WOULD GO IN THERE AND SIT AND TALK TO HER. I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT FIVE MINUTES , I WOULD GO IN THERE. SHE WOULD BE SITTING IN THIS BIG UPHOLSTERED CHAIR, I WOULD SIT A CROSS FROM HER. SHE WOULD TELL ME THINGS ABOUT HER LIFE. I ASKED HER ABOUT HER EX HUSBAND, I KNEW I TOUCHED SOMETHING THERE. SHE WOULD SAY , I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT HIM! SHE WOULD GET ALL UP TIGHT ABOUT HIM , HE WOULD BE OUT CHASING THE WOMAN AROUND. HE WAS A DAPPER GUY , I MET HIM IN KENTUCKY , ELVIS WAS THERE DOING A SHOW. HE WAS A SMALL GUY , DRESSED SHARP.
DID YOU SEE A LOT OF HIS FAMILY COME AROUND THRU THE YEARS?
AFTER WHEN , DO YOU MEAN WHEN HE MADE IT BIG?
YEAH , I MEAN YOU DON'T HEAR THAT THE SMITHS CAME AROUND OR THE PRITCHETT'S. WERE THEY INVITED TO PARTIES AT GRACELAND?
THEY WEREN'T INVITED TO PARTIES , HE WAS CLOSE TO BILLY AND JEAN. HE WAS CLOSE TO PATSY , SHE WAS A SMITH AND A PRESLEY. SOME OF THE FAMILY CAME AROUND AT CHRISTMAS TIME , AND THERE WAS ONE THAT HE LIKED A LOT A BOBBIE JOE.
DID FAMILY STOP BY AND ASK FOR MONEY?
IT WAS DONE AND MOST OF THE TIME BY THE SAME PEOPLE ,
WAS ELVIS GIVING?
HE LIKED TO GIVE , BUT HE LIKED TO DO IT WHEN THEY DIDN'T ASK. ONE TIME HAROLD , WHO I LIKED A LOT . HE WOULD ALWAYS GIVE US CANDY WHEN HE WAS A KID. HE WAS WORKING AT GRACELAND AS A GATE GUARD. WELL HIS TRUCK WAS REPROSESSED .HE CAME TO GRACELAND , ELVIS SAW HIM. ELVIS ASKED ME TO SEE WHAT HE WANTED . SO I WENT OUT AND TALKED TO HIM . HAROLD YOU HERE FOR A REASON? WELL I WANTED TO SEE ELVIS . DO YOU WANT ME TO TAKE HIM A MESSAGE. HE TOLD ME HE HAD GOTTEN BEHIND ON HIS TRUCK. I WANTED TO BORROW SOME MONEY , JUST ENOUGH SO I CAN GET MY TRUCK BACK. ELVIS CAN TAKE SO MUCH WEEKLY OUT OF MY PAY CHECK . I SAID WELL LET ME SEE IF HE IS UP , I WILL GET BACK TO YOU. SO I TOLD ELVIS , ELVIS SAID I'M GOING TO GO AND GET HIM A NEW ONE. SO I WENT DOWN AND TOLD HAROLD TO HANG FOR A WHILE OUT BACK . THEN ELVIS AND I TOOK OFF OUT OF THE FRONT OF GRACELAND. WE WENT AND GOT HIM A NEW TRUCK , ELVIS DROVE IT AND I DROVE ELVIS'S CAR BACK . HE PULLED IT UP IN THE BACK , OUT BY THE DEN . ELVIS CAME IN , HAROLD WAS SURPRISED TO SEE ELVIS COME IN FROM OUTSIDE , HE THOUGHT HE WAS UPSTAIRS. ELVIS SAID HEY HAROLD. HOW YOU DOING? HE SAID I'M OK ELVIS . I WAS TALKING TO SONNY , YEAH SONNY TOLD ME. ELVIS SAID LET'S GO OUTSIDE AND TALK ABOUT IT . ELVIS SAID TO HAROLD . IS THAT YOUR TRUCK THERE? NO ELVIS ITS NOT . NO HAROLD IT IS . HAROLD STARTED TO CRY. DON'T WORRY ABOUT THAT OLD TRUCK HAROLD. THAT'S THE WAY ELVIS WAS.
SO HE WAS GIVING.
YES HE GOT THAT FROM HIS MOM. HE NEVER KNEW WHEN HE CAME HOME IF THERE WOULD BE A LOT OF WOMAN IN THE BREAKFAST AREA WAITING TO MEET HIM . SHE WOULD INVITE THEM FROM THE MARKET. WHY DON'T YOU COME HOME WITH ME , WHEN HE GETS UP I WILL INTRODUCE YOU. HE WOULD COME IN , THERE WOULD BE FOUR OR FIVE WOMAN. SHE WOULD SAY HI SON! I WANT YOU TO MEET THESE PEOPLE. HE WOULD BE NICE TO THEM AND THEN GO UP STAIRS.
IS THERE ONE MEMORY THAT STICKS IN YOUR MIND ABOUT ELVIS?
THERE ARE SO MANY , THERE WAS A TIME HE GAVE THIS WOMAN WHO HAD NO LEGS A WHEEL CHAIR. MARTY HAD SEEN THE STORY IN THE PAPER . HE SHOWED IT TO ELVIS. WE ALL KNEW ELVIS , WE KNEW WHAT HE WAS LIKE.
YOU SEE HE GAVE JOE FOR DIFFERENT REASONS. HE GAVE TO US JUST TO SHOW HOW MUCH HE APPRECIATED US . EVEN THOU WE WEREN'T NEEDY. I MEAN I HAD A CAR THAT WAS ONLY A COUPLE OF YEARS OLD AND HE WOULD GIVE ME A NEW ONE. THAT WAS JUST THE WAY HE WAS . BUT HE ALSO GAVE TO THE NEEDY , LIKE THAT LADY . THAT WAS A DIFFERENT KIND OF GIVING.
A LOT OF PEOPLE DON'T KNOW THAT SONNY.
ITS IN MY NEW BOOK THAT IS OUT . I TALK ABOUT ELVIS'S GIVING. HE HAD THREE WAYS OF GIVING. SOMETIMES TO SHOCK SOMEONE. ANOTHER BECAUSE HE LOVED THEM AND THEN ANOTHER BECAUSE THEY NEEDED IT. HE HAD THREE WAYS OF GIVING AND HE WAS UNLIMITED FOR EACH ONE. THERE WERE TIMES I TOLD HIM THAT I DIDN'T WANT IT ! I'M NOT TAKING IT! BECAUSE HE HAD JUST GIVEN ME A MOTOR CYCLE A FEW MONTHS EARLIER. THIS WAS OUT IN CALIFORNIA IN 1965. WE HAD GONE TO FIND HIM A BABY BLUE CONVERTIBLE. WE WERE COMING BACK FROM VIEWING THE BUS THAT BARRIS WAS DOING FOR ELVIS. ELVIS WAS SAYING MAN ITS A BEAUTIFUL NIGHT . ITS A BABY BLUE CADILLAC CONVERTIBLE NIGHT . ELVIS SAID LETS GO TO THAT CADILLAC PLACE , SO WE TURNED AROUND. I SAID TO ELVIS , ARE YOU SURE BABY BLUE , YOU KNOW HOW YOU GET TIRED OF CERTAIN COLORS AFTER A WHILE. HE SAID YEAH I KNOW , BUT TONIGHT BABY BLUE SEEMS JUST RIGHT. SO WE GO THERE , THEY DIDN'T HAVE ONE IN STOCK. HE WALKED ACROSS THE STREET AND LOOKED IN A USED LOT . THERE WAS NOTHING THERE. ELVIS ASKED WHERE THE OTHER CAR PLACE WAS , SO WE WENT THERE , TO FIND THAT BLUE ONE. SO I'M DRIVING ELVIS'S ROLLS ROYCE. ELVIS WAS IN THE FRONT AND BILLY WAS IN THE BACK . SO WE GET DOWN THERE AND I LEFT THEM OFF AND BACKED THE ROLLS IN . BY THE TIME I DID THAT ELVIS WAS WALKING OUT OF THE CAR LOT WITH BILLY AND THE CAR DEALER . ELVIS POINTED AT A CAR , SONNY IS THAT WHAT YOU MEAN . I SAID YEAH LOOK AT THAT ELVIS . YOU WOULD LOOK NICE IN THAT ELVIS . ELVIS SAID I CAN'T BECAUSE ITS YOURS . I SAID NO ELVIS , AND HE TRIED TO GIVE ME THE KEYS . I SAID NO ELVIS ITS NOT . I TURNED AROUND AND WALKED BACK TO THE ROLLS ROYCE AND GOT IN THE DRIVERS SEAT . HE CAME OVER THERE AND SAID WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU? I SAID ELVIS I DON'T WANT YOU TO DO THAT , YOU JUST GAVE ME A MOTOR CYCLE. YOUR ALWAYS GIVING AND WE ARE ALWAYS TAKING. I DON'T WANT TO DO THAT . HE SAID LOOK SONNY , YOU GUYS ARE GIVING WHEN YOU DON'T KNOW YOUR GIVING. I PUT A LOT ON YOU AND YOU HANDLE IT. SO THIS IS MY WAY TO SAY THANK YOU. I SAID THAT'S ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS SAY THANK YOU. ELVIS SAID NO , SONNY I KNOW YOU SAT ON THE CURB AS A KID LIKE I DID LOOKING AT THOSE CARS GO BY. YOU WOULD SAY ONE DAY I'M GOING TO HAVE ONE OF THOSE , I SAID YEAH EVERY KID DOES THAT . SO HERE'S YOURS AND TAKE THESE KEYS SO I CAN GO GET MINE . BECAUSE I SAID IT TOO. I GOT OUT , WENT OVER AND PUT THAT TOP DOWN . I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT .GOD WHAT A CAR .
I ALWAYS LOVED THE BLACK STUTZ , TO SLID IN ON THAT SEAT . OH BABY.
YEAH THAT WAS NICE , BUT THE OTHER CAR I LIKED THAT HE HAD WAS THAT MARK THREE, ITS IN ELVIS THAT'S THE WAY IT IS . JOE AND ELVIS PULLS INTO THE STUDIO . THAT CAR WAS SO SMOOTH , WE WOULD BE DOING EIGHTY MILES AN HOUR AND YOU WOULDN'T EVEN KNOW IT.
DID THE STUTS HAVE A LOT OF POWER.
IT DID , IT HAD A PONTIAC ENGINE IN IT , BUT IT WAS VERY HEAVY . THAT BODY WAS MADE IN ITALY AND THEY PUT IT ON A PONTIAC DRIVE TRAIN . IT DIDN'T HAVE A LOT OF TAKE OFF POWER.
BUT IT LOOKED FINE!
OH IT WAS A CLASSIC .
DO YOU REMEMBER THE PANTARA?
OH YEAH , I WAS IN IT WHEN ELVIS SHOT IT!
HE SHOT IT?
HECK YEAH , WE WENT OUT TO GO FOR A RIDE , IT HADN'T BEEN RUN FOR A WHILE SO THE BATTERY WAS DEAD IT WOULDN'T TURN OVER . ELVIS SAID SON OF A BITCH! I SAID ELVIS ITS JUST THE BATTERY . WAIT I WILL GO GET MIKE OR EARL WE WILL GIVE IT A CHARGE. HE SAID NOPE GET OUT . AS HE GETS OUT HE'S PULLING HIS GUN, I JUMPED AND GOT OUT OF THE WAY . HE FIRED THRU THE WINDOW INTO THE DASH BOARD. NOW YOU ARE DEAD YOU SON OF A BITCH! (LAUGHING) WHEN IT SOLD I THINK IT STILL HAD THAT BULLET HOLE IN IT.
DID HE DO THAT A LOT? HE LIKED MESSING WITH YOU.
YEAH HE DID , HE HAD A FUNNY AND WEIRD SENSE OF HUMOR. YOU NEVER KNEW WHAT WAS GOING TO COME OUT OF HIS MONTH . HE WAS QUICK WITTED .
DID IT EVER GET HIM INTO TROUBLE?
NO SHOOTING THINGS? BUT I GUESS ELVIS COULD DO ANYTHING.
no , there was this one time red and elvis bull dozed a home on the back lot of graceland and set it on fire. some one called the fire department . they went to the street in back of graceland because that is where the smoke was. they came with the hook and ladder and looked over the fence to see where the fire was . elvis what are doing? i tore a house down and i'm burning it. did you get a permit? no i didn't think about that . well we need to watch it , no i can stay here and watch it. there was another time this young cop gave elvis a ticket for dressing improperly . elvis went out on one of the three wheelers in late 1976. this cop pulled him over and gave him a ticket . elvis didn't do anything but vernon did , and the cop asigned to another area. you don't ticket elvis presley.
what was it with elvis and badges and cops?
he believed in law enforcement , but he didn't like bad cops. elvis enjoyed being with them . when we first started we didn't have tee shirt security. it wasn't long before they changed it from security to staff. because security you can be sued over . if someone got hurt and security didn't take care of them you can get sued. but in the early days we used policemen on the staff in uniform. in new york the cops couldn't work off duty so at the madison square garden i think it was lackin hut , that they had a deal with , and i think they still are today . but we had police on horse back , some in there patrol cars , some beat cops.
i would had loved to see the madison square garden show.
oh the second show was just great , you know elvis didn't know how he would go over in new york .
the shows sold out so fast
i know it , and elvis was nervous the first show but the second show elvis kicked butt. we never went back because it was very expensive. elvis at that time was not charging that much money like some of the other acts were. like today
one hundred and fifty dollars to see elton john
i would say elvis was around fifty dollars. colonel didn't run over people like that . he knew people didn't have that kind of money and he also did not release how much elvis was making. he did not want people to say , my god he is making so much money! he didn't advertise how well he was doing unlike other entertainers. like Pontiac super dome show , they wanted to know how much he made there .
another great show.
yes it was .
did you get along with parker. i always felt he got a bad wrap.
he did , and i explain that in my new book. there were some guys in the group like jerry shilling wasn't working for elvis at the time when jerry and barbara streisand presented . he was in there when elvis an her was talking and elvis said he would like to do it. they were there about three hours. so elvis was impressed and he wanted to do it. so that's what jerry heard. elvis came out and told us , he explained that they first needed to get the rights . red was the first to ask , are you going to do it? yes , yes I'm going to do it. you swear? yes . shake hands on it. me too. so he shook all our hands. then a couple of days later joe it started. i could hear comments , like barbara wanted to run everything and do everything her way . that he might not be able to get along with her . he said that hair dresser boy friend wanted to direct it and elvis would have to slap shit out of him. stuff like that was being said. i said to myself . oh boy hear we go, he's not going to do it . red and i looked at each and other . we both knew. jerry didn't know any of this but elvis asked the colonel to get him out of it. he told the colonel he changed his mind. the crowning thing was that no way barbara was going to give elvis top billing. no way they would give elvis 60 percent of the profit , i think the million dollars would have been ok , 60 percent was asking a little to much . the top billing was something they new would end it . so when she left they figured elvis was doing it , when they came back and the colonel gave them the contract for elvis , that was the end of that. history blames it on the colonel.
so you agree the colonel got a bad rap?
oh he really did , there was another time. when they wanted elvis and judy garland to do a children's album together. they were offered twenty-five thousand dollars each, she said she would . then they asked the colonel he said he would have to ask elvis . he asked elvis and elvis said no . so the colonel went back and said he needed to get one -hundred thousand for elvis. they said it was to high and judy was getting twenty-five. the colonel said but Elvis's time is booked and its very valuable time. so they left and then came back a week later and said they had the money. you think elvis was quick , the colonel was quicker . oh you said you couldn't . i already booked elvis . it won't be four years until he has time off. you know people say he was working elvis to death , he was working elvis like that with shorter tours so he wouldn't have so much time in between to do what he was doing to himself. we knew what was going on , it concerned us , we talked about it. colonel would ask me at the beginning of the tour how elvis was doing . i would say about the same. but we have to keep him working. he can't have to much time off so he can't do so much.
what was going on with him.
it just boils down to one thing joe , he had an addicted nature . that was the only thing i know that beat elvis. any other challenge came along he beat it. but he could not beat that. look at robin Williams after twenty years . i used to go out and speak to high school about it , but now i am speaking to elementary .
did elvis try and fight it?
he did and he won short battles , he did not win the war. he got off of it when he did the aloha special . he and i dieted.
he looked great
he did. elvis and i went on a diet that Lamar was on . he said sonny , because he knew it was a thirty day diet. elvis was about twenty pounds over weight. which was more when your on camera. god i didn't want to go on it again , i hated that diet. all the food was prepared for you in baggies . it had no seasoning . this diet was so particular , you could not use lotions and anything that had fat in it. so i told elvis and i said you can't cheat because you will put the weight back on fast . i was making things up and told him that i couldn't go back on it so soon because it would kill me or damage my organs. i just did not want to get on that diet again. that's not going to happen to you sonny. i need you , so i called vegas for a thirty day supply , one for elvis and one set for me. there were also daily shots with a short needle. it has protein and vitamins. the evening meal was wonderful. the best steak , two ounces! (laughing) when it was cooked it was a bite! i would cut it in half and i would chew on it until it was gone then the other . then i was done. so i learned how to cut it real thin. i would let it melt in my mouth. that first nite i said to elvis let me show you how to do it. i started cutting it , he said i can't eat it like that . i said to him you have too because you don't get it again until tomorrow night . so he cut it thin , not as thin as mine but he did it the way i told him. i also said to him that we could not have the guys eating around us because it would make us want to cheat. plus don't let them kid us about the burger they just had. he said i won't let them . so some of them sat there real quiet while we ate. but most of the time they stayed out because they smelled like food.
he looked good.
yeah he did he looked fantastic , that's the best he looked for a long time. he looked good in early 1972 then he put on a little weight that's why he needed to take it off. he looked so good between 67 and 71. that's when he made "stay away joe" and "change of habit" "charro'
where you in any of those?
yeah i had a feature role in "stay away joe" i was his Indian friend that grew up with him on the reservation.
how was it doing the movies?
the movies for elvis was boring because he referred to them as travel logs starring him. they just take me to another location , give some songs to sing and a couple of girls and a couple of guys to fight. but that came because of the success with blue Hawaii. everyone including hal wallis wanted the same success as that movie. that was his most successful picture . it cost about a half a million dollars to make and it took in eight to ten million dollars. so that was a major hit. all of his movies made money and flaming star , loving you made money , jailhouse rock and king creole. .
so he got to hate it?
well he did not hate it because us guys would get to have a lot of fun making them . you see the colonel was getting multiple contracts because elvis was concerned when he left to go to the army . he was hearing that he was a flash in the pan. they concerned him. so elvis felt that security of all these film contracts .but he was able to do other movies he had to fulfill his contracts. but how was anyone to know that he would be locked into the same film over and over again because of the success of blue Hawaii.
some were so bad , i have never been able to sit thru all of harem scarem.
yeah harem scarem and kissin cousins . they were like a fifteen day shoot. they were probably half of the other shooting time of the other films. but he got half a million for each picture and fifty percent of the gross. so the colonel gets blamed for that . elvis had some many contracts signed but he did not have script approval. the colonel was very smart but he wasn't a dam geni! so people don't blame the colonel for those movies.
so how was it , they would say here's your next movie?
here is the script they sent for your next movie , william morris agency would get them and they would send them to the colonel . colonel would give them to elvis.
what would elvis say?
i will be ready. he had a great mind to remember dialogue.
sonny why were dave hebler and red and you let go?
i have never known the real reason. i wanted elvis to tell me why. vernon said it was to cut back on expenses but that wasn't it at all. he paid ed parker and sam thompson a salary so we were replaced by people. so it wasn't that. i heard it was the law suits. i only had one in sixteen years , and that when i took a guy out because he was going to beat up david Stanley . i nailed the guy and knocked him out. he sued , that was in tahoe. i heard that , red had three or four law suits , because of fights . normally it was with drunks , not the fans. they were smart ass people. i was at every one of them . that didn't hole water with me. know I'm talking about me , my situation. on the 4th of july , nine days before i was let go. my wife was in California and she had not been to memphis for a long time. i asked elvis if i could fly her and brian in. elvis said yeah absolutely. i never asked elvis to fly anybody in , we always flew with him . but i never asked for separate flights for my family on him. so on the forth i called her to see if she was ready because the next day was my birthday . july the fith so she and briam was going to fly in and i could be with them for my birthday. then they would go back and i would fly out and join the colonel on the pre tour. so i called her on the forth and she started to cry , she said she wasn't coming. i asked her what was wrong? she said i just got off the phone with wally jones , he was the supervisor we delt with him all the time for our flights. i said what do you mean/ she said i called him and said i ahd not received the tickets to fly to memphis. he said he was sorry but vernon had stopped it , wally said he was sorry but you and brian was not on Elvis's expense account. she said i,m not coming , i said no no. i will ask elvis , I'm waiting on him to get here from fort worth . i will straighten it out with him. so elvis came in , i got him up to his suite . we went into his bedroom , i asked him if i could talk to him . he said yes. he took his coat off. i said i just got off the phone with judy about coming to memphis for my birthday. elvis said yeah! well she was upset and crying saying she wasn't going to come. elvis asked why? she said wally had told her that your dad had said no to the ticket . elvis said somebody else must have done that , i said no he said your dad said her and brian was not on the expense account and he wasn't going to ok it. elvis said i may have forgotten to tell him , daddy has been taken care of that , because some of the guys have been abusing that . he said i know you haven't . some of the guys had girl friends that were coming out on tour. he said i will talk to daddy , you tell judy to go ahead and fly out . i will take care of it. so i left and called judy and told her that elvis said it was his fault , that he had not told his daddy. that some of the guys had been abusing it. she said really. i said yeah . she asked then everything is ok. i said yeah. i said you know we cant pay attention to vernon , because he didn't like any of us , but elvis loves us. that's exactly what i told her. so she did. but then about two hours later , ricky stanley came to my door. he came in and said , what did you say to elvis? why is he asking that? why? elvis was ranting and raving saying you put his daddy done. i said what. wait i have to go over and straighten this out. no don't go now , he outs . they gave him a shot he's sleeping. i said ok . i knew i was going to tulsa to meet up with elvis , he was going over there to do the next show. i will just talk to him about it when i see him. when he came i reached in and helped him out . i said hey boss , he said hey . everything seemed fine. so i didn't bring it up. we got back to the house after the show . he was going upstairs. i said goodnight to him . i said i will see you in a few days. he said happy birthday sonny , oh thanks. by the way judy made a birthday cake she made. its a big one. do you want some of that . he said yeah linda was going to get him some of that . she took a big piece up there enough for four people. so that was it then on the thirtieth i was at the dentist . judy said that vernon had called and wanted to speak with me. i said whets wrong she said he would talk to you. i said ok and called vernon. i said mr. presley , he said sonny . yeah i was trying to get in touch with you . i said yeah is everything ok. i was thinking something was wrong with elvis. i was thinking he was still at the house but he was really already in palm springs. he said well i need to talk to you , could you stop by so i can speak to you. i said wait a minute mr. presley please don't leave it at that , i said i would like to hear it now. he said i would like to tell you in person . i said please now I'm really getting concerned. he said ok due to cost we are going to cut back on expenses , so i immediately thought pay cut. so what does that mean . he said well we are going to have to let some people go. well i knew then . i,m one of those people right? well yes you are. but there are others! well who? i rather not say until i speak to them. i said ok , thank you very much mr. presley . i was shocked. i called judy , she cried . why. i don't know why. so i called the house and i found out that elvis was in palm springs and i don't remember who answered i asked if elvis was up yet ? they said no . i said i would try back today or tomorrow. so when i called back the number had been changed.
oh my god!
yes and so i said ok. so we were making plans to leave , so dave leaves and he stops off in vegas at the doc,s house. that's where elvis was , but he left there and went to the palm spring house because he knew we knew where he would be. you see elvis did not want a confrontation with us , he was probably thinking we would do something to him or he did not want us in front of him asking him why?
so he kept ducking you.
yeah , so he went over to gannon , he was at a gate guarded community , elvis had his own room there. i don't know if it was Elvis's room or just a room dr gannion let him use. i was never sure of that. only that it was upstairs it was like a master bed room. so dave went over , the guard knew him there so he let dave in . he knocked on the door it opened , dave kind of walked right in . no one was going to stop him he is a 7th degree black belt. so he talked to them for a while and he said to them i just wanted to see if elvis was up and i wanted to thank him for letting me work with him you guys can go ahead and tell him that. I'm just going to go ahead and leave , i,m on my way back to California. he said they were glad to see him go , he said you could feel there relief. so he left and called me and told me he was at dr gannins. i just left there , and the guys are acting weird. there was one thing we knew , when you were out your out , everyone in the group is now against you. except one time and that was when elvis hit me for no reason. no one was against me at that time and he was sorry he did it.
was it an accident?
no he did it on purpose we had gotten into an argument . i will tell you that one in a minute. so i called and dr gannin answered the phone , he said who is it , i said it was sonny . he asked me how i was , i said look i know elvis is there is he up yet? yeah he just got thru eating , can you go tell him i would like to talk to him for a minute? yeah , he put the phone down and came back a few minutes later . he said sonny he said he doesn't want to talk to you right now. he may think that i was going to ask for my job back , said sonny. which I'm not calling to do , his dad said they were cutting back on expenses , i know that's not true. i know elvis would not cut back on his main security force. so there is another reason to this. but I'm not asking for my job back , if he can tell me in one sentence why i was fired. in fact its ok if he tells you to tell me that will be fine. he said ok , so he left. he came back and he said he didn't want to discuss it. could you do me a favor , dr said sure sonny. just tell him i said good bye and i won't be calling back , he said ok , bye. i hung up and that was it. i had found out later from linda thompson elvis told his dad to give us enough money to live on for a couple of months , and that he was going to hire red and i back . linda said that elvis said that he had become a money figure to dave. dave wasn't around as long as us but dave loved him. so instead of his daddy doing that he gave us three days notice and one weeks pay. that's it!
you never really knew?
no i still don't know why or if it was a combination of all of them . i did hear that someone said well if you fire red you have to fire sonny because you might have problems with him over red. i really believe in all of my heart it was because of us confronting him over and over about the drugs. no one will ever make me think otherwise. if vernon was alive i wouldn't even believe him , it would have to be elvis him self. but of course people said we did it for the money and we were offered to come up with a figure not to do the book. but that would have been a buy out , just like the doctors were being bought off . elvis bought them a new Cadillac , they would give elvis anything he wanted. so that would put us in the same category. are jobs were important to us and we loved elvis , but we loved elvis more then our jobs. we kept staying at him asking him to stop what he was doing because there at the end when he was insulting kathy Westmorland and the sweets. that was the elvis we knew , that was the stuff he was on. the drugs was making him a colder angry person.
sonny was elvis sick?
i think the number of downers he was taking definitely lowers your metabolism and it didn't work like it should. these drugs take away feelings in nerves . nerves run thru everything you got. so i think that contributed to his decline in health.
sonny can you tell me about the time that elvis slapped you?
oh no he did not slap me he tried to punch me out. it was in 1961 right after we came back from Hawaii. we were shooting the interiors in the sound stage there at paramount. tuesday weld was there elvis had been seeing her since "wild in the country" she brought a girl named kay with her that was a nurse. very attractive woman , so i started to talk to her in the den there at the wet bar. when tuesday drank it made her silly , elvis would have a couple of drinks with her so he could be silly too. elvis did not handle his alcohol very well. on his way to his room he stopped at the bar and leaned in between us and he said dam your cute and he gave her a little peck. she kind of flushed and elvis grinned. elvis walked on into his room. i said to her all right , because of the kiss she just got. so we started to talk again , he came back again and he leaned in and gave her a big kiss this time and her arms went up around him. i said to my self , oh that's it . so i eased off the counter and went over and started to talk to tuesday . she was giggling watching what was going on with elvis and her girl friend. one of the guys looked at me and said wow , i said yeah shot down. i set down next to jean and he said burt , i said to a crisp. so i leaned into him because i didn't want the girls to hear. i said jean if you had your choice between tuesday and kay . which one would you pick . he said tuesday , i said me too. that was it , then suddenly all the way across the room elvis said , what did you say sonny? i said nothing i was just asking jean something. that's all , i didn't know where he was going with this. he said i want to know what you said . you said something about me and i want to know what it was! i didn't say anything about you , yes you did! all of a sudden i had enough , i stood up. elvis said your going to tell me or I'm going to break this bottle over your head. that's was it , i stood up and said your not going to hit with that bottle elvis . man you changed so much this year , i don't like you i don't want to be around you anymore elvis . you changed and i said i quit . he said you can't quit your fired! whatever i,m out of here! i started walking , the bottle wasn't in his hand when he confronted me and tried to stop me from being able to leave the room. he was still yelling , i don't remember what he said. all of a sudden he bent back and hit me right in the jaw. it spun my head to the side. i turned back and looked at him. tears came to my eyes and i said i never though you would ever do that .
you didn't hit him back?
no i walked , i left the room and tuesday left with me , she said what is wrong with him? why did he hit you? i said because he's drinking , he doesn't drink, she said he shouldn't drink if that's what he does! i took out a suitcase and started to put things in it. tuesday said i can't believe he hit you sonny. well when he drinks like that , you know what he is like. he got some of that smith blood in him , he wants to fight and be a bad ass when they drink. so all of a sudden elvis is at the door and he asks tuesday to leave , he shut the door and sat down . elvis said what's going on? well I'm just getting my stuff together i called a friend . I'm going over to her place for a couple of days and figure out some things. well what are you going to do? i said i don't know yet. elvis said do you have any money? i said i have some money , I'm ok. he said do you want one of the guys to take you some place? i said no. i have a cab coming thanks. well what's wrong? well i just don't understand what just happened. elvis i am a little shocked by it. you changed some man this year and its kind of caught me off guard. i haven't changed ! yes you have elvis .alright if i leave most of my cloths here so i don't have to take them all tonight? yeah. anyway i left , he walked to the door and watched me get in the cab and leave. about nine days later i walked over to the lot at paramount. the guard let me in , i asked what sound stage elvis was in and he told me. the guys were standing around . like i said if you were out with elvis you were out with everyone. but in this case they knew i had not done a thing.i did not know what he had been saying. i stood there talking and he walked off the set after shooting a scene. he saw me and sonny come on in here man . joe was in there e reading one of the trade papers. elvis said joe excuse us for a minute i want to talk to sonny. joe say hey sonny how you been. i said alright while he left. i sat down on the couch and he sat at the dressing table. he started to comb his hair. i was looking at him in the mirror, and suddenly our eyes met. a grin came to his face , you crazy son of a bitch. me I'm not crazy. so we laughed and he said what are you going to do/ i said elvis i would like to stay out here and get into the screen actors guild. work like red does ,and on your movies when your here. they would let me in if you give me a letter. when the other guys found out they wanted to join too.
did he ever say he was sorry to you?
no he never said to anyone that he was sorry. he bought you a car or something. but that was the perfect time for him to say he was sorry , but it never came. i had found out later what elvis did when i had left the room. when it happened elvis stepped over to jean and said what did he say about me. jean said he didn't say anything about you elvis. so what did he say then. but jean did not want to embarrass the girls so he didn't say anything. he just asked me if i had a choice of what girl. he didn't say anything else. so there was his chance. but if he had said he was sorry we would had laughed about it and i would have stayed.
so was there special rules like elvis was always right?
yes , but normally he was.
elvis got the girl?
well joe i knew they were not there for me. i never got jealous of elvis ,
you know sonny there are fans that are just not going to listhen to you. does that bother you?
let me tell you something joe. we wrote that book for elvis , we did,nt write it for the fans. we knew it was,nt going to please elvis and he showed us by trying to buy us out.
about ten weeks after meeting with the writer at the hotel continental. john ogrady called and asked for me. so i took the call for the guys and he said .I'm not going to waste any time and you know who i am calling for and who i represent. we would like for you to come up with a figure not to do the book. what do you mean , come up with a figure? he said what we want you to do is just come up with a figure and if its agreeable , you won't do the book. he said john we have already excepted money for the book , we have met with the writers, wait your not hearing me . you come up with a figure and you can walk out of that room and we will take care of any money or lawsuits that arise. you and i know Elvis's problem. buti could tell he did not want me to bring the drug thing up. so i knew right away that it was either being taped or elvis was on another line. he cut me off, he said i don't want to talk about anything but you guys coming up with a figure. i said fine , i know my answer, but i will have to talk to the other guys. he said well i will call you back in thirty minutes. i said you don't have to wait that long . i will let you know in a couple of minutes. he said i will call you back , so he did. i told them what they said . we are not going to be bought out like the doctors.
why did you write the book sonny?
we wrote the book to get into his face , my feelings were crushed when we were let go and i knew in my heart it was because of the drug thing. we said elvis that was rough what you said about kathy . elvis why did you talk like that to the sweets? saying they smelled like cat fish? god! no its alright they know i was just kidding. i don't think they do elvis. elvis this is not you. so we wanted to show him some of the things he said and had done because of taking these things. that he needed to take a look at him self and that's not me. to throw a pool cue at a girl because she called him a sob. when elvis was treating her mean and rude in the first place. we were hoping he would take a look at all of these things. because everything we put in there that he did bad was because he was under the influence of something. like the night he hit me , he was drinking. elvis would have never hit me if he hadn't been drinking. so that's what we did and i want to tell you something and this is the god honest truth. if i had been with elvis to the end . elvis what happened would not had been written. the book that i have know is the book the fans would have. i would have never wrote about some of the things that were in that book.
what's different in the new book?
they were both written with tremendous love , one as a challenge to him and the other my farewell to him. telling the facts as they happened .this books says how much i loved him and how much i miss him. there not a day that goes by that i don't think of him. if I'm watching a movie on television i say to my self . elvis would really like this. after all the years i spent with him i know what he likes . he would like celine and shania twain.
you know sonny i did not realize how young 42 was until i turned 42. he had a full life yet.
i know it . he would had been like cary grant. he got better looking as he got older , if he kept the weight off. if elvis had let that white hair grow out , he had a full head of hair. i think he would still be acting.
sonny how did you find out elvis had passed away.
this is really weird , but my wife and i was out in California . we there to buy an Arabian mare , so we bought the mare and they had another horse named shadow . he was just a big riding horse. the doctor there was thinking about breeding his Arabian. he said if you breed her it will take care of all of the cost. so we bred her. so om august the 16th we got up. i had two interviews to do. the weather that day was suppose to be nice. it wasn't suppose to rain. then i had a radio interview with a station in Canada. during one of the interviews the guy said to me "so what your saying is it would not surprise you if you picked up the newspaper one day and find out elvis had dies. i said god help me no. i wouldn't be. we didn't know that elvis was already dead.
did he know?
no , elvis had not been found yet. or it had not been announced yet. he was probably lying on the floor while we were talking about him. so i said i would not be surprised because i had talked to al strada and he said he was not well. so i hung up the phone and we head over to get the mare. the guy came out and he said elvis have you heard/ i looked at him and i said elvis is dead.
yeah . he said isn't that something . i fell to my knees. i was saying why , why. the man said I'm sorry i did not know it would effect him so. i should not had said anything. my wife said to him better from a friend. he would have found out some how. so i got up and i walked away by myself. i walked over to a fence and i yelled oh god , and i hit his fence and split the wood . i said i have to get out of here. i have to go now. so judy hugged me and we got into the truck. i never said goodbye we just drove to the house. the phone was ringing but i couldn't talk to anybody so judy was taking all the calls. one of the calls was from red and pat. i asked them to come over. we were both crying on the phone. so red came over and we hugged each and other yelling he's gone . that was it. everything thing that we wanted with the book straightening him out .us being with him again. hoping one day that we would be back with him.
so i was just devastated. he was like a brother to me. none of us was closer then the other. it really upsets me when i hear one of the guys say that.
i meant to ask you about threats on his life.,
he always said get the guy after he gets me and tear his eye balls out. i don't want that sob smirking in the court saying i killed elvis presley. he always had the picture of charles manson in his head.
when that happened to sharon tate , did it bother elvis?
it brought tears to his eyes. he said they never hurt anybody . so if it happens to me i want you guys to get the son of a bitch first. we would have done it.
sonny did you really fear that someone would try and kill elvis?
yes , well look at all the people that have been shot. weirdo's for sick reasons. so we did worry about it , look at john lennen , i don't think he would had been shot if he had security. if i was there as soon as someone said his name i would have gotten between them and say can i help you?
as that how it was done , if someone came up you would step betwwen them and elvis?
yes , thats like when i stopped a process server . they were trying to serve elvis on that paternity law suit . we were coming out of the hotel and we were told that someone was going to try and serve him before the show . we did not now where or when. so here we are coming down these steps heading for the car , there was a crowd there . i heard this voice , mr. presley , mr.presley . i instinctually turned and walked over to her. because fans did not say mr. presley
your right. its elvis
i said can i help you ? she said yes you can , just get out of my way . i am serving mr. presley . she yelled again mr. presley . so i cut her off and i said mam can i help you? i,m not touching her or anything. i just kept between her and elvis. she said mr. presley you have been served! she dropped the papers . so by that time elvis and the guys had moved on . i said mam who did you serve? mr presley , elvis presley. well you didn't say that . there are two of them , his daddy was with him. no one knows who you served. i left
wow great .
i caught up with elvis and he said way to go sonny! so if someone was with john he could still be alive.
did you know john?
i met him but the rest of the time he sat with elvis ,
what a shame no one taped that.
i know , but we would not because of Elvis's privacy.
was there ever a close call on the jet lisa marie?
not on lisa marie but there was on another jet. they were coming in for a landing and they were coming in to fast . all of a sudden the co pilot was bringing it in and he almost stalled. he also used to much of the runway . so the pilot yelled pull up pull up. finally the pilot grabbed the wheel and pushed the throttle full forward and the plane just before the tail hit . that trust pulled the plane out of it and they circled and brought it in again. the guy had been drinking the night before.
did it scare everyone on the plane?
it sure did , and the next day when we took off he wasn't on it. he was replaced.
i look forward to your book.
i think you will like it.
well thank you very much sonny.
your welcome joe.