Elvis died on August 16, 1977, shocking those nearest to him. Not only was he due to fly back out on tour later that day, but a major TV special was also being put together with new footage of recent concerts and interviews with those closest to the star. As it was being filmed, nobody could possibly know what would happen just two months later. Vernon spoke powerfully of his son’s character and also remembered his first singing competition as a boy. In another extraordinary interview, he also described how Elvis was repeatedly rejected when he tried to join local vocal groups before he became a solo sensation.
Elvis may have been the biggest star in the world, but his father said: “One thing that was good, he never changed his feelings about people or anything. I’m sure he was very happy with his success and all the things that happened to him… but it didn’t make him think he was something that he wasn’t, you know.”
Vernon also described the earliest signs of a future in showbusiness: “He was nine years old. It was a school competition-type thing. He won third prize, singing Old Shep. At that time he couldn’t make no type of music (with instruments). He just sung the song, that was it.”
We all know what Elvis grew up to look and sound like and yet Vernon also revealed that, incredibly, nobody wanted him at first.
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In another interview from the 1972 documentary Elvis On Tour, Vernon proudly shows fans around the Graceland “Trophy Room” filled with all the extraordinary achievements of his son’s career, including the 56 gold records for million-selling singles and 18 more for albums.
He described the moment his teenage son told his parents about his dreams of stardom.
Vernon said: “He called me into his room, I believe it was shortly after he got out of high school, and he said, ‘I want to be an entertainer.'”
WATCH A LONGER EXTRACT FROM ELVIS ON TOUR BELOW AND SCROLL DOWN TO WATCH THE 1977 INTERVIEWS:
Vernon spoke of how Elvis had always stood out from everyone else: “Well, in some ways and some of the clothes he wore was different. The way he wore his hair was quite different to what there was back then, you know.
“And he was criticised quite often about it and it really didn’t bother him and he didn’t change it and he went on (keeping it) like it was anyway.”
It seems unbelievable looking back, but when Elvis auditioned for local groups, they also rejected his vocal ability.
Vernon added: “At the time he was more interested in gospel singing and quartet singing. So he tried two or three different young groups to get in with them and they were either full or didn’t think he could sing good enough, I don’t know what happened.”
In the 1997 interview, Vernon talked of how Elvis slowly built his fanbase locally before national stardom came. Debut single That’s All Right was released on July 19, 1954. Although it did not chart nationally, it was a huge hit locally, selling over 20,000 copies and reaching Number Four on the Memphis charts. Hysteria built fast at local shows.
Unsurprisingly, those same groups suddenly wanted Elvis after all, but he ultimately decided to front his own outfit.
Venon said: “Starting in the latter part of 1954, he (Elvis) went through 1955 doing pretty good locally… Arkensaw, Texas, Mississippi… just touring the country. That’s where he met Colonel Parker. In 1955 Colonel Parker was booking shows through Florida. He had a package deal of the Grand Ole Opry stars, so he booked Elvis with that…”
Vernon said: “They learned that you had to have plenty of security to keep the people back. Otherwise, he couldn’t perform, he couldn’t put on a show. They’d rush the stage before he got through.
“One place he told me about… he sung part of one song and had to leave the stage and didn’t go back because they tore the stage all to pieces.”
For the next two decades, Elvis would continue to inspire that same hysteria and devotion, which continues almost unabated to this day.