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The Day Angela Met Elvis

By Stan Kluzek
Elvis and Angela, with the book she presented in his right arm. February 1970. The book is now apparently in the archives at Graceland. Very few people in Australia will have met Elvis Presley personally (but new club member Stan Kluzek‘s sister) Angela did, and this is her incredible story of that meeting.
Over the last year, there has been a huge revival in the phenomenon that is Elvis Presley. The Bendigo Art Gallery had Elvis: Direct from Graceland, from March to July 2022. It was a fabulous display of memorabilia that gave a window into Elvis the performer, and Elvis the man. According to Lauren Ellis, the curator of the exhibition, ticket sales far exceeded any other exhibition that the Art Gallery have staged. To showcase so much of Elvis was an amazing coup for the Gallery, as much of the material had never left Graceland. The city of Bendigo, too, took to Elvis, with themes throughout city during this time. Then over June and July of 2022, the biopic movie Elvis by Baz Luhrmann was released. The box office sales reflected a high interest in Elvis or Baz Luhrmann (as to whether he could do justice to the Elvis story). Austin Butler stole the show with his portrayal of Elvis, and Tom Hanks played his first ‘baddy’ role as the conniving manager Tom Parker. So, in the light of all this renewed interest, I want to take you back fifty-two years to the beginning of 1970. After the success of the 1968 television special Elvis, Elvis started to perform live again in August of 1969, after an absence from the live stage of 8 years. The venue was the new International Hotel in Las Vegas. The duration of the live performances was a hectic, two shows a day for four weeks. Elvis was enthusiastic and back. He had a crack band, and an in-house orchestra. The reviews were ecstatic. John Landau (music critic and future manager of Bruce Springsteen) quoted (after he saw the TV special) “There is something magical about watching a man who has lost himself find his way back home. He sang with the kind of power people no longer expect of rock ‘n’ roll singers. He moved his body with a lack of pretension and effort that must have made Jim Morrison green with envy.” Moving along to February of 1970, a new decade and a still very enthusiastic Elvis was back at the International Hotel for his second season of live performances. Two shows a day for four weeks. In another part of the world, my sister, Angela, had been living in Adelaide for a few years. She had joined the Sound of Elvis Fan Club based in Adelaide. Through that organisation Angela made friends with like-minded Elvis enthusiasts. The fan club was also involved in fund-raising for charities. There was much excitement with fans once Elvis had started performing live again. Angela was not alone in wondering how she could get to see Elvis live. To travel overseas in 1970 was a big thing. Angela had to organise a passport, but it was a British passport. Angela was still a British Subject, having been born in Scotland. Then she had to find the money. On her meagre wage as an Enrolled Nurse, she still did not have the funds to make such a large trip. So, she asked her younger brother, Peter, (my older brother) who gladly lent Angela the money. Another fan, Raelene, would be going with Angela. Being a member of the local fan club, they also decided it would be smart to take something to present to Elvis if they got the chance. The fan club put together a book with Elvis news article and some typical Australian content. Also, a handkerchief was included, which the two girls wanted Elvis to sign. This would be brought back to the fan club and put in a frame to go on display. In the 1970’s international plane flights were not as prolific as they are today. The plane flight to the USA was out of Sydney. Angela and Raelene had to catch the Indian Pacific from Adelaide to travel Sydney. The two girls boarded the flight and landed in Los Angeles. They had one night in Los Angeles. The next day they caught a Greyhound Coach destined for Las Vegas. This journey was approximately seven hours. Angela remembers it as uneventful, and recalls the geography of the countryside as being fairly stark. They were so excited at the prospect of seeing Elvis live, that the terrain was not much of a focus. Accommodation was actually at the International Hotel. The plan was to have six nights there. They were only able to get a room for themselves for four nights, but the fan network was working in their favour, and bunked in with another couple for the last two days. Elvis had already been performing. The lobby of the International Hotel was festooned with poster, balloons and placards advertising that Elvis was in town. It was Elvis Week (which lasts a month). There was no need to advertise. Everyone was in Las Vegas to see Elvis. The showroom theatre where Elvis performed was a separate building to the International Hotel, although still part of the hotel complex. To get to see a performance was a two-step process. First you needed a ticket, then when you had arrived at the Showroom, you needed to tip the Maître de to get a good seat. The trick was to roll up your money, so he could not see what value it was, as it was rude for him to look at it before he had you seated. If you lined up early enough, there was a greater chance of getting a seat near the front.had arrived at the Showroom, you needed to tip the Maître de to get a good seat. The trick was to roll up your money, so he could not see what value it was, as it was rude for him to look at it before he had you seated. If you lined up early enough, there was a greater chance of getting a seat near the front. Being that it was only Elvis’s second season of live performance, he was still feeling quite reborn and the reports of his performances reflected this.

He was dynamic and full of energy, reflecting on his past with old hits from the 1950s, and giving his audience new material, much of it from his American Sound Sessions recordings. Songs from ‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘In the Ghetto’, ‘Kentucky Rain’ and ‘Don’t Cry Daddy’ featured in his live performance. He also added songs by other artists, paying homage to their original recordings. A standout (among many) was his reinterpretation of ‘The Wonder of You’. This live recording would become another hit for Elvis. Angela and Raelene were absolutely not disappointed at travelling across the world to see the world’s greatest entertainer. They also had another agenda to fulfill. To present Elvis with the book from the Sound of Elvis Fan Club and to politely ask him to autograph the handkerchief. But how? The best person to approach would be the Maître De. He would have the inside information. At all of the shows, the colonel and his entourage had a table up front. When they were not using it, it was often given to celebrities and fans. Through the Maître de, Angela and Raelene got an introduction to the Colonel and his second in charge, Tom Diskin. They asked whether there was a possibility of them presenting Elvis with a gift from their fan club. The colonel was evasive and elusive as ever, and the two girls were not sure if they had convinced the Colonel to let them meet Elvis. The next night they found that the Colonel’s table had been allocated to them. How exciting was this. Just one more step. Will they get to meet Elvis? During the show they were informed that someone would come and collect them at the end of Elvis’s performance. Angela and Raelene were ushered up to Elvis’s dressing room. They were introduced to Elvis and some of his entourage, including Jerry Shilling, Sonny West and Red West. The girls explained that the book was a representation of the things the Sound of Elvis Fan Club were involved with back in Australia. Elvis commented that it looked like a bible. The girls had their photos taken with Elvis. Angela remembers being so nervous when Elvis put his arm around her. He could sense Angela’s nervousness, and reassured her that he didn’t bite. Their camera did not work properly as the flash did not go off. We are talking very 60s/70s camera technology. However, the photos were clear enough to recognise who was who in the photos. Elvis also signed the handkerchief. Why the two girls did not get personal autograph will remain a mystery. Elvis would have accommodated such a small request. Elvis was finishing his residency at Las Vegas, but was due to perform at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo held at the Houston Astrodome immediately after. This, for Elvis, would be the beginning of the constant touring schedule of the United State, with a twice yearly residency at Las Vegas, to now accommodate the Colonel’s appetite for gambling. So from Las Vegas, Angela and Raelene made their way by coach to Houston to see Elvis perform there. In Houston they caught up with Steve, a pen pal Angela had been corresponding with for some time. It was reassuring to catch up with someone they already knew. They attended four of the six sold-out shows that Elvis performed. For one of the shows, the girls managed to get front row seats in the arena. Prior to the start of each show, Elvis was driven around in a small white Jeep. As he passed where Angela and Raelene were, he recognised the two girls from Australia that he had met in Las Vegas. He gave them a big wave, which thrilled Angela and Raelene no end. Sounds systems back in the early 1970s were not as sophisticated as they are today. The Astrodome was not designed to be a concert venue. Apparently, the acoustics were pretty poor, and Elvis and his band, although totally professional, were glad to finish their stint at a very echoey Houston Astrodome. He had performed to a total of 300,000 people. After seeing the Houston Shows, the two girls headed for Memphis by coach again. They had given themselves a week for Memphis. In Memphis, Angela and Raelene stayed with the two Elvis fans who lived in Memphis. First stop was Graceland – the girls wanted to see where Elvis lived. Of course, in those days, Graceland was not open to the public. It was still Elvis’s private resident. They got to the Graceland gates where they met the gatekeeper who was Elvis’s uncle, Vester Presley and he was typically southern polite, and engaged with girls in conversation. (In the Elvis version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Memphis, Tennessee’, Elvis changes the words of one line to ‘My Uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall’, as a reference to Vester. The original line being ‘The phone boy took the….’ Interesting enough, when Johnny Rivers recorded ‘Memphis, Tennessee’ Johnny used Elvis’s modified line) During the week, their Memphian friends took them on a day trip to Tupelo (about 200 kms or 115mls from Memphis) to the shot gun shack where Elvis and his twin Jesse were born. It was already a museum back in the 1970s. Back in Memphis they also visited the Sun Studios, where Elvis recorded his breakthrough single in 1954, and the famous Beale Street, a haven for established and budding musicians. They also got to see the Circle G Ranch, that Elvis had bought, so he could indulge his love of horse riding. This was only about 30kms away on the edge of Mississippi. How good was it to have a local show them around! The end of their stay in Memphis came too soon. It was now time to head home, and by this time the girls were getting used to travelling in coaches. They attempted to catch some sleep as this was a twenty-eight-hour trip back to Los Angeles This was the most affordable way to travel for someone on a limited budget. From Los Angeles to Sydney by plane, then a cold trip on the Southern Aurora for Angela, as she was dying to see her family in Victoria and tell everyone about her trip. Angela had souvenir material to give to her younger brothers from the International Hotel in Las Vegas (menu, calendars, matchboxes etc. featuring Elvis).
Angela was very fortunate to have seen the world’s greatest entertainer, when his enthusiasm and energy for the live performance was at his peak. For the next couple of years, his live performances and high-quality studio recordings reflected this. Albums like From Elvis in Memphis, Elvis Country and That’s the Way it Is are towards the top of his best recordings. He was the entertainer who had lost his way, and found himself again. There was a tendency after Elvis’s death to parody him based on his final years. The world view of Elvis now, is much more balanced. He was one of the most iconic personalities of the twentieth century. A beautiful line from the Little River Band’s song ‘Home on a Monday’, goes like this ‘I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the man from Memphis. They told me he had gone, never leaving a trace’. Half a century later, Elvis may have gone, but he certainly has left his trace.
Note: Stan and Angela are both now members of our club. Stan was a member of the tour group that joined me on the 2023 Elvis USA Tour unfortunately Angela had to cancel being a part of it. This story would have been great to recount on the tour. We are lucky that Angela and Stan permitted me to include this story in our newsletter. We are fortunate to have 3 members in our club that witnessed Elvis Perform live and Angela is the only one to have personally met him.

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