Everybody knows the two signature events of Elvis’ latter career were the ‘68 Comeback Special and the Elvis Aloha From Hawaii worldwide TV broadcast. Do you know there was one other event that was a very big deal at the time but has faded a bit from memory? I am referring to the four-show block of concerts Elvis gave at Madison Square Garden on June 9, 10, and 11, 1972. If they had been preserved on film, they would probably rank up there with Aloha and the Comeback Special.
It’s hard to believe Elvis never gave a concert in New York City prior to this, because he had spent a lot of time there. He was in town to do TV broadcasts for six Dorsey Brothers Shows, one Steve Allen Show, and three Ed Sullivan Shows. He also had two recording sessions at RCA Studios that gave us “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” In 1958, he departed for Army service in Germany from New York Harbor before a huge crowd of fans and members of the media.
But Elvis did no live shows in New York City during the 50’s and none during his first three years back on the road after the movies ended. It has been suggested this strange absence can be traced to Col. Tom Parker’s management. He had a long memory of the brutal treatment the New York press gave Elvis in 1956.
By 1972, Elvis’ concerts were huge successes in Las Vegas and dozens of other cities. Parker probably figured the time was right for Elvis to conquer New York – and Elvis certainly did. The Colonel originally planned to do three shows at Radio City Music Hall, but when he got a sense of how big these concerts would be, he switched to Madison Square Garden. The single show on Friday and the two on Saturday sold out so quickly that a Sunday show was added. And, it sold out. 80,000 very happy New York fans were going to see Elvis live. There was a noticeable buzz in the city leading up to Elvis' visit.
Elvis and company blew into town on June 8 in three leased airplanes. The troupe was seventy-five people strong: the TCB Band, an orchestra, The Sweet Inspirations, JD Sumner and The Stamps, Kathy Westmoreland, tech people, equipment handlers, stagehands, and assorted buddies.
The next day, Col. Parker staged a press conference in the Mercury Ballroom of the New York Hilton five hours before the first concert. Elvis was in a buoyant mood, and had a grand time sparring with the reporters. Every newscast in the city that night carried a segment on Elvis’ press conference. The King and The Big Apple. It was meant for greatness.
Elvis was in good health, he was psyched to do super concerts for the New Yorkers, and he turned on the power. The concerts were superb. TCB pianist Glen Hardin said afterwards, “Elvis never sang better than he did at Madison Square Garden.” Billboard magazine gushed, “Elvis has transcended the exasperating constrictions of time and place.” The same New York Times that cruelly dismissed Elvis in 1956, now said, “He stood there at the end, his arms stretched out, the great gold cloak giving him wings, a champion, the only one in his class… He looked like a prince from another planet.”
There are more stories to tell about Elvis performing at Madison Square Garden. For now, let’s end with a question. If they filmed the press conference, why didn’t they film the concert? It would have made one heck of a DVD.
© 2006 Philip R Arnold www.elvisblog.net