Tag Archives: Peter Guralnick

Conan O’Brien and Peter Guralnick: The Elvis Interview

Last week I learned that Conan O’Brien is a huge Elvis fan and has a deep knowledge of all things Elvis.  This was very apparent when I watched a recent video interview he did with probably the best expert there is on Elvis, Peter Guralnick. So, I rushed to write a blog article about Conan’s love for Elvis.

Peter Guralnick


Unfortunately, in last week’s post I zipped past Guralnick too quickly, and that’s not right.  Guralnick is a leading music critic, writer on music, and historian of American popular music.  He has been writing books chronicling the history of blues, country, rock and roll and soul since he graduated from Boston University in 1971 with a master’s degree in creative writing. The first of Guralnick’s two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley in 1994, told the happy, inspiring story of Elvis’ life and career up to his departure for Germany in the Army.  I own this book and read it many years ago.  I liked it a lot.

Last Train to Memphis


Guralnick followed with Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley in 1999, and I started to read this one, too, but I just couldn’t handle the down side of Elvis’ life.  There are some things I just don’t care to dwell on.  However, both books have been acclaimed as in-depth, scholarly examinations of Elvis Presley’s life and music.

Careless Love


My favorite Guralnick book is Elvis – Day By Day, co-written with Ernst Jorgensen.

Elvis - Day by Day

It has been a valuable aid in writing numerous ElvisBlog articles.  Lots of little known facts, and 300 photos, too.  Guralnick was granted unprecedented access to hundreds of thousands of photos, documents, letters, artifacts, and memorabilia by Elvis Presley Enterprises and Colonel Parker. So, let’s look at some of the points Guralnick covered in chatting with Conan O’Brien about Elvis.

You are probably aware of Elvis’ spiritual awakening in the 60’s, but did you know it had an effect on his music?  Guralnick said, “Between ’64 and mid-’66, He never went into the recording studio except to record the movie songs.  The reason was not because the movies were killing him.  The reason was that what he wanted to do every waking moment, morning, noon and night, was to study his religious texts.” The Colonel decided Elvis had to break out of this pattern, and the way would be to record a gospel album.  “That’s what brought him back into the studio to record How Great Thou Art.  But, while he’s doing that, he’s also doing all the songs like “Down in the Alley.”  He would just go from one to another.  That essentially began his regeneration.”

And you probably think Elvis never toured Europe was because Col. Parker was an illegal alien (from Holland), and he was afraid he might not get back into the U.S.   Conan stated, “Had Elvis toured Europe, they would have lost their minds.  The Europeans would have gone crazy for him.  They always desperately wanted Elvis to tour.”

Elvis & The Colonel

Col. Parker and Elvis

However, Guralnick disagreed that the Col. Parker angle had anything to do with it.  He based that on interviews with Tom Hulett, the promoter for many of Elvis’ American tours.  “I got the same thing from Helett that I got by inference from the Colonel.  That basically, they were afraid to take him to Europe.  Why?  He’d get busted… because of everything that was happening.  Paul McCartney’s getting busted.  There were a lot of busts going on.  The Colonel used the term ‘We can’t guarantee Elvis’ security overseas.’  And you can read that the way I think he meant it.  I mean, he was never going to say it.”

Conan asked another question about the Colonel.  “You got closer to the Colonel than anybody.  What was your take on the guy?” Guralnick replied, “Col. Parker, whom I very much liked, was a fascinating guy… Elvis saw the Colonel as being the one person who could take him to other worlds – the worlds he wanted to go to.  It was a partnership that worked very well for many years.  One of the great things about the partnership is that everybody in Hollywood, everywhere they went, took them as total yokels.  And the two of them just chortled, I mean, took these guys who were taking them for rubes, and taking them for everything they had.  Hal Wallis was ready to tear his hair out… over and over again, in which he was taken contractually by somebody he felt so superior to.

Elvis and Hal Wallis

Elvis and Hal Wallis


Did you know Elvis had a photographic memory?  Guralnick says so: “One place he seemed to get some joy – he was a big movie buff.  Dr. Strangelove, Monty Python.  He could recite all the lines from Monty Python.”

Monty Python and the Holy-Grail

“He had a photographic memory.  When he was a kid, he memorized Gen. MacArthur’s farewell speech.  He was so admiring of Dr. Martin Luther King, that he could recite the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”

Guralnick spent some time discussing efforts by Col. Parker, Vernon, Dr. Nick and the Memphis Mafia buddies to intervene and help Elvis with his prescription medication problem.  They never worked.  “He was in the hospital in ’73 in Memphis for a form of glaucoma, and Dr. Nick brought in two psychiatrists under the guise that they were optometrists who were consulting.  Elvis immediately saw though it.”

Conan O’Brien made one final lament to Guralnick near the end of the 72-minute interview.  “I think about this with Elvis, wishing that, or hoping, that he could have been well enough to live longer and see, you know, how respected he is now by people like you, by intellectuals, by historians.  How he’s achieved that status.”

Again, I recommend that you click here and watch this fascinating interview between Conan O’Brien and Peter Guralnick.  You won’t be disappointed.

Last week’s article ended with a tease about Conan singing Elvis songs on the next one.  Now that Peter Guralnick has been given the attention he deserves, we’ll try to cover Conan singing Elvis next week.


©  2013    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net


Thumbnail Icon

Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.


Conan O.Brien — A Genuine Elvis Fan

On May 31, Elvis.Com had a news item and link to Conan O’Brien interviewing Peter Guralnick.  Well, I’ve got three of Guralnick’s Elvis books, and he knows more about Elvis than anybody, so this was something I wanted to watch.

 Conan and Peter Guralnick


However, once it got going, I was very impressed with the knowledge Conan exhibited and the quality of his statements and questions. For example, I was curious how Conan became an Elvis fan.

“When I was in college, and it’s the 80s, and I had sort-of come of age with 60s and 70s music.  Elvis wasn’t a big interest of mine.  And, then, I want to say, 1983, I listened for the first time to The Sun Sessions, Elvis’ earliest work that he did with Sam Phillips.”

The Sun Sessions CD

“It blew my mind.  It was like a drug.  I couldn’t get enough.  It made me go out and buy a guitar.  It made me try and play that music.  And, in a sense, I’ve never gotten past that music.  I can’t get past early Elvis.  I can’t get past Jerry Lee Lewis.  I can’t get past Carl Perkins.  I appreciate other music, but I’m always drawn back.  It’s just this energy.”

 Conan Energy


Even better was Conan’s concern about Elvis putting up with all the crummy songs in the later movies:

“What I’ve always noticed about Elvis that bothers me to this day is there’s nobody more talented.  There’s nobody who’s better looking.  He’s a rare example of the complete package and he is at the right time.  He’s got it all — and he’s passive.  He doesn’t like the songs they give him in the movies, but he sings them.  He doesn’t like the movies, but he does them.  Why was he so passive?  Why did he sing the song “Clambake?”… These songs are dreadful.  And you think, he was Elvis Presley.  Why couldn’t he stand up and say, ‘I’m not doing this!  Get me Leiber/Stoller.  Get me real songwriters.  Let’s make a real soundtrack”

Clambake Poster

Conan makes a good point.  With his stature, why didn’t Elvis insist on better movie songs?  The answer to the question takes Guralnick some time to explain, and as you might imagine, it partly involves Col. Parker.


The most profound thing Conan said was about the unfair treatment Elvis and his fans sometime get these days:

”I listen to Elvis nearly every night on Sirrius.  I love it.  But, every once in a while, they’ll say, ‘Now we’re going to the Movie Soundtrack Show… I switch the channel.  I can’t take it, because it’s Elvis digging a ditch. It’s not something he wants to be doing.  He’s doing his best.”

“But, the artists like Elvis who survived into the 80s and 90s got a chance to work with real [bands]… They’re redeemed.  They get to work with great producers.  Johhny Cash had this whole resurgence.  Roy Orbison gets a resurgence.  They’re taken seriously.  They are treated appropriately – as icons and heroes.  And their work is refurbished… There’s always part of me that’s very sad that Elvis couldn’t have lived to see how great his work was.  He was someone who was revered.  To see that whole generation come out and play with him and support…. And let him know that his work meant something in the American tapestry, but he never got that chance.”

 Peter and Conan

Conan got a little wobbly at the end of that quote, so some was edited out for clarity.  However, Peter Guralnick agreed with Conan one this point, and so do I.


Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night (1988) – Think five guitars is enough?  Who’s that guy on the left?

Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night (1988) – Think five guitars is enough? Who’s that guy on the left?


If Elvis had lived into his fifties, he may well have had an event like Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night, playing with a bunch of contemporary musicians.  It would have changed the perspective of those Elvis detractors out there, and proved that you and I are right.

I highly recommend you watch the entire Conan O’Brien and Peter Guralnick interview by clicking here.  It is seventy-two minutes of excellent Elvis information by two genuine, knowledgeable Elvis fans.

 Jailhouse Conan

  Next Week – Conan Sings Elvis



©  2013    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net

 Thumbnail Icon

Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.