The Magnitude of Stardom
Opening night, July 31, 1969, at the Las Vegas International Hotel was one night I will never forget. We had been in rehearsals for weeks before, beginning in Los Angeles at a Universal Studios rehearsal room with the TCB band and the Sweet Inspirations. Elvis would show up mid-morning after we had been there getting ready for him. There were food and beverages to wake us up and when he showed up, we began intense rehearsals. We might go over a song five or six times and tweak the arrangement each time. Anywhere in a song, he might say, “hey guys, would you sing something here, or girls, I would like you to do this or that”. After a few passes on the song, we would move on to the next one. Many songs were rehearsed and many didn’t make the cut. I would estimate we rehearsed 40 or 50 songs, but the final version that made it to the stage opening night was maybe 15-20 songs. To say we were ready would be an understatement. We would sing them so much I would go to bed with a song in my head that wouldn’t leave!
So, on opening night we’re in the dressing rooms getting ready. Elvis is pacing back and forth like a caged animal looking for an escape. He’s nervous, anxious, and unsure of himself. That insecurity was just part of who he was. He had come to Las Vegas a few years before and his show wasn’t received well. He had gone downtown where the older casinos were and it just wasn’t a good fit for him. Now, several years later he’s back and taking a big gamble that this outcome will be different. He’s in the biggest showroom on the strip and he doesn’t know what the reception will be. What if they gave him the same reception they did downtown? What if they didn’t like him? He also worried about the choice of songs and if he could remember all the words. He even wrote out lyrics for a song or two on tiny pieces of paper he carried on stage. For such a huge star, he was very fragile and insecure at this moment in time.
It doesn’t really matter how big a star you are; we all struggle with the same insecurities related to our perceived feelings of people’s expectations of us. The biggest name ever in rock and roll music and he still had a hard time understanding the magnitude of his stardom. Isn’t that amazing?