Gary James' Interview With
Elvis Presley's step-brother
Can you even begin to imagine what it would've been like to live in Graceland? Can you imagine what it would have been like to go on tour with Elvis Presley? Can you imagine what it would have been like to have Elvis Presley as your brother? Billy Stanley doesn't have to imagine. He lived that life.
Q - Billy, you don't give many interviews, do you?
A - I dropped out of the media in '96 or '97. Everybody was asking the same old questions. I'm going "You know what? Until someone can ask me an original question, I'm pretty much just gonna get away from it." I didn't want to hear about the negative stuff. That's not what he (Elvis) was about.
Q - I guess you know I interviewed your brother some years back.
A - No, I didn't know that. Cool.
Q -I don't remember the order of the brothers. Are you the oldest, the youngest or in-between?
A - I'm the oldest. It's Billy, Rick and David.
Q - So, David was or is author. Rick is a minister. What do you do to occupy your time these days?
A - Well, I work for Bost Harley-Davidson here in Nashville, Tennessee and also completing a documentary that I shot in November. It's called Billy Stanley's A Ride To Remember. It's about my life with Elvis.
Q - What do you do at Harley-Davidson?
A - I'm a salesman. I sell Harleys. My life has kind of come full circle 'cause Elvis always thought I should've been in the motorcycle industry. So, four years ago I took his advice and jumped in it with both feet. So, not only do I sell motorcycles, but I'm also an instructor here in Nashville too. I teach people how to ride, like he taught me.
Q - Do you ever tell people Elvis was your brother?
A - Well, there's been a few motorcycle magazines that have done interviews with me, so they read it. It's not something I come out and tell people. If somebody asks then I'll tell 'em. It's not something like "Oh, my name is Billy Stanley. I'm Elvis' brother. I'd like to sell you a bike." I wouldn't do that.
Q - Somebody might make that connection.
A - There's a lot of 'em that have. There's a motorcycle magazine that comes out monthly called Southern Biker and they've done two interviews with me. So people that read that and ride Harleys, they know who I am now. "You never told me!" "You never asked!" (laughs)
Q - Did you ever go into show business at any time along the way?
A - Not really. I pretty much pursued the background. I was intrigued with how movies were made and videos. I was in video production for years. I did some songwriting. I just kind of dabbled on the outskirts. I had a couple of bands growing up. I really didn't care much about being out there in the limelight.
Q - What years were you in bands?
A - Let's see, late '60s, early '70s.
Q - What was the name of your band?
A - The first one I had was called Homegrown. In '92, it was called BSB, Billy Stanley Band. Elvis was a big influence in my life. He gave me a bass guitar after we saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. That's when I decided I really liked music. He started teaching me how to play bass guitar. I really loved music. I was raised on Rock 'n' Roll. (laughs) It's always been a big influence in my life and still is.
Q - Were you in Los Angeles when Elvis met The Beatles?
A - No. I was in grade school when they met. If I had been there, I definitely would have had a tape recorder going 'cause that was a historical moment. I don't know why anybody didn't record that.
Q - I know why. Two words - Colonel Parker.
A - Well, Colonel didn't control me. (laughs) If I would've been there, I would've had a tape recorder. That's a historical meeting right there.
Q - In 1960, you became Elvis' brother, and you were how old?
A - I was seven years old when my Mom married Vernon Presley. We started calling him Daddy and that's who we knew as our Daddy up until 1977.
Q - Did you know who Elvis was?
A - I had no idea who he was. There was no such thing as MTV. I was a military brat. We didn't listen to a lot of radio or go to movies, so I had no idea who he was. I started catchin' on real quick when I was taken to school in a pink Cadillac and everybody was whispering about Elvis. People in school were telling me he was a big star. I was still kind of "OK...what's that?" When you're that young, it's hard for you to grasp. He picked me up from school one day and there were a lot of kids around the car when I went out and got in the car with Elvis. He was signing autographs. I said "What are you doing?" He said "I'm signing autographs." I said "What's that?" He said "Put your name on a piece of paper and ask some of the girls if they'd like to have my little brother's autograph." And they squealed "Oh, yes, yes." I said "OK. What do I do?" He said "Just pull something out and write your name down." So I pulled out a red crayon and wrote "Billy" on it. (laughs)
Q - You were going to public schools?
A - Yes.
Q - Were you Billy Stanley or Billy Presley?
A - It was Billy Stanley. Elvis wanted our last names changed, mostly because he said we were his brothers. He said that's the way it was gonna be. We were gonna be a family and he wanted us to have his last name. In the divorce between my Mom and Dad, that was one of the things he stuck up and said "No. I still want them to carry their last name Stanley."
Q - What was life like in Graceland? Were the Memphis Mafia guys around a lot? Were you able to play ball or play with toys on the grounds? Did you have a normal life?
A - Sure. The first night at Graceland, after we met Elvis, he tucked us into bed and went out to the store and had it opened up and bought three of every toy in the store. Then he comes in the room the next day and wakes us up and said "OK boys, c'mon. We got something out in the backyard." We were tryin' to put our pajamas on and he said "No, you don't have time for that." He just grabbed us all up and took us out in the backyard and there was three of every kind of toy in the backyard. We thought the guy was Santa Claus when we first met him after that. It was normal for us because when we went inside that gate, we became part of his world and that world was normal to us. I didn't know what normally was until after Elvis passed away.
Q - At what age did you start to go out on the road with Elvis?
A - I was eighteen years old, so that would have been 1971.
Q - What was that like?
A - Well, I got to see a little bit of what it was going to be like in 1969 when Elvis did his...started playing in Vegas again. I thought "Oh, great," 'cause I wanted to go to Woodstock. Everybody was like "no, you're going to Vegas this year." So I went and thought all I'm gonna see is a bunch of old people. I got my eyes opened very wide when I saw people from all ages loved Elvis. I mean, I knew they did, but I thought OK, this is a concert. (laughs) I grew up with him as my brother. I didn't think there was anything special. I loved his music, but I was also a big Led Zeppelin, The Who and Beatles fan. So, I didn't really know what to expect until I saw him and then when he came out and did the first song, then my brothers and I kind of looked at each other and went "now we know why they call him The King." It was probably the best Rock 'n' Roll show I've ever seen.
Q - That was 1969?
A - Yeah, 1969, in Vegas at the Hilton.
Q - There were a lot of stars in attendance at that show.
A - Oh yeah. Growing up with Elvis we got to meet a lot of the stars on the movie sets. They were always very nice and cordial to us. It was a lot of fun, but then when we got on the road, it was work then. You're handed a gun and told if anyone tries to get to Elvis, what do you do? I go "Shoot first and ask questions later?" (laughs) His security was always very tight. It was kind of intimidating at first, putting that kind of responsibility on an eighteen year old kid.
Q - Is that what your job was with Elvis, security?
A - Not really security. It was more of a personal aide, but whenever we went out anywhere in public or going from place to place, in hotel rooms, we all were part of security then.
Q - How long were you on the road with Elvis?
A - I was on and off again for maybe five and a half years. When I was growing up, I saw how a lot of the guys were around Elvis and I didn't want to be like that. I wanted him to know that I was going to try and make it on my own. I was either going to be a mechanic or something in the motorcycle industry, but that got away from me, so I started working on planes.
Q - Did you have to go to school for that?
A - No. I was good enough at the time to where I was a fast learner. They brought me in one day and gave me a test. They liked the work I did, so they gave me the job.
Q - Who did you work for?
A - It was called Bailey Aircraft at the time. What we did is, we did conversions on King Airs. What that means is, Pratt and Whitney makes turbo prop engines. What they would do is take the smaller engines, the PT-6s. So, that's what we did. I mean, I got good enough to where there would be a team on the other side and I'd do it myself. (laughs)
Q - I hope they paid you at least double.
A - No, they didn't. It was a learning experience. I was doing what I liked to do. I was working with my hands. So, it was a lot of fun for me.
Q - Where were you on August 16th, 1977? I believe your brother David was at Graceland on that day.
A - I wasn't working for Elvis at the time. I was working as a mechanic on planes in Memphis. I'd taken off work early that day. Normally whenever they were leaving on a tour, I would help them get ready and get them to the plane, just kind of help them get everything set up and ready to go. So I left early. I was actually in a store and it came on the radio that Elvis had passed away. I couldn't believe what I heard on the radio. I walked outside and I had some friends with me and they said "call, call to find out if it's true." I didn't want to do it, but I did. I called and it was one of the secretaries that answered the phone. I couldn't tell who, but she was crying. All I said was "This is Billy. Is it true what I heard on the radio?" She said "Yes it is. You need to get up here as fast as you can." So I went to Graceland and by the time I got there, there was already a big crowd. In fact, the police even had to escort me up through the gates. They had to part the crowds so I could get my car up through there. I drove up there and saw my brothers Rick and David. We talked in the backyard. We saw Lisa Marie driving around in the golf cart. She pulled up and said "Is it true? Is my Daddy sick?" I think she said "Uncle David" or "Uncle Rick," and we couldn't say anything. "You need to wait until you talk to your Mom."
Q - How long were you at Graceland?
A - I stayed there probably until 10 o'clock at night and then left and went back to my house and I got up and came back the next day. When they brought the body back, I was going to be helping with security, to kind of help manage the crowd.
Q - What did you think the first time you heard those rumors that Elvis may be alive?
A - I thought it was some sick, twisted individual that was just trying to make a name for themselves. For anybody to think Elvis would do something like that... He loved his fans. He loved his family. He would never try to do anything like that, fake his own death. To me, it was the stupidest thing I ever heard. I think maybe they watched Eddie And The Cruisers one time too many. It was just the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of in my life.
Q - I'm reading Dr. Nick's new book, The King And Dr. Nick, and I think many people would be surprised to learn about the health problems Elvis had.
A - Yeah. He had a lot people didn't know about. In fact, there was a lot of us that didn't really know because Elvis was not one to discuss his heath issues with anybody.