Gary James' Interview With The Author Of
My Years With Elvis And The Colonel
Charles Stone had an up close and personal look at many of Rock's biggest acts, including Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and the list goes on. You see, Mr. Stone worked for Concerts West, one of the premier concert promotion companies. But it is Elvis and the Colonel that Charles Stone has chosen to write about in his book: My Years With Elvis And The Colonel. We talked with Charles Stone about those years and more!
Q - Charles, you are doing some kind of a documentary film on Colonel Parker?
A - Well, I tried to do one until I got up against the music rights. They wanted 300 grand for two songs. That shot that one down. So I'm still trying to find the right way to get it done.
Q - Would it have to be something approved by The Presley Estate?
A - No. It's just that if you want to use any of Elvis' music in the documentary, they wanted $300,000 for two songs. We're talking about a budget of only $500,000 for the whole thing.
Q - Is it necessary to have any of Elvis' songs in the documentary?
A - Yeah, you have to. Elvis and the Colonel go together. There's no way you can do Colonel Parker without having Elvis' music in it.
Q - Didn't Lloyd Bridges's son play Colonel Parker in a TV movie?
A - That is correct.
Q - I forget, did they use Elvis' music in that?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - They must've had a big budget is what you're telling me.
A - When you do a movie like that, you do have a big budget, but not for a documentary. Documentaries don't make money. You are doing it from the heart.
Q - When you were with Concerts West you were handling ticket sales for whomever you were out on the road with?
A - I handled all of it, the production, the booking of the venue, everything.
Q - At the time you were doing that, Elvis was with the William Morris Agency. So why would he pay 10% to them if you were booking the venues for him?
A - He wasn't paying 10%. He was paying 5%. But that was out of loyalty from the old days because the Morris office booked him in the early days.
Q - I've been told it was actually the Colonel doing Elvis' bookings, not the Morris office.
A - See, it's illegal, number one, for a manager to take a booking fee and a management fee as you well know. I have to tell you, Elvis and the Colonel were two of the most loyal people I've ever met in my entire life. So in order to make it completely over and above board legally, the Morris office issued the contracts even for us. I mean the Colonel and (Jerry) Weintraub (owner of Concerts West) made the deals much like ourselves and he'd call the office and say, "Here's the deal. Write a contract."
Q - Was there a big difference in working with / for Elvis versus Frank Sinatra or Led Zeppelin?
A - Absolutely. A night and day difference. As you know, Zeppelin and had all their groupies and the backstage was always a mess. It was a normal Rock show. At the end of the day, that's what it was back in those days. With Elvis, not even the venue manager was allowed backstage when Elvis was due in. You could shoot a shotgun off back there and not hit anybody.
Q - And Sinatra?
A - Sinatra was pretty much the same way. Backstage was a piece of cake. Nobody was back there.
Q - I haven't seen your book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble.
A - Mine will never be on a shelf. My publisher is German and the deal I made with him is I sell all the books in America myself and he has the rest of the world. So, I'm not going to wholesale them because I don't need to. And, I didn't write the book to make money to be honest with you. My wife told me I have to write the book because I'm the only one who did what I did and the only one left that can tell it. (Laughs). So, she made me sits down and do it, because I am not disciplined enough to sit down and just start writing. It took me two years. When I got down close to the end, just like a little child doing his homework, she made me sit at the table. I couldn't even get a drink of water until we finished.
Q - When you are writing something like this, unless you kept some sort of diary, how do you remember everything?
A - I have all the tour books from all the dates. Obviously, when you read my book, it is not in chronological order. That much I could not do. Sure, the dates of the shows was a piece of cake. I got all that written, but some of those things that happened, I don't know what year they happened. So I just put them in there. I didn't even put a year.
Q - You've stated that when Brian Epstein died, Colonel Parker handled part of the tour for them?
A - Not when he died, when he had to go back to England to do something. He asked the Colonel to go out with them for a couple of days and he did. I couldn't tell you when it was. I do need to tell you that I have personally seen the telegrams from The Beatles to the Colonel, verbatim, "Dear Colonel, due to the recent death of Mr. Epstein, would you consider managing us? John, Paul, George and Ringo." Right under it, "Boys, thank you for your kind offer, but I can only manage one artist at a time." This was in their heyday, man. This was not after they broke up.
Q - Wasn't Colonel Parker working on his autobiography?
A - He just never finished it.
Q - Who has those writings today?
A - His wife. She wrote a book. A friend of mine got her a deal with one of the major publishers with a $50,000 advance and she had to give it back because the book wouldn't pass muster. It was too sweet. She only knew that one side of the Colonel. So what could she really write that would really be interesting other than he was a sweet man? "He loved me. He took care of me." That's not going to sell. I have a group now that's maybe possibly making a movie on my book. They've come to me twice with some of the screenplay and script. I'm not happy, but they say you have to put sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll in it in order to sell the movie. I said, "We were a squeaky clean organization." (Laughs). Other than what drugs Elvis did, the band had alcohol and girls. That's it! We were squeaky clean.
Q - When I interviewed Larry Geller he told me towards the end, Elvis was going to disassociate himself with Colonel Parker and let go all have his body guards and pursue a career as a serious actor. What you know about that?
A - It would never have happened.
Q - Never?
A - Never, because the Colonel and I went to have dinner one night with Hal Wallis. You know who hell Wallis is?
Q - Sure. He made all the Elvis films.
A - He made all the films, right. We went to his house one night to have dinner. I was in my 20s, so I was a kid, but I'm not afraid to speak my mind. I said, "Mr. Wallis, can I ask you a question?" He said, "Why, sure." I said, "All these rumors about Elvis being held back and couldn't make a serious movie, what's your take on that?" He said, "Charles, it's very simple. If Elvis had held out to make a serious movie, it would never be made." I said, "Why not?" He said, "Well, think about this, you've got the greatest singer in the world, the biggest music star in the world, are you gonna put him in a movie and not let him sing? It would never happen. The studio would never finance it." It makes sense, doesn't it?
Q - I suppose the public, the movie going public, would have expected Elvis to sing something.
A - Exactly.
Q - Didn't Elvis want to make A Star Is Born with Barbra Streisand?
A - Funny you should ask that question. By hanging out with the Colonel, I got all these answers that all of Elvis' guys never knew existed. I told Elvis, "Here's the deal. They want you to be in the movie, but keep in mind there's three things: Jon Peters is the producer, Jon Peters is also Barbra Streisand's husband. You will never get top billing over Barbra." Elvis said, "I don't want to do that." It was as simple as that. And he made the right choice. He should never be billed under Barbra Streisand. But he would've been had he made that movie, 'cause Jon Peters controlled it all. I think it was a smart decision. (Elvis' decision not to be in the movie), to be honest with you.
Q - Had Elvis gained weight in the Summer of '77?
A - I don't know, about fifty pounds, but you can see his face got round and he wore a girdle. I'm sure Geller told you that.
Q - He didn't tell me that. In some circles, it's been reported that in the Summer of '77, none of Elvis' costumes were let out and no new costumes were ordered. So, what was he going to wear on stage?
A - That's why he wore a girdle. You'll notice in the end he had two or three of those two piece suits, where there's a sport jacket and slacks. Do remember those?
Q - I can't say that I do.
A - He wore those a few times. My personal opinion, and there's nothing to document it, I think he was moving out of the jumpsuits. For what reason, I don't have a clue. It might have been the weight. But these suits that he wore in the last couple of years, man, they were so cool looking on him. They're really sharp looking.
Q - You say when Elvis died, Colonel Parker was devastated.
A - Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Q - Is it true that when Elvis' funeral was going on, Colonel Parker was across the street, sitting on a motorcycle, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, watching the whole thing?
A - No. Absolutely not. He was in Graceland with Vernon the whole time. He did have a Hawaiian shirt 'cause he didn't own a suit. Like he said before we all went our separate ways, "Elvis would want us to carry on just like we are today." And he was right. Elvis wouldn't expect to see the Colonel in a suit. When Barron Hilton called us to a party one time, and this is after Elvis had passed, for Colonel's birthday, he was going to make it white tie. Colonel said, "I've got a sport jacket." He said, "No. We're gonna dress like we always do if they want us." So, we all went up there with slacks and a sport shirt and all of the Hilton people had on tuxes. But that was the Colonel.
Q - I guess when you're Colonel Parker you can pretty much do anything you want to do.
A - At the same time he's never had a suit in his life, so he wouldn't be the Colonel if he went up there trying to be what everybody else was. He didn't do it because he thought he was too good. He didn't own a suit! (laughs)
Q - At least today I found out he wasn't sitting on a motorcycle because that would've been so disrespectful.
A - The Colonel loved Elvis. Just remember, they had a 22 or 23 year relationship. He loved Elvis Presley. He told me after Elvis died, "You know Charlie, in order for them to make Elvis a God, they have to make me the Devil and I'm prepared to wear that hat."
Q - And he did! You never heard much from the Colonel.
A - Elvis wouldn't make a decision for fear of making the wrong decision. So, if everybody had to wait on Elvis to make a decision, nothing would be done.
Q - So Colonel Parker made the decisions then.
A - Most of 'em, but not without Elvis' permission. You're not gonna make Elvis do anything.
Q - And so, when people wonder why Elvis didn't fire the Colonel and get another manager, he was not about to bring somebody onboard who didn't understand him.
A - How many other managers kept their star there (on top) for 22 years? I can't name one. All these other stars go through managers like the go through underwear. My God, Colonel Parker was one of the sharpest, most knowledgeable guys I've ever been around in my life. I think it was Nipsy Russell who said at one time, "Every entertainer should pray when they wake up in the morning they have a Colonel Parker under their bed."
Q - What you seem to be saying is, there's the Colonel Parker we've come to know through all the books that have been written about him and then there's the Colonel Parker you knew.
A - Correct. All of the books, if you'll notice, I don't think there's one book written by anybody that was physically with him. It's all second hand, third hand information.
Q - Whenever talk show host Larry King would talk about Elvis, he always thought he should've gone out in public more often, say to a restaurant. Elvis couldn't sit down at a restaurant and eat a meal, could he?
A - He couldn't do what you and I could do. These girls said, "If I could only talk to Elvis for 5 minutes, he would've liked me." So, I looked at 'em and I said, "What would you talk to him about?" "I don't know." Well, it'd be a short conversation. Number one, Elvis didn't live in our world, guys. Go and tell him gas is $5 a gallon. He'd say, "So?" You'd tell him there's a blue raspberry Slurpee at 7-11. He'd say, "What's that?" He didn't live in our world. He was nocturnal. He slept all day and was up all night. But he was a nice person. He was a very nice person. If he was introduced to you, he would say, "Yes Sir. No Sir. Yes Ma'am. No Ma'am." That was his Southern upbringing.
Q - To have been as successful as Elvis was and to have been that polite was a wonderful trait to have.
A - It is, because I've been around this business all my life and there's some asses out there.
Q - I think I've run across some of them.
A - (Laughs) I read something on Facebook just the other day. Someone wrote Elvis could have had the best band in the world except the Colonel was the one that hired the musicians 'cause he didn't want to pay 'em anything. I got news for them. Elvis hired the musicians, not the Colonel. Ronnie Tutt made $10,000 a week in the '70s. That's not paying much? Ten grand a week.
Q - How many shows a week?
A - Five, six, seven. Sometimes seven or eight. My God! Burton made $7,500 a week and the rest of 'em made $3,500 a week. Even at $3,500 a week, you live in the best hotels, you have great per diems, you travel first class in a private plane. Life was good and it propelled them into their own little fame area. So, don't tell me he didn't have a great band and he's the one that hired 'em! Colonel never got involved in the music. There's only one song the Colonel asked Elvis to play, to record, and Elvis did it after two years of the Colonel bugging him. Elvis did it to shut him up. It went to number one and it was "Are You Lonesome Tonight". Other than that, Colonel didn't get involved in the music.
Q - Okay, what about these stories, if you wanted Elvis to record a song you wrote, you had to give up 50% of the publishing?
A - That's true. I did do a radio documentary with the BBC and we interviewed some of the songwriters in Memphis and Nashville. Every one of 'em said, "Back then, half of an Elvis song was better than 100% of anybody else's song. We were happy, and yes, it was a good deal." None of them regretted it. Now, Dolly Parton did hold out. She told him no for her song.
Q - What song was that?
A - The Whitney Houston song, "I Will Always Love You". Elvis wanted to record it and she wouldn't give up her half of the publishing. Good thing she didn't because it went on to become giant. (laughs)
Q - I have to say Colonel Parker was one fascinating guy.
A - I got to be with Sam Phillips and the Colonel one time before Sam died. I said, "Do you ever regret selling Elvis' contract to Colonel and RCA?" He said, "Charlie, no. If I hadn't, Sun Records wouldn't have happened. It would've gone under within 30 days. So I'm happy. I'm glad I did it. It saved my company." If RCA didn't take Elvis... they turned him down the first time. I don't know if you knew that.
Q - I did not know that.
A - Sun Records didn't have any money to promote the records. If RCA hadn't happened, Elvis would not have happened. But Colonel had Hank Snow on RCA. So he used Hank Snow as leverage and friendship from the old days. He guaranteed some of the money if it didn't work. Personally. He did it to get Elvis on RCA. So, Elvis was just one shot away of not happening.
Q - Elvis never did perform overseas.
A - We all knew Elvis would never travel overseas. He couldn't do it.
Q - Neither could the Colonel without a passport.
A - The Colonel could have had a passport if he wanted it. The point being everybody said he wasn't going. Wrong. We were going. I had a reservation to fly to England the day after the tour that didn't happen and the first time Wembley Arena had some nights available to book him. We finally convinced Elvis to go and leave his guns and everything else at home. It was Elvis that didn't want to go, not Colonel.