The most infamous rock and roll meeting of all time occurred when Elvis Presley met The Beatles. On August 27, 1965, John, Paul, George and Ringo along with their manager, publicist and assistants came to Presley’s house on Perugia Way in Los Angeles to meet their rock and roll idol.
The Beatles were the ones who pushed for the meeting. After all, it was Elvis who was one of the main influences for John Lennon to start the band. “Without Elvis, there would be no Beatles,” Lennon famously remarked in later years.
A British journalist who also attended the infamous meeting was Chris Hutchins, a reporter for the New Musical Express (NME) at the time. He had been documenting the anticipation of The Beatles’ possibly meeting Elvis since Paul McCartney called and spoke to Presley on the phone a year earlier.
During their concert tour in the summer of 1964, The Beatles tried to arrange a meeting with Elvis, but they could never coordinate their schedules. Instead, Colonel Parker visited with The Beatles and gave them gifts of Elvis souvenirs.
Finally, in August 1965, the stars seemed to align since The Beatles were in L.A. for their concert at The Hollywood Bowl and Elvis was in L.A. having just returned from Hawaii where he was filming Paradise Hawaiian Style.
Unfortunately, Colonel Parker, with the agreement of Brian Epstein, insisted that no pictures or video be taken of the infamous meeting. Therefore, this historic event is recounted solely through eyewitness accounts from the people who were there.
It was a typical night at Presley’s home with members of Elvis’ entourage on hand as well as a few of their female companions including Presley’s live-in girlfriend and future wife, Priscilla Presley. Also added to the mix was Colonel Parker who was there on this special occasion to make sure things ran smoothly.
The only pic of a Beatle and Elvis in the same photo
(John in white pants and Elvis in the left corner)
Of all The Beatles, John Lennon was probably the most nervous about the meeting since Elvis was literally John’s hero. When John was in high school, he had grown sideburns just to be like Elvis. “If it hadn’t been for him, I would have been nothing,” Lennon told Elvis’ friend, Jerry Schilling.
Elvis was in the den when The Beatles arrived. As The Beatles walked into the den, John Lennon launched into an imitation of Peter Sellers’ character, Inspector Clouseau, by saying “Oh, zere you are, Elvis!” Everyone laughed.
After all the introductions, The Beatles sat down on the couch next to Elvis who was watching a muted TV, while music was playing in the background on a jukebox. Initially, there was an awkward moment of silence as The Beatles appeared star-struck and just stared at Elvis.
Finally, Elvis broke the silence: “If you guys are just gonna sit there and stare at me, I’m goin’ to bed.” The Beatles laughed. “I just thought we’d sit and talk about music and maybe jam a little,” Elvis proposed.
Elvis then called for guitars to be brought into the room for John, Paul and George. Since there was no drum kit, Ringo kept the beat on the side of an armchair.
“There was Elvis playing bass, Paul and John on guitars – and I just sat there with my mouth open all night.”
- Mal Evans, The Beatles' road manager
Elvis started playing a Fender bass which excited Paul McCartney: “It was a great conversation piece for me. I could actually talk about the bass, and we sat around and just enjoyed ourselves,” McCartney said.
Beatles’ publicist, Tony Barrow, recalled: “Elvis strummed a few chords for Paul and said: ‘Not too good, huh? But I’m practicing!’”
Both Paul McCartney and Jerry Schilling remembered that the song “Mohair Sam” by Charlie Rich was playing on Presley’s jukebox. Elvis was playing bass along with the record.
“We just got in there and played with him,” John Lennon recalled. “We all plugged in whatever was around and we played and sang…” Later in the evening, since there were no left-handed guitars on hand, Paul McCartney moved over to play the white piano that was in the corner.
Sonny West, one of the Memphis Mafia, recalls that some of the songs Elvis and The Beatles jammed to that night included Cilla Black’s “You’re My World” and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”
At one point, Presley competitively joked: “This is what you guys gave me for my 30th birthday. It made me sick.” Elvis laughed and then started playing the bass part for The Beatles’ hit single “I Feel Fine.”
The Beatles’ roadie, Mal Evans, who was a huge Presley fan, remembered Elvis asking for a guitar pick. Evans, who happened to be a big Elvis fan, said: “There was Elvis playing bass, Paul and John on guitars – and I just sat there with my mouth open all night.”
The Beatles’ chauffeur, Alf Bicknell, described the impromptu jam session: “There was no singing, it was more a case of showing each other different guitar licks. Little blues riffs, a bit of 12-bar and so on.”
The jam session lasted about an hour and then The Beatles started talking to Elvis about music and touring. John and Elvis talked about how they both loved Peter Sellers’ movies.
“Zis is ze way it should be,” John Lennon said in his Peter Sellers’ voice, eliciting a smile from Elvis. “Ze small homely gathering wiz a few friends and a little muzic!”
One awkward moment came when John asked Elvis: “Why have you dropped the old stuff? The rock? I loved the old Sun records.”
“It’s my movie schedule,” Elvis replied. “It’s so tight. But maybe I’ll do one just for kicks.”
“Then we’ll buy it,” John replied with a smile.
When Elvis shared stories about being physically threatened from frenzied fans at his concerts, John Lennon remarked: “But you’re just one. At least we’ve got each other up there. If somebody pushed me on stage and said, ‘You’re on your own’ like they did with you, I’d just break up.”
After a while, Ringo Starr wandered over to the pool table and started a game with members of Elvis’ entourage. George Harrison decided to take a break and go smoke a joint outside. Later in the evening, Elvis gave his guests a tour of the house.
Lennon recalled: “It was Elvis’ sense of humor that stuck in my mind. He liked to laugh and make others laugh too. Which was why I put on a Peter Sellers voice again as we walked out of the door and said, ‘Tanks for ze music, Elvis and long live ze King!’”
While many stories circulated in later years that the meeting was a flop or that either The Beatles or Elvis were disappointed, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Elvis appeared to have enjoyed himself. He told Sonny West: “[That was] a lot better than I thought it would be. That’s some good times there.”
Later that year, Paul and John called Graceland to speak to Elvis. They wanted to thank him for the visit in Los Angeles.