What led up to this August show was a disastrous time for Elvis after Dave Hebler, Sonny and Red West were sacked by Elvis’ father after the June/July tour ended. From 7th July Elvis avoided the confrontation by hiding away in his Palm Springs Home with Dr, Ghanem helping to keep him "out of it". Then Elvis also had the worry about his Racquetball Courts venture he had got into with Joe Esposito, Dr Nichopolous and Mike McMahon... things were not going at all how Elvis expected. By August 10th Elvis’ lawyers were informed that Elvis wanted to be totally removed from the Racquetball project.
The significance for this next August 27th-September 8th tour was that Elvis fell out with Dr Nick enough to have to go on tour under the care of Dr Elias Ghanem and Tish Henley.... then after the poor quality Houston show (where Elvis had loaded up on sleeping pills and anti-depressants) Dr Nick had to be flown in for the tour to even be able to continue - and at the request of Colonel Parker! Dr Nick arrived back on 29th August to supervise the medication routines and by 31st August Elvis seemed much better under his watchful eye. Shows continued 'ok' until the tour ending but no way all great shows.
Journalist Bob Claypool wrote the often-quoted review about this concert for the Houston Post, in it he said…
"Elvis Presley has been breaking hearts for more than 20 years now, and Saturday afternoon in the Summit - in a completely new and unexpected way - he broke mine.
In short, the concert was awful - a depressingly incoherent, amateurish mess served up by a bloated, stumbling and mumbling figure who didn't act like "The King" of anything, least of all rock 'n' roll."
However until now we have had no recording of this concert available, not even an audience tape. Could this performance really be that bad, really be Elvis’ worst concert?
When I first wrote about this show many years ago, I sourced all the newspaper reviews (4) and corresponded with Stein Eric Skar and read 'Strictly Elvis', indeed any source that I could obtain.... needless to say I got the track listing a bit wrong: - i.e. no Hound Dog, Love Letters or Love Me Tender at all, but 90% of what I stated back then proved to be true as can be seen from the now discovered recording.
Elvis had just started this new tour the previous evening with a so-so show in San Antonio. This followed up on the previous July/August tour that was such a drop in ‘standard’ that after the Hartford 28/7/76 show Elvis even called tour manager Tom Hullett to discuss the circumstances after The Colonel had accused Elvis of not giving Fans their money’s worth with lack lustre performances. Tom Hullett recounts that he had to reassure Elvis that indeed his fans still loved him.
Other Elvis concerts from the same period indicate the same troubles and terrible performances. FTD officially released the "New Haven 30/7/76" concert which received numerous negative reviews (EIN couldn’t bear to add our personal review), similarly there is the infamous Hampton Roads show on 1st August (N.B. Another Afternoon Show) where Elvis, although having the excuse of being ill with the ‘flu, did NOT sound good at all.
The 1976 ‘problem’ with Elvis wasn’t like late 1974 where Elvis was outspokenly shouting his mouth off on an emotional roller-coast ride (Desert Storm, Chaos in College Park), it was mostly because he was so asleep from his massive amounts of sleeping medication that performing at any Afternoon Show he really hadn’t woken up, often with terrible results.
Indeed after care from Dr Elias Ghanem for the first 3 days of this tour Dr Nick simply HAD to be flown in to moderate Elvis’ medication because of such obvious poor performances. The concert in Mobile, the next Afternoon show on 29th, was another poor performance. Then from 31st August things improved as Elvis appeared more awake, brighter and performed to a better ‘standard’ until the end of the tour.
Dr. Nick made a strong case in point (in his recent book) when he elaborated on how difficult it was to ‘manage’ Elvis’ medication properly to give decent Afternoon and Evening Shows on 4th September 1976 shows.
As Dr Nick recounts…
... People had witnessed the side effects from Elvis's medications during his performance in Houston. Elvis had taken Sparine (for depression), which contributed to muscle and speech problems. It knocked the bottom out of him, dropped his blood pressure. He couldn't do diddly-squat. Whenever Elvis took Sparine at night, he stayed lethargic all the next day because it a long-acting drug. If he took a second dose, it could carry over for a long period of time. I had noticed when monitoring Elvis' condition that whenever ever he had problems onstage with his balance and speech, his blood pressure was way below normal.
In addition to administering Sparine, the doctor attending Elvis may have also given him Donnatal, a combination drug used for people with irritable bowel syndrome and also for stomach ulcers. It has a barbiturate plus an antispasmodic in it. A doctor has to be careful when using that medicine because of the time it takes it to act. The drug always had a debilitating effect on Elvis' speech and motor functions when he performed, because of the relationship between the time he took the medication and the time he had to be onstage.
Elvis was really struggling, especially after Lakeland, Florida, and Huntsville, Alabama, where he performed a brutal five shows in two days. I knew of no other entertainer in the music business who had as rigorous a tour schedule as Elvis on a continuing basis.
Finally I told Parker in front of Elvis, "This is insane. I can't be a part of seeing what this kind of schedule is doing to him".
As a result, Huntsville was the last time Elvis ever performed two shows in one night on the road.
Having explained Elvis trials and tribulations and understood what he was going through in 1976, now over 30 years later a soundboard recording has been found of this often spoken about performance. And the audio quality of this recording is very good indeed, what a shame it isn’t a better concert discovery.
This Audionics released Soundboard comes in a fold-out disc pack with about 3 photos of Elvis from Houston and 3 from Mobile A/S the next day (front and inside fold out covers) Back and shot of Elvis in a car come from the Houston show, inside Mobile E/S. The liner notes are 'Generous' towards Elvis and his situation.
The CD kicks off with the last 3 minutes of ‘See See Rider’ - immediately the listener can tell that Elvis is 'impaired' and 'thick tongued' but not as bad for instance as May 77.
'I Got A Woman/Amen’ features a great sounding J.D Sumner featured bass (twice) - where Elvis kids that J.D is the "Lowest Human he knows!".
When Elvis tells the crowd that he is "just trying to wake up" his voice is slurred. For 5 minutes a Crazy Woman grabs Elvis' total attention after this mediocre version and there is very little applause after this song. With a Bird of Paradise Flower and the Department of Treasure this track groans on for 12'45"
After a terribly slow 'Love Me' Elvis mentions that he had "the Creeping Crud" (which seemed humorous back in 1975) but then performs a poorly sung version of 'If You Love Me Let Me Know' with words missing and sounding 'strained'.
'You Gave Me a Mountain' is better, almost 'ok' as he tries a little here. A woman runs up to him and Elvis asks how she gets so much energy @ 2.30-3pm in the Afternoon.
Whilst ‘All Shook Up’, ‘Teddy Bear/Don't Be Cruel’ are all performed as the throwaway standard 1976 fare, being fan favourites they actually drive the audience nuts... and the sound of them comes across really well on this great sounding recording.
Before ‘And I Love You So' Elvis complains that "the band is too loud, I cannot hear myself" with 'And I Love You So' ending up another disappointing version.
Although 'Jailhouse Rock' is a poor version the audience again is still going crazy and ‘Fever' that follows is a 'slushy' version.
Then comes a near miracle, as 'America' is not bad - even getting a reprise, a concert 'highlight’. After this Elvis says "You are a great audience" and this gets the most applause so far this afternoon.
Straight into ‘Polk Salad Annie’ is another highlight but NOT because of Elvis but instead because of the band playing well and a Jerry Scheff solo. By 1976 it was all too often that the band had drag Elvis along supplying the performance power, when only a few years earlier it was all they could do to keep up with Elvis’ lead energy.
Then where the ‘Intros’ should start instead Elvis just talks with fans for 5 minutes about his $2,500 suit and a $1.5 dollar hat he is given. It would have been so damn 'boring' for the rest of the audience of 17,500.
Then Elvis, incredibly, says "time out" and close to another five minutes is wasted with another crazy fan who loves Elvis!
Also by the ‘Intros’ themselves whatever little energy Elvis had is completely gone... ‘Early Morning Rain’ is an awful version and short. Elvis does perhaps realise where he is as he mentions Ronnie Tutt having his friends out in the audience but Elvis does the absolute minimum this night. No ‘Love Letters’ and J. Scheff also gets to solo twice!
The only fun bit is introducing Tony Brown as "Monty Rock III" - the beginning of 'Disco' ~ (now he is an Evangelist). ‘What’d I Say’ is rubbish and 'J.B. Goode' is a Charlie Hodge version. All throughout the intros Elvis begins to sound worse, with his voice slurring again.
Whatever is going wrong is demonstrated when the usual concert crowd stunner ‘Hurt’ is not very good at all with Elvis’ timing badly off and his voice waving off-key. It is very sad.
Before 'Funny How Time Slips Away' Elvis asks, "What key are we in?" and although you could blame his stage PA monitors that really isn’t the problem here. Elvis sings this all-too easily performed song very poorly and when he sings "I guess I’m doing fine" it is so distressing as nothing could be further from the truth.
Tony Brown thankfully drags Elvis into the 'Can't Help Falling In Love' ending and the torturous 82 minute show is over.
Just before closing Elvis notes that the audience have been "fantastic" – as indeed they sound. The post-show closing announcements re-affirm it is indeed the Afternoon.
To be honest this must be the poorest 1976 concert I have heard, but NOT a 'disaster' because Elvis sang his songs, if poorly, and gave a long, chatty show. What he looked like performing on stage for his loving audience goodness knows, but he must have looked unsteady for certain.
The next A/S was only slightly better and yet front row fans truly seem to be enjoying themselves- best audience clapping was after 'America’. What one cannot tell from a ‘soundboard’ is the fans reactions further back from the front-certainly as the intros started would have been a great time to leave. Maybe an audience recording may have given a better overall picture of this show, but I KNOW Stein Eric Skar present was absolutely horrified by the state Elvis was in. Management fixed the situation so the ‘gravy train’ could continue but did nothing to help Elvis.
If you want to know how this performance sounds there is an interesting 14 minute excerpt of the concert that you can check out via YouTube - Click HERE.
Overall Verdict: Of course a concert as poor as this is not suitable a release for the general public or even for the FTD label. This is where bootleg releases are understandable. And if you like Elvis at his best then listen to ‘That’s The Way It Is’, ‘At The International’ or, if you want something from 1976 try FTD’s ‘Elvis Showtime’ from December. However if you are interested in examining the ups-and-downs of Elvis’ legacy then performances like ‘New Year’s Eve 1976/77’, ‘Closing Night’ or ‘Spring Tours 1977’ illustrate even more. So there is no doubt that after all the discussion and the reputation of this Houston concert - and after hearing in the last few years several ‘infamous’ show such as Detroit and College Park 1974 - it is interesting to finally hear this much talked about performance.
It’s a shame that the audio quality is so good for such a poor performance, and yes, sadly Bob Claypool was pretty accurate in his review.
Review by Geoffrey McDonnell - with added input from Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN September 2013
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.