Ken Sharp talks about his new book - 'Elvis: Vegas '69'

EIN Interview


'Elvis: Vegas '69 will be the essential Elvis book purchase of 2009.

The new 200-page book commemorates the 40th anniversary of Elvis’s historic return to live performance.

Written by Ken Sharp author of the critically acclaimed ' Writing For The King' the book tells the remarkable story of Elvis's return to the concert stage told through first-hand accounts by those lucky enough to be on hand to witness Elvis' miraculous artistic and creative rebirth.

EIN recently interviewed Ken Sharp to find out more about the book, what to expect - and whether he has met Lisa Marie!


(Right:Close up of front cover, check out the detail)

July 31, 1969 marks a historic milestone in Elvis's career. Bolstered by the runaway success of the '68 Comeback show and energized by productive recording sessions at American Sound Studios, which would spawn such timeless hits as "Suspicious Minds", "In The Ghetto" and "Don't Cry Daddy," Elvis launched his return to live performance at Las Vegas's International Hotel in the summer of 1969.  

Here is a chance for all fans to join us for a front row seat with...ELVIS: VEGAS '69. 

- Culling 100 new interviews, the 60,000 word text offers a gripping account of this seminal event told by the people who were there including Priscilla Presley, Elvis's TCB bandmates, the Sweet Inspirations, the Imperials, the Memphis Mafia, celebrities in attendance, International hotel personnel including owner Kirk Kerkorian, hotel President Alex Shoofey, publicity and showroom staff, security, international media and much more.

EIN: Thanks for giving us the chance to talk with you about your new book. It must be a really exciting time for you with the official EPE launch in a few days time. Firstly can I ask you what did ELVIS in 1969 mean to you?

Ken Sharp:It's the year Elvis found his way home again. The '68 special fuelled his creative juices and ignited his interest in returning to live performances and the American Sound sessions in Jan/Feb of '69 were crucial, the incredible result further intensified his creativity and need to do things on his terms. 1969 remains a tremendously exciting era in Elvis's career and Vegas '69 chronicles the backstory behind Elvis's amazing return to live performances. The confluence of the success of the '68 Special, American Sound sessions and '69 Vegas shows make it one of the most important years in Elvis's career.
EIN: How long have you been working on the project?
K.S: I've been working on the project for upwards of two years. Never having the opportunity to see Elvis, it was tremendously exciting to speak to many the folks who were there, behind the scenes or in the audience. Doing the book was my way of vicariously experiencing what it would have been like to see Elvis at his performing peak. I hope readers will also experience that same feeling.

EIN: That sounds fantastic since the publicity about the book suggests that readers will be able to re-live the experience of being there as a witness to these amazing concerts. When you listen to Elvis' 1969 concerts there is a real excitement in Elvis that seems to have been smoothed out by the following season. Did you get the same feeling from people who were there?
K.S: I didn't get into much of that as I basically concentrated on the '69 engagement, which captured an Elvis who was motivated, inspired, excited and at the top of his game. But some folks did say there was the feeling that after '69 he'd done it. His return was a major triumph and by the same engagement in 1970, he started to do more covers of contemporary hits at the expense of doing his own material.   

(Right: The power of Elvis Live in 1969.)

Note: Image taken from FTD 'In Person' due to book licensing agreements. Inside photos from Elvis Vegas '69 will be posted once the book is officially released.

EIN: How does the book balance the text and interviews against the photos & images?
K.S: In terms of visuals and text I think the book achieves a very nice balance, images/memorabilia augmenting the text. Unlike many recent Elvis books, this isn't just a photo book but a document that attempts to chronicle a pivotal moment in Elvis's career, a moment of rediscovery, a moment where he came home and found himself again. He was back doing what he was meant to be doing all along. That said, there's over 175 images in a 208-page book so tried to include as many images as possible. Most of the images in the book are circa '69. However, the book begins with some coverage of the '68 Special, which is crucial as it provided the spark that led him back to live performance hence some images/memorabilia from that time period are represented. Also, near the end of the book, in a chapter or two that covers some post-'69 Vegas memories I've included a few images circa 1970-1972.

EIN: It is always a surprise that despite the uniqueness of Elvis appearing live for the first time in 8 years, Colonel Parker didn't film any shows and there is little fan footage or even photographs. Why do you think Colonel Parker missed this marketing opportunity and did you discover some good new photos?
K.S: Yes, I agree with you, that's quite a head scratcher. Photos of Elvis from his '69 engagement are much more difficult to find than images from engagements in the years to follow. From what I understand, after speaking to my good friends, Joan and Paul Gansky, security was very tight and they were in fear of having their camera confiscated so perhaps that's why there's not an abundance of images available plus it seems that beyond the opening engagement The Colonel did not provide much access to professional photographers to shoot the show.

What's really tragic is that no professional broadcast quality film footage has showed up as yet of his performance. You hear a lot of rumors that it exists but nothing has turned up as yet. Also, another mystery is how no tape exists of the press conference that was held after the opening show. I've asked many folks who were there covering that press conference if they kept a tape and and no one seems to have anything.. 

EIN: There have been a couple of books focusing on Elvis in 1969 that came out a fair while ago. How do you think yours compares?
K.S: Joe Tunzi's' 1969 book was really good but that was mainly a photo book with minimal text. It also came out almost 20 years ago so alot has improved in that time in terms of paper quality etc. My book is a hardback, double the page count, 208 pages and uses glossy paper which allows for a nicer presentation aesthetically. It  also includes a mixture of color and B&W images--some never before seen--as well plus most importantly, it features over 60,00 words of text, comprised mainly of new interviews I've conducted for the book. The text tells the entire backstory leading up to the opening night show. In a sense, the text reads as an oral history told by the folks who were there.
EIN: How many people did you interview for the book?
K.S: I interviewed over 100 people for the book, ranging from members of the TCB Band to Priscilla Presley to The Sweet Inspirations, The Imperials, members of the Memphis Mafia, journalists who covered the show, International Hotel personnel, celebrities, etc.  I was even able to do a short interview with Kirk Kerkorian, owner of the International Hotel, who's notoriously press shy.

EIN: Which interviews do you think will surprise fans?

K.S: That's a difficult one. I think the entire cast of folks I've interviewed have something to say that's a part of the puzzle of this captivating story. That said, I think readers will be intrigued to read quotes from people like Emilio, the showroom maitre D, Cissy Houston (The Sweet Inspirations), Bruce Banke and Nick Naff (International Hotel Publicity), Bobby Morris (Elvis's music director), celebs like Dave Clark of the DC5, Petula Clark, Nancy Sinatra, Mac Davis, Glen Campbell, George Hamilton, Tom Jones, Bobby Vinton, Pat Boone and others.

(Right: Ken Sharp with composer Mac Davis who he interviewed for both Writing For The King and Vegas' 69)

EIN: How about someone like Rona Barrett who followed Elvis career for years?
K.S:  Yes, I reached out to Rona who proved to be quite an engaging interviewee. She was able to convey how this event was viewed by the press and how Elvis's triumphant return altered how the press viewed him. She related how the first show was so exciting that she was tempted to become another one of the screaming fans.

EIN: Fans have asked me whether you met Lisa Marie - did you talk with her?
K.S: Yes, I've interviewed Lisa Marie several times and have met her on a few occasions. She's always been very sweet to me. Last time I met her was when I covered the Elvis '68 event at the Paley Center in Los Angeles. I was covering the event for a press outlet and knew she would be in attendance so I brought a copy of my "Writing For The King" book as I thought she'd enjoy it. After our interview, I pulled the book out, told her a little bit about it and gave it to her. Her eyes lit up and she seemed genuinely appreciative, especially knowing that it was a book whose sole focus was celebrating Elvis's musical legacy. That made me feel great.

EIN: It turned out to be a fabulous coincidence that EPE is also presenting a 1969 celebration this year in Elvis Week. Did you always plan to have the book out for the 40th Anniversary?
K.S: I always hoped to have the book out to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Elvis's return to live performance but as fate had it, EPE chose 1969 as the theme for this year's Elvis Week so it's worked out perfectly. I'm especially exited that the book will not only be made available at the Graceland shops but will also at the Elvis 1969 celebration concert.

EIN: How did EPE become involved in the project?
K.S: I initially reached out to EPE last year to let them know about the project. They were excited about my idea and were kind enough to grant me access to their archives. I was able to scour through many '69 era images and I'm using a nice array of images in the book culled from their archives in the book, some that have never been seen before. For example, the book's front and back cover photos are color images that have never been seen before and were culled from Graceland's archives.
EIN: Writing For the King was published by FTD - and along with 'Rock in Across Texas' is an FTD book that you can get really involved in. Did you offer FTD a chance to publish this 1969 book as it sounds perfect for them?
K.S:  Yes, I agree. I would have loved if FTD had put out my book but it was not to be. Ernst has been a great supporter of my project but the timing was not right. In between his insanely busy day job, he's putting his main focus on finishing the Sun book, which precluded him from taking on another project. It's a win-win all around as I know the Sun book will be a mind-blower.

EIN: The Steve Binder's JAT book about Elvis' 68 Special was one of the best last year. Your ‘Elvis Vegas 69’ theme follows-on nicely, what did you think of the 68 book - and how does your's compare?
K.S: Loved that book. It's one of the best Elvis books in many years. I'm a good friend of Steve Binder's so was very excited that he finally put pen to paper to recount that historic event. Not much of a comparison as both books are their own entities. Steve's book was mainly a photo book with some text while Vegas '69, at 208 pages, offers a nice combination of the two, with more text and photos. I would be honored if my book was held in the same regard as Steve's.
EIN: Did you do the design yourself?
K.S: No, I used a fabulous designer from New York City named Carrie Hamilton. She did a wonderful job, working hard to create the right look for the project. I'm indebted to her for her spectacular work. Many of the images that came from the Graceland archives, especially images that had not been seen before, were not in great shape so she painstakingly brought them back to life through retouching etc. Besides the images culled from Graceland's archives, the majority of the images in the book were licensed from photo agencies, etc. so even if it's a photo that has been seen before on the Internet, etc, I attempted to find the best quality version possible.

EIN: It is lovely to see that EIN's good friends Joan and Paul Gansky contributed to the book.

K.S: Joan and Paul Gansky were huge champions of the project and allowed many of their images taken in '69 and memorabilia from the time to be used in the book. I particularly love a night-time image Paul took of the International Hotel marquee back in '69. I liked it so much that it appears as a beautiful two-page spread in the book. I also really like an image Paul took of Joan in front of the International Hotel construction site back in March 1969. Neat stuff.

Taking on this entire project by myself was very challenging and daunting, especially on a monetary front in light of today's precarious financial climate. But I felt compelled to take a risk. But now that's done, I'm happy I took the chance and did this book on my own terms. I hope the readers will recognize the passion, hard work, and love I put into this book as it epitomizes the term "labor of love".

EIN: Fans here wanted me to confirm that it is a hard-cover book too?
K.S: Yes, it's a hardcover book.


EIN: Your last Elvis book project was the fascinating 'Writing For The King' about Elvis' songwriters, was it talking with all those interviewees that inspired you to write this book?
K.S: No, not at all. I got into Elvis as kid in the late '60s. My first two albums were Elvis's Golden Records Volume One and Elvis Live In Person at The International Hotel so that record in particular has taken a prominent place in my  psyche for 40 years. Doing this book and immersing myself in that period was my way of vicariously getting there, at least in my mind. Through the years I've come to understand the importance of that period in Elvis's career and feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to chronicle it in a book. It's quite surprising no one has ever done it before on this level so thankful I was the one to do it.

EIN: What else can you tell us about the book & the people who helped you with it?

K.S: Keith Flynn was kind enough to assemble a Elvis '69 concert index, which provides as much info about the shows/set lists. Of course, there are a slate of shows where no set list info has turned up but he's done a great job putting together the most comprehensive list to date. I think the fans will really enjoy that and I tip my hat in gratitude to Keith for his kind help.

Also, despite my steering the ship on this project I need to send a shoutout to the many folks who helped me, whether providing contacts, generously offering material or encouragement. I'm especially indebted to people like Bill Bram, Ernst Jorgensen, Joan and Paul Gansky, Andrew Hearn, Bob Klein, Russ Howe, Maria Columbus, Peter Verbruggen, Megan Murphy, Paul Dowling, Bud Glass, Joseph Kereta, Loanne Parker, Phil Gelormine and many more. I owe them all much gratitude for their help, support and friendship.


EIN: The 1969 Memphis recording sessions were also a key part of Elvis' renaissance. Do you feature anything about those in your book - or is it only Elvis in Vegas?
K.S: No, I didn't cover the Memphis recording sessions, - that's another book in itself. I kept the focus more narrow and concentrate on Elvis's return to live shows in '69. Having said that, as mentioned earlier, the book does provide coverage of the '68 Special as it's pivotal to this story.

The book also closes with a chapter called "Elvis For Everyone", which features quotes from interviews I conducted with a disparate variety of musicians (and Elvis fans). These range from Paul Simon to John Fogerty, The Everly Brothers to Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac to The Eagles, KISS to The Who, The Carpenters to Chris Isaak. I thought it was important to demonstrate how Elvis's overriding influence among these artists spans genres and portray how his influence continues to permeate the music scene.  With many of these folks getting into Elvis at the start of his career in the '50s, it also provided an opportunity to use some stunning fifties images as well.
EIN: Are you excited about going to Memphis for the big launch - have you been to Elvis Week before?
K.S: Absolutely, I've only been to Memphis twice before so looking forward to being down there for this great event. And no, I've never been to Elvis Week

EIN: Have you any ideas for a future Elvis book project?
K.S: Yes, I do have an idea that I'm mulling over right now but for now I'm concentrating on this project. Will keep you posted!

EIN: As I am sure you know there are always a pile of Elvis books being released but we have had more fan interest in your book than any Elvis book of late.  Will people be able to buy the book from you directly- will you have links on your web-site? 
K.S: Yes, people can order the book directly from me if they wish. Info about the book and ordering details can be accessed on this site .

** CLICK HERE for purchase details

EIN: Thanks so much for taking time out to talk with us - and I can’t wait to see the book.

K.S: My pleasure, thanks for your support. 


Interview by Piers Beagley
-Copyright EIN, July 2009

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DO NOT MISS OUT on our eye-witness review of ELVIS LIVE August 23rd 1969 by Joan Gansky - Click here.

Ian Fraser-Thomson 1969 fan Interview: Ian Fraser-Thomson was the only fan to witness Elvis' astounding July 1969 rehearsal, Las Vegas Opening Night and the Press Conference afterwards. As we all know July 31, 1969 marked a historic milestone in Elvis' career. Bolstered by the runaway success of the '68 Comeback show and energised by productive recording sessions at American Sound Studios, Elvis launched his return to live performance at Las Vegas's International Hotel in the summer of 1969.  

In this insightful interview Ian Fraser-Thomson gives an incredible insiders viewpoint on what it was like to actually be there while Elvis went through the most important on-stage resurrection of his career.

Do not miss this great interview and rare Elvis 1969 photos.

(Interview, Source;EIN)

Click here for the ELVIS: VEGAS '69 website. 

Other relevant EIN articles

EIN review of  the FTD book 'Writing For The King' by Ken Sharp

Ken Sharp's fascinating interview with Ernst Jorgensen.

In-depth article on 'In The Ghetto' the 40th Anniversary.

'IN PERSON’ at The International Hotel' FTD CD review:

The '68 Special - 40th Anniversary Celebration - By Paul & Joan Gansky

'From Elvis To Garth' Bobby Wood & The Memphis Boys 1969

The Night Elvis Reclaimed His Crown 1968

EIN review of the JAT Steve Binder book '68 at 40'

Spotlight: The Dark Side of Colonel Parker

'Elvis: Vegas '69' book gets Graceland launch:

Ken Sharp's 'Elvis: Vegas '69' book will be officially premiered at Elvis Week 2009 in Memphis.

Fans will be delighted to know that the book will be packed with over 150 stunning full colour and B&W images, many culled from the Graceland archives.

It will also include vintage Vegas/Elvis concert memorabilia, a '69 show index and much more, the book will transport the reader back to "the Strip" for one of the most electrifying moments in Elvis' monumental career.

'Elvis: Vegas '69' is an all new 200-page hardback book that commemorates the 40th anniversary of Elvis’s historic return to live performance. Written by Ken Sharp, author of the critically acclaimed FTD book, Writing For The King, the book tells the remarkable story of Elvis's return to the concert stage told through first-hand accounts by those lucky enough to be on hand to witness his miraculous artistic and creative rebirth. Sharp has also authored or co-authored many other music books including Overnight Sensation: The Story Of The Raspberries, Power Pop!, Meet The Beatles...Again!, Reputation Is A Fragile Thing: The Story Of Cheap Trick, and Small Faces: Quite Naturally.

With Sharp's latest book, you'll learn the backstory behind what led to Elvis's triumphant return to live performance. You'll go behind closed doors with Elvis and the band in pre-show rehearsals and revel in the excitement and anticipation of opening night. The actual opening show is then chronicled through the eyes of the people that were there along with the press conference, after show celebration and more.

Elvis Week 2009 in Memphis will be the site of the worldwide book premiere and launch.

Meet author Ken Sharp during Elvis Week 2009. Ken will be at the following events:

Conversations on Elvis - Session 2

Saturday, August 15
1:00 p.m.
Cannon Center for the Performing Arts
255 North Main Street, downtown Memphis.  

Elvis: Vegas '69 Book Signing
Saturday, August 15
5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Everything Elvis Store at Graceland Crossing

EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Elvis Presley, Elvis and Graceland are trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
The Elvis Information Network has been running since 1986 and is an EPE officially recognised Elvis fan club.



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