Home > Newspaper Articles > 1970 > September 13, 1970 (3:00 pm). Tampa, FL.

CONCERT DATE: September 13, 1970 (3:00 pm). Tampa, FL.

Elvis: Audience Shares His Past
By Jack McClintock
St. Petersburg Times
September 14, 1970 Tampa, FL

Elvis Presley is Frank Sinatra now.

Born in Tupelo Miss, January 23, 19351, he died as a real rock n' roll star sometime in the Sixties, and today he puts on a Las Vegas kind of revue for crowds of middle Americans: They look as though they had dressed for a church social or a state fair, the old ladies with stiffened hair, the thirty-ish couples who learned fashion in the 1950's and never abandoned what they learned, a handful of teenyboppers trying to replicate what they saw the thirtyish ones doing in the 32 movies Elvis made - screaming soulfully as they could, but not quite bringing it off.

Because Elvis, God help him, is 35 now.

And he has frozen rock 'n roll into a kind of parody of what the old, real thing was like, complete with pastel lights, backup singers, a big band, gaudy costumes and heavier security at Curtis Hixon hall in Tampa than was provided the GOP nominee, Richard Nixon.

When he came out, though, you could almost believe nothing had changed. He strode out there with complete presence, consummate showmanship, and the screams went up to the rafter and the flashbulbs literally made a strobe effect in the air.

He was wearing a white outfit with belle trousers, a sort of Eisenhower-style white jacket - remember those Elvis-Eisenhower years? - and what looked like a red shirt visible in the V-shaped opening of the jacket, which sported that high, Elvis collar he's always worn - almost up to his ears. His ears were hidden, though, masked by the long black hair.

"Well, that awwright mawma, innyway you dew!"


Elvis vibrated as of old, lunged with hips and guitar, sany a run of songs in that very Elvis voice, which has never failed or wavered. It's a voice anyone can recognize, with its country inflections, its resonance, its intimacy - a far pleasanter and realer voice than that of, say, Eddie Fisher, his contemporary in the 1950s.

He strikes a pose, hip coked, a thumb hooked in the leather belt, like a Memphis drugstore cowpoke on a corner, but the clean strong chin thrusts out like that on a Greek statue, but then Elvis looks down at himself, down the V of the jacket at his chest, the down between his legs, to the floor, and then carefully, coyly, at the audience. Scream, he is saying.

And they do.

He grins, pumps and grinds a tawdry bit, and the teenyboppers scream again obediently.

He tells a few jokes, says he's glad to be in St. Petersburg (Curtis Hixon is in Tampa, home of Elvis' longtime manager Col. Tom Parker). He strides up and down with proprietary presence, accepting the adoration and the adulation a regally as unquestioningly, as a country boy might if he were told suddenly he's king, and been born to the throne but lost as a boy, and then was surrounded by sycophants forevermore.

His audience had been warmed, or bored, depending, by the Hugh Jarrett Singers, four young men, and by the Sweet Inspirations, four lovely black girls wearing black pantsuits and an aura of Patherian smiling menace (one wore her hair in afro; three wore theirs straightened). The Inspirations inspired all with candy-coated soul music about how "this world is getting better".

And Elvis, the last of the clean-cut rock stars, went on wailing "Heartbreak Hotel," backed up by his 10-piece orchestra, the eight singers, and an old Army buddy who sang harmony with him. It was perfectly contrived to please the sort of audience one would expect in Las Vegas, where they had just come from.

When the matinee performance had settled into a pattern, one could see the audience was of three main types: the teenyboppers, in a minority, whose screams grew feebler; the middle-aged and old ladies; and the thirty-ish from the fifties, who had come to see their man again, the way people who remember Sinatra from the 1930s still follow his career.

These are the people who made whim, and who keep him on top, who remember his career.

They remember how he came out of Memphis (a truck driver, Mabel, just like Rock Hudson used to be), and his big success from those early songs that virtually created rockabilly singlehanded.

They remember it was Elvis who pumped vividness and life into music when popular music was terrible, and they remember the girlish tears that flowed when Elvis was drafted and how nice he was about it and how the Army said it was proud of what a good soldier Elvis was and how he inspired the other men, and they remember the paternity suit, how that waitress out in Los Angeles claimed that she and Elvis had coupled and produced issue which required $1,000 a month support money, and they remember how the old folks used to say Elvis was obscene, like they say about Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison today, don't you know, and the remembered the jealousy they felt toward their girlfriends as they made yearning faces at Elvis' picture, and how Elvis had a fleet of Caddies and Lincolns in pink, red, lavender, chartreuse and how he loved motorcycles, had a big ole Harley, and the look of him then with the roadgang sideburns the hooded eyes, and the twisted sneering lip, plunging guitar and "swiveling hips".

And maybe the old ladies saw a successful, redeemed prodigal son, and what the teenyboppers saw, who knows?

But those wearing the loafers and the short sleeved shirts and narrow ties, those with the hairdos like Elvis used to have but doesn't anymore, the hair swooping up and forward and around in a great pompadour, they knew what they were seeing:

They were seeing the past, and it was still alive.

Courtesy of Kurt Hinkle