Elvis Presley

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Elvis Presley : biography

8 January 1935 – 16 August 1977

Influence of Colonel Parker and others

Parker and the Aberbachs

Once he became Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker insisted on exceptionally tight control over his client’s career. Early on, he and his Hill and Range allies, the brothers Jean and Julian Aberbach, perceived the close relationship that developed between Presley and songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as a serious threat to that control. Parker effectively ended the relationship, deliberately or not, with the new contract he sent Leiber in early 1958. Leiber thought there was a mistake—the sheet of paper was blank except for Parker’s signature and a line on which to enter his. "There’s no mistake, boy, just sign it and return it", Parker directed. "Don’t worry, we’ll fill it in later." Leiber declined, and Presley’s fruitful collaboration with the writing team was over. Other respected songwriters lost interest in or simply avoided writing for Presley because of the requirement that they surrender a third of their usual royalties.

By 1967, Parker’s contracts with Presley gave him 50 percent of most of the singer’s earnings from recordings, films, and merchandise. Beginning in February 1972, he took a third of the profit from live appearances; a January 1976 agreement entitled him to half of that as well. Priscilla Presley noted that "Elvis detested the business side of his career. He would sign a contract without even reading it." Presley’s friend Marty Lacker regarded Parker as a "hustler and a con artist. He was only interested in ‘now money’—get the buck and get gone."

Lacker was instrumental in convincing Presley to record with Memphis producer Chips Moman and his handpicked musicians at American Sound Studio in early 1969. The American Sound sessions represented a significant departure from the control customarily exerted by Hill and Range. Moman still had to deal with the publisher’s staff on site, whose song suggestions he regarded as unacceptable. He was on the verge of quitting, until Presley ordered the Hill and Range personnel out of the studio. Although RCA executive Joan Deary was later full of praise for the producer’s song choices and the quality of the recordings, Moman, to his fury, received neither credit on the records nor royalties for his work.

Throughout his entire career, Presley performed in only three venues outside the United States—all of them in Canada, during brief tours there in 1957. Rumors that he would play overseas for the first time were fueled in 1974 by a million-dollar bid for an Australian tour. Parker was uncharacteristically reluctant, prompting those close to Presley to speculate about the manager’s past and the reasons for his apparent unwillingness to apply for a passport. Parker ultimately squelched any notions Presley had of working abroad, claiming that foreign security was poor and the venues unsuitable for a star of his magnitude.

Parker arguably exercised tightest control over Presley’s movie career. In 1957, Robert Mitchum asked Presley to costar with him in Thunder Road, on which Mitchum was writer and producer. According to George Klein, one of his oldest friends, Presley was offered starring roles in West Side Story and Midnight Cowboy. In 1974, Barbra Streisand approached Presley to star with her in the remake of A Star is Born. In each case, any ambitions the singer may have had to play such parts were thwarted by his manager’s negotiating demands or flat refusals. In Lacker’s description, "The only thing that kept Elvis going after the early years was a new challenge. But Parker kept running everything into the ground." The operative attitude may have been summed up best by the response Leiber and Stoller received when they brought a serious film project for Presley to Parker and the Hill and Range owners for their consideration. In Leiber’s telling, Jean Aberbach warned them to never again "try to interfere with the business or artistic workings of the process known as Elvis Presley".