It's a day I'll never forget.
While others are noting that today is the day Elvis Presley died, 25 years ago, I keep thinking of another date — Sunday, Sept. 1, 1957. That's the day Elvis made his Seattle debut, at the old Sicks' Seattle Stadium on Rainier Avenue South (now the site of a Lowe's Home Improvement).
I was there, with friends from my neighborhood in West Seattle, along with some 16,200 other fans who filled the creaky, dilapidated baseball stadium, home of the Seattle Rainiers. We endured an hour of carnival acts — a juggler, tap dancers, acrobats, a corny comedian — before Elvis came jogging onto the playing field from the visitors' dugout at about 9 p.m., accompanied by a phalanx of uniformed police.
He was wearing his famous sequin-trimmed, gold lamé jacket, black slacks, a black shirt and black shoes. As he moved toward the stage near second base, where his three-piece band and The Jordanaires were waiting for him, the public-address system warned that the show would be stopped if anyone crossed the barricades referred to as "no woman's land."
The screams were deafening as he mounted the stage, and he just stood there grinning for a few minutes. When it quieted down a little, he grabbed the microphone and slowly purred "Well," in a Southern accent (the morning paper said the next day that "he belched," which taught me to never trust newspapers). The screams then started all over again.
He sang "Teddy Bear," "Loving You," "Heartbreak Hotel," "All Shook Up" and maybe a dozen more songs. He did all his famous moves, and every one elicited screams. He closed with "Hound Dog," bending over backward until he fell supine onto the stage. Then he sprang up, jumped off the stage and dove into the back seat of a waiting Cadillac (a white one, as I recall). It sped off, leaving tire tracks in the grass, and disappeared through a gate in the outfield fence.
Not until then did some fans break through the "no woman's land" barricades. Some rushed after the Cadillac while others headed for the stage. Girls picked up grass and dirt from where Elvis had walked on the field, and they put it in their pockets and purses. One girl pulled down the microphone stand from the stage. The mike was still on and her screams could be heard over the P.A. system. "Elvis touched it! Elvis touched it!" she screamed, holding the microphone. "Ohmygawd! Ohmygawd!"
Elvis historians cite the concert as the only one at which he sang "Fool's Hall of Fame," which he introduced as "my next single." It had just been released on Sun Records by Rudi Richardson, a singer who never achieved fame. As it turned out, Elvis never recorded the song, and he never sang it again. (If anyone recorded the concert, including that song, the tape would be worth millions.)
Elvis' enduring tie to Seattle is, of course, the movie "It Happened at the World's Fair," parts of which were filmed here in September 1962 at Century 21, the world's fair held on the present site of Seattle Center. Even though I tried to get to him then — I was already working at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, writing music reviews — the press passes went to reporters rather than critics.
I also saw Elvis' other four concerts here, all in the 1970s, but they couldn't compare to the young, innocent Elvis of 1957, before the pill-popping, before Las Vegas, before the garish jumpsuits.
His other Seattle shows:
Thursday, Nov. 12, 1970, Seattle Center Coliseum (now KeyArena) — By this visit, Elvis' show had fallen into the pattern he would follow for the rest of his career. He wore a white sequined jumpsuit, spent almost as much time joking and talking as he did singing, and was at his best doing spirituals, including "How Great Thou Art," accompanied by The Imperials. He made fun of Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, and snatched a policeman's hat, put it on and strutted across on stage.
He opened with "C.C. Rider" and also sang "Blue Suede Shoes," "Polk Salad Annie," "Love Me Tender" and "Hound Dog." After less than an hour, he closed with "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You," and bolted from the stage.
I then heard, for the first time, "Elvis has left the building."
Sunday, April 29, 1973, Seattle Center Arena (now Mercer Arena) — Elvis did two shows, at 3 and 8 p.m. Relaxed and in fine voice, he did a remarkable 25 songs (including medleys.) His manager, Col. Parker, sat in the first seat in the front row. Elvis said little, but did say that he liked Seattle.
The show-stopper was a patriotic medley of "Dixie," "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "All My Sorrows." Before the closing song, "Fools Rush In," he said, "There's no message to this show, just entertainment."
Monday, April 26, 1976, Seattle Center Coliseum — Looking paunchy and pale, but in a fun-loving mood, Elvis started the show by drawling "Well" — just like he did in '57. Reacting to the screams, he deadpanned, "All I said was, 'Well.' " Later he joked, "If you appreciate us right, everybody gets a Cadillac after the show tonight."
Wearing his famous Native American-themed white jumpsuit, and backed by a 14-piece band and 10 background singers, he did "I Got A Woman," "Love Me," "My Way," "All Shook Up" and a flag-waving "America The Beautiful."
He kissed a lot of girls and gave away a lot of scarves, but was kindest to a cute little girl who presented him with a royal crown on a satin pillow. She got a hug, a kiss and a scarf.
Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312 or email@example.com.