Elvis goes back a long way with my family…. My parents both are fans and naturally that's the way I was raised as well. My mother saw him here locally in 1955 when he came to the White River Water Carnival festival; she was unimpressed by the loud-dressing singer who almost gyrated right off into the river during one particular "sliding pelvic moment". In fact, she left the stage area, but still recalls him singing over the Carnival while she was riding the Ferris Wheel.
Growing up, we didn't listen to new music at all unless it was Elvis…. or, at least, Neil Diamond. But that's another story…. During the early 1970s, we were members of a little-known Elvis "club" sponsored by Rocky Barra called "Strictly Elvis". There were monthly information booklets filled with everything Elvis…. stories, reviews, photos, memorabilia, etc. One of the "perks" of membership was advance notice of Elvis' tour dates and locations, often months before they were announced in the media. This service netted us our first 1970s Elvis concert…. Tuscaloosa, Alabama on November 14, 1971…. We were thrilled when the Spring 1972 S/E issues disclosed news of an upcoming April tour and a date in Little Rock…. just two hours away on April 17!
Naturally things swung into action after this discovery, and we were soon winging our way to Little Rock to find out if this new tour date was "on the level" or just rumor. We went to the offices of T.H. Barton Coliseum and the Arkansas State Fairgrounds (ASF), and my father went into the offices to ask about the Elvis show. Getting absolutely no response from anyone, he returned to the car disheartened…. but my mother gave him the copy of the S/E magazine and sent him right back into the office to persist.
Maybe he was lucky…. maybe he looked desperate…. maybe he told the ASF folks he had an irate female out in the car…. who knows? What did happen was he got hold of a cooperative ticket salesperson. After producing the tour date list with Little Rock printed on it…. and getting several nervous glances from the ticket person in return, the young lady did indeed confirm that Elvis was booked into LR on April 17 for one concert. JACKPOT!
But she told him that the tickets had not even been printed at that time, and it was impossible to do anything about any of them, basically. So my Dad pulled out a $100 bill and told the young lady that he wanted 10 tickets to the concert. Again, she protested that she couldn't help him but he just pressed the bill into her hands and told her "just get us in the building somewhere…. I don't care where, OK?" Since he wouldn't take the money back from her, she kept it in hand while Dad filled out a sheet with his name and address for the mailing of the tickets whenever they were available. And we went back home….
Week after week went by and no Elvis tickets, no responses, no anything…. Why the young lady didn't just take the money we gave her, I will never know…. but around the first of April, an envelope arrived from the ASF with 10 tickets inside to Elvis' show. My mother about fainted when she looked at the tickets and discovered that they all were on ROW 3 to stage left. We had seen Elvis before in concert, but not that close! Our seats at the Alabama show the previous November were terrible…. on the risers to the left almost behind the stage. The seating location coupled with Elvis' Black Matador jumpsuit ensured that we saw basically nothing at all. So we were definitely thrilled with the close seats at this second concert…. Even if Elvis wore black again, at least we would be able to see him this time!
The night of the concert we arrived early to find that the MGM film crews were on hand to film location work on the movie they were making of the April tour…. later to be called Elvis On Tour. In the finished film, the coliseum sign and the crowded parking lots you see before Jackie Kahane does his routine is footage from Little Rock; also from Little Rock are the backstage scenes with Elvis in the red "Burning Love" jumpsuit filmed before he goes onstage.
During the intermission, who should appear but the friendly ticket salesperson that my Dad had "accosted" over a month earlier. It seemed that she had just wanted to come by and see if we liked our seats well enough. I'm sure that all the adulation thrown her way from our whole family convinced her we liked the seats just fine. I guessed that Dad was wanting to press his luck or something; he asked the young lady about the banners hanging on the stage, specifically…
He wanted to know what somebody would have to do to get one of those banners to keep…. With a grin, the lady told him that those were the property of RCA Records and that they were not for sale. She might have helped us with our tickets, but property like that was out of her "range". But she had a kind of funny grin on her face when she walked away… We enjoyed the concert that night, and it dominated our family conversations for weeks to come. But we had more to talk about soon enough. To our surprise, Elvis was again coming fairly close to us on his June 1972 tour, and we sent away for tickets to the concert in Fort Worth, Texas on June 19.
The day we received our Fort Worth tickets…. we also got a small parcel in our mailbox as well. Joyous over the new Elvis tickets, the little box sat undisturbed on the kitchen table for more than a day before it again caught our attention. When we opened it up, I imagine that you could hear the screaming for about a mile in any direction….
There it was…. one of the three ELVIS NOW stage banners from the Little Rock concert! Not only that, but also the EMERY Air Freight receipts and also a letter from Tom Diskin requesting notice of the banner's receipt to ensure that proper instructions could then be sent along as to its usage.
And we never did even know her name…. But she sure gave us something to talk about in sending us this banner to keep."
As to the banner's rarity, I do not know for sure how many were made. I have an Elvis memorabilia book that claims only three were printed, and calls the banners the rarest pieces of 1970s concert memorabilia. The example shown in the book is claimed to be the only documented banner still in existence… and it is not mine. My banner is in much better shape than the one pictured in the book. The book also shows a photo of Elvis taken at MSG the night the original RCA record was recorded… and only two banners are shown on the front of the stage.…? The claim of only three banners printed to me seems a bit unlikely, since they were used on both the April and June tours in 1972. They are seen several times in "Elvis On Tour" alone. I do not know if they were used on the November tour in 1972 as well or not.
I just know I'm glad to have one of them to keep.