Interview Keith Alverson And Ed Bonja

Apr 15, 2001
A couple of weeks ago we invited our readers to submit questions for both Keith Alverson and Ed Bonja which we would ask them at the Elvis Unlimited Convention in Randers. After checking the answers with Keith and Ed we present the results, see if you're question got answered. Why are your photo books released now instead of 25 years ago? Keith answered with a big smile that Sean Shaver paid him not to release a book. In a more serious way he told us that finally he found somebody who wanted to do it his way. Ed said that after Elvis died, he started a new life, and had no contact with the "Elvis World" for eighteen years. "For the first year and a half, I was simply resting, trying to get my health back. The years of touring took a great toll on my health. I really had no idea of just how big Elvis still was, and all my photos were locked away in a trunk in my garage with so many other memories of Elvis." While photographing Elvis for years, in the last 2 years, did you feel something was seriously wrong with Elvis' health? Keith said he knew there was something wrong. As a photographer he had a closer look than the rest of the audience through his camera. If he could see Elvis' knuckles he knew it was going to be a good show, when not, when his hands were swollen, it was generally poor. The last time Ed photographed Elvis was on June 10, 1975, in Memphis. "That was the closing night of a tour, and one of the most used photos of Elvis ever was from that last show -- you know, the full-length shot used on the album cover "From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee" which was released in May of 1976. They only used the top half of that shot, but I know you'll know it from that. After that, Elvis put on a little extra weight, and I decided to wait until he lost it before I would photograph him again. Unfortunately, that did not happen; and, YES, I did feel that there was something seriously wrong with his health through the latter part of 1975 and through 1976 and '77." How were you able to consistently attend so many shows and obtain a prime vantage point to photograph Elvis? Keith visited shows mainly during weekends and in vacations. Also he didn't go to far away, he needed to be able to reach the venue by car. At the time he didn't smoke, drink or have women (well, not too many). Only for shows in Las Vegas he took a plane, for the first time in 1974. What was the most touching moment you witnessed of Elvis on stage? For Keith personally it was when Elvis shook his hand. Another one that comes to mind is the time when a little girl was put on stage. Elvis wanted to give her a scarve, but she didn't reach for it. Then Elvis realized she was blind, kneeled for her and put the scarve on her and whispered something in her ear. Ed remembers a matinee performance in Lake Charles, LA, on April 5, 1975, when a fan ran up to the stage and gave Elvis a crown which she had made. He carried the crown around, as he finished the song he was singing. The audience was yelling for Elvis to put the crown on, because he was the king. Elvis asked the audience for attention and then told them that he could not put the crown on, because he was not a king and that there was only one King -- the Lord Jesus Christ. Upon hearing that, the 10,000 fans in the Civic Center that afternoon stood and applauded Elvis for several minutes. Keith, are there any plans for a project that deals with the fantastic final tour of 1976? "It might be an idea, but it is not thought over so far". If Elvis were alive today, what kind of music/project do you think he would be involved in? Both Ed and Keith think that Elvis would still be in the country / ballad things he went into in the 70's. After 7 or 8 years of singing the same songs, do you think he would have maybe started writing himself, singing more gospel on stage or building a racquet ball empire? According to Ed Elvis would have gone on forever the way he did. Keith thinks that maybe he would have gone down to smaller venues for closer contact with the audience. But they wouldn't be smaller than about 5000 people they thought. Do you have some sisters and brothers? Ed is from a family of 10: 6 sisters and 3 brothers, while Keith has one brother. How was Elvis treated by the press and public. Was he already all he represents now or have they 'inflated' him these days to almost be thought of as a 'God'? In one voice Ed and Keith answered that it was already created for, but not by, him. As Elvis once said on stage when he got a crown from the audience, 'There's only one king" (see above). For Keith: Do you have any photos of Elvis from his tours from 1971-1972? "No." Has either of the authors witnessed soundboard recordings? Do you remember any memorable shows that may have been recorded? Many, many shows were recorded from the soundboard. Tom Diskin would have the engineer (Al Pachuki or Bill Porter) record shows in Las Vegas every so often, putting either the piano or the lead guitar on a separate channel by itself. He always wanted to have a relatively current tape of them available, in case something happened and a new musician had to be brought in. The new musician would then be able to listen to a tape which focused on his particular instrument, just in case he wasn't familiar with any of the songs. While on tour, a great deal of shows were recorded, especially from 1975 on. From your experiences at the shows that you recall, was it just Elvis not wanting to make a big effort to do new songs, or was he really giving in to what the fans wanted to hear? Ed: "I think it was a combination of the two: he got a little lazy and didn't want to rehearse; and, he new that most of his fans wanted to hear him sing the songs they already knew. When Elvis heard a new song that he really wanted to sing, he got it done. I can only think of a handful of new songs he added to his shows in 1976 and 1977." Do either of you have any unreleased amateur or professional footage? Both do not, but Ed would have filmed every show if he could do it all again. Will you do any more books and when can we look forward to seeing these? Ed probably will, but has no time set. He wants it to be in a good quality and price, like Keith's book. Keith thinks maybe in another 25 years. Off all the shows you photographed, what suit made you say WOW? To Ed every new one was impressive. Keith thinks it must be the the "Tiger" or "Dragon" suits from the shows he saw. He likes the earlier, simpler jumpsuits better. For Ed: are there plans for the future regarding the "Photo of the Month" club? "No. I stopped because the photos showed up everywhere." For Ed: Why is there so much duplication of photos in your first book and the latest? "Well, that's an interesting question. Actually, of the 98 photos in my latest book, there are only six (6) repeats from my first book of photos. (pages 1, 30, 45, 68, 78, 79) Five of those six were printed in black & white in the first book, but we wanted them printed in color in the latest book. The sixth picture was in color in both books; however, in the latest book, the picture wasn't cropped as much; and one can see a little more of the entire photo." What was the most unusual moment you witnessed of Elvis on stage? Keith remembers Asheville 1975, when Elvis was giving away his guitar and rings. One night in Las Vegas, a lady in the front row at the stage had gotten very drunk. She yelled to Elvis to throw her a scarf -- which he did. In a moment, she threw the scarf right back to him. He laughed and threw it back to her. Well, she did this several more times. The last time, Elvis asked her not to throw it back again, but she did, anyway. You could tell that Elvis was pissed about it, but he was also smart enough "let it go." He kept his cool and gave the scarf to another
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