A couple of weeks ago, Elvis’s 1970-1977 conductor Joe Guercio visited Belgium on invitation by the Belgian Fanclub ElvisMatters. On that occasion, Joe answered questions, sent in by the subscribers of ElvisNews.com.
This interview took place in the VITO Showroom in Mol, Belgium, the late afternoon of May 15th 2004.
Hi Joe, welcome to Belgium. Visitors of the ElvisNews.com website had the chance to send in questions. I hope you don’t mind…
Not at all. I don’t know if I can answer all of them, but I’ll try.
OK. Elvis is known for his generosity. What kind of presents did you get, and what do you cherish most?
Well, you’re right. Elvis was a very generous person. I saw a picture today in a magazine of Elvis giving me a gold watch for my 37th birthday. I kept that watch in my house, afraid that I might loose it. But a couple of years ago, I guess 10 years or so, my house got burglered and it got stolen. I never saw it again. But my favorite gift of Elvis, is my TCB necklace. One night the chain broke, and I gave it to Elvis’s jeweler to get the chain fixed. When I got it back, it had a diamond right in the middlewith compliments of Elvis.
Joe, Can we expect some more US or Europe dates for "Elvis-The Concert?"
You know, I’m not sure. I know that we’re going to Hawaii and Singapore. And I know that there is talk about coming to Europe again in 2005, but nothing has been confirmed yet. We’d like to come back, and if we do, we’ll probably do the show in cities that we’ve not yet played before. In England, Belgium, Holland perhaps. We’re talking about it, that’s all I can say.
What was your favourite Elvis concert?
One highlight of course, was Madison Square Garden. He hadn’t been to New York before. And by the time I got into ‘2001’, flash bulbs started going off, and when he hit the stage, there were so many flash bulbs that the building was lit. And Madison Square Garden is a huge place. New York was a great audience. We loved playing there…
But the one on top of them all, is “Aloha from Hawaii”. I brought some musicans from Los Angeles, my lead players from Vegas and I said to them ‘Gentlemen, I hope that you realise when I drop my stick tonight, this is the first time music is to go on satellite around the entire world’. That was pretty cool. Over one billion people. It was unbelievable, it really was.
What's the story behind the fantastic picture with you and Elvis holding your finger on the eye?
O God… Do you really want to hear it? It’s an old joke. There’s a guy that goes to a zoo, and there’s a big gorilla, monkey back there. The guys tries to give the monkey a banana, and the monkey keeps coming, trying to grab the banana. But there’s a pit in between the monkey and the guy with the banana. So when the monkey comes to grab the banana, the guy pulls it away and the monkey falls into the pit. Second day, the guy comes again with a banana. The monkey grabs it, the guy pulls back, and the monkey falls into the pit. The next day, the guy comes again with another banana, and he wants to give it to the monkey. And the monkey starts to walk down, and stops, turns around and goes like this (with the finger on his eye). So the guy goes to the zoo keeper, and says ‘I don’t understand why he’s doing this…’ And the zookeeper says ‘that means screw you in monkey talk’. So, that what’s that picture means: screw you (laughs)… I’ve cleaned that up, folks.
And what about the picture where Elvis is choking you?
I’m Italian, my whole family is Italian, and we all took lessons from Italian musicians. That was a big thing in my life. And here’s a guy that took an Italian song called ‘O Sole Mio’ that I grew up with, and said ‘This is ‘It’s Now Or Never’…’ When you’re Italian, that’s not too cool. I told him ‘What are you doing? Sing ‘O Sole Mio’, it’s an Italian song… ‘One night, after the show at the Hilton, I told him again: ‘You’re wrong man, it’s ‘O Sole Mio’, and that’s when he grabbed me by my neck. There was a girl photographer, and she took the picture. That was 1972. He had a great sense of humor. We had a ball, we really did.
Why didn't Elvis do more new songs by 1976, 1977?
Those were tough years. We just didn’t do much rehearsing. The Hilton was finished, and think about it – there weren’t a lot of new songs in those years. That’s the reason.
As far as arranging goes, did Elvis contribute anything in the seventies. Meaning did he have opinions about the setting for different songs and so on.
Yeah, a million opinions, really. 90 percent were very right. But when it didn’t work out, we’d just throw it away. He told me what he thought: ‘I’d like to hear this kind of thing, no that’s not it…’ That’s how we worked. You see, what happened is: we started out with a small group, that came to Vegas 4 days earlier. So, 2 days for the small group, and 2 days on stage with the band. If we couldn’t get it right, we threw it away.
I've noticed that when listening to audience recording's of Elvis's show's that somebody appears to be playing a synthesizer, can you shed any light on this?
Wait a minute. You’re talking about Elvis The Concert?
No, the old shows.
The synth in the seventies… everytime when David Briggs was with the group, we had a synth on stage. Incidently, I worked with David a lot, we do a lot of productions together, he’s still brilliant, and he’s still a close friend of mine. But that was David in those days. And in Elvis The Concert, the synth you hear, is Ron Feuer who was at the Hilton when we did the Elvis concerts also. But David had the synth in those days, one of the first.
We don't see you as a guest that often on Elvis meetings. Do you like to talk about your years with Elvis?
I don’t mind talking about it. It’s just, I stay very busy. I work with a lot of other people. As long as the questions stay respectable, I like to talk about Elvis – why not. But I’ve never written a book.
Well, if I’d write a book, it’s going to be a lot more than Elvis Presley. I did a lot more than ‘just’ Elvis. I’ve got a job you know, I work…
Maybe later, when you retire? Joe Guercio’s Memoires…
Right. But if I do it, it’s going to be all fun. You’ll enjoy it. There were more good times than you’ve read. We had marvelous times. Like fairgrounds. We’d get on all the rides, we had a ball.
What kind of music are you into now? Which projects are you involved in, and are they all Elvis related?
Joe Moscheo and I have a company together. Joe was the original piano player of the Imperials, and turned out to be one of the executives of BMI. We produced an album called ‘The Gospel Side of Elvis’. It was the first time that the Stamps and the Imperials worked together. It’s a double sided album. We’ve produced that, and it’s doing very well. And I’m with a company called ‘HG Entertainment’. I’m still in the music business, and I enjoy it. Last year, the TCB Band and myself toured with Frank Michael. That was enjoyable, and we had an album with him too.
Why don’t you do an instrumental album with your orchestra?
As soon as someone comes up with the money, I will. But there’s a lot of stuff out that you can buy. I worked with Diana Ross, Nathalie Cole, Gladys Knight, Barbara Streisand…. And I have really, really enjoyed working with this orchestra here in Mol. The spirit with these people… it’s just fantastic. Last night, when we did the rehearsal, this place was burning. If you have the chance to see the show tonight or tomorrow, don’t pass it up.
Do you know if Elvis did songs on stage that haven’t been released yet?
Well, a lot of songs he did on stage, weren’t recorded. ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, I know he did that, and I don’t think that has ever been released. Or the Olivia Newton John-song ‘If You Love Me Let Me Know’, that’s not out yet, is it?
O yes, it’s on the ‘Elvis In Concert’ album to begin with.
Suppose Elvis would still be arou