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Lionel Hudson: "He Had Negro's Ways"

By Essential ElvisJan 1, 2002
A five minute interview from Andrew Hearn with Lionel Hudson, a RCA worker for sixteen years who appeared in the 1970 documentary Elvis: That's The Way It Is.

With the exception of one or two reviews, not many Elvis magazines have marked the re-release of Elvis: That's The Way It Is with anything really special. This made us come up with the idea to try and trace some of the faces that appeared in the first making of the film in 1970.
Most fans throughout the world have wondered about the other people that appeared in the original movie. What ever happened to the annoying goofy guy in the coke bottle glasses? The one who was going to write a dirty little letter? Are the people who married in Vegas still together? What about Sue and Cricket and the cat that liked Elvis music as long as it had a little action in it? All these folks have been left on the cutting room floor second time around except one.

Remember the coloured guy who's standing in front of the RCA boxes? The guy who asks, "what makes me a bona fide fan of Elvis?" and goes on to explain why Elvis wasn't doing so good in the early days. Well, Lionel Hudson, now almost eighty years old, used to work for RCA back then and he also knew Elvis and the Colonel personally. Well, we managed to track down and talk to Lionel about his recollections of the movie and we even got to watch a screening of the original documentary with him too.

By the way, Lionel is the only member of the old gang to still appear in the new edition; as the crazy dancer in the silk scarf giving it some serious dancing during Patch It Up... remember?

Tell me where your connection with Elvis and That's The Way It Is begins.

I started off as a helper for RCA and we were doing so many records of this gentleman. I had heard of him and knew what he was about but I just couldn't believe that the man could put out that many records. That's when I began listening to him, when I used to go into the sound booths and I started to fall in love with him. Well, whilst I was working at RCA I met a girl who was his fan club president on the West Coast. Her name was Linda and she's in the original movie singing in the choir. She was a very good friend of mine and it was her that recommended me to Mr. Saunders to be in the picture. So I got in the picture and then to Las Vegas and this is where I really got to meet Elvis.

I could go over to the studio any time I wanted because I was the employee who would transport the tapes over to the producer. At the time I was the only person there working for RCA as a foreman and so this is how I became friends with Elvis and Colonel Parker.

How was Colonel Parker back then?

Oh, the Colonel always took care of me but I was always moving around carrying boxes and stuff. You saw the movie where all the Elvis banners are? I used to go up there all the time. By this time I had become a foreman and so next time I was in the presence of Elvis was in the studio but he was so busy all the time. Once in a while I'd talk with him and he was a very nice person.

What made Elvis so special to you as an employee of RCA?

The thing that made him special to me is that he was from Mississippi and my father was a very well known doctor there. My mother lived in Jacksonville, Tennessee and they were seventy-five miles apart but when we sat down as a family all we really talked about was Elvis. From then on he's been a part of my life and he's the reason I'm in the business I'm in today, it's all because of him.

What kind of things did Elvis talk to you about when you saw him?

Well, Elvis told me that he felt like he was in prison sometimes and although he had everything to be happy about, he was really an unhappy man. I said to him, "Why? You've got everything" and he replied, "You can have all the money in the world but you don't have peace of mind."

Do you think Elvis was envious of the normal man on the street?

He gave some money to me one time and told me to just go and enjoy myself. I thanked him, took the money downstairs in the hotel and I played. I won $22,000.00 because I just didn't care, I just put all the odds on the table and won it all within two hours. I started to get to know him and he talked to me about so many interesting things, especially about the black way of life. He said that things have been written in books about what he'd said about black people and their music. He said that they only printed what they wanted to and not the full story. He said he don't talk about things any more because the more you do, the more they stir it up and use it as a selling point.

How many shows did you see there in Vegas?

I saw about four or five shows. They were very good as far as I'm concerned but I've looked at so many of them, if you ask me I can't really remember them apart from the show that I was in because everywhere I go people remind me of it. I enjoyed Jailhouse Rock and of course Patch It Up.

Fans all over the world will remember you as the guy really losing it during that number.

I tell you, I had no idea that it was going to be that good and I was sitting right down front along with my girlfriend and the music got good with a decent beat. Polk Salad Annie was another one and I really wanted to get up on that but when Patch It Up was on I just could stay still, I had to get up and do that little move there. I was really something and I really didn't know they were going to be shooting me.

So when you first saw the movie you were totally surprised when you were up there dancing?

Mr. Saunders had a preview at the MGM studios so I saw it before it got out on the market. I went there and enjoyed the movie but a lot of it they had cut out but I was very well pleased with it.

What was it like watching the original movie again last night?

Let me tell you, last night I felt like I was going back to RCA with all the people who were in the movie. The lady and her mother were my co-workers and as I said earlier, the lady who said he was like a brother was his fan club president out there, so it made me think of those people and that time. Being in that movie has opened so many doors for me, it really has. I can only say that from the time I walked into RCA Elvis has been paying me my wages because he produced so many great movies and records.

Do people still recognize you from the movie?

I can go virtually anywhere in the United States and someone will recognize me from that movie. I had walked into a place in California and I noticed people just staring at me. After a while one of the waitresses came over and said, "Haven't I seen you some place before?" I said, "I don't think so" and she replied, "Wasn't you in that movie with Elvis Presley?"

What do you think about the loyalty of Elvis' many fans?

You know something? Elvis still lives on in a lot of people's minds today and some of them didn't really know Elvis but they knew about him. Just like that waitress, they were watching him in the movies and things and by the way, by the time I left that place I had signed four or five autographs.

Are you looking forward to seeing the premier of the new version tonight?

I want to see what they've taken out and what they've put in but I'm hoping they don't cut me out! But not only that, I'm going to be watching the whole thing all way through.

Have you been up to Graceland recently?

I've passed there several times but I've only been up there once and it gave me a feeling of happiness and sadness and I just don't like to feel that way. My father used to call me a soft-heart because I would look at things and start crying. I never could understand why I was crying when I should be happy. So I really don't like to be at the house too much.

But you're having a good time here in Memphis during Elvis week?

Oh yes, I'm really having a good time because all the people that I meet all really
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