HE has played to millions around the world as bass player for Elvis Presley and a host of other legends. But now Jerry Scheff has put the rock’n’roll lifestyle to one side to set up home in a small village near Berwick in Northumberland. As one of the world’s most in-demand session musicians, he has played with The Doors, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and John Denver, as well as the singer known as the King. But after meeting wife Natalie, he now splits his time between her house in the North and his native California.
Jerry first started playing with Elvis for his 1969 comeback special and spent eight years in his backing band until the star’s untimely death. He said: “Before I met Elvis I was not a fan. I didn’t really know many of his early songs, but he said to me ‘Do you know how to play the blues?’ and if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to play the blues.“We worked with other artists but you had to put Elvis first. “If you said you couldn’t make a job and went to work with another artist instead, he would never work with you again. He thought he was very loyal and expected the same in return. We had a lot of respect for each other.
“It was very exciting performing onstage with him. We just used to turn up, play for an hour and then be straight off on a flight to the next venue.” On one such trip, Jerry’s journey with the King ended: “The band were on a flight to Bangor, Maine, where we were going to meet Elvis and perform. “A stewardess came back and said we were going to make an early landing. “We touched down at this small airport with no one around and went into an office where we were told to ring Graceland and were told Elvis had died. We got back on the plane and flew back to LA and that was the end, just like that. It was a shock for us all.”
In recent years, Jerry has re-united with members of the TCB band that backed Elvis to tour with a show that combines them playing live music with old video footage of the King. He has also played with Roy Orbison, Crowded House and Dionne Warwick. Of his life in the North East, Jerry said: “It is a great life here in the North and the people are really nice. I am still surprised by the reactions of people to Elvis. I think it was the way he performed that captured people. When he sang, it went through his head, his heart and then out in his voice. “It was like he was singing to every individual in the crowd. He had a real connection with people.”
Jerry will be speaking about his life with Elvis at an event organised by the Tyne and Wear branch of the Elvis Presley fan club. He will be at the Companions Club on Leazes Park Road in Newcastle on November 20. Tickets cost £20 and are available on the doors which open at 7pm.