With the help of the readers of ElvisNews, who came up with part of the questions, this interview with Steve Binder was done by Jay Williams who made an article from it for pubication and promotion of the DVD set. See if you recognize your question (and Steve's answer of course).
The man who rehabilitated Elvis Presley’s career with his legendary black leather ‘comeback’ show in 1968 has broken a 36-year silence to reveal the stunning secrets behind the historic performance.
Millions saw Presley kick-start his ailing career with the stunning TV show, which featured the rock legend in a black leather suit, singing raw rockers in what was the original ‘Unplugged’ format, decades before MTV ‘borrowed’ the idea.
The sexy look has become one of the most famous images in rock and roll and has been copied by everyone from Suzi Quattro to Robbie Williams, who wore a copy of the outfit for his duet with Tom Jones at the 1998 Brit Awards.
But yesterday (XXX) – on the eve of the release of a three-DVD set of the show, including unseen out-takes and informal ‘jam’ sessions - the man responsible for rejuvenating Elvis’s career finally revealed some of the secrets behind the show.
US TV producer Steve Binder told how:
• He watched in amazement as Elvis rehearsed while curled up “in a fetal position” in a pitch dark studio
• Seconds before the opening number of the show, Elvis hid in the studio car park -“shaking with fear” at the prospect of performing live for the first time in seven years
• Elvis begged him to “send the orchestra home” when he turned up to his first rehearsal because he had never sung along with “trombones and stuff”
• He broke the ‘golden rule’ in his first meeting with Presley, telling him thought his movies and his music at that time were “going nowhere”
• He and a business partner ‘pitched’ the idea of an Unplugged series to MTV bosses years ago but were turned down – only to see MTV launch their own successful Unplugged format later.
• Presley’s notorious manager, the self-styled ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker, pulled a typical con trick on Binder during contract negotiations.
Binder was just 23 and had just sparked controversy throughout the US with his Petula Clark TV special, which featured a ‘mixed-race’ kiss between Clark and Harry Belafonte, when he and business partner ‘Bones’ Howe were asked to produce Presley’s comeback.
In 1968, Presley’s career was in freefall. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and wilder rock acts like Jimi Hendrix and The Doors were dominating the charts.
The raw sexuality and energy of Elvis’s early rock and roll performances were largely forgotten. He had not had a hit in years and had grown tired of churning out increasingly bad B movies.
Binder said: “Originally I wasn’t interested at all. The Colonel wanted Elvis to sing 24 Christmas songs and it was not something that inspired me.
“Elvis didn’t appear to be interested in it and the record company people weren’t getting anywhere with Elvis.
“Bones and I took the meeting with Elvis and he asked us where we thought his career was at.
“There was a pause, and then I said ‘I don’t think you HAVE a career. He just shook his head and said ‘I know’.
“I could tell he was not used to be talked to like that, but from that moment on we had a totally open and honest working relationship.
“He was so used to being surrounded by ‘yes-men’, to people agreeing with him whatever he said, that I think he found us a refreshing change.”
Binder and Elvis then hatched a plan for the star to go back to his roots, playing the songs that made him famous – but in a stripped-down, ‘unplugged’ format.
Steve said: “Filming took weeks and Elvis used to sleep in his dressing-room. Every evening after rehearsals or filming, he would hang out with his buddies and they would sing the old songs.
“I thought it would be a great way for people to see Elvis – creating music in an informal way – but as usual Colonel Parker was against it.
“He wouldn’t let me film the impromptu sessions that took place in the dressing room but he eventually he agreed to let us shoot it onstage.”
That was the moment Binder inadvertently invented the ‘Unplugged’ format, which was later ‘borrowed’ by MTV.
Binder said: “Elvis basically lived in his dressing room through that period and he played that music with his buddies to relax in the evening after filming.
“Basically we just transferred the dressing room jam sessions onto the stage, and it worked.
“Years ago I went to HBO [US TV station] and MTV and 'pitched' the idea for an unplugged series. Both turned us down and then proceeded to do their own series without us.
“I was on a panel a few years back at the Museum of Television in New York. The President of MTV was on the panel with me as one of the guests, and he gave his opening remarks which included thanking me for letting MTV 'steal' my idea for their Improvisation series. Show business has very strange ethics!
Binder was shocked to see how nervous Elvis was during rehearsals.
He said: “Elvis was terrified of doing the show – he was terrified of TV. In that first meeting we had, he told me he didn’t know anything about TV. He was worried about failure, I think.
“I told him that TV was an extremely powerful medium and that we would know the day after the show’s broadcast whether it was a hit or not.
“I said to him ‘you worry about the music Elvis, let me worry about the TV’ and from that moment on he concentrated on his performance.”
But Elvis was still paranoid about the show, and panicked during one rehearsal with a full orchestra.
Steve said: “I walked onto the stage for his first rehearsal with a full orchestra and he walked straight out onto Sunset Boulevard.
“He called me out and he said ‘I have to warn you Steve that I have never sung with a full orchestra behind me, and if I don’t like the sound of those trumpets and stuff, then you’re going to have to send them all home.
“I just kept saying ‘well let’s try it out and see what happens’. Luckily he loved the sound of the orchestra and the arrangements, so that was another potential crisis averted.”
As the filming date loomed ever nearer, Elvis’s anxiety increased.
Binder said: “If you look closely at the opening seconds of the show, there’s a close-up of Elvis singing. You can see his hand on the mike – and it’s visibly shaking.
“A couple of minutes before he went on, he was in the parking lot outside, shaking with the fear at the prospect of performing live again.
“He was saying ‘I can’t go on, I just can’t do it’. I just quietly talked him through it – I knew once he got back inside he would be OK – and eventually he came back in.
“So you see the shaking hands at the start of the show but as it goes on you can visibly see his confidence growing as he realises he is where he belongs – in front of a live audience.”
Binder laughs when he is reminded of Col Parker’s claim that “anyone who worked with Elvis would go on to make a million dollars out of the connection”.
He said: “Bones and I received a total of $15,000 for producing the show but we made it clear from the outset that one of the conditions for us doing it was that we would get to produce any accompanying record release.
“Bones and I produced all the music in the show, which resulted in two number one singles and an album that was an international hit.
“The Colonel told us there would be no record release, by which time we were involved in the making of the show.
“But a couple of weeks after the show aired, we each received a cheque for $1,500 from the Colonel and a letter asking us to sign away our producer rights.
“We sent back the money and the forms unsigned and that was when we were cut off from the Elvis ‘industry’.
“But I have no bitterness about all that. I loved working with Elvis and I know he didn’t have anything to do with the