Gotta Find My Baby!

August 17, 2022

The Last Tour: August 17-28, 1977

June 26, 1977: Elvis receives a plaque from RCA
to commemorate the pressing of its 2 billionth record,
achieved during production of Moody Blue
On the fateful August 16, 1977, it was impossible to know if Elvis was willing or able to go on such a tour, something we will never know. His shows in April and May, in addition to those made between June 21 and 26, showed that he did; but his February, March, and most June performances said no. Not so much for his performances, which were pure overcoming, but for seeing that he urgently needed a mental and physical rest.

But, as Elvis always made clear, there were other factors that made him continue to perform. For him, canceling a show was disrespectful to the public and, moreover, doing it was a way of forgetting about problems. But the main fact is that the "Colonel" pressured him more and more to do as many shows as possible in the shortest amount of time. His gambling had gotten out of hand, and the need to pay for it weighed heavily. He had lost $1.5 million in a single game the night before, according to reports from Mafia insiders.

The way was to put his "safe" to work overtime. It wasn't the first time Parker had acted inconsequentially. There were several other times when his greed got the better of him, but in 1977 Elvis was far less prepared physically and mentally due to his well-known problems. A strenuous concert routine was not recommended even by Dr. Nick or by anyone in their right mind. But Parker thought otherwise.

On May 21, 1977 Parker would prove again that Elvis was only important when it came to money. Larry Geller, hairdresser and one of Elvis' closest friends, recalls what happened:

"We were in the hotel room in Louisville, Kentucky. Elvis was unwell, had a fever, felt sick, had flu-like symptoms and hadn't been able to sleep the night before. He was in the room with Dr. Nick, behind closed doors. Suddenly, we heard a loud knocking on the door. This was weird because we had security all over the floor and no one was allowed to enter. I opened the door and it was the Colonel. I greeted him and said I would see if Elvis could see him, but he curtly told me he would come into the room anyway.
When he opened the door, all I saw was Elvis lying on the bed, disoriented and babbling - practically in a coma. Dr. Nick was holding his head and diving it into a bucket of ice water to try to revive him. And the door closed. I thought that would be good, that the old man - Parker - would see what was going on, how bad Elvis was, and he was going to do something about it. It couldn't go on. It was inhuman.
Ninety seconds later, the door opens, Colonel Parker walks over to me - I stand - and we're face to face. And he looked at me coldly, and said, 'Listen to me now. The only thing that matters is that that man is up on stage tonight. Nothing else matters. Nothing.'"

May 21, 1977: Elvis and his entourage on the way to his concert in Louisville, Kentucky


And at night, on the 21st of May, there was Elvis on stage. Parker's influence on the King of Rock's decisions is still uncomprehended. It is true that, without the Colonel, Elvis might have been nothing more than a small regional success in 1954 and 1955, but more than twenty years later, when the singer already had enough autonomy to direct his career, it was somewhat strange that the last word always came from his agent. The contract maintained by the two did not give greater decision-making power to either side; Parker kept 50% of all Elvis' income, which was a lot for an agent, but extremely little for his gambling expenses; but the other 50% were Elvis', which gave him the same level of importance.

Because of his gambling, it was in Parker's interest that Elvis worked as much as possible. Between February 12 and June 26, 1977, Elvis had 59 shows booked - 4 of which were canceled due to his health issues. How Parker accepted Elvis playing just one show a day for five seasons in 1977 is still a mystery to many. And even with just one show a day, the routine was extremely tiring for a person in poor health.

June 1, 1977: To avoid fans' harrassment, Elvis leaves for his show in Macon,
Georgia, through his hotel's service entrance


After the precarious performances of early June 1977, Elvis should have taken a vacation from the stage for at least 3 years - and some close friends say that's what he wanted. However, Elvis was also torn between his personal needs and those of his employees. When Lamar Fike told him he should cancel the May/June 1977 tour, Elvis replied: "Lamar, I have a payroll to honor."


THE LAST TOUR

After performing to 18,000 people in Indianapolis, Indiana on June 26, 1977 - which turned out to be his last show - Elvis began a well-deserved 50-day vacation. After the break, the King of Rock should be ready for another batch of twelve shows that would start on August 17 and end on the 28th of the same month.

List of concert dates and cities of tour #6 of 1977


Elvis would also do 1 show a day on this tour that never got off the ground. As had been the default since mid-1976, Graceland only learned about the dates and locations of the shows at the very least in advance - just two days before the first. Despite it all, the shows were selling very well, many at full capacity. However, the lack of confirmation of performances in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe - the second biggest venue for Elvis after Vegas - caused concern.

On this tour, Elvis would go to some cities he had never visited. Portland, Maine (Elvis had only performed in Portland, Oregon), was the first, on August 17 and 18 (two shows were booked). Utica, NY, on the 19th, was also new; as well as Lexington, KY, on the 23rd. Elvis had been in Syracuse, NY, Roanoke, VA, and Fayetteville, NC, in July and August 1976, respectively; Uniodale, NY, and Asheville, NC, had hosted his show in July 1975. Elvis' most visited city on the list, Memphis, TN, where he had performed for the previous three years, would close the tour on August 28 as a matter of convenience.

Elvis in concert in Uniondale, NY, on July 19, 1975 (jumpsuit Chicken Bone)


From the looks of it at the time, this would probably be one of the last tours of the year or maybe even the last. What is known is that Elvis was very concerned about his image and had a willingness to innovate in his concerts and repertoire, which had already begun to show in 1976. According to people close to him, such as Larry Geller and costume designer Bill Belew, the singer would step away from the stage in 1978 and focus on improving his health, physique and mind, as well as writing a book and a movie with "the real version of my life", as he told friends.

Indeed, on the afternoon of August 16, 1977, Belew was on his way to Graceland with a new collection of jumpsuits for Elvis to try on when he learned of the singer's death. Among them was the one chosen for "the last shows of the year", as commissioned by Joe Esposito, in a light blue tone and with more relaxed motifs and in Elvis' personal style.

The jumpsuit chosen for the August 17-28, 1977 tour


After this commission, Belew had no other creative responsibilities at the time, but he was already thinking about the future. He knew that Elvis would take a two-year vacation and then return to the stage on a tour of Europe, making his first international experience in his 26-year career, in 1980. For that, and to follow the evolution of the format of the performances, which  in 1977 already required more than just a singer and his band, the stylist invested in lasers, which were fashionable at the time.

In the words of Bill Belew in 2004:

"The last jumpsuit I worked on - and even prototyped - was the Laser Suit. I talked to an electrician friend who was into the laser thing; it was relatively new and laser shows were becoming fashionable. So I drew what I thought would be called the Jewel Suit, but in the end it was named Diamond Suit. What we did is that at certain points [on the clothing] there were extra-large diamonds that would tell Elvis where he could rip his clothing - and that's where a laser would shoot. He would touch his body and the laser would go off, that was it. We had everything ready and on the day of his death we were going to a studio where we would put the outfit on a mannequin and show it to him. [...] The Laser Suit was an idea for the [tour in] Europe, you know? That's what it was for. But it didn't happened."

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