Elvis Presley's Right-Hand Man Reflects on the King's Presidential Medal of Freedom


Music business veteran Jerry Schilling nonetheless remembers the day he met Elvis Presley -- and the final he spent along with his shut buddy. He’d met the longer term King of Rock & Roll taking part in in a pickup soccer recreation as boys; they grew up in the identical Memphis neighborhood. By his telling, no one knew what Presley would grow to be in only a few years. “He couldn’t even get six youngsters his personal age to play soccer,” he remembers.

That neighborhood boy would go on to grow to be essentially the most recognizable Western entertainer of the 20th century. In truth, the King simply obtained a much-overdue White House honor. Today (Nov. 16) the enduring singer and actor was awarded with the Medal of Freedom, courtesy of President Donald Trump. He was posthumously chosen together with baseballer Babe Ruth, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and different American notables.

As his enterprise accomplice and confidante, Schilling was there till his loss of life in 1977. During the funeral procession to the Meditation Garden at Graceland Mansion to put the King to relaxation, Schilling noticed one thing astonishing: individuals of all races and creeds paying tribute to the King.

“Whether it was a black particular person or a white particular person, an outdated particular person or a teenager,” Schilling remembers to Billboard, trailing off. “Everybody was standing there in actual honor and respect for Elvis Presley.”

The King went via a whirlwind of inventive phases through the years to be able to safe this eclectic viewers: from his fiery run of early singles to his 1973 Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite comeback and past. The King’s star started to fade within the late-’70s, and Schilling would carve out his personal legacy within the file business, as supervisor for the Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis and Billy Joel.

But via all of it, Presley and Schilling remained tight; Schilling nonetheless lives within the Los Angeles residence the King purchased him in 1974. And he by no means overlooked the boy he met on that soccer discipline, who, in his phrases, “took me and the world on an incredible trip.”

In honor of Presley’s Medal of Freedom, we spoke with Schilling in regards to the presidential honor, the 2 pals’ storied historical past and why the King might solely occur in America.

For readers who could also be unaware, are you able to describe how your affiliation with Elvis Presley first got here to be?

I grew up in the identical North Memphis neighborhood as Elvis did. It began July 11, 1954 at a neighborhood pickup soccer recreation. Elvis wasn’t fashionable presently, as a result of he didn’t have successful file. He couldn’t get six individuals his personal age to play soccer, in order that they let the little child play, which was me. That began a 23-year friendship and an expert relationship of a few years.

I knew Elvis earlier than he turned the enduring Elvis that we all know immediately. I used to be very privileged. He was very form to me and took me on an incredible trip. I believe he took America and the world on an incredible trip. It’s known as the Medal of Freedom, is that right?

Yes, the Medal of Freedom.

Well, I’ll say this. Especially rising up within the South within the ‘50s, in segregation, if anyone did one thing for freedom that was reasonable, not simply talked about, however was shared and loved, it was Elvis Presley. He dared to be completely different. He wasn’t making an attempt to make an announcement, however when he did make an announcement, he didn’t hand over.

He cherished rhythm and blues music. It was the primary time, perhaps in historical past, I don’t know. I’ve solely lived my life. But it was the primary time that younger youngsters began having their very own music. I bear in mind previous to that, music I listened to was the identical music that your mother and father take heed to, as a result of that’s the way it was.

It was the hit parade with individuals like Snooky Lanson and other people singing “(How Much Is) That Doggie within the Window?” And Elvis took that and altered it to “Hound Dog.” As lovable as he's in getting this medal, I don’t wish to neglect his rebelliousness, which began all of it. That was the great thing about Elvis. He was a lovable insurgent.

And the individuals who criticized him very strongly, the politicians, even non secular leaders, Elvis Presley even received them over. I believe this medal is the prime instance of how, with out doing something however giving plenty of enjoyment and love along with his music, that he received America.

Look, I understand how vital it was to Elvis when he and I went again to Washington and he acquired the badge from President Nixon. The indisputable fact that we had been within the room with the President of the United States was a giant deal to Elvis. It didn’t make any distinction who the president was. It was that workplace. And I believe this tops that.

I simply want he was there to obtain it. But figuring out this man, in some way, he’ll find out about it anyway.

You had been so near Elvis for a few years. How does it really feel to see him get his due from the White House in 2018?

I might like to see him notice that he was thought that a lot of, you already know? It’s exhausting in the course of the time of innovators or history-makers for the world to catch up. I perceive why there’s a time lapse. But extra importantly, I do know why his legacy and reminiscence could have such an honor. I believe it’s very acceptable that Jack Soden, who opened up Graceland with Priscilla Presley, goes to simply accept that on behalf of Elvis Presley.

Elvis would have been 84 this yr. If he was nonetheless with us, how do you suppose he’d have developed as a performer?

I believe Elvis would have had challenges, and I base this on when he did. He labored very exhausting in these early years, establishing his file profession. You have a look at his first 4 films within the ‘50s, they usually’re fairly rattling good. Then, he went to the Army. Which was an exquisite factor, in a approach, as a result of with out him serving his time and doing it so honorably and respectfully, he greater than possible wouldn’t be getting this honor.

Quite a lot of the people who I discussed earlier than didn’t fairly perceive him and apprehensive about their youngsters following in these wild, sexual rhythm-and-blues footsteps. But he got here out of the Army and served his time so nicely, and was uncovered there for the primary time, coming again together with Frank Sinatra, who was the institution. I believe these individuals mentioned, “Hey, he should be a reasonably good man. He served his nation, he was pleased with it, and he’s again.”

He additionally was a really clever, modern kind of man. We acquired used to seeing him within the ‘60s films, when he was the man subsequent door, singing his songs and smiling on a regular basis. Elvis actually wished to stretch, and creatively, he didn't get that freedom, sadly. As Elvis mentioned, “I don’t suppose anybody was making an attempt to harm me, however they did.”

You can’t take a inventive big like Elvis Presley and never let him stretch his wings and experiment. Not let him do A Star is Born. Not let him tour all over the world, when he wished to so unhealthy. He didn’t get to do it. He didn’t get to tour abroad. I believe the Colonel definitely did what he thought was proper for Elvis. They had been an incredible crew for a time period, however there was some extent the place Elvis creatively outgrew the Colonel.

But the underside line to your query, what Elvis was making an attempt to do, and I used to be working with him on this, is that he might have been a Clint Eastwood, or if you'll, a Barbra Streisand. He had all the fitting stuff. The enterprise and the equipment had gotten too huge and too worthwhile. They thought all they needed to do was signal Elvis Presley, throw in 12 songs and perhaps not have any difficult co-stars.

I believe Elvis would have gotten via that interval earlier than the ‘68 Comeback Special, of which we’re about to have fun the 50th anniversary. He was not a contented man. He was chubby. He was bored. And then he acquired this problem, and he went into coaching like Muhammad Ali. He went from 220 kilos to 178. And all individuals need to do is have a look at that particular and see.

He might at all times come as much as a problem. He might even invent them. It was when individuals let him. But all that being mentioned, and what’s occurring immediately, I believe Elvis Presley did what he got down to do.

The factor that stands out in my thoughts so vividly is being a pallbearer on the funeral, and driving the few miles from Graceland to the cemetery. And alongside the street, all people was stopped. Whether it was a policeman along with his hand over his coronary heart, whether or not it was a biker, whether or not it was a black particular person or a white particular person, an outdated particular person or a teenager, all people was standing there in actual honor and respect for Elvis Presley.

I believe he simply wished to be cherished and make the world a bit of higher. And he definitely did that. I want he was in a position to notice that extra throughout his lifetime.

Do you suppose Elvis was in a position to absolutely grasp what he meant to the nation and your complete world throughout his lifetime?

Did he know, every so often, that he was cherished and admired by lots of people? Yes. He noticed it at his live shows. But to the extent? No. There hasn’t been anyone cherished in so many countries, so many languages all over the world, no less than in a bit of over 2,000 years. I’m most likely going to get the John Lennon stigma on that.

Anything you hope younger individuals in 2018 can take away from Elvis’ life, music and story?

Yes. We do have a substantial younger viewers. I've to present a few of the credit score for that to a few of the films that weren’t that nice, however the younger little youngsters type of grew up and appreciated that. But additionally, there’s the HBO particular I produced with Priscilla and Thom Zimny, Elvis Presley: The Searcher, which I’m hoping goes to be nominated for a Grammy Dec. three. We’ll see. HBO’s doing a giant marketing campaign on that.

When you have a look at that, which is essentially the most in-depth, behind-the-scenes have a look at Elvis Presley, you see his influences and what he needed to undergo to be an artist. Certainly for younger artists, it’s just like the textbook. You should be a person. But you should additionally love what you’re doing, to start with. If you’re getting down to be a rock star, good luck. If you're keen on music and wish to do music, that’s nice. If one thing occurs because it did with Elvis, that’s fantastic.

As I wrote in my e book, I believe the fundamentals don’t change. Maybe the distinction with Elvis is the pioneering. That’s the toughest factor. That’s the factor that’s not as readily acceptable. Look, with out Elvis, we wouldn’t have punk bands. Also, for those who have a look at nice artists like Sinatra or Dean Martin, they'd an incredible discography. It wasn’t only one style. Elvis might go to Vegas, do a rock & roll, gospel or nation tune. He introduced down so many boundaries.

I see individuals struggling to try this immediately, and I believe that’s an exquisite factor. There’s nonetheless plenty of boundaries to be introduced down. But he did it in such a approach that it was entertaining, and he was having fun with entertaining. Isn’t that what the humanities needs to be about? Lift us up from the day-to-day prejudices and wars and conflicts. As he mentioned when he accepted his award for The 10 Most Outstanding Americans, “I’m simply an entertainer, and I’ll go on singing my songs.” And that’s what he did.

You knew Elvis earlier than he even took off. Could anyone again then have had any cognizance that this humble nation boy would win this prestigious honor over 60 years later?

I knew him fairly nicely. I went via many of the phases of his life with him. I used to be pleasantly shocked, in a method, once I acquired the decision that he was getting this a few weeks in the past. And in one other approach, I used to be pondering “It’s about rattling time!” But none of us would have thought that. Elvis would have by no means thought he’d nonetheless be remembered some 40 years after he’s handed away.

I hold seeing his father. Vernon apprehensive a lot about Elvis. He will get considerably thrown underneath the bus as a result of Elvis was identified to like his mom a lot, which is true. It definitely didn’t imply he didn’t love his father, too. They had been good individuals, that little poor household in Tupelo, Mississippi, that moved to Memphis when Elvis had simply turned an adolescent.

For younger individuals immediately, definitely in my day, music gave us a voice. It gave us our personal kind of music, first. And Elvis gave us that. As youngsters, the extra harmful one thing was, the higher it was. Because for many youngsters, it’s a part of going via revolt. We had one thing to do. Then, the Beatles, Dylan and others got here alongside, and began writing.

If you're taking that early rock & roll and put the pen to it, then you definitely’ve acquired a younger society that has a voice on this planet. I can’t consider something extra vital to freedom than having a voice.

Given that Elvis is receiving this award from the White House, wouldn’t you see him as embodying quintessentially American attributes?

I believe Elvis Presley might have solely occurred in America. And that’s the great thing about our nation, and why he cherished this nation a lot. Even when he was youthful within the ‘50s, with the tough criticism that he acquired, it actually harm him. But he was in a position to proceed what he wished to do, and as I mentioned earlier, he received all people over. With the entire division and faults and no matter, that is nonetheless the perfect nation. And Elvis continues to be top-of-the-line examples of what America needs to be.

He wished to share his success, and did. He wished to make individuals blissful. He wished to assist individuals who had been sick, and did. He did a lot stuff that folks didn’t know. People caring about different individuals in the event that they had been influential or had no affect, or no matter colour they're, or what language they spoke. That’s what Elvis’s music was about, and what he was about. I believe that’s what America, deep down, is about.