Monday, 23 December 2013

W is for Red West

Was Red West the most important man in Elvis’ life?
West himself says they were best friends at Humes High and that he saved Elvis from getting beaten up by football players angered by his haircut. ‘I really felt sorry for him,’ said West. ‘He seemed very lonely and had no real friends.’ West worked as Elvis’ bodyguard in the early Sun days. When Elvis joined the army, West went with him to Germany. When he left, West and his cousin Sonny were taken on as bodyguards and full-time founder members of the Memphis Mafia.

According to some sources, in 1961 Elvis commissioned West to write his first professional composition, That’s Someone You Never Forget, a song about the most important woman in his life — his mother. (In all, Elvis recorded eight of West’s songs.)

West says he was the one who told Elvis that Priscilla was having an affair with her karate teacher, Mike Stone. At which point, Elvis asked West to hire a hit man to kill her. He hired one for $10,000 — he says — but Elvis changed his mind, and decided not to have his wife murdered. Next, West wrote a song about the break-up, Separate Ways, and gave it to Elvis who made it the title track of his next album. 

Then, on 13 July 1976, West — along with Sonny and another bodyguard member of the Memphis Mafia, Dave Hebler — was fired, by Elvis’ father Vernon, either because he’d been beating up Elvis fans or because he was helping service Elvis with drugs.

The entourage’s revenge was to write the first exposĂ© of their former boss’s junkiedom, Elvis — What Happened?. Elvis heard about the book and tried to buy them off. When that failed he addressed the problem at his very last Las Vegas show, on 2 December 1976, in a monologue to the audience — who, as the revelations were not yet public, can have had little idea what he was on about. 

It was Elvis at his most fork-tongued. ‘I’ve just returned from New York where I attended a meeting of the International Federation Of Narcotics Agents and I’ve been awarded honorary membership, ladies and gentlemen. I don’t pay any attention to movie magazines or newspapers because in my case they make the stories up. When I hear the rumours flying around, I get sick. In this day and age, you can’t even get sick. They said I was strung out on heroin and I’ve never been strung out on anything but music. If I ever find out who started that I’ll knock their goddam head off, the son of a bitch. That is dangerous to me, my family, my friends and my little girl. If I find out who started this, maids or room clerks or freaks that carry your luggage up, I’ll rip their tongues out by the roots! Now I’ll sing Blue Hawaii from the movie.’

When it came time to promote the book, West was forthright. Elvis, he said, ‘takes pills to go to sleep. He takes pills to get up. He takes pills to go to the john.’ In another interview, Hebler said of Elvis: ‘It seems he is bent on death.’ The book was published on 1 August 1977. Fifteen days later, Elvis was dead. 

Tomorrow Elvis'  X-ray vision

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