So when Nesui Ertegun said to us, listen,
Ahmet and Jerry and I love your records, and we know how to sell them, uh,
you guys know how to make 'em, why don't you make 'em for us, we'll sell
'em. Because, that sounded great. Because prior to that time, we could never
cross the Rockies.
And that's how rhythm
and blues --
Came over the
The coming of the deal with Atlantic Records, this leads
in turn to the splintering of the -- okay, we're going to go to the Coasters
later, right? We're trying to keep to a timeline here. I think what we're up
to now is …
Smoky Joe's Cafe.
That's the most boring story of all, I just want to
I think we're going to talk about,
because at the same time that Atlantic comes in, also Elvis picks up "Hound
Dog" and you're in a famous ocean disaster, which maybe you could tell us
about. I've never actually heard you say --
I have. And if you ask him that question again, I'm going to tell him about
my gall bladder operation.
All right. The
Andrea Dorea first --
And the gall
I never win this
Actually this story is probably
better told by Jerry. It's more interesting.
Yeah, I'm much more objective about it. Because he sank on the
boat, in fact, he's not even here. I'll tell you about what happened to him.
We going to do that now? Well, I, I went to New York, I was supposed to meet
Mike in New York, and we were supposed to, uh finalize our deal with
Atlantic, and I believe also, was it with RCA?
I knew you were going to
help me out again. When was that?
Yeah. When we moved to New York.
Okay, well, '56 was the finalization with Atlantic,
and Mike was coming, on his way back from a, an extended holiday in Italy on
the Andrea Dorea, and I was in the Algonquin Hotel. And uh, it was the first
time I had been left loose in a hotel by myself. It think it was what, 22
years old, was that -- what year was that?
23? And I had, I, I had
always loved the Algonquin Hotel. I'd been there like twice, I'd visited the
place and I loved what it looked like. And I knew all about the Algonquin
Round Table and all that nonsense. So I checked into the Algonquin Hotel and
uh, I remember taking a shower, and uh, this is late in the afternoon, like
5 o'clock or something like that, or 6 o'clock. I don't remember exactly
when. And I ordered um, I ordered a martini and a pack of Camels, I used to
smoke in those days. And uh, it came, and I was just, I was luxuriating in
this hotel. And I had the, had the radio on, it was something, somebody like
Symphony Sid, some disk jockey was playing something, and there was this, an
urgent, a station break, and this calamity, you know, came on. And they
announced the sinking of the Andrea Dorea. And I couldn't believe it. I
thought, my God, you know, I came here with this hair-raising story of a
fishing trip that I was in off the coast of Southern California. You know,
where we almost lost our lives. We were out 60 miles at sea fishing and we
lost all power and everything, and the sharks were surrounding our little
fishing boat because the fishing fleet was coming in and cleaning their fish
and the blood was all over the water, and there were like thousands of
sharks and our captain was drunk, and he left the tool kit on shore. So he
couldn't fix anything, you know? And I'd come with this hair-raising story
to tell Mike -- topped again. And then of course I recovered and I was
upset. But of course at first I was really angry, I was shocked. So, I
thought, my God, you know, Mike is on the Andrea Dorea. And Jesus, we got
the number one hit in the country. Hmm. Well, reports started coming through
about, some people being in lifeboats and some people being picked up by a
United Fruit boat, etc., etc. Then a telegram came through to Atlantic from
Mike saying that he was okay. Right? And he would be in some time, at some
point, the next day or whatever. I don't remember exactly what the time
Well, we came in at night
actually. And we were supposed to be in that morning.
And we were waiting all that day.
Twelve hours late. And when I got to the dock, uh,
the first person I saw was Jerry who came running up to me with a suit, an
Italian silk suit which he brought for me, assuming that I might not have
And I figured he was all wet.
I mean, you know, you sink you get wet.
At any rate, the first thing he said to me, we got a smash. He said, "Hound
Dog". And I said, no kidding, Big Mama Thornton? That record? And he said,
no, no. Somebody named, uh, Elvis Presley. I said, Elvis what?
How to deflate right? Elvis what?
How did Elvis, how did the whole arrival of Elvis affect
you. What was your take on that at first. After going through your whole
thing about authenticity and the blues?
tell you, the first time I heard Elvis Presley, I think the first time I
heard Elvis, and this might be confused, help me out here. I was sitting in
Atlantic's offices with Miriam Beanstock, who was a partner, and Jerry
Wexler, and Ahmet. I don't think Mike was there that afternoon.
I was in Europe.
Right, and you know what? I think it was before "Hound Dog", I think it was
before it was a hit. I've got this confused in terms of time sequence. But
they were playing Elvis Presley records, and they were playing them because
they were evaluating them.
They were Sun
It was Sun Records, yeah, of
Elvis Presley. And the discussion was, do we want to go for it. Because they
were, Elvis was being offered to Atlantic first and they wanted 25,000
dollars advance. And Atlantic turned him down. I remember what the, the, the
discussion was about at that time. Sort of the, off the cuff remarks were,
yeah, he's pretty good, but you know, he's white. I mean, like, you know, he
can't really sing the blues. I mean, like, you know. It was that attitude.
So RCA picked it up obviously vis a vis the Auberbachs who were running his
publishing company with the Colonel, and the rest is obviously
What about the bluegrass, like the
Bluemen of Kentucky, juked-up kind of stuff. Did that make any kind of
separate impression in addition to the blues stuff, or was it all sort of
I didn't see any distinctions being
made. I didn't see any distinctions between even later on, the pop stuff,
like, you know, the pop blues, pop rock and roll and the blues, and the
really early authentic stuff. I mean it was all, nobody, nobody was that
clearly, you know, concerned about making those kinds of, sort of academic
Was anybody concerned with
making any kind of judgments about whether this might be -- I get the
impression that nobody was particularly that concerned with this
development, that it wasn't that revolutionary?
Nobody thought it was, really, at the time. I think they just
thought he was a better version of, of, uh, of Bill Haley. I mean they
didn't know who he was yet. You know? Even with one hit or two hits. You
know, people in that business, you know, can be very, very hard, you know,
blind-sided and cynical. He's doing hits, but you know, what's his name was
better. Everybody thought, um, what's his name, not Ray Peterson -- "Pretty
Oh, Roy Orbison?
Yeah, Roy -- they would say he's good, but he's not
We're just going to finish up this
Elvis bit and then go to the Coasters. How did it develop after that you
ended up writing for the Elvis movies and playing in the band in "Jailhouse
Rock." What was your attitude toward that with the writing and
Uh, after "Hound Dog", the
Auberbachs, the publishers who handled all of Elvis's music asked Jerry and
me if we had any other songs that might be good for Elvis. And Jerry thought
of this song that we had done with this R and B duet on Spark Records,
Willie and Ruth, a song called "Love Me." And um, it was submitted to Elvis,
he liked it, he recorded it, it came out on an EP and it became a big, big
hit. After that they started to give us, uh, assignments for movies. Uh, the
first one being "Loving You" which I think had been called something like
"Lonesome Cowboy" until we submitted the song "Loving You" and they changed
the title. And the next one was a song, uh, a movie, I forget the original
title, it ultimately was "Jailhouse Rock" and Jerry and I were in New York
having a great time. We were staying at the Gorham Hotel. We had a suite
with two bedrooms and a living room where we rented an upright piano. And we
were having a great time and we were presented with this godawful script,
and we didn't even bother to look at it for a week. And I think it was a
Saturday morning, Gene Auberbach came to the hotel and said, boys, I need
the songs for the movie.