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For many musicians, Elvis Presley’s music was like a lightning bolt of inspiration. They heard his songs and realized they wanted to do something similar with their lives. Therefore, it came as a thrill for people who got the chance to perform with him. The reality of playing as one of Elvis’ backing musicians came as a disappointment to one artist, though.

A musician said playing with Elvis hadn’t been what he expected

In 1972, bass player Emory Gordy replaced a musician in Elvis’ band. He was extremely excited about performing with the iconic artist. According to Gordy, there was much to feel happy about in a recording session he had previously filled in on, and he thought the tour would be the same. He couldn’t help feeling disappointed by it, though.

“I was really let down by the whole thing,” Gordy said in the book Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick. “Everybody had been there for so many years they were very set in their way; I think they sent me about five hundred tunes to learn in a two-week period, and then we ended up doing the same show they had been doing in Vegas for the last [four] years.”

A black and white picture of Elvis lunging down and singing into a microphone.
Elvis Presley | Ronald C. Modra/ Getty Images

Gordy said Elvis sometimes performed with passion, but the shows typically felt perfunctory and rushed.

“Occasionally, he’d get up there and start feeling real good and be spontaneous, [but mostly] all the tunes were done so fast we literally ran over them,” he said. “There was no feeling involved.”

Another musician said he had a frightening first day on the job when he met Elvis

Another musician, Tony Brown, joined Elvis onstage as a keyboard player. He found the singer’s appearance and behavior shocking.

“My first night was College Park, Maryland,” Brown said. “I was scared, my hands were sweating, and I’m waiting backstage for Elvis to arrive. He pulls up in the car, and he fell out of the limousine, to his knees. People jump to help, and he pushed them away like, ‘Don’t help me.’”

Brown said Elvis looked so unwell that they weren’t sure if he would be able to perform.

“He walked onstage and held on to the mike for the first thirty minutes like it was a post,” Brown said. “Everybody’s looking at each other like, Is the tour gonna happen? Is he sick? Is it gonna be canceled?”

Ultimately, he took the stage, but everyone felt incredibly concerned about him.

Elvis typically had high standards for his backing band

While Gordy and Brown didn’t have the best experiences playing with Elvis, he often played shows that were more exciting for his backing musicians. He kept them on their toes at all times.

A black and white picture of Elvis holding a piece of paper and singing. The Jordanaires gather around him and sing.
Elvis and the Jordanaires | GAB Archive/Redferns

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“Those guys were reading Better Homes and Gardens and stuff like that — they play music so well they can play their part and they’d say, ‘Think I should build that patio on my house?’” Elvis recalled. “So what I did, I switched songs on them. And the orchestra was there, they’d go into the intro, and I’d say, ‘Woah, I don’t want to do that song, let’s do something [else].’ So they’d go through the sheet music real quick, and consequentially I got them; they had to watch me.”