The man who told Elvis his career was in the toilet

Close-up of bling belonging to Al ‘Alvis’ Gersbach, Parkes Council grader driver 51 weeks of the year, Elvis tribute artist the rest. Photography: Emma Byrnes

Parkes Elvis Festival: Binder reflects on the ‘one-and-only’ King

January 8, 2016

By Peter Barrett

1968: Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood. Since being discharged from the army, Elvis Presley had done a string of films but the offers had dried up. He hadn’t performed live since 1961, he was abusing amphetamines and there was this band dominating the charts called The Beatles.

Contracted against his will to do a Christmas special for television, Presley walked into the offices of producer and director Steve Binder and asked him what he thought of his career. Binder’s frank and much-quoted reply: “It’s in the toilet.”

Binder says Elvis laughed and replied: “Thank goodness, you’re the first guy to speak the truth to me in years.”

The pair would go on to form a close working relationship and bond.

This weekend Binder, 83, is a special guest of the Parkes Elvis Festival, where he’ll answer questions from fans and provide personal insights at a screening of the ’68 Comeback Special, the melange of lavish sets, dance numbers, improvised jamming and live performance Binder masterminded that is widely credited with having resurrected Presley’s career and general hip-swinging mojo.

Steve Binder meets Elvis impersonators in Parkes for the annual festival in memory of the King. Photo: Bill Jayet.
Steve Binder meets Elvis impersonators in Parkes for the annual festival in memory of the King. Photo: Bill Jayet.

Elvis baulked only twice during shooting for the special, recalls Binder. First, when asked to wear a gold lamé suit; and second, when he lost his nerve just minutes before he was due to perform a semi-improvised set in front of a live studio audience.

“I told him, ‘Just go out there. If you don’t remember any songs just say hello and goodbye and come back. But you gotta go out there.’ Once he walked out he just took off – and it was hard to stop him.”

It was remarkable watching Presley’s confidence return, Binder says.

“He was a one-and-only; he was a unique, major recording superstar, who had so much charisma.”

And it’s charisma that Binder will be looking for first and foremost when he judges at the festival’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest final tonight.

It’s the first year the festival has become endorsed by Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc, and the stakes have risen for the 17 entrants, with a $3000 trip to the world final in Memphis, in August, up for grabs.

“For me it’s all about the talent; it’s not about ego or even how they look. It’s more, ‘Do you feel something? Is there real blood pumping? Is there feeling behind the words?'”

Read the story orgininally published in the Sydney Morning Herald, here.

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