‘Heartbreak Hotel’ knocked him flat on the ground—Mark Lindsay salutes Elvis
A self-described wandering minstrel following wherever his rock ’n’ roll heart leads, Mark Lindsay, best known as the front man of frenzied garage rockers Paul Revere and the Raiders, divulges his perpetual admiration for both cultural innovator Elvis Presley and effortless “Garden Party” balladeer Rick Nelson in an exclusive conversation debuting below.
Although Lindsay and Raiders co-conspirator Paul Revere had been sweating it out in various editions of the band for some 10 years, the national spotlight didn’t arrive with maximum impact until Jan. 1966.
A string of garage rock anthems, spearheaded by “Just Like Me,” “Kicks,” “Hungry,” “Good Thing,” “Him or Me (What’s It Gonna Be?),” and “Too Much Talk,” proved the Idaho band’s power of endurance. Dick Clark even produced two music variety series starring the group — Where the Action Is and Happening.
On the other hand, at least to the record buying public, Presley’s artistic career was mired in the toilet. Much of that boiled down to the ridiculous musical travelogue movies and accompanying soundtracks — three were released annually with pretty much the same plot but different locale.
The one of a kind song interpreter finally realized his irrelevancy within the burgeoning counterculture and took steps to remedy the matter, recording such simmering jewels as Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is a Long Time,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Guitar Man,” “Big Boss Man,” “U.S. Male,” and “A Little Less Conversation.” Still, Top 40 radio refused to give any of Presley’s recent singles any significant traction.
In a last ditch effort to reverse the sharp decline, Colonel Tom Parker instigated a one hour NBC special planned as the singer’s first television appearance in eight years. Originally, Parker envisioned a yuletide offering had sharper minds not interceded [e.g. director Steve Binder].
The Raiders’ 11th Top 40 single, the effervescent “Don’t Take It So Hard,” was riding the airwaves when Lindsay first encountered the King of Rock ’n’ Roll in Hollywood during the making of that fantastic, back to the roots program, later dubbed the ’68 Comeback Special. It couldn’t have been a more fascinating time for Lindsay to converse with his musical idol.
The Mark Lindsay Interview
When Elvis Presley broke nationwide in 1956, did you take notice?
Growing up during the pre-rock ’n’ roll era, I fell on the ground when I heard “Heartbreak Hotel.” I thought, ‘Man this is happening.’ Elvis, along with Chuck Berry and Little Richard, quickly moved to the top of my list of favorite singers. I would have loved to have seen a concert where Elvis and Little Richard just tore it up [laughs].
It just so happened that the next year was my last year of junior high school. I had just turned 15. I said, ‘That’s it, I’m outta here.’ I left home and went down to southern Idaho to join a group called Freddy Chapman and the Idaho Playboys. I was a 15-year-old rockabilly singer. Of course, I lied about my age since you couldn’t play clubs unless you were 18. That’s where I got started, and I never looked back.
Did you have an opportunity to meet Presley?
I met him a couple of times — once in Hollywood and then years later in Las Vegas. The first time occurred while Elvis was rehearsing for his ’68 Comeback Special, the NBC show where he wore the black leather suit and reunited with original backing cats D.J. Fontana and Scotty Moore.
The Raiders’ road manager was a guy from Memphis named Jerry Williams, a real promoter who knew Elvis and just about everybody connected to him. One June evening Jerry said to us, “Elvis is rehearsing at Burbank Studios on Sunset Boulevard. Come on, let’s go down and see him.”
When we arrived between 9:30 and 10 o’clock that night, Elvis decided to take a break. He came out right on Sunset, standing on the sidewalk leaning against the building. Jerry exclaimed, “You can’t stay out there!”
And this is Elvis Presley, right? He looks like Elvis Presley. Elvis replied, “Look, nobody is gonna believe it’s really me” [laughs]. It was the truth. We’re just rapping back and forth. People came by, and they’d do a double take — ‘Nah it can’t be Elvis’ — and they’d walk on [laughs].
What were the circumstances behind your second Presley encounter?
It happened in the mid-‘70s when Elvis was playing one of his last runs at the Las Vegas Hilton. He and the TCB Band did a fantastic concert culminating with “An American Trilogy.” He was in all his glory.
I was with my ex-wife who shall remain nameless at this point [Author’s Note: Her name is Jaime Zygon]. She actually was friends with one of Elvis’s girlfriends, Ann Pennington, so we went backstage and got to talk for awhile. He was all revved up from the show, just turnin’ and burnin.’
[Author’s Note: According to the knowledgeable experts at the For Elvis CD Collectors forum, the encounter could have happened near Presley’s Jan. 26, 1974, opening night. His relationship with Pennington was relatively brief, and the Raiders had just concluded a residency at Harrah’s in Reno, Nevada, several days earlier].
Elvis was my idol, and nobody will ever be like him. I would have given anything to have seen him at the Overton Park Shell — renamed the Levitt Shell — in Memphis when he was about 20 years old. Elvis rocked harder than almost anybody.
If he’s in heaven right now — and I’m sure he is — he’s probably smiling as he looks down and says, “Look how many people are trying to do what I did” [laughs].
Did you get to work in the recording studio with any of Presley’s band members?
I actually recorded a cover of Aretha Franklin’s R&B classic, “Chain of Fools,” with Elvis’s TCB Band for the Raiders’ still-unreleased final album — tracked between 1972 and 1973. Jerry Scheff was on bass, Ronnie Tutt on drums, Glen D. Hardin on keyboards, and James Burton supplied lead guitar. There are no Raiders on the recording except me.
We did the session, and James played rhythm guitar on it. I asked him, “Well, can you give me a solo?” “Let me think about it for a minute.” He thought about it for just about a minute. “Okay, I’m ready.” James did the solo in one take — just like flowing water. That’s classic Burton…
Even though Elvis was not there, I used his band, which was almost the next best thing. They were so great live, and they were so great in the studio. “Chain of Fools is such a smokin’ track.
Why did “Chain of Fools” remain in the vaults for two decades until The Legend of Paul Revere anthology belatedly appeared in 1990?
The Raiders were kinda at the end of our bell-shaped curve at Columbia Records. We were no longer the most popular band in the world [Author’s Note: The ominous, stinging “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” arrived in Feb. 1971, ultimately earning platinum status after Paul Revere drove cross country via motorcycle relentlessly plugging the song. The slick middle of the road follow-up, “Birds of a Feather,” proved to be the band’s final Top 40 single, stalling at No. 23 in Aug. 1971].
Columbia [i.e. label president Clive Davis] had lost interest in promoting any Raider records or spending money promoting the Raiders. They seemed content to let our contract run out. That’s speculation, but that’s the only explanation I can give you that can make any sense.
Jerry Fuller penned two dozen songs for Rick Nelson, encompassing such enduring ballads as “Travelin’ Man,” “Young World,” and “It’s Up to You” — he also sang backup vocals on countless early ’60s Nelson sessions with a wet-behind-the-ears Glen Campbell. When you began your solo career in April 1969 by covering Jimmy Webb’s “First Hymn from Grand Terrace,” Fuller had transitioned into staff production at Columbia. You guys seized upon a winning combination, with Fuller producing all of your solo hits including “Arizona” and “Silver Bird.” It begs the question — did you know Rick?
Absolutely. Rick was a really, really nice guy and very, very talented. Personally, I think Rick was not as highly rated as he could have been because of his background — ‘Oh it’s that kid from the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet show.’
He possessed a clearly unique voice — very soft, but had a lot of character. I liked Rick’s material. He’s one of those artists that left us much too soon. You hear horrible stories and terror tales about people’s true personalities, but Rick was just one heck of a nice guy.
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