Interview with Jerry Weintraub | Elvis’ Concert Promoter

One of the first independent producers to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Jerry Weintraub, the son of a gem salesman, began his career as a talent agent for MCA in the 1950s. He was to represent such clients as Jack Paar and singer Jane Morgan who became his second wife.

He formed Management III in 1965, and from a quite modest beginning (two partners, three clients, a small backing), became a leading concert promoter. With the founding of Concerts West, he was to handle such clients as Elvis PresleyFrank SinatraBob DylanLed Zeppelin, and the Beach Boys.

Elvis concert ticket.

Q : Thank you for allowing us to interview you.

Tell us how you first began working with Elvis and Colonel Parker.

How’d it come about?

A : Well, I don’t want to sound too spiritual about all this, but I’ll tell you the story and its the true story. It has never been told publicly. I was in business at RCA records with some people that are no longer with. A fellow named Harry Jenkins, who worked with Elvis down in Nashville and some other people that worked with him, Steve Sholes and these are names that are not going to be familiar to you, but are familiar and are very important names in the recording industry and I had been doing shows around the country and I had some artists that I was representing.

I was living in New York on 54th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue. And I went to sleep one night and I got up in the middle of the night, three o’clock in the morning. I got up and I said to my wife, ‘I just had this crazy dream’. She said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I saw a sign in front of Madison Square Garden that said ‘Jerry Weintraub presents Elvis’. And she said, ‘That’s crazy. That’s nuts. You know, you don’t know Elvis. You don’t know Colonel Parker. You know, how do you expect to do this?’ I said, ‘I’m telling you. God sent me a sign that I was gonna do this’. I do believe in God, very strongly believe in God. I’m a very spiritual person. And I talked to him all the time.

Anyway, I started to call Tom Parker who was Elvis’ manager every morning at 8:30 in the morning. He was always up at 6:00 oclock in the morning. I used to call him every morning, ‘Good morning, Colonel, this is Jerry Weintraub. I want to take Elvis on tour’. And every morning he said to me, ‘What are you, you’re crazy. Why do you keep calling here? You’re wasting your money’.

‘First of all’, he said, ‘Elvis is not working thats to begin with. Second of all, if he were working I have a lot of promoters that I owe dates too. A lot of producers I owe dates to. And it’s not gonna be you. It’s never gonna be you’. This went on for one year. Finally, one morning he said to me, ‘You still want to take my boy on tour’. I said, ‘Yes’. He said, ‘Okay, you be in Vegas tomorrow at 11:00 o’clock with a million dollars and we’ll talk a deal’. The fact of the matter was that a million dollars in those days to me belonged to the Rockefellers and the Fords and those kind of people. I never thought that, you know, where would I go to get a million dollars. A millions dollars was like reaching for the sky, but I said, ‘Okay I’ll get it and I’ll be there’.

I hung up and I said to my wife, ‘You see. I told you I was gonna get Elvis Presley’. And she said, ‘Well, you got one little obstacle here. You know, you owe the bank $65,000 as it is. Where you gonna get a million dollars?’ And I said, ‘I’ll get. I’m gonna get it’. And I went to all the people that I knew in show business and out of show business and they used to smack me on the back and they would say, ‘Listen kid, you’re gonna really do great. You’re gonna make it and so on’. And I said ‘Loan me some money. I want to — I have this deal with Elvis Presley. I need a million dollars’. You know, people thought I was either on drugs or smoking something. They thought I was nuts because I was a kid, and low and behold I stayed on the phone all night.

And I went to Vegas to continue my calls so I can meet the Colonel at 11. At 8:30 the next morning, I finally made a connection through a lawyer in New York who knew a guy in Seattle, Washington, who was a big Elvis fan and owned radio stations and he said to me, ‘I think this guy might do it’. I said, ‘You don’t understand. I got two hours. It’s not might do it. It’s I got two hours. I don’t have time for papers. I don’t have time for anything legal. I need a million bucks now. Cash. Cash money. I have to meet Tom Parker at the International Hotel in Las Vegas’. I said, ‘I have to be over there. That’s where he’s gonna be. He’s gonna be at the roulette table where he spent many hours of his life and I have to find him and give him the million dollars’.

So he said to me, ‘Let me get a hold of the guy’. So he got the guy on the phone and I spoke to the guy and I said, ‘Can you please send me the million dollars right away?’ He said, ‘Well, what am I gonna get for it?’ And I said, ‘I’ll give you half of the money that I make in the concert business forever’. And he said to me, ‘Half of everything you make?’ I said, ‘Yeah’. Now, little did I know that I was gonna become the number one guy in the concert business. I had everybody, you know. I didn’t know that at the time, you know, but I made a deal with him. He sent me the million dollars, but it was late getting there and it was at the Royal Bank of Las Vegas. I remember it had a purple coloring with a gold crown on it. A bank, you know. It was perfect.

And I went down to that bank to pick the million dollars up. And I walked in and asked for the million dollars, they thought I was nuts. You know, I said, ‘I’m Jerry Weintraub. I have a million dollars coming’. You know, I was a kid. I had side-burns. I was wearing a pair of jeans and cowboy boots. I looked as much like I had a million dollars coming as the man on the moon. And finally, a fellow came up from the bank, young man, and he said he was the president of the bank. And he said, ‘What can I do for you?’ I thought at that point, I thought they figured I was gonna rob the place, you know. I said, ‘I have a million dollar cashiers check coming made out to Elvis Presley and I need to get it. I’m waiting for it’. And he said to me, ‘Okay. Well, sit over there’. About an hour later, I now called the Colonel and pushed my meeting to 2:00 o’clock. I said, ‘I just need, it’s on the way. The money is on the way. I just need a little longer’. And he said, ‘Okay, I’ll give you til two’.

So the money came in and this fellow came out from the back, the president. And he said, ‘Can you come into my office’. I went into his office and he said to me, ‘There’s a check here for you for a million dollars made out to Elvis Presley’. I can’t believe this. I said, ‘That’s what I’m waiting for. Can I have it?’ So he said, ‘Yes, yes’. He said, ‘What are you gonna do with this?’ I said, ‘I’m gonna take Elvis Presley on tour’. And he said to me, ‘Can he use an accountant? I’d like to leave here and go with you’. And I said, ‘Well, look. We’ll discuss that some other time’. I got to take this money and get to the Colonel. The guy was so excited at the bank that he gave me a cashiers check, which is cash. I didn’t sign anything. I never signed anything. He was so excited. I was so excited that I forgot that I didn’t sign anything because I knew at that moment in time that I was only a young boy, you know, I was in my twenties that I knew that my life had changed, that my life was never gonna be the same, because I now was gonna be in business with the biggest star that had ever been. And I knew that my life was gonna be different that it had been up to that. I had a good life, you know. I had a lot of wonderful artists and I was working with a lot of people, but there was only one Elvis Presley like there was only one Frank Sinatra and there was only one Bob Dylan and luckily I worked with all those people.

But Elvis was only one and he was an original, you know, I grew up on his music and I loved him and it was like a bolt from heaven and I knew my life would never be the same. It was that moment, it was that defining moment. In most successful peoples lives, theres a moment that just happens and I knew it was gonna be like that. So I got the money, went to the International Hotel, got to Tom Parker and I found him. You couldn’t miss him. He was sitting with cigar and his cane and his hat on and he had more chips on the table than anybody else and I said, ‘I’m ready. I have the million dollars. I’m ready’. He said, ‘Come on, son. We’ll go up to my office’. He took me up to his office in the International.

And he said, ‘Let me see the million’, and I handed him the check. Now, I was so excited that I didn’t ask him to sign anything. So I gave him the check. He put it in the drawer and locked the drawer. And he said to me, ‘What kind of deal do you want to make?’ Now, I had no idea what kind of deal I wanted to make. At that time, he really didn’t know what kind of deal to make because there was no real concert business like this. Like what we were gonna do. We were gonna go out and play 15,000 and 20,000 seat arenas. And that really wasn’t done, you know, until we did it. And nobody had had done, really done a whole United States tour like that. You know, we were gonna really because Elvis worked a lot, you know, he worked afternoon shows, night shows, all kinds of shows. and I was taken up to Elvis’ suite to meet him. The Colonel took me up there.

I’ll never forget the first meeting. Joe Esposito was there and Elvis’ friends late in the afternoon and I was taken in and the Colonel said to Elvis. ‘Elvis, this is your new promoter, this is Mr. Weintraub’. I was younger than Elvis. I was three years younger than him and he said to me. ‘Oh, sir’. The Colonel said, ‘He just gave me a million dollars for you’, and Elvis said, ‘Oh, thank you, sir’. That’s really great, you know. And we shook hands and I said to him, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ You know, is there anything you want or anything I can do on the dates, and he said to me, ‘Look, I’m very, very easy. I like to have six Coca-Colas when I get to the building. I don’t need a dressing room. You can have one there if you want it. You can put a curtain up. I don’t care. I’m coming dressed. And I want all the seats full’. I said, ‘Well, do you want to know how much money you’re gonna make?’ He said, ‘No. That’s the Colonel’s business. He’ll take care of that. I just want you to tell me that you’re gonna fill the seats. I don’t want to play to empty seats’. And that’s all.

That’s the only thing Elvis Presley ever cared about. That with me, I mean from my end, that and to have his fans in the first 20 rows and not have big shots in the first 20 rows. He wanted his people that bought his records and that supported him and would get excited when they heard him sing. That’s who he wanted in the front. He used to say to me, ‘Don’t put those big shots in the front. Put them in the back. First 20 rows, you know, that’s for the people’, and that’s the way we did it and it was a hell of a ride and three weeks after I started with Elvis, we ended up that tour in San Diego, California. I was a millionaire and my life had changed.

So, God was right and he blessed me and he blessed me with knowing Elvis. And I have only great memories of him. The bad memories that I have when it was near the end and he got very heavy and so on and so forth, I’ve put out of my mind. And I don’t really know anything bad about him. You know, I don’t know about the drug stuff and if I did, I wouldn’t talk about it. This is the first time I’ve talked about Elvis at all.

But I could only tell you that in my dealings with him, he was bright, articulate, brilliant musician, and a nice man and one of the things that attracted me so much was his camaraderie and his loyalty with his friends. Same friends that he had all his life and that was to me a very attractive thing. That was something I had grown up with and for example right now, I’m making Ocean’s 11 with George Clooney and Matt Damon and Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts and so on. George Clooney has all the same friends that he has when he was a kid. Matt Damon has all the same people around that he had when he was a kid.

That’s a very important ingredient in a celebrities life because theres so many things can go wrong, you know, it’s such a delicate balance between life and the stage and the stage and life that you need people around you that are gonna tell you the truth. Joe Esposito always told him the truth. He didn’t just say, ‘Yes, Elvis. Yes, Elvis’. You know, he said to him, ‘What are you doing that for? What do you want to do that for?’ And you need that. And you can only get that from friends, people who really care and that love you’.

Q : Mr. Weintraub, did you tell Elvis this amazing story about how you got Colonel Parker?’

A : No. I never told Elvis that story. I never told it to him because I never had a reason to tell it to him, and I never told it to him because I never discussed a deal with him that was of the Colonels business to do. You know, the Colonel talked all of his deals with him. And even when they had ups and downs, he and Elvis had ups and downs, it’s just like every relationship does and I’m sure you’ve heard about some of them or I’m sure you will hear about some of the ups and downs and they were gonna be together. They weren’t gonna be together. I always knew they’d be together. I always felt that’.

Q : Well, how did you feel when Elvis actually played Madison Square Garden?

A : Well, I brought it up directly to Elvis because the Colonel wouldn’t do it. He didn’t want to discuss Madison Square Garden with him. He’d say, ‘If you want to talk to him about it, you talk to him about it’. He doesn’t want to go there. He doesn’t want to play in New York. And I said, ‘Why doesn’t he want to play in New York?’ He said, ‘Ask him, you know. It’s fine with me. Ask him’. So I asked him one night. He came to one of the dates and, I mean, I was on every date, but I used to be ahead. You know, I used to wait til he got to town til the show started, as soon as the show started, unless we were doing multiple days, which we usually did, but unless we were doing multiple days, I would jump on a plane and go ahead to the next city and he wait for him to land. I’m sorry. I lost my train of thought. You asked me… Oh, Madison Square Gardens.

I went to Elvis and I said, ‘Let’s play in New York City’, and he said to me, ‘You know, I don’t really want to go to New York City’. I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I’m not a New York City kind of artist. You know, they’re not gonna like me in New York City. They like me in Alabama and Georgia and Tennessee, you know, but I don’t want to go to New York City, Jerry’. I said, ‘Elvis, you’re the biggest star in the world. They’re not gonna like you, they’re gonna love you’. He said, ‘You’re gonna have trouble selling shows in New York City’. I said, ‘No, I’m not. I absolutely am not’. Anyway, he finally said to me he loved the challenge. I mean he liked to get challenged like most artists. The mundane of doing the same thing all the time is what gets him in trouble. Trying something new and he wasn’t afraid to try things.

Anyway, I booked New York. You have to look it up. I think it was 4 shows the first time. Four shows, that’s 80,000 people, 80,000 people for a music star. They came and slept outside Madison Square Garden for two weeks to get tickets. They slept. They brought beds. They brought cots. They brought bed roles. It was amazing. And that had never been done before. Nobody had done it.

And I remember taking my dad down because my dad always wanted to know how I made money. He said, ‘How do you make money? I don’t understand how you make money. You don’t have any inventory or anything. You know, I don’t know what you’re selling’. And I said, ‘No. I make money, plenty of money’. He said, ‘Well, show me some time. I’d like to see it’. I remember taking my dad. There was a cafeteria right across the street from Madison Square Garden. That night we opened a box office, I think it was at nine that morning and I showed him these people who I was giving donuts to and coffee and he said, ‘What are these people doing. I don’t understand. The World Series. What is this?’ I said, ‘No. It’s Elvis Presley, dad. He’s as big as Babe Ruth was. He’s as big as Joe DiMaggio was. He’s as big as the Dodgers were. He’s the man’. And that’s what Madison Square Garden. It meant a lot to me. You know, it meant an awful lot. It was my hometown and then to see that sign up in the garden Jerry Weintraub presents Elvis. It was thrilling.

Q : Your dream really came true.

A : Dream came true. All my dreams in my life, I know this is not about me, this is about Elvis, but all my dreams in my life have come true. I’m very, very lucky man, very lucky. But it was people like Elvis and Elvis was a huge and enormous part of all my success’.

Q : Did Elvis ever tell you anything that stuck out in your mind?

A : Well, he told me a lot of things. But it was more his actions toward its friends and toward his people and the way he treated people. I thought he treated people wonderfully. You know, he was nice to people. He didn’t — I don’t think you had to be a big shot for him to say nice things to you or be nice to you. He was nice to everybody. You know, and that’s good, you know, because he didn’t have to be. He was a king, you know, and he had anything he wanted, whenever he wanted it. That was the biggest problem he had. That was why he did things in access because he had too much at his hands, you know’.

Q : How was your experience working with Colonel Parker over the years?

A : It was incredible. You know, he taught me a lot. I consider him my mentor. He taught me a tremendous amount of stuff. He taught me that New York and Los Angeles were only two cities on each side of a vast country and that the audience was out there in the middle of this country. It wasn’t in New York and LA and he taught me not to worry about the press in New York and Los Angeles which I never have done even though they’ve been very good to me by in large. He taught me to forget about that stuff, that it was not important. And he taught me about merchandising and he taught me about shows. I mean he was a brilliant guy, you know, in his own way and he and I fought a lot. I mean we had some doozies, some real doozies, but at the end of the day, we found a way to agree and we found a way to do things together and he was a great teacher. Great man’.

Q : Were you with the Colonel when you found out Elvis passed away?

A : No, I was at home and he was supposed to start a tour for me the next day in Maine and my telephone rang and it was Joe Esposito on one line. I don’t know if he remembers this but it was Joe and he said, ‘Jerry, I got to talk to you’, and my other line rang and I said, ‘Hold on one second, Joe’. And I hit the other line it was Roon Arledge from ABC news and he said to me, ‘Jerry, Elvis is dead’. And I said, ‘What? What?’ I said, ‘Hold on’, and I got back on with Joe. I said, ‘Joe, whats the matter?’ Joe said, ‘I’m in the bathroom with Elvis. He just died. He hadn’t gone. They hadn’t taken him away yet’. He said, ‘I just want you to know because your phone is gonna start ringing’. I said, ‘It’s already rung. Roon Arledge is on the phone’. He was in the — Joe was a disaster. You know, he was a complete wreck. He lost his best friend and he couldn’t believe it. I mean, he was totally bummed out. It got worse and worse when we got to the funeral and all that stuff, but Joe knew he had to handle it. You know, there was nobody else that was gonna handle it besides Joe. He had to get in there and take care of things and he did.

Roon Arledge knew because the minute they call 911, you know, it goes out on the air and the police know and it goes on the police radio and the television people and the associated press know and it takes about one second especially for someone like Elvis. So that’s where I was at home and I jumped on a plane immediately for Memphis and went down there and it was pretty tough. It was pretty tough to see him laid out dead in the living room and then when I got there I had a meeting with his father and the Colonel and a whole bunch of people were there. And, you know,it was the day of the funeral. Anyway, I’m gonna cry because I miss him’.

Q : Well, let me ask you. All the performers that you work with now, do they usually ask you, what was Elvis like?’

A : Everybody asks me. But I don’t talk about it because it’s private number one and I’ve never done an interview about it. My relationships with the artists that I’ve worked with including Elvis, including Frank Sinatra, including Bob Dylan, including John Denver, Neil Diamond, Led Zeppelin, the Carpenters, etcetera, etcetera, and the president of the United States George Bush and the current president George W. Bush and all the senators and congress, and everybody I’ve known in the world and i’ve known everybody. Those are all private relationships and some day I’ll write about all this, but I’m not ready yet and I don’t talk much about it. You know, I don’t need to train on their name. I’ve become a celebrity of my own, right? I make a lot of money. I’ve made a tremendous amount of money in my career and I’m still very active. I’m not retired yet, very active in the business. Although, I’d like to play golf everyday instead in the movie set, so I haven’t talked, but everybody asks me about Elvis. Everybody. Everybody I know, every important person, every little person. Every person, kids, I mean kids, you know, 10-year-old kids ask me about Elvis. He spans all ages’.

Q : Well, thank you for sharing your memories of Elvis. Its a great honor, Jerry.

A : My pleasure. Thank you very much.

Bob Heis:

‘At the time I got my autograph, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet with Elvis personally. I gave Jerry Weintraub two 8 by 10 color photographs to take backstage for Elvis to sign. One was for Elvis, one was for me. On the back of one of the photographs I had written a note. ‘Sing Polk Salad Annie for me Elvis’, I asked. Jerry took the photographs backstage and soon returned with one of them signed; ‘To Bob, Best Wishes, Elvis Presley’. I was very excited, and at the same time, I wondered if Elvis had actually signed it’.

‘Imagine my surprise when during the concert, Elvis looked up and said to his band; ‘Take it on!’ Then he looked towards the audience and said; ‘OK Bob’, just before the first notes of Polk Salad Annie filled the air’. If you listen to the LP titled; ‘Elvis Live At Madison Square Garden’, you can hear this for yourself’.

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