Interview: Elvis’s best friend Jerry Schilling talks about the Elvis Live: The Wonder of You tour and the man himself

In one way or another, Elvis has been a part of everyone’s musical exploration. He is an artist who has transcended generations with his groundbreaking songs, and it’s incredibly hard to think he’s not with us anymore. His music does live on however, and with Elvis Live: The Wonder of You touring the country at this very moment, audiences have been able to share a very musical and personal experience with the man himself. Childhood best friend and manager Jerry Schilling, has been emceeing the shows and remarkably, he found some time to chat with us about the King of Rock n Roll, and what Elvis’s one wish would have been for the world and music.

First of all, tell me how is the tour going? How have audiences responded to the show so far?

The tour is going fantastically. We’ve done Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane, and I gotta tell you, I said it to the audience last night; I feel like I’m back on tour with Elvis! People are dancing in the aisles, having fun and we have this great orchestra conducted by the renowned Chong Lim who is awesome. This 40-piece orchestra has a rhythm section and three singers; it’s first class. You look up at the big screen and you see Elvis, and I know it may sound weird, but you feel his presence.

This is an incredible concept to showcase Elvis’ music by collaborating with an orchestra. How does this show leave more of a mark than others shows you’ve curated?

I don’t do this normally. I did do one show in Memphis for 25,000 people and it was with an orchestra and that was fantastic, but this came about because the producer who produced his first album If I Can Dream, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, became a huge hit for Elvis. But the person who really believed in this idea and sold it to the record company was Priscilla [Presley]. She was a hands on Executive Producer; she’s actually been hosting the tour recently in the UK and Europe, and she passed the baton to me for Australia. She and I grew up in Graceland together, and I’ve seen her grow and make the hard decisions; this wasn’t an easy decision to do but that’s how we’re here now. We all know how much Elvis wanted to tour the world and Australia, and this is as close as it can be without having him, but we do have his spirit here.

His presence is probably with every die-hard fan and musician. I’m a spiritual person and believe in the after life, and souls living on, so I do believe he is here with us in some capacity.

I do too, and Elvis had that same philosophy as well. I’m so thrilled Ralph Carr has made this possible. He got all the right people technically, it’s been a wonderful experience – more so than I expected. I’ve done hundreds of shows with Elvis but I’m loving it, and the audiences are too.

Photo by KLowe Photography

In 2017 music concerts can often be a very over the top in production. If Elvis was still alive, what do you think his shows would be like and what do you think he’d charge, because tickets to these shows are also very expensive?

If you go back and look, Elvis’ ticket prices were always reasonable. The philosophy was always that he wanted to see all the fans who wanted to see him. It was always important for Elvis to reach out and make it available. I can’t believe what ticket prices are like these days too.

If Elvis was alive today, which artists do you think he’d be working or collaborating with? We’re spoilt for choice given how accessible music is.

Elvis was not a collaborator; he was more a producer and he was the most underrated producer in rock and roll in history. I’m working on a documentary with Priscilla, which goes into that. He came from an era where artists sang and songwriters wrote, so right on that cusp where The Beatles took it to the next level as songwriters, Elvis was from that older school where singers basically didn’t write.

What do you think was one wish Elvis had for the world and music?

I think the one personal wish was he wanted to visit the whole world and share his music. There was one song he was involved with the writing alongside Earl Brown called ‘If I Can Dream’. That’s what he wanted for the world; “If I can dream of a better land, where all my brothers walk hand in hand”. He meant all of our brothers from every colour. It’s a song of hope still to this day; it’s very important. I consider Elvis a co songwriter on that song.

 

Elvis Live: The Wonder of You has three remaining shows in Melbourne from June 8th to 10th. For tickets and more info, head here.