On Saturday, a new HBO documentary was previewed at The Guest House at Graceland. Elvis Presley: The Searcher
is a three-hour look at the entertainer with particular focus on his music — his influences, his favorite tunes, his top songwriters, his styles, and how he changed throughout his career.
There are extensive images and clips of Elvis and considerable performance footage. Among the sources heard in “The Searcher” are Priscilla Presley, David Porter, Tom Petty, Red West, Bruce Springsteen, Bill Ferris, Preston Lauterbach, Emmylou Harris, and Robbie Robertson. The first part of the documentary premieres Saturday, April 14 at 7p.m. Central on HBO GO and HBO NOW.
Attending the event were executive producers Priscilla Presley and Jerry Schilling, and producer/songwriter David Porter. In a red carpet interview with the Memphis Flyer
, the three gave us a look at what the documentary aimed to cover.
The documentary is Elvis’ life with music in totality. There was quite a bit of involvement with me knowing him all the way back to the Flamingo Room when we were younger. I first saw this young kid — I was a bit younger — hanging around those clubs and everything just getting that energy. He had the spirit of Beale Street.
Later I saw him as a record producer myself and was honored when he asked Isaac Hayes and me to do a jam session when he brought Priscilla to Memphis, so we did that for him at the Manhattan Club with the Willie Mitchell Band. That was a bit of synergy there, then he later produced the record, at Stax in 1973 at the same time I was producing the Sweet Inspirations in Studio B, he was recording at Studio A, so we were always bumping into each other.
A tremendous amount of his influences were rooted in what he got out of Beale Street. He had a great respect and love for artists like Roy Hamilton, who he was a huge fan of, as well as Jackie Wilson. He was a fan of what was going on on Beale Street because during those times there was the energy, and entertainers were truly entertainers. Joe Tex, Jackie Wilson, James Brown all of these great, great artists would come to the clubs and these small venues in that area and you had opportunity, if you were ambitious, to come and really not only talk to them, but learn so much from them. Elvis certainly took advantage of that.
The thing that was paramount about music and entertainment at that time was black artists had to deal with truly being sure they were marketed right because they were entertaining for people at that time when oppression and bias and racism were so prevalent. So to have the artistry to make people feel comfortable and forget was a true, true amount of power and Elvis was able to come and see that kind of energy happening and make it work in such as way that was special for him. I believe his true identity was in having emotional connectivity with audiences.
Elvis Presley: The Searcher
is totally put together differently. I’ve produced more documentaries on Elvis than anybody. It is more from his point of view and it's more behind the scenes, even the professional side. It's the struggles he had to go through, with the triumphs. The other voiceovers are embellishing what Elvis is saying. And with Thom Zimny, the director, you get a very sensitive viewpoint. I think it's the most honest, definitive, look at my friend that there is. It tells why we're still talking about him and also tells why maybe he's not here. Out of greed and disappointments.
Jerry and I talked so many times about the books that are out there, the professors that are out there giving their viewpoint about who Elvis Presley was. They come up with some kind of clever thing that he was this or that or he was guiding his career in such a way, then all of a sudden he lost it, or that he happened to be at the right place at the right time, and that's just lucky him. No. I'm sorry. It's just not that way at all. He knew that he was unique. From a very young age he knew that there was something different about him.
Elvis was able to know not just what was good music, but that what came out of him touched his soul. He was so influenced by country, rhythm and blues, and gospel, which he says in the documentary. He pulled it all together because it truly touched him. And he loved rock and roll, but ballads really touched him. What 10-year-old boy would sing “Old Shep”? Have you considered that song? I mean, for a variety show? But even at age 3, he would go on that stage and rock out with gospel music and felt it, putting his hands up. It was already in him. You can't tell me that he was just in the right place at the right time. He knew what he loved, and that was the feeling that came out of that music.
On the red carpet at the screening of HBO’s “Elvis Presley: The Searcher” (from left): producer Kary Antholis, music producer David Porter, director Thom Zimny, executive producers Priscilla Presley and Jerry Schilling, and Sony music executive John Jackson.