It’s always great to see Jerry Schilling in town.
Schilling, a close friend and business associate of Elvis, was in Memphis to participate in events surrounding Elvis’s January 8th birthday.
“I have not been back on a birthday since I can’t remember,” says Schilling, who lives in Beverly Hills.
He was invited to be guest host, so he and his wife, Cindy, spent the weekend and into the week in Memphis.
The last time I talked to Schilling, he was in Memphis promoting “Elvis Presley: the Searcher,” the HBO documentary. He and Priscilla Presley were executive producers on the documentary, which Schilling describes as “everything I wanted and thought it would be and more.”
A high point for Schilling during his recent trip was once again seeing the first gift he ever gave Elvis.
Before his visit, Schilling got an email from Angie Marchese, vice-president of Graceland archives and exhibits. She wondered if he had any thoughts on objects they could show during the “Me and a Guy Named Elvis Show and Tell” event, which Schilling hosted January 6th at the Guest House Theater at The Guest House at Graceland.
Schilling remembered his gift. “It was the first gift I ever gave Elvis for Christmas.”
It was 1964. “I had known Elvis for 10 years, but I never felt as a young kid that I had the right to go give him a gift at the football field or at the Memphian.”
That Christmas, Elvis gave Schilling a bonus. “I only made $96 a week working for Elvis. He gave me a $1,000 bonus. I was thrilled. So, I left Graceland and I said, ‘I’m going to take this and buy Elvis my first gift.’ I went to the Whitehaven shopping center. There was a sporting goods store there.”
Schilling saw “a real unusual looking gun. Really different. A hand gun, but it looked like a customized German luger, if you will.”
He bought it. “It cost me $996. So, I think it was the whole check. And I bought this for Elvis and I didn’t know if he was going to like it or not. I’m 22 years old.”
The present was a success. “He loved this gun. Every night, he carried it to the Memphian theater.”
Schilling hadn’t seen that gun “in 40-something years.”
Until the artifact show.
Prior to his visit, Marchese sent him photos of Elvis’s guns, but none of them were the one Schilling gave the King. “He had so many guns.”
When Schilling got to Memphis, Marchese showed him more guns, which she put in a glass case. “I said, ‘Angie, I would love to say one of these is the gun, but it’s just not.’ And I said, ‘You’ve done a great job.’”
Marchese said, “Let me go out to my car and get my computer.”
She then showed him some gun photos on the computer. “I said, ‘Roll that back! That’s the gun!’ Marchese said she found it up in Elvis’s closet. And that’s one of the things I showed at my archives thing for the fans.”
Asked what he’s been up to these days, Schilling says he’s been busy working with The Beach Boys. “I’m into my third year of re-managing The Beach Boys. I managed them from 1968 to 1987.”
He originally wasn’t a big Beach Boys fan, but he got to know them when he was tour manager for Billy Joel, who opened for the group in 1975. Later, Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys asked Schilling to be their tour manager. He eventually became their manager.
It was Schilling’s idea for The Beach Boys to record an album along the lines of the “If I can Dream: Elvis Presley with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra” and “The Wonder of You: Elvis Presley with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra” albums.
“We did the Royal Philharmonic album this year for the Beach Boys with Don Reedman and Nick Patrick, the same two producers that did the Elvis Royal Philharmonic albums.”
”The Beach Boys with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,” which was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, came out last April. Schilling is the executive producer. “It’s the biggest selling album the Beach Boys have had in 28 years.”
I love to hear Schilling’s stories about The Beach Boys. He was a friend of the late Dennis Wilson, the drummer. “He drowned in Marina del Rey. He was looking for his furniture he threw off his boat when the IRS was coming to seize it. When he came up, he hit his head on the boat.”
Schilling went to the coroner’s office. “There was no family in town when that happened. I was having a rare dinner with my father - one of the few times he came up from Tennessee - and Col. (Tom) Parker.”
Dennis was “the balls of The Beach Boys. The Beach Boys have these beautiful harmonies and all and Dennis is back there just beating the hell out of the drums. He’s the sexy guy. He’s the James Dean of The Beach Boys. He did ‘Two Lane Blacktop,’ a movie. Look wise, image wise, I mean, he had star power. He was a wild guy, but he was a great guy.”
It’s no surprise to discover Schilling currently is involved in a Beach Boys documentary. He can’t talk about it, but, he says, “It’ll be on the lines of the Elvis documentary.”
If you’re a Big Star fan and if you read the story by Alex Greene in the current issue of Memphis Magazine, you're familiar with "Estrella Grande" - the Lamar Sorrento painting of Big Star that hangs at Mortimer’s restaurant.
A special area on the south side of the restaurant is devoted to the legendary Memphis band. The late Chris Bell, the band’s guitarist, is the son of the late restaurateur Vernon Mortimer Bell. Chris’s sister, Sara Bell owns Mortimer’s.
Well, another depiction of Big Star now resides at the restaurant. It’s a photograph - a take-off on the Sorrento painting with Mortimer’s employees and one regular from the restaurant portraying the musicians.
It was bartender Mark Esterman’s idea.
When Larry Kuzniewski showed up December 29th to take the photo of the painting for Memphis Magazine, Esterman began thinking: “I just had the idea at that point when we were moving the painting around, we could probably recreate our own ‘painting.’ We could probably recreate it over by the fireplace and make our own little tribute to the Big Star picture.”
Esterman portrayed lead singer Alex Chilton, server Graden Duckworth was bass player Andy Hummel, and Chuck Olson, a regular, was drummer Jody Stephens. Server/cook Aaron Boyles, who is a musician in real life, was Chris Bell. “‘Cause he had the guitar.”.
Esterman provided costumes, including, he says, “a couple of shirts I bought for an old ‘70s costume.”
Bartender/manager Chelsea Hodge took the photo.