Elvis Presley Visits Ames

The appearance of Elvis Presley at Hilton Coliseum brought the fans out in droves early, filling the steps and walkways leading to the Coliseum.  Some of those outside the Coliseum utilized the event as an opportunity to try to sell previously purchased tickets.  Finally, those who made it inside were greeted by Elvis' appearance at approximately 9:45 p.m.

Elvis Presley's 1976 Tour, abridged from a description by Dirk Welz

The year 1976 was a busy one for the King. Besides one engagement at the Lake Tahoe in May and one in Las Vegas in December, he went on tour nine times that year and gave more than 129 concerts. Financially it would turn out to be his most successful, but for his health, it would become a disaster.

When he hit the road for the first time that year in March, Elvis found himself without a complete band. Pianist Glenn Hardin had quit and drummer Ronnie Tutt and guitarist James Burton were also considering to leave. And so he substituted Hardin with Shane Kiester and Tutt with Larry Londin. Ronnie did finally return and the piano chair was constantly filled with Tony Brown from the next tour onwards. James Burton would stay in the band - after a considerable raise.

The first two short concert tours were pretty good as a whole, but nevertheless they showed signs of Elvis' bad condition. Besides the fact that he was heavily overweight, his memory lapses became more and more obvious and on some nights he slurred his speech and seemed to be barely awake at all. As the months went by, Elvis' condition worsened and it seemed that he had reached a point where he already was beyond help...

After having finished his fifth and final Tahoe engagement on May 9th, 1976, Elvis barely had two and a half weeks of rest before he had to go on the road again on May 27th. Up to June 6th he had to do 13 shows, the size of the venues altered between 7,050 and 17,540 seats. Tickets remained $12.50, $10.00 and $7.50 and once again the demand was beyond belief. Despite having given three shows there the previous year, Elvis sold out Atlanta's Omni Coliseum four times in a row - without the shows having been advertised at all!

For this tour Elvis used three jumpsuits, the two versions of the Pre-Historic Bird Suit and the V-Neck Suit. But not only the number of jumpsuits had been reduced, Elvis also had stopped to alter his set lists. By now the King relied on the same songs night after night and only once in a while he threw in a rare song. Shows like the one in Tucson proved that he still was able to surprise the audience (and the musicians) with his spontaneity, but compared to his performances at the Lake Tahoe his recent tour shows were very much predictable.

But even though those concerts might have been boring for fans who attended several shows in a row, each concert itself still was quite good. Elvis was in good voice and bright mood, the only letdown was the introduction of the band, which now went on forever. But Elvis needed this break, he simply wasn't able to do a straight hour anymore. But even though the alarm sighs became more and more obvious, Elvis still pulled himself together and delivered good shows. As one reviewer wrote: Elvis: F-A-T, but  fun!


Ames Daily Tribune, May 28, 1976

The impending arrival of Elvis Presley in Ames has required all sorts of preparations, and the singer's exact plans are still secret.  An Ames police officer has been stationed at a local motel since Thursday afternoon, guarding rooms rented for the Elvis troupe, but Presley wasn't in Ames yet - at least as of noon today.

Col. Tom Parker, Presley's manager, has hired 14 off-duty Ames police officers and eight ISU security officers to police tonight's concert.  The cost to Parker is $9.75 an hour for the Ames officers, payable to the city.  An additional officer was to be on duty at the motel this afternoon, and local police command officers weren't to learn about deployment of their men for tonight until this afternoon.  Col. Parker has been meeting with ISU and police officials about arrangements for the show in the Hilton Coliseum tonight.  Col. Parker refused to talk with The Tribune.

Exactly when the singer will arrive in Ames is still up in the air, as far as ISU Center officials and the Ames Police Department are concerned.  But it's thought he won't be here until Friday evening.  It's not believed Presley will spend tonight in Ames.  It's thought he will return to the Des Moines Airport and fly out of Iowa.  but at this point, only his management team knows.

The Presley appearance is only one problem the Iowa State Center staff must cope with this weekend.  The Center's stage crew will set up the arena floor of the James H. Hilton Coliseum this afternoon for the concert by Presley, dismantle the set-up and rearrange for the Coliseum overnight for Iowa State University's commencement exercises Saturday morning, and move the equipment of the Australian Youth Orchestra from the Coliseum to C.Y. Stephens Auditorium and out again.

Looking at his schedule, stage manager Bob Dagliz observed, "It's certainly not your typical day."

At noon Friday the crew of 30 began by setting up the stage for Presley's concert and hanging the huge sound system (two 1,500-pound units) from the Hilton ceiling for a 5 p.m. sound test.

"Luckily, we got the Presley group to go with our 42-inch-high stage instead of their normal five-foot one," said Dagliz.  "We'll be able to adapt our stage easier from his concert to graduation than if we had to tear down Presley's and then set ours up.  That would have added at least another two hour's work."

Doors open at 7 p.m. for the concert at 8:30, attended by a capacity crowd of more than 14,000.  The show will end about 11 p.m. and Dagiz hopes to have Presley's equipment down and loaded on a truck by 1 a.m.  Then three to four hours will be spent in cleaning up - taking down arena floor chairs, sweeping, picking up debris and, finally, scrubbing the entire building, as is done between all main events at the Hilton.

Striking the Presley set will call for removing 1,000 chairs and 700 bleacher seats, loading out all Presley sound and band equipment and adapting the stage for the commencement exercises.  Before graduation officials take over the building at 6 a.m., the large, official university banner will be hung from the ceiling, a half-dozen palms and dozens of potted mums will be set out, chairs will be set up for approximately 2,200 graduates, and an area will be established for the 80-member Australian orchestra...

In addition to the stage crew, about 60 ushers will see action during the three events and on Friday night 70 concessionaires will operate refreshment stands and hawk Presley souvenirs.

Dagliz said the hardest part will be cleaning up after the Presley concert.  "We estimate that about 25 dumpster loads of trash will come out of that concert," he said.  "I think that would be about 300 garbage cans full of trash."  Dagliz is right.  It won't be a typical day.

Elvis Tour Musicians:

Lead Guitar: James Burton
Rhythm Guitar: John Wilkinson
Bass: Jerry Scheff
Drums: Ronnie Tutt
Guitar/Vocal: Charlie Hodge
Piano: Tony Brown
Electric Piano: David Briggs
Joe Guercio Orchestra

Backup Vocalists:

The Sweet Inspirations
J.D. Sumner and the Stamps
Sherill Nielsen
Kathy Westmoreland

Set List:

Also Sprach Zarathustra
See See Rider
I Got A Woman/Amen
Love Me
If You Love Me
You Gave Me A Mountain
All Shook Up
Teddy Bear/Don't Be Cruel
Trying To Get To You
Jailhouse Rock
Polk Salad Annie
Early Morning Rain
What'd I Say
Johnny B. Goode
Love Letters
School Days
Hurt - Hound Dog
Heartbreak Hotel
How Great Thou Art
Funny How Time Slips Away
Little Darlin'
Help Me Make It Through The Night
Can't Help Falling In Love
Closing Vamp

J.D. Sumner and the Sunshine Boys

When he was a teenager, Elvis met J.D. Sumner while J.D. was singing with the Sunshine Boys in Memphis. J.D. would let Elvis in backstage to meet the gospel groups. In 1972, after losing both the Jordanaires and the Imperial Quartet, Elvis asked J.D. and his group, the Stamps Quartet, to back him both on stage and in the studio. They were performing with Elvis live by at least February of 1972, when recordings were made of Elvis' Vegas show. Their first session together in the studio was in March of that year and produced "Burning Love", "Always On My Mind", and "Separate Ways", among others. These last two songs were filmed for Elvis On Tour. The Stamps can be seen throughout the film, and anyone who doubts that Elvis loved gospel music need only watch his reaction to the Stamps' performance of "Sweet, Sweet Spirit" (He's definitely enjoying it). After Elvis' death, the Stamps released the tribute albums Elvis' Favorite Gospel Songs and Memories of Our Friend Elvis. J.D. Sumner released a tribute single called "Elvis Has Left the Building".

The Sweet Inspirations

In the mid-to-late-Sixties, these ladies could be heard backing up Aretha Franklin, Gene Pitney and Wilson Pickett, among others, but they didn't have a name until singer Chuck Jackson suggested they call themselves The Inspirations. Finding that the name was already taken, Jerry Wexler then suggested, "since they were so sweet", they change it to The Sweet Inspirations, and in 1968, had a hit of their own with their signature song, "Sweet Inspiration," written by two of the musicians that played on their first album. Elvis was looking for a female group for his August 1969 Las Vegas engagement, his first live appearances since 1961. When he heard their record, he knew he'd found the group he wanted. Along with the Stamps Quartet, the Sweet Inspirations often opened Elvis' concerts in the '70's with a few songs on their own. Each group would perform fifteen or twenty minutes. Although the Sweet Inspirations appeared with Elvis on almost all concert tours up through his final tour, they never recorded with him in the studio, as did the Stamps Quartet. The group appeared in both of Elvis' documentary films, Elvis: That's The Way It Is and Elvis On Tour.


Des Moines Register, May 29, 1976

ELVIS: STILL THE KING.  SORT OF - When he decided to wail at the Hilton Coliseum here Friday night, the legendary voice rang true. But he didn't hit 100 per cent until the last half of his 75-minute act. Apparently his voice is wearing thin, and the singer paces himself to avoid running out of steam part way through the night. When he chose to cut loose though, the husky, robust voice was a delight.

On the strength of that alone, he is entitled to keep his crown.

His sense of humor pulled him through the low spots. Elvis was quick to size up the situation - to see that the 14,750 onlookers were there for his hips as much as for his voice.  Stiffly, but with feeling, he treated all to the torso toss and pelvis pivot that earned him his reputation. After a simple wiggle brought screams, he cracked a grin and asked, "Isn't that how I got started in all this?

He substituted his friendly clowning for crooning until it seemed he couldn't possibly salvage the set, then did a real job with "I'm Hurt," "Heartbreak Hotel" and "How Great Thou Art."

The creamy, golden voice was not gone; the audience quivered and melted.

Elvis is an entertainer, and judged on that standard he is impressive. He never has claimed to be a great musician, just a charismatic singer. He still is when he chooses to be. A few good songs were able to erase a half hour of weak, slurred, slightly ragged vocalizing. His band - perhaps two dozen strong - was solid and tight throughout. Standouts were super-picker James Burton on lead guitar and drummer Ronnie Tutt. Taken as a whole, the show was a success.

Elvis came off well; his band, slightly better. And there seemed to be little question among the audience that they got their money's worth.  But those who paid scalpers' prices may have left uneasy. It wasn't, after all, a $100 performance.


Ames Daily Tribune, June 1 , 1976
A personal opinion by John Epperheimer

Elvis has come and gone, and I'm glad it's over.  I hope the 15,000 who watched his performance Friday night in the Hilton Coliseum enjoyed it.  I even hope all those who paid outrageous scalper's prices for tickets still thought it was worthwhile.  (Reporter Pam Witmer encountered one woman outside Hilton Friday night who had paid $125 for a ticket weeks ago and hoped to sell it for a profit.  At last report the woman looked very nervous.)

In terms of problems presented for the press, I would have rather had a state visit by President Ford and a couple of premiers and dictators - it would have been easier to cover.  Presley's manager, Col. Tom Parker, wouldn't even talk about allowing us to station a photographer outside the Ramada Inn Friday to take a quick shot of Presley.  Even after the request was courteously relayed through the Ames Police Department, Parker refused to discuss the matter.  And we weren't even talking about an interview (we knew there wouldn't be a chance of obtaining an audience, just about a photo.)

Presley's management firm out of Bellevue, Wash. was controlling who got to take photos inside Hilton.  We finally won permission to take a photo from a seat in Hilton - not from any good vantage point, just from wherever we had a seat.  The kind people at the Iowa State Center were responsible for getting even this privilege for The Tribune.

In the end, we probably ran more photos on Presley being in Ames than we should have, but the whole thing became a challenge.  Half the news staff was involved in being posted at various locations, monitoring the police radio, watching exits, etc.

You probably don't care much about our problems in covering the news, but there's something more important here: the glorification, even deification, of a paid entertainer.

Let's enjoy the talent and attend the concerts.  But I don't have much time for rude, self-important managers, silly secrecy and stupid rules.  Perhaps Elvis believes he's much more important than he really is, and needs these trappings of a "star."  He's not winning any friends behind the scenes.