Elvis History | 1966-1969 | Graceland

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1966 - 1969

1966 -1969

The mid-to late-60s were a time of change for Elvis. While he continued to release hit songs and movies, this is also the time period when Elvis married Priscilla and Lisa Marie was born. The Elvis Christmas special aired in 1968, his first ever TV special and a turning point in his career. Elvis also wins his first Grammy award and performs a long series of shows in Las Vegas to rave reviews.

January 1966

MGM extends Elvis’ contract for four more movies. Plans are made to add onto the house what is now known as the trophy room to accommodate Elvis’ slot-car tracks. On January 22, 1966, Elvis and Priscilla, along with their friends, build a huge snowman on the front lawn.

February - April 1966

Elvis records the soundtrack music and shoots his 22nd motion picture, “Spinout,” co-starring Shelley Fabares. Elvis has a renewed interest in music which prompts him to buy a great deal of new equipment and spend his free time working on music at home with Red and Charlie. He is especially interested in folk music. Elvis has also purchased a Greyhound bus that is now being customized by George Barris.

March 30, 1966

“Frankie and Johnny” opens nationally and doesn’t do particularly well. The soundtrack album goes to #20. 

May 25, 1966

Elvis meets his new record producer Felton Jarvis and begins working on what will become the album “How Great Thou Art.” Also during this session, he is especially enthusiastic about working with one of his mentors Jake Hess and his group The Imperials. 

June - September 1966

Elvis does soundtrack recording and shooting for “Double Trouble.” 

July 6, 1966

“Paradise, Hawaiian Style” is released. It lands at #40 for the year. The soundtrack album peaks at #15, while the single "Love Letter" makes it to #19 on the charts. 

July 12, 1966

Colonel Parker turns down a Japanese movie deal saying that Elvis is booked through 1969. 

August 30, 1966

Deciding not to wait until the end of 1967, RCA goes ahead and picks up its option to extend Elvis’ contract until 1974. 

September - November 1966

Elvis does soundtrack recording and filming for “Easy Come, Easy Go.” 

September 21, 1966

Elvis signs a lease on a Palm Springs house at 1350 Ladera Circle. 

November 23, 1966

“Spinout” opens nationally and is #57 for the year. The soundtrack album goes to #18. Elvis Presley is the 10th highest paid star for the year.

December 1966

Elvis’ interest in horses becomes serious by December 5 and he purchases riding clothing and equipment. On December 20, he buys Priscilla a horse for Christmas. He also formally proposes marriage just before Christmas, presenting her with a ring. 

February 8, 1967

Elvis buys a 163-acre ranch in Mississippi, minutes across the Tennessee state line from Graceland for $437,000. Elvis, his entourage and their wives have become interested in horseback riding after Elvis purchased a horse for Priscilla as a gift. The hobby has outgrown the pasture at Graceland. Over the months to come, Elvis and the gang enjoy spending a lot of time at the Circle G. It becomes a happy diversion for Elvis as his frustration and unhappiness over the state of his career reaches its height.

RCA releases Elvis’ second gospel music album, “How Great Thou Art,” which was recorded in mid-1966. It gets very good reviews and goes on to earn Elvis the Grammy Award for Best Sacred Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. This is the first of his three Grammy wins. 

March 22, 1967

“Easy Come, Easy Go” opens nationally and is #50 for the year. 

March – April 1967

Elvis does soundtrack recording and filming for “Clambake.” It is the third of three Elvis movies to co-star Shelley Fabares. 

April 5, 1967

“Double Trouble” opens nationally. Although better than some of his recent screen efforts, it is #58 for the year.

April, 12 1967

Ironwork is added to Graceland’s windows and doors. 

May 1967

On May 1, Elvis married Priscilla in a private ceremony amongst a small group of family and friends at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, just after 11:40 a.m. A press conference and breakfast reception follow. The couple honeymoon for a few days in Palm Springs. Then they return to Memphis. 

May 24, 1967

Elvis and Priscilla Presley celebrate her 22nd birthday.

May 29, 1967

Elvis and Priscilla dress in their wedding clothes and have a second wedding reception in the trophy room at Graceland to accommodate family and friends who were not in Las Vegas for the wedding. 

June - August 1967

Elvis does soundtrack recording and filming for “Speedway,” co-starring Nancy Sinatra. During the production, news of Priscilla's pregnancy is announced. 

September 29, 1967

Memphis Mayor William Ingram and Tennessee Governor Buford Ellington each declare “Elvis Presley Day” in recognition of Elvis' many charitable contributions. Elvis names one of his horses Mare Ingram in the mayor’s honor. 

October - November, 1967

Elvis does soundtrack recording and filming for “Stay Away Joe.” In this western-themed comedy, he once again plays a character who is part Native American. It's a real departure from the virtually interchangeable plots and characters in most of the films over the past several grueling years. He has fun with this one. 

October 26, 1967

Priscilla and several other wives and girlfriends of the entourage travel to Sedona, Arizona, to visit the set of “Stay Away Joe.”

November 1967

Elvis and Priscilla pay $400,000 for their first Beverly Hills home, at 1174 Hillcrest. 

November 22, 1967

“Clambake” is released nationally and goes to #15 at the box office. The soundtrack album goes to #40.

January 12, 1968

NBC vice president Tom Sarnoff announces an Elvis Christmas Special, Elvis’ first TV appearance since 1960.

February 1, 1968

Nine months to the day after Elvis married Priscilla, she gives birth to Lisa Marie Presley. It is a time of great happiness. 

March 8, 1968

“Stay Away Joe” opens to mixed reviews and is #65 for the year. 

March - May 1968

Elvis does soundtrack recording and filming for “Live a Little, Love a Little.” It is a sexy, more adult kind of comedy/melodrama. It, like “Stay Away, Joe” is a real departure from the typical Presley film. It is yet another breath of fresh air.

April 8, 1968

Elvis is deeply distressed by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Elvis has been a long-time admirer and often quotes his “I Have a Dream” speech.

June 6, 1968

Robert Kennedy is killed. Elvis' thoughts and feelings on the losses of both Dr. King and Robert Kennedy

eventually lead to a song being written that he sings in his upcoming TV special.

June 12, 1968

“Speedway” is released nationally and is #40. The soundtrack album goes only as far up the chart as #82.

June 1968

Starting on June 3, Elvis rehearses for the taping of his first television special. A press conference is held on June 25. Videotaping is done June 27, 28, 29 and 30. Commonly referred to as the “’68 Special” or the “’68 Comeback”. The actual name of this landmark television special is “Elvis.”

The sixties have brought about great change in music and pop culture, change for which Elvis helped pave the way over a decade earlier when he exploded onto the scene with his unique blending of pop, rock, country, R&B and gospel influences. Focusing on his Hollywood movie career in the sixties, Elvis has become less a part of the current pop cultural scene. He has been making one movie after another and many of the records he has put out in these years have been movie soundtrack albums. Elvis’ films in the fifties and early sixties were wonderfully successful, but as the sixties have worn on, the movies and records, though still profitable, have not been nearly so successful as they were before. Elvis has reached the supreme level of frustration with the state of his career and all its limitations on his creativity and artistic expression. He had hoped to become a serious actor, but Hollywood had other ideas and Elvis went along with them. His opportunities to show his true talents as an actor have been few. He is beyond ready for a change. By now, it has been more than seven years since Elvis has appeared in front of a live audience. Elvis has missed the closeness of his audience, the energy and excitement of live performing he had back in his prime touring days. 

The “’68 Special” opens with Elvis singing a hot new version of the gutsy "Trouble," from his 1958 film “King Creole.” This segues into “Guitar Man,” which becomes the underlying theme of the show. Elvis is then reunited with two of his original fifties band members, guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana. They sit together on stage in the round, along with several other friends and associates of Elvis, for an informal session of singing, jamming and swapping stories. Parts of this jam session are woven throughout the show. There are also sequences of Elvis taking the stage alone and performing many of his greatest hit rockers and ballads. He also introduces a new song, “Memories.”

One can surmise that he pours out years of career frustration and pent-up creative energy into the performance of these songs. His natural talent, charisma, sensuality and stage presence have not been diminished by the years in Hollywood. In fact, Elvis looks, sounds, moves and grooves better than he ever has. At 33, he is better than he has ever been and better than anybody in the business. For the group jam session segments and solo stage performances, Elvis wears a two-piece, black leather outfit specially designed for the show by Bill Belew, who also designed the other wardrobe Elvis and the cast wear in the show. The look evokes the era of James Dean and the Marlon Brando type motorcycle films of the fifties, the era when Elvis was first proclaimed the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

In one of the jam session segments, Elvis speaks of the gospel origins of rock ‘n’ roll. This segues into the gospel music portion of the show, which has Elvis wearing a two-piece burgundy suit, singing "Where Could I Go But to the Lord," "Up Above My Head" and "I’m Saved.” During this segment, Elvis is backed by the female vocal group, The Blossoms, and accompanied by a troupe of dancers.

Toward the end of the special, Elvis appears in a lengthy production number that includes song, dance, karate and various situations. The number traces a young man’s journey from a struggling guitar player, through the challenges, dangers and compromises on the path to his dreams of success and super-stardom. Something is lost along the way. Once the dream is achieved, the man realizes that he remains unfulfilled and that he has abandoned his true self. He decides to return to his roots, doing what made him happiest, what he does best. He sings “I’ll never be more than what I am... a swingin’ little guitar man.” The parallels to Elvis' own life are clear and deliberate, and his doing the “’68 Special” represents his own return to his true self, to his roots. Free from the confines of his Hollywood grind, this is Elvis the singer, the performer, the musician, the man - the real Elvis.

At the end of the special, Elvis appears alone wearing a simple white two-piece suit, standing in front of the towering backdrop of red lights that spell ELVIS. He sings a brand new song, "If I Can Dream," specially written for the show. The writers created the song based in part upon conversations with Elvis about his own thoughts on what was happening in the turbulent sixties. It seems appropriate that he closes the show with some sort of personal statement. His powerful and passionate performance of this song of hope for mankind is one of the most brilliant moments of his singing career.

July - August 1968

Elvis records the theme and does filming for his 29th movie, “Charro!,” a dramatic western from director Charles Marquis Warren. Elvis grows a beard for this. The theme song will be heard over the opening credits, but there will be no other Elvis songs used. This will be the first and only film in which Elvis does not sing on camera. 

October - December 1968

Elvis records the soundtrack and does filming for his 30th movie, “The Trouble with Girls.” He sings in this one, but in very natural situations for a change. It is yet another film quite different from the typical Elvis films. 

October 23, 1968

“Live A Little, Love A Little” opens.

November 1968

“If I Can Dream” ships and hits #12. “Elvis” LP is ships and hits #8. 

December 3, 1968

“Elvis,” the 1968 TV special, airs on NBC-TV and is one of the biggest television hits of the year, receiving 40% of the viewing audience, rave reviews from the public, and the critics alike. The soundtrack album to this Elvis Christmas special goes to #8 on the pop chart.

Reviewing the show, rock writer John Landau says, “There is something magical about watching a man who has lost himself find his way back home...He sang with the kind of power people no longer expect from rock ‘n’ roll singers.”

Years later, rock writer Greil Marcus remembers it by saying, “It was the finest music of his life. If ever there was music that bleeds, this was it.”

"Elvis," the 1968 TV special, is to become widely regarded as one of the truly great television moments in pop/rock music history history and was a truly helpful endeavor for Elvis’ career. After this show, everything changes for Elvis as his career takes a turn back toward music. He pours renewed creative energy into his recording work, is soon to wrap up his movie contract obligations and to return full-time to the concert stage, beginning a new and exciting era of his career. His super stardom is yet to reach its ultimate height. The NBC-TV show, also known as the ‘68 Comeback Special, was recorded in June. It is considered one of the crowning achievements by the King of Rock ’n’ Roll—it’s such a classic that Elvis fans can buy ’68 Comeback Special DVDs and view the historic performance at home.

December 1968

Elvis wraps shooting on “The Trouble With Girls” on December 18. The International Hotel deal is accepted on December 19. This will be Lisa's first Christmas and Vernon will dress up as Santa.

Elvis at American Sound January/February 1969

Elvis has been doing all of his recording work in Nashville or Hollywood since signing with RCA. Now however he records in Memphis again for the first time since 1955. He has all-night marathon sessions at American Sound Studio. His work here will become regarded as some of the finest music of his career, his best work since the innovative days at Sun and the exciting early days at RCA before he went into the Army. Elvis has excellent material to choose from and pours his heart and soul into the sessions. He works with a lot of top-notch Memphis musicians. The sound is fresh and gutsy. On every track, one can sense his creative excitement and energy. This is joyful work after years of movie boredom. Two albums will result from these sessions. The sessions will also yield four hit singles to be released starting later this year and going into 1970: "In the Ghetto," "Suspicious Minds," "Don’t Cry, Daddy" and "Kentucky Rain." 

February 1, 1969

They spend Lisa's first birthday in Aspen, Colorado.

March/April 1969

Elvis returns to Hollywood to film and record the soundtrack music for his 31st, and what will turn out to be his last, acting role in a motion picture. It is “Change of Habit,” co-starring Mary Tyler Moore. Elvis plays a hip ghetto doctor in a Northern city, having come from Tennessee. Mary Tyler Moore and two others play nuns who go “undercover” into the ghetto to assist with health and societal troubles in the community. The theme, though serious and timely, is not particularly well carried out by the script in the opinion of many, and the title is frivolous. Elvis however looks magnificent and gives a natural, easy, understated performance that is a refreshing pleasure to see after the silliness he endured in his films through most of the sixties. The few songs in the movie are good and they’re performed in natural, rather than the usual badly contrived, situations. 

March 1969

“Charro!” opens in theaters and doesn’t do much at the box office. 

May 1969

Elvis, his family and friends vacation in Hawaii. Circle G is sold for $440,000.

July 1969

Elvis works on his song list and putting together his band for the International Hotel engagement

July 10, 1969

Elvis obtains the easement from the church next door to Graceland for a back driveway.

July 31 - August 28, 1969

Elvis is booked for a four-week, 57 show engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, which has just been built and has the largest showroom in the city. Elvis puts together top-notch rock ‘n’ roll musicians, an orchestra, a male gospel back-up group, and a black female soul/gospel back-up group for his show. They rehearse for several weeks and open on July 31, 1969. The show is a delightful mix of fresh arrangements of classic Elvis hits, exciting new material he has recorded, a few covers of current and past hits of other artists, and charming on-stage antics and sharing of personal recollections of his career. A press conference follows the first of his two opening night shows.

This engagement breaks all existing Las Vegas attendance records and attracts rave reviews from the public and the critics. It is a triumph. Elvis' first live album, “Elvis in Person at the International Hotel,” is recorded during this engagement and is soon released. Elvis’ opening night is so successful that Colonel Parker renegotiates his contract on a tablecloth in the hotel’s coffee shop. Elvis also receives a gold belt from the hotel for his championship attendance.

For these shows, a lean Elvis in top physical form, wears simple, unique, karate-inspired two-piece outfits in black or white. These are designed by Bill Belew, who did the wardrobe for the “’68 Special.” These are the predecessors to the famous one-piece jumpsuits which will be simple at first, then become flashier and more elaborate over the years.

Almost every review of the show was positive—here are a few excerpts from music writers:

"There are several unbelievable things about Elvis, but the most incredible is his staying power in a world where meteoric careers fade like shooting stars."
- “Newsweek,” August 11, 1969 issue

"...a style and panache that come close to pure magic. Lithe, raunchy, the sweat pouring down his face, he now moves with the precision of an athlete, the grace of a dancer...flamboyant and flashy, sexy and self-mocking, he works with the instincts of a genius to give poetry to the basic rock performance."
- W.A. Harbinson, from his 1975 book, “The Illustrated Elvis.”

*NOTE: The orchestra was conducted by Bobby Morris. The band consisted of James Burton (lead guitar), John Wilkinson (rhythm guitar), Jerry Scheff (bass guitar), Larry Muhoberac (piano) and Ronnie Tutt (drums). The female singers were The Sweet Inspirations. The male singers were The Imperials. Charlie Hodge provided additional guitar and vocals and general on-stage assistance. Over the concert years, there were changes in the show cast. Joe Guercio became Elvis' conductor. Millie Kirkham, who had worked on Elvis' studio recordings, joined the show as soprano, a position later taken over by Kathy Westmoreland. Glen D. Hardin became the piano player. J.D. Sumner & the Stamps Quartet became the male back-up group. Various other personnel changes occurred over the years. 

September 1969

“The Trouble with Girls,” Elvis’ 30th movie, opens in theaters and doesn’t do much at the box office. From the American Sound Studio sessions RCA releases "Suspicious Minds," which will soon become Elvis' first number one single since "Good Luck Charm" in 1962 and will be his last #1 pop single, though he’ll have many big hits.

November 11, 1969

“Change of Habit,” Elvis' 31st movie, opens in theaters and it will be on Variety's Box Office Survey for four weeks, peaking at #17.

Learn more about Elvis' life and career from 1970 - 1973. Also, be sure to keep up with the latest Elvis news by following @VisitGraceland on Twitter or liking Elvis Presley's Graceland on Facebook.