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WHEN WE MET, PART 1

 

I had flown into Vegas to join Elvis' show on August 16th, 1970, (odd, isn't it? An auspicious seven years to the day of Elvis' passing) after having been recommended to him by Jackie Allen (top soprano in Los Angeles with whom I sang "high voice" in the Ray Coniff Singers, Johnny Mann singers, and did many other sessions/studio work with). She recommended me to Hugh Jarrett, one of the original Jordanaires and after meeting with him, he recommended me to Elvis. Also a couple of other people whom Elvis had called while searching for a soprano (he called a "high voice singer) recommended me. Elvis needed someone to fill in for Millie Kirkham who needed time off for surgery. I had spent a very long time building up my career, was happy at last doing studio work, TV shows, and most important to me... NEVER having to travel again. No, sir! No more "on the road for me unless I was on a vacation!" I was well established in Los Angeles, making a good living doing what I loved, was happy, financially independent, had my "ranchette" with show horses/race horses and animals I loved of every sort, and also had finally sub-leased an apartment in case I had a contractor call me to do a session I did not expect on any given day. If one is 'on call', you might be scheduled for only a "ten o'clock", get a message from Call Nina (studio singers' message service) to please be at another session at two, six, or ten p.m (which could go until two A.M.).

 

I must mention that I had great co-workers/friends  like Orriel Smith and Billie Barnum who in the beginning of my studio career allowed me to stay at their homes for two or three days while taping TV shows. What fun we had in those days. Remember as you read this: I was NOT a fan, I even disliked him until I heard him do It's Now or Never when I thought as a youngster, "Hmmm... there might be more to this guy than I thought."  I also knew NOTHING about him AT ALL. I was in a different musical circle... classical, sacred music, and basically a musical snob. I was even rather embarrassed to be working with him, and had actually told the few people who knew where I'd be for the next two weeks not to mention to anyone what I was doing. That is the Truth! I believe now as Elvis and I discussed later that I was Meant Not to be a Fan and meant Not to realize who he really was, meant Not to hear the greatness of his voice and his ability to interpret any song of any genre until this time.

 

I arrived at the "then called" International Hotel to a stunning scene. I could barely get into the front doors due to the masses of people from any and every country one could imagine. There was a 'carnival' atmosphere and people were hysterical with anticipation for "something". It took me over 2 hours to get a phone and an operator to place a call to Felton Jarvis, Elvis' producer, the man whom I was told by Mr. Tom Diskin (Colonel Parker's right-hand man) to contact. "What is going on?" I thought. I had played Vegas many times before with different artists, but this was very, VERY different. At two p.m. a line of people four or five persons wide wound around the entire casino, anxious to get a good seat. They had been in line all night long and all day, and  had come from "every place on planet earth" to get a gimpse of a man they had waited to see for 20 years. I literally pushed and shoved just to move a few feet through the crowd.

 

When at last Felton was able to reach me in the lobby, he took me through the kitchen, strange hallways, using service elevators (no way was it possible to use one of the many regular elevators). We wound through secret passageways and then he took me to meet the Colonel in his hotel room. What a "Kick". I laughed so hard from the first moment I met this man, dressed as a "carnie", speaking with what I thought was a German accent (later discovered it was Dutch). He welcomed me with open arms, placed a carnival hat on my head, then said to everyone in the room: "The hay for the horses has come in!" I am in tears laughing now at how hilarious he was. Then... "no one is responding to him" I noticed. His sparkly eyes glanced at mine, I was laughing and he raised his cane and voice volume a tad and asked this time, "Has the hay for the horses come in?" I knew at that moment I liked this man. He was an "absurdist" as I had been my entire life.

 

Felton said, "Okay, Kathy, here we go. These are yours to listen to. Oh! Let me carry the record player, and can you carry these albums?" I could hardly peek over the top of the stack as it was almost as tall as the Washington Monument I thought. "Uh... I'm supposed to listen to all of these? Tonight??" Felton replied, "As many as you can. He's recorded over 600 songs and he's liable to bring up any one of them. Also, here's a book with the show's basic lineup, lyric sheets, songs that a part for a high voice is being done now by Millie, but just do whatever you can." This uh... BASIC LINEUP... was the opening number possibilities, the middle of the show's possibilities, and the closing number's possibilities.  Well... now I saw why the Pre-requisite for this job was  to be able to "ad-lib", create, follow and just join in singing a part with the group... Throw in an obligato or descant now and then, or just add a very high part to the group singing. "Thank Heaven this is only for two weeks! But... no... by the time I begin to get the hang of this, it will be over." I said to myself.

 

Felton deposited me and the record player with what looked like half of my father's record shops in Abilene, Texas in my hotel room and said, "Just listen tonight, I'll take you to see and hear the two shows tomorrow night with me, then you'll go on the next night. If you need anything just call me." (Well, I did need a few things, but... no operator every answered to even place the call. I tried to order room-service so I could listen and eat, but of course, could not get through.) Tried to get downstairs to the coffee shop, which I finally managed after hours, but the lines in every dining room in the entire hotel were longer than "a letter from home". I listened and looked at the lyric sheets in my black singers'/musicians long folder as I sat on the floor next to the record player. "It's going to explode here... if I try to even read all of these, much less study them?... oh, lord... is this a lyric sheet folder or Tolstoy's "War and Peace"! I did what I could that night and into the next day, anxiously awaiting Felton's call to join him and see/hear the show. He came to get me about seven p.m. before the eight o'clock dinner show and we sat  downstairs in the hallway right next to the elevator and all of the dressing rooms. He was explaining to me anything and everything he could think of when the elevator doors to my left opened. I continued to listen to Felton as a "Biker" burst out of the box with another man(I believe was Sonny West). I glanced at this very tall man in a black leather jacket, hair a wind-blown mess, carmel/orange sunglasses, biker boots and the carmel colored pants he wore above the ankle (as was the style in the sixties/seventies). "Are the Hell's Angels in town too?" I thought. I looked back quickly to Felton and continued our discussion as this young biker just stood there, staring, as if waiting to speak. I nudged Felton. "OH!" Felton grabbed my elbow and urged me to stand. "Elvis! Kathy, this is Elvis. Elvis,... this is Kathy Westmoreland, your new high voice singer".

 

I looked up at him and could not see his eyes, but we shook hands as I attempted to see if he had any behind those shades. He began to smile, then a tiny giggle, obviously laughing at my shortness... five foot one and a half, and made a gesture with his hand pointing out we were wearing the same unusual color of carmel." "Hello, Kathy", So good to meet you. I said, "Good to meet you too," I suppose, or something like that, as he said "Enjoy the show tonight". Felton took me by the arm to head to Stage Left so we could sneak up the stairs to the balcony and the soundbooth, but I heard something, so glanced back quickly to see Elvis the Biker Without Eyes still just standing there, legs apart as if he wanted to say something else. "Felton? I think he wants you for something." Felton looked back, then said "No... we'd better get up there", just as the man who was with Elvis put his hand on Elvis' head and another on his shoulder and literally shoved him and drug him into  his dressing room. Even though Elvis didn't go onstage until nine o'clock, after the Sweet Inspirations and the comedian, he needed to get ready for the performance. Yes, it was "SHOWTIME" ladies and gentlemen. Showtime like never witnessed on earth before, nor since... not in our lifetimes, at least. The Greatest Show on Earth was about to begin. 

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