Legends: Ben Weisman shortly
before he died;
Elvis with Ben Weisman.
There’s a photograph of you and Elvis here that looked like a
plaque. Can you tell us a little background about what happened
Elvis and I took a picture together, because we wrote a song called
I'll Be Back,
which was voted as the top ten in the motion picture category. The
first time a rock and roll picture was up for a possible Oscar. So
it was done as a promo, where we stood there. And we got pretty
close. We were voted to top ten. Didn't quite make the five. But
there's one song that that Elvis got in the top ten in the motion
picture academy. So we posed. That was the picture we posed for.
there a certain category for that?
was for the best song in a motion picture.
did you first start writing songs for Elvis?
under contract to a gentleman by the name of Jean Aberbach. And Hill
and Range publishing company. I was in New York at the time. And he
said, "Ben, we have a new talent, we want to be publishing his work.
We want you to listen to him." So in 1956, I watched the Tommy
Dorsey Show where Elvis performed for the first time. And it was
fantastic. And then I went back to the publisher and he said, "Okay,
Ben, now I want you to write for him." He wanted me to write
different styles. So I was able to write for any style. So when I
studied Elvis, I knew just how to approach it. And, so, in ‘56 I
wrote a thing called
First in Line, which he
recorded. And I was very pleased about that.
us about your first meeting with Elvis.
first met Elvis in Hollywood. I flew from New York to Hollywood, and
they were doing a movie called
Loving You. And I
wanted to meet him. So we sat in the control room. Aaron Schroeder,
who was my co-writer, and we just sat there and waiting for him. So
he was recording, he wasn't doing my song, called
Got a Lot O’
Livin’ to Do, so I got scared. So what happened was, in
between the takes, I ran out. He was playing his guitar next to the
piano. And we sat down, and started playing the blues with him. And
he looked up and said, "Who are you?" I said my name is Ben Weisman.
He said, "Wait a minute, didn't you write a song called
Got a Lot O’
Livin’ to Do?" He says, "Hold it Ben." And he got his
musicians together, and they recorded the song right on the spot.
did you meet his mother?
didn't meet his mother. But in the movie of
You, you see her in the scene at the end, where he
does Got a Lot
O’ Livin’ to Do, you see her, stomping her feet. And he
come down the aisle, he’d look around, he was looking at her. It was
wrote quite a few songs for each picture. How did that come about?
what happened is that living in New York, they would mail the
scripts to myself, Leiber & Stoller, a lot of writers. And we all
had to fight for each song in the movie. So we'd all make our demos,
and then a gentleman named Freddy Bienstock would take all these
demos and go to Hollywood. And they would play for the producers.
And the producers picked maybe seven or eight songs for each scene.
And then they would present them to Elvis, Elvis would pick maybe
two or three and decide which one he would try first. So it was
really a scramble. It was really wild times in those years.
Leave Me Now. Did you take inspirations from everyday
life, or was it always towards the type of thing Elvis would be
doing in the movie?
each scene called for a certain type of song. And I would try to fit
the song to fit the scene. That's why Elvis did 50 of my tunes. I'd
look at the scene, and I would study in the script. And I would
produce it in such a way where it would fit that scene. And so I had
a good chance to get the song in. And
Don't Leave Me Now was in
Jailhouse Rock. He did that.
Elvis tell you what type of songs he really liked to sing?
what I did was I studied his albums. And I kind of got into his head
and what he wanted to hear. And so, also the songs I wrote -- I
tried to stretch him a little bit. Instead of the typical rock and
roll things. He loved ballads. He loved singers like Perry Como and
Dean Martin. So I wrote songs that would fit in that style. And he
wanted them. He recorded most of them.
also wrote some title songs, such as
Follow That Dream. Could you
touch on those?
well, let me see. I wrote
Frankie and Johnny, it was an
old folk song which we adapted for the movie. And matter of fact,
that was a funny story. Because the conductor didn't show up for the
session the day Elvis was supposed to cut that song. Elvis says, you
better come in here. So I actually directed the band, so Elvis could
do Frankie and Johnny. It was one of the few times that I actually
got in the studio and conducted the band. And then there is a funny
story, which became King Creole.
King Creole was
called Danny. It was an Elvis cover song I wrote called
They decided to change the picture to
King Creole. So
was left out. It was released many years later in an album.
did you get the chance to see Elvis? Was it quite frequently?
I usually saw Elvis in the studios. Because in case something didn't
go right, you know, it didn't go right, I'd have to come and help
out. The demos in the studio. And they listened to them. And they
would actually emulate what they heard. And so I made sure that the
demos were pretty good.
was Elvis to work with?
Elvis, well, he had different moods. He'd kid around sometimes.
Sometimes very serious. Many times he would cut as much as 32 takes
just to get the right feel for it. He was very serious. But he also
kidded around. So it was -- he had different moods to him, in the
you ever privy to any of Elvis practical jokes?
used to call me the mad professor. And a few times he'd tickle me
when we were in the studio, fool around a little bit. Terrific guy.
I really miss him a lot.
did he call you the mad professor?
I don't look like a rock and roll guy. Typically,you know, with the
looks. Actually my background was actually classical music. Which
helped me to write a lot of songs. 'Cause Elvis liked the classics.
He used to play Clair de Lune on the piano. And he loved the
classics, which helped me a lot.
liked upbeat songs like Pocketful of Rainbows?
Pocketful of Rainbows. And he liked it. And it was in a cable car
with Juliet Prowse. And I tried to get him to do some high notes,
some falsetto notes. And I tried different things with him. And he
went along with it. He seemed to like it. And so it was really one
song he didn't like, called
It’s a Dog's Life. He
couldn't stand that song. But they needed it for the movie, or the
scene. And he would try to sing it, he'd be cracking up. He couldn't
sing it. Finally got through, he was laughing through half the song.
of the most beloved Elvis songs is Wooden Heart. Can you tell us a
little about that?
there’s a scene where Elvis is with Juliet Prowse watching a puppet
scene. They needed a song to fit it. So we had the idea of wooden
heart, which is a puppet. And so it was based on an old German folk
song, which is what they wanted. So it worked out great. As a matter
of fact, when I was in Gstad in Switzerland, I did an Elvis concert
thing there. And we did that song, and it actually tore down the
house. They just wouldn't let me off the stage. They loved that
you get to see Elvis perform live?
it was mostly when he did Vegas. He was fantastic, kidded around a
lot, and he was a terrific talent. I really miss him a lot.
was Elvis with his audience?
Elvis loved his audience. You could tell. It was like a romance. You
know, when he went onstage, he seemed to just -- he could relate to
them. That's why people loved him. He, he just could relate. It was
like a love affair between him and the audience. So you could feel
it when he sang. He had a very great contact with the people.
did the audience respond to Elvis in Las Vegas?
loved him. Matter of fact, the women used to throw keys on the stage
of their rooms, you know. The key to their rooms at the Hilton. And
they just loved him. And I've never seen such a love between women
was the mood in Las Vegas? Was there electricity?
walk into a room and people, you could feel it when he walked in. He
had that, that charisma. He just had a charisma people could just
feel when he walked in the room.
set Elvis apart from other performers?
first of all, Elvis never forgot his roots. You know, he was a truck
driver as a kid. And he worked in different jobs and things. And he
never changed. He never forgot his roots. Matter of fact, his
friends that worked with him, half of them I think were from that
area where he lived. And he wanted to keep that part of it around
with him so he could still have the feeling of being at home. So,
great relations to people, and people just loved him.
you talk about Elvis friends from Memphis?
one of my favourite guys was Joe Esposito. He was the right-hand
man. He protected him. I think he was one of my favourites among his
friends. And a few others, but Joe was actually my favourite.
you get to see Elvis between takes on the movie set?
movie sets? Yeah, I saw him in between the takes. And he was very
kind to me. Very, very warm and, like I said, we had a great
wrote 57 songs for Elvis. Which ones are you the most proud of?
there's a movie called
King Creole, was
my favourite movie. And I wrote a song called Crawfish, As Long As I
Have You, Don't Ask Me Why. Those are my favourite songs. I think
one of the best pictures he ever did. You know, he could've been a
fantastic -- he could've done much more, acting-wise. But they
wanted to keep him kind of lightweight. People would criticize his
movies, but they shouldn't, because he did what he was asked to do.
And besides that, all his movies were big sellers. They sold very,
very big and very successful. So I think his movies are very, very
clean. They were wholesome. No cursing or anything. They were really
very inspiring movies, as far as I’m concerned.
Elvis ever talk to you about films he was making?
too much, no. He was -- you know, like I say, there was a lot of
time in the studio. And also I met him at the Hilton years ago.
After one of the shows. A year before he passed away. I was invited
to go upstairs into the suite. I went upstairs and I sat down. And
one of his friends. And a lot of celebrities were there. And I sat
there, and I didn't have too much to say. He noticed me, and he
called me over, and he said, “Ben, how many records did I record of
yours?” And I said, 57. “Fifty-seven, come here,” and he pulled me
in front of the crowd, says, “Ben wrote 57 of my songs and I'm gonna
-- let's hear it for him.” And he picked me up, and had a lot of fun
with me. He was very good-natured.
you talk about Elvis’ spiritual side and the songs you wrote for him
in that vein?
was a very spiritual gentleman. And he had a great love for God.
Very spiritual. And what happened was, he was gonna do a movie
called Change of Habit. And it was about three nuns, and he
was a doctor. So I wanted to make sure that I got the right songs
for him. So there was a church in Westwood called St. Paul’s Church.
And I went there with my wife and I listened to songs, and to how
they would pray. And they would say -- one of the ministers would
say let us pray. I said, what a wonderful title. So I used that as
one of the songs. And also
Change of Habit. And
Pray was, I think, one of my favourite gospel songs I wrote for
Elvis. It was terrific. And We Call On Him was another song which he
did a beautiful job on. And I was able to capture what he wanted to
you ever privy to when Elvis would do little gospel sings here and
wasn't with him when he did
Change of Habit. But I would
listen to his albums of his different songs he sang. And was so
thrilled, because he loved spiritual music. And
Pray was one
of my favourites. And We Call On Him, he did a beautiful job on
that. Very spiritual gentleman. And people don't realize what a good
heart he had. You know, there's too many things about him. Not the
right things. And he was just a good-natured man, and loved God. A
very, very spiritual man.
is Elvis still so popular?
know, Elvis is a phenomenon. We don't have many singers like that
anymore. I mean, they're wonderful singers today, but I don't think
they reach the stature of Elvis. Because he had that certain magic
about him that comes once in a lifetime. Like you have Marilyn
Monroe, Shirley Temple, you know. Very few come along. He had that
certain magic about him that you won't find nowadays. He'll probably
has Elvis affected your life?
actually, I keep him locked downstairs. No, he actually has been
supporting me all these years. All of his records have been doing so
well. He's been wonderful. And I've been happy that he's done so
many of my songs. And I have a lot to thank him for.
must be happy that so many people continue to love your songs.
through Elvis singing of my songs, it's been all through Europe.
And, like I say, I went to Switzerland and to Germany. And they
rolled out the red carpet. Because they're very happy to see me. And
I was so thrilled. You know, also I was in Italy. And all different
parts of the world. And when they heard I worked for Elvis, like
wow, they rolled out the red carpet. I was -- opened up many doors
for me. And made me worldwide, which I really appreciate.
you describe Elvis in one word?
would say a phenomenon. Phenomenon. And, and just love for people,
and people loved him. You can't find that very often nowadays.
were you when you found out he passed away?
doing a TV show called
The Young and the Restless, believe it
or not. No one even knew I was a songwriter. And I was -- I had a
few lines to do. And I was playing. And then in between the takes,
one of the cameramen said, “Ben, we've got news for you. You'd
better sit down.” I said, “Why?” They said, “Well, Elvis is gone. He
passed.” I was, “Come on, that's enough.” And he says, “He's gone.”
I said, “I can't believe it.” So I ran to the phone. And my wife
says it's on all the TV stations. And I actually broke down. And it
was hard for me to play. They had to do me a few times over so I
could play my part of the role. It was pretty -- it was a pretty bad
time for me.
you have anything to say to Elvis fans?
would tell them thanks for everything. Thanks for recording my
songs. And for making friends throughout the world. I really miss
him a lot, too.
are your memories of Colonel Parker?
I also have a couple of funny stories about the Colonel. At that
time he was in MGM studios. We had a hangar there. We had his
different publicity people. And I always wanted to be friends with
him. He was kind of hard to get to. So I walked over to the office,
and I said, “Colonel, you don't like me, do you?” He says, “What?”
Cause a few people were afraid of him. I wasn't afraid, ‘cause he
didn't pick the songs. I wanted to be his friend. So I said,
“Colonel,” I said, “I wanna be your friend. I mean, Elvis has cut so
many…” And he says, “I'm a businessman.” And he said, “Tell you what
I'm gonna do with you.” He took out big paper, and he put -- circled
ten percent. And I said, “What's this?” He said, “Ben, I have an
idea for you.” I said, “What?” He says, “Dogs.” I say, “Dogs?”
“Yeah,” he says, “Well, run an album about dogs. Different names of
dogs. And people are gonna buy it. If you do, I want ten percent,
right?” I say, “Right.” But somehow I got to him, and he took me out
to lunch once. Which was unusual, because he wouldn't take you out
to lunch. And I took him out to lunch, and he was very warm and
friendly. And actually I signed him a thank you plaque, thanking him
for working with Elvis, and being such a big success.
us how Colonel Parker actually was.
actually, the Colonel Parker, to me, was like, without him, there
might not have been an Elvis. That's how I feel about it. He was
such a great promoter. He had great vision. And I think without the
Colonel, Elvis -- I don't know if he would've made it. He might have
made it in time, but it was a perfect team between the Colonel and
Elvis. It was a perfect, perfect team.
impressed you about Colonel Parker?
he was a terrific businessman. He was a great businessman, and he
had vision. He can -- he could see where Elvis was gonna go. And he
kind of planned all the things that Elvis did. So he was really very
important to Elvis life. I think, like I say, without the Colonel, I
don't know how far Elvis would've gone.
was managing Elvis all the time, wasn't he?
I say, without the Colonel’s promotion and vision, I don't know if
Elvis could've made it. That's how important he was. And that's