Back in 1954, the mighty hand of fate struck down hard on a gangly, 12-year-old, North Memphis youth named Jerry Schilling. It was there on a local football field that he first met a wild hillbilly cat known as Elvis Presley.
The two forged a close friendship that lasted from the mid-’50s until Presley’s death in 1977. Schilling was a trusted friend and confidante who enjoyed an eyewitness take on life inside the gates of Graceland.
The last holdout of “The Memphis Mafia” to pen a book about his friend, Schilling has written “Me and A Guy Named Elvis” in collaboration with writer Chuck Crisafulli. It is a frank, warm and candid memoir of his life with “The King of Rock and Roll.”
And despite his continued closeness with the Presley family (Jerry was Lisa Marie’s first manager and he maintains a strong friendship with Priscilla), the book is not a whitewash. Instead, it offers a strongly balanced, keenly insightful and, most crucially, human portrait of the music superstar. Like an onion, Schilling skillfully peels back layer after layer of the myth, and in the process reveals the real Elvis, an immensely talented man with flaws, doubts and insecurities like the rest of us. And in humanizing Elvis, it makes him that much more real, relatable and likeable.
What made Schilling stand out from Elvis’ coterie of buddies was his desire be his own man and forge a career away from Graceland. In between stints working for Elvis, he managed the likes of The Beach Boys and Jerry Lee Lewis, honed his editing chops working behind the scenes on such projects as the acclaimed 1972 documentary “Elvis On Tour” and lent his expertise to such television projects as biographies on Brian Wilson and Sun Records chief Sam Phillips and the multi-hour documentary “The History Of Rock & Roll.”
Packed with colorful stories about life inside the recording studio, on film sets, on tour and Elvis’ meetings with the likes of The Beatles, Richard Nixon, Brian Wilson, Led Zeppelin and others, “Me And A Guy Named Elvis” is an indispensable primer illuminating the legacy of the most influential musical icon of the past century.
Goldmine: Why did you hold out so long to do a book?
Jerry Schilling: There was a long period of time after Elvis passed away; professionally or publicly, I didn’t talk about Elvis. I tried to go on with my life professionally. There was no way I could ever make up for the loss of Elvis personally.
I had a management company, and I was managing The Beach Boys and Jerry Lee Lewis and worked with Billy Joel. I was more fortunate than some of my friends that didn’t have those alternatives. I never expected to lose Elvis, especially at that young age. After about 10 years, I went to work for Elvis Presley Enterprises as creative affairs director. I also got to work as a producer, and I produced about nine documentaries on Elvis, shows like “Elvis: The Great Performances.”
GM: What does your book tell us about Elvis that others have been unable to convey?
JS: I had gone back to Memphis. They had done a nationwide search to find a president and CEO of The Memphis Music Commission, and I got the job, which was unbelievable. I did that for a little over three years.
After my term was up, I came back to L.A. My wife got very sick for a short period of time. I stayed here with her, and we were talking about our lives. I thought maybe I could write something on my life with Elvis. But I thought, “There’s been so mu