On April 6, 1968, the most famous star in the world drove over 250 miles from LA to see Tom headline his new show at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. The two had only met briefly once before, in 1965 on the Paramount Studio lot in Los Angeles. But The King had not only been listening to Tom’s growing list of hit records since then, he was also keeping a very close eye on the Welsh star’s hugely successful (and lucrative) cabaret career.
Publicist Chris Hutchins described their second meeting in thrilling detail and you can read more about when Elvis came to see Tom Jones and started the standing ovation here.
After The King and his entourage watched the show, they all went backstage but it was so busy Tom took his VIP guests to his changing room for some privacy. That’s when the famous photographs of the Welsh star with Elvis and Priscilla were taken.
The two stars soon got chatting and Elvis made some surprising confessions.
Elvis told Tom: “When your record Green Green Grass of Home was issued here, the boys and I were on the road driving in our mobile home.
“Man, that record meant so much to us boys from Memphis we just sat there and cried.
“Then we called the radio station and asked them to play it again – and they did, four times!
“We just sat there and sobbed our hearts out.”
The powerful song was a cover of the 1965 Nashville country ballad written by Curly Putnam about a condemned prisoner on death row who is dreaming of the life he will never see again.
Tom heard Jerry Lee Lewis’ own interpretation and was inspired to try recording a country song for the first time. He even played his new version to Lewis when the US star was on a UK tour in 1966.
Tom later said: “I played it to him in his hotel room. He was knocked out with it and said: ‘You’ve done something different here, the arrangement is great. It sounds like a No 1 to me.’ I said: ‘I hope you’re right.’ He was.”
In fact, it became Tom’s biggest hit in the UK, selling 1,205,000 copies.
Back at that famous meeting in Las Vegas, Elvis also praised Tom’s current single, Delilah. When Tom admitted he was worried it had stalled in the thirties in the US charts, Elvis replied: ‘Man I want to make a prediction, it’ll be a smash here, too.'”
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In the end, it peaked at number 15, one of the Welsh star’s 19 Top 40 hits in the US. He never landed an elusive number one record there, just missing out in 1971 with number two hit She’s A Lady.
Apart from the mutual admiration, Elvis had travelled to Las Vegas to watch Tom perform because he was unhappy with his career at the time. His manager Colonel Parker had been booking him repetitive and uninspiring films, his chart successes were declining and he was missing doing live performances.
On that night in 1968, Elvis confessed he had tried doing a cabaret show once before but it had gone very badly.
He said: “I was at the Frontier Hotel about ten years ago and I died a terrible death. When I came out with those hip movements, man, they just weren’t ready for me.”
This time, though, after watching Tom’s show, The King called Parker and demanded he start booking him concerts. On July 31, 1969, Elvis opened the brand new International Hotel in Vegas with a four-week residency.
It was the beginning of a new phase in Elvis’ career that would see him perform 636 shows in the desert gambling mecca.