Written by General Jabbo
Jerry Schilling first met Elvis Presley when Presley was a mere 19 years old and a mostly unknown singer. While Schilling was only 12 at the time, the two hit it off and formed a 23-year friendship that lasted until Presley’s death in 1977. During this period, Schilling traveled with Presley, lived with him, acted as a stunt double in Charro! and worked creatively with him on such projects as Elvis On Tour. Not wanting to be known just as an “Elvis man,” Schilling got into film editing and served as the Executive in Charge of Talent on the 10-hour The History Of Rock ‘n’ Roll documentary. He also got into management, serving as a tour manager for Billy Joel and as a personal manager for the likes of the Beach Boys and Jerry Lee Lewis. Suffice to say, Jerry Schilling has led a very interesting life.
I spoke with him about Elvis’ 75th birthday, the DVD/Blu-Ray release of Elvis On Tour that recently played in 460 theaters across the country and about Schilling’s life in music. This is what he had to say.
What was your role in the original version of Elvis on Tour?
I was on tour with Elvis and by the time we did Elvis On Tour, I had enough knowledge of film editing that (directors) Bob (Abel) and Pierre (Adidge) hired me. I worked with the producers for a year. I’m in the footage. I got to work with him (Presley) on a creative level, which was a great thing for him and for me. It’s one of the first movies after Woodstock with multi-panel images. It was a really great experience working with young filmmakers, Marty Scorsese (Scorsese supervised a montage sequence in the film) and the directors. It is the best insight on film into Elvis that there is.
Why was “Johnny B Goode” replaced in the opening sequence by Don’t Be Cruel?
It simply came down to the fact that nobody was able to get a hold of Chuck Berry or his representatives. It wasn’t the price — we were never given a price. Chuck Berry is a very smart man. He kept his publishing from the beginning.
Did you ever think when you first met Elvis that you’d still be talking about him in 2010? What was that meeting like?
I don’t think either of us did! I was a big fan of James Dean and Brando and Elvis had that sense about him that you wanted to know him.
Will you be involved in any of the “Elvis 75” celebrations?
On August 15, Elvis On Tour is gonna have a European premiere in Brussels, and I’ll be a guest speaker. He has worldwide appeal, not just America. I find the further away you get, the more intense are the fans.
What was a day in the life of Jerry Schilling like when you were working for Elvis?
I was friends with him for 23 years and I worked and lived and traveled with him for 10 years of that. There were times when you were really busy and then there was quiet time.
How did you get into managing Billy Joel and the Beach Boys?
Elvis had a promoter, Tommy Hewlett with Concerts West and I asked Tom if he could help me and he mentioned this lady in New York who asked a bunch of questions, basically to see if I’d have trouble working for a woman. I went out to Colorado to meet his band. He was recording the Turnstiles album. We were in Detroit opening for the Beach Boys and that’s how I met the Beach Boys tour manager. I was their manager for 10 years, from 76 to 86. After 82, it was co-managed. I worked out their deal at CBS records. I also managed Jerry Lee Lewis at this time.
Elvis On Tour is part of the Elvis 75th Anniversary DVD Collection.