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The Story of Elvis Presley's Christmas Recordings By a Man Who Was There

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
December 25, 2023 3:02 am

The Story of Elvis Presley's Christmas Recordings By a Man Who Was There

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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December 25, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Greg McDonald got his start in show business as a teenager after meeting Elvis Presley and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, shortly after Parker began managing Elvis in the ‘50s. Here’s Greg with a Colonel and Elvis Christmas story.

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Visit CorkSickle.com and buy yours today. The NFL and its players and teams are committed to advancing social justice through work that reduces barriers to opportunity and creates progress in police community relations. Criminal justice. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. Greg McDonald got his start in show business as a teenager after meeting Elvis Presley and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, while changing their air conditioning filters in Parker's Palm Springs, California home. Greg went on to manage Ricky Nelson for 17 years and worked under Colonel Parker and Elvis shortly after Parker began managing Elvis in the 1950s. Here's Greg with the Colonel and Elvis Christmas story. Colonel Parker loved Christmas. He had always had a Santa suit and he loved entertaining kids and families.

Even at the Las Vegas Hilton, he would sit out there in the Santa suit and entertain all of the Hilton employees' children, several thousand of them. And the bad news was he passed that Santa suit down to me and he had me do the Santa Claus routine every year. If you've ever played Santa Claus, you know it's very hard. It's not easy.

It's a tough day. But he did that. He always had a little present for the kids. We'd give him an Elvis teddy bear, all kinds of different trinkets that the Colonel loved to make up little merchandising gadgets. In 1971, RCA had set up and the Colonel had set up a session in Nashville at RCA Studio B and they wanted a Christmas album. Well, Elvis wanted to record, but he wanted to do other songs.

He wanted to go in and do some Bob Dylan covers and some Peter, Paul and Mary stuff, which was hotter at that time. And Elvis, of course, his Christmas album in 1958 was the biggest Christmas album ever. And a lot of people don't realize that Elvis recorded his version of White Christmas and they sent the dub up to New York. And they played that dub for Irving Berlin, who wrote that song, White Christmas. And at that time, it was the biggest Christmas song ever and had been sung by Bing Crosby.

And it was huge. Irving Berlin hates it. He tells them, don't put it out.

It's my song. You can't put it out. Well, of course they could. And they did. So Irving Berlin hires a room full of people to call radio stations and tell them not to play the record.

It's sacrilegious. So, well, obviously the album comes out, you know, Blue Christmas is on it, White Christmas is on it. A huge record. At the end of Irving Berlin's career, Dish Jockey asked him, Mr. Berlin, what was the biggest royalty check and on what song was it during your life? What was your most profitable hit? And he said, Elvis Presley's version of White Christmas. So, you know, it was that particular album is the biggest selling Christmas album, including Mariah Carey and all of those.

It's the biggest selling still. You can't get in an elevator Christmas, not here, Blue Christmas. The Colonel, it was his idea 100%. Elvis didn't want to do it.

He was doing Blowing in the Wind. He did some great songs, but they weren't what was planned for the session. And the Colonel was in almost never went to recording sessions. So we were in Nashville and that Chet Atkins office actually at RCA. And we could hear what Elvis, there was a speaker in the conference room.

We could hear what they were recording in the studio. Well, Chet Atkins was calling New York and giving us up. And he'd say, you know, Elvis is in there singing, but he ain't doing Christmas. And then they'd call the Colonel and go, you've got to have him record.

We've got a schedule for a release at Christmas. Colonel would send his right-hand man, Tom Diskin, into the studio to get Elvis because Colonel would never walk in. That was their separate turfs. So he'd bring Elvis out into the parking lot where I was recently. And you could see them friendly talking and the Colonel saying, you've got to sing Christmas Elvis. And Elvis saying, yeah, but I want it. He wanted to do gospel songs.

So this was going on for a week. He called it the marathon and he cut some of the greatest songs Elvis ever cut. So he'd sing three Christmas songs. And then he went back in the studio because he knew we were listening. He recorded a song called He Touched Me, which was one of his biggest records and became one of his gospel albums that he got the only Grammy for and How Great Thou Art. Anyway, during the Nashville sessions, Elvis was having so much fun. He and Red West had a karate demonstration and they ended up breaking a classic guitar. And Red had put a Christmas tree in the studio.

And this is summertime. And he put a Christmas tree just to get him into the Christmas mood, to get him to record. Anyway, the Colonel didn't mind the gospel stuff, but he wasn't ready for the Bob Dylan songs.

He wanted the Christmas songs. So the battle between the two superegoes was going on. And that was a real, it was friendly.

That was in the real friendly days, those two. But they were nose to nose over what he was going to record. And they ended up recording 30, 40 songs.

And I think they all became chart records. And a terrific job on the production editing and storytelling by our own Greg Hengler. And a special thanks to Greg McDonald. He's the author of Elvis and the Colonel, an insider's look at the most legendary partnership in show business. And his co-author on that book was Marshall Terrell. And what a story he told.

Elvis didn't want to do this Christmas record in 1971. And yet here was Colonel Parker's instincts, keeping Elvis relevant with this hugely popular record, the story of how it got made here on Our American Stories. This is Lee Habib, host of Our American Stories. Every day, we set out to tell the stories of Americans, past and present, from small towns to big cities, and from all walks of life doing extraordinary things. But we truly can't do this show without you. Our shows are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, go to OurAmericanStories.com and make a donation to keep the stories coming.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-25 04:38:40 / 2023-12-25 04:42:38 / 4

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