Elvis’ fury after being tricked and humiliated on live TV ‘I’ll always regret that’

Elvis Presley was fast becoming the biggest star in the world in 1956, following massive number one hits with Heartbreak Hotel and I Want You, I Need You, I Love You. The American (and soon worldwide) youth adored him, but the establishment, including TV hosts and executives, felt very differently.

On July 2 he was due to go into the studio to record Hound Dog, but appeared the night before on the popular Steve Allen Show. The King was ambushed during the live broadcast, and it was just one of the attacks he faced over his new song.

But he always spoke of this particular night with anger and embarrassment. Elvis always faced criticism over Hound Dog, starting with the fact he was accused of “stealing” it from the original singer, Big Mama Thornton.

The songwriters Lieber and Stoller later said Elvis actually rooted his version in a cover by Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys. Their version had already been cleaned up from the original with provocative lyrics replaced.

Big Mama had sung of withholding sex in the lines, “You can wag your tail but I ain’t gonna feed you no more.” This was replaced by, “Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine.”

Elvis always faced digs over recording a cover of a highly regarded original by a true blues legend, and for his version being the mainstream sanitised one.

But even this cleaned up version still left him open to mockery and derision in front of millions of viewers. Allen did not approve of the new rock and roll counter culture and made Elvis’ manager Colonel Parker guarantee that the star would appear in a more respectable manner.

The King was persuaded to give up his guitar and to wear a rather improbable evening suit, complete with bow tie. But Allen had another sneaky trick up his sleeve.

Allen had previously mocked rock and roll on air, calling it “trash”. He had referred to Elvis as “talentless and absurd.”

In another segment on the show, Allen, along with Elvis and Andy Griffith had performed a musical skit making fun of country and western TV shows.

These were popular with the masses, especially in the rural and central areas of the US, and it’s hard not to imagine snobbery from Allen motivating the scenes.

And so, there was a real sting behind all the smiles that night when Allen brought Elvis out to sing his new number in front of the audience and said, “I have a little surprise for you.” The usual screams of adoring fans were replaced by laughter as a large basset hound in a top hat was revealed on a podium and Elvis was forced to sing the track to it.

It was always to his credit throughout his career that Elvis was a consummate and respectful professional, despite the films and appearances he would rather not have done. But he later felt a sense of anger and some shame that he had allowed others to mock and belittle him like that.

He said: “It was the most ridiculous appearance I ever did and I regret ever doing it.” Elvis’ band were also furious, with his guitarist Scotty Moore calling the set-up an insult.

Ultimately the scene only served to highlight the growing gap between the establishment and young and increasingly powerful audiences.

At his next show, The King told the cheering crowd: “Those people in New York are not gonna change me none. I’m gonna show you what the real Elvis is like tonight.” Sweetest of all, Hound Dog went on to become a giant hit, selling over ten million copies worldwide.

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