Elvis and Tom Jones iconic photo: The night Tom changed Kings life Lit a fire under me

Captured on April 6, 1968, it’s an iconic moment – two music legends at the start of an intense friendship. Elvis is looking healthy and happy and is on the verge of making a rare and major move against the wishes of his Svengali-like manager Colonel Parker. A move inspired by Sir Tom himself. The pictures were taken after the show in the British star’s Las Vegas dressing room while Priscilla and Tom’s wife Linda exchanged pictures of their babies Lisa Marie and Mark. Tom, himself, actually never liked the photographs because he thought it looks like he has a double chi. Even so, he complimented Elvis on losing weight, to which the King replied, “Too right, I have! I put it on across the cheeks.” Tom also confessed his worry that his latest single It’s Not Unusual wouldn’t be a US hit but The King promised him, “It’s a great record. It will be a smash here.” But Elvis wasn’t just there for a social visit. 

The two stars had met briefly back in 1965 when Tom was touring the Hollywood studio lot at Paramount. Elvis came over to say a quick hello and had kept an eye on the Welsh star’s career ever since. He was particularly impressed by how successful the younger star had been performing in Las Vegas.

Colonel Parker was still keeping Elvis making ever-less-successful films and his recording carer had stalled. So he decided to take matters into his own hands and told his road manager Joe Esposito to set up a meeting in Vegas through Jones’ pr, Chris Hutchins.

Esposito told Hutchins they were defying Parker, who didn’t like ‘his boy’ doing anything that would give coverage to another artist, “but Elvis wants to see Tom perform so we’re coming anyway.”

Hutchins said: “At fifteen minutes to midnight Elvis, his wife Priscilla and eight of their friends walked through the Casino of the Flamingo Hotel and took their ringside seats…”

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“I told Tom, who said, ‘Great, invite him round afterwards, I’d like to see him again…

“In the first up-tempo number Don’t Fight It the action started and Jones the body slammed into action. I could see Presley slapping the table and waving his head in time with the beat…

“Later in the act, Tom announced, ‘Ladies and gentleman we have in the audience tonight a man I have admired for many years, Mr Elvis Presley.’

“The audience cheered and clapped as Elvis stood up to wave and take a now. Then Tom said jokingly from the stage; ‘OK that’s enough, sit down.’ And everyone including Elvis laughed.”

Tom always built to big numbers like Danny Boy and It’s Not Unusual but it was the encore that brought The King to his feet.


Tom’s classic number Land of a Thousand Dances was a big uptempo routine and “the wildest song he performed.”

Hutchins added: “As he gyrated from one side of the stage to another. As the number reached its climax, Presley stood up applauding and the rest of the audience got to its feet with him.

“Then he went backstage to tell Jones, ‘Man you are the GREATEST!’ Then he introduced his wife with the words, ‘Priscilla here is a big Tom Jones fan but I told her to cool it tonight.'”

Elvis reportedly said to Tom: “You lit a fire in me tonight, ‘I’m going to tell that old man (Colonel Parker) I need to get back on the road'”.

Tom later recalled: “He came to see me at The Flamingo in ’68, because he said he wanted to make a comeback, live, because he hadn’t sung live for years.

“He wanted to sing in Las Vegas, so he felt that I was the closest thing to him; I had a similar approach. My stage presence, he felt, was very similar to his. So he said to me, ‘You were very successful in Vegas, I want to watch you, I want to see what you do’. And then it gave him more confidence to make a comeback.”

The King called the Colonel the following day and told him he wanted live shows lined up instead of yet more formulaic movies. It was a move that would redefine the rest of his career.

Although Elvis rarely challenged Parker directly, in December 1968 Elvis he defied his manager’s directions and made his NBC TV comeback show edgier and more rock ‘n roll based, rather than the middle-of-the-road sound Parker wanted.

And then, on July 31, 1969, Elvis opened the brand new International Hotel in Las Vegas with a four-week residency.

Over the following years, he played 636 shows there, often at the same time as Tom was in town with his own residencies. The Welsh legend explained how their connection went beyond simple friendship.

Tom said: “I think he was the only person I’ve spoken to that felt the same way about music as myself, as far as versatility is concerned. Because he loved ballads as well as rock ‘n’ roll, he loved Gospel, he loved pop. And we would sit in the suite and talk about music… and we would sing, mostly jam.”

Six years after that first Vegas encounter, Elvis returned the favour when Tom came to one of his shows and paid him the ultimate compliment in front of a cheering crowd.

Elvis told the crowd: “There’s somebody in the audience I’d like you meet. To me … he’s my favourite singer. He’s one of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen, and the greatest voice, Tom Jones. There he is. He’s too much. Tom, you open at Caesar’s Palace tomorrow night, right? Folks, if you get the chance, go over and see him.

“He’s really something. He always comes to see my show here and I go to see his. It’s a mutual respect.”

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