How do you open up for Elvis Presley? How do you entertain a crowd who’s ready for none other than the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll?
In the late 1960s and 1970s, a few comedians found out, when they were asked to be the opening act for Elvis. This was a pretty daunting task, to open up a show for one of the most celebrated entertainers in the world, but these guys took on the challenge – with a smile and a laugh.
Elvis’ all-female backing vocal group, The Sweet Inspirations, also opened for Elvis in addition to performing during his concerts. But a few comedians also helped get the audience ready for Elvis’ concert.
In 1969, Col. Tom Parker saw Sammy Shore open up for Tom Jones and thought the trumpet-playing comedian was a hoot. Shore was a showbiz veteran, having worked on TV shows and movies like “Accidental Family,” “Sandford and Son,” “Love, American Style” and “History of the World, Part 1.”
Sammy opened up for Elvis from 1969 to 1972, and in 1972 Sammy helped found the legendary comedy club, The Comedy Store, on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Many comedians got their start at The Comedy Store or simply entertained fans there – including Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Amy Schumer and many more. Sammy continues to bring the laughs and his sons, Pauly and Peter, are both in entertainment – Pauly is an actor and comedian, and Peter worked as a director. Sammy’s ex-wife, Mitzi, continues to run The Comedy Store.
After Shore left to run the venue, comedians Nipsy Russell and Bob Melvin stepped in to open up for Elvis. But then, Col. Parker spotted Jackie Kahane opening up for Wayne Newton, and knew Jackie’s family-friendly fare would go over well with Elvis and his audience.
Jackie also worked with other stars such as Sammy Davis Jr., Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick and Tony Bennett. In 1961, he was named as one of Time magazine’s Outstanding Comedians, one of his highest honors.
Jackie opened up shows for Elvis from 1972-1977, and he delivered the eulogy at Elvis’ funeral. He went on to start a production company and he produced TV shows like “Honeymoon Haven” and “Off the Wall.”
Both Sammy and Jackie honored Elvis at the Elvis in Concert event in 1997, presented at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis on the 20th anniversary of Elvis’ passing. Jackie passed away in 2001.
If you ever had the chance to see Elvis in concert and caught these guys’ acts, share your memories!
Want to learn even more about Elvis? Take a tour of his home, Graceland, where you can see everything from his famous Jungle Room to his Pink Cadillac and stunning stage wear – and much more.