Bob talks Elvis
“HE WANTED YOU TO KNOW THAT YOU WERE PART OF A TEAM”
DRUMMER BOB LANNING CHATTING WITH ARJAN DEELEN
You may not know the name, but you definitely know his work: Bob Lanning. He was Elvis’ drummer in 1970, a period that’s a firm favorite with many fans. The songs that Bob played on are very popular with many fans: “The Wonder Of You”, “Polk Salad Annie”, “C.C. Rider”, “Let It Be Me”, “Walk A Mile In My Shoes”, etc. For the first time since 1970 (!), Bob will be playing these songs again during the “An Evening with Elvis’ Friends and Original Musicians” tour in May ’15, see www.elvisnews.dk . In anticipation of the tour, I chatted with Bob about the tour and about his association with Elvis. Bob is a great guy, very friendly and with a nice sense of humor, and it’s always a pleasure to catch up with him.
What can the fans expect from the May ’15 tour?
When you are playing with Elvis Presley, it’s really the best of all worlds. Performing with him live, the interaction with the rest of the rhythm section, the interaction with the audience… It was amazing. We want to bring back some of that original feel, that excitement… I’m really looking forward to getting into it again.
Can you remember what you were doing when you heard that Elvis had died?
I was doing a recording session in L.A., a jingle session. We were taking a break, and one of the technicians told us that he had died. It was devastating. I will never forget that moment. I left the room immediately. Went outside, and just stood there… I kind of shut down….
When was the last time that you saw him?
I last saw him at the Hilton in ’72. He was downstairs at the casino playing craps. He was so kind and gracious to me. He told me again how much he enjoyed the ‘On Stage’ album. It almost sounded like he felt bad, he said, “I want you to know that you did a good job for me”. Those were his exact words. And “I’ll be calling you, Bobby”… He said that a couple of times. He mentioned different things that I’d played on, how the rhythm section felt… He would mention specific songs. Elvis always called me Bobby. I was amazed that he took the time to talk to me. He didn’t have to, but that’s the way he was. At one point a crowd gathered, people started getting pushy because they wanted to get near him. Elvis looked at security and said something to them about getting these people out of here. He didn’t say it that way, he said it in a much nicer way. He was always considerate of other people’s feelings.
Any other occasions where you got to talk to him one-on-one?
Oh yeah, I went up to the upstairs penthouse several times, and he would be sitting there. You have to remember that I was just 21, and I wasn’t used to free-wheeling… I was not a talker. But he was just the greatest. He would say: “Hey Bobby, how are you doing?”. He was always positive, always complimentary… He’d say: “You stayed right with me, Bobby”. He said that on a couple of occasions. He would mention specific songs. He wanted you to know that you were part of a team.
Had you listened to his albums prior to these rehearsals?
Oh yeah, a lot! Everything I could get hold of!
That opening with ‘All Shook Up’ was all drums… Surely that must have been a bit intimidating those first few nights?
I remember opening night. I was ready. We were all ready. We’d rehearsed… by God! There’s this singular moment where the drums open that first song, and Jerry would give me the cue. I will never forget that first night because it was such a great moment. Jerry looked over with that little smirk of his, and said: “It’s all yours, Bob!”.
You did 57 shows with Elvis in Las Vegas, and six at the Astrodome. Are there any shows that stand out in your memory?
He was unlike any other I’ve ever worked for, and I’ve worked for a lot of artists. I remember calling my brother and saying that Elvis’ show is like a one-time concert every time. Elvis was so unique. I invited a friend who was very cultural, and very much into the finer arts, you know, opera and ballet. He saw the show and he was absolutely ecstatic. He came back and saw the show four times, and every show was different. He said that Elvis was a genius because he had the ability to make each show so unique.
Would Elvis have any off nights?
I can’t remember one night where he wasn’t on it and absolutely on it. I remember being at one of these penthouse parties, and saying to Jerry Scheff: “I got to get my rest. Tomorrow night is going to be tomorrow night and he is going to be ON!”, and Jerry said: “I know what you mean!”.
Was there a setlist?
There wasn’t a setlist that was written down, but for the most part he would do them in the order that we’d rehearsed them in. And sometimes Elvis would turn to Charlie or the piano, and say: “I want to do this next”.
Did you get to meet Priscilla?
Oh yes, she was wonderful. On the bus when we were heading to the Astrodome, she sat down beside me and said: “I haven’t had a chance to meet Bob”. She told me that, “Elvis and I appreciate what you are doing for him”. She was so sweet.
Did you get to meet any celebrities at the Elvis shows?
I will never forget this until the day I die. I was walking through a narrow hallway past Elvis’ dressing room. This was after a show. I see a movie star type a bit further up the hallway. He turns around and it’s Cary Grant! CARY FUCKING GRANT! He loved Elvis. Cary was together with some friends. He looked up at me, and with that English accent he said: “Here’s the drummer! Is it ‘Bob’? Oh boy, I loved your drumming so much!”. I will never forget this… “It was a pleasure to meet you, Bob!”. I remember calling my brother, who’s also an actor, and saying: “You are NOT going to believe this!”.
Anything about Elvis that stands out in your mind?
Of all the other artists that I have worked for, he was so professional and at the same time so loving. Elvis was such a good guy. He really was a good person. I think it was easy for him to be that way, because he was so talented. He was very confident, and perhaps that gave him a generosity of spirit. Usually it’s the lesser talents that have certain ugly character traits, probably because they are not as confident. But Elvis was just wonderful.