Long Sell the King

"What happened was, the Soul Survivors were out in California on tour with the Young Rascals when Elvis was doing the '68 Singer TV special [that would become known as the legendary '68 Comeback Special]. Sid Bernstein, who was managing the Rascals, got some tickets and asked me would I like to come. That was the first time I saw Elvis, the first time I met him. That was incredible.

"After the show, I went back and was introduced to him. I said, 'Mr. Presley, it's a pleasure to meet you, I really enjoy your music.' That was it. I walked out. I was maybe 19 or 20, and it was really a thrill for me."

Lichter pauses for a drag of Kool.
"I'm a great admirer of talent."
About six months later, he was asked if he had any interest in presenting Presley with some gold records during the King's Las Vegas opening in 1969.

"I snatched that up," Lichter says. "When I got there, I was informed I had to stay in my room because the call from Colonel [Tom Parker, Elvis' manager] could come at any moment. I sat there for a couple days eating room service, and finally the call came.

"I was escorted by armed guards, I went in and there was Colonel Parker and the so-called Memphis Mafia sitting around eating grapes. I was nervous as shit. Finally, Elvis came in, and I gave him the gold records and posed for pictures, and for about 10 minutes he was holding my hand while we were shaking hands. . . . So I was being led out by the casino manager, and I realized that I didn't ask for an autograph or scarf or some kind of souvenir. So I asked the manager if he could do something about that. He said, 'I don't see any problem; check with me tomorrow.'

"Tomorrow came. At about 4 p.m., he says, 'Elvis wants to see you up in his suite.' The armed guards led me up to the 29th floor again, and Elvis had just gotten up and was eating breakfast. The bottom line was, he was so impressed that I didn't ask for anything that he invited me up to the suite. So I guess if I had asked for the autograph, my whole life would have been different."

Much to Lichter's amazement, he and Presley found things in common.
"It turned out he was dating a girl from Roxborough, Pennsylvania, which was close to where I lived. He loved football, I loved football. As they were escorting me out, he said, 'When are you leaving?' I said, 'A couple days.' He said, 'Do you have to?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Why don't you stay and be my guest?' So I did, and for the rest of the 28-day engagement, he picked up the bills, picked up the room, did the whole deal. Every night I sat at his personal table during the shows.

"That was the beginning of it."

In the meantime, Lichter opened up a record store in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, and began buying Elvis records for next to nothing.

"It was easy," Lichter says, "because I could trade people a Beatles record for 30 Elvis singles. So I started accumulating all these Elvis records, and at first it was just for me. Then I started getting duplicates, and I was able to get into warehouses of record distributors and I had tons and tons of Elvis. . . . It was 1970, and I decided it was time to start the Elvis Unique Record Club. We started running ads anywhere Elvis would be performing."

And when Elvis came back to Vegas . . .
"I printed out fake $10 bills with an advertisement on them for the record club, and I got 10 people to go with me into the casino and throw these bills into the air. I got thrown out of the casino, but it got Elvis' attention. He said to me it was the coolest thing he'd ever heard, I was crazy, I was out of my mind, and what was the Unique Record Club? So I explained it to him."

According to Lichter, Ol' E liked what he heard enough to allow Lichter to come on tour with him, plugging the club at every stadium stop. Within the first five days of the tour, Lichter says he made $25,000 pushing Presley merchandise. This, however, raised the ire of the business-savvy Colonel.

"Somewhere along the line, he decided this wasn't great," Lichter offers. "He called me in and says, 'I like you, you're a nice boy. I can't stop you from starting, but I'll stop you from finishing. Nobody has the right to make money off my boy except me.'

"Well, I'd just made $25,000 and I had all these records. There was no way he was going to stop me, so I continued. There were some rough tactics--I got shot at, and motorcycle gangs came along and beat up the people I'd hired [to distribute fliers]. There were some rough moments. But the Colonel always said he was just toughening me up because I reminded him of him. He wound up being my son's godfather. And Elvis was laughing at the whole thing because I was the first guy in 11 years to stand up to the old bastard!"

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