Podcast Transcript

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Takin a Walk Podcast, music History on Foot. This is the podcast that covers music storytelling from authors, filmmakers, and musicians. We’re available at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart, The Podcast Playground, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you hear, please share this with your friends. On this episode, join host Buzz Knight with two visionaries in the media and entertainment business.

They’re here to talk about their new documentary, Reinventing Elvis: the ’68 Comeback from the great folks at Paramount Plus. Spencer Proffer is the film’s producer, and he’s also the founder of Meteor 17. He’s one of the most successful documentary filmmakers of our time, most recently with the award-winning Don McLean doc, The Day The Music Died. He’s also the man behind the John Coltrane documentary, Chasing Trane, and a host of other great work.

We’re also joined by director, producer, and award-winning trailblazer, Steve Binder. As the ’68 Comeback show was coming together, Steve Binder was the man right in the middle of this incredible story in music history. He stood up to Colonel Tom Parker, who ruled the Elvis empire with an iron fist. He pushed Elvis to greatness as he built an environment of trust with the king. Let’s join Buzz Knight with Spencer Proffer and Steve Binder next on Takin’ a Walk.

Buzz Knight:

Well, gentlemen, it’s an honor to have two of the most iconic figures in music history on Takin’ a Walk. I’d like to welcome Spencer Proffer and welcome Steve Binder. Congrats on the triumphant release of your new Paramount Plus documentary. I’d like to say welcome back, Spencer, to Takin’ a Walk. Your past episode with me, talking about your illustrious career and your Don McLean documentary, was a moment of serendipity for me as we’ve become pals. I’m so grateful. Spencer, let me ask you first, how did you and Steve Binder become pals years ago?

Spencer Proffer:

Very simple. First of all, you should put Steve’s name before mine anytime. We became pals because he rejected me as a rock and roll artist when Steve was probably the most acclaimed television director in America, and he was hired by NBC to do the comeback special, which he’ll tell you about with Elvis.

I knew a lady who worked for Steve’s partner Bones Howe. I had an audition for Steve with my band, and after two songs, he blew me off. Then in other words, he didn’t blow me off rudely, he blew me off thinking I wasn’t good enough. He was right. Then-

Steve Binder:

No, the truth of the story, Buzz, is that once we had signed exclusively doing all the hits for The Fifth Dimension, The Association, et cetera, my partner, who’s brilliant recording producer, Bones Howe, said, “Steve, if the Beatles walked in here tomorrow, we’d have to turn him down because our plate is full, and we just can’t take on any new artists.” That’s the only reason I turned Spencer down.

Spencer Proffer:

Well, Buzz, I got to be honest, and this has nothing to do with this Paramount Plus Doc, which I think is quintessential, and I’m very proud to be the producer of it next to my friend, Steve. I wasn’t that good. Years later, when Steve had a management company and he had Rick Springfield, and he had Air Supply, and I was running A&R United Artists, he came to me.

I had just finished signing the ELO Connectivity to releasing the records, and was making Tina Turner’s Acid Queen album. I was a rock guy, so I admitted that to Steve. I think he liked my candor. We’ve been friends ever since. That was 1974.

Buzz Knight:

I love it. I love it. Well, Steve, there are so many storylines in this documentary, certainly the hero, meaning you, and the villain, and Colonel Parker, and the Star, and Elvis, but one of them also is your tremendous legacy, sir, as a pioneer and a trailblazer, your work with the Freedom Spectacular, the Petula Clark Special. Talk about how you were shaped to be a bold creator who has always had the courage of your conviction in your pursuit of justice.

Steve Binder:

I think it all really stems from your upbringing. I was one of the fortunate ones in life who had tremendous parents who wanted to give my sister and myself all the opportunities that they never had when they grew up. Both of my parents never had the opportunity to go to college. They insisted that both my sister and I go to college, even though I never graduated. I actually got drafted in the Army right in my senior year at the University of Southern California.

I was lucky enough when I went into the military to get a job with the American Forces Network, and that’s what whet my appetite of saying, “Hey, I like this business.” When I came home from the military after two years, a gentleman by the name of Pete Burness, who unfortunately passed away very young in life, but he was the film director of the Mr. Magoo cartoons, and he was a friend of a few people that I met in Europe while I was announcing, like Jim Backus who I later directed on Gilligan’s Island, believe it or not.

One thing just led to the other, and the door opened. I started my television career throwing pies on a show with a slapstick comic named Soupy Sales. That led to a relationship for a few years with Steve Allen. I directed the Late Night Show with Steve for Westinghouse. When you do a show like that, you meet everybody in show business. You meet the people in front of the camera and behind the camera, and I just made such great relationships. The one thing I learned is don’t try and bluff it.

If you don’t know something, say you don’t know it, and there are so many great people willing to help you. My education in the entertainment industry really comes from the great people that I worked with on the camera crews, the audio people, even the guys that held the cue cards, what they used to call the idiot cards. I just always had great relationships with the people I worked with. Many of them, if they’re still around, I’m still friends with them.

I’ve had such an eclectic career over the years of doing so many different things from Give Them Hell, Harry, which got an Academy Award nomination for James Whitmore, to Diana Ross in Central Park. The shows were just coming for my entire career, thank goodness. For every person who said they didn’t want to work with me, thank God there was somebody who did. Spencer became a very important part of my life because the reason we’re talking today, Buzz, to be honest with you, is all due to Spencer.

He’s the one who read a rough of my book on Elvis Presley and he said, “Steve, we’ve got to expand this. This is not something you just want to leave and a few people read it. This is something that the whole world would be interested in.” He’s the one who pushed for every step of the way, in terms of what’s happening right now in my fourth quarter of my life is so exciting. I have so much to be thankful for with Spencer. It’s been a great ride.

I have loved my work, and now I have the opportunity to spend all those missed days, weeks, months, and years that I basically were forced to neglect my personal family. I’m spending lots and lots of time right now with all my grandkids. In a combined marriage with my wife of 27 years, we have nine grandchildren and a great-grandchild, and it’s so exciting to see my life, my career through their eyes. I’m very, very grateful to Spencer and so many people who have had the door open for me all through my entire life.

Buzz Knight:

Spencer, when you first met Steve years ago, did you see his amazing ability, which by the way, you also share in managing artists with tremendous grace?

Spencer Proffer:

Well, the one thing I knew from people who I knew that knew Steve, other than my just direct one-on-one, was artists, be it Diana Ross, be it, gosh, I don’t know, Steve, you got to name me. I think for your Barry Manilow special, all his work that he did when he directed, I feel like I’m his manager, but I’m not. I get no commission, I just get love. When he did the Soul Train Awards, Hullabaloo, all his shows, I figured out it was as much about his personal connectivity to the talent, more than just him being a suit.

Furthest thing that Steve Binder is a corporate executive. The thing that I love and admire and feel mentored by my friendship with Steve is his ability to have artists revere him. When he introduced me to Diana Ross years ago, after he produced that Central Park Special, I think was the first Showtime special, a million people showed up. Diana said, “I am so excited to meet you because of Steve Bender.” She starts raving. My first five minutes and talking to Diana Ross, who’s her own superstar, is how great a guy Steve Binder is to work with.

I think he did five specials with her, including a big jazz thing. The thing I relate most to Steve is because I do relate to the artists I work with musical these days when I make mini movies on their work, is that Steve did the same thing in his lane. That’s kind of why I think we make great friends and great partners, because we relate to the creatives more than we relate to P and L statements. We make money, but we make money doing good work.

Steve Binder:

The bottom of my biographies over the years is, whatever you do in life, do it with passion. Passion is everything. Spencer is one of the few people in my life who equals my passion for being passionate. It’s a great relationship because we have so much to contribute to each other, and it’s anything and everything that I’ve done in my entire life and career is a new experience and learning something new in each and every way.

When I mentioned Gilligan’s Island, I went on that show at the request, basically, of my personal manager at the time who knew that I had an appetite for learning the technical side of the business and television in general. In the days that I started, there was no videotape even invented. It was all based on if you wanted to record your show, you had to be on Kinescope, which was nothing more than taking an electronic camera, and putting up in front of your TV screen, and recording off of the screen.

It was terrible quality, and I think it was Desi Arnaz who had the smarts to say, “When we do the Lucy shows, I’m shooting it on 35 millimeter film.” That’s why the quality is so fantastic whenever they do any of the reruns, which I assume there’s a Lucy show being played somewhere in the world 24/7. It was really a case of where with all the new technology coming in, when I started, I thought the shows were going to air one time live, and that’s the end of it.

I think I now, due to the invention of videotape, I must have at least five or six of my shows that are put out on DVDs, and it never was expected in my lifetime. I think the future is so exciting, especially if we can figure out how to control AI, artificial intelligence, the future generations are going to be just as excited about all the new things that their societies are going to face and deal with.

When you realize when I was a kid, there were no jet airplanes, there were no iPhones. The only fantasies were reading the comic strips, and there was a detective named Dick Tracy who had a watch on that you could actually use as a telephone. I thought that’s impossible. Sure enough, I’m wearing a watch where you can make phone calls. Whoever thought we would not only get to the moon in spaceships, but we’re trying now for Mars. That’s all fantasy when you’re growing up and you’re a kid.

It’s exciting to be alive. I’ve had a great run. I’ve turned 90 years old this year, and I’m still full of enthusiasm for the future, and I lived now through the eyes of my grandkids and my own kids. I’m fearful, as well as being optimistic, of what kind of world we’re going to end up with, but I’m also very optimistic.

Buzz Knight:

Well, Steve, there are some storylines in here and some moments in history, and I’d like to ask you of a couple of them if you could take us back, because that’s what the documentary does so brilliantly. It takes you back in time as if you were there as a fly on the wall. Can you tell that infamous first Elvis meeting story, and concurrently, the first one with that Colonel Parker guy?

Steve Binder:

Well, before I even begin telling you that, I will say, the only time I had any exposure to Elvis Presley, and this is before I was even entertaining getting into the business, was seeing him perform live with his original trio, basically. Bill Black, who was his original bass player, and Scotty Moore, his original guitarist on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was totally taken in. I was amused.

I’d been reading and hearing a lot of publicity on Elvis and how special he was. He was kind of acknowledged as the king of rock and roll. Most adults felt he was poisoning the youth of America, which I found amusing. Then he kind of disappeared and ended up being a middle of the Road Film Star. All of those early records that he recorded by Lieber and Stoller and so forth, he wasn’t recording anymore.

He was basically singing songs in the soundtrack of the movies written by the film screenwriters who had no experience whatsoever in rock and roll, were probably older guys themselves, and weren’t relating to what really was going on in the youth culture of America at that time. The first time I met Elvis, I was told NBC might have a deal with Elvis with the Colonel, but they weren’t sure.

They just wanted to know after seeing a special that I did with Petula Clark and Harry Belafonte, that became very controversial, because it was the first time in American variety television that a black singer was touched by a white English woman. She reached out in an emotional moment of a anti-war song that they were dueting and touched Harry on the forearm, and all hell broke loose with the representative of the sponsor. As a result, it became an international incident picked up by Newsweek and Time Magazine.

I had no idea at the time that anything like that was still going on in America. I was very naive, and little did I know, when I was offered the Elvis Presley special or to see if I was interested, if they had a deal with Elvis, I was not all that interested. I was a West Coast kid. I was into the Beach Boys. We were producing The Fifth Dimension and The Association. I was working with Laura Niro.

It was really a situation when I went out to meet the Colonel to see if I qualified to meet Elvis Presley, I don’t even know what I was expecting, but all I know is when I got to the MGM Studios where the Colonel had his offices, he immediately started gifting me. He made me a member of his so-called phony, he had a called a Snowman’s club, and I guess his definition is if you snowed somebody or you were great at, and I’ll just use the initials, at BSing, then you qualified to be in the Colonel’s Club.

The initiation was free, but to get out of the club I think was like a hundred thousand dollars or something like that. There was no club to begin with. It was strictly an honor. The Colonel called himself the chief potentate of the club, and it had a membership card and a booklet, and all the rules of the club, and so forth and so on. It was quite humorous. He also gave me a quarter inch audio tape of 20 Christmas songs that was going to be that year’s gift to disc jockeys all over America as Elvis’s Christmas present.

The Colonel said to me, “This is what NBC and myself want Elvis to do, and we want you to execute it if you do the show.” I went back to my office after leaving the Colonel, thinking, this is never ever going to happen. The colonel went to turn Elvis into Andy Williams, or Perry Como, or great middle of the road artists, but certainly nowhere near the definition of rock and roll and what Elvis Presley represented. I went back to my office thinking, well, I had a meeting and I guess I’ll never meet him.

Next thing I know, when I got back, my secretary said, “Hey, Steve, there’s a message from,” who turned out to be a great executive producer of the show, Bob Finkel, who at the same time, was producing the Jerry Lewis show for NBC and also the Phyllis Diller Show for NBC. He was assigned to be the executive producer on the Elvis Presley special if it happened. Bob said, “I don’t know what you did to charm Colonel Parker, but he loves you, and Elvis will be at your office tomorrow at 4:30 in the afternoon.”

On the clock, boy, he showed up, and walked into my office, staggeringly great looking. I’m definitely a heterosexual and a happily married man, but boy, you couldn’t take your eyes off him when he walked in that door. All of a sudden, he looked around the lobby and the hallway, and saw all of our gold records from all the hits with The Fifth Dimension and The Association. He told me in our first meeting how comfortable he felt that he was finally going to be talking with somebody who spoke his language.

The first question he asked me, which is kind of humorous, because I took him to my office and back alone, and we sat down and he said, “So what do you think of my career?” Without hesitating, I said, “I think your career’s in the toilet.” He looked at me for a split second, and I didn’t know how he was feeling. I thought he wanted to strangle me, but I was 100% wrong. He said, “Finally, somebody speaking some truth to me.” We just hit it off from day one.

When he went home, Priscilla had just delivered Lisa Marie, I think she was two months old at the time, Lisa Marie and Priscilla told me when Elvis came home to the rented house that he had for Priscilla in Beverly Hills, he said, “You know what? I don’t care what the Colonel says. I got a gut feeling about this kid Binderr, and I’m going with him. I’m going to do whatever he asks me to do.” He lived up to it. For the entire production, you have to realize, I only knew Elvis when we started that first day on the ’68 special to the end of it.

When it was over and I delivered the master, and there was a little incident where we were going to have beer and pizza as a little celebration at Bill Belew, our costume director’s home, our apartment in Hollywood, that’s the last time I ever saw or talked to Elvis Presley. My window of time with him really spanned about three or four months from beginning to the very end.

Buzz Knight:

Incredible. My God, incredible. Spencer, your documentaries, they find this absolutely mesmerizing and brilliant way to musically respect the past, but kind of pay it forward to the future, in terms of how you showcase multi-genre influences and kind of weave them into the storyline. Can you talk about how you did this with this documentary?

Spencer Proffer:

I leave it to the guy who were the principles. One of my skills, assuming I have a few, is to be a vacuum cleaner magnet and let the creators who did the work, like the great artists. I’m telling you, when Paul Simon had a producer, Roy Hallie, it was still Paul Simon’s songs. When Mick Jagger performs, he’s got producers, but at the end of the day, it’s Mick Jagger. Same with Cat Stevens or anybody that’s great, Carole King, et cetera.

Steve Binder is one of those greats. It was the responsibility and the good fortune I had in hiring John Scheinfeld, who’s a fantastic documentary director, to pull this out. We spent lots of time with Steve. I’ve known Steve a long time. I had a very clear vision of what this could be, but I’m not a director. I’ve directed a lot of videos, but I’m not a documentary or a film director. My job is to provide the opportunity for them to be as brilliant as they are. John Scheinfeld did a brilliant job.

He’s a very, very fine director, but it’s all about Steve Binder. This isn’t the Elvis documentary, it’s Steve’s. Elvis was the vehicle by which Steve exerted his, not exerted is the wrong word, but he showcased his brilliance in providing a platform for Elvis to be Elvis. That’s what we did with the Don McLean doc. That’s what I’m doing with numerous projects that are forthcoming. I really have to hand it to the creators to be who they are. My job is to pull it out of them.

Steve Binder:

Buzz, I’m going to tell you a story that I haven’t told very many people ever, but one of the great things that happened on this special is when I was with Elvis, and I told him basically with my writers, what we wanted to do with him, which was miles away from doing a Christmas special, which had already been locked in by the head of NBC, Tom Sarnoff, and Colonel Parker. That was the show they wanted to do and were thought they were doing until I entered the picture.

The great story is that I said in that big second meeting with Elvis that I had, I said, “Elvis, this is going to be strange for you, because you’re leaving your security blanket at the Elvis Presley Estate, and you’re going to join me.” I had done two other specials with the same crew, Bill Belew, the brilliant costume designer, Gene McAvoy, the art director, and so forth and so on, Allan Blye, Chris Bearde, the writers.

I said, “Is there anybody that you would like to me to put on the staff of the show, because everybody you’re going to be meeting will be people you’d never met before, and they’re all new, and you just got to trust me that this is my family. These are the people that I love working with.” I’d accumulated this gang starting back on a show called Hullabaloo that I did in 1965, I believe it was, for NBC.

I had met a lot of the people that to this day, I’m still friendly with if they’re still alive. We were so good that unfortunately, I couldn’t keep them because they were so talented. Chris Bearde and Allan Blye went on to do the Andy Williams show, and the Smothers Brothers show, and so forth as producers themselves. All of the people on that crew grew their careers. The story is, Elvis said, “There’s only one person that I would feel comfortable with, and that’s putting Billy Strange on as my musical director.”

Well, I had been working since Hullabaloo and did a Leslie Uggams who was starring on Broadway Special and Petula Clark Special with a young man named Billy Goldenberg. Billy was the dancer ranger for the David Winters Dancers on Hullabaloo. I just thought he was so talented, and so that’s who I really wanted to do Elvis with. I agreed to hire Billy Strange because Elvis wanted him, and I felt it’d be a good security blanket for Elvis.

Well, as it turned out, Billy Strange had just had a major success with Nancy Sinatra, and they had produced a record called Boots are Made for Walking, and the record company was screaming at Billy, “You got to get an album out. You got to record at least nine more songs.” He was all tied up, and every time I called him to say, “Elvis is getting ready to start rehearsals, do you have music for me?” He said, “Don’t worry, it’ll be there.” As every day went by, I got more and more nervous.

I finally called Billy Strange and I said, “Billy, if I don’t have lead sheets and piano parts for Elvis by this Monday, I’m going to fire you.” He said, “You can’t fire me.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because I know Elvis a lot better than you know Elvis, and if he heard that you fired me, you’d be the one that would be fired.” That’s the way we ended it. Monday came around, I had no music, and I called Bob Finkel, my executive producer, and I said, “I’m going to fire Billy Strange.”

He said, “If you think you know what you’re doing, go ahead and do what you got to do,” so I fired him. I called Billy Goldberg in New York, and I said, “Billy, can you please get on an airplane this afternoon or this evening and come? I need you to be the music director of the Elvis Presley special.” Thank God, Billy did it. The brilliance of Billy Goldenberg is that he took all those old songs of Elvis, and he didn’t make them sound old. He updated all the arrangements, and it sounded big and contemporary, and Elvis loved it.

In fact, Elvis said right before we started our first recording session, he said, “Steve,” he walked in the studio and he saw 35 musicians of the greatest studio musicians in Hollywood. He said, “Steve, if I don’t like any of the Billy Goldenberg arrangements or the music I hear, you have to promise me to send everybody home, and just keep the rhythm section.” I promised him I would do that. Elvis walked back in the studio, he stood next to Billy Goldenberg, and they immediately bonded.

Elvis even hired Billy to do Change of Habit with Mary Tyler Moore: The Movie after we finished the ’68 Special. Billy brought so much to that special when it came to the sound of the rock and roll soundtrack.

Buzz Knight:

Steve, when you were in the midst of the ’68 Comeback Special, you were with Elvis at a dark period in American history, when Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated. What was that moment like?

Steve Binder:

I don’t want to underplay it or overplay it. We used to go to my offices on the Sunset Strip to rehearse Elvis before we went to NBC to start rehearsals in earnest. The main purpose was for Billy Goldenberg to teach Elvis all the new material for the show and so forth. We’d start at four in the afternoon or 4:30, and we’d work until midnight or one in the morning on a normal day. This particular evening, we were in the piano room rehearsing some of the music, and all of a sudden, we heard a big commotion from another office that I had, which had a television set that was on.

We all got up. It was Elvis, Earl Brown, our choir director, Billy Goldenberg, myself, and I think Allan and Chris, our writers were there as well. We all piled into the TV room. Live on television, we watched when Bobby Kennedy was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, and we ended up spending the entire night until the sun came up in the morning, not talking about the show, but talking about what’s going on in our country. Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, all these gunshots, and murders, and so forth. The Vietnam War was going on in full rage and so forth.

It was really eerie, and it was amazing to me to know how much Elvis had already studied all that was going on historically in the United States. He was a real scholar when it came to what was going on with these assassinations at the highest level of our government. I think it had a lot to do to bond all of us with Elvis, where all the rumors of him being a racist, or a redneck, or whatever were completely dispelled. I liked the guy from beginning to end. That was my experience with him. I found him totally…

Our cast on the Comeback Special was kind of a United Nations on wheels. We had a black choreographer, a Puerto Rican choreographer, we had Asian dancers, we were a mixed company, and it was kind of fun. Elvis didn’t balk at anything. We featured him in the gospel segment with the Blossoms, three beautiful young black ladies, and they were right alongside of him. He embraced them. I never saw any racism coming from Elvis. I found every time we got into any conversation, other than show business, where we talked about our personal lives, I found him very open and liberal.

I’m one of those, unfortunately, I guess to many, screaming liberals who believe, as Earl Brown wrote in his song, If I can Dream, I want to live in a land where your brothers and sisters walk hand in hand. That’s been my feeling about the country and so forth. I was appalled, because I kept running into, not on purpose, but all these racist people and edicts. I understand in the south, at that time, theater owners were literally taking scissors and cutting out the black actors in white movies, basically.

I just came from a very liberal family where we treated everybody by basically the golden rule. You treat everybody as they treat you. As a kid, I worked in my dad’s gas station. It was a truck station, so we had quite a few employees, but most of them were either black or Latino or whatever. They were my buddies. I didn’t think of them as being different from anybody else.

Buzz Knight:

Well, I’d like to close with a question for both of you, first Spencer, and then for you, Steve, same question. It’s a time of tremendous division today. Spencer, can you talk about how you feel this documentary, about the healing and unifying power of music, is more important than ever today?

Spencer Proffer:

Oh, I think Steve’s vision of everything being colorblind, being race blind, being religious blind, is right with where the world could be and should be. Steve’s very close friend, Mike Stoller, wrote a song with Jerry Lieber and Ben E. King, called Stand By Me, which I am going to make a definitive film about how that song speaks to the world. When Biden went to stand next to Zelenskyy, when South Koreans decided to contribute a lot of money to stand next to Ukraine in their plight.

That really kind of is personified by the spirit of Stand By Me, which is the spirit of what Steve has done, what this documentary does, is it just shows that good music, good vision, and Steve being able to put people in the round, let Elvis jam with his guys and capturing it handheld, I think that’s timeless, but I think that’s good for all races, all colors. We have a salsa version of Blue Suede Shoes performed by Maffio. We have Darius Rucker, who’s a brilliant black crossover artist, doing his rendition of Heartbreak Hotel.

When Darius speaks in the dock about how there was a moment in time when he saw this as a kid growing up, it really touched him. He’s a superstar today. He’s a three-time Grammy winner, and yet he is a human being. I am true big believer that what Steve did and what Elvis did has transcended time. I think music travels. I think Father and Son by Cat Stevens, Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper, these all are songs and things that transcend race and time.

I think a lot of it started with what Steve did with the Petula Clark Special, with Harry Belafonte, what Steve did here. I’m just very, very proud to be the guy to help bring this to the world. If that’s any kind of a sign-off, that’s my opinion. I’m sure Steve has even a more articulate version.

Steve Binder:

It’s our joke to out-articulate you, Spencer. Now, my feeling is that, and I’ve always felt this as a little kid, before I even entertained getting into the entertainment business itself, the first album that I ever got, which I suggest that your listeners get a copy of and listened to it, this was played in the 1930s on CBS. It was written by somebody I got to meet, Earl Robinson, who wrote The House I Live In that Frank Sinatra made famous. He was a real humanitarian.

His family was in the lumber business up in the state of Washington. The song was the Ballad for Americans. I remember wearing out the 78 RPM discs. It came with three discs in the set, and the whole premise was, “Hey,” the narrator, “Hey, hey, buddy, are you an American?” Then he’d go into all these verses of, “Am I an American?” He’d deal with religion and patriotism and so forth. There was a choir constantly in the background, questioning his Americanism, his liberalism, and so forth.

I love that album. It actually played on CBS with the CBS Orchestra in the ’30s, and I think it jammed the phone lines at CBS for hours from people who responded to that piece of music. I think Odette also recorded a version of it. It was really a case of where, to this day, as much as I love other forms of music, and you got to be exposed to those kind of things, and thank God my non-college parents knew enough to expose my sister and I to so many forms of music and the arts.

To me, the only universal language that can be understood, no matter what language you speak in your native tongue and so forth, is music. Music translates emotions and feelings, and whether you understand the words or you don’t of the lyricists, there’s just something about it that can stir my soul. I can go to a symphony orchestra, listen to Tchaikovsky, The War of 1812 or something, and get goosebumps.

I know they use that piece of music July 4th when they shoot off the fireworks and everything. That’s a piece of music that relates to it. The point is that it stirs your soul. It makes you feel. It brings us all together. I’m a great believer. When I got into television, I realized how little anybody in television paid to the music. They were all about, “This is about the picture and the soundtrack doesn’t matter.” Well, I couldn’t disagree with them more.

That’s why I partnered with a record producer, because I felt even now, and let’s get back to the Elvis Presley Special, I think that’s soundtrack is equally as important to the success of the Special. I look at it today and I say, “You know what? I could have shot that last month. It didn’t need to be done 50 some years ago. It’s not dated in any way, shape, or form.” The driver to the whole thing is the soundtrack, is the music. I think artists get inspired by the music.

I was listening the other day to an old Bobby Darin album with Mack The Knife and all those great tunes, what really caught my attention in my ear were the arrangements to the music, and the orchestra’s soundtrack behind his single success and so forth. I just can’t say enough about what music does to me and my soul.

Buzz Knight:

Well, thanks for chilling my soul in a beautiful way. I can’t wait for everyone to see this documentary. It’s just tremendous. It’s the Reinvention of Elvis, The ’68 Comeback Special Paramount Plus. I can’t thank you enough, Steve Binder and Spencer Proffer, for being on the Takin’ a Walk podcast.

Steve Binder:

Thank you, Buzz. It’s been a pleasure from my point of view.

Spencer Proffer:

Buzz, you’re a rockstar. I appreciate you. Yes, I do want the world to hear it, and I want them to feel what Steve Binder feels, because that’s what we should, as a society and as a world, that’s what we should feel.

Buzz Knight:

Thank you, gentlemen.

Speaker 1:

Takin’ a Walk with Buzz Knight is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.


About The Author

Buzz Knight

Buzz Knight is an established media executive with a long history of content creation and multi-platform distribution.

After a successful career as a Radio Executive, he formed Buzz Knight Media which focuses on strategic guidance and the development of new original content.