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  Kathy Westmoreland

 

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Interview by
Melody Sanders

After spending some quality time with Kathy in Las Vegas, along with my best bud June Moore, I was intrigued to find out that there was so much more behind this talented lady that Elvis held with such high esteem.

It was obvious to all that Kathy was not only a talented lady with an awesome sense of humor, but that she indeed had a life prior to Elvis!

Well certainly she did..... But really, what did we know about Kathy “pre-Elvis”? AND what do we know now?

I can tell you this much off hand... Kathy had a career full of promise long before she would succumb to Elvis’ Southern charm, good looks, and winning personality.

I encourage you to check out her incredible Web Site and spend some time browsing through all the neat pictures and journal entries. Seeing is believing and if you thought just because she was close to Elvis that your chances of getting to know this woman was slim—think again... between her website and the interview- it will feel as if you’ve been best friends with Kathy for a lifetime!

Not too many people can secure a place in one’s heart as quickly as this dear lady... so sit back and enjoy learning more about the “Little Girl with the Beautiful High Voice”.

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The first question I posed to Kathy was simply,  Who is Kathy Westmoreland”?  Typical of Kathy and how I fully expected her to answer, I wasn’t disappointed when she answered....
 

Aha. If I only had a simple answer to this one!
 

So I went forward with a few easier to answer questions... How old were you when you first developed a desire to sing as a career?

 

 


I grew up singing in church, but vividly recall one Sunday morning at age twelve when beginning to sing a little solo I had in the choir, that lo and behold my child's voice had at some point during the preceding week become a woman's voice! I was shocked, as were all around me. It was then I began to take voice lessons seriously, and began to dream of one day being a professional singer. By the time I reached the age of sixteen I began to truly believe it just may one day be possible.

 

What aspirations did you have as a young girl?

I had the same aspirations I suppose as most young girls; I dreamed of meeting my "PRINCE CHARMING", having children of course. This was my great desire. Following closely in the race, though, and holding almost a nose-to-nose tie in the mix was the dream of being a professional singer, and of course the strong desire to somehow make the world a better place before I met my "end".

I truly believed that if I worked hard enough and prepared myself for anything that I could envision, it would just follow as naturally as seeds planted in the ground bear their fruit, that any idea I could conceive of and nurture would surely bear fruit. I believed that the same laws of nature that apply to "planting" a kernel of corn applied also to ideas and/or thoughts that were planted. There was just no way for those thoughts, dreams, and ideas, NOT TO BEAR FRUIT. To a degree, this belief system was actually true!

I also discovered that so much of your life just "happens" to you, no matter what you've planned. Now that's where things get "tricky". These are the times in life when one has to decide just how to respond or react to those occurrences. I haven't met a person yet who wasn't busy perhaps making iced tea, when all of a sudden...they were forced to either make lemonade to survive, or...????

The important thing is to have some plan of action, and then a good idea of how one will "re-act" to what life brings your way.

Tell us how far along in your career you were when you started to work with Elvis?

I had been working professionally since 1963(right out of high school) and was called by Elvis in August of 1970. So... just between six and seven years into my career. I had already traveled considerably and decided beyond a shadow of a doubt I "never want to travel on the road again", so had fortunately begun to do studio work in Los Angeles in 1968, and just beginning to really enjoy being "in town" and not schlepping baggage from city to city.

At the time of Elvis' call I was working with the Ray Coniff Singers, the Johnny Mann singers, and my "main gig" was as one of the Jimmy Joyce Singers. We appeared as regulars on the Red Skelton, Tim Conway, Bobby Darin shows, along with film soundtracks, and other television shows such as the once known 'Hollywood Palace'...that kind of thing. We also went daily from recording session to recording session for different artists, most days not knowing from hour to hour where we'd be called to go next! On our coffee breaks we'd all check in with our phone services to see whether we had another session pop up to attend, or if that was 'it' for the day, and we could go home. I found that at the time I really thrived on "not knowing" where I would be for the entire day, and the thrill of working with new artists, known and unknown was very interesting for me.

I found working with so many of the established artists who were well known to be so fascinating. Each one with his/her own special talent or gift intrigued me. Many of them were artists that hadn't particularly excited me until I worked with them. I was constantly surprised to find artists I hadn't really appreciated until I worked with them. During those "sessions" it was obvious to me as to why a particular artist who had made his/her mark in the industry had done so.

Amazingly, Elvis himself was one of these. Until I worked with him, saw his gifts "live", I just didn't really appreciate his greatness. There were a few of his records I thought were fun, but his true genius wasn't apparent to me until I actually spent time with him. His commercial success had obviously overshadowed his true genius--the gift he had for interpreting a song, making it his own.

You weren’t really a big “fan” of Elvis’ prior to working with him, were you?

Well now,...I kind of just almost answered this one. In short, "No"...I was not a fan. I didn't really "get it" at all until I saw him onstage, live during that first performance I was told to watch before I would go onstage with him. I was called in quickly to replace Millie Kirkham, and was recommended by others for the position. The only pre-requisite for the job was to be able to sing in a "high-voice" range, and...most importantly...to be able to ad-lib, to join in and follow him wherever he decided he was going at the moment musically. I was told he might call up any one of five or six hundred songs, and that I needed to be ready to contribute something to any one of those, whether I was familiar with the tune or not.

It was pretty overwhelming in the beginning, and I certainly had my doubts about being able to do that. I was used to very rehearsed vocalizations, written parts, etc.---this turned out to be the most exciting aspect of singing with Elvis! The ability he had to take any one of hundreds of songs, perform that one in any number of styles, depending on his mood on that particular moment.

What was the most important contributing factor in going on tour with Elvis?

I think you may be asking me what impressed me most about going on tour with Elvis? The thing I recall the most was simply that it was not just another "concert". It was "A Happening", if you get my drift. The audience's reaction to the first few seconds prior to Elvis' appearance onstage, the incredible excitement those people were expressing as they waited to see the man whom they had adored for over twenty years. Then, as he walked on, the applause and screams that made one think to oneself, "This just could be a similar sound that would occur the day the world ends". Overwhelming sound, blinding flashbulbs that never stopped throughout the entire hour and a half, and we onstage with him could sense the feelings of the people. The closest word I can find to describe it is "electrifying". So much so that it took hours after that experience each and every time to calm oneself down.

Just so much energy exchange between the audience and Elvis. Of course there were other factors regarding the tours that were not so pleasant: Blocking my phone everywhere we went, as 75 to 100 calls an afternoon (while we were sleeping) would come in, and every one of them claiming to be my mother or father. Of course my family couldn't get thru to me if there was an emergency.

 

 

I absolutely loved boarding our planes at our convenience and moving to the next city, couldn't get enough of flying in those days. But today, I, along with every other American I suppose find it a most ugly and disturbing day if I have to fly anywhere. Besides not being in a comfortable private plane (one of ours had two bedrooms--one with a fireplace!) a dance floor and an organ, the inconvenience is intolerable now just knowing that I have to wait for time delays, most likely have luggage lost or miss a connecting flight. Guess I got very spoiled traveling with Elvis didn't I? He made certain we all had the comforts of home, were treated royally and anything we needed was taken care of. He never had forgotten how hard it was to travel and perform while exhausted, so did whatever was in his power to make sure we were as comfortable as was possible. Even then, it was extremely exhausting, and when I look back at those days now I wonder how any of us survived the grueling schedules, no matter how wonderfully everything had been planned for us.

Originally published on Suite 101.com