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Sweet Memories: Inside ‘ELVIS All-Star Tribute’

Feb 17, 2019
Elvis Presley Guitar Man

Those of you who caught ELVIS All-Star Tribute on NBC had the pleasure of seeing music’s biggest stars pay tribute to The King of Rock ‘N’ Roll. But did you catch all the cool references to Elvis’ ’68 Comeback Special during the broadcast? Check out the new tribute, now available on demand, and see if you can spot these Easter eggs.

Way Back

ELVIS All-Star Tribute was filmed on the same soundstage at The Burbank Studios where Elvis recorded his comeback special (then known as Singer Presents…ELVIS). It’s little surprise, then, that the new performances were designed much like the originals.

Blake Shelton’s opening performance of “Guitar Man” from ELVIS All-Star Tribute finds him trading licks with Elvis from the original special. The same “wall” of guitar men from Singer Presents…ELVIS backs Blake up during this new performance.


Most of ELVIS All-Star Tribute was filmed on a recreated version of the boxing ring-style stage from the ’68 Comeback Special. The new special even replicates the overhead camera angles of the original!

Elvis Presley '68 Comeback Special

Several of the backdrops on ELVIS All-Star Tribute were designed to look like the original backdrops from the ’68 Comeback Special. John Legend’s performance of “A Little Less Conversation” features a similar design as when Elvis performed “Nothingville.”

Elvis Presley '68 Comeback Special Nothingville

Carrie Underwood and Yolanda Adams’ gospel performance recalls the design of the showstopping gospel production number from the ’68 Comeback Special.

And Josh Groban’s performance of “It’s Now Or Never” featured a set evoking the “Big Boss Man” production number from the original special.

Elvis Presley '68 Comeback Special Big Boss Man

Dressed For Success

Elvis Presley was a style icon as well as a musical one—and several performers on ELVIS All-Star Tribute took some cues from The King’s one-of-a-kind fashion sense!

Host Blake Shelton’s outfit was undoubtedly inspired by Elvis’ iconic black leather jumpsuit worn during the “sit down” and “stand up” portions of the original special.

Elvis Presley and Blake Shelton Elvis All-Star Tribute

During his performance of “Hound Dog” on ELVIS All-Star Tribute, Shawn Mendes wore a similar guitar strap to the one attached to the red Hagstrom Viking II played by Elvis during Singer Presents…ELVIS.

Elvis Presley and Shawn Mendes Elvis All-Star Tribute

Naturally, Adam Lambert dressed the part for his performance of “Blue Suede Shoes”—but his shirt might remind you of another one of Elvis’ classic screen performances: Blue Hawaii.

Elvis Presley Blue Hawaii and Adam Lambert ELVIS All-Star Tribute

Even Yolanda Adams’ white dress recalls the outfits worn by The Blossoms, the vocal group (including soul legend Darlene Love) that backed up Elvis during the gospel production number from 1968.

Elvis Presley '68 Comeback Special gospel

Sweet Memories

So many of the musical cues and arrangements in ELVIS All-Star Tribute featured nods to the way Elvis and company did it back in ’68.

For instance, the house band’s drummer, Terence Higgins, spends several numbers playing a guitar case, just like D.J. Fontana did in the “sit down” sequence from the ’68 Comeback Special.

Elvis Presley '68 Comeback Special Hound Dog

The guitar Keith Urban played on “Burning Love” has a very special history: it was once owned by Reggie Young, a session player during Elvis’ legendary 1969 sessions at American Sound Studios (which resulted in the album From Elvis In Memphis). Young had received it as a gift from country legend Waylon Jennings after playing with the supergroup The Highwaymen alongside Waylon, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Keith’s wife, Nicole Kidman, purchased it at an auction as a gift to her husband.

Elvis Presley and Reggie Young and Keith Urban Elvis All-Star Tribute

Keith also performed “Baby What You Want Me To Do” with Post Malone (an avowed Elvis fan who has a tattoo of The King on his finger), retaining the intimate style of Elvis’ delivery in the ’68 Comeback Special. Those close harmonies between Elvis and bandmate Charlie Hodge during the “sit down” portion of the comeback special would become a signature piece of Elvis’ sound for the rest of his career—and they’re replicated well in ELVIS All-Star Tribute.

ELVIS All-Star Tribute features several interesting connections to Willie Nelson. You may know that “Always On My Mind,” sung by Kelsea Ballerini in the new special, was first performed by Elvis in 1972—10 years before Willie’s version became a No. 1 country hit.

Elvis Presley Always On My Mind

Willie’s son Lukas also makes an appearance in ELVIS All-Star Tribute, playing guitar alongside Jennifer Lopez during her performance of “Heartbreak Hotel.” You may recognize Lukas from his recent appearance alongside Bradley Cooper in last year’s Oscar-nominated remake of A Star Is Born—and, in an even greater coincidence, the last version of the film (released in 1976) nearly cast Elvis to co-star alongside Barbra Streisand!

Jennifer Lopez and Lukas Nelson Elvis All-Star Tribute

You can also hear how ELVIS All-Star Tribute connects to some of the newer ways fans have recently experienced Elvis’ music. Alessia Cara’s take on “Love Me Tender” features the same orchestral arrangements as heard on the album If I Can Dream: Elvis Presley and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

If I Can Dream: Elvis Presley and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

We couldn’t miss Mac Davis’ performance of “Memories” on ELVIS All-Star Tribute! Davis co-wrote the song for Elvis’ original comeback special, and would write several other hits for Elvis, including 1969’s “In The Ghetto.”

And of course, ELVIS All-Star Tribute ended the same way the ’68 Comeback Special did: with a moving performance of closing number “If I Can Dream.” Here, Post Malone, Shawn Mendes, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood perform alongside Elvis’ original vocal and filmed performance for a tribute that’s as fit for a King as it gets.


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