“Elvis loved the way we took his stuff and went into another dimension with it”: James Burton on his time with Elvis Presley, and the origins of “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building”

Elvis Presley (left) and James Burton perform onstage
(Image credit: Steve Morley/Redferns)

Elvis Presley, of course, needs no introduction. But somewhat less well-known are the musicians who created the sonic environments over which Elvis did, you know, his Elvis thing.

Perhaps the most well-regarded of these is guitarist James Burton, who lent sizzling, formative electric guitar work to not only Elvis, but to other rockabilly icons like Ricky Nelson. Indeed, when inducting Burton into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, Keith Richards famously said, “I never bought a Ricky Nelson record, I bought a James Burton record.” 

In a 2006 interview with Guitar Player, Burton reflected on his time with Elvis, and revealed the origins of the famous “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building” announcement.

As Burton – who, at 84, still performs to this day – tells it, Presley held his bandmates in high regard, and embraced their instrumental arrangements of his wide-ranging repertoire. 

“He was real considerate, and he had a lot of respect for all the musicians,” Burton recalled. “The TCB band [short for “Taking Care of Business,” which Presley had named it] was a powerhouse, and Elvis just loved the way we took his stuff and went into another dimension with it.”

Burton served as Presley's live guitarist for eight years, until the latter's death in 1977. As one would expect, the man's got a few stories.

Burton, for instance, was on hand when the legendary “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building” announcement was used for the first time.

“Elvis would come out on the weekends, and we’d go to Texas or someplace and do a show with him,” Burton told GP. “That’s how I met Horace Logan [program director for the Louisiana Hayride] – the guy who invented the saying, ‘Elvis has left the building.’

“The way that happened was Elvis was performing one night and the place was going nuts, and, at the end, he just left the stage and got in the car and drove away. Of course, the crowd was thinking he’d come back out, so Frank Page, one of the other MCs on the Hayride, told Horace that he needed to go out and tell the people something because they were getting pretty rowdy. 

“So, Horace walked out to the mic, and the only thing that came to his mind was to say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.’”

Jackson Maxwell
Associate Editor, GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.

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