Wink Martindale goes way back with Elvis Presley. The broadcast legend first heard a recording by The King in 1954.
That was the first time anyone had ever heard a Presley song.
As part of Presley lore, Martindale was in the studio at WHBQ in Memphis on July 5, 1954, when late-night music host Dewey Phillps gave “That’s Alright Mama” a spin. Phillips gave the song several spins thereafter, as the switchboard actually lit up (in the days when switchboards actually lit up).
Martindale, a preening, young DJ at the time, was on the cusp of pop-culture history.
“I’m the only living person of six people who were in the control room at that time, and everything changed that night,” Martindale says. “Elvis enjoyed 22 golden years of glory. He’s the man who actually reshaped the music of a generation, a legend in his own lifetime, no matter how you want to describe him. He was all of those things and more.”
Now age 88, his voice sounding as strong as ever, Martindale is hosting “The Elvis Presley Story” from 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday and again Tuesday on KWXY Music Radio out of Palm Springs, Calif. Listeners outside the broadcast area can catch the livestream of both broadcasts at kwxy.com. Following the livestream, the show will post at ivoxplus.com.
Martindale’s show covers the Presley story over 14 hours. Tuesday’s show is broadcast on the 45th anniversary of Presley’s death.
Two after Presley’s single debut, Martindale invited the singer on “The Teen Dance Hour.” The show was what it seemed, an hour of teen-agers dancing to new music. Martindale, who was the Dick Clark of Memphis at the time, was immediately a fan of Presley’s style. The two had become friends. Martindale played that card to lure Elvis to his show, just after the movie “Love Me Tender” hit the theaters.
“Everybody obviously was pulling at him from all sides. Everybody wanted a piece of this guy named Elvis Aaron Presley,” Martindale says. “And he did me the greatest favor in the world by coming on my show, and doing a half-hour interview. It was an exciting time.”
Martindale says he is a fan of Baz Lurhmann’s “Elvis” movie. He has seen it twice.
“I thought the essence of Elvis was captured very nicely, and I can understand why the film has done so well,” Martindale says. “I’m excited about the film’s success, because it brings a whole new, younger generation into the world of Elvis.”
Presley and Martindale had many shared interests, and (as it turned out) interests in women. Martindale’s wife, Sandy, dated Presley off and on in the 1960s. She was also involved with Wayne Newton in those days.
During his “Up Close and Personal” shows at the Flamingo, Newton tells the story of meeting Presley, and the two quickly realized they had both been involved with the same woman. It is a classic tale that mixes old Vegas, Hollywood and rock ‘n’ roll.
“Wayne was coming to L.A. to for his ‘Danke Schoen’ recording session and invited me to come to dinner, and the next day we were in the society column having dinner together,” Sandy Martindale (then Sandy Ferra) recalls. “The next day Elvis came to town from Memphis, and it was in the paper. He threw it down and said, ‘Who is this Fig Newton person!?’ I went, ‘I am in trouble!’ But yes, I know the story.”
Newton says, “Sandy married someone better than both of us.”
“He was correct on that statement!” Sandy says.
Along with his early DJ says and fellowship with Presley, Martindale has been familiar to generations of TV viewers. He hosted several popular game shows from the early 1970s through the late-1990s. “Gambit,” from the Tropicana in Las Vegas, aired from 1972-‘76. With a congenial personality and flawless, crisp delivery, Martindale went on to host “Tic-Tac-Dough,” “High Rollers,” and “Debt.”
“People ask me which of the shows you’ve done have you liked the best?,” Martindale says. “My answer is always the same. It never wavers. It’s ‘Tic-Tac-Dough,’ the one that gave me the greatest years of employment. You get used to those checks coming in every week. Most people know me in television from that show, and I am good with that.”
Cool Hang Alert
Staying with the Elvis theme, Pete “Big Elvis” Vallee continues his residency at the Piano Bar at Harrah’s at 2, 3:30 and 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Vallee also hosts the “Blue Hawaii”-themed show at The Golden Tiki lounge in Chinatown at 3939 W. Spring Mountain Road from 4 to 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month. No cover for any of it.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.