Bruce Springsteen’s rise to fame was anything but overnight. It took years of a gruelling performance schedule for little money to catch a break, but when he did, he was rewarded with an uber-passionate following who deemed him “The Boss.” Even though Springsteen made his success possible with his unrelenting determination and hard work, he revealed that he owes everything to one man—the boss’s boss, Elvis Presley.
As a child growing up in New Jersey, Springsteen attributed Elvis’ 1956 song ‘Hound Dog’ as a major turning point. “When I heard it, it just shot straight through to my brain,” he recalled. “I realised, suddenly, that there was more to life than what I’d been living. I was then in pursuit of something, and there’d been a vision laid out before me. You were dealing with the pure thrust, the pure energy of the music itself. I was so very young, but it still hit me like a thunderbolt.”
This dedication to Presley continued well into his adult life, and on May 28, 1977, Springsteen and bandmate Steve Van Zandt were finally able to see The King’s performance at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Unaware just how long gone Presley’s golden days were, much to his disappointment, Springsteen later recalled of the show, “It was not a good night.” To come to terms with his sadness, he supposedly went home and wrote a song titled ‘Fire,’ which he intended to give to Presley. But unfortunately, Presley passed away before the demo reached him, so Springsteen gave the song to rockabilly singer Robert Gordon. The Pointer Sisters also recorded an R&B rendition in 1979, which made it to #number two on the pop charts.
Even after he’d made it in his own right, Springsteen kept this deep appreciation—and fanaticism— for Presley alive long after he’d reached mainstream success. This led him and Van Zandt to drop by Graceland unannounced one night in 1985 when they were in Memphis for a tour stop. Springsteen shared the story at one of his concerts back in 1985: “I remember we got out of the cab, and we stood there in front of those gates with the big guitar players on ’em. And when we looked up the driveway, in the second story of the house, you could see a light on, and I figured that Elvis has gotta be up readin’ or somethin’. And I told Steve, I said, ‘Steve, man, I gotta go check it out.’ And I jumped up over the wall, and I started runnin’ up the driveway, which, when I look back on it now, was kind of a stupid thing to do because I hate it when people do it at my house.”
Springsteen continued: “Anyway, at the time, I was filled with the enthusiasm of youth and ran up the driveway. I got to the front door, and I was just about to knock, and guards came out of the woods and asked me what I wanted. I said, ‘Is Elvis home?’ Then they said, ‘No, no, Elvis isn’t home. He’s in Lake Tahoe.'”
Disappointed but not deterred, Springsteen continued: “So, I started to tell ’em that I was a guitar player and that I had my own band, and that we played in town that night, and that I made some records. And I even told ’em I had my picture on the cover of Time and Newsweek,” he shared. “I had to pull out all the stops to try to make an impression, you know. I don’t think he believed me, though, ’cause he just kinda stood there noddin’, and then he took me by the arm and put me back out on the street with Steve.”
The admiration wasn’t entirely one-sided, as Presley reportedly knew of Springsteen and his music. As one of Presley’s childhood friends, George “GK” Klein, revealed about Elvis on SiriusXM’s Elvis Radio, “He liked Springsteen. … [Springsteen] came on the scene real quick and hard and heavy, and Elvis liked [him] because he was a rock ‘n’ roller.”
But despite his apparent acknowledgement, The Boss and The King never crossed paths in person. So, when Presley suddenly passed away in 1977, just months after Springsteen had seen him in concert, he was especially devastated. Springsteen said to his audience in a live show: “I remember later, when a friend of mine called to tell me that he’d died, it was so hard to understand how somebody whose music came in and took away so many people’s loneliness and gave so many people a reason and a sense of the possibilities of living could have, in the end, died so tragically.”
Even today, Springsteen shows his gratitude to the original rock and roller. Springsteen shared, “There have been a lot of tough guys. There have been pretenders. And there have been contenders. But there is only one King.”