LifeNotes: Former Elvis Presley Band Leader Joe Guercio Dies

joe guercio1

Joe Guercio

Joe Guercio, former band leader and conductor for Elvis Presley, died Sunday, Jan. 4 in Nashville.

Guercio served as the “King of Rock ‘n Roll”’s band leader and conductor from 1970-1977, arranging charts and conducting a 30-piece orchestra for the entertainer. It was Guercio’s idea to use Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (also known as the theme song from ‘2001 Space Odyssey’) as Presley’s concert entry music.

Guercio, a Buffalo, N.Y. native, was previously an pianist and conductor for Patti Page and musical director for artists including Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, Julius LaRosa, Sergio Franchi, Jim Nabors, Florence Henderson, Diahann Carroll and Diana Ross.

He handled arrangements for Barbra Streisand, Gladys Knight, Jackie DeShannon and Natalie Cole, and was formerly the musical director at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, which is where he met Presley. It was Guercio who persuaded Natalie Cole to sing with a video of her late father Nat King Cole during her stage shows, leading to Natalie’s “Unforgettable” duet with the voice of her father.

After Presley’s death, Guercio, like many who knew Elvis, helped progress the entertainer’s legacy. In 1997, Guercio became the conductor for Elvis: The Concert, which blended live music with Presley’s isolated vocals and film footage from his concert specials.

Guercio was a longtime member of the Nashville Association of Talent Directors (NATD).

“I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Joe Guercio,” Priscilla Presley said in a statement. “He was a close friend and associate who will be greatly missed by us all. I was fortunate to see him at Graceland a few months ago, and as only Joe could do, he had us all laughing with him at his stories. His musical talent was unsurpassed. Elvis loved working with him. We have all lost a great man and a true gentleman. My heart goes out to his beloved family.”

“All of us at Graceland and Elvis Presley Enterprises are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Joe Guercio,” said CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Jack Soden. “He was a dear friend and loved by all. Joe not only entertained millions as an incredibly talented musical director, but also entertained all that knew him with his wonderful sense of humor. The world has lost a great man, and we all have lost a special friend.”

Funeral arrangements for Guercio are pending.


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Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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