Whenever George Strait performs at the Las Vegas Hilton, he introduces an elderly gentleman from the opening-night audience. The big fella, who stands up and waves his cowboy hat, isn't just any Strait fan he's Col. Tom Parker, the man who groomed a skinny Southern kid named Elvis Presley for multimedia stardom. Since 1987, when Strait became the first musician since Presley to sell out his debut run at the Hilton (which was Presley's Vegas showcase), Parker hasn't missed an opening night. After the shows, the 81-year-old Las Vegas resident goes backstage, where he offers custom-made cigars, stuffed animals for Strait's son Bubba, and though he has no business relationship with Strait friendly advice.
Parker has told Strait not to wear his tuxedo jacket and shirt with blue jeans anymore: ''Elvis,'' he says, ''got a little flashier than that.'' He steered Strait's manager, Erv Woolsey, who wants to get Strait into movies, toward an old crony, Jerry Weintraub, who used to promote Presley's tours but now produces films. ''Parker always thought George was going to be a big act, that he had some of Elvis' charisma,'' Woolsey reports.
Strait views Parker as ''a real nice man. I really enjoy knowing him.'' And why not? Parker buys an ad for Strait's Vegas shows each year in TV Guide, even though they're not televised, hoping to reach country fans. Such generosity is unusual for Parker, who was notoriously tightfisted during the Presley years. In fact, according to a Parker employee, the working title of the impresario's autobiography is How Much Does It Cost if It's Free?