Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Sold Out Shows On Super 8

Sold Out! The Ultimate 8 mm Collection Vol.10 features fan footage from 1976–1977.

The tenth volume in the Sold Out! The Ultimate 8 mm Collection series, featuring 8 mm footage filmed by fans who attended some of his concerts in 1976 and 1977, confirms Elvis deteriorating condition during the last face of his career. But it also shows that Elvis, in periods, could get back in shape, and move around the stage like his old self, delivering solid performances.  

His first tour in 1976 is represented by fan-shot footage from Johnson City, March 17 and Charlotte three days later. I especially enjoyed the evening performance in Charlotte, featuring footage in good quality. Granted, Elvis looks a bit heavy in his bicentennial suit, but he sings well and seems to be having a good time. 

Maybe he put in a little extra effort due to the fact that he had a new pianist (Shane Keister) and drummer (Larry Londin) with him. Larry Londin can be seen behind his drums, belting away with a smile on his face, clearly enjoying himself. "Good job, man," Elvis tells him after his drum solo during the introductions. And at the end of "Polk Salad Annie," Larry Londin really lets loose on the drums while Elvis throws the mike and does some karate moves. Really cool.

It is also enjoyable to watch Elvis interact with a couple of kids that are lifted up on stage, especially a boy dressed in a home made jumpsuit. "Can he do imitations? Can he sing 'Hound Dog' honey?" Elvis asks the boys mother, then launches himself into the song, urging the boy to sing along, the boy looking up at him, then looking down again, shaking his head at his mother. He was probably shy or scared stiff. But he must have gained courage, as he is back on stage a while later, receiving a scarf and a kiss from Elvis. 

Each volume in the series includes two DVD discs.

Three months later, Elvis takes the stage in Charleston (July 24), and one week after that, New Haven is on the tour schedule (July 30). Not only does the footage reveal that Elvis has gained more weight, he also moves slower and with less energy. And he sounds tired, exhausted and out of breath, especially on the New Haven concert. 

Still, there is no mistaking the excitement flooding through the arena as Elvis enters the stage, with all those flash bulbs going off and a lot of people in the audience screaming at the top of their lungs. And there are some enjoyable moments, like when Elvis hands soprano singer Kathy Westmoreland a scarf at the end of "The Hawaiian Wedding Song." But as a whole, this is one of the weakest concerts with Elvis that I know of. 

On October 22, Elvis was captured on super 8 film while performing in Champaign, and the transformation is almost unbelievable. Positive things had obviously started to happen, as he is much leaner and radiates more energy. Also, he moves around a lot more, right from the start during "See See Rider," and his singing reveals a more powerful voice. A great example of this is "You Gave Me A Mountain," a song that is so much stronger than the version from New Haven three months before. 

Another great moment is seeing him throw his guitar to Charlie Hodge after the ending of the "I Got A Woman"/"Amen" routine. The footage from Champaign actually reminded me of how Elvis moved and looked during his Pittsburgh concert on New Years Eve two months later. And it certainly helps that he is wearing a new jumpsuit as well, the Inca Gold Leaf suit. 

Therefore, it is a bit sad to watch the footage from Tempe (March 23, 1977) and Norman, filmed two days later, revealing that things have gone to worse again. The volume ends on a more positive note, with Elvis' Chicago performance on May 2, 1977, an above average show that year with Elvis in a good mood and voice. 

Content and running time of the tenth volume.

Releases such as the Sold Out! The Ultimate 8 mm Collection series don't change history. But they do paint a more varied picture of what it was like seeing Elvis on stage during the 1970's, and the tenth volume is no exception. Like I wrote at the beginning of this post, 1976 and 1977 was a downhill slide for Elvis, but watching the super 8 footage it is evident that for short periods of time, he got his act together, looking and performing better.

Monday, February 28, 2022

From One Elvis Collection To Another

An Elvis collection for sale.

The other day my wife notified me of the following post on Facebook by our local record store:
We have received a collection with over 400 used CD records by Elvis! Come on in and take a look!
Studying the post and the accompanying photo of the collection, I decided to take a look at it in person. So away I went, nearly rushing to the store, half expecting all those Elvis records being surrounded by fans like myself. 

Of course that wasn't the case. But approaching the shelves with the Elvis CD's, I spotted an older couple looking at them, the man uttering something like "Are all those records really by Elvis?" Turning to them I responded cleverly, "There can never be too many Elvis albums," which earned me a smile from the woman. 

I then turned my attention to the collection, examining the CD's. The majority of them were RCA/BMG albums, but I also noticed some of the earlier FTD releases as well as a couple of bootlegs. A closer look revealed a few Japan pressings as well. As I've always had a soft spot for Japanese Elvis Presley releases, I picked them up (among them was On Stage, one of my favorite Elvis albums).

The CD An Elvis Double Feature: Speedway, Clambake was released in 1989.

As an afterthought, I also grabbed a strange looking release titled An Elvis Double Feature: Speedway, Clambake boosting a picture from the Aloha show on the cover. However, it only featured 16 songs in total, that is, eight songs from each movie album, respectively. Strange, indeed. 

As I was about to pay for the CD's, I asked the saleswoman if the collection was from someone who had passed away, and she told me it was. Just like me, she thought it a bit sad but also "good that those albums get a new home." I agreed, went home and added them to my collection. In these troubled times, it felt good to spend a little time with Elvis.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

He Touched Me – Undubbed Version?

Front cover of the He Touched Me album.

Having listened to the undubbed Christmas masters from Elvis Back In Nashville all through the Holidays, I decided to turn my attention to the undubbed religious masters on the same CD set.

Just like the Christmas masters, the track order is identical to the original album, in this case He Touched Me released in 1972. The exception is "Amazing Grace" which is included on disc one among The Country/Folk Sides. 

But unlike the Christmas material, the religious songs were recorded with background singers present in the studio. Most of the tracks were then left undubbed for release on the He Touched Me album. I guess this was a decision on producer Felton Jarvis part, mimicking the sound of Elvis singing gospel privately with his friends and backup singers to help unwind after a show.

A look in my well thumbed copy of Elvis Session III by Joe Tunzi revealed that only four of the religious songs on the He Touched Me album were overdubbed: "Amazing Grace" and "I, John" (both with more backup vocals), "He Is My Everything" (with strings) and "A Thing Called Love" (with strings and horns). 

Back cover of He Touched Me.

Still, I was looking forward to the whole undubbed He Touched Me experience, and it started well. The title track and album opener was as moving and soothing as ever, and the sound crystal clear. 

Then followed the more modern up tempo Christian number "I've Got Confidence," sounding fantastic with the electrical guitar more prominent and the song lasting about 25 seconds longer than on the original album, with frantic hand clapping and the band cooking. What a treat! (I recognized snippets of Elvis' voice at the end used to great effect on the version featured on the Where No One Stands Alone album released a couple of years ago, featuring new backing music and vocals.)

Next up was another pleasant surprise. Usually, when I listen to "Amazing Grace," I almost wonder if Elvis is there at all due to all the backing vocals. But in the undubbed format, I noticed that Elvis voice was more up front and the background singers more in the, well, background. The whole thing sounded so much clearer and less muddled. 

I then turned my attention to "Seeing Is Believing," with electrical sparks flying from James Burton's guitar. As always, it reminded me of  "I've Got Confidence," and I noticed another extra seconds at the ending here as well. I bet the writer of the song, Red West, was in the studio listening. How exciting it must have been for him to hear this. 

I was then unexpectedly disappointed. While I listened to "He Is My Everything" without the strings, I noticed that the original backing singers were gone, too. Slightly confused and irritated, my spirits lifted with the help of the next track, "Bosom Of Abraham." I always find it irresistible and infectious, reminding me of some of the spirituals on Elvis' earlier religious albums. The interaction between Elvis and the Imperials is pure joy. 

"Bosom of Abraham" was released as single together with "He Touched Me" in March, 1972. Interestingly it was titled "The Bosom Of Abraham."

In my imagination, I then flipped the album to the B-side. The two first numbers, "An Evening Prayer" and "Lead Me, Guide Me" sounded beautiful as always, maybe even more so in this new mix. But then surprise och disappointment struck again. As was the case of "He Is My Everything," the background vocals had been eliminated on "There Is No God But God." Although a pleasant enough song, in my opinion it really benefits from the backing vocalists responding to Elvis' singing. 

Fortunately, the rest of the tracks from "He Touched Me" were left undubbed as they were recorded in the studio. "A Thing Called Love" without the strings and horns worked well, even though bass singer Armond Morales' vocals were mixed down (in the original recording he is singing in union with Elvis throughout the song). "I, John" sounded more like a gospel quartet song without the overdubbed female singers and "Reach Out To Jesus" ended with the passionate ending I remember so well.

Two more religious tracks were recorded during the Nashville sessions 1971, and they are included after the "He Touched Me" tracks. "Put Your Hand In The Hand" and "Miracle Of The Rosary" were eventually saved for Elvis Now ("Amazing Grace" replaced "Miracle Of The Rosary" when no Folk album materialized), but it's evident they would have fit on Elvis' third religious album as well.

All in all, I enjoyed the undubbed version of He Touched Me. But it annoyed me that two of the tracks had their backing vocals removed. It also rhymes badly with what is written in the booklet:
NOTE: As the vocal interaction between Elvis and the backing singers is deemed fundamental to the gospel performances, they have been left as originally intended by Elvis and A&R man Felton Jarvis.
So, to sum it up. You now have two options to experience the He Touched Me album. You can either listen to the original album, with four overdubbed songs and the eight remaining tracks undubbed, or you can pick the one offered on the Elvis Back In Nashville set with all twelve tracks undubbed but two of them with the original backing singers removed. 

Additional reading:

Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Songs For You From Elvis

Front cover of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas.

Elvis' Christmas songs always play an important role in getting into the Christmas spirit for me. This is especially helpful when living in Gothenburg, Sweden, where rain is more common than snow in the winter. So, since the beginning of December, I have been busy playing the undubbed Christmas tracks on the recently released Elvis Back In Nashville 4-CD set featuring his 1971 Nashville recordings.

Listening to them for the first time, I was reminded of my review of the FTD's treatment of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas, released ten years ago. I looked it up, and, among other things, this is what I had to say:

With the help of outtakes not being overdubbed in any way, it reveals a more intimate and sensitive side of the Christmas recordings that took place in Nashville during two nights in May, 1971. 

The same holds true for the Christmas masters, that without overdubs, form a softer and gentler version of the 1971 seasonal album, as my brother wisely points out in his recent review of the Elvis Back In Nashville set (the track order is the same as on Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas). One such an example is "On A Snowy Christmas Night," where an organ and some beautiful acoustic guitar playing that was buried in overdubs on the original release, lends the song a more delicate feel. 

In the same way, "It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You)" and "Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees" both work extremely well undubbed, sounding more sorrowful than before. Even the bombastic "If I Get Home On Christmas Day" offers a more sincere listening experience without the strings, horns and backing vocals producer Felton Jarvis used when making the overdubs 50 years ago. 

Elvis as santa on the cover of the single "Merry Christmas Baby."

One of the highlights on the original album is the blues classic "Merry Christmas Baby," and finally we get the complete unedited and undubbed version. For some inexplicable reason, the unedited version released on FTD's Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas switches to the original album master mix (with a guitar overdub) approximately four and a half minutes into the song, and then back again to the undubbed mix about one minute and ten seconds later. 

The rehearsal part found on the FTD version is also included on Elvis Back In Nashville, and this is what I wrote about it in my original review in 2011: 

Listening to Elvis saying "Yeah, just run it a couple of times and I'll come in there, you know, somewhere. Let's set the rhythm first," it's easy to imagine him in the middle of the studio with a mike in his hand, his musicians in a semi-circle around him.

Another favorite from Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas, and one that I rank among the best Christmas songs Elvis ever recorded, is Michael Jarrett's "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day." I have always had a soft spot for the bluesier June remake version, and that one is included on the Elvis Back In Nashville set as well.

This is what the songwriter Michael Jarrett had to say about Elvis approach to his song, in an interview I did with him in the beginning of 2012:

I believe he approached my song in his own special way, that is to say; he related to what the lyrics were saying and the overall sentiment the song conveyed to him during this time of his life. I believe he chose the song to record because it had personal meaning to him.

"O Come, All Ye Faithful" was the B-side of the single "Merry Christmas Baby."

One song that I actually think benefits from the overdubs Felton Jarvis did is "O Come, All Ye Faithful." Granted, the organ that is now more prominent lends the song a more sacred feel. But I miss the choir as well as the original voices that sang the song with Elvis (unidentified, but most likely Charlie Hodge and Red West). Together with the strings and horns they make the song so much more mightier and powerful.

I still remember buying Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas on cassette in the early eighties, then playing it in my room on my new cassette recorder. I shared my memories of that in a post published in Deecember, 2010:

Listening to the cassette, I was mesmerized by Elvis' singing, hearing for the first time the title track as well as the bombastic "If I Get Home On Christmas Day" and the incredible "Merry Christmas Baby."

Some 40 years have passed since I first heard Elvis singing about the wonderful world of Christmas, and every year I return to it so that Elvis can help me get into the Holiday mood. This year was no exception, but a little different, listening to it in another format without all the overdubs. It worked just as well, though, and with that I'd like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas.  

Additional reading:

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Guest Blog: Elvis Back In Nashville – A Review

The natural follow-up to last year's From Elvis In Nashville 4-CD set is out, and although I haven't yet received the physical product, I've listened quite a lot to it on Spotify. Containing masters and outtakes from Elvis’ 1971 Nashville session, Elvis: Back In Nashville presents the 43 masters on the first two CD’s and the outtakes on the final two discs.

The sound is great, no doubt about it. Instruments that previously have been buried in the mix now sound crystal clear. The drums in ”It's Only Love” for example, without the horns to drown them out, are really moving the song forward.

I've always had a soft spot for these 1971 recordings. Elvis' voice is not as good as in 1970, actually it is sometimes quite weak, but it morbidly fits well with so many of these lost love/broken man songs. Like on ”I'm Leavin’,” one of my favorite Elvis recordings. So I was so much looking forward to this box set.

The idea of presenting the tracks without overdubs, as they were recorded in the studio, is a great one. Many of these songs were really suffering from overuse of horns and strings (although one could argue that they were recorded with overdubs in mind). And I have no problems either with new mixes, making some instruments more prominent than before, and some less so.

But on the first CD the producers have made a strange decision: About half of the masters are presented with the background singers removed. Yes, the singers that were in the studio with Elvis! This was one of the big differences compared to the 1970 Nashville sessions where no other singers than Elvis and Charlie Hodge were present. And now, The Nashville Edition, The Imperials, Mille Kirkham and the Holladays, are gone.

If this had been properly made, maybe I could have accepted it. But often the background singing is bleeding through, and with earphones you sometimes can hear it quite clear. It's like it's there, but far, far away. And even without the bleeding-through, this makes for some strange listening. On ”The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” Ginger Holladay is very much audible during the false start. Then during the master, she is not there anymore.

The first CD actually reminded me of the two Our Memories of Elvis albums from 1979 where the same kind of removal mixes were made. It didn't make sense then, and it doesn't make sense now.

It's a greater delight to listen to the second disc, with songs that would form the albums Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas and He Touched Me. The background voices are luckily intact on the gospel material and a lot of the instruments that you couldn't hear before are really up front. "I've Got Confidence" really rocks! The background singers were not present during the recording of the Christmas songs (I guess the Christmas tree that was put up in the studio took up too much space!) and without overdubs, the songs form a softer and gentler version of the 1971 seasonal album. Unlike some of the folk and pop tracks from CD 1, the Christmas recordings often work without additional singers.

The outtakes discs (where the producers thankfully have not removed the background singers) work well, although there are too many false starts and too much studio banter to really make it a great listening experience. But there are some gems here, including a previously unreleased take on one of the best Christmas songs, Michael Jarrett's ”I'll Be Home On Christmas Day.”

In all fairness, the big problem with this release is the first CD. Unfortunately, that was the disc I looked forward to the most, as it collects all the pop and folk masters from these sessions for the first time. The undubbed Christmas masters are, a bit surprising, the big win for me, and I will play that portion of CD 2 a lot come Christmas time.

Despite my objections, it's terrific that box sets like this are still produced. However, I hope the producers get it together for the next volume in this series, containing Elvis' 1972 and 1975 masters. I have a great title for that release: Back In Hollywood (Well, he was there a lot in the 60's, right?). And an advice: Do not remove instruments and vocals recorded in the studio. Please.


Additional reading:

Friday, November 5, 2021

In Memory Of Hard-Working Ronnie Tutt

One of my favorite shots of Ronnie Tutt and Elvis together. "I emulated and accented everything that he did just instinctively," Ronnie later said in an interview.
Just like other fans all around the world, I was saddened to learn about the death of Elvis' drummer Ronnie Tutt on October 16. At the same time, I found comfort in the fact that I saw him perform during five "live on screen" concerts; in 1999, 2000 (twice), 2010 and 2012, respectively. 

And perhaps even better, I also had a chance to say hello to him in 2016 after a show called Aloha from Copenhagen that celebrated Elvis' 81st birthday and the 44th anniversary of the historical Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite concert. On stage were, besides Ronnie Tutt, two other members of the TCB Band (James Burton and Glen D. Hardin) as well as Terry Blackwood from the Imperials and Austrian singer Dennis Jale.

As Ronnie signed my copy of the double LP Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, I remember my brother asking him if the TCB necklace he wore was the original one given to him by Elvis. Turned out it wasn't.

When we sat on the train taking us home to Sweden, we told each other that we would probably never have the opportunity to see the TCB Band play live again. Unfortunately, that proved to be true.

But as I look at Ronnie Tutt's autograph right now, I am reminded of how much he, like the rest of the TCB Band, meant not only to Elvis, but to me as well. And I'd like to end where it all began for Elvis and Ronnie, back in 1970, during the auditions for the 1969 Las Vegas engagement. In an interview that Arjan Deelen conducted in 1999, Ronnie Tutt had, among other things, this to say when he was asked why Elvis picked him as his drummer:

It wasn't just a matter of expertise, but a matter of rapport. It was a matter of sensing, and watching his eyes, and watching everything he did. I emulated and accented everything that he did just instinctively. Every move, almost like a glorified stripper! And he loved that.

Additional reading:

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! Volume 2

In an alternative universe: Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! Volume 2

FTD has announced three new releases for next month: The Pot Luck Sessions 5 CD set, a 2 CD soundboard titled South Bound Tampa/Atlanta '75 and the double vinyl Raised On Rock: I've Got Rhythm In My Soul

In an alternative universe a fourth album was added for a December release with the following announcement:

43 years after its original release FTD is pleased to announce the Classic Album version of Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! Packaged in 7" format with a full color 16-page memorabilia booklet, this 1-CD set also includes a previously unknown master tape featuring the second volume in the series. 

Newly found documentation (included in the booklet) reveals that a planned Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! Volume 2 was scrapped due to the first volume's poor sales figures and weak #130 on Billboard's Top LPs chart during its 11 weeks on the chart (although it fared much better on the Country LPs chart with #5 and 16 weeks). 

Of special interest is the inclusion of an alternate take of "Your Time Hasn't Come Yet, Baby," which suggests that producer Joan Deary had access to the Speedway session tapes which has never been found since. 

Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too!

The Original Album
01. Teddy Bear 02. Wooden Heart 03. Five Sleepyheads 04. Puppet On A String 05. Angel 06. Old MacDonald 07. How Would You Like To Be 08. Cotton Candy Land 09. Old Shep 10. Big Boots (MO-04, alternate take) 11. Have A Happy

Volume 2
12. Lover Doll 13. Datin´14. Queenie Wahine's Papaya 15. Mexico 16. Earth Boy 17. Confidence 18. Your Time Hasn't Come Yet, Baby (take 4, previously unreleased) 19. Take Me To The Fair 20. It's Carnival Time 21. Don't Cry Daddy 22. House Of Sand 23. Sing You Children

Bonus Songs (considered for Volume 2 but dropped in favor of "Don't Cry Daddy" and "House Of Sand")
24. Carny Town 25. A Dog's Life 

Duet versions
26. Datin' (duet with Donna Butterworth) 27. Queenie Wahine's Papaya (duet with  Donna Butterworth) 28. Mexico (duet with Larry Domasin)

Back in this reality, of course no second volume of Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! was ever planned by Colonel Tom Parker who schemed to put out the original album as early as 1975. Or who could really tell? One thing is for sure though: there were certainly enough songs for a sequel. 

PS: I originally thought of posting this on April 1 next year but couldn't wait that long. 

Additional reading: