Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thank you Elvis, and happy birthday!

A day like this it hits me how lucky I am to be an Elvis fan. Not only because of the great legacy Elvis left behind, like his songs and movies, but also because the interest in Elvis is as high as ever. It's certainly as big as when I became an Elvis fan some 35 years ago.

And being a fan is as fun today as it was then. So thank you Elvis, for providing the soundtrack to my life!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

“On Stage” drummer Bob Lanning To Europe

Elvis introducing drummer Bob Lanning at the Houston Astrodome, February 1970.
Yesterday, on August 16 no less, the website announced that drummer Bob Lanning will be a part of the 2015 edition of ‘An Evening with Elvis’ Friends and Original Musicians’ tour (which also includes among others bass player Duke Bardwell). As you might know, Bob Lanning replaced Ronnie Tutt during Elvis´ second Las Vegas engagement in January-February 1970. The then 22-year old drummer also played with Elvis at the Houston Astrodome during six concerts following the shows in Vegas.

It’s Bob Lanning that you can hear on classic Presley recordings like ‘The Wonder of You’, ‘Polk Salad Annie’ and ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’, and on albums like ‘On Stage – February 1970’, FTD releases like ‘Polk Salad Annie’ and ‘The On Stage Season’, as well as imports like the ‘Rebooked At The International’ box-set.

After reading this exciting news, I decided to ask the producer of the tour, Arjan Deelen, some questions about Bob Lannings participation in the show, and I didn’t have to wait long before he answered my mail.

How did you come up with the idea to get Bob Lanning on the show? 

Arjan Deelen: I have always been fascinated by Bob Lanning. I mean, he did these 63 shows with Elvis, played the hell out of those drums, and then he completely vanished, almost Houdini-like! There was no information about Bob or his whereabouts at all… just bizarre. Various researchers have tried to locate him over the years, but none succeeded. I like a good challenge, so a few years ago I started my quest to find him. I believe that the discovery of Bob Lanning and him agreeing to do the tour in May 2015 is one of the coolest news stories in the Elvis scene at present. Remember, he played the drums during a very important Las Vegas engagement, where Elvis successfully made the transformation from an oldies act to a contemporary artist with many cool new songs, both his own fresh hits and interesting covers. And of course Lanning also played on those six amazing shows at the Houston Astrodome. Those shows are also important from a historical perspective.

How did you find him? 

Arjan Deelen: I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’m a persistent guy. Just ask my wife! When doing research, or in this case you could call it a plain manhunt, it’s important that you stay focused, also when you run into obstacles. Over the years I have found and brought over various people who played an interesting part in the Elvis story: Duke Bardwell, Mary and Ginger Holladay, Carol Montgomery, Michael Jarrett, etc. Without me, European audiences would have never seen these people on a stage or heard their stories. Sad but true. Most fan clubs play it safe and bring the same people over, year in, year out. Personally I find it interesting to track these people down that also contributed to Elvis’ music in a significant way, and it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to let them have their moment in the sun, so to speak. They deserve it.

How did he react when you asked him to join the tour? 

Arjan Deelen: I think that initially he was a bit cautious. Like me, he is not too impressed with the impersonators, or the European singers that are often used for shows of this nature. But when we discussed the show in detail, and my philosophy about the show, it seems that he got really excited. Then I sent him some clips from this year’s show, and that sort of sealed the deal. He loved the fact that we did songs like ‘Long Black Limousine’ and ‘Anyway You Want Me’. I mean, what other Elvis show is doing songs like this? I think he sensed that this was done with integrity and great respect for Elvis, so he gave me a very firm YES when I asked him.

What has he been doing since playing for Elvis in 1970? 

Arjan Deelen: In recent years, he has lived a quiet life. He lives in a beautiful area, loves nature and enjoys bicycling every day for two hours. He also drums for about two hours every day, for the fun of it mostly. He says he has never been tempted to participate in an Elvis tribute show, in fact, he has never even done an interview about him. But you can read his story in the December issue of “Elvis – The Man And His Music”, the best Elvis magazine around. You can order it here.

What are his recollections of playing with Elvis? 

Arjan Deelen: He has nothing but fond memories of his time with Elvis. He remembers Elvis as a kind, fun loving guy who was also a tremendous singer and a great showman. Of course, Bob played with him during that brief period where Elvis was on top of the world. He was excited about his comeback, thrilled to be performing again in front of live audiences, he was just feeling good about life. You can hear it in the recordings that were made. ‘On Stage – February 1970’ is definitely one of his best live albums, perhaps his best. These recordings just ooze excitement and joy… ‘Polk Salad Annie’, ‘The Wonder Of You’, ‘Long Tall Sally’, ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’… It doesn’t get better than that. Some people still think that it’s Ronnie on those recordings, but no, it’s Bob Lanning. If you listen closely, it’s quite obvious. Ronnie is perhaps a more elaborate and nuanced drummer, while Bob is a no-nonsense rock drummer with a harder and groovier sound. Just compare ‘Polk Salad Annie’ from February and August of that year… BIG difference.

What do you think his contribution will mean to ‘An Evening with Elvis’ Friends and Original Musicians’ when it tours Europe next year? 

Arjan Deelen: Oh, the whole show will be rejuvenated. Bob is in great shape, and he is really excited about this. I think his excitement and great playing will inspire the band, and I think we are going to see some great shows. Plus, for audiences it’s going to be a real thrill to finally see and hear the drummer who originally played on songs like ‘The Wonder Of You’ and ‘Polk Salad Annie’ perform these songs for the first time since 1970! If that’s not a real scoop, then I don’t know what is. This is going to be a LOT of fun!

I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions Arjan! 

Arjan Deelen: Thank you, Thomas, I enjoyed it!

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Stax Trilogy

Each year on August 16 I try in my own way to celebrate the legacy of Elvis Presley, and most of the times it involves listening to some carefully picked Elvis music during the day. This time around, inspired by the recent Elvis At Stax release, I will play songs from the three Follow That Dream classic albums making up what I like to call “The Stax Trilogy,” that is, Raised On Rock, Good Times and Promised Land (the first one recorded in July 1973 and the last two in December that year).
Not only do these three titles represent some of the best releases from the FTD label so far, they also feature a lot of my favorite tracks with Elvis, (both masters and alternate takes) and this is especially true when it comes to the two albums recorded in December 1973.  Also, they are good examples of albums where Elvis’ ability to master all kind of musical styles, such as pop, rock, ballads, country funk and gospel, is clearly evident.

I also like the fact that the outtakes on the FTD classic album version of Raised On Rock present the Elvis’ 1973 July recording session at Stax in a much more positive light than was the case on the original 1973 album. That said, Raised On Rock clearly is the weakest of the bunch, and although not anywhere near Good Times or Promised Land, it would have made for a stronger album had Elvis not insisted on “I’ve Got A Thing About You Baby” and “Take Good Care Of Her” be taken of the album for a future single release instead.

Finally, I’d like to share a comment my brother Mårten made when I posted my review of the FTD classic album version of Good Times in 2009, where he responded to another well written comment (by the signature David) ending with the line “Taking the best from each one of these two albums [Good Times and Promised Land] would have resulted in one of the very greatest albums of his career - in hindsight, if only quality was more important than quantity.”

This is what Mårten wrote: “I've always thought about what a great 12 track album we could have had from the December 1973 sessions. Here is my versions of it (Leaving of Help Me b/w If That Isn't Love for an Easter 1974 single and the rest of the tracks as B-sides for singles):

Side A
Talk About The Good Times
If You Talk In Your Sleep
Loving Arms
You Asked Me To
Thinking About You
It’s Midnight

Side B
Promised Land
There’s A Honky Tonk Angel
I Got A Feeling In My Body
Your Love’s Been A Long Time Coming
My Boy
Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues

Listening to those 12 tracks will be as good start as any to commemorate Elvis, don’t you think?

Further reading:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I'll Remember You

40 years ago today, Elvis was in Los Angeles, quietly celebrating his birthday prior to flying to Honolulu the next day. With the support of Sonny West he had lost about 20 pounds on a stringent diet in preparation for his upcoming Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite TV special on January 14, 1973.

Elvis arrived in Honolulu looking great and eager to go. This is how Sonny West remembers it in his book Elvis: Still Taking Care Of Business (2007):

When we landed at the airport, so many leis were placed around Elvis’ neck that you could hardly see his face. We went by helicopter to the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel, where hundreds of fans welcomed Elvis. It was a thrill just to be part of it. He loved it, of course, but he was also a little tense. He would be performing live before an estimated billion and a half people around the world, and he wanted everything just right.

40 years later, I will celebrate the 78th anniversary of the birth of Elvis Presley by watching this historic event on DVD. 

Happy birthday, Elvis! 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Talking To The Mystery Train

Last month, Thomas Melin released a new book, The Elvis Today Blog: Volume 2. Available from Blurb, the paperback compiles 230 more Elvis Today Blog posts. It also features a foreword by Michael Jarrett, writer of “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” and “I’m Leavin’”, as well as a previously unreleased interview with DJ Fontana, Elvis’ first drummer. Melin recently took the time to chat about Elvis and the 328-page volume.

So begins a post by Troy Y. over at The Mystery Train Blog published a couple of days ago, on December 19. In it, I talk about why I am an Elvis fan, what my favorite post in the book is, the circumstances of my interview with DJ Fontana (featured as a bonus post in the book) and the story behind songwriter Michael Jarrett writing the foreword. Among other things. 

"The Elvis Today Blog Volume 2 author talks to The Mystery Train"

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

“Lots of standing and screaming”

One of the benefits from running an Elvis blog is that you get to hear from people who have their very own Elvis experiences. And sometimes those experiences can blow you away. Just the other week Mrs. Barbara Schoenburg e-mailed me about the FTD book A Moment In Time–4 Days in ’56, telling me she was at the Detroit concert on May 25, 1956, in the second row, middle.

The book includes some fantastic shots of Elvis driving the crowd wild at the Fox Theater in Detroit on that date (one of which was used on the cover of the Young Man With The Big Beat box set). So, firing away an e-mail in return, I asked Barbara if she would like to answer a couple of questions about her experiences that day. Imagine my excitement when I found her answers waiting for me in the mail the very next day. She began by telling me that she was in the picture on page 15 (the one from Young Man With The Big Beat). 

Barbara: I was 12 at the time. If you look at Elvis' right knee cap there is a girl and I am directly behind her, in front of the girl with the black shirt. Sorry to say I started losing interest in Elvis when he went into the army. I still have the early albums though. After that I never really was into his music.

Elvis Today: How come you went to the show?

Barbara: I loved Elvis' sound and thought he was so good looking, I collected magazines and stuff. All of which I threw out along the way to adulthood. Stupid me.

Elvis Today: What do you remember the most about Elvis’ performance?

Barbara: Just that I loved it. I was the only one of my friends that liked him so I went to the show alone. He was so good looking and moved in a way that I had never seen before. I remember screaming and wishing everyone would sit down so we could all see. I was short and it bothered me that people stood so I had trouble seeing some of the show. I do not remember any other acts. I do remember seeing him on the Ed Sullivan show and screaming as I watched and my grandmother demanding that I stop and arguing with her about turning off the TV. I won. I do not remember anything else about it.

Elvis Today: How did the crowd (yourself included) react when Elvis sang and moved?

Barbara: Lots of standing and screaming.

Elvis Today: Do you remember any particular song he sang?

Barbara: I do remember he sang Heartbreak Hotel which had been released just a few months previously. My husband and all his friends are impressed that I got to see him with his original band, Scotty Moore, Bill Black and DJ Fontana. I only had eyes for Elvis.

Elvis Today: Did you ever see Elvis live again?

Barbara: I saw him in April 1973 or November 1976 at the Anaheim CA Convention Center. He was into what I called the Liberace phase with the jump suits, and scarves. He had put on a lot of weight. He sounded good but it was not the same as seeing him for the first time. 

Thank you so much for your answers, Barbara, and for letting me share them with my readers!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Press Release: The Elvis Today Blog Volume 2

The second volume of The Elvis Today Blog is now available, collecting 230 posts from January 8, 2010 to August 16, 2012. A special bonus post features a previously unreleased interview with Elvis’ first drummer D.J. Fontana. The foreword is written by Michael Jarrett, who wrote “I’m Leavin’” and “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” for Elvis. 

“When I started the Elvis Today Blog on August 16, 2007, I had no idea it would result in a book. And certainly not in two,” says author Thomas Melin, a public relations officer living in Sweden.

The most common reaction Thomas gets from friends and colleagues when they learn that he runs an Elvis blog is, “What is there to tell?” And it’s a justified question. After all, Elvis has been gone for 35 years now.

“So I start to explain. I tell them about all the albums with unreleased material that the official collectors label Follow That Dream Records keeps pouring out. I also mention the shows touring Europe with former members of Elvis’ band members. And I talk about the books that continue to be written.”

That’s the stuff Thomas writes about. And he tells it from his perspective, what he thinks of a certain album, a concert or a book. He also uses the blog to share some of the many Elvis memories he’s had over the years. And every time he has to explain his reasons for blogging, it hits him how lucky he is to be an Elvis fan, and not only because of the great legacy Elvis left behind.

“The interest in Elvis is as high as ever, certainly as big as when I became an Elvis fan over 30 years ago. And being a fan is as fun today as it was then. So was writing the posts that ended up becoming The Elvis Today Blog Volume 2, running from post number 271 right up to post number 500. I hope that fans have as much fun reading it,” says Thomas Melin.

The Elvis Today Blog Volume 2 (328 pages) is available on for US $14.45

Praise for the first volume of The Elvis Today Blog

“Thomas Melin crafts a unique volume that follows the triumphs and trials of being an Elvis fan in the post-1977 era.”
Troy Y., The Mystery Train Blog 

“Melin ponders issues as diverse as Elvis in the shop window and archival media reports to new bootleg releases, the need for an FTD (Follow That Dream) website and the album that never was. All in all it makes for interesting reading.”
Nigel Patterson, Elvis In Print:
The Definite Reference And Price Guide