Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What You Need Is A Change Of Habit

Elvis Presley and Mary Tyler Moore in Change Of Habit.
Having learned that actress Mary Tyler Moore had died, I dug out my DVD copy of Change Of Habit. It's been a long time since I watched this, Elvis' last scripted film, in which he plays a doctor (John Carpenter) and she one of three nuns (Sister Michelle) seeking employment at his free clinic in a deprived area of New York.

I have always found Change Of Habit entertaining and well acted. Including such contemporary problems as racism, violence and loan shark operators it's a far cry from the stereotypical Elvis Presley movie. In fact, it's hard to understand that Elvis made films like Clambake and Speedway only two years earlier.

One of the strongest scenes is the one where Elvis, aided by Mary Tyler Moore, helps an autistic child. Doctor and nun sit side by side, holding the girl while she kicks and screeches, all the while telling her to let out her anger and repeating how much they love her. Not very realistic, I learned today thanks to the internet and the article Elvis and autism: An unlikely couple. But emotional, nevertheless.

The movie has some humorous moments, too. When a loan shark, The Banker, turns up at the clinic, Elvis greets him with a straight face and the line "I can't help you Banker, I'm not a veterinarian."Another memorable scene has Elvis playing a bluesy version of "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy" on piano, with no vocals, in the nun's apartment.

Speaking of the music, Elvis recorded four songs for Change Of Habit on March 5–6, 1969, but one of them, "Let´s Be Friends," never made it into the movie. Instead, "Rubberneckin'" from the American Studios sessions in January that year, was used in the film, meaning the entire soundtrack was awarded to songwriter Ben Weisman.

In his book Elvis Presley: A Life In Music Ernst Jorgensen has nothing positive to say about the soundtrack recordings, writing that "Elvis must have wondered what he was doing there." Meaning, I guess, that the songs were a far cry from the Memphis recordings, and that Elvis had his mind on his upcoming return to live appearances at the newly built International Hotel in Las Vegas.

That might be true, but I have no problem with most of the material. The funky title track works well over the opening credits, and I also like the gospel number "Let Us Pray" which is used to great effect at the end of the film. (And I love it when Elvis is belting out "Rubberneckin'" in Dr. John Carpenters apartment above the clinic.)

The scene in the park where Elvis is singing "Have A Happy" on a merry-go-round after a touch football game is another matter. It really is out of place and does nothing to promote Elvis image as an adult actor. Why it was put in the script in the first place is beyond me.

But that's my only complaint, and I'd like to end with a passage from Gerry McLaffertys' book Elvis Presley In Hollywood, in the chapter that deals with Change Of Habit:

In his physial prime and with potentially a whole new career ahead of him, Change Of Habit marked Elvis Presley's final acting role. The waste of talent was horrendous. Although many further offers came his way he would never again appear in a scripted film.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

I'm Leavin' - The Lost Folk Album

Cover art for the vinyl LP I'm Leavin'.
Some 45 years after it was recorded by Elvis, the beautiful song "I'm Leavin'" by Michael Jarret is the title of an album. It was released on 12" vinyl for record store day last year, a compilation bringing together "the very best recordings of Elvis Presley’s work in the Folk and Country genres from 1966-1973."

In honor of Michael Jarret's birthday a few days ago, I played the album and was reminded once more of the haunting quality of the title song. In fact, I enjoyed the whole album, especially the A side where five of the six tracks are contemporary pop-folk songs recorded by Elvis in 1971. On side B, only one of the songs is from that category.

I've always had a soft spot for Elvis 1971 pop/folk recordings, and my brother put it wisely in a comment on this blog back in 2009: "His not so perfect vocals seem to suit (most of) the material." It's true, Elvis isn't always singing perfectly in a technical sense, but the emotion in his voice coupled with some excellent backing provided by his band makes for a great listening experience. Below is the complete track listing:

Side A
1. I'm Leavin'
2. Early Mornin' Rain
3. Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues
4. Until It's Time For You To Go
5. Help Me Make It Through The Night
6. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (edited version)

Side B
1. You Asked Me To
2. Gentle On My Mind
3. Tomorrow Is A Long Time
4. I'm Movin' On
5. (That's What You Get) For Lovin' Me
6. Loving Arms

Listening to the LP I started to think of Elvis' lost 1971 folk music album. Certainly not the first fan to write about it, this concept would have been a great idea after Elvis Country. After all, when Elvis arrived at RCA's Studio B in Nashville on March 15, 1971, he brought with him folk oriented material that he had enjoyed from Peter, Paul and Mary's work, like "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "Early Mornin' Rain" and "(That's What You Get) For Lovin' Me." Who knows what directions that session might have taken, had Elvis not been forced to cut it short due to suffering from a painful case of glaucoma, ending up in hospital.

Anyway, here is my shot at an Elvis folk themed album that could have been released at the time, where I have substituted the songs featured on I'm Leavin' that are not recorded in 1971 with recordings from that particular year.

Side A
1. I'm Leavin'
2. Early Mornin' Rain
3. It's Still Here (unedited version)
4. Until It's Time For You To Go
5. Help Me Make It Through The Night
6. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (edited version)

Side B
1. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
2. It's Only Love
3. I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen (undubbed version)
4. Amazing Grace (alternate take 2)
5. (That's What You Get) For Lovin' Me
6. I Will Be True

I have included "Amazing Grace" as it had recently been a hit for folksinger Judy Collins when Elvis recorded it. Otherwise my track listing has a lot of common with both Piers Beagley´s Elvis: In The Early Morning Rain (2008) and George Smith's Elvis Presley: Exodus (2011). I especially like the prologue on the latter one, featuring the informal recording of "I Shall Be Released."

But back to reality and the I'm Leavin' 12" vinyl released in 2016. An album with that title has been long overdue and I'm happy for Michael Jarrett's sake. He deserves the credit.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Aloha From Copenhagen

Terry Blackwood of The Imperials signing my copy of Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite.
On this date, 44 years ago, Elvis performed his historical Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite concert. Last year, on nearly the same date, January 7, three musicians who shared the stage with Elvis when he made his global telecast played another show, this time in Denmark.

Some 1 700 fans then celebrated Elvis´ 81st birthday with James Burton, Glen D. Hardin and Ronnie Tutt. Also present on stage during this Aloha From Copenhagen show was Terry Blackwood from the Imperials and Austrian singer Dennis Jale.

Poster for the Aloha From Copenhagen concert.
Living in Sweden means Denmark isn't that far away, especially when you are traveling from the southern part of the country. So when me and my brother, who is also a huge Elvis fan, heard about the upcoming event in Copenhagen, we decided it was something we couldn't afford to miss.

I remember it was raining pretty hard when we left the train station and headed towards the Falconer Centre where the show was to take place. I also recall we had trouble finding the place and practically stumbled across the back of the building, from where we could hear the band rehearsing inside.

Quickly locating the entrance and walking inside we found ourselves in the company of hundreds of fellow Elvis fans. And there was excitement in the air, maybe a bit like the real thing in the 70's, when people who shared the love for Elvis and his music went to see him in concert.

As for the show itself, it was an enjoyable evening. Having had the privilege to see the TCB Band on stage during a couple of "live on screen" concerts from 1999 to 2012, it's obvious the band members are getting older, but there was no mistaking the fun they had playing for the fans. This was especially evident watching Glen D. Hardin, who was hammering away on his keyboard with a smile on his face during the whole show. And James Burton got to play a lot of solos in songs such as "See See Rider," "That's All Right," and Johnny B. Goode," to the delight of the audience.

Terry Blackwood of the Imperials also brought a lot to the show together with the other two members of The Imperials. Looking back, some of the highlights included "An American Trilogy," "Suspicious Minds" and "Polk Salad Annie". A nice surprise was "Change Of Habit" which sounded great.

Tha autographs of James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Ronnie Tutt and Terry Blackwood.
But the best part of the evening was after the show, when the musicians and singers signed autographs. A lot of fans had brought with them records for this occasion, and I was no exception. I thought my choice was perfect, an original copy of the double LP Aloha From Hawaii Via Satelllite with a separate insert listening the songs of the concert. James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Ronnie Tutt and Terry Blackwood signed the back of the cover as well as the insert, and I also had the chance to change a few words with each of them.

Carefully protecting the album against the rain, me and my brother headed for the station and the train home to Sweden. Granted, Aloha From Copenhagen wasn't as historical a moment as Aloha From Hawaii, but in a way it was for us. It was probably to be the last time we attended a concert with the TCB Band.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Little Thing Called Confidence

"Confidence" was sung to and with a group of children in the movie Clambake.
Today would have been Elvis 82nd birthday, and as I always do on January 8, I try to listen a little bit extra to his music, watch one of his movies or remember him in some other way. With a newborn baby boy to take care of it´s been a bit of a challenge this time around.

But as I was about to turn the children's program off I asked my six year old daughter if she wanted to watch an Elvis clip on YouTube before going to bed. "Yes, the scene with the playground," she answered. So today we honored Elvis Presley by looking at him singing "Confidence" in the movie Clambake.

To be honest, my daughter prefers more moderns stars like Justin Timberlake, Shakira, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber plus a bunch of Swedish artists I wont bother you with. But for some reason she likes "Confidence," both on record and on film. Maybe it's because it reminds her of her own world with playgrounds and children her own age, maybe she just thinks it's a funny song.

"Look daddy, she is really cute, she looks like a princess with those blue hair ribbons," she commented the girl who is afraid to go down a slide. And she watched intently as the girl finally slides down and Elvis sets the sling going while the camera turns the whole scene upside down. She also read out loud the words "ice cream" on Red West's ice cream wagon, so Elvis has taught her some English words, also.

The scene with Elvis singing "Confidence" certainly isn't the most memorable one in his acting career, on the contrary. But watching it with my daughter and seeing it through her eyes always puts a smile on my face. For an exhausted daddy, it was a welcoming moment tonight. So, one again, thank you Elvis, and happy birthday!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The World of FTD

My review of the FTD classic album release He Touched Me as featured in Keith Flynn's The World Of Follow That Dream book.
Since my latest post nearly two years ago, on January 8, 2015, some 25 new albums and books have been released by Follow That Dream (FTD), the official Elvis Presley collectors label. Now, Elvis recordings specialist Keith Flynn has completed a 1,200 pages, hardbound three book set, chronicling every release by FTD from the start in July 1999 up until September this year. A total of 189 releases. And I’m proud to have been a small part of the project.

Earlier this year I received an e-mail from Keith Flynn, asking me if he could use five of the FTD reviews I had written on my blog for an upcoming project. Being familiar with Keith´s impressive Elvis Presley website and his part in the Ultimate Elvis – The Complete And Definite Recording Sessions three volume book, I was delighted to say yes. With a new job around the corner and another baby on its way, I then kind of forgot about it.

Until this October, when I read on the Elvis Files Facebook group about a three book set titled The World Of Follow That Dream chronicling ever release by FTD, by Keith Flynn & friends. I then remembered him asking permission to use a couple of my reviews and asked him if any of them was included in the book. When he answered that he had indeed used them I was thrilled, especially since it looked like a really beautiful package.

Keith then did a nice thing, sending me the pages from the book featuring my reviews as pdf:s. I thought the layout was neat and it was pretty cool to see my reviews getting new life this way. I also imagined them being read by fellow fans from around the globe, and that was a good feeling.

Listed below are the reviews from my blog that were used in the book:
Before signing off, I’d like to recommend an interview with Keith Flynn about his book on The Elvis Information Network website.

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 elvisnews.com 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!