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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.

/MĂ„rtenbrother

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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.

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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:

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Amazing Grace: Elvis Back In Nashville

The bluesy take 2 of "Amazing Grace" is the third digital single promoting the Elvis: Back in Nashville set due for release on November 12.
Barely had I written about the second promo/preview/digital single from the upcoming 4 CD set Elvis: Back In Nashville when the third one was released yesterday. This time the spotlight is put on the first (incomplete) and second take of "Amazing Grace." Take 2 was first made available on the Walk A Mile In My Shoes – The Essential 70's Masters back in 1995, while the whole sequence containing both takes found its way onto the FTD version of He Touched Me (2011).  

I actually reviewed the latter in a post here on my blog back in November 2011 (was it really that long time ago?!), so I revisited that and read what I had written about the two first takes of "Amazing Grace." Apparently I focused a lot on the studio banter: 

Another example is the banter before the second take of "Amazing Grace" (following the first abandoned one) which has Elvis saying "I hit the wrong words, I was singing 'Love Me Tender'," and one of the musicians answering, "You was singing the hell out of it, whatever it was." I think he's right. I actually prefer the bluesy take 2 over the more conservative master.

Listening to the audio promo today made me realize this still holds true. Ernst Jorgensen puts it well in his excellent book Elvis Presley: A Life In Music (1998):

For this voice piece the rhythm section set a slow, solid, unobtrusive beat, while Chip Young added some bluesy acoustic slide guitar and David Briggs contributed flashy piano runs straight out of the showy gospel music tradition. 

But for some reason, after the second take producer Felton Jarvis told Chip Young to run a straighter course, resulting in a more traditional master of the song (take 5). For the first time this can now be heard on the promo (it wasn't included on FTD's version of He Touched Me). The dialogue runs something like this:

Felton Jarvis: Chip, don't play that funky stuff there man, really just straight.

Chip Young:  Alright.

Felton Jarvis: Simplicity you know.

Then another person says: Jerry, you're not gonna play on your kick drum, are you?

Jerry Carrigan: Ah, not much, no.

The other person: OK. 

So there went the bluesy version out of the window in favor of the master that we know from the He Touched Me album. I like that one too, but take 2 has the edge. In my book, yet another excellent choice to help promote Elvis: Back In Nashville.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Until It's Time For You To Go: Elvis Back In Nashville

"Until It's Time For You To Go" (take 5) has been released as an offical lyric video.

So far I have been pleased with the the audio promos/digital singles RCA have chosen to promote the upcoming Elvis: Back In Nashville 4 CD set. In August the first attempt of the stunning "I'm Leavin'" was released (including a new rehearsal part), and a month later we were treated with take 5 of the beautiful "Until It's Time For You To Go." 

I thought it would be interesting to see what some of my favorite Elvis books have to say about "Until It's Time For You To Go" that was originally released as a single in January 1972, coupled with "We Can Make The Morning." First out is Robert Matthew-Walker and his book Elvis Presley: Studies in Modern Music (1979):

"Until It's Time For You To Go" became a classic hit for Presley and this performance is one of his best. He infuses each word with an added meaning.

In 1982 a book called The Complete Elvis edited by Martin Torgoff came out. Among other things, it included an A-Z section, that my brother and I loved to study. Today he sent me a mobile photo of what was written about "Until It's Time For You To Go":

Elvis turned Buffy's 1970 version of her own folksy composition into a ballad with piano and strings nicely complemented by the Imperials. The lyrics are stretched and phrased beautifully. 

Moving on to my well thumbed copy of Elvis Presley: A Life In Music from 1998 (if I could keep only one of my Elvis' books this would be the one) Ernst Jorgensen paints this picture of the recording of "Until It's Time For You To Go" on May 17, 1971:

Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Until It's Time For You To Go" was the next folk number to which Elvis gave his full attention. This kind of material might have been suitable for a pop album, less so for a single – but Elvis was throwing himself into his performances with abandon now, and all anyone could do was stand back and watch.

It's obvious Elvis cared for "Until It's Time For You To Go." Not only did he try to better his May version with a remake of the song at the June sessions (although it was the May recording that was eventually chosen for release as a single), he also included it in his live repertoire. 

I have to confess I like it too. It's a tender song that always strikes a chord when I listen to it. That leaves you, dear reader. What do you think of Elvis' version(s) of "It's Time For You To Go"? 

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Ralph Strobel Signed Harum Scarum Album

Close up of Ralph Strobel's autograph on my Harum Scarum LP. 
Last week I received two packages from Ralph Strobel, who played the oboe on the Harum Scarum sessions on February 24–26, 1965. A couple of months back I found out that he is an assistant professor emeritus at Ball State University, so I contacted him and asked if he would like to answer some questions about those sessions. He graciously accepted, and reading his story I almost felt like I was there in the studio with him.

Some time after publishing the interview on my blog, I got another idea. Would Ralph Strobel agree to sign my copy of the Harum Scarum album? He thought it was a great idea, so I sent the cover across the Atlantic at the beginning of the summer. As I was going to Denmark on my vacation, Ralph Strobel wisely decided to send the cover back to me after I had returned. It took about a month to reach me, but it was well worth the wait. 

Opening the package, and pulling out the album cover, I saw that it was signed Ralph Strobel "OBOE" on the front cover in the lower right hand corner. It looked great. Harum Scarum is now one of those records in my collection I value the most – those signed by musicians I've met in real life or through e-mail conversation who once played or sang with Elvis. 

My signed copy of the Harum Scarum soundtrack.
In the smaller package I found an Elvis souvenir in the form of a very nice toothpick holder as well as a letter from Ralph Strobel where he told the story behind it. He also explained that he was happy that I had encouraged him into writing about the Elvis recording sessions, something he had wanted to do for years. That made me feel good.

I am happy to call Ralph Strobel my friend and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank him again for writing about his time recording with Elvis, signing my Harum Scarum album and sending me the Elvis toothpick holder. It meant a lot.

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Saturday, August 28, 2021

I'm Leavin': Elvis Back In Nashville

The first take of "I'm Leavin'" is included in the upcoming set Elvis: Back In Nashville.

During Elvis Week I was pleased to see the announcement for the 4 CD set Elvis: Back In Nashville covering his 1971 Nashville sessions. Like last year's From Elvis In Nashville it showcases Elvis Presley and his band as they sounded during the actual session without orchestral and vocal overdubs. 

But, unlike the 1970 Nashville recordings, many of the 1971 tracks included backing singers. One such example is "I'm Leavin'" that has been released as the first official audio promo/digital single for the set. Featuring take 1, you get to hear Elvis, the musicians and the Imperials rehearse the song (this was not included when take 1 was originally released on the Elvis Now FTD back in 2010) and then deliver a beautiful first attempt. 

I decided to email Michael Jarrett who wrote the song, sending him the link to the audio promo and asking him what his reaction was, listening to the take. This is what he wrote back:  

I just listened to Cut #1. Amazing! Truly amazing for this older songwriter to be like a fly on the wall in the studio listening to these great players 'carving out' my song. Actually, it's not very often that songwriters get a peak behind the curtains at the making of a song they've labored over to get just right in presenting to an artist or producer for recording consideration. Too Cool! ..So wonderful to hear them talking ..it's like being right there.

Thinking back fifty years, oh my! ..

When I first ventured into Hollywood back in the Spring of 1970, I hit the streets running with a pocket full of songs and a pocket full of dreams. With the help of a friend, I was fortunate to get a few meetings with some music producers right away. This was very lucky for a 'newcomer' to Crazyland, L.A. ...but I digress :)

Some of these music producers let me know right away that my songs were 'esoteric' and certainly not "commercial". Others just played a few seconds on the tape of each song and would then turn to me and say, "I just didn't hear anything that caught my ear" ..and I'm thinking after hearing this person say that to me, ... Certainly You Didn't Hear Anything Because You Didn't Even Listen!!

This producer then said to me, "let me suggest that you go back home and listen to the songs they play on "Top 40 music stations" and write songs like that. I will be happy in the future to listen to them. ...good day ..

Good day, INDEED!

I just told this story to encourage songwriters out there that might be reading this to follow your heart when you write and don't be swayed by what others say about your writing! It's the doing of it that is the most important thing.

Boy did Michael Jarrett prove those music producers wrong. Not only is "I'm Leavin'" a firm favorite among many fans (me included), Elvis obviously liked it too and sang it live many times. 

I'm really looking forward to Elvis: Back In Nashville that is to be released on November 12. Until then, be sure to listen to take 1 of "I'm Leavin'." Mixing engineer Matt Ross-Spang has done a great job and if the rest of the sessions sound like this we will have us another winner. 

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