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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.

Additional reading:

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. 

Additional reading:

Monday, August 16, 2021

Welcome To My World

Elvis grave at Graceland photographed during Elvis Week 2005.

This post is a loose translation of a radio program I did in Sweden after having returned from Elvis Week in Memphis 2005 - 16 years ago.

Intro music: Beginning of "Welcome To My World"

The song "Welcome To My World" is playing in the visitors' headphones on their way up to Elvis Presley's home in Memphis - Graceland. And even though the song was not originally sung by Elvis to greet tourists, I think it feels quite appropriate. 

Because Graceland, and a large part of Memphis for that matter, is truly a world that revolves around Elvis. And this is especially true during the days around August 16, which is the date Elvis died. This is when the annual Elvis Week takes place, when fans from all over the world and of all ages gather in Memphis to pay tribute to their idol.

Music: Ending of "Welcome To My World"

A huge sign in Memphis stating the obvious.

On the way from the airport, I see huge billboards by the roadside with the slogan "Elvis lives." And once at the hotel, this feels like the place to be if you, like me, have liked Elvis since childhood.

Music: Beginning of "Heartbreak Hotel"

In the foyer, Elvis music blasts out from the head speakers by the bar, everywhere are people wearing Elvis t-shirts, and at the reception there is an Elvis impersonator wearing a blue jumpsuit and obligatory sunglasses.

And as if that wasn't enough, I see Elvis' old friend Sonny West sitting at a table signing autographs. It turns out that he performs at the hotel every night, talking about his time with the King. After saying hello, I ask him to comment the fact that Elvis, 28 years after his death, seems to be more famous than ever.

"Well, if you would have asked me at the end of the fifth year, at the fifth anniversary of his death, if he would continue to be so big, I would have said 'No i don't think so.' Would I have been wrong, right."

But since new fans are constantly discovering his music, he continues to be at least as famous now as then, is Sonny's explanation.

Music: Beginning of "Memphis, Tennessee"

In front of Graceland - a dream come true.

Just a few minutes bus ride from the hotel is Graceland, the destination of my journey. The house is located on Elvis Presley Boulevard, opposite Graceland Plaza, where the bus stops. Here, tourists flock around the souvenir shops that have grown up like mushrooms out of the ground, and the wealth of invention when it comes to what to buy with Elvis motifs knows no bounds.

In addition to sweaters, caps, key chains and fridge magnets, there are, for example, baby clothes, slippers, wallpaper, rubber ducks, the Elvis wine Jailhouse Red, bowling balls and Graceland in the form of a soft toy.

But I'm here to see the real Graceland. The trip costs 28 dollars, but in addition to the house I get a look at Elvis' cars, motorcycles and his private jet Lisa Marie, christened after his daughter.

The house itself turns out to be a bit smaller than I thought. But it's fascinating to see the different rooms, especially the Jungle Room where Elvis recorded his last studio songs among gods statues, a small waterfall and armchairs with armrests shaped like dragons.

Studio banter: "It's Easy For You"

The Trophy Room - mindblowing.

Another highlight is the Trophy Room, Elvis' old squash hall where the walls are covered with gold plates from floor to ceiling and some of the most famous jumpsuits are on display. I just stare with my mouth open like all the other tourists. Then, after the tour has ended at Elvis' grave, I meet two lyrical Danes, Kirsten and Jörgen.

"This is a dream come true, I have seen pictures of Graceland and know it meant a lot to Elvis, so it was fantastic to see it."

"It has always been a dream to see it, since I became a fan at twelve, and now I had the means to do it."

As Elvis, for obvious reasons, can't perform for us, we who are in Memphis have to make do with the next best thing. During Elvis Week, a number of concerts are arranged with his old musicians. Among them are the guys who accompanied Elvis in 1969 on songs such as "Suspicious Minds" and "In the Ghetto."

Music from the actual concert

And pianist Bobby Wood and organist Bobby Emmons, who are usually anonymous studio musicians, think it's fun to be in the spotlight for once.

"Its a good feeling, you know, that there are fans out there, people that actually like you."

"They consider that what we did had some bearing of the records that they love so much, it just makes you feel great.

Together with two of my musical heroes: Bobby Emmons and Bobby Wood.

During one of the last nights in Memphis, I am part of a somewhat different experience - the Candlelight Vigil.

Traditionally, the night before the anniversary of Elvis' death on August 16, the celebration during Elvis Week reaches its peak as thousands of fans gather outside Graceland to honor the King. Together with all the other fans, I receive a candle, and then stand in the queue that slowly winds through the gates to Graceland, past Elvis' grave and out again. It feels a bit like a marathon, there are fluid checks everywhere and it takes three and a half hours.

TV is there and the next day I read in the newspaper that we were 10,000 people who attended.

Music: The beginning of "Talk About The Good Times"

Elvis Week is over and it's time to go home again. I have to agree with my Danish friends that it has been a fantastic experience that I will never forget. For a week, everything has revolved around Elvis and I have met people from all over the world who share my interest.

The only thing I regret is that I didn't buy Graceland as a soft toy.

Outro music: "Talk About The Good Times"

Friday, July 30, 2021

Guarding Elvis In The Summer Of ´61

Toby (Elvis Presley) enters a bank to take out a loan in the movie Follow That Dream. The scene was filmed in Ocala, Florida.

Currently on vacation in Denmark with my family in our summer cottage by the sea, there is little time for blogging. But stumbling across an interesting article on the Internet where Martin Stephens, 82, reminisces about guarding Elvis while he filmed Follow That Dream in 1961, I just had to write a short post about it.

The article is titled "The summer of Elvis" and written by Susan Smiley-Height of the Ocala Gazette. In it, Martin Stephens recalls the story of how he, as a 22 year old police officer, was assigned to provide security for Elvis on the movie set in Ocala, Florida, where they did the bank scenes (most of the movie was shot in Yankeetown).

“We weren’t worried about riots or somebody hurting Elvis. The security was strictly to keep people back,” he explained. “He couldn’t do nothing without a crowd. We would offer to chase people off, and he’d say, ‘No, no, that’s what I’m supposed to do.’ He was very personable and a nice guy. He was interested in people and was easy to work with.”

He tells the reporter that it was unbearably hot in the bank as the film crew turned off the air conditioning because it made too much background noise. Elvis had to change his denim shirt every 15 to 20 minutes. He also remembers how Elvis got hold of a pair of sunglasses worn by a deputy on the security detail. ("I know, though the deputy never admitted it, that he sold his sunglasses.")

According to Martin Stephens, the filming in Ocala took place over two long weekends. ("The building is still there, right before the railroad tracks if you're going into town.") In the article, he describes one of his fondest memories during the time he was assigned to accompany Elvis on the movie set: 

“They had rented the Marion Hotel, and the movie crew went over there to eat. When we went to eat lunch that first day, Elvis told me, ‘Let’s go.’ So I grabbed three guys. We went over there, and I didn’t know exactly what we were supposed to do. Elvis went inside, so I said, ‘Well, I guess we guard the doors,’” he said. “We’re standing there, and in a minute, Elvis comes out and says, ‘Come on boys, you don’t have long to eat.’ We go in, and he’s got a table, and he says, ‘I went ahead and ordered for you.’ They brought us T-bone steaks, and he got a grilled cheese sandwich. ‘I didn’t know what you wanted,’ he said. ‘I just went ahead and ordered for you.’ That’s the guy I remember.” 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

"It Was A Helluva Show"


I have a confession to make. The last couple of years my pile of unopened FTD concert releases has gotten higher and higher. Therefore, two days ago, on July 4, I thought the timing just right to remove the shrink-wrap from the Elvis: The Bicentennial Show 2 CD set released in 2017 and listen to CD 1 and Elvis' performance in Tulsa on Independence Day, 1976.

Before pressing the play button I checked out the review of this release on the Elvis Information Network, where it had this to say about the sound quality:

Tulsa was recorded on reel-to-reel and so would sound fabulous, as did the July 3rd Fort Worth soundboard, were it not for some awful distortion. While it can be interesting to hear alternate mixes with various instruments high in the mix, the Tulsa show sounds terrible for having James Burton’s guitar wound up ridiculously high and so distorted. Obviously his guitar level was way over-driven on the original recording and it sounds terrible. 

Surely it can't be that bad, I thought, but it was. Which is a shame, as the show is a pretty good one, including highlights such as "America," "An American Trilogy," "Hurt" (sung twice) and "How Great Thou Art." And judging by the screaming fans it must have been an exciting way to spend the Fourth of July that particular year. This is what Bill Donaldsson of the Tulsa Tribune had to say about Elvis' performance:

He gave his fans about the best concert any pop singer can. He sang songs ranging back to the beginning of his career, several new ones, and he didn't shortchange the faithful. Remarking that he had only one show to do Sunday, and therefore could extend his performance, the star held the stage for more than an hour. [...] If Presley repeats with the same voltage he displayed this time around, his devoted fans will be fully repaid for their efforts to get those tickets. It was a helluva show.

Elvis concluded this particular tour in Memphis the very next day, on July 5, with a great show. Maybe it was the fact that it was an evening show and not an afternoon show like the one in Tulsa, maybe is was because it was Elvis' home town. Probably it was a combination of both. Elvis is focused, is clearly having fun on stage and delivers such gems as "Softly As I Leave You," "One Night," "Blue Christmas" and "That's All Right."

The Memphis show has been bootlegged twice on CD, and the sound quality is very good (with James Burton's guitar exactly where it should be in the mix). Had I been at the helm of the FDT label,  I would have included this concert as CD 2 on the Elvis: The Bicentennial Show instead of the one from Duluth, October 16, 1976, that was RCA's Joan Deary's initial choice for the 1980 box set, according to the before mentioned review on the Elvis Information Network. 

Or come to think about it, the best thing would probably have been to swap the order of the CD's and rename it Elvis: Mid-South Magic or King Of Rock 'N' Roll Day (as proclaimed by then Memphis Mayor Wythe Chandler). Including the Tulsa show as kind of a bonus CD due to the terrible mix would have been a more logical move, at least in my book.

That said, the shrink-wrap has been removed and I have finally listened to Elvis: The Bicentennial Show. I wonder what concert will be next?

Additional reading:

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Mama's Little Prince: The Mårten Melin Interview


Interview with Mårten Melin about his book Mama's Little Prince.

My brother Mårten Melin is the author of the Swedish book Mammas lilla prins (Mama's Little Prince), a novel about Elvis Presley's childhood. Yesterday I published a sample of it in English here on my blog and today's post features an interview with Mårten where he talks about his book.     

First, can you tell me a little bit about your relationship to Elvis?

Well, I've been a fan since our brother Staffan bought the German 2-LP collection Elvis Forever. My favorite song was "King Creole" so the first album I bought with my own money was the King Creole soundtrack. Elvis has always been important to me, and I would say I listen to him almost every day.

Why did you decide to write a novel about Elvis childhood?

As a writer I always look for good stories. And I realized that Elvis' childhood is exactly that, a great story, with his still-born twin, his constant singing and his over-protective mother. I first wrote a more poetic script with snapshotlike scenes. That version became a short story for Swedish Radio, narrated by actor Sven Wollter. But my publisher Rabén & Sjögren wanted a story that was more like an ordinary novel. So I gave it a try and it worked out well. They did publish it, at least!

What ages is it aimed at?

The publisher says 9-12 years, but I'm sure it works for adults as well.

How did you go about your research?

I thought of going to Tupelo, but I don't think that would have helped since I guess it just doesn't look the same anymore. But I read a lot of books, the most important being Elaine Dundy's Elvis and Gladys. I also found some interviews with Elvis' friend Sam Bell, and photos and maps of Tupelo from the 1940's. Dundy found out about Elvis' obsession with the comic book character Captain Marvel, Jr. So I use that in the book.

How did you plan the plot?

The first version of the story was much about him getting ready for his performance at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. But then I found out that a lot of interesting things happened after that, so the story pretty much follows his life from the first day of school in September 1945 to the family's move to Memphis. Then I thought it would be effective with a short epilogue from his more famous days, where he for a few seconds looks back at his childhood.

Elvis is one of the most famous persons that has ever lived. What challenges did that entail when writing the book?

Strangely enough there is not really that much known about his childhood. But I guess the challenge is to not think about fans reading the book and complaining that some details are made up. Which brings us to your next question ...

The novel is based on true events. But how much is truth and how much is fiction?

I would say of the things in my book that didn't occur in Elvis' real life, that they could have occured. A lot of stuff did happen: he did win fifth place in the fair show, he did jump to the black people's seats at the cinema, and he must have thought about his lost twin a lot, being a lonely (and only) child.

What were the biggest challenges in writing the book?

To try to find Elvis' own voice. Since it's written in the first-person point of view that was very important. How did he really think about things? How did he express himself? Also, since it is a novel based on truth, how much can you change the facts without straying to far away from the real life of Elvis? 

There are many topics in the book that are as relevant to youngsters today as they were when Elvis was a boy: your first love, the relationship with your parents, racism, bullying, being popular and so on.  Was it easier or harder to write about that with the help of Elvis?

It helped a lot, I would say. He wasn't very popular in school, so I thought: Why was that? And he did attend a Halloween costume party, so that set my brain going: What did he wear? Who did he meet there? Some of the facts of Elvis' childhood is very brief, so it's ideal writing a novel about it. Why on earth did he wear glasses on that talent show in 1945? There are no other photos of him wearing them! I had to find the answer to that. (Or rather, make it up!)

The book ends with Elvis on stage in 1971, remembering his childhood. How much of the boy do you think was left in Elvis by then? Was he still Mama's little prince?

I think the life of Elvis Presley would have looked a lot different if his mother hadn't died when he was so young. He did go back to Tupelo in 1970, showing his wife some of his childhood sites, so he must have remembered something. But I also think he didn't want to think too much about his poor days. He was a person that lived very much in the present. (Otherwise he would have taken care of his economy a bit more, as well as himself!)

What do you want the reader to remember after reading the book?

Maybe that your childhood is important to who you later become. That even famous, larger-than-life people have once been children. And that wishes and life-goals can come true if you really believe in them.

You have said yourself that this is probably the first novel about Elvis' childhood. Why do you think that is the case?

For a lot of adults, being a child is just something you are before you grow up. And, as I said, not too much is known about Elvis' childhood. Other writers have just not been too interested in that part of his life.

Which reactions do you hope to get?

It would be great if my readers, adults and children, will become more interested in the life and career of Elvis. But I also hope they think it's just a good story!

Additional reading:

Monday, June 28, 2021

Mama's Little Prince: A Sample In English

Mamas Little Prince: Elvis Presley in 1945.
As I promised in my previous post, this one will include a sample from my brother Mårten Melin's new book Mama's Little Prince, translated by him as it is written in Swedish. The novel was released today, it has 213 pages and the reading age is from 9 years.

But before we begin, I'd like to let Mårten himself introduce the book:

This is the story about Elvis Presley. But not the one about the world-famous entertainer, adored by millions. No, this is the story about the poor eleven-year old boy from Tupelo who just wanted to sing. And to buy his mama a pink cadillac.

It's about the boy who would be known to the world simply as ”The King”.

Dealing with issues like bullying, racism and the first big love, you really don’t have to be an Elvis aficionado to enjoy it. But after reading it, maybe you will be.

Based on true events, and thoroughly researched, the story takes place in the small town of Tupelo, Mississippi in the mid-1940’s. Elvis Presley moves from house to house with his mama (who likes to spend money) and his daddy (who’s not to keen earning them). Among bullies, neighbors, friends and love interests, he plans for the future: to become a famous singer. But how is he to achieve his goal? Could the talent contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy show be the beginning of success? Or will the feelings of guilt, being the only surviving twin, hold him back?

This is a story told with warmth and humor, filled with both sadness and triumph. We believe it’s the first book of its kind: a novel for young people about the young would-be king, before fame and fortune came his way, when Elvis Presley was still just his mama’s little prince. Or at least, when she thought he was.

So now, without further ado, here follows a sample in English
from Mama's Little Prince.  

Chapter 15

I place the cans on top of the fence. Squeeze the rocks in my hand.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I haven’t lost it. I hit all of them. I put the cans on the fence again, pick up the rocks. It’s the same cans I had on Berry street. Same rocks, too. I never did unpack them, not until now.

”Will you let me try?”

I turn around. There’s a black guy standing there, about my age. He’s alone, standing in the garden on the other side of the fence. I don’t answer his question, just nod towards the house behind him.

”You live there?”

”Sure. With my grandpa.”

I wonder where his parents are, but before I ask he says:

”Most people here on the Hill are black.”

I shrug.

”Not us.”

We look at each other for a while, then I hand him the rocks.

”Be my guest.”

He climbs over the fence, glancing to both sides as he does. He takes the rocks and throws the first one. He misses.

”Throw like this, from the side.”

I show him. He misses again, but he’s getting there. Third time he scores. He smiles at me and I can’t help smiling back at him.

”Name’s Sam,” he says. ”Sam Bell.”

”Elvis. Elvis Presley.”

We shake hands, just as if we’re grown-ups.

”Where did you live before you came here?”

”Mulberry Alley. But originally we’re from East Tupelo.”

 ”Got any siblings?”

 I think of Jesse, of course I do. But I just shake my head.

 ”Nah, it’s just me and my ma and daddy.”

 ”Mulberry,” he says. ”That’s close to Shakerag. It’s pretty wild, I hear.”

 ”Yeah!” I say. ”There was this man, he could really play the guitar!

 Sam laughs.

 ”I was thinking of fights and stuff. You like music?”

 ”I love music.”

 ”I got something for you then. Come on!”

 I gaze towards the house.

 ”I just gotta tell mama. Follow me!”

 ”You sure?” Sam asks.

”Yeah!”

We run up to the house, it’s like a race that Sam wins. We enter, mama sits there with a cup of coffee, listening to the radio. Of course, Grand Ole Opry is on soon. But it can’t be helped, I’m too curious to see whatever Sam wants me to see.

”Mama, I’m going out with a friend.”

Mama looks at me.

”What friend?”

”A new one, he’s living next door. Sam, say hello to my mama.”

Sam, who has been standing in the hallway, takes a few steps forward and bows. He looks nervous.

”Nice to meet you, ma’m.”

Mama looks at him, surprised.

”Well, hello Sam. What you gonna do?”

”Just listen to some music, ma’m.”

Mama nods her head.

”All right. Just be back at five.”

”Thanks, mama!” I say. ”Bye!”

When I pass the window from the outside, I look up. Mama is standing there, looking at us. I wave at her, she waves back.

”Your mama’s all right, Elvis.”

I smile at him.

”I guess she is.”

               *       

Sam starts to run, I have to work hard to keep up with him.

”Let’s see,” he says. ”Yes! There they are.”

I hear music. Guitar and singing, it’s a woman’s voice.

”Who?” I ask.

”I don’t know their names, but ... there!”

Sam is pointing to a man and a woman sitting outside a little drug store. They each have a guitar, but only the woman seems to be singing. They could be about mama’s and daddy’s age.

 Look down, look down that lonesome road
 Before you travel on
 Look up, look up and greet your maker
 For Gabriel blows his horn

At first I believe they have a speaker somewhere, it’s so loud! The singer makes faces, she’s really into it, singing with her eyes closed.

I applaud them when they’re done. The woman looks at me, surprised, then she smiles. They play some more and I long to get home, to play the guitar myself. Somebody comes out and hands them sodas.

”She sounds a little like Sister Rosetta Tharpe,” Sam says.

”Who?”

”You gotta listen to her. Let's go to my house!”

”Does she live there?”

Sam laughs, then starts to run. He makes a gesture that I should follow him. Does he ever walk?

                   *   

Sam’s house looks just like ours. It smells of tobacco inside. An elderly man is sitting in an armchair, reading the paper. He looks up at Sam.

”There you are, my boy! How’s everything?”

”Great, grandpa. This is Elvis, he lives in the house behind ours.”

”How are you, sir?”

I bow, just like I’ve been taught to do in front of older people. Sam’s grandfather raises his eyebrows, then smiles at me.

”Just fine, son. Welcome to the Hill!”

”Could we use the record player, grandpa?”

”Record player?” I cry out. ”You have a record player?”

”Of course! We can’t listen to a record without a record player, can we?”

I look around. And there it is, the big brass horn is gleaming in the sunlight that looks in through the curtains. They have a piano as well. What luxury!

Sam’s grandfather laughs out.

”You gotta have a record player to hear the really fine songs. What will you play?”

”Sister Rosetta Tharp,” Sam says.

”Good choice!” his grandfather says.

Sam starts to browse through a pile of records. I want to hear them all.

He finds the record he’s looking for, puts it on the turntable and starts to wind it up. When the turntable is spinning, he puts the needle down, and soon a powerful voice fills the room. Sister Rosetta Tharpe slides on the notes, drowns out the trumpets in the background. Sometimes she talks more than she sings.

When she’s holding the last note I hold my breath. What a voice!

Music is really everywhere. Outside stores, in the church, on the radio. But with a record player you can decide for yourself when you want to listen, what you would like to listen to. It must be the greatest invention of all time.

”She sounds like the woman at the store, doesn’t she?” Sam asks.

”Uh-huh,” I say. ”Only better.”

We listen to the other side of the record. It's just as good as the first. I want a record player too. And records!

I make a promise to myself that when I grow up I’m going to have a whole room full of them.

Then it’s time for me to go, mama will wonder where I am if I don’t come home.

”It was nice meeting you, Elvis. You’re a very polite boy. Come back anytime.”

”Thank you, Mr Bell.”

I bow before I go out through the door. Sam joins me.

”You know what, Elvis? You’re weird.”

”What do you mean?”

”You don’t have to call my granddad Sir. Whites usually don’t say that to black people.”

”He’s your grandfather. He’s older than I am. Of course I will call him Sir.”

Sam gives me a big smile.

”As I said, you’re weird.”

He says it like it’s a good thing.

”See you!” I say and jump over the fence.

Sam waves back at me.

       *               

Next Saturday he enters our garden where I sit and practice. I keep playing, while he’s standing there, listening. When I’m finished he laughs a little.

”You sound like a black person when you sing.”

I shrug.

”I don’t think I sound like a black person.”

”Is that so?”

”Or a white person, for that matter.”

”So who do you sound like?” Sam asks.

I have to think about that for a while.

”I sound like myself.”

Sam laughs again.

”Wanna do something?” he asks.

”Sure,” I say.

”What do you like except music?”

”The movies! We can go to the movies! Strand has a showing at three o’clock.”

”But we can’t sit together,” he says.

”Don’t worry about that,” I say.

”And I don’t have any money either.”

”I have money,” I say. ”I can pay for the both of us.”

”All right, it’s a deal!”

We go into the kitchen. Mama gives us each a sandwich and we’re off.

”Two tickets, please!” I say.

The cashier looks suspiciously at Sam, then at me. But she gives me the tickets. I hand one of them to Sam.

”See you inside!” I say. ”Keep a seat for me.”

”What?”

”You heard.”

The house is half-filled, mostly with children. I wave at Sam, he waves back, but looks at me, uncertain.

When the lights go down, I climb the railing that separates Sam’s part of the house from mine. It’s easy.

I sit down beside him.

”You’re a fool, Elvis,” he says and laughs.

”In the dark you can’t see who’s white and who’s black, can you?” I say.

I think of music, of different voices. Is it really possible to hear who’s black and who’s white? For real?

© Mårten Melin, 2021

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