Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Unreleased tracks

Reading the Elvis Information Network interview with Vic Colonna, the man behind many of the classic Elvis bootlegs, I remembered the time me and my brother bought our first vinyl bootleg. It was October 20, 1984.

How do I know the exact date? Well, this was the day we visited the third Elvis Festival in Sweden, which was held at the principal hotel in the city of Västerås. (I just checked the article about it in a Swedish fan club magazine from that year.)

Needless to say, my brother and I were thrilled. We watched a show by the band C. C. Riders, (they were very good, I recall the singer doing a great job on "Hurt") participated in an Elvis competition and saw Elvis On Tour for the first time. And we bought us a bootleg titled Unreleased Tracks.

The A side included rehearsals from Las Vegas and the B side audience recordings. Somewhere in between was the studio cut "You Don't Know Me," thrown in for good measure, I guess.

Listening to it now it takes me back in time. If I close my eyes I can see my brother studying the cover as we enjoy never before heard songs such as "Portrait Of My Love," "Turn Around Look At Me" and "You Can have Her."

The sound quality leaves a lot to be desired, but hearing Elvis rehearse songs such as "Portrait Of My Love," "Any Day Now" and "True Love Travels On A Gravel Road" is still an interesting experience. After a quick look in Joe Tunzis book Elvis Sessions III I would guess these tracks are from 1970 and 1972.

By the way, some of the audience recordings on this bootleg are playing at a speed which is way to fast. "You Can Have Her" has Elvis sounding like Mickey Mouse!

I wouldn't rank Unreleased Tracks as a classic bootleg like for example Behind Closed Doors or Rockin' With Elvis New Years' Eve. But it's historic to me in the sense that it was the first one me and my brother bought all those years ago.

Friday, January 25, 2008

This is Elvis - now and then

When I saw This Is Elvis at the movies in 1981 I thought it was great. I even remember they were playing Elvis songs through the speakers in the cinema as we waited for the lights to dim and the film to begin.

Yesterday evening I sat down to watch This Is Elvis again, this time on DVD. I still thought it enjoyable, although knowing a lot more about Elvis nowadays, I also spotted a lot of faults.

The beginning is one of the highlights in the movie, with the camera following Elvis (played by impersonator Johnny Harra) inside Graceland and then up the stairs. In other words, you have a peek at how Graceland looked when Elvis lived there.

In fact, I don't know of any other footage that shows the second floor of Graceland, and if only for that reason the movie is worth owning. In the expanded video version you also get to see Elvis bedroom and a glimpse of the bathroom.

Another favorite part in the movie is the Elvis On Tour montage where the song "Promised Land" is used to great effect. I also like the scenes where Elvis is practicing karate to the sound of "Kung Fu Fighting."

Then of course, there are the downsides. The worst by far is "Elvis" (Ral Donner) narrating the story of his life throughout the film: With a line like "If only I could see what was happening to me...then I might have done something about it," the movie reach rock bottom.

Other annoying stuff are bad cuts in the songs to shorten their playing time, and the horrible way the ending of "Cant Help Falling In Love" is spliced with "Suspicious Minds." Another not to bright idea is to use footage from That's The Way It Is and pretending it's from 1968.

I also have to mentions some terrible acting when it comes to a couple of interviews that clearly are staged for the movie. There's also quite a few bloopers, one example is when "Elvis" tells us he and Scotty and Bill tried to cut a record for six months at Sun, about 50 songs, before they got it right.

Still, the inclusion of plenty of interviews, newsreel footage and home movies (the directors seem to have had access to tons of material) makes This Is Elvis interesting to watch, 27 years after its release.

If you laugh at the mistakes there's still a lot to enjoy and also to be fascinated about. For example seeing Joe Esposito playing the role of himself and relive the day Elvis died. That must have been a strange experience for him.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wherever that dream may lead

At first I felt slightly disappointed reading that the next FTD releases will be That's The Way It Is in the classic album series and a re-release of the CD originally included with the book The Way It Was. Especially since there's already the 3 CD Special Edition of TTWII and I have the book.

But, as my brother told me on the phone today, let's wait and see, there isn't even a track listing out yet. And of course he's right, there might be a lot of interesting stuff on the classic album. Maybe some exciting studio outtakes and/or another concert.

Still, I can't help thinking that it's been a while since a digipack FTD release saw the light of the day. Don't misunderstand me, I like the classic albums a lot. But I do miss "new" albums such as the last one, I Sing All Kinds, released in July last year.

One other thing: Isn't it about time that the FTD label released a box set? I for one would love to see one of the following:

1. Elvis '68 Comeback Special (finally all the material in one place)
2. Elvis '69 Memphis Sessions
3. The Nashville Marathon (1970 and 1971 studio recordings)

PS: I hope the next classic album after TTWII will be Good Times or Promised Land. How about you?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More footage from the fair

Seems Albert Fisher wasn't the only one shooting behind-the-scenes footage when Elvis was in Seattle for location filming at the World's Fair. In the movie This Is Elvis there's about 45 seconds of Elvis at the Fair filmed in black-and-white.

In this footage you can see Elvis traveling in some kind of electrical tram signing an autograph (I think Albert Fisher is right there beside him!) and then walking around with all the Memphis Mafia guys in tow. There's also Elvis together with the little girl who played Sue Lin.

My guess is this was shot by a local TV channel, as there is also a couple of seconds of Elvis presenting a ham to the governor of Washington. The media would love that!

By the way, when this sequence is shown in This Is Elvis you can hear "Elvis" telling the audience that "The Colonel gave me an award for all my challenging roles, a ham." Obviously, that was not the case, as it was Elvis handing away the ham and Parker just looking on in the background.

Then, on YouTube, I stumbled upon some more interesting footage having to do with It Happened At The World's Fair. This was taken after Elvis was fitted for his wardrobe for the movie, and shows him signing a new four picture MGM deal.

Why this was filmed I have no idea (the video is from Joe Tunzis' DVD Hot Shots And Cool Clips Volume 3). But if you want to know what director Norman Taurog looked like, just click here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Take me to the fair

In the latest issue of the magazine from The Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain there's an interesting article called The "fair" side of Elvis. It's written by Albert Fisher, who in 1962 had the chance to hang out with Elvis during the filming of It Happened At The World's Fair.

Albert Fisher, who was 21 at the time, held a position as head of Television and Motion Pictures for the World's Fair in Seattle. It was his job to talk film and TV producers into bringing their productions to the Fair, and then assist them while they were there.

In the article, Fisher remembers his first meeting with Elvis: "I was impressed. I was a nobody and Elvis stood up to great me. Colonel Parker didn't budge...nor did he even hint at extending his hand."

After a couple of days Albert Fisher became comfortable being around Elvis and got his permission to bring along an 8mm movie camera and shoot home movies during the making of the picture. This rare footage was released by Fisher himself on DVD in 2005. Here's a sample:



When Elvis was to resume the movie in Hollywood he asked Albert Fisher to be Technical Advisor on the film. Apparently, this was light and pleasant duty. Fisher writes that he would walk onto the set, take a look around and say: "Yep. This looks like the World's Fair." He would then hang out on the set or go sightseeing.

In 1963, when the film premiered, Albert Fisher got his friends together and went to the first showing of the film to see his name among the screen credits. But as the credits began to roll he was heartbroken. Because guess who was credited as Technical Advisor? Yeah, of course, a certain Colonel Tom Parker.

Still, Albert Fisher, now a well respected TV producer himself, treasures his time with Elvis: "I hold on to my memories of my brief time being able to pal around with one of the greatest entertainment legends in history...Elvis Presley."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Closing Night - February 1970

I'm not a big collector of bootlegs, especially since FTD started pouring out unreleased material. But sometimes I make an exception, and the last few days I've been listening a lot to the Madison release Closing Night - February 1970.

As you may know, this is the closing show from 23 February, and that's one reason I decided to get my hands on it. Another is the fact that, as far as I know, this is the first time a soundboard with a complete show from this Las Vegas engagement is available.

It's great to finally hear the showstarter "All Shook Up" followed by a complete version of "I Got A Woman." Also, the show in itself is first class with Elvis is in a great mood singing with a raw voice and delivering the goods.

Unlike the 1969 engagement there's a lot more contemporary material such as his new hits "Don't Cry Daddy" and "Kentucky Rain" and covers like "Sweet Caroline" and the showstopper "Polk Salad Annie."

There's still plenty of old rock 'n' roll numbers in the repertoire, and as short as some of them are (I clocked "Long Tall Sally" at 1:08!) Elvis still sings them with passion and not like later on in his career.

Two highlights as far as I'm concerned are "Let It Be Me" with some serious high voice singing at the end ("Sing it, Myrna!") and also a cool version of "See See Rider." I do miss "Walk A Mile In My Shoes," but that one is included as a bonus track from February 18 so Elvis is forgiven.

One song that does sound strange in parts is "Love Me Tender." There's a lot of bell chiming involved, especially in the beginning, and that makes me think of a Christmas carol or something!

Even if the sound isn't as perfect as on the multi-track recordings RCA did a couple of days earlier it's still very good. In fact, this release is top quality, with a 16-page booklet and a cover that is a nice tribute to the On Stage album. Actually, it's very similar in style to the one on the FTD release Polk Salad Annie, only this is how it should have looked.

Closing Night - February 1970 is one release I wholeheartedly recommend. Of course, there's the question of this being a bootleg, but the way it complements the official releases makes it hard to ignore.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Aloha - 35 years ago yesterday

Visiting the Elvis Information Network website this evening made me realize that 35 years ago, yesterday, Elvis donned his American Eagle jumpsuit and made television history. Even if I don't think anniversaries like that are important, I tend to remember special dates in the "Elvis calendar" but this time it totally slipped my mind.

Feeling a little guilty I decided to do a search on YouTube to see if there was anything interesting from the Aloha show. Punching in "Elvis Aloha" in the search field I struck gold immediately.

As it happened, the first video listed turned out to be nearly six minutes of footage filmed by a Japanese TV station before the show started. It shows Elvis' not to impressive dressing room as well as members of the orchestra arriving and also James Burton och Ronnie Tutt setting up their equipment on stage:



Elvis must have felt on top of the world after the historical satellite broadcast. It's sad he never was presented with another challenge as big as that again, such as touring overseas.

Before signing off: One of the records I would really like to get my hands on is the Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite EP. This EP was made for jukeboxes with title strips included. Sometimes a copy can be found on eBay, but I'm not alone in wanting it and the winning bid is never low. But someday...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Not having fun on stage

This weekend I made a bargain and brought what is probably the worst album of Elvis career. While visiting my brother and his family I found the LP Having Fun With Elvis On Stage for a very reasonable price in a second-hand record store.

After work today I put it on my record player and have just finished listening to it. As you probably know it's "a talking album only" with pieces of between-songs banter spliced together into something that is not funny at all.

There's a lot of Elvis "Well, well, well..." taken from (but not leading to) different versions of "I Got A Woman" and also numerous "Guess what I can't do" and then the intro to "I Can't Stop Loving You" followed by lines such as "Sing and drink water at the same time."

The only part that would've had any value to a buyer of this album when it was released back in 1974 is about five minutes of Elvis monologue/life story from a 1969 show in Las Vegas. The rest is totally incomprehensible.

No surprise then, that Elvis himself thought the record a huge embarrassment and started grumbling about it to the Colonel who initially released the album on his own Boxcar label. (The album was deleted, but not before being put out by RCA and selling 130 000 copies.)

So, why did I buy it? Well, I defend my actions the same way I have on similar occasions. An album such as Having Fun With Elvis On Stage, as horrible as it is, is part of the Elvis Presley legacy, and as such has a place in any fans collection.

On the other hand, there are four follow-up volumes of this album, having been put out by bootleggers. These are, in my opinion, not worth owning, having no historical significance and only showing poor taste and a way to take money from fans who will buy anything or doesn't know better. As Elvis himself once sang: "Once is enough!"

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Rise of Elvis Presley

When it comes to releases from the Memphis Recording Service, I seem to be buying them backwards. After getting Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley and then My Baby Left Me I was so impressed I went for The Rise of Elvis Presley - Volume II 1955. After receiving it yesterday I can only say it's another winner.

This set includes a book, a DVD with audio and the first known footage of Elvis, and a vinyl repress of the original "Mystery Train" Sun single. In other words, a lot of goodies for an Elvis fan.

I think the thing that impresses me the most is the book. With over 350 pages and a good balance between photos, text and documents it gives you a whole new understanding of Elvis and his career in 1955.

The photos show Elvis on and off stage, with fans and musicians, and what I really enjoy - the way he dresses. Man, he really had his own style with those shirts and jackets! And one period he even had a perm (and so did Bill Black, judging by some photos).

But most of all, the book tells the story of how hard Elvis worked that year. His touring schedule was "hectic...and contradicts the notion that stardom came easily to Elvis," like it says in the introduction. Including his performances on the Louisiana Hayride, according to the list in the back of the book, he made over 300 shows!

Speaking of the Lousiana Hayride, I have to mention Joyce Railback's diary. In it she kept track of all the songs Elvis sang on the Hayride when she listened to the radio, and excerpts from it are found throughout the book.

When it comes to the DVD, it is a little awkward that you have to play it on a DVD, but it's great listening to the "Fool, Fool, Fool" and "Shake, Rattle And Roll" acetates in much improved sound quality. Also, the few seconds of film showing Elvis at the Jimmy Rodgers Memorial Celebration, ads another piece to the Elvis puzzle.

Finally, the "Mystery Train" single, processed and pressed from the Sun master "mother stamper" makes for a bumpy ride with a lot of background noise. Nevertheless, it's a nice inclusion.

If I haven't convinced you to buy The Rise of Elvis Presley - Volume II 1955 already, then maybe this review can help you change your mind. As for me, I'm gonna order its companion, The Beginning of Elvis Presley - Volume 1 1953-1954, today!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The man and his jumpsuits

The news that Bill Belew has died made me think of all the jumpsuits he designed. A lot of them are at display at Graceland, and when I visited there in 2005 it was an impressing sight seeing the most famous of them all, the American Eagle jumpsuit, together with all those gold records in the Racquetball court.


Maybe you want to own your own Elvis stage costume? A while back Elvis Turquoise jumpsuit was sold for $210 000 on eBay, but if you don't have that kind of money you can get a copy nearly a hundred times cheaper here.

Returning to Bill Belew, Elvis Australia has an interesting interview with him from 2005. Among other things, you can read about the laser suit he worked on at the time of Elvis death.

Finally, if you want to know what jumpsuit Elvis wore on a particular show, visit the Jumpsuit Index on elvisconcerts.com. (And don't miss their article about the Cisko Kid suits, worn both on and off stage by Elvis.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Happy birthday, Elvis!

When I was in my early teens there was a program on the radio after midnight called "The night wish." I remember me and my brother writing to the program (no e-mail back then!) one year and wishing for an Elvis song on the 8th of January.

This must have been in the early 80's. In our letter we pointed out that this was Elvis birthday and we also wrote how old he would have been if he'd still lived. And of course we took the chance to wish for an unusual Elvis song, one we'd just discovered that's still a favorite.

The song we wanted to hear was "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" and we were thrilled when we, after being awaken by the alarm clock in the middle of the night, turned on the radio and heard the announcer reading out our birthday greeting for Elvis.

Unfortunately the song then played was "Trouble" and that made us a little disappointed. Especially since we'd clearly explained in our letter the difference in spelling between the song from Elvis Today and the one from King Creole.

But as I turned off the light after hearing Elvis ending the song with the word "Yeah" I thought that, yeah, we had succeeded nevertheless. We'd made the listeners aware of that this was Elvis birthday and we'd congratulated him on nationwide radio. Happy birthday, Elvis!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Special moments with FTD

My brother said to me: "Why don't you write about songs released on Follow That Dream records that you think are special in one way or the other?" I thought that was a great idea, so from time to time, that's what I'm gonna do here on my blog, starting today:

A very funny live version of "Love Me Tender" from Murfreesboro May 6, 1975, is included on the FTD release Dixieland Rocks. It begins during the familiar intro when Elvis sings a line from "I love little baby ducks" and then it just goes downhill from there.

It's obvious Elvis is enjoying himself, and so are the women standing close to the stage trying to get a piece of the action. During the first verse, I think one of them receives a kiss in exchange for a stuffed animal of sorts.

"God almighty," Elvis says, then "You just got a head, you ain't got no body," and after a loud kiss "I gotta take this animal."

Then there is the second verse when Elvis just cracks up. There is no way knowing, but I think another woman is really climbing over the competition to get to him, and successfully reaching her goal, holds on tight.

"Keep it up, honey" Elvis laughs and then there's the kiss. "You're beautiful," she screams and then "Oh, God," and in my mind I see her releasing her grip and falling back into the sea of women right in front of Elvis eyes.

From then on Elvis laughs hysterically and there is no way he can continue the song. "That's it," he says, and after the ending exclaims: "I mean, she made me the hunchback of Murfreesboro, man!"

Friday, January 4, 2008

Color my rainbow

Yesterday Elvis Unlimited could report that the Overton Shell in Memphis is undergoing a major renovation. The Shell, which is where Elvis made his first advertised appearance on July 30, 1954, was closed in 2004 and is to be reopened a few months from now.

As this is historical ground to Elvis fans it's great news that the place will not be torn down. But at the same time it's a bit sad that it isn't restored to its original look - the Shell itself will be painted completely gold and the rainbow paint scheme removed.

I was fortunate to see the Overton Shell during Elvis week in 2005. This is how it looked like then:


It was a special feeling standing there and looking at the stage where a pretty unknown Elvis (his name was misspelled "Ellis Presley" in one ad for the show) most likely sang both sides of his first single, more than 50 years ago.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

My baby left me two singles

Being an Elvis fan means that I get a lot of Elvis related mail each year. The first parcel the mailman brought me 2008 contained the Memphis Recording Service/HMV UK single My Baby Left Me, released a couple of months ago.

Actually, what I got was two records, as I'd ordered both the CD single and the 10" vinyl version. And it turned out a good way to start the new Elvis year.

For starters, the singles are really good looking, reminding me a lot of the single re-releases from Sony-BMG you could collect in boxes. The only noticeable difference, at least on the CD picture cover, is that the label in the upper right hand corner reads His Master's Voice instead of RCA Victor.

Moreover, the CD single includes a video track of Elvis performing "Don't Be Cruel" live in Tupelo 1956. This footage can be found on the DVD Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley and is a nice bonus.

And last but not the least, I got reacquainted with the song "My Baby Left Me." As Ernst Jorgensen puts it in his book A Life In Music: "The feel was close to that of the Sun sides." And the B side, "One-Sided Love Affair" ain't too bad, either!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year, everybody!

What could be a more suitable way to spend New Year's Day than to listen to Elvis Pittsburgh concert from the 31th of December, 1976? At least that's what I did on the train back home after celebrating New Year's Eve with friends and family.

It really is a great show, and Elvis gives one of his best performances in a long time. The explanation for this, according to most authorities on Elvis, is the presence of his new girl friend Ginger Alden.

Whatever the reason, the 16 409 people in the audience must have had their best New Year's Eve ever. Listening to the audience recording from that night it's apparent that Elvis is in high spirits, singing songs such as "Reconsider Baby", "Unchained Melody" and "Rags To Riches."

If you want to see how much Elvis is enjoying himself, you can do that too, over 30 years later. Fortunately, some of the best super 8 mm concert footage available on DVD is from this show. Here's an example:



Finally, let me borrow Elvis own words from that legendary concert in Pittsburgh: I would like to wish you a very happy and prosperous new year!