Monday, June 30, 2008

He has seen the world - and Elvis

My morning newspaper continues to surprise me! For a couple of days it's been running stories told by ordinary people to two reporters who's been spending a couple of days in a shopping mall in Gothenburg.

One story titled "When I met Elvis" immediately caught my eye. It's told by a guy called Lindgren who was a sailor for some 40 years. Here goes:

In 1957 I was on a Norwegian boat in Portland, Oregon. At the time, Elvis was out on a big tour and he happened to be in town. I went to the concert with a friend. It was held at a stadium with 20 000 people in the audience. He sang Hound Dog and his very earliest songs. His band, the Teddy Bears had big teddy bears on the stage.

The next day I had the day off and stood waiting for a cab. The train station was located at the harbour and suddenly three cabs arrive. It's Elvis and his gang. I was really close but he was well guarded. Unfortunately I had no paper with me so I could get an autograph.

I could tell a lot more but I don't want to tire you out...

Tire me out, you gotta be kidding! That sailor must have a lot more to tell about the concert and meeting Elvis the next day. (Although I think he probably means the Jordanaires when he talks about the Teddy Bears.)

According to Lee Cotten's book Did Elvis Sing In Your Hometown? this concert - Elvis did only one in Portland that year, on Monday 2 September - was a pretty wild one. After 15 minutes there was a riot and Elvis had to stop the show. It then took up to 100 policemen to restore order. I'd sure would like to ask the Swedish sailor about that!

Another piece of information from Lee Cotten that verifies Mr. Lindgren's story is that Elvis was scheduled to leave Portland at midnight after the show. However, he chose to remain over night at the hotel and at 4:45 p.m. the next day at Union Station, boarded a train bound for San Francisco.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The final performance

This morning, when I read my newspaper, I was pleased to see a short paragraph saying that Elvis gave his last concert on this date, June 26, 1977, in the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. Yes, I thought, today it's 31 years ago.

Then, at work, I told one of my colleagues about this, because he likes Elvis, too, and often plays Elvis songs on his radio show. We looked at each other and I said, "I remember when it was 10 years ago. Time really flies." My colleague nodded in agreement.

I do remember this day 10 years ago. Then, this time of night, I laid in my bed with headphones on and listened to The Last Farewell, the name of the bootleg record containing an audience recording of that last concert.

As I closed my eyes, I was there, in the Market Square Arena, sitting a couple of rows away from the stage watching Elvis grabbing the mike and starting to sing "See See Rider." To me, he seemed in pretty good spirits, even performing such rare songs at the time like "Release Me," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

All to soon it was over. After thanking a whole bunch of people; his dad, his girlfriend Ginger Alden and the sound engineers Bill Porter and Bruce Jackson amongst others, he closed the show with "Can't Help Falling In Love" for the very last time.

Unbelievable that it was 21 years ago that I took of the headphones and went to sleep, thinking about Elvis last show and wishing I'd been there for real. But you know what? I'm gonna do the same thing tonight. Go to bed, put on a pair of headphones, play the import CD Adios and listen to Elvis final performance.

Good night, be careful driving home and God bless you.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Some gotta win, some gotta lose

Sometimes, or rather quite often as a matter of fact, I sit in front of my computer looking at Elvis stuff up for auction on eBay. If you're an Elvis fan like me and collect his records then eBay is surely one of the places to visit.

Living in Sweden, I also pay frequent visits to Tradera, which is kind of a Swedish eBay (in fact eBay bought Tradera last year). And it was on that site, a couple of days ago, that I saw a 2 CD bootleg up for sale that made my mouth water.

Titled From Sunset Boulevard To Paradise Road it features Elvis rehearsing for his August 1974 Las Vegas engagement, and the opening show itself. The rehearsal is taped on August 16 and includes rare songs such as "Down In The Alley" and "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues."

I placed my bid, and getting a little bit carried away also bid on a few more items from the same seller: two CD EP's, a promo CD for the 60's box set and an alternate Elvis Country, released by BMG on CD in 1988 (with only 8 tracks from both the 50's and the 70's).

Yesterday evening, when the auctions ended, I wasn't able to follow the bidding on my computer, as I was busy painting ceilings in my new apartment. And later, when I looked at my e-mail, I was met by the phrase "You have been outbid" five times. In other words, no new Elvis records that day for me.

Or so I thought. Because only a couple of minutes later, typing in the search words "Elvis Bilko" (Bilko is one of the "classic" bootleg labels on CD) on eBay I struck gold. The import CD American Crown Jewels released in 1996 was up for sale and the starting bid only £9.99.

As you probably know, this CD contains undubbed alternate takes from the famous 1969 studio sessions held at American Studios. It's also consistently voted the best import CD and therefore I've wanted to get my hands on it for a long time.

I've bid on copies of this CD before, but the bidding has always skyrocketed and I've never won. Therefore I was very surprised (and happy) when it turned out I got this one for only £12.99. When it was only minutes left of the auction I was updating the page with the bid nearly every second but this time there was no one waiting to place a higher bid when it was only seconds left (I've seen it happen before).

So now I'm waiting for my newest Elvis purchase to arrive. Until then I can always look some more for another copy of From Sunset Boulevard To Paradise Road on the Internet. Or maybe I'll take a break tonight... Yeah, right!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Special moments with FTD 4

Mention the movie Fun In Acapulco and two scenes come to mind - besides the one where Elvis is diving off those cliffs (the most obvious, of course!) it's the one where he's riding a bicycle with the kid Raoul, who becomes his manager.

Together they are belting away "Mexico," and while I don't want to belittle child actor Larry Domasins musical efforts, I've always preferred the LP version featuring only the voice of Elvis. This despite the fact that the lyrics are incomplete because Elvis doesn't sing Raoul's parts, making the song sound strange.

Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise when FTD released their second CD in 1999 titled Out In Hollywood, containing alternate soundtrack recordings. It kicked off with Take 7 of "Mexico" which had Elvis singing all the lyrics, and I played it over and over.

This was how it was supposed to sound, with Elvis singing about senoritas, tequila, and shouting olé and caramba. Suddenly the lyrics made more sense and the song worked much better.

To me it's a mystery why RCA at the time decided to release take 5 with incomplete lyrics, obviously intended for use in the movie together with Raouls singing, which I guess was overdubbed on the set.

Maybe the record company thought it bad taste having Elvis singing about liquor, "one tequila makes you feel like, in to kiss a lovely senorita." (If that's the case then certainly Hal Wallis didn't have the same objections, having an eight year old kid singing the same thing!)

Or maybe it was just a mistake and the wrong take released. If so, 36 years went by until the mistake was corrected.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The album that never was

On my way home from a visit to my soon to be new hometown Gothenburg I turned on the car's radio. Not very surprisingly, the subject was Sweden's loss in yesterdays football game against Spain.

But then they had the good taste playing "(You're The) Devil In Disguise" with our man himself. And as the song unfolded I thought about the forthcoming FTD release Memphis Tennessee (The Lost Album), and that "Devil In Disguise" is probably one of the best tracks on it.

Then my thoughts turned to the album itself. I remember buying it in the early 90's and thinking it was an excellent idea to collect all the masters from the two Nashville sessions in May 1963 and January 1964 into one complete set. I still do.

Back then the title of the album was For The Asking (The Lost Album). I never could make up my mind if it was called that because that was the title RCA planned for it in 1963, or if RCA of the 90's thought the fans demanded it to be released. Still haven't figured that one out.

Another question-mark I have is why it's now called Memphis Tennessee instead. It's a little bit confusing: first of all, can an album that was never released as planned be called a classic album, and second, can it first be titled one thing and then another? Haven't figured that one out, either.

On the other hand, the answers aren't that important. To me, what counts is that we get all the original masters and the alternate takes from these two sessions on 2 CD's in an attractive package, with a nice booklet, excellent sound and maybe some pleasant surprises.

Oh, I almost forgot. After "Devil in Disguise" ended on the radio, the anchorman didn't announce that it was Elvis Presley we had been listening too. He just said, "The King." Remember Elvis In Concert where a fan is saying something like, "Elvis will always be the king, no matter what." That person sure knew what he/she was talking about!

PS: I just learned that there is something called a poll you can use to ask your readers what they think on certain issues. I've just added one myself, concerning The Lost Album, so don't hesitate to click and tell me your opinion and/or leave a comment.

Friday, June 13, 2008

From Memphis to Hollywood

Imagine sweat streaming down the small of your back and gathering in heavy pools at your waistband. Also, imagine the reason for this is you're about to join Elvis Presley on stage in one of the studios of NBC on June 27, 1968.

One who experienced this for real was former Memphis Mafia member Alan Fortas. He was asked to be on stage when Elvis taped his two “Sit down” shows for his first television special. He describes this episode in the beginning of his book Elvis From Memphis to Hollywood, cowritten with Alanna Nash. This book was originally released in 1992 (Fortas died the same year) and recently re-issued.

I just finished reading it, and what I liked most about it is that you get an understanding of how it was to be around Elvis Presley and work for him. Fortas, a football player and university drop-out, met Elvis at Graceland in 1957 through George Klein. They hit it of, talking a lot of - yeah, you guessed it – football, and from then on he started to hang out at Graceland, Elvis liking his humor.

Alan Fortas ended up spending nearly 12 years with Elvis, taking care of his cars och helping him buy his clothes, among other things. "Mainly, though, my job was just to hang around and keep Elvis company, and to keep him amused. Sometimes I was pretty good at it," he writes.

The strength with this book, to me at least, is getting to know how it was to be living with Elvis. Alan Fortas writes openly about his experiences, how Elvis couldn't stand to be alone, and how his personality was "so quicksilvery that you knew you could tease him, but not too much."

And unlike Jerry Schillings in his recent book Me and a guy named Elvis, Fortas doesn't flinch when it comes to Elvis's drug use, describing how he popped megadoses of stay-awake and sleeping pills, and "could be extremely complex, especially when his chemistry was altered by drinking or drugs."

The book focuses mainly on the 60's and the Hollywood years, or the "orgy years," as Fortas calls them. Aside from some wild partying, Elvis and his Memphis Mafia spent a lot of time on movie sets during this period, and it's funny reading about Fortas desire to be an extra in the movies. In Girls! Girls! Girls! he got to play a deckhand and writes that the film "may have been one of the low points in Elvis's movie career, but it was the high point of mine."

I also have to mention a handwritten letter Alan Fortas received from Elvis while he was stationed in Germany. In it, Elvis writes about how he longs to be out of the service and can start singing and making movies again. Apparently Fortas needed Elvis Presley Enterprises "kind permission" to reproduce it, despite the fact that he owns it himself!

All in all, I found Elvis From Memphis to Hollywood an enjoyable read, although at times it felt like the really interesting passages had been supplemented with the usual stories about Elvis Presley, already told a hundred times. But I guess that’s Alanna Nash way of tying the story together.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What did Elvis do on my birthday?

Yesterday, June 10, was my birthday, and as I always do on that great occasion (!), I thought what a great gift it would've been to see Elvis perform at Madison Square Garden, New York, back in 1972 on that particular date. But living in Sweden, and being only five years old at the time, that wasn't to be.

Three years later, on June 10 1975, Elvis played Memphis and the Mid-South Coliseum. I wasn't in the audience then either, but just imagine if I'd been. Then I would've been old enough to remember the show and know what it was like to see Elvis in person.

Just for the fun of it, I checked out what Elvis had been doing on my birthday, during his career. This is what I found out:

1955: Elvis plays the American Legion Hall, Breckenridge, Texas
1956: Another concert, this time Rodeo Grounds, Tucson, Arizona
1958: One-night session at RCA's studio B in Nashville
1964: Begins soundtrack recordings for Girl Happy
1966: Holes up at his hotel while Red West lays down reference vocals for "Indescribably Blue," "I'll Remember You" and "If Every Day Was Like Christmas"
1967: On the day I was born Elvis sets out for California with the Memphis Mafia, for the first and only time with wives included
1968: Rehearsals for the TV-Special
1969: Takes a look at the construction of the International Hotel showroom
1971: Records "My Way" and a remake of "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day"
1972: Busy working the crowd in New York
1975: On stage in Memphis

Of course, being an Elvis fan, a lot of the gifts I've received over the years are Elvis related. This time was no exception. My brothers and sister gave me the two FTD releases Loving You and Tickle Me. "It's amazing that there are still Elvis records he doesn't have," one of my brothers told my family with a smile. It was a good birthday.

By the way, even if I never saw any of the concerts in Madison Square Garden, I can always listen to them, on either Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden or An Afternoon In The Garden. Elvis gave two of his most famous performances on my birthday, and they're recorded for posterity. In my book, that's pretty cool.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Let's be friends

Last night I got a call from my brother, also an Elvis fan, and he was angry, which is unusual. The reason was that he'd chose to comment the news piece "More Details July FTD Releases" (dealing with Love Letters from Elvis, among other things) on ElvisNews.com and gotten a nasty reply in return.

I turned on my computer and read what my brother had written:

I'm so glad Sylvia (and Sound of Your Cry) seems to be included, which hopefully means there will be no ftd classic album version of Elvis Now! Instead, I hope Ernst and Roger are considering a 1971 "lost" pop album as a 2 CD special instead. Sort of an "Lost Album" volume 2. Or maybe 3, counting an 1966-1968 Nashville Album ... Also, Rags to Riches and Where Did They Go Lord (which would have suited an Elvis Country ftd better) can mean that there will be a 2 CD Elvis Country ftd, with the original album + all songs without "10 000 Years Ago" in between. With the often few alternate takes of the Country songs, I think this will fit into a 2 CD package. Keep 'em coming!

Turned out he'd gotten two replies from the same guy, that went like this:

We don't know for certain that the bonus songs listed for "Love Letters" is correct. Second: The inclusion of "Sylvia", if correct, doesn't necessarily preclude a release on FTD of "Elvis-Now." After all "Crying In The Chapel" was included on "His Hand In Mine" And I can assure you it will be included on the FTD version of HGTA.

Marten: Have you been paying attention? Any FTD "classic" album always begins with the ORIGINAL album. For "Elvis Country" that means the first 12 tracks (the original album) will have the music snippet between the tracks. BTW: A case can be made for "Where Did They Go Lord" as a country song, but NOT "Rags To Riches". That song originates from Tony Bennett. Overwrought, big-voiced Elvis ballad, but not country in the least.

Reading this made me kind of angry, too. I think the tone in these comments is really awful, for example "I can assure you" and not the least "Have you been paying attention?" So rushing to by brothers defence, I gave my opinion:

I agree with Marten, I think it would be great to have Elvis Country both in its original form and then also without "I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago" linking all the songs together. I also think, like Marten, that one could argue that "Where Did They Go, Lord" and "Rags To Riches" would've suited the FTD Country album better, especially in a chronological sense, since they were recorded in september 1970, together with "Snowbird" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'" (by the way not exactly a country song either, eh?). On the other hand I find it strange that "Something" was included on the FTD TTWII when Jorgensen himself states in his book A Life In Music that the song was considered for the Love Letters album. And as a final note: I think it's sad that you can't express your opinion on this page without running the risk of getting a nasty comment in return. Just my humble opinion, of course.

A while back I wrote an article about the FTD release Pot Luck With Elvis that was published on ElvisNews.com. That made me quite happy, but when someone commented "Clean out your ears and listen again" I felt no desire to send in any more of my reviews.

Maybe I'm overreacting, but then again, I don't think so. The two examples mentioned above are no solitary incidents, I've seen others getting jumped also. Certainly Elvis fans can't always be in agreement (and of course shouldn't) over everything. However, we should respect each others opinions, and not assault each other just because we disagree. Keep the conversation civilized, if you will.

I know a lot of fans feel the same way, as I've seen comments to that effect on ElvisNews.com in the past. ElvisNews.com is one of the best Elvis sites around and therefore it's even sadder when a few individual readers spoil it for all the rest.