Saturday, June 27, 2009

A gospel performance

I was a little bit nervous at first, standing on the stairs to the building where I was going to hold my lecture on Elvis' gospel music. What if no one would turn up? But then, when people began to arrive at a steady pace I thought to myself that it was going to be all right.

In all fairness, it was no big place to fill, an old classroom situated in what is now the community centre. But I was happy to see the seats filling up with folks wanting to hear about Elvis and listen to his religious music.

I kicked off with a film clip from The Trouble With Girls, the scene where Elvis sings "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot." After that I talked about Elvis attending church at an early age and listening to gospel quartets in Memphis. This I illustrated with playing "Angels Watches Over Me" by The Blackwood Brothers.

I then told the story about Elvis wanting to become a member in a gospel quartet but failing the audition. After a brief talk about his early career I showed another clip, this one of Elvis performing "Peace In The Valley" on the Ed Sullivan show. When I saw the audience (mine, that is!) watching attentively, I really started to relax.

The one hour I talked and Elvis sang passed quickly, and I wont bore you with describing the whole thing in detail. But I can tell you that "How Great Thou Art" from Elvis On Tour on the big screen was one of the highlights, as was the gospel medley from The '68 Comeback Special. And for those of you who are curious, here is the whole list of songs I used:
  • Swing Down, Sweet Chariot (DVD)
  • Angels Watches Over Me (CD)
  • Peace In The valley (DVD)
  • His Hand In Mine (CD)
  • Joshua Fit The Battle (CD)
  • Crying In The Chapel (CD)
  • Run On (CD)
  • If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side (CD)
  • How Great Thou Art (DVD)
  • I've Got Confidence (CD)
  • Amazing Grace (CD)
  • Lead me, Guide Me (DVD)
  • Gospel Medley (DVD)
One other thing that comes to mind was when I asked the audience if there were any questions, and one lady in the front row told me that she missed "He Touched Me," so I promised I'd play that one for her afterwards. I could tell it was a special moment for her, as she closed her eyes while she listened to the song.

All in all, I felt pretty good afterwards, and many people from the audience thanked me as they were leaving. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my father who got the idea to begin with, and who helped me with the sound.

PS: I nearly forgot. The local newspaper was there and took some pictures. The reporter told me as he was leaving that he had a hard time getting a shot of me and Elvis together!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stand by me

A couple of years ago I produced a one hour radio programme dedicated to Elvis religious songs that was broadcast on Easter. Called Rock Me Lord it featured songs spanning from 1957 to 1975 and the press release went something like this:

No music meant as much to Elvis as the religious one. As a teenager, it was his biggest wish to sing in a gospel quartet. But when he auditioned he was turned down because he couldn't sing harmony.

That didn't deter him from recording several religious albums and singing gospel at his concerts. - I know practically every religious song ever written, Elvis used to say.

But when Swedish piano player Per-Erik Hallin told him that "How Great Thou Art" originally was from Sweden, Elvis thought he joked.

You can hear that story and much more listening to the programme Rock Me Lord where Thomas takes a closer look at Elvis' religious music.

Nod bad, eh? At least my father must have thought it had its qualities, as he asked me a couple of months ago if I would like to hold a lecture on the same subject. This was to take place when the church where he lives would arrange something called "summer church." The theme would be songs from the past and the present, and he wanted Elvis to be part of the programme.

Of course I accepted, because who can turn his own father down? All kidding aside, I thought it was a nice idea and a good opportunity to show those attending "summer church" what religious music meant to Elvis and what he has meant and still mean to religious music.

This Friday the time has come for me to enter the stage and talk about Elvis gospel recordings. So for the last couple of days I've been busy figuring out what to say, which songs to play and what to show on DVD. As Elvis On Tour hasn't been released on DVD yet (once again - why!?) I have to go with the version of "How Great Thou Art" available on the Elvis Lives: The 25th Anniversary Concert.

I have to admit I'm starting to get a little nervous. Keep your fingers crossed and wish me luck. You'll soon know how it went.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The crazy TTWII saga

Seems not only is there a battle going on between FTD and the bootleggers at the moment. The bootleggers are also fighting each other.

I'm talking, of course, about the recordings from Elvis' third stint in Las Vegas, in August 1970. A total of six shows were recorded from August 10 to August 13, and so far FTD and BMG have released three of them. FTD's next offering The Wonder Of You will be the fourth, containing the dinner show from August 13.

As for the last two shows, these are due for release by the Audionics label. Containing the dinner shows from August 11 and 12 respectively, they are titled Something and Twenty Days & Nights. Incidentally, it was this very label that rush released exactly the same show as the one FTD plan to put out on their The Wonder Of You album.

As if this isn't enough, then enters the International label, the one behind the unofficial CD/DVD package That's The Way It Is: The Complete Works. Not only does International apologize for having made a blunder, releasing the shows on the set in mono instead of stereo. The label also claim the sound on the Audionic releases is in poor quality stereo. "To make a wrong made right," the International label therefore decided to make the shows available as downloads for free, in full stereo.

How all this is going to end, I have no idea. What is pretty clear, though, is that the battle or whatever one chooses to call it, is caused by the high demand among the fans for the complete shows that RCA recorded in Las Vegas during those four nights in August, 1970.

That's why I think Ernst Jorgensen would've stood a better chance leading FTD to victory against the bootleggers if he had released all six shows in a box, together with a nice booklet and maybe even a DVD, instead of picking only the one from August 13. After all, two of the three shows released officially so far have had the introductions edited out, and the fans want them to be complete. Isn't that what a collectors label is all about?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Magic Moments With Elvis Presley

About 25 years ago I bought a cassette called Magic Moments With Elvis Presley. This release wasn't available on vinyl or in the then new CD format, only as a "special value long play cassette."

The cover was really awful, but the material surprisingly strong, including an interesting mix of songs from the period 1967-1972. Also, with a running time of 42 minutes on each side and a total of 26 tracks it was good value for money:

Side 1: Always On My Mind/If I'm A Fool/I Just Can't Help Believin'/Love Letters/Kentucky Rain/Clean Up Your Own Backyard/Hey Jude/The Wonder Of You/Charro/In The Ghetto/Your Time Hasn't Come Yet Baby/Until It's Time For You To Go/If I Can Dream

Side 2: From A Jack To A King/Separate Ways/Are You Lonesome Tonight (laughing version)/It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin'/It's Only Love/Any Day Now/Make The World Go Away/The Elvis Medley/Gentle On My Mind/Polk Salad Annie/I'll Be There/Bridge Over Troubled Water/Edge Of Reality

As you can clearly see, this was no ordinary compilation, and why these particular songs were picked is anybodies guess. But they worked well together and made for a smooth ride and an easy listening cassette. Even "Your Time Hasn't Come Yet Baby" somehow managed to fit in nicely.

I used to play Magic Moments With Elvis Presley a lot in the years that followed, but then lost it somehow and forgot all about it. Until now. On one of my frequent visits to Tradera (the Swedish equivalent of Ebay) I recently spotted a copy of this cassette only package and placed a bid.

Apparently no one else realized what a great find this was as I was the only bidder. The price I had to pay was ridiculously low, and a couple of days later Magic Moments With Elvis Presley arrived with the mail.

This may sound stupid, but it felt good opening the envelope and seeing that old cassette again. I inserted it into my stereo, pressed play and got myself reacquainted with a release I bought the first time 25 years ago. And you know what? It was still good value for money!

PS: I bet you didn't know Pet Shop Boys recorded their version of "Always On My Mind" thanks to the cassette Magic Moments With Elvis Presley?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reshaping the Elvis catalog

Yesterday I was sitting at my kitchen table, leafing through old Elvis magazines like I sometimes do. I like to "time travel" in this way, as it reminds me of how it was like being a fan in say 1985, and what was going on in the Elvis world back then.

The magazines on the table were all from the British fan club, and one I found particularly interesting was the December/January 1986 issue. Starting with the editorial, a clearly frustrated Todd Slaughter writes the following:

"Although 1985 has been Elvis' 50th anniversary year you wouldn't know it from looking at the record charts... Packages such as The Rocker, Always On My Mind and A Valentines Gift For You, have about as much finesse as Elvis Sings For Children and Grown Ups Too."

Interestingly enough, a couple of pages later the fan club magazine publishes an interview with the guy behind the above mentioned releases, the then "Elvis RCA boss" Gregg Geller. The interview was originally published in the record collectors magazine Goldmine, and has Geller talking about creating a new Elvis Presley catalogue that would make sense to someone who arrives from another planet in the year 2077 and goes to a record store!

He also speaks of unreleased material, and that he so far has found three things he didn't know existed: "Tomorrow Night" without the overdubs, an alternate take of "That's All Right" and the alternate take of "Ain't That Loving You Baby." "Other than that, nothing has turned up," he says, but after getting a question about later material, answers:

"There are many, many concert recordings from the '70s. There's so much of the stuff that we're still at our leisure cataloging it. But there were so many live Elvis records released in the '70s, there's not much to add to the picture. I think we can allow for some time to lapse before we get to those."

That answer made me think about the box set A Golden Celebration, that originally was to include a 1976 soundboard concert. As Gregg Geller was the "Project A&R Director" for that one, maybe it was he who ordered the concert removed. But, when getting a question about why material from the 1968 comeback was included, he says:

"The ideal album would have been called Elvis '56 in my opinion. It should have included every piece of music Elvis recorded in 1956."

Unfortunately, the interviewer doesn't ask why this wasn't to be, instead moving on to Gregg Geller's concept albums. Geller reveals that his own favourite among the bunch is Reconsider Baby, and I have to agree with him on that. It's one of the best Elvis compilations around that at the time included a couple of gems such as the fast version of "Ain't That Loving You Baby," the undubbed "Tomorrow Night," an alternate mix of "Stranger In My Own Home Town" as well as "One Night (Of Sin)."

I then had to smile when Gregg Geller talked about the Always On My Mind album, telling the interviewer that "Somebody actually suggested calling it Priscilla." Yeah, I wonder what she would've thought about that!?

The interview ends with Geller talking about his plans for the future, all compilations, "a country Elvis package... a couple more Rockers... a gospel album... an album of the real straight ballad singing that he did in the '60s."

In retrospect, I'm sure Gregg Geller did what he thought was best and that he had some good ideas, but clearly that wasn't enough. Thankfully, Roger Semon then took the helm and showed which course to steer with releases such as Essential Elvis and Stereo '57. Then, in 1992, together with a certain Ernst Mikeal Jorgensen, he put Elvis on the map again with the '50s box set and, well, you all know the story.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Rockin' With Elvis April Fool's Dinner

I confess to buying a concert from an import label now and then, but only if it's a soundboard and not an audience recording. There is always an exception to the rule though, and mine is April Fool's Dinner.

Originally released on vinyl as Rockin' With Elvis April Fool's Day in 1980 (now that's what I call a classic bootleg title) it saw the light of day a few months ago and contains the next to last show Elvis did during his 12th Las Vegas stint, on April 1, 1975.

This is not the only concert available from this particular engagement. FTD has released a soundboard from the March 30 dinner show called Big Boss Man, and there is also the excellent bootleg soundboard Back With A Bang! containing the midnight show from March 22.

So why bother with an audience recording? When I obtained April Fool's Dinner I had three reasons for doing so:

  1. Nostalgia. When my brother bought the original LP we played it over and over. In those days a "new" Elvis concert was a rare occasion and who cared if it was recorded from the audience! Come to think of it, I didn't even now what a soundboard was back then!

  2. The sound. Another thing I wasn't aware of when we listened to the vinyl album was that the sound quality is fantastic for an audience recording. And, thanks to modern technology not available in 1980, it now has been further improved using the audience master tape.

  3. The performance itself. Elvis is in fine form, kidding with his fans ("Oh, yeah. The second half of the show has been cancelled tonight, so...") and delivering great versions of songs such as "And I Love You So," "Big Boss Man," My Boy" and Fairytale." But I do miss "It's Midnight" and "Promised Land" which he for some reason didn't include in this particular show.
I also have to mention that the CD is presented in a beautiful fold out digipack, with a eight page booklet including liner notes and photographs. Also, the CD itself offers six bonus tracks from the closing show that same day.

Finally, "Can't Help Falling In Love" was replaced on the original LP with the version from RCA's '74 album Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis. On April Fool's Dinner we finally get to know why. On it, the original version is included, but about one minute into the song it sounds like the person recording the show puts the tape recorder in a bag or something as the sound gets muffled. Maybe security was approaching!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Wonder Of You

I was happy to read the other day that the next FTD release will be the Las Vegas dinner show recorded on August 13, 1970. At the same time I was a bit surprised, as the import label Audionics put out exactly the same concert just a week ago or so. The battle between the bootleggers and FTD seems to be in full swing!

Unimaginatively called The Wonder Of You (I've written about dull FTD titles before) it will be the fourth TTWII show released by BMG/FTD, which means only two are left in the can. I guess they too will see the light of day in a not to distant future.

As much as this pleases me I can't help feeling a bit sad that FTD didn't think of releasing all six shows in a deluxe box set from the beginning (the first three shows were released in 2000 and 2001). And, after reading a review of the unofficial CD/DVD package That's The Way It Is: The Complete Works in the latest The Man And His Music magazine, it really annoys me that there isn't an official release like that in sight.

But back to the dinner show from the 13th. About half of the songs have already been issued officially, on releases such as the 3 CD box set That's The Way It is: Special Edition and the FTD book/CD project The Way It Was. Personal favourites are "Stranger In The Crowd" and "Make The World Go Away."

I'm really looking forward to The Wonder Of You which will make its appearance on June 29, if all goes according to plan. That certainly doesn't seem to be the case when it comes to the FTD vinyl versions of Blue Hawaii and Standing Room Only, as they are now rescheduled once more. This time the date coincides with the one given for the The Wonder Of You.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Elvis: What Happened?

- Do you have this?

I looked at the book my colleague (let's call him L) showed me and shook my head.

- No, that one I don't have, but I've been looking for a copy, I answered him.

The book in his hand was the paperback edition of Elvis: What Happened? and it looked brand new.

- You can have it, he said.

- I got it from (here he mentioned another colleagues name, let's call her M) who's giving away some books she doesn't want anymore. She offered me this one but since I already have it I thought maybe you would like it, he continued.

- You bet, I answered with a silly grin on my face as I accepted the book.

I opened it and saw that it was the first edition, released in August 1977. I also noticed the former owner's signature followed by "okt .77" so apparently she'd bought it right after Elvis death.


- Thank you for the Elvis book, I told M when I met her in the canteen.

I explained that L had offered me the book and how happy I was for it. I guess it was pretty evident by the smile on my face.

- Where did you buy it? I asked her.

- Hmm, it must have been in London, but I never got around to reading it, she answered.

I thanked her once again and later that day brought the book home, feeling good about it. After all, Elvis: What Happened? is an essential addition to my Elvis library. You can read an excellent review of the book here.