Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Speedway Jacket For Sale

Once more I'm reminded how great it would be to own something from Elvis' wardrobe. Not only the envelope containing a swatch of Elvis wardrobe, included on the 4 LP set Elvis: The Other Sides - Worldwide Gold Award Hits, Vol. 2, but a real article of clothing.

On I read that there's an upcoming "Music Icons" auction featuring Elvis items, held at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York on November 21 and hosted by Julien's Auctions. Among 19 Elvis related items there is the red-white striped jacket from the movie Speedway.

I've always thought Elvis looked really cool in that jacket, especially when he's performing "Let Yourself Go" at the racing-oriented discotheque called the Hangout. Come to think of it, I guess that's one of the few good things I have to say about that particularly movie.

Still, imagine watching it, and being able to say to some friends you want to impress, "See that read jacket he's wearing with the white stripes? It's hanging in my closet. Wanna take a look?" It's not an impossible dream, but you need money to make it come true. A lot of money. The estimated price for the Speedway jacket is between $6000.00 and $8000.00.

But there is a more inexpensive way. You can always buy an Elvis Speedway replica jacket. This jacket is available for "only" $350.00 and comes in both red and blue. A safe bet is it wont impress your friends as much, though.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jailhouse Rock Vol. 1

Those who bought the Jailhouse Rock EP when it was originally released in the autumn of 1957 must have thought their money well spent. And so do I, when it comes to the FTD edition, released 52 years later. This is what the Follow That Dream label is all about.

Not only do we get the masters, alternate masters and movie masters together with some alternate movie masters and two bonus tracks. On disc two we're invited into the studio, given the opportunity to listen to Elvis and the band work their way through "Treat Me Nice" (takes 1-13), "I Want To Be Free" (takes 1-13) and "Young And Beautiful" (takes 1-22).

Of course one can argue that some of the movie masters aren't that interesting, as Elvis had to sing half of the songs in different versions to be used in the film showing various stages of Vince Everett's development as a singer. One such example is the Florida club version of "Young And Beautiful," the first recording studio version of "Don't Leave Me Now" another.

But that argument falls flat considering that FTD is a collector's label, and Ernst Jorgensen & Co should be given credit where credit is due. The fans want everything, right? This time we even get the movie opening theme, which is a first for a soundtrack album.

And there is more to come, next year we can expect more outtakes and binaural sessions on Jailhouse Rock Vol. 2. I wonder what those who bought the original EP would've thought if they knew then how much material from these sessions would be released more than 50 years later?

PS: Reading the FECC forum I found out that I wasn't the only one wondering why "Treat Me Nice" (splice of takes 10/13) is included both as an alternate RCA master (track 8) and as a movie master (track 22). Thankfully, a member on the same forum had the answer: the movie master has an overdubbed guitar.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The King lives on in Malta

Elvis is alive and well on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. At least in Qawra, a seaside resort town from which I recently returned after a one week holiday together with my folks.

I'm always pleasantly surprised when I find things associated with Elvis when I travel. For instance, I still recall a visit to an Elvis pub in London back in 1985. For years after, my brother had a framed photograph on display showing him and me standing outside the entrance smiling happily at the camera.

But back to the present. The day after our arrival in Malta we stumbled across Simon's Elvis Tribute Bar, located just outside the hotel. A lifesize Elvis stand-up guarded the entrance. And parked right in front of the place was an Elvis truck. Needless to say, I liked Malta right away!

As it was early in the day, the bar wasn't open, but the door stood ajar so I took a quick look inside. I found the walls packed with framed photos, prints and posters of Elvis, and on the bar itself I spotted a Elvis '68 Comeback figurine.

Returning in the evening, we were welcomed by Elvis music and take after take of "As Long As I Have You." Here was proof if needed (as if the interior wasn't enough!) that the place was run by a real fan. I ordered Maltese beer and chatted for a while with the owner. Turned out he'd had the place for about 15 years.

Here my post could have ended if it wasn't for another Elvis-Malta connection I experienced the same week. A few days later on our way home to the hotel after a pleasant dinner we passed another bar (what else!) and spotted an Elvis impersonator inside belting out "Amen."

Walking inside, I was just in time to study "Aaron" leap into the ending of "I Got A Woman" and nearly expected him to throw his guitar away. But as there was no one impersonating Charlie Hodge, that of course didn't happen. Instead he continued with "I'll Remember You" and then "Stranger In The Crowd," which he did a pretty good job with.

And guess what? The day after I noticed an advertisement for another tribute act called "The Elvis Presley Show." But that one I was gong to miss, as I would be back in Sweden by then. It didn't matter much. I returned to Simon's Elvis Tribute Bar and listened to the real thing instead.

Finally, here are some more photos I took during my stay in Malta:

Inside Simon's Elvis Tribute Bar.

The walls full of posters and prints.

Even some woven carpets on one of the walls.

Big sign outside the entrance.

The front of the Elvis truck.

And the rear.

Whole lotta Elvis tribute shows going on!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

From Sunset To Las Vegas

There's been a lot of criticism leveled against the latest FTD release From Sunset To Las Vegas, featuring Elvis' rehearsal on August 16, 1974, recorded a couple of days prior to his Las Vegas engagement. After listening to it for the first time yesterday, here are my thoughts:

Many critics complain about the sound. Granted, it's not much better than it was on the bootleg From Sunset Blvd to Paradise Road released back in 1996, but there's only so much you can do with a tape that clearly wasn't professionally recorded in the first place. Actually, I think the sound is a little bit clearer on the official FTD release, although but not by much.

More serious is the omission of the first version of "It's Midnight," a take that was included on the unofficial release 13 years ago. Why is it missing? Is it because Elvis is using bad language at the beginning of the song ("Where's the fucking words?") or is it something else? I guess only Ernst Jorgensen knows the answer to that one.

Another complaint I concur with is that some of the live recordings on the second CD aren't unreleased. Both "Trying To Get To You," "Help Me" and "It's Now Or Never" were featured on the Live In Las Vegas box set in 2001.

It also annoys me that we get bonus songs in this way. What irritates me the most are the last two last tracks, performed by Sherill Nielsen on the closing show, September 2. FTD, as a collector's label, should be offering us the whole closing show, not snippets like this leaving the collector wanting more.

To me the whole problem with From Sunset To Las Vegas is that the bootleg From Sunset Blvd to Paradise Road is better content wise. On the unofficial release the second CD features the opening show, a more logical choice as most of the songs Elvis rehearsed are sung on that particular show as well. The next day songs such as "Down In The Alley" and "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues" were dropped and the concert program back to the usual one again.

All this said, the rehearsal from 16 August is essential listening. It's fascinating to hear Elvis work with songs such as "Promised Land" and "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)": "What's so difficult about doing lo-o-o-ving-you. Well god damn, it's simple to me," he exclaims at one point, not being satisfied with the ending. That the sound isn't the best simply isn't that important, this is not an album you play in the background, it's a recording you study to so you can learn more about Elvis.

I only wish Ernst Jorgensen and FTD had treated this historical recording with a little more respect. That could have been done with the help of some better packaging, an informative booklet and a complete concert instead of the bonus tracks. If that would've meant a 3 CD album, so what? Elvis is worth it, don't you think? Come to think of it, so are the fans.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Karate King

One of my favorite parts in the movie This Is Elvis is the one having Elvis practicing karate to the sound of "Kung Fu Fighting." That's why I was looking forward to the release of Elvis Presley Gladiators, a DVD that brings together footage from Elvis' never completed martial arts New Gladiators film project.

"Never before seen raw footage of Elvis' passion for karate!" it says on the cover, and raw footage is what you get. There are no titles, the film starts with Red West putting his fist in Elvis' throat and Elvis then pushing Red West and fellow "gladiator" Al Hokum backwards.

Elvis himself is not at his best, he's somewhat overweight and sweating a lot more than all the other "gladiators." But seing his happy face in scenes such as the one mentioned above, there is no mistaking his passion for karate and his enthusiasm for the project.

The footage that follows isn't just about Elvis showing his moves. We also get to see other karate experts demonstrating different techniques, such as Dave Hebler (also one of Elvis' bodyguards), Bill Wallace and Khan Rhee. Often Elvis is talking in the background, like "There's a good move, right there." Unfortunately the sound isn't very good.

That doesn't matter much, though. Neither does the raw footage deal. This is in part thanks to Wayne Carman, another martial arts expert that trained Red West and was present when the film was shot. With insightsful comments he explains what's going on and and at the same time also share some of his memories. It's almost like he is sitting beside you, and it lends an intimate feel to the whole experience.

But of course it's the scenes with Elvis that are the most interesting. I especially enjoyed the one where he shows how to do when a guy (Red West) pulls a gun at you at ten feets away - he slowly gets on his knees and starts praying. Smiling, he exclaims, "The old master says, no way to stop bullet!" Elvis famous sense of humour at work!

I also loved the footage of Elvis arriving at the Tennessee Karate Institute, where most of the scenes were shot, on September 16, 1974. I noticed Elvis wearing his white boots in the training hall, and luckily for me Wayne Carman brought the subject up: "A lot of people say, why was Elvis wearing his boots in there? Because he was Elvis!"

If you want to understand more of Elvis passion for karate, Elvis Presley Gladiators is for you. Included on the DVD is also the footage without narration, "It Hurts Me" karate footage from the 1968 TV Special, an interview with Wayne Carmen (audio only) and a photo gallery. There's also six postcards of Elvis in his karate suit inside the DVD box, together with a pretty informative booklet. The only thing missing is Elvis own T.C.B. karate patch.

I guess one can argue that the footage could have been edited differently, maybe even in a way to resemble Elvis original intentions with his karate legacy project. I'm just happy it was released at all, adding another piece to the puzzle that makes up Elvis Presley.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The bootleg battle

The battle between the bootleggers continues, fueled I guess, by the never ending demand for live material. A couple of months ago the fight was between the two labels International and Audionics, both making available identical shows from Elvis August 1970 engagement in Las Vegas. (One of the shows was also released by FTD as The Wonder Of You.)

About a week ago two bootleggers joined battle again. Barely had The Gravel Road Music import label announced a double CD set called A Day In Dayton, featuring Elvis' two performances from October 6, 1974, when a new label called Boxcar (created by International and DAE) let us know that they would release the same two shows together with a book under the name of Dayton Reloaded.

Obviously, it's no coincidence that these two labels release the same shows simultaneously, and as double CDs as well. At least one of them (I bet both!) has to know what the other one is doing, and is rushing to do the same thing, only sooner. How they know about each others plans, I have no idea. I also don't know how they both come to have what they claim to be the original soundboard tapes in their possession.

One thing I know, however, is that the battle between these two import labels (my guess is that it's the same guys running both Audionics and Gravel Road Music) is leading to very professional products, that are miles ahead of FTD when it comes to cover art and booklets. Usually the booklets are packed with photographs from the shows in question and has well written liner notes.

One such example is the recent release from Gravel Road Music titled The Return Of A Prodigy (featuring Elvis dinner show from August 3, 1969), that includes a booklet 32 pages thick with over 50 shots of Elvis on stage, as well as a review from a fan that was lucky enough to see an Elvis show at the International Hotel 40 years ago.

For the millionth and the last time: How I wish FTD would learn from this. As long as the label doesn't, I can understand the fans having a hard time keeping their hands away from releases such as The Return Of A Prodigy. Of course, there is always the problem with which one to choose if two battling bootleg labels release the same show.

Maybe FTD hopes that the fans will be so confused that they'll buy neither. Or on a more serious note, maybe the strategy is to let the bootleggers drive each other out of business. So far, it hasn't been working.