Friday, July 24, 2009

Guest blog: I forgot all the words

First up, I want to thank Thomas for offering me this guest blog spot on Elvis Today. I'm a frequent visitor, but it'll certainly be strange to see my thoughts above the comments line this time.

When I was trying to think of ideas for my post here, I ran across a rather critical review of the 1970 concert recently released as The Wonder of You by FTD. Referring to the song "Stranger In The Crowd," the reviewer writes: "The rest of the lyrics are a jumble of right and wrong renditions. A lazy performer who again could not be bothered to learn the words to his own songs?"

So, I started wondering, does Elvis forgetting the words to a song in a concert ruin the performance? The odds are you've heard more than a couple of Elvis concerts, so you already know that he forgot the words to songs all the time. I don't think it was due to a lack of caring on his part, though.

In That's The Way It Is, we see him stressing about forgetting the words to "I Just Can't Help Believing." He rehearses it over and over, yet continues to worry about it so much that literally seconds before hitting the stage for the opening night show, he asks that the lyric sheet be placed on a nearby stool. The performance of the song shown in the movie is actually from the next day, but he's still reading the words.

That's The Way It Is, of course, also captures the rehearsals for these shows, and "Stranger In The Crowd" is from that same concert series. Did the presence of the camera crew distract Elvis too much during the rehearsals? It's possible, for he hams it up quite a bit – but he does get down to business at times, too.

Perhaps the real issue is that Elvis never took himself as seriously as a lot of fans seem to today. I find a fun show like The Wonder of You, messed up lyrics and all, to be much better than, say, Aloha From Hawaii – where he is serious most of the time and sings most of the lyrics correctly. He had some help during the technically flawless Aloha, though. Watch carefully during "Burning Love" and you'll see someone holding up cue cards with the words to the song printed out for Elvis to read.

During the rehearsal show a couple days before, as heard on The Alternate Aloha, Elvis flubbed the words to "Burning Love," among others. He covered it well, though, as I suspect most of those present had no idea until he shyly admitted, "I forgot all the words," after the song.

Supposedly, Elvis had to be pressured into recording "Burning Love" the previous year, so could that be why he didn't learn the words? Perhaps, but Elvis was also known to forget the words to songs he liked.

During the second sit-down show for the '68 Comeback Special, released on Tiger Man, Elvis introduces "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" as his favorite Christmas song of those he had recorded (not "Blue Christmas" as an edit back in 1968 made everyone believe for years).

He then proceeds to mess up most of the words to his favorite Christmas tune. His bluesy rendition, wrong words and all, was one of the best songs of that show. Indeed, Elvis' performance transcended the lyrics. The words no longer mattered. No one else could have pulled that off.

If you insist on perfect songs, then stick to the studio versions. Otherwise, just relax and have fun. That's what being an Elvis fan is all about.

By the way, this post was originally going to be a lot better than this. Unfortunately, I forgot all the words that I planned to write. I hope you liked it anyway.

/Tygrrius, The Film Frontier

Thursday, July 23, 2009

And now the end is near?

Sometimes I'm afraid I'll turn on my computer, visit an Elvis news site and read that there will be no more FTD releases. These thoughts usually cross my mind when there hasn't been any news from Ernst Jorgensen and company for a while. Like now.

It was nearly a month ago that Follow That Dream released The Wonder Of You and since then nothing has been said about what's coming next. Also, it's been five months since the latest classic album Blue Hawaii saw the light of day (not counting Standing Room Only released in March) and that makes me a bit worried.

During the 10 years that FTD has been operating, we've had something like 77 releases. That's nearly eight new albums a year, a fantastic and impressive figure, to say the least.

But lately more and more criticism (some fair and some unfair) has been leveled at the label. My guess is that the fans are a lot more pickier with what releases they buy nowadays than they were ten or even five years ago. That, together with the financial situation being what it is nowadays, most certainly means a decrease in demand for FTD albums, something that can't work in Ernst Jorgensen's favor.

Hopefully my misgivings will turn out to be unjustified. I just read that Ernst Jorgensen will be attending Elvis Week in Memphis, talking together with executives from Sony about upcoming Elvis music-related projects. But do these projects include FTD?

Here's for hoping that the next time I visit an Elvis site, I'll read that "How Great Thou Art," "Good Times" and "Promised Land" are going to be the next classic albums from FTD. Or at least that one of them is. And that the much talked about Sun project will be released on the first of September. This year, that is.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Elvis In Concert - Special Edition


Watching the 1977 CBS TV Special Elvis In Concert is always an emotional roller coaster. I was made aware of this once again as I wieved a copy of it that my brother gave me as a gift a couple of days ago.

Most of the footage used is from the concert on June 21 in Rapid City, as the other show filmed two days earlier in Omaha was a very bad one, showing a pale, overweight and uncertain Elvis. The Rapid City show was better with Elvis looking a little bit healthier and singing better, too.

Still, looking at what the TV cameras captured, I was torn between thinking how ill he looked during his last tour and what a strong voice he still had then. A good example of this is Elvis' performance of "My Way," used to great effect four years later in the movie This Is Elvis. "Poor Elvis," I thought as I watched it this time, at the same time thinking what a fantastic performance it was.

My view of Elvis in Concert certainly isn't unique. Even Elvis Presley Enterprises seems to share it: "Because of the severity of Elvis' health problems at the time the special was shot, Elvis was far from his best in the way he looked and the way he performed, though there are some truly brilliant moments in the footage," EPE writes on elvis.com.

But as you all know, at the same time EPE won't release it, stating that, "There just simply is no way to get it only to the real fans (and we've exhausted all kinds of ideas) without also having Elvis served up to the general public and press for ridicule. They already emphasize and exaggerate the tragedy and sadness of the last years of his life too much. Right now, the emphasis for us is to remind them of all that came before."

Getting it to the real fans? Hmm, I thought we had FTD for that one? Me and my brother thought about it, and discussed the possibility of making kind of an Elvis In Concert - Special Edition. This could be done by first removing all the fan comments, just like they did on the special edition of That's The Way It Is.

Some of the unreleased footage (available on the bootleg DVD version) should also be used. Here I'm thinking about the footage showing Elvis arriving by car to the arena and also of him being introduced to the mayor and a Sioux Indian girl.

Finally, and most importantly, some songs would have to be removed, like the terrible "Teddy Bear"/"Don't Be Cruel" medley from July 19, and other, stronger numbers, like "Trying To Get To You" and "Unchained Melody" added. And of course, some creative editing would have to be done, as some of the camera angles are less than flattering, to say the least.

Of course, even with these changes being made Elvis In Concert still wouldn't be anything like "That's The Way It Is," "On Tour" or "Aloha From Hawaii." But it would present this historical television special in a more favourable light, don't you think?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Writing For The King

Earlier this week I became the owner of Writing For The King by Ken Sharp, published in 2006. I've been thinking of ordering this FTD book for a long time, but financial reasons have stood in the way. Until now.

The book has the subheading The Stories of The Songwriters, and features over 140 interviews with people whose work was recorded by Elvis. It's a big book, about 400 pages, and comes together with two CD's, one with various artist's demos, and the other including unreleased live versions by Elvis from 1969-72.

There's been some criticism levelled at this book, and having spent a couple of days with it I have to agree with most of what has been said. For example, there's no song index in the back of the book, so if you want to know who wrote a certain song, you have to search through the interviews that are presented in a more or less chronological order, to see if the song is included and who wrote it.

I also find it troubling that Ken Sharp doesn't mention how or when the interviews were done. Some of them also take up more space than necessary, Burt Bacharach who wrote "Any Day Now" doesn't even mention Elvis, and Paul McCartney only talks about Elvis in general terms, not about what he thinks of Elvis' versions of his songs. Mitch Leigh who penned "The Impossible Dream" admits that he had no idea Elvis recorded the song: "I'd like to hear it one day."

But despite its flaws, the book still deserves your time, as it contains a lot of interesting and entertaining stories. I especially enjoy to read about the lesser known songwriters, who more often than not were the one's who came up with the songs for Elvis' movies. It's interesting reading how much it meant to have Elvis record their songs and how proud they still are.

My favourite interview is the one with Randy Starr, a dentist who started writing songs and had 11 of them recorded by Elvis. "Kissin' Cousins'" was the biggest hit he had with Elvis, but he also wrote "Adam And Evil," "Almost In Love," "Carny Town," "Could I Fall In Love," "Datin'," "Look Out, Broadway," "Old MacDonald," "The Girl I Never Loved," "Who Needs Money?" and Yellow Rose Of Texas."

Randy Starr tells his story through nine pages, but he deserves the space. It's very interesting hearing his view of the songs and how difficult it was to get them into a film because of the competition between the writers. (Of all the songs he wrote for Elvis' films, 84 were made into demos, but only 11 of these made it to the movies.)

Another thing he mentions that I haven't thought about a lot, was how challenging the songs were to write. After all, how do you come up with lyrics to a song where Elvis is sitting on a bike, singing back and forth to a guy in a sports car who is poor and would love to be rich? I'll be thinking about that the next time I listen to "Who Needs Money?" whenever that might be...

It's also fascinating getting to know the story behind the infamous "Old MacDonald," a song that aside from "Kissin' Cousins'" has "probably earned more royalties for me over the years than any of my other Presley songs." And I love his thoughts on "Almost In Love":

"So far no one has noticed that "Almost In Love" was on the back of Presley's original single, ["A Little Less Conversation"] but naturally I wish someone would do something to rework my song too and make it a hit all over again!"

This is becoming a long post, but after all it's a big book, so I hope you forgive me. Before I sign off I have to say something about the CD's I mentioned earlier that come together with the book. The one with the demos I found fascinating, although after a while I want to listen to Elvis as he gives them a try. So why the second CD doesn't include the same songs in the form of unreleased takes done by Elvis, instead of a Las Vegas compilation, is beyond me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Was this really true or just a dream?"

Writing about Dixieland Delight and Pieces Of My Life made me remember a letter I received many years ago from a Norwegian guy who actually saw Elvis in concert in July, 1975. I store a lot of Elvis magazines and clippings in a box, and going through it I found the letter. Looking at the postmark I noticed that it was posted in Norway, January, 1989.

The reason he wrote me in the first place was that I had seen a small ad in the Norwegian fan club magazine Flaming Star, where he was selling pictures of Elvis that he had taken while travelling with the fan club to USA in 1975. Having no idea what it must have been like attending an Elvis concert, I sent him a letter asking him to share his memories.

A couple of days later I got the letter I still have in my possession. It was a very nice two page letter where this lucky man from Norway tried to tell me of his impressions 14 years earlier, when he saw Elvis three times, once in Terra Haute, Indiana on July 9 and twice in Charleston, West Virginia, on July 11 and 12. Here are some of the things he wrote:

I'm 35 years old now, and have been an Elvis fan since I was seven. But I have to admit that it was a remarkable experience to see Elvis on stage: me and all the other 8 000-10 000 fans in the auditorium had the feeling that he sang only to me. He had each and everyone of us in the palm of his hand, he captivated us completely.

I couldn't believe it was happening, I had collected his records for many years, had seen the movies and now he stood right in front of me. Was this really true or just a dream?

The concerts were good, the sound first class all through the auditorium and the audience was loyal and polite, until the last song when several hundreds of fans rushed to the front of the stage. The concerts were better than one could imagine, mainly thanks to the atmosphere and excitement in the auditorium, 10 000-12 000 (at most) Elvis fans, it can only get good.

An atmosphere at a concert is almost impossible to explain, but I hope you have gotten some idea of what it was like...

Yes, the letter gave me some idea, although I'll never be able to feel what it was really like. The closest I've ever gotten to experience something like it was when Elvis The Concert toured Europe in 1999, but of course it can't be anywhere near the real thing, amazing as it was. That will always be my one impossible dream: to have seen Elvis in concert.

PS: Thanks to the Internet and Facebook I got in touch with the guy from Norway again, 20 years since he wrote me that letter. He assured me that it was OK to share his letter with you, and I hope you liked his memories of Elvis in concert.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Return of "The Original Elvis Tribute"


A couple of days ago I received an e-mail from Arjan Deelen, who put together "The Original Elvis Tribute" that toured parts of Europe, including Sweden, two months ago. I'd like to share the letter with you:

Following the highly successful May ’09 tour, ’The Original Elvis Tribute 2010’ (featuring a.o. Elvis’ original bassplayer Duke Bardwell) will be returning to Europe in January 2010 in order to celebrate The King’s 75th birthday. This remarkable production has several surprises in store for the fans, and the show promises to be a one-of-a-kind celebration of the man and his music.

This time, we will be adding a special Gospel segment to the show, and we feel confident that Elvis himself would have approved. Moreover, we are also proud to announce that the very talented Sue Moreno will be joining us as a backing singer. Miss Moreno is a very popular singer in her own right, so we are all excited about having her ‘on board’.

“Being a great admirer of Elvis Presley's music and inspired by him throughout the years of my own musical career, it is an honor to be part of this unique Elvis show”, she says, “I've always loved to perform Elvis' repertoire - I can really put everything in it - and being able to work with these great musicians makes it extra special”.

That "The Original Elvis Tribute" will return to Europe is great news to me, as I wasn't able to see the show when it visited Sweden in May. My biggest regret was not being able to meet Michael Jarrett, who's also part of the show and who wrote "I'm Leavin'" and "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day" for Elvis.

As I've written earlier, I've had some e-mail contact with Michael as well, and he seems like such a great guy. I was really looking forward to talking to him and have him sign a copy of the single "I'm Leavin'" that I'd gotten especially for the occasion. (Actually it was my wife who bought it for me!)

Now it seems I'll be getting a second chance. Thank you, Arjan, for making that happen!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Soundboards - where do they come from?

Studying the complete tour list from 1975 on the excellent Elvis In Norway website and comparing tour number 14 (May 30 to June 10) with tour number 15 (July 8 to July 24) it's easy to spot one big difference between the two. Nearly every show from the former has been released on CD (mainly bootlegs) while from the latter, almost nothing is available.

Taking a closer look, of the 17 shows Elvis did during his fourteenth tour, 15 are available, and all but one are soundboards. But how many soundboards are there from the following tour? That's right, not a single one. In fact, only six shows from Elvis' July tour have been released, and each and every one of them is an audience recording.

This got me thinking about soundboards and why they were made in the first place. Maybe I'm showing my ignorance here, but I seem to recall soundboards were recorded so that the musicians could study them afterwards, see what worked and what didn't. Also, that a soundboard was something to put in the hands of a new musician so he could get familiar with the songs.

But if that was the case, why was a soundboard recording done of what seems like every show in June 1975? Why wasn't one or two enough? And why hasn't a single one turned up from the July tour?

To try to come up with an answer I searched the Internet, but drew a blank. I did find out however, that according to Ernst Jorgensen, there are about 200 soundboards in total (I guess he's talking about the ones owned by BMG/FTD). Also, that the majority of them seems to be from the '74-'77 period. But nowhere did I discover anything about why they were recorded in the first place, and why sometimes so many from the same tour or engagement exist.

Another thing I've never been able to figure out is why a lot of soundboards started to appear at the same time all of a sudden? During the 80's, all we had were audience recordings available on cassettes, but then the soundboards started popping up. Now here's a theory I've come up with:

For whatever reason, it was often standard practice to make soundboard recording of all the shows during a particular tour or engagement. These soundboards were recorded on cassettes or reel-to-reels then ended up in the possession of musicians, sound engineers, collectors and others. Then in the late 80's someone started to sell off his collection of soundboards to the bootleggers. These were put out on records that were noticed by other owners of soundboards who, for financial reasons maybe, sold their tapes too. And so the ball was put in motion, so to speak.

But not everyone wants to part with their soundboards. If one is to believe a contribution on the kings court forum from February last year, "Bruce Jackson, Elvis sound engineer owns a lot of soundboards but has stated he will not part with them for any amount of money as he feel's these recordings are spoiling Elvis' image due to the nature of the recording. Ernst has tried to buy some tapes from him but he refused, he is rumoured to own some July 75 soundboards and the famous Pittsburgh 31.12.76 show."

So maybe that's where the July 75 soundboards are? What do you think?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pieces Of My Life

Listening to and writing about Dixieland Delight about a week ago, renewed my interest in the concerts Elvis did during the summer of 1975. And if the May/June tour was successful, then the one a month later was even better.

Elvis looked impressive in his jumpsuits during the July tour, had lost weight and was in an excellent mood. Also, the demand for tickets was high, and two or more shows had to be arranged at most places.

The song line up was basically the same as the one used during the previous tour, but as the tour progressed, the more varied the shows became. My favourite is the afternoon show Elvis gave in Nassau Coliseum on July 19 (released as America's Own), featuring "Bosom Of Abraham/You Better Run."

The last three shows were held in Asheville, and the last one of these, an audience recording titled Pieces Of My Life, I listened to yesterday. What's unusual about that one is that the audience could put requests in a box before the show, which resulted in Elvis performing such rare numbers as "Return To Sender" and "Wooden Heart."

But as Elvis doesn't know all the words (haven't sung them in about 15 years, I'm surprised he remembers as much as he does), that's not what makes this concert stand out. Instead it's the exciting atmosphere created by a hard working Elvis. From the driving "That's All Right" to the powerful "How Great Thou Art," this is Elvis in great spirit delivering the goods.

The musicians too should take credit. Even the introductions are exciting, with Ronnie Tutt exploding behind his drums during his solo, and James Burton restarting "Johnny B. Goode" at a command from Elvis.

And of course, the only live version Elvis ever did of "Pieces Of My Life" is something of a treat. It's very similar to the studio version recorded a couple of months later, sung beautiful by Elvis.

What I don't understand about the shows in Asheville though, is what I've read about the audiences being somewhat reserved and never giving a standing ovation. This is mentioned both in The Concert Years by Stein Erik Skar and in Lee Cotten's Did Elvis Sing In Your Howntown, too?

But, listening to Pieces Of My Life, it's obvious the audience is anything but "somewhat reserved." On the contrary, most of the time it sounds like they scream at the top of their lungs, and I have to admit I have a hard time believing they manage to do so sitting down the whole time.

After "How Great Thou Art," when it sounds like the whole auditorium is cooking and the roof is going to lift off, Elvis himself exclaims, "Thank you ladies and gentlemen, you're fantastic. Thank you, I appreciate it. It makes it all worthwhile." I have a very hard time believing the audience isn't standing up right there and then.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The King and I made the headlines


Turned out that the reporter from the local newspaper visiting my lecture on Elvis' religious music succeeded in getting a picture with me and Elvis together, after all. Not only that, the picture was also published together with the above article called "Summer church with Elvis' Christian music."

All in all it's a nice read, although the reporter didn't pay attention when I told the audience that How Great Thou Art was Elvis' second religious album, not the first as he mistakenly wrote. He also told his readers that Elvis wanted to sing in a gospel choir instead of a gospel quartet.

But I guess he can be forgiven. Especially as he wrote stuff like "the lecturer told many stories that caused astonishment among the attenders." And it's certainly not everyday I get my picture in the paper, and together with Elvis as well!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Adios ElvisNews.com

It was certainly unexpected. When I made my daily visit to ElvisNews.com yesterday I found out that it's closing down.

This is sad news, as it's one of the best Elvis sites around. But at the same time I fully understand why the people behind ElvisNews.com decided to call it a day. When a hobby becomes more like a daily job the fun goes out of the window.

I also share their opinion about all the rude comments being made by fans on the site, reaching an all time low with the passing of Michael Jackson. All those stupid comments was the one thing I never did like on ElvisNews.com.

But the rest of it I really digged. The new layout introduced a while back made it an even better place to visit and find out the latest news about Elvis. After all, there was a reason I put it at the top of the list among the Elvis links on this blog.

ElvisNews.com was also my first choice when I offered them a review I'd written of Pot Luck With Elvis. When it was published on my favorite Elvis site back in November, 2007, it was a proud moment.

I will miss my daily visits to ElvisNews.com, that's for sure. At the same time I'd like to take the opportunity to say thank you very much to the folks that have been running it. You've done a great job that has meant a lot to the Elvis community!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Dixieland delight?


It must have been a fantastic experience to see Elvis live on tour in the summer of 1975. Not only was Elvis himself often in a great mood and looking well, but the audiences also created atmospheres in the auditoriums that were incredible.

Therefore, I was kind of looking forward to FTD's latest release Dixieland Delight, a 2 CD digipack set featuring two 1975 concert performances from Huntsville, Alabama. More specifically, the May 31 afternoon show and the June 1 evening show.

Elvis gave a total of five shows in three days in Huntsville, in the then newly built Von Braun Civic Center. Four of them were made available on bootleg in 2007 and 2008, and before that, in 2006, twelve songs from these four shows found their way to Southern Nights, released by FTD as a kind of "best of the mid 1975" album.

Yesterday, for the first time, I sat down and listened to the two shows featured on Dixieland Delight. And though I enjoyed them both (especially the second which in my opinion is the stronger one) I have to say it was harder to get in the mood without "Also Sprach Zarathustra," "See See Rider" and "I Got A Woman/Amen" (both concerts are incomplete as they start with "Love Me").

Also, to me the concerts didn't take off fully until after the introductions. After all, "Love Me Tender," "All Shook Up" and "Teddy Bear"/"Don't Be Cruel" ain't that exciting. But a rare version of "For The Good Times" (May 31) surely is, and the same goes for a beautiful rendition of "I'll Remember You" and a rocking "I Can't Stop Loving You" (both from June 1).

Other highlight include both versions of "An American Trilogy" (always receiving great response in the southern states) as well as one of my personal favourites, the haunting "I'm Leavin'" (bonus song from May 31 evening show). And let's not forget the "Trouble"/"T-R-O-U-B-L-E" combination! (May 31)

This 2 CD set even comes with a booklet, with concert photos of a fantastic looking Elvis as well as liner notes written by Bud Glass, who is the guy behind the upcoming multi-media box set also titled Dixieland Delight. A strange thing here is that Bud Glass states that the show "that really stands out among those in attendance, was the third." And that one isn't even included. Strange, indeed.

And while I'm at it, I thing FTD should have picked another picture for the cover, as it's exactly the same as the one used on the bootleg Across The Country Vol. 2 (featuring the Huntsville May 31 Evening Show). There are plenty to choose from in the booklet!

And finally, I would once again like to raise the question why FTD didn't release a box set with all the shows instead, or at least with the four that definitely exist? In that way, the label would've come up with something new, and something more than just the re-release of stuff already having been made available by the bootleggers. Is the simple answer that Ernst Jorgensen isn't allowed to make FTD box sets? One wonders.