Sunday, January 24, 2010

Swing Down, Sweet Chariot (Dubbed Version)

I haven't bought the box set I Believe - The Gospel Masters released last year. Already owning the excellent 1994 2 CD set Amazing Grace - His Greatest Sacred Performances as well the as the 3 CD set Peace In The Valley - The Complete Gospel Recordings from 2000 (including more songs than the I Believe 4 CD set!), I thought it unnecessary, to say the least.

But reading Piers Beagley's review over at the Elvis Information Network made me curious about one of the songs featured on this the latest gospel set. The song in question was" Swing Down, Sweet Chariot" from the movie The Trouble With Girls, and this is what caught my eye:

Of real interest to collectors will be the fact that "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot" here is a very different mix. From the very start it is The Blossoms female vocal group that take the lead and follow Elvis’ vocal throughout. On the previous version – which is the same Elvis vocal track - it has always been The Mello Men doing these gospel backing-vocals.

This was interesting, indeed, but now what? Did I have to buy the whole set just to listen to this one song? Maybe not. I visited the Itunes store, and lo and behold! There it was, among the Elvis albums, the whole I Believe box set, but also with the choice to buy individual tracks from it. This was more like it! A moment later the song was safely downloaded in my Ipod.

It sure is a different mix, with an arrangement far from the one featured on The Mello Men version, which is much closer to the original from 1960. Not only is the phrasing from the female backing group done in a different way, but one of the girls is also singing high voice at the end. And lots of horns and trumpets can be heard, too. A real highlight, according to Piers Beagley, and I agree.

In his review, he also refers to Jorgensen's book A Life In Music, where it states that The Blossoms were overdubbed on "Clean Up Your Own Backyard" at an unknown date, and speculates that maybe the group also overdubbed "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot."

That seems as a good guess, as "Clean Up Your Own Backyard" as well as "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot" and "Almost" were overdubbed with horns on May 8, 1969 by Felton Jarvis, "in an attempt to improve their commercial potential," as Ernst Jorgensen puts it. Even so, two questions remain unanswered:

  1. Why wasn't this mix included on the Elvis' Double Features Live A Little, Love A Little/Charro/The Trouble With Girls/Change Of Habit released in 1995?

  2. Why didn't Felton Jarvis use the female backup vocalists used the day before, on May 7, 1969, including Ginger and Mary Holladay? Or is it in fact them singing on "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot?"

As I don't own I Believe - The Gospel Masters I don't know if Ernst Jorgensen provides any answers in the accompanying booklet. If you have this gospel set in your collection and he does, please let me know. If he doesn't, well then I guess it is up to others to find out. Mr Tunzi?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Karaoke Thanks To The Rolling Sea

Last Sunday was my sister's birthday, and she celebratet in style, inviting friends and family to a 24 hour cruise in the Baltic Sea. We dined well, danced and ... sang karaoke.

I know I've written about my foundness for singing in front of a TV screen before. Therefore, it might come as no surprise to you that I took to the stage with the microphone in my hand as soon as I got the chance.

I usually go for the late 60's or early 70's stuff, but this time around I decided to boldly atempt something from Blue Hawaii. Thanks to an attentive woman in the audience (my wife!) this historical occasion (?) was recorded by the help of a digital camera. Unfortunately, or maybe thankfully, she held the camera sideways, so I can't show you the picture. But here's the soundtrack:

Not exactly like Elvis' character Chad sounded when he performed "Rock-A-Hula Baby" at his welcome home party. But the ending is pretty decent, I think.

Other songs I tried out that night included "Always On My Mind" and "I Just Can't Help Believin'" but they were not recorded, at least not to my knowledge. Then again, maybe once is enough.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It finally happened - Elvis On Tour on DVD

Great news from Elvis Presley Enterprises! On the following news item was posted today:

"This fall, Elvis On Tour is coming to DVD and dazzling Blu-ray high definition - for the first time ever. Featuring electric performances from Elvis' 1972 tour, this Golden Globe winning documentary captures the raw energy and excitement of Elvis' best live performances. In celebration of Elvis' 75 birthday year, a 17-film Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD box set is also planned, which will include Elvis On Tour, Viva Las Vegas, Jailhouse Rock and more. Be on the lookout for more details soon!"

Undoubtedly one of the most awaited Elvis releases, Elvis On Tour on DVD is finally becoming a reality. Not only can my faithful VHS copy look forward to a retirement that has been long overdue, but I will at last complete my collection of Elvis' movies on DVD.

The big question is how the movie will presented. No doubt with improved picture and sound, but what about extra footage? I for one would love to see a Special Edition, but my guess is it will be the original version. Still, best Elvis news I've heard in a long time!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Elvis Today interviews

Living in Sweden, I was disappointed that the Swedish Television (SVT) didn't rise to the occasion on the day that should've been Elvis' 75th birthday. No movie, no documentary, no television special, nothing.

Fortunately the Swedish Radio (SR) paid better attention; many of the local radio stations around the country played Elvis records, held competitions and broadcast shows about him. Two of the stations even did interviews with me!

Early in the morning I got a call from a guy running a radio show on Radio Kalmar, in the south-east of Sweden. Turned out he knew a former colleague of mine who'd told him I ran a blog about Elvis. He asked if I would like to talk about the blog on the air, and of course I said yes.

We did the interview a couple of hours later, and I thought it went pretty well. Not only did we talk about my blog and the things I write on it, I also got to explain how much Elvis music means to me and what period I prefer with Elvis and why. The interview ended with the presenter playing "Suspicious Minds" which was a nice coincidence, as it gave me a chance to talk about one of my latest posts.

Listen to the interview (It's in Swedish!)

I then wrote on Facebook about my adventures on the radio, and a short while later another local radio station called. This time the call was from SR Sjuhärad, located in the city of Borås, between Kalmar and Gothenburg, where I live. They too, wanted to do an interview with me about Elvis and my blog, and so I ended the day having done two interviews on the radio.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Special Message From Thomas

In the January 1985 edition of the British fan club magazine, president Todd Slaughter wrote the following in his editorial, in honor of it being Elvis' 50th anniversary:

The guy who should be ordering the Champagne, inviting the guests, getting ready to throw the wildest party Graceland has ever seen just isn't around to host the celebration. And that's the saddest part of this whole exercise ... But above all else, what a shame that his own personal life lasted a mere 42 years ... Now it's upp to us all, to make the world know that we are still here, and we are about to show that world that we still remember Elvis Presley.

Today, twenty-five years later, the fans are still here, and the world still remembers Elvis Presley. If anything, Elvis is as popular then as he is now. There's still albums being released, books continue to be written and thanks to the Internet it's easy to stay updated about what's going on in the Elvis world.

And speaking of the Internet, it has given me the possibility to run my very own Elvis blog. I wrote my first post on August 16, 2007, and here I am today, writing post number 271 on January 8, 2010.

I've been an Elvis fan for more than 30 years now. I guess not a day goes by without him taking part in my life in some way or the other. That's what this blog is all about.

Thank you Elvis, and happy birthday!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Elvis Today - Behind The Scenes

Looking back on my time with Elvis Today so far I'd say the three posts I've enjoyed the most to write have also been the most difficult ones. They can all be found under the label Special moments with FTD, and deal with what was going on in the studio when Elvis recorded a certain song.

If you've read my latest post about "Suspicious Minds" you know what I'm talking about. Maybe you even remember the other two, describing the recordings of "It's Easy For You" and "You'll Never Walk Alone."

The challenge is to combine what's made available from the recording session by FTD with facts and memories from those that were there when it happened. Ultimately, you also have to guess a lot and even make up some stuff for it to work.

For one thing, it's not easy to hear everything that's being said in the studio. Some of the dialogue in the post about "Suspicious Minds" was very difficult to pick up, and I had to press my headphones to my ears with the volume turned way up high to finally succeed. When the music began I almost lost my hearing, but that's part of the job of running an Elvis blog, I guess.

For another, what's presented as facts in different books doesn't always concur. To take an example: In A Life In Music Ernst Jorgensen writes that Chips Moman urged Elvis to try his hand at "Suspicious Minds" just after midnight while in Peter Guralnick's book Careless Love it says that it was almost 4:00 in the morning when Elvis began to work on the song.

It's also hard to describe what's taking place when the persons who actually were there with Elvis paint different pictures of what was going on. According to Marty Lacker in Elvis And The Memphis Mafia Elvis wasn't too sure of recording "Suspicious Minds" after listening to the demo. But his buddy Alan Fortras states in Elvis From Memphis To Hollywood that Elvis said he liked it it and wanted to record it.

Then there's also the issue of what clothes Elvis wore. In my latest post about "Suspicious Minds" I had great help from A Life In Music where Ernst Jorgensen mentioned that Elvis was clad in white shirt and trousers during a rare, early morning interview taking place on January 23. I figured it was the same outfit that he'd worn during the night, and felt it was a pretty safe bet as Elvis is wearing white trousers and a white shirt under a black jacket on a lot of the photos available from this session.

A final detail I was pretty pleased with was the fact that I found out that it was three hours to sunrise when Elvis recorded "Suspicious Minds" (if he started at 4:00 in the morning, which I think is correct). Thanks to Google I found a site run by the U.S. Navy Observatory where you can punch in the year, month, day, state and city and get the sun and moon data for that particular date.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Special moments with FTD 10

You can't tell by looking at the little shabby building situated in one of Memphis' poorest neighborhoods, but on the inside of its walls history is in the making. Of course, it's hard to see anything at all, as sunrise is still three hours away.

In the cluttered orange and black studio known as American, a recording session with Elvis Presley is coming to an end. Right at this moment he's hard at work getting the lyrics down to a song that the producer and owner of the studio Chips Moman has urged him to take a shot at.

"I've got this song that Mark James wrote. We had a little record out on it, and nothing ever happened with it, but I really think it's a hit song," he told Elvis about half an hour ago and then played him "Suspicious Minds."

Elvis listened to it, and at first wasn't too sure of it. But after some encouragement from his foreman Joe Esposito, he said, "Yeah, man, I like it. I want to record it."

Working with exactly the same arrangement as the original, Elvis has just mistimed his vocals on the first take, leading to some colorful language from behind the baffle serving as a vocal booth.

"Somebody direct this god damn session," one of the musicians jokes.

Elvis clears his throat and piano player Bobby Wood senses him looking at his direction. Clad in white shirt and trousers, and still in good physical shape from the workout of last years TV Special, Elvis looks lean and handsome. But also totally focused.

Bobby understands that he wants him to sing along to help prevent Elvis from repeating the mistake as he rehearses his lines. They've worked that way before during the session.

"Would I still see suspicion in your eyes," Bobby Wood starts to sing and then Elvis falls in.

"So, if an old friend I know, stops by to say hello, would I still ..." Elvis again hesitates while singing the phrase that is causing him trouble.

"Ah, you just gotta wait a little bit to sing it," Bobby Wood advises.

"Yeah." Elvis nods his head as Bobby demonstrates by playing the piano and singing together with Elvis once again.

Then drummer Gene Chrisman decides to help out, and soon the other musicians join in, as Chips Moman steers them toward the right groove. By now everybody in the studio knows that this is the song.

Do you want to listen to this historical occasion? Then set the time machine for the early hours of January 23, 1969, by playing track number four on FTD's Memphis Sessions.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Good Times Never Seemed So Good

The best album from the Follow That Dream label in 2009. In short, that's how I would summarize Good Times, released only last month but already one of my favorites.

It's clear, listening to the two CD's packed with rehearsals, alternate takes, undubbed masters and studio banter, that Elvis is enjoying himself. It's equally evident that he's in top form vocally, "though still thirty pounds overweight and looking pretty peculiar in the cape he insisted on wearing through each evening," according to Ernst Jorgensen in his book A Life In Music.

I've always loved the funky "I Got A Feelin' In My Body" that kicked off the sessions, and it's interesting comparing the five complete takes (including the master); the tempo changes, the different styles of Elvis singing and the various ways the musicians approach the song. Noticeable is also the mixing, that emphasizes JD Sumner in a way not heard on, for example, Rhythm and Country.

Two other personal favorites are "Loving Arms," and "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues." The outtakes of the former are very good, and it's great to finally have the unedited master of the latter, hearing Elvis repeat the third verse after the second instrumental break. It's also funny listening to him changing the lyrics after messing up take 7: "Left old Charlie here behind, Good Time Charlie lost his mind ... Some gotta win, some gotta lose, god damn you Charlie pick up your shoes."

Finally we get the existing outtakes of the dramatc ballad "My Boy" (take 1 and 2). Also included is the undubbed master (take 3) without the spliced ending that was done to lenghten the fadeout of the song. I for one find it hard to understand why any of the outtakes hasn't surfaced until now. Maybe Ernst Jorgensen asks himself the same question, as the first take is featured under "Session highlights."

Unfortunately, the first two takes of the driving "Talk About The Good Times" are incomplete, as Elvis has trouble with the lyrics due to the frenetic pace of the song. But compensations comes in the form of the unedited master (take 4) running 2 minutes and 55 seconds. What a fun number!

The three remaining songs from the December session featured on Good Times are more mediocre, in my opinion. I've always preferred the live version of "Spanish Eyes" featuring an extra verse, and although Elvis sings with passion on "If That Isn't Love" the song just doesn't excite me that much. But the first seven takes of "She Wears My Ring" are hilarious, as Elvis completely loses it! Kind of a laughing version, if you like, and very entertaining to listen to!

Two cuts from the July Stax sessions also made it onto the original album. "Take Good Care Of Her" undoubtly attracted Elvis as he puts a lot of emotion in the song. The different alternate takes sound very similar, though, and so offers nothing really new. The same can't be said for "I've Got A Thing About You Baby" where the early takes are done in a faster tempo than the later ones. "Maybe a little too fast, but with real swing," as Ernst Jorgensen puts it.

And speaking of Ernst Jorgensen, I'd like to thank him and the rest of the FTD team for a job well done. Even the accompanying booklet is top notch, displaying interesting memorabilia such as an un-retouched version of the original cover photo and a mock-up of the album. Two pages deals with the correspondence between Colonel Parker and Joan Deary regarding the need to retouch the photo and change the ELVIS type face. And what's more, all the documents are shown properly and fully readable, something that hasn't often been the case in the past.

In a way, Good Times is the perfect sequel to FTD's Raised On Rock that captured a spark from the July 1973 sessions at Stax not found on the original LP. Of course, we already knew that the recordings done in the same studio in December went much better. But what this latest release does is to confirm this, with interest.

Now, here's for Promised Land being the next classic album release from the Follow That Dream label. Maybe it will be the best one this year!