Saturday, March 20, 2010

Wake Up, Putt!

I always enjoy reading interviews with studio musicians who worked with Elvis. After all, these are the guys who can give you a first hand account about the recording sessions and shed some light on stuff you've been wondering about listening to the albums.

In the March issue of the best Elvis magazine around, Elvis The Man And His Music, there is such an interview, this time with bass player Norbert Putnam. During six pages he answers questions about his time with Elvis in the studio. For example, you get the explanation as to why Elvis shouts "Wake up, Putt!" during the recording of the song "Merry Christmas, Baby" in May 1971:

"That happened about 4 o'clock in the morning and I'd been up since 8 o'clock the previous day. And it was a long blues, and you have to realize that blues is the most boring music in the world for a bass player. It's just the same thing over and over and over again. So I was really tired and my eyes were closing and he said, "Wake up, Putt!" (laughs). I was sitting on a stool with my feet propped up and my eyes shut and I was almost nodding off. But I didn't miss a note! (laughs)"

That one Norbert Putnam remembers quite clearly, but there are other moments or songs he's forgotten. But as it was about 40 years since these recordings took place, that doesn't surpirse me that much. For starters, he doesn't recollect doing "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and comments,"That was probably a jam, wasn't it?" And when he's asked about what he felt about songs such as "Life" and "This Is Our Dance" being done, he answers, "I don't remember those songs." I guess he can be forgiven.

It's also amusing reading that he calls the album Elvis Country "The Country Classics album, or whatever that was called" and asking the interviewer "When was it I played with Elvis?" while answering a question about how he felt getting a call from Felton to play on the session.

I suppose sometimes it's easy to forget that musicians like Norbert Putnam worked with a lot of artists. And though they probably were thrilled to play on an Elvis session, when it happened, it was just another day on the job. There wasn't any reason for them to sit down after a session and write down how it was to play with Elvis or how many takes he did on any particular song.

Still, I can't help thinking that it's a little bit funny that the fans know more than the musicians do about the name of the songs, what dates they were recorded and so on. But Norbert Putnam and his fellow musicians have the memories, and I'm always grateful when they share them with us.

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