Saturday, May 29, 2010

Some good neighbor

Seems like Elvis hasn't left the building, at least not the one opposite mine.

I live in an apartment complex so big it's impossible to get to know all your neighbors. Sometimes I cast a glance across the yard, wondering what's going on inside the walls of the building opposite mine.

Not so long ago I noticed a new family moving in and was pleasantly surprised when I spotted an Elvis paper doll in one of their windows. Apparently I'm not the only Elvis fan living in one of the more than 1 000 apartments making up the complex.

I must admit I felt a little silly trying to photograph my discovery, and hope nobody noticed the camera and got the wrong idea about what I was doing.

Unfortunately, the paper doll is turned the wrong way, so I only captured the back of it. Is it the still from the "Jailhouse Rock" single?

One of these days I have to walk over, introduce myself and tell them that I'm into Elvis, too!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sonny West left the building

Sonny West and me during Elvis Week 2005.

Writing about Sonny West's book Elvis: Still Taking Care Of Business made me think of the time when I met Sonny during Elvis Week 2005 in Memphis. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a disappointing experience.

At the time I was working for the Swedish Radio (SR) so naturally I brought a tape recorder along should the opportunity arise to interview people from the Elvis world. I didn't have to wait long as Sonny West was working at the hotel where I was staying, with his show Moments with Elvis.

One evening I gathered courage and approached him, asking if I it would be possible to do a short interview with him at his convenience. He gracefully told me that he had some time the next day, and told me when to meet. Naturally I was thrilled, here was an opportunity to get inside knowledge about the person I worshiped since I was ten years old!

The very same evening I sat in my hotel room, writing down questions, and even telephoning my brother home in Sweden to get his input. Here are some of the stuff I thought about asking (I still have the paper with my scribbling):

  • Elvis is more famous than ever, nearly 30 years after his death. What's your comment about the fame he has now?
  • You are here in Memphis to talk about Elvis. What is the most important thing to tell people about him?
  • You worked for him for many years? How was it? What was the best part?
  • Was it difficult to come in close contact with him, to talk just the two of you?
  • What's your biggest, single experience with Elvis?
  • Your cousin Red West wrote songs to Elvis, did you?
  • How did your life change after Elvis death?

The next day I turned up at the time and place mentioned by Sonny West and was thrilled to find him there ready to answer my questions. We sat down opposite each other and I turned on the tape recorder and fired away. Unfortunately, after about five minutes his mobile phone rang. After the call, he apologetically told me that he had to go, but could we meet the same time tomorrow?

Naturally I told him yes. I was a little bit disappointed, sure, but if I could ask him all my questions the day after, no harm done. Unfortunately it wasn't to be.

You see, twenty four hours later, as I returned to the room where we met the day before, I spotted Sonny West next to a reporter armed with a video camera. Sonny looked at me like he didn't recognized me and told me that he had promised the TV guy to do an interview now. But if I turned up tomorrow, he could talk to me.

I was confused, to say the least. Had he forgotten all about our appointment the day before and breaking off the interview after that telephone call? I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and try once more the next day. But guess what? He wasn't there. This time around my confusion turned to disappointment.

To this day I can't help but thinking about my abortive encounter with Sonny West when his name turns up. Maybe I'm being foolish, as he probably meets fans every day all the time and it's easy to forget a guy from Sweden wanting to ask some questions. But that day, as I stood alone waiting for Sonny West who didn't turn up, I didn't think he was taking very good care of business.

PS: Sonny West did manage to answer my first question before the phone rang and he excused himself. He told me that he, five years after Elvis death, didn't think Elvis would continue to be as popular as he was then. But because new fans discover his music, he continues to be at least as famous now as then.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Still Taking Care Of Business

"The job of reading any Elvis related memoir is the literary equivalent of Groundhog Day" I remember reading somewhere. This is also true when it comes to Sonny West's Elvis: Still Taking Care Of Business that I bought recently. Published in 2007, it's kind of a sequel to Elvis: What happened? and while detailed enough, offers no surprises or new revelations.

Coincidently, it was released the same year as Me And A Guy Named Elvis, written by another long serving member of the Memphis Mafia, Jerry Shilling. But while Shilling tends to be maybe a little bit too diplomatic at times, especially when it comes to Elvis downfall, the same can't be said about West's account. He doesn't dodge Elvis misuse of prescription medicines and his "self-destruct course" during the last couple of years.

You can't accuse Sonny West of being a diplomat, either. He shares his opinions about people freely, and it's no surprise his book isn't among the ones sold at Graceland. Priscilla and Lisa Marie are not among Sonny West's favorite people, and that's something he lets his readers know in no uncertain terms.

In a way I find his honesty refreshing, although sometimes it becomes a bit bitchy. The book is also very talkative, and that can be wary at times. In the end it's Sonny West's own stories and Elvis tidbits that makes Elvis: Still Taking Care Of Business worth reading. Elvis getting inducted into the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Arkansas State University is one example, Elvis not being able to open the gate for a cab another.

Sonny West ends the book by saying that not a day goes by without something said, heard or seen that makes him think of Elvis. In that way he's not any different than most fans, me included. But he "had a front-row seat on the roller-coaster ride that was the last two decades of Elvis Presley's life." That's why I read his book.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On Stage In Person

The On Stage album has always been special to me, ever since I first heard a scratched copy of it, borrowed from my local library. Since then I've picked up the LP, the original CD release, the extended version and just a couple of weeks ago, the 40th Anniversary Legacy Edition.

As far as packaging goes, the Legacy Edition is definitely the ultimate version of the album. Released in a 5" digipack format with a beautiful matt black finish, it includes a 24 page booklet with liner notes written by Ken Sharp, the guy behind the Elvis: Vegas '69 book. The well written text is accompanied by lots of photos as well as memorabilia.

Before buying the Legacy Edition I read a lot of reviews stating that these February 1970 recording had never sounded better, and I'm happy to report that they were right. "Crystal clear" and "crisp"were some of the adjectives used to describe the sound, and I agree. Were these songs really recorded 40 years ago?

Consequently, it's a joy to listen to the On Stage Legacy Edition. From the driving intro of "See See Rider" to the bombastic ending of "Let It Be Me" you get to listen to Elvis singing more contemporary material, clearly growing artistically and finding new musical directions. It's a fascinating journey.

The showstopper, Tony Joe White's "Polk Salad Annie" has always been a favorite of mine, and I loved reading in the booklet what the songwriter had to say about Elvis recording his song live:

"They flew us out to Las Vegas to see Elvis perform it. It was weird because I was doing Elvis' early stuff in my early days and now all of a sudden he was doing mine. I was totally in awe of the whole thing. Elvis connected with "Polk Salad Annie" because he had eaten polk and he understood it plus it was a great rocker for him.. He put all his moves and dancing into it. He really just got down with it. It seemed like he worked that song harder than anything."

It's also great to get the full rehearsal of "The Wonder Of You" released officially for the first time. This includes three complete takes and it's strange they are not listen on the cover, just the title of the song. Elvis is in good humor, singing, "You get me hope and constipation" during the first try.

So, is this the ultimate version of On Stage? Sound wise I'd say yes, and that also goes for the packaging. But I do miss the "Hey Jude" part right after "Yesterday" as well as "Suspicious Minds," "In The Ghetto" and "I Can't Stop Loving You" featured on the extended CD version from 1999. So content wise, I'd have to say no.

However, the On Stage 40th Legacy Edition is a great buy, and it does help that the second disc included features the original Elvis In Person album together with bonus tracks. Of course a complete February 1970 concert would've been better, but maybe FTD can help me out there?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Also Sprach Zarathustra (Long Version)

A couple of days ago my wife asked me if I'd like to go to a classic concert, featuring Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra". As we missed it when we arrived late to the Elvis Presley In Concert show in London in February, here was our chance to hear it live, she reasoned.

I thought it was a good idea, and soon found myself sitting in a concert hall listening to that famous introduction all Elvis fans know so well. As a matter of fact, me and my wife looked at each other and giggled, as all we could think of was ... yeah, that's right, Elvis! And though it was interesting listening to the rest of the composition I couldn't help feeling just a little bit disappointed when the King didn't came on stage.

But that Elvis Presley used the introduction fanfare "Sunrise" was mentioned in the concert program. Come to think of it, in a way it's pretty amazing that so many people who are not into classical music knows it thanks to Elvis. I have to agree with Stein Erik Skar that it was a stroke of genius by Elvis to use "Also Sprach Zarathustra" before he himself entered the stage. This is what he writes in his book "Elvis The Concert Years 1969-1977":

"This powerful opus created an almost supernatural atmosphere as it filled the entirety of the completely darkened showroom. Then Elvis came on stage, carried on by a drum roll, to greet an ecstatic audience in a frenzy of exultation at this intoxicating music which seemed as though it had been composed with a thought to the infinity of the universe - and, unbelievably enough, as though it had been composed just for the artist Elvis Presley's entrance to the concert stage."

I don't know what Richard Strauss would've thought had he known that his "Sunrise" theme would find fame both in Stanley Kubrick's movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" and as the opening sequence of hundred of Elvis Presley concerts. My guess is he would've been pleased as it has helped his work become known to the general public. And maybe a bit honored, as well.