Friday, July 30, 2010

How Great Thou Art

If you're on the lookout for previously unreleased complete outtakes, you'll probably be disappointed with FTD's recent classic album treatment of How Great Thou Art. But if you, like me, want to "walk into the studio" and listen to Elvis and his group of musicians and singers as they develop the different arrangements, then you're in for a treat.

Most if the full running outtakes (and a couple of the false starts, too) have already been released through the years, the majority of them on the two FTD albums Easter Special (2001) and So High (2004). In fact, I've only discovered four "new" complete takes on How Great Thou Art, three of which are from the actual May 1966 sessions: "If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side" (take 1), "Where No One Stands Alone" (takes 1+4 spliced) and "Without Him" (take 14). The last one, "We Call On Him" (take 7) is from the September 1967 sessions. To be fair, there's also two nearly complete takes, where Elvis for some reason or other misses the ending: "Where No One Stands Alone" (take 3) and "You'll Never Walk Alone" (take 8), but that's it.

Not that it matters. Getting a front seat in RCA's Studio B in Nashville and being able to listen to Elvis' new producer Felton Jarvis directing the session with his supportive comments and encouragement, offers a valuable insight into how the recordings took place and how the songs evolved. This is what makes the classic album releases such gems, at least in my book, and How Great Thou Art is no exception.

The album follows the by now well known pattern used on previous releases. On disc 1 there's the original album as well as bonus songs (in this case "You'll Never Walk Alone," "We Call On Him" and "If Every Day Was Like Christmas" ) and the first takes. Disc two is full of more session outtakes.

Among the first takes I have to mention "Without Him" where you at times can hear a squeaking noise that is Elvis shoe sole! Unfortunately the dialog is missing where Elvis notices this and laughingly points out, "That's my shoe sole! That's the wrong soul, man." (The event is described in detail by Ernst Jorgensen in his The Complete Recording Sessions.) Another great first take is "So High" where Felton Jarvis urges Elvis and the band to"swing on!"

But the real fun starts with the second disc where you really get a chance to listen to Elvis at work, thanks to more takes of every song in a row. The five takes on "Stand By Me" (5-7, 9 & 10) is a good example of this. Elvis can't see the lyrics as the lights are turned down in the studio and mutters after an abandoned take, "That's not the right lyrics, I'm singing another song. Give us just a little bit of light." To me it then sounds like someone is rummaging around in a box of matches!

A demanding song for Elvis was "Where No One Stands Alone," proof being the grand finale that Elvis recorded a couple of times as a work part to be spliced to the rest of the song. The ending always sends a shiver up my spine, and apparently Felton Jarvis felt the same way, exclaiming at one point: "It sounded great, Elvis. God, I was scared to death."

The second take of "Farther Along" is a strange on. The first couple of words on the second verse are missing ("When death has come and") and instead it starts with Elvis singing “Taken our loved ones." To me it sounds like the take has been edited. Really odd. Unfortunately neither the booklet nor the cover offer any information about this.

"By And By" is one of the fast numbers, in fact so fast that Elvis mixes up the lyrics. "We try to do our best when we wonder how to test," he laughs. "Sounded like you said what the hell is this," somebody in the studio shoots back as everybody cracks up. (Another question mark here is why take four is listed as a false start on disc 2 while in fact take four is a complete one included on disc 1.)

Hearing Elvis sing "I come to the piano..." after the intro played by Floyd Cramer (or is it David Briggs?) on the first take of "In The Garden" is a funny moment. It's easy to imagine Elvis walking towards the piano while singing this, making the pianist look up and loose his way among the keys.

Elvis did sixteen takes of "Somebody Bigger Than You And I," although not all of them are included here. But there's enough of them to realize that the key of the song is raised after a couple of takes as Elvis has a problem with the lower notes. It's also clear he's commited to the song, proof being a work part being recorded on this song as well for the ending to be perfect.

In fact, it's Elvis commitment during the whole May 1966 sessions that makes How Great Thou Art such a great listening experience. Featuring two CD's packed with inspirational performances, FTD's latest classic album release offers, to use a well worn expression, great value for money.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Graceland Randers

A copy of Graceland is being built in Randers, Denmark. Photo: Elvis Unlimited.

The groundbreaking ceremony for Graceland Randers on June 15 this summer caught medias attention and was quickly picked up by news agencies around the world. That a copy of Elvis' mansion was going to be built in little Denmark was obviously big news.

My curiosity aroused, I recently telephoned Henrik Knudsen, one of the guys who runs the Elvis Unlimited shop and museum in Randers, and asked him a couple of questions about this incredible project.

Elvis Today: How did you get the idea to build a copy of Graceland in Randers, Denmark?

Henrik Knudsen: Five years ago we held a meeting where we talked about how to market our shop and raise it to another level. My American girlfriend came up with the idea, and we all agreed that was the way to do it.

Elvis Today: How true to the original will the building be?

Henrik Knudsen: Standing outside, looking at it, it will be clear to one and all that it's modeled after Graceland. Stepping inside, it will have our own set-up, obviously. That said, there will be elements reminding the visitor of the real thing, like the staircase leading to the upper floor, which will be built in a similar style and color. That also goes for the cinema in the basement, which will have some elements resembling those in Elvis' TV room.

Speaking of the different floors, the basement will include our museum as well as the cinema, where 25 people at the time will be able to watch a documentary about Elvis specially made for Graceland Randers. Moving up to the first floor, it will situate an Elvis shop to the left and an American diner done in Hard Rock style to the right, decorated with memorabilia associated with Elvis as well as other icons like Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, Dolly Parton and the likes. The second floor, finally, will feature a hall that can seat 200 guests, and be used for weddings, celebrations, conferences, birthdays and so on. It can also serve as room for art exhibitions and small concerts.

Elvis Today: How did you obtain the drawings for the building?

In January last year, architects from the firm we're working with, traveled to Memphis to measure Graceland and get a feel for the place and the kind of attraction it is. While they were busy measuring with a folding rule I heard one tour guide telling another "And I thought I had seen it all." Obviously, that thought us very hard core fans (laughs).

Elvis Today: What have the reactions been from the media so far?

Henrik Knudsen: Overwhelming and exceeding all expectations! We've been in every newspaper in Denmark as well as on national television. The Guardian has done a story about us, as has The New York Times. And we've been interviewed by BBC World. Fans keeps sending us press clippings, the latest ones from The Korea Herald and a paper in Malaysia.

Elvis Today: Speaking of the fans, what do they think about a Graceland in Denmark?

Henrik Knudsen: The support we've received has been enormous and means a lot to us. And fans from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, all over Europe in fact, have e-mailed and asked how they can obtain tickets for the opening next year.

Elvis Today: Any word from Elvis Presley Enterprises?

Henrik Knudsen: We haven't received any greeting card or anything. But a year ago, when I met Priscilla in Memphis, I told her about the project and asked her if she would sign a photograph that I could hang on the wall in Randers. She agreed and signed it "To Graceland Randers :-)".

Elvis Today: You are building Graceland outside the town of Randers. What do the local authorities have to say about it?

Henrik Knudsen: Actually, they have been enormously positive, and helped us find a suitable building site, located at the corner of two major roads. I hope one of them will be renamed "Elvis Presly Boulevard" but we'll see about that (laughs). Even today, a lot of tourists come hear to visit our shop, 95 per cent of them driving one hour or more. And with a Graceland in Randers we will be hundred times more important for the tourism, would be my guess.

Elvis Today: So when will the building be completed?

Henrik Knudsen: According to plan Graceland Randers will open at Easter next year. Until then it'll be possible to follow the project on our website. And we'll soon have a web camera operating showing the construction taking place.

Elvis Today: Thank you so much for taking the time talking to Elvis Today, it's a fascinating project.

Henrik Knudsen: Yes, the whole project has been and still is a fantastic journey and the challenge of my life. Graceland Randers is our tribute to Elvis with what we hope will amount to approximately 50 000 visitors during the first year of operation. It's going to be a giant attraction in Elvis Europe!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Benefit Concert For Myrna Smith At Elvis Week

Admittedly, I'm on holiday, but when I received the following newsletter from Elvis Unlimited, I decided to help spread the word:

Elvis Unlimited is proud to announce that our Back In Memphis concert will be a benefit concert for Myrna Smith of The Sweet Inspirations. Elvis Unlimited was the first to break the news of Myrna being hospitalized in London and then again in California where she presently is recovering.

We now can share some even more serious news about Myrna. She has suffered a stroke and is on dialysis. She will need long term care. Myrna has many medical bills and many more medical expenses are ahead due to severity of her condition. Therefore, Henrik & I have decided that proceeds from our show will go to Myrna to help relieve some of the stress of the medical bills. Right now, Myrna only needs to focus on getting better.

The show is during Elvis Week on August 12 at 8 PM at the Michael D. Rose Theater at the University Of Memphis. Reserved seats are 45.00 US Dollars and includes admission to the mini -convention and silent auction from 6 to 8 PM with special guests Barbara Hearn,Charles Stone, Sonny West, Sandi Pichon, Roben Jones & more.

We have spent the last month reorganizing this show to make this a complete success for Myrna. We have changed venues to a larger venue right in Memphis to accommodate more fans and lower ticket prices. We also will have a silent auction before the show at our mini convention from 6 to 8 PM for ticket holders only. All items will directly benefit Myrna. Come down to the University of Memphis for THE concert of Elvis Week! We promise you a great show and a chance to lend a helping hand to our Sweet Inspiration, Myrna Smith!

Let's show Myrna how much we love and support her! Let's all pull together and help Myrna just as Elvis would do! Let's show the world what the Elvis Family is all about - friendship and support!

Order your tickets today:

VIP Tickets are available through us, email us at for more information.

Back In Memphis Concert Details

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On A Harem Holiday

Though I'm not travelling to Lunarkind, the Arab kingdom Elvis' character Johnny Tyronne visited in the movie Harum Scarum, I'm off for a couple of weeks of vacation.

This means I'm taking a break from Elvis Today as well. But it's a temporary one, I assure you. In no time I'll be back writing about Elvis stuff again.

I hope to see you real soon again, until then please enjoy these interesting articles about an Elvis movie and soundtrack you either love or hate.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I'm Leavin' - A Tribute To Elvis

It's always nice when something Elvis-related arrives with the mail, but the other day the postman brought me a packet that really meant a lot to me. It was a CD recorded by Michael Jarrett, who wrote "I'm Leavin'" and "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day," both cut by Elvis at the same sessions in 1971.

Michael Jarrett was one of the key performers in the "Original Elvis Tribute Show" that toured Europe in 2009 and 2010, and the CD was released by the Elvis For Everyone fan club in conjunction with the tour.

What made me so happy was the fact that it was Michael Jarrett who'd sent me the CD, and an autographed copy at that. I've listened to it a lot, and can safely say that it's not your ordinarily run-of-the-mill tribute record.

Two of the eleven tracks on the album are Michael's own compositions mentioned earlier, and in a way you get to understand the meaning of the songs more clearly, hearing them performed so emotionally by the writer himself. This is especially true of "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day."

With one exception, a funky version of "My Baby Left Me," the rest of the songs are heartfelt emotional as well. One of my favorites, "It's Still Here," receives a fine treatment, as does the two lesser known songs "Suppose" and "They Remind Me Too Much Of You." Special mention must also go to "Pledging My Love" and "Let It Be Me."

The album was recorded "live" in Michael Jarrett's studio at home, with just him at the piano playing and singing, and I think that's one of the reasons the result is so moving. Another is, of course, all the experience and skill Jarrett brings with him into the studio. I highly recommend I'm Leavin' – A Tribute To Elvis.

Read a review of the album (Elvis Information Network)

At The Boston Garden

I for one applaud FTD's decision to release Elvis' November 10, 1971 concert at the Boston Garden (scheduled for September 14 this year). It's one of the 14 shows Elvis did during his only tour that year, and just listen to what Stein Erik Skar has to say about it in his book The Concert Years:

"The tours still represented something of a challenge – enough to make Elvis yet again take the audience's breath away with glittering shows. Some karate finishes on "Suspicious Minds" were so fantastic that the audience wouldn't stop clapping, like in Boston. Boston also experienced that the introduction of "Polk Salad Annie" was again filled with humour and improvisation, and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" got such ovations at all of the concerts that Elvis often sang the last verse twice."

The Boston gig has been bootlegged twice, first as The Power Of Zhazam! and then as One Night Only! But as this is the only available show FTD now chooses to release it as "We believe that this is of such historical importance, that it should be available to everyone."

I agree. The concert in Boston shows Elvis at his best in 1971, and it deserves a place in the official Elvis catalog, as do the recently released shows featured on Showtime! from December 1976.

Another move by FTD is to try to announce their schedule for new releases further up front. Like Tygrrius wrote in a post on his The Mystery Train Elvis Blog, that's certainly a huge step in the right direction.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Help Me Make It Through The Night

Kris Kristofferson performing "Help Me Make It Through The Night" in front of a pleased crowd.

The other night I saw Kris Kristofferson perform live in my home town Gothenburg in Sweden. It was a pretty intimate affair, just Kris with his guitar on stage, singing around 30 of his songs during one and a half hour.

I thought he was pretty cool, attacking his old hits with a song-talking style that went well with the audience. Being an Elvis fan, the highlights to me were of course "Help Me Make It Through The Night" (which he ended jokingly singing"Help me make it through tonight") and the last song before the encore, a nice version of "For The Good Times."

Home again I looked up Kris Kristofferson in my copy of the excellent FTD book Writing For The King, to see what Kris had to say about Elvis recording these two songs. Here are some excerpts:

"I was in Bob Beckham's office at Combine Music in Nashville when I first heard Elvis' version of "Help Me Make It Through The Night." We played it and it was just like being at church ... The fact that it was Elvis singing your song was an honor ... I just liked his approach ... I mean, "Help me make it through the night"; I'm sure he could have identified with that emotion."

"I didn't know Elvis had recorded "For The Good Times." I heard him sing it in a documentary; I think he was singing it in the limo or something. (laughs) Elvis made the song his own. I felt he was drawing from his own experience and could really get inside the song ... There were other artists at the time that couldn't fit into the song and make it theirs like he did. I think it was just a natural rhythm he had."

Read more about Kris Kristofferson's impressive career

Friday, July 9, 2010

A soundtrack cut in half

Last weekend me and my wife visited the family of one of my brothers. They recently had their second child, so that was the reason for us dropping by. This time we didn't bring Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! as a gift to the new-born like we did last time, but that didn't stop me and my brother from talking Elvis.

Turned out he had bought one of the soundtrack albums released this year by Sony Special Products. The soundtrack in question was Viva Las Vegas, and my brother got it because "this is how it could've been."

Listening to it, we discussed how incredible it was that only six of the songs recorded were released at the time instead of all of them on a soundtrack LP. A single featuring the title song and "What'd I Say" was issued, followed by a soundtrack 7" extended play record containing "If You Think I Don't Need You," "I Need Somebody To Lean On," C'mon Everybody" and "Today, Tomorrow And Forever."

The release of the other six songs recorded for the movie would be spread over the next 27 years (36 years if you count the duet version of "Today, Tomorrow And Forever"). Today we know that Colonel Parker thought Elvis' costar Ann-Margret would steal the whole picture if he didn't put a stop to it.

And stop it he did. Only one of the three duets recorded for Viva Las Vegas stayed in the movie ("The Lady Loves Me"), while one was killed completely (the seductive "You're The Boss") and the last one transformed to a number sung by Elvis alone ("Today, Tomorrow And Forever").

Of course the Colonel's opinion about Ann-Margret's role in the movie spilled over to the soundtrack. Not even the duet used in the final print was allowed to be on a record, making a soundtrack LP more or less impossible.

As my brother so rightly observed, "on all the other soundtrack albums Elvis ever did, LP's as well as EP's, his co-stars were always mentioned on the cover, but not on the Viva Las Vegas EP." No coincidence, surely?

Viva Las Vegas soundtrack CD review (Elvis Australia)
Viva Las Vegas FTD Extended Soundtrack review (Elvis Information Network)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Preseucoila imallshookupis

A couple of months ago I landed a new job at the university located in the town where I live. Not as a professor, mind you, but as a public relations officer.

Anyway, word apparently traveled quickly, as it soon became known at work that I'm an Elvis fan. Might have had something to do with me mentioning this during the job interview...

One morning I found a copy of a page from a scientific magazine, with a picture of Elvis from Jailhouse Rock on it, in my post-office box. A closer look revealed the caption Preseucoila imallshookupis followed by the following short text:

An additional gall wasp, named by entomologist Matthew Buffington in 2004. The genus name is named after Presley, while the species name imallshookupis is derived after Elvis' hit "All Shook Up."

At first I thought it was a joke, but a quick search on the Internet verified it to be true. In fact, I found out that a lot of animals are named after celebrities. An article in Wikipedia stated that "in binominal nomenclature it is accepted that the generic name or the specific name of an animal be formed to honor a person."

I don't know how honored Elvis would've felt had he known a wasp was being named after him, but I'm pretty sure he would've thought it funny.

Come to think of it, wouldn't a more suitable name for a wasp have been "igotstungis" derived from another one of Elvis' hits? What would I know, I'm just a public relations officer, not a scientist.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Don't Ask Me Why

I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed learning that the next FTD release will be another book/CD combo, this one titled King Creole - the Music. Not that I have anything against the idea of FTD making so called audiovisual documentaries. It's just that this is the first one that offers nothing new music wise, as all the outtakes included have already been previously issued.

From experience the fans know that these book/CD releases tend to be expensive to say the least. And with no unreleased material, the book featuring photos from the Pål Granland collection has to be really something for me to make a grab for it. (Although I admit the photo gracing the cover is a real beauty.)

Another thing that irritates me is that the CD doesn't even include all the available material from the King Creole sessions. "Crawfish" (with complete Kitty White vocals) that could be found on Hits Like Never Before, Essential Elvis Volume 3 is missing, as is the instrumental version of "King Creole" (main title) that appeared on that very same release back in 1990.

Maybe I'm just in a bad mood because the upcoming release King Creole – The Music means that there will be no King Creole in the classic album series. In a way I already knew this. But if the CD included in the combo would have included ALL the outtakes as well as movie version that differs slightly due to overdubbing, like the drumroll on the line "he holds his guitar like a tommy gun", then maybe it could've held it's own for a classic album treatment.

While I'm at it, today's news that the FTD release following King Creole will be another vinyl LP, this time Good Times, didn't have me all excited either. Now here's for hoping the mail man soon delivers my long awaited copy of How Great Thou Art. And then there is, of course, the DVD/Blu-ray version of Elvis On Tour to look forward to!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Kid Galahad in Denmark

Reading Tygrrius latest post on The Mystery Train Elvis Blog, about him buying reprints of the two Memphis newspapers’ coverage of Elvis’ death in August 1977, made me think about the time I found an old newspaper from 1963 – with an Elvis movie ad in it.

This must have been in the late eighties or early nineties, during one of the times my family visited my grandparents in their house in Denmark. With eight persons under the roof me and one of my brothers had to sleep in the basement, on two old beds that weren't exactly manufactured yesterday.

As a matter of fact, those beds had at least 30 years under their belts, proof being a couple of old newspapers tucked away between the mattresses and the springs, as some kind of insulation, I guess. I pulled out one of the papers and noted that it was from the sixties.

Leafing through it, I stumbled across the movie pages. And there, among all the other ads, was one for Kid Galahad, together with a photo of Elvis. I don't remember if he wore a pair of boxing gloves or played the guitar, and I can't refresh my memory as I don't know where that ad is today.

What I do remember, was the special feeling looking at an ad that people had seen and read in 1963 (a little bit of research on the Internet told me Kid Galahad premiered in Denmark in February 27, 1963), deciding that Kid Galahad would be the movie they would catch that night, maybe with a friend or a date. Not such a bad choice, neither now nor then.

Read about the Kid Galahad soundtrack