Sunday, July 31, 2011

"My Third Movie Was Called Jailhouse Rock"

While listening to "Jailhouse Rock" on the Amarillo '77 FTD release last week, I was reminded that it isn't always the originals versions that get people interested in Elvis' music. At least that's the way it worked for a buddy of mine while we were attending high school in the early eighties.

I don't remember the exact details, but I know I played him a cassette tape of Elvis In Concert, maybe at his place. I guess the tape was in the Sony Walkman I carried with me where ever I went (just like I do with my iPod nowadays).

Anyway, at first I didn't get the reaction I was hoping for, you know, a sign that he was digging the music. But when he heard "Jailhouse Rock" he started to beat time with his feet and when the song ended he demanded that I play it again.

I think he really went for the machine gun tempo of the song, the pumpin' piano and Elvis singing, never mind that he forgot some of the words. If memory serves me right, I had to play it many times in a row. Not that I minded, of course.

A couple of days later, when I visited again, I noticed an Elvis LP in his room. I picked it up and identified the album as 20 Greatest Hits Vol. 1, sporting a publicity shot of Elvis from the 50's on the cover. Looking at the track list I noticed the songs were mainly from the 50's as well. The fourth track on the B side was "Jailhouse Rock."

Glancing at my friend I saw he had a disappointed expression on his face. "That's not the version we listened to last time," he said. "This sounds completely different."

I tried to tell him that the version on his LP was the original one, and a great one at that. I also explained to him that he should've asked me which album to buy if he'd wanted the "Jailhouse Rock" that we'd listened to, as there existed many versions of the song.

Unfortunately I don't remember if he bought the Elvis In Concert album to get "the right" version. Maybe I gave him my tape and recorded a new one for me. Since we no longer stay in touch I don't know how much of a fan he became, either.

But, thinking back, I recall I thought it was great that he liked a live recording with Elvis from 1977. And that the song in question, "Jailhouse Rock," was featured on an album that has always been a favorite of mine.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Elvis' Worst Overall 1977 Tour?

Geoffrey McDonnell puts it well in his review of the recently released FTD album Amarillo '77 on the Elvis Information Network website:
Having heard this tour ‘represented’ here one sadly realises this isn’t as good a CD as the ‘Spring Tours’ FTD CD because the performances are weaker. No Polk Salad Annie, Unchained Melody and really it's only How Great Thou Art, My Way or Hurt as the powerful songs left. [...] he sounds tired most of the time and simply worn out- I wonder whether this tour was Elvis’s worst overall 1977 tour?
The Amarillo '77 CD features most of the Amarillo concert from March 24 (Band introductions are from the March 27 show in Abilene), as well as eleven bonus songs from the same tour (23-30 March). Strangely enough, two of the bonus songs – "Trying To Get To You" and "Fever" – are featured on the Spring Tours 77 FTD from 2002.

While the Amarillo show isn't the worst Elvis concert released by FTD (that doubtful honor goes to New Haven '76), it comes close. Elvis does indeed sound tired and worn out and it's painfully clear that his nine days of vacation in Hawaii before the tour was no way near enough to get him in better shape.

He messes up "Are You Lonesome Tonight" and has to start the song all over, abandons "Reconsider Baby" (intro only) and does a forgettable job on "Hound Dog." Having said that, I enjoyed "Little Sister" as well as "That's All Right," which unfortunately is incomplete (the first couple of songs from the show are missing).

"My Way" is an ambiguous affair. I've always thought the song held more meaning in 1977 and love his performance of the song from Rapid City on June 21, featured on Elvis In Concert. The Amarillo version isn't as good, but emotional nonetheless.

Before I sign off I have to mention the terrible editing between some of the bonus songs, which worsens the listening experience even more. Just listen to the abrupt start of "Why Me, Lord" and you'll see what I mean. It's sloppy work. And the use of depressing color combinations on the cover does nothing to lighten the mood, either.

I agree 100 percent with Troy Y. who runs the excellent The Mystery Train Elvis Blog, Amarillo '77 is for completists only. If you want to listen to Elvis in 1977 then pick Elvis In Concert, Spring Tours 77 or Unchained Melody instead.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"They're White Chicks, But They Sound Black"

The last three years "The Original Elvis Tribute" has been touring Europe successfully. Arjan Deelen who produced and managed the show sent me the following e-mail a couple of days ago:
'The Original Elvis Tribute' will be back in Europe for April 2012 but the big news this time is that the tour will be even more special with Elvis' backing-vocalists Ginger and Mary Holladay joining the band in Europe for the first time ever! Elvis' other musicians Duke Bardwell, Bobby Wood and Jerome 'Stump' Monroe will still be there along with the outstanding lead presence of Robert Washington. The Holladay sisters were among the leading female backing vocalists in the 60s and 70s, and their powerful voiced are featured on countless hits & classics. Elvis lover their voices, and he always made sure that Felton would use the Holladays for his recording sessions. Ginger and Mary can be heard on hit-singles like 'Suspicious Minds", 'In The Ghetto', 'The Wonder Of You' and 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me', as well as on numerous Elvis albums like 'From Elvis In Memphis', 'That's The Way It Is', the Grammy award-winning 'He Touched Me', 'Good Times', 'Promised Land' and 'Today'. Their voices were even overdubbed on live-recordings like the 'On Stage' album.
I for one like the idea to present original musicians that people haven’t seen, or at least those that haven’t been overexposed, and try to present them in a different context. That is, by combining musicians from different periods of Elvis' career, as well as live/studio musicians.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend the show when it visited Sweden in 2009, and in 2010 and 2011 it didn't play my country. Here's for hoping that the tour in 2012 will include Sweden. It would be great listening to sisters Mary and Ginger Holladay, who Elvis once described as, "They're white chicks, but they sound black."How about it, Arjan?


For more information, visit "The Original Elvis Tribute 2011" spotlight
over at the Elvis Information Network. There you'll find, among other things, the duet version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" between Ginger Holladay and Elvis. (Now why wasn't that one included on the Elvis Now classic album release by FTD?)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Reconstructed Rehearsal


It's almost like Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon didn't want it to sound like a rehearsal. That's one of the impressions I have after listening to FTD's latest release Stage Rehearsal, featuring the show rehearsal Elvis did on August 10, 1970, the same day as the opening show of the engagement.

This rehearsal was first made available on the bootleg Hang Loose back in 1991, where it was presented in it's original recorded form, that is, with almost all of the takes being incomplete because the starts were missing. Owning a copy of it, I've spent a great deal of time today comparing it with the official release. Here are my thoughts.

What really works in favor of Stage Rehearsal is the great sound quality, much better than the one offered by the bootleg. With that in retrospect, on some level I can understand the decision to reconstruct the opening of the incomplete performances, using live versions recorded on the same 16-track tape machine. But I still think it was the wrong one, as it's manipulation and doesn't present the songs in a historically correct way.

What's more, the live intros are just that, and in some cases applause can be heard, like on "I Just Can't Help Believin'" and "Something," totally destroying the "rehearsal feeling." And speaking of "Something," the live version is used longer than necessary, obliterating the original text ("Attracts me like no other mother"). Another low-water mark is the use of the same intro on both versions of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me."

But what really, really annoys me, is "Polk Salad Annie," which is a splice/edit of the two versions Elvis did on his show rehearsal, both of them available on Hang Loose. My guess is this was done to avoid some suggestive lyrics by Elvis, but parts of it can still be heard anyway, sounding far away, like the line "... overweight old woman ..." The end result is a more "plain" version than the two original ones, one of which has Elvis having fun with the line "Polk A Little Sock Salad" (not included on the spliced version). Why it isn't even mentioned in the sparse liner notes on the inside of the cover that "Polk Salad Annie" is a combination of two takes is beyond me.

The same technique (editing out some of Elvis talk) is used on the second version of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," where lines like "Won't you hold the bass right here" can be heard just barely on the official release. And on one of the few songs that was caught on tape with the intro intact – "Sweet Caroline" – Elvis muttering "All right, all ready" before the start of the song has been removed too. Why this method was used I have no idea. To me it only serves to erase all traces of listening to a rehearsal and make it more of a live experience.

As you've without a doubt guessed by now, I would've preferred if Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon had left the recordings alone in their original format, with late starts and all. Or at least included both the reconstructed and the incomplete recordings. With a running time of about 78 minutes that would've been possible, by removing the bonus songs (rehearsals from 1972 and 73). While interesting enough, these could've been included on another release.

Stage Rehearsal is an FTD album that I suspect will divide the fans. You'll either like it (after all, the reconstructed opening of songs is technically perfect) or, like me, wished the label had opted for a more historically correct approach, without new intros and vocal edits. I for one also find it hard to forgive the tampering with "Polk Salad Annie" in the way it was done.

Oh, I almost forgot. A second take of "I've Lost You" is featured on the bootleg Hang Loose, but not included on Stage Rehearsal. Probably because it's incomplete at the ending as well (tape stops). But as there are plenty of live versions available that particular ending could've been reconstructed too, surely?

Friday, July 22, 2011

He Touched Me - FTD Light Version

I was glad to notice the other day that He Touched Me will be among the three new releases on the FTD label in September (together with a soundboard titled 48 Hours To Memphis, recorded on March 18, 1974 in Richmond, Virginia and Elvis Sings Guitar Man on vinyl). He Touched Me is one of four titles I've tipped would get the classic album treatment this year, and I'm looking forward to it.

So much, in fact, that I've created my own "FTD light version" of the album with the help of iTunes, just like I did with Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas about half a year ago. By using what has already been released officially from the sessions that resulted in Elvis' third and last gospel album, I came up with this:

THE ORIGINAL ALBUM / SIDE 1

01. He Touched Me
02. I've Got Confidence
03. Amazing Grace
04. Seeing Is Believing
05. He Is My Everything
06. Bosom Of Abraham

THE ORIGINAL ALBUM / SIDE 2
07. An Evening Prayer
08. Lead Me, Guide Me
09. There Is No God But God
10. A Thing Called Love
11. I, John
12. Reach Out To Jesus

INFORMAL RECORDING
13. The Lord's Prayer

THE OUTTAKES
14. Amazing Grace - take 2
15. He Touched Me - take 2
16. I've Got Confidence - take 1
17. Bosom Of Abraham - take 3
18. An Evening Prayer - take 2
19. Seeing Is Believing - take 4
20. A Thing Called Love - rehearsal
21. He Is My Everything - take 1
22. There Is No God But God - takes 1 (false start) & 2
23. Bosom Of Abraham - take 4
24. An Evening Prayer - take 5
25. Seeing Is Believing - take 7
26. A Thing Called Love - take 1
27. Bosom Of Abraham - take 7

BONUS SONGS (Elvis On Tour "jam session")
28. I, John
29. Bosom of Abraham
30. You Better Run
31. Lead Me, Guide Me
32. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus/Nearer My God To Thee

As you can see I included the informal recording "A Lord's Prayer," a title that could as easily be featured on a future Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas FTD release as it was recorded between takes of "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day". As an afterthought I also added the gospel jam that was captured on tape (and film) on March 31, 1972, as part of the Elvis On Tour documentary.

The "FTD light version" of He Touched Me has a running time of about 80 minutes. It was compiled using all of the alternate takes that have been officially released so far. They can be found on Walk A Mile In My Shoes – The Essential 70's Master, Platinum: A Life In Music, Today, Tomorrow And Forever, Easter Special, I Sing All Kinds and A Hundred Years From Now – Essential Elvis Volume 4.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hoop And A Holler And I'll Be There

Battling a cold on the first day of my vacation, I decided I could do worse than lying down on the sofa watching an Elvis movie on DVD. Why I picked Stay Away, Joe, I really don't know. Maybe it had something to do with the photo of Elvis from that particular film that my wife discovered a couple of weeks ago in one of the windows in a nursery school. Or maybe it was because it's been ages since I last saw it. Whatever the reason I had a pretty good time in front of the TV.

Shot on location in Arizona in 1967, Stay Away, Joe is a western comedy based on a bestselling book from 1953 dealing in a satirical way with the relationship between the government and the Native Americans. Elvis plays Joe Lightcloud, a half-breed Indian rodeo rider returning to his family's reservation home with a herd of cows and a bull, thanks to a deal with an aspiring congressman.

Although the plot is a bit thin at times, there's a lot of comical moments. My favorite one is when Elvis sister comes to visit, bringing along both her fiancé and mother in law. The visit becomes a disaster, the fiancé falling through a hole in the floor of the flimsy house, then through the paper thin walls. Well, if you've seen the scene, you know what I'm talking about.

There's also a lot of womanizing, done in a far more adult way by Elvis than in his earlier movies. Also, there's plenty of fight scenes. In fact the movie ends with a fist fight that leads to the destruction of the whole house. "Man, that's what I call one hell of a fight," exclaims Elvis as he rises from the remains.

Doing a little research after watching the movie, I learned that Stay Away, Joe received criticism for the film's "quaint and patronizing view of American Indians as brawling, balling, boozing children," as The Hollywood Reporter put it. On the other hand, The Film Daily thought that "It doesn't matter that credibility is stretched. What matters is that that the picture evokes a mood of mirth and happy frenzy that is catching."

So, maybe the truth lies somewhere in between. What's for sure is that Stay Away, Joe offered a major change for Elvis regarding his screen roles and broke the established formula of his movies. But unlike his singing career, which also received a boost that year with the recordings of "Guitar Man" and "Big Boss Man" among others, it was too late. (And I guess that the terrible song "Dominic" didn't help much, either.)

But today, 44 years after it was made, Stay Away, Joe helped me forget my cold. I enjoyed the movie and Elvis seemed to have a good time as well.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Did Rhoticity Kill The Hillbilly Cat?

Recently I found out that I'm not the only Elvis fan in the building where I work at the University of Gothenburg. One morning, I received an envelope with the internal mail. In it was a copy of a study in English, written by Mats Mobärg, a researcher and teacher at the Department of languages and literatures.

Turned out he'd read the article about me and my interest in Elvis in the official news magazine for the university, and thought I'd be interested in the study, titled "Did rhoticity kill the Hillbilly Cat?" that he wrote in 2001.

In short, what Mats Mobärg sets out to do, is trying to answer the question if Elvis Presley (a white pop singer) accommodates his singing pronunciation to a southern black model, in a way that resembles European singers aiming at an American target and northern American singers at a southern target.

He does this by investigating something called non-rhoticity, i.e. the absence of an [r] sound in words like arm and here. Non-rhoticity, he explains, "was traditionally a feature of black accents and white traditional upper-class accents, rhoticity being characteristic of white lower-class accents.

By comparing Elvis singing and speaking pronunciation he demonstrates that there is a dramatic increase of non-rhotic forms in his singing as compared to a spoken recording he used as a control (excerpts from an interview in Lakeland, Florida, August 1956, available on Elvis–A Legendary Performer Volume 3).

Mats Mobärg then goes one step further, checking out, among other things, rhoticity and period as well as rhoticity and tempo. It turns out that Elvis as the rock and roll hero of the mid and late fifties to a very great extent is non-rhotic, whereas Elvis the Hollywood crooner of the sixties puts his [r]'s in 50 per cent of the time. Also, that his up-tempo songs, especially the rhythm & blues songs, exhibited non-rhoticity to a remarkably high degree. Mats Mobärg has this to say on the last page of his study:
This would seem to indicate that there may indeed be a accommodation to a black model, since, among the genres tested, rhythm & blues by definition represents the black musical tradition, and non-rhoticity is a primary characteristic of black southern speech. It cannot be claimed, on the basis of the present analysis, that Presley consciously wanted to accommodate to a black style, but it is likely that there was a strong sense of appropriaetness of style in his adaptation of music, which led to the same result.
Are you with me? In any case I thought it cool that a fellow fan working in the same building as me has done scientific research on Elvis Presley.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Elvis CAC 4 crew patch

I have yet to receive an answer from the U.S. Navy and its Patrol Squadron VP-45 regarding my "Elvis ... if he's out there we'll find him!" crew patch, that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. The veterans from that squadron acted quickly though, just one day after I sent the e-mail, I got a reply from Buck Jones, the president of the Patron Four Five (VP-45) Association.

Although on a Sunday he went to a lot of trouble answering my letter, and later that day, a couple of follow-up questions that I had. Among other things he told me the:
The Elvis CAC 4 [Combat Air Crew 4] crew patch is not an authorized VP-45 Patch. All Navy Patrol Squadron's usually allow individual flight crews to wear unique crew patches on flight gear (suits/jackets). Since most Navy Patrol flight crews stay together for 18 months or less the patches are purchased by the crew as a one time buy and are usually changed or modified with each new group.
As far as I know only one CAC 4 crew had the patch. I served in VP-45 from 1963 to 1970 (flight crew) and 1979 to 1981 (maintenance material control officer). There were times when I was on flight crews that all 12 crews had a unique patch. There were also times when no crews had unique patches. I have no idea when a crew 4 wore the Elvis patch.
He also explained that several military units have used that particular Elvis patch [same message/different picture of Elvis] for crews or unique units. Also, that the U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue units have used the Elvis patch as well.

So, thanks to the president of the Patron Four Five Association I learned a lot, not only about the Elvis patch, but about VP-45 as well. I'd like to take the opportunity to once more thank him for taking the time to answer my questions on a Sunday.

But the story didn't end there. About the same time I received an e-mail from fellow Elvis blogger Troy Y. who runs The Mystery Train Elvis Blog. He'd read my post and found variants of the patch I wrote about, which comfirmed the use of the Elvis patch among other military units.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Elvis Now - Now And Then


What part Elvis should take in my life a particular day is often decided by myself, for example by way of a CD or a DVD. But he can also pop up in different ways when you least expect it, and quite often he does. The following story illustrates this.

Last month I spent a couple of days with my parents together with my wife and daughter. My mother had dug up a couple of old children's books from when I was little, including one in German called Lottes Tagebuch (Lottes' Diary).

Even though my German is rusty, to say the least, I decided to leaf through it, showing the pictures in it to my daughter. About halfway there was a picture showing Lotte browsing through some records in a rack, while in charge of the music at a friend's party. And, to my surprise, the record at the very front was titled Elvis Now.

I quickly went back to the inside of the front page, earning me a confused look from my daughter. I noticed that the book was printed in 1972, the year Elvis Now was released, so I came to the conclusion that's why that particular title was chosen. Now, why an Elvis album was at the front, I don't know. Maybe the author, Margareta Lööf was an Elvis fan and had recently bought Elvis Now.

That's the part Elvis played in my life that day. Not the biggest one by far, but a nice one, nevertheless. And it made me listen to Elvis Now when I came home again. But that's another Elvis experience altogether.

Elvis Now- An Appraisal (my review of FTD's classic album version)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"First Impression Is Not So Good"

Yesterday I found an update about the recent FTD album Stage Rehearsal on the excellent Elvis In Norway website. This is the first official release of the show rehearsal Elvis did on August 10, 1970, in Las Vegas, which pleased me when it was first announced. What I read about it did not.
Out now, but first impression is not so good! The sound quality is great, but too many edits are evident. The most HOPELESS of all is the vocal edit on 'Polk Salad Annie' (Polk A Little Sock Salad'). You can still hear Elvis talking about "overweight little woman etc..., but it is only a bleed from other microphones. This vocal edit is utterly pathetic, really!! What's the harm!? FTD is obviously going for the old Parker - good clean fellow - philosophy! I'm embarrassed by this, really.

Songs that are incomplete from start are patched together with a live take of the same song, with audience reaction and everything. And it do so NOT WORK. Most annoying is 'Something', but also two versions of 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling' have lost their charm with the same opening sample on both takes... Ouch!!

According to the short review of the same album at ElvisNews.com, the liner notes stated that there was some repair necessary because the intros were missing, but I never thought much about it. Until now.

I probably could understand the decision to tamper with the material in this way if Ernst Jorgensen was aiming for the general public. But the Follow That Dream label is a collectors label for the fans. And as one of them, I want the material presented in the way it was recorded, with late starts and all. Surely not manipulated in this way.

I'm also disappointed that Ernst Jorgensen didn't tell us about his approach to this material when the announcement about the June releases was made.

It's been ten years since we had an official release featuring rehearsals from That's The Way It Is, and when another one finally comes along it's done like this. What a shame!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Handwritten Las Vegas Rehearsal Set List

Sitting behind his desk in his California home at 144 Monovale, in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, Elvis looks down at the canary yellow lined legal sheet where he so far has scribbled only the words "RCA STUDIO REHEARSALS."

He sighs, leans back in his comfortable, green leather chair, at the same time casting a glance at the photo on the desk showing him proudly shaking hands with Richard Nixon, who only days before, on August 9, 1974, has resigned the office of the presidency.

But Elvis has other things on his mind than the Watergate scandal. The fact is, he's as weary as his critics of the predictability of his own show, and is determined to work up an entirely different repertoire for his August 19 opening in Las Vegas.

Tomorrow is the first of three days of rehearsals at RCA's Sunset Boulevard Studio, and Elvis wants his long time friend and stage director Charlie Hodge to have a list of songs he can show to the musicians. It's the way they always do it before going in the studio. "The 2001 introduction has to go and I ain't gonna use my guitar," he mumbles to himself and starts writing with his gold plated fountain pen.

About fifteen minutes later, Linda Thompson, passes the door to the combined office/TV/living room, and casts a quick glance at Elvis. Things aren't that great between them right now, and she knows he's hitting on other girls, including twenty-one-year-old Sheila Ryan, who was on the cover of Playboy magazine that previous October.

Linda tries to catch Elvis' eye, but he doesn't look up from the paper on which he is writing. She knows better than to disturb him and walks away.

Elvis haven't even noticed her. Truth is, he's invigorated simply to be reinventing the show, introducing recent material such as "Promised Land," "It's Midnight" and "If You Talk In Your Sleep," and omitting the medley of past hits.

He also throws in songs he's never done live before, including, surprisingly, "Down In The Alley" recorded back in May 1966. "Janie, Janie, Janie, Janie, Jane, Jane," he sings out loud as he remembers how fun he was having in the studio with that one, clowning around with Charlie Hodge. Some old favorites, such as "Proud Mary" and "I'm Leavin'" also end up on the sheet.

Finished at last, he puts the fountain pen in its holder and looks with satisfaction at the list in front of him. He notices that he's managed to spill some coffee on it and that "Just Pretend" is written twice. No matter. "OK, anytime you're ready," he says to himself as he gets up from the chair, the set list in his hand.

(This post was inspired by an auction on eBay)