Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Moment In Time

Maybe a bit ironic, the first FTD book to come without an accompanying CD, A Moment in Time–4 Days in '56 (released in November last year), is one of the best from the label so far. Not only does the author Michael Rose present literally hundreds of never before seen photos from Elvis' late spring tour in 1956, with the help of a well written text he also tells the story behind the images.

I guess you could call A Moment In Time–4 Days in '56 a “textvisual documentary,” as opposed to the “audiovisual documentary” concept used on earlier FTD books that include CD's. And it's an approach that works extremely well. I found myself engulfed in the book, reading it from cover to cover while simultaneously studying the photographs.

As for the photos, they are the result of two national magazines, Seventeen magazine and Look magazine, sending photographers and writers to find out what Elvis was all about. Spending several days with him on the road, from Detroit to Columbus, then on to Dayton and finally home to Memphis, the resulting candid shots shows Elvis performing, meeting his fans, relaxing between shows and at home with his family.

For example, there are some great shots in the beginning of the book of Elvis spending time at a local arcade in Detroit, playing pinball and shooting a carnival gun. A couple of pages later the text tells the story of Elvis meeting five winners of an “Why Teenagers Like Elvis Presley” essay contest run by a local newspaper. And looking at the pictures, sure enough, there is Elvis hanging out with the kids, playing the piano for them, signing autographs and finally posing for a souvenir photo.

And then there's lots and lots of photos capturing Elvis on stage, showing just how dynamic and explosive he was in front of his audience. Accompanying some fantastic shots of Elvis driving the crowd wild at the Fox theater in Detroit (one of which was used on the cover of the Young Man With The Big Beat box set), is a quotation taken from a lucky fan who saw the 4 p.m. show:

I'll never forget how he dressed, the way he held the microphone, moved around the stage. He stood legs apart to swivel, then crouched down to touch outstretched hands. He was original and, damn, he was cool. The girls today would say 'hot,' and he was.

Speaking of fans, the book includes a couple of photos from one of the shows in Dayton of young girls screaming so much that they probably couldn't hear a word of what Elvis was singing. A local police officer standing close by watches them with an amused look on his face.

The book ends with Elvis spending some time at his new home in Memphis on Audubon Drive. There's photographs of him relaxing in the sofa between his mother and father, trying out his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and sitting in his 1956 three-wheeled Messerschmitt “microcar.”

The photographers also followed Elvis into his bedroom where he posed with his stuffed animal collection. In one of the final shots Elvis can be seen sitting on his bed, holding his mother's hand and looking happy and content. It must have felt good to be home again.

In December last year, Arjan Deelen, tour manager of The Original Elvis Tribute show, told me that A Moment In Time–4 Days In '56 is a real keeper. I couldn't have said it better.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

10,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong

The crypt is located inside this mausoleum.
The crypt at the Forrest Hill Cemetery in Memphis where Elvis was interred after he died will not be sold on auction. Over 10,000 fans (me included) have signed an online petition to prevent the sale, and today I received the following press release from ElvisMatters, the Belgian/Dutch fan club that started the campaign:

Elvis Presley’s crypt has left the auction block. Celebrity auctioneer Darren Julien said Friday that his company has agreed not to sell the crypt after fans worldwide demanded that it be kept as a shrine to his memory. (= the petition) Julien’s Auctions announced in May that it would sell the empty tomb at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis, Tenn., at its “Music Icons” auction Sunday. Julien said the company won’t sell the crypt “until Forest Hills finds a plan that best suits the interests of the fans while respecting and preserving the memory of Elvis Presley.” Presley was interred there alongside his mother, Gladys, after he died Aug. 16, 1977. Two months later, they were reburied at his Graceland home. The original crypt has remained empty ever since.

I remember visiting the Forest Hill Cemetery together with fellow fans during Elvis Week in 2005. It feels good that the crypt that I saw then will remain empty, and that I played a small part in making that happen.

So, thank you, fellow Elvis fans, and a big thank you to ElvisMatters member and Navy Officer Rev. Fred Omvlee who personally delivered a Letter of Protest from the fan club. I salute you!

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Dreamed Of Elvis

If you're an Elvis fan like me, I bet you have, in your sleep, dreamed of Elvis. Maybe about seeing him on stage or even meeting him after the show. I know I have. Many times.

Last night I had a dream involving Elvis that was a bit different. In the dream, I sat with my headphones on, listening to Elvis rehearsing songs for an engagement in Las Vegas. Maybe it was the upcoming FTD album From Hawaii To Las Vegas that was spinning on my CD player, maybe it was something else.

Suddenly Elvis started singing, of all songs, “Frankie And Johnny.” On the one hand, it sounded very much like the soundtrack version from 1965, but on the other hand what I heard was something completely different, Elvis giving the song his undivided attention.

I couldn't believe I was hearing this, so I looked at the cover in my hand, browsing through the track listing but finding no mentioning of “Frankie and Johnny.” So what I did was hitting the rewind button on the CD player, and true enough, there was Elvis singing “Frankie and me we were lovers...” once again.

Then the strangest thing happened. Right there in front om my eyes, all of a sudden I could see Elvis on stage at the Las Vegas Hilton, performing the song, urging band and orchestra along. And like I've seen him do so many times in That's The Way It Is and On Tour, dramatically turning around towards Ronnie Tutt on drums, and by wild arm movements evoking some frantic drumming while (not featured in those movies!) pouring his heart out, singing “I'm your man, I know I done you wrong...”

So why did I dream a thing like that? Seeking an explanation, I think the reason for it was that I the day before had read an article in the latest British fan club magazine about Elvis rehearsing for his January 26, 1972 opening show. In that particular magazine there was also an add for the From Hawaii To Las Vegas album, so that probably had something to do with it as well.

But why Elvis chose to rehearse the title song from his twentieth movie Frankie And Johnny in my dream I have no idea. It's not like it's one of my favorite numbers, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't one of Elvis' either.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Not Just Another Saturday Night

Ever since I first listened to the June 1975 Dallas concert that concluded the Elvis Aron Presley box set, I've had a soft spot for the tours Elvis did in the spring and summer of 1975. Maybe his artistic ambitions had faded at the time, but he was back in good shape, full of energy and his voice as impressive as ever. Something that is evident while listening to former FTD releases such as Dixieland Rocks (2001), Southern Nights (2006) and Dixieland Delight (2009).

Now, I'm happy to report that this holds true for the recent FTD addition Another Saturday Night as well. Featuring the evening show from Shreveport on June 7, 1975, Elvis sounds engaged and is clearly having fun. Judging by the screams from the fans in the Hirsch Coliseum, so is the audience. 

“It's a pleasure to be back in Shreveport, because this was my first job, as you know, in Shreveport. And if the sound goes out, it might be my last one!” Elvis kids before starting doing some “old ones” like “Love Me” (followed by “If You Love Me”), Love Me Tender” “All Shook Up,” “Teddy Bear”/”Don't Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog.”

As with all the concerts from the May 30-June 10 tour, this one doesn't take off fully until it's time for “Burning Love,” delivered in true 1972 style right after “The Wonder Of You.” As “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” is then performed after the introductions, promoting his new single, the fans are treated with no less than two of Elvis' best rockers from the 70's at the same show.

Other highlights include “How Great Thou Art” and “An American Trilogy,” the former having Elvis repeating the last verse (“I can do it better than that, see, cause I missed that first part”), the latter receiving an enormous response from the southern audience.

I can also report that, yes, Elvis once again succeeds in getting J.D. Sumner to break up during the second verse of “Why Me Lord,” this time by shouting out, “Sing it baby,” and “Kiss me.”

Even the introductions are more interesting than usual, due to the fact that James Burton is from Shreveport. “Johnny B. Goode” has Elvis singing an extra refrain before launching into the first verse, after which he says, “It's strange how things work out because 19 years ago it was my first job here, and James is from here. And he's my guitar player. It's strange you know.”

And here I am, listening to the very concert where those words were spoken by Elvis, 37 years ago. That's a bit strange, too, don't you think?! But FTD made it happen, and for that I'm grateful.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Of The Whole Wide World

One of the great things about having an Elvis blog is that I get to hear from fans all around the world, many of them telling me things I’d like to write about. Unfortunately, with a busy job and a 20 months old daughter, time isn’t always on my side.

So for once, I decided to take the easy way out. The last two weeks I have received three e-mails that I feel are potential subjects for my blog. But as I will not have the time to elaborate the information they contain into three separate posts, what follows are excerpts from the letters instead.
This past week I did a special episode of my podcast, All Time Top Ten. Check out episode 22 - Top Ten Elvis Presley Songs. My buddy Nick Baker is a massive Elvis fanatic and he and I discuss and play our favorite Elvis songs. Check it out here:
 Thought you might find this interesting - the same company that did the infamous Tupac hologram is now going to be releasing an Elvis hologram - and it'll be going on tour! We did a story on this @Buzz60:
Here is the full information on the Australian Elvis By Request: The Australian Edition CD release. […] This is a very special 40 track double CD release where Australian Fans vote for their favourite Elvis track from a listing of every master track. The voting promotion is from Monday June 4 until Friday July 13 and then from this Sony will get the album track listing for the album.

Before I sign off, I'd like to recommend the latest post over at The Mystery Train Blog, titled "I Am An Elvis Fan (So Why Can't I Choose My Own Songs?)." Not only does it tell you why the Australian Elvis By Request CD is far superior over its American counterpart, the I Am An Elvis Fan CD, it's also written by a good friend of mine I got to know thanks to my blog.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

This Is Elvis (Double LP)

Today, 31 years ago, I celebrated my fourteenth birthday. And I did it in style, since one of the gifts I received from my parents was the then newly released soundtrack double LP album This Is Elvis. I remember my class visited a swimming stadium that day, and all I could think of was getting home to listen to my new Elvis album.

I must have spent the whole evening playing those two records over and over, and looking at all the small photos from the movie printed inside the gatefold. Some of the songs I recognized, but a lot of them were new to me. Like “That's All Right,” that both me and my brother thought sounded a bit funny back then.

Digging out my copy of the soundtrack today, I couldn't help notice how worn the cover was, and how scratchy the two LP's looked. I must have played them many, many times through the years, although it has been a while now. Therefore I decided to give this faithful old servant yet another spin, and it was nice to get reacquainted with it.

I've always liked the tracks on the album and the order they are placed in. For example, I find the inclusion of “Army Swearing In” (that ends with the words “Private Presley, you'll be in charge of the group”) followed by “G.I. Blues” to be highly effective. Another example of this is the “Excerpt From JCs Award To Elvis” that segues into “Promised Land” (containing Elvis' harmony vocal overdub).

Also, it hit me how much of the material was unreleased at the time of the album's release. Like the four great TV appearances from 1956 and 1957, one of them Elvis' performance of “Hound Dog” from the Milton Berle Show, that caused an uproar in the press the very next day.

Then there's the fantastic sounding version of “An American Trilogy” from the April 9, 1972 show in Hampton. Another highlight is the overdubbed version of “Always On My Mind,” from the mock session Elvis held for the Elvis on Tour movie. Actually, these two tracks have yet to see an official release on CD.

When I first heard this soundtrack in 1981, “Blue Suede Shoes” from the 1968 TV Special quickly became a favorite. It took years before I learned that this track was a spliced version from the June 27, 6 PM sit-down show and the June 29, 6 PM stand-up show. At the time I didn't know that “Merry Christmas Baby,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “I Got A Thing About You Baby” and “Promised Land” were edited as well.

Now, 31 years later, I have a far better grasp of the Elvis Presley catalog. But This Is Elvis was one of those albums that pointed me in the right direction, and it remains special. Hopefully, it will be available on the FTD label someday. Ernst Jorgensen, it would make for a great birthday gift!

Additional reading:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Don't Mention My Name

To the best of my knowledge, only two albums released during Elvis' lifetime lacked his name on the cover, and those were For LP Fans Only and On Stage. Actually, the latter earned Colonel Tom Parker a Grammy nomination for best album cover back in 1959. But why he left Elvis name out of it is anybodies guess. Maybe it was because the cover showed the smiling face of Elvis, a face that at the time was one of the most recognized in the world.

When On Stage was released, it was another story. Elvis was still famous of course, but this was the first album cover showing his new style, clad in a stage costume that was the forerunner to the jumpsuits used in later years, and with his hair down. Like my brother wrote in a comment to my post dealing with the On Stage classic album from FTD, “I bet some people didn't recognize him back then, just looking at the cover.”

And speaking of the FTD version of On Stage, in the accompanying booklet, two pages display documents such as memos, letters and notes dealing with the layout and production of the cover. There's a lot of instructions about the position of the picture and what colors to use, but unfortunately, nowhere is there a clue to as why Elvis name was left out.

This post could have ended right here, but my curiosity aroused, I decided to check out if any of the albums released from 1978 onwards lacked Elvis name on them. And sure enough, there were a couple where Elvis name had been left out:

  • Reconsider Baby (1985)
  • The Alternate Aloha (1988)
  • Tiger Man (1998)
  • Memories: The '68 Comeback Special (1998)
  • Suspicious Minds – The Memphis 1969 Anthology (1999)
  • Burbank '68 (1999)

The first two titles, Reconsider Baby and The Alternate Aloha, didn't even include the title on the cover. As both album covers have artistical ambitions, maybe the words were left out as to not spoil the visual experience.

As for the rest of the list, it's a bit funny that three out of four include performances from the '68 Comeback Special. A coincidence? Only Ernst Jorgensen or Roger Semon can tell. Maybe they were aiming for a Grammy?!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Presley Signature Ending Style

A couple of days ago I decided to give the Girls! Girls! Girls! soundtrack album a spin. Listening to the second track, “I Don't Wanna Be Tied,” I found myself enjoying the transition from the fast tempo of the song to the slow ending, done in the style of “Jailhouse Rock” from Elvis '68 Comeback Special in 1968.

Simultaneously, I remembered reading a fan comment on some time ago, suggesting an album with all the songs Elvis ended this way. Finding it, I noticed that just a couple of songs were mentioned, so I went ahead and made up a playlist with all the tracks I could think of with this typical “Presley Signature Ending Style.” This is what I came up with:

I Got A Woman”
Master, take 8–1/10/1956
A song Elvis used in his live act at the time, and had already tried to record at Sun, “I Got A Woman” became his first RCA master. It's a fast and bouncy number, right up to the slow ending that is timed perfectly. Released on Elvis Presley in March 1956.

Got A Lot O' Livin' To Do” (finale)
Take 13–1/18/1957
Used to great effect towards the end of the movie Loving You, this must count as the ultimate slow ending version, at least movie wise. Has Elvis ever ended a song in a cooler way in any of his feature films? This version was finally released on the first Essential Elvis volume in 1986.

Steppin' Out Of Line” (record version)
Master, take 9–3/22/1961
One of my favorite cuts from the Blue Hawaii soundtrack recordings, “Steppin' Out Of Line” sadly didn't make it into the movie or even onto the original album as a bonus song. Instead, it ended up on Pot Luck in 1962. I actually prefer the record version (with Boot Randolph's saxophone) over the movie version. Also, the record version has a much better ending, guess what kind it is?

Rock-A-Hula Baby”
Master, take 5–3/23/1961
Apparently Elvis favoured the slow ending style while recording the Blue Hawaii soundtrack. “Rock-A-Hula Baby” ends in almost exactly the same way as “Steppin' Out Of Line,” and just like the latter it's a fun song, wild and cooking. One of the musical highlights from the movie as well as the soundtrack album.

I Don't Wanna Be Tied”
Master, take 8–3/28/1962
Performed in the movie Girls! Girls! Girls! at a local nightclub, “I Don't Wanna Be Tied” isn't a bad number. But compared to “Got A Lot O' Livin' To Do” (finale), it falls far behind. This is especially true for the slow ending, where the movements made by Elvis dressed in a jacket and tie are miles from the ones made in Loving You five years earlier.

C'mon Everybody”
Take 3–7/9/1963
Not featured on the master (take 5), the alternate take 3 includes a slow ending, just as the movie version did (having Elvis dancing together with Ann-Margret). But it's clearly done on the spur of the moment, as it starts five seconds after the take ends, sounding very improvised and unpolished. But great to listen to, nevertheless. First released on FTD's Silver Screen Stereo in 2001.

Frankie and Johnny”
Master, take 6–5/14/1965
Though not containing a strictly slow ending, the title track from Elvis' twentieth movie offers something along the same lines. That's why I decided to include it on my list.

Baby, If You'll Give Me All Of Your Love”
Master, take 5–6/29/1966
Definitely featuring a Presley signature ending style, “Baby, If You'll Give Me All Of Your Love” is a fast rocker, maybe not of the best quality but sung well by Elvis in the movie Double Trouble. Watching it on the big screen is another matter, with Elvis slapping an uppright bass and singing to some kind of doll's head placed at the top of it.

Jailhouse Rock”
Live Master–6/29/1968 8PM Show
Recorded to the day two years after “Baby, If You'll Give Me All Of Your Love,” “Jailhouse Rock” from Elvis' ´68 Comeback Special is a different ball game altogether. Singing with a rough voice, he has never sounded more driven or wild, and the slow ending is sensational. It's Elvis returning to his roots.

Winter Wonderland”
Master, take 10–5/16-1971
Why Elvis favoured a slow ending on his version of the seasonal standard “Winter Wonderland” is anybodies guess. Clearly, he was tired of the song, and the performance is spiritless, to say the least. Maybe he thought a slow ending would help save it somehow (I think it did), or maybe he just did it for laughs.

I Can Help”
Master, take 2–3/10-1975
Elvis version of Billy Swan's “I Can Help” was to be his last fast tempo studio recording to feature a slow ending. He nailed the song in one single take.

I Got A Woman”
Live version
When Elvis returned to the stage in 1969, one of the songs he brought with him was “I Got A Woman,” complete with the slow ending he originally used in the 50's. A couple of years later he would add the “Amen”-routine to this song, but the slow ending remained right up until the last concert in 1977.

Jailhouse Rock”
Live version
Elvis also sang “Jailhouse Rock” in 1969, but without a slow ending as the song was coupled with “Don't Be Cruel.” Later on, though, he re-used the ending from the '68 Comeback Special. One example of this can be found on the album Elvis In Concert from 1977.

Johnny B. Goode”
Incomplete studio jam–5/18-1971
This snippet only lasts for about a minute and was originally released on FTD's I Sing All Kinds in 2007. As the jam ends Elvis starts to sing what sounds like a slow ending, adding, “I said Johnny.” But when the musicians start to follow he laughingly says, “No, no, no, no,” aborting the idea.

Finishing the above list, one question that still remains, is if it was Elvis that originally came up with the idea to end songs this way. But maybe the answer isn't all that important. That type of ending will always be a “Presley Signature Ending Style” in my book.