Monday, July 30, 2012

The King And The Boss

Is Bruce Springsteen the one they call 'The King'?” said the guy sitting behind us while waiting for Bruce to start the show in Gothenburg a few days ago.

No, that's Michael Jackson, isn't it?” answered his girlfriend.

No way, Elvis Presley is the King,” the somewhat older man sitting next to them said firmly. “Michael Jackson is called The King of Pop.”

By the way, do you know that a colleague at my office told me a great Elvis story?” the man continued. “He told me that his father had visited the States on business sometime in the seventies. He came to a town, I don't remember which one, and to his great pleasure saw that Elvis was going to perform there. But then he started thinking that maybe it would be better to bring his whole family to a show with Elvis. Seeing as they were planning a trip to the States the year after, he decided to wait. Boy, was that a mistake. Before the trip with the family Elvis died, so he really missed his chance to see the king.”

Ah! Now I remember, Bruce is called The Boss!” exclaimed the younger guy who started the whole conversation.

The above conversation was overheard by me and my wife right before the Bruce Springsteen concert in Gothenburg on July 28. There being over 66,000 people in the audience, what were the chances of an Elvis fan like me getting seats just in front of a guy telling an Elvis story? Still, that's what happened.

Unfortunately, another Elvis connection that I sat hoping for during the actual show, never materialized. The Boss didn't salute the King with a cover of “Burning Love” this time, like he did in Firenze, Italy, earlier this year on the same tour. My wife shouted “Burning Love” valiantly a couple of times, but with thousands and thousands of screaming Bruce Springsteen fans between her and the stage, it was a hopeless effort.

Still, the show was a fantastic one, and the day after I watched the “Burning Love” performance on YouTube, noticing that it was sung on my birthday, no less. Kind of an Elvis connection as well, I guess.

Technical advisor for this post was my wife.

Additional reading:

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Following That Dream (Part 4)

The fourth and last part of the article "Following That Dream," that I wrote for the Elvis International magazine, takes a closer look at the “what if” albums released by FTD.

The album that could and should have been,” Ernst Jorgensen writes in the booklet accompanying FTD’s Standing Room Only, and he’s right. The decision to release Burning Love And Hits From His Movies Vol. 2 instead was both dumb and inexcusable. But 37 years later, in 2009, FTD aimed to put things right. The label’s version of Standing Room Only combines the Las Vegas masters from February 1972 with the studio masters recorded the following month. The second CD consists of outtakes from the March studio session.

The second album “that never was” is titled Elvis Sings Memphis, Tennessee. It was recorded by Elvis in Nashville in May, 1963 and January, 1964, but for different reasons didn’t see the light of day until 1990 when it was released as For The Asking – The Lost Album in Europe. (When released in the U.S. in 1991 it was titled just The Lost Album.) What FTD did in 2008 was to release all the original masters and alternate takes from these two sessions on 2 CD’s. In 2011 the same formula was used with Elvis Sings Guitar Man, the third “what if” album that included songs recorded in Nashville as well, masters as well as outtakes, this time from the period 1966-1967.

One of the highlights on the Elvis Sings Guitar Man album is the making on the title track from the September 1967 session. Listening to Jerry Reed taking command of the recordings is fascinating stuff, as is the studio banter between him and producer Felton Jarvis. And that brings me back to what I really enjoy the most about the releases from FTD; to listen to how Elvis approached his work, and in that way learn more about him as an artist and a performer To read about it is one thing, to listen to what actually took place when it happened is a completely different ball game.

I’d like to end this article with something I wrote for my blog last year after having listened to the recording of “Guitar Man” on Elvis Sings Guitar Man. Combining what I heard in my headphones with facts and memories from those who that were there (described in books by, for example, Ernst Jorgensen and Peter Guralnick) and by using a bit of imagination, I came up with the following.

Jerry Reed, a whirlwind of energy, hooks up his electric gut string, tunes the B-string up a whole tone, and tones the low E-string down a whole tone. “So I can bar straight across,” he explains to his fellow guitar players. He plays a couple of tones with his fingers.

Felton Jarvis glances at Elvis who is standing at the microphone, looking expectantly at Jerry. “We’re rolling, this is ‘Guitar Man’ take one,” Felton says, as Jerry continues to run through some guitar licks, trying to get his fingers up to speed. Elvis laughs as Jerry excuses himself, “I ain’t played all weekend, Elvis.” “I know, you’re house is a mess, Reed,” Felton kids him. Elvis, fascinated by the man, chimes in, “That’s a mess, man.” “It is ... a mess,” answers Jerry as he starts working out the intro.

“No man, there ain’t no way you can get them both, they'll just sound like a room full of spastics or something,” Jery Reed tells Chip Young, who nods his understanding that it’s not possible to do all the guitar parts from his original recording at one time. Then, after a couple of tries, he turns to bass player Bob Moore, “It’s long on the record, I forgot it’s like this,” he says and plays the intro just right. Elvis’ face lits up.

What follows is a take abandoned after the first verse, but during those 35 seconds there’s no mistaking Elvis sounding energized and engaged, focusing on the music. Instead it’s Jerry Reed making the mistakes, “Man, I may wonder of in the parking lot. Stay with me, or I’ll get to you, sometime tonight,” he jokes. “I can do that better ... one two, three four.”

And better and better it gets. Elvis, responding well to the shot of musical adrenaline injected by Jerry Reed’s guitar sound, really gets into it. Take 5 is the first complete take, and at the end of take 10, when the guitars and the rhythm is just right, Elvis starts singing “What’d I Say.”

As the band adds power, steel guitar player Pete Drake, wearing his customary flowered shirt, glances as Elvis and a thought runs through his mind: “Is this really the same guy that I played for in June, and whose last recording was that silly song, what was it called again ... yeah, the one with the corny title ... ‘He’s Your Uncle, Not Your Dad’?”

So, there you have it, one of many special moments with Elvis provided by the Follow That Dream label. With over 100 releases during its 13 years of existence, I still find myself looking forward to every new announcement for the next upcoming titles.

Still, it’s not easy to please everyone. Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon have constantly been criticized by fans for not releasing the right material, bad mixes, poor artwork on the covers and so on. And certainly, I don’t agree with everything they do either. But the amount of unreleased material that they have made available is really awesome, and I for one only have to think back to the 1980’s to realize how lucky the fans are to have them. As someone wrote on an Elvis forum a couple of years back, defending Ernst Jorgensen, “We’re spoiled folks, remember that!”

This post is dedicated to Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Following That Dream (Part 3)

Now follows the third part of the article “Following That Dream,” that I wrote for the Elvis International magazine. This part deals with the live concerts released by FTD.

From the beginning live concerts have also played an important part of the FTD label, and the policy is to issue at least one show from each and every engagement that Elvis did in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, as well as from every tour during the 1970’s. So far some 40 concert recordings have been released; the majority in the form of so called soundboard recordings (recorded from the mixing desk in mono).

These soundboards make it possible for fans to experience how Elvis sounded on stage throughout the 1970’s. For example, a release such as Elvis As Recorded At Boston Garden ’71 offers you the chance to experience a fantastic concert that shows that Elvis was still at the top of the game during his third tour, in November 1971. And thanks to releases such as Dixieland Rocks and A Dixieland Delight I’ve learned that it must have been an incredible experience to see Elvis live on tour in the spring and summer of 1975. Not only was Elvis himself often in a great mood and looking well, but the audiences also created atmospheres in the auditoriums that were incredible.

The Follow That Dream label also offers you the possibility to get a ticket to one of the weirdest concerts of Elvis’ career, available on the album Closing Night. The closing show in Las Vegas on September 3, 1973, was an unusual, and at times, crazy show. One moment Elvis in a good joking mood, for example while performing “What Now My Love” lying on a bed that had been pushed out on stage. Another moment he is showing his frustration with the Las Vegas routine, by changing the lyrics in “Love Me Tender” to “Adios, you mother, bye bye, papa, too. To hell with the Hilton Hotel … the showroom, too.” (Colonel Tom Parker was in the audience, and Elvis blowing off steam didn’t go down to well with him, as it resulted in a heated argument after the show where Elvis fired his manager, although he changed his mind a bit later).

At times FTD has released a taped rehearsal as well. The one titled From Sunset To Las Vegas makes it possible to visit Elvis’ rehearsals at RCA’s Hollywood studio on August 16, 1974 for his upcoming Las Vegas season, and then, with the help of the CD Nevada Nights get a seat in the Las Vegas Hilton showroom and listen to the opening show, where Elvis performs an entirely different repertoire than his standard show. Dropping the “2001” introduction, he opens with “Big Boss Man,” introduces new material like “Promised Land” and “It’s Midnight” and throws in songs he never done live before, including, surprisingly, “Down In The Alley” recorded back in May 1966. Unfortunately the second CD, featuring the August 21 Midnight Show, reveals that he is back in the old “2001”-“See See Rider”-“I Got A Woman”/”Amen” routine only two nights later.

For better or worse, a show from each and every tour and engagement means that not every release can be a great one content wise. Playing New Haven ’76, recorded live on July 30, 1976, is downright distressing. Not only does “And I Love You So” sound off-key, there is also no mistaking the tiredness in Elvis’ voice. That Elvis is exhausted and out of breath is painfully evident during the next song as well. Usually “America” was one of the highlights during his concerts in 1976, but this time it’s another story altogether. Elvis voice is weak and fragile. In fact, pretty much the whole show is a sad affair.

When you think about it, it’s hard to understand that this is the same guy that five months later performs some of his best shows that year, during his December tour. The 2 CD release Showtime! Birmingham/Dallas ’76 features two of those shows, recorded on December 28 and 29. Both makes for pure listening pleasure. Take the concert in Dallas, for example. From the first notes of “See See Rider” where he practically throws himself into the song, to the falsetto ending of “Unchained Melody,” it’s Elvis at full blast. “No Teddy Bear, forget that,” he says at one point and delivers an emotional rendition of “My Way” instead. Then it’s right into high gear and “Polk Salad Annie.” It’s that kind of show.

Some professionally recorded concerts have been issued by FTD as well. Nearly all of them are live recordings that RCA did in Las Vegas during 1969 and 1970, featuring Elvis at his peak. One Night In Vegas (August 10, 1970 Opening Show) and Elvis At The International (August 23, 1969 Midnight Show) are two examples of this.

From the day I heard the Elvis In Person album for the first time when I was a kid I have always enjoyed the live recordings with Elvis from 1969. He’s so full of energy, sings fantastic with much of that raw 68-voice still present and clowns around quite a bit (maybe too much at times). Even the old songs sound great, like “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Hound Dog.” And the monologue is always funny to listen to (“I did Loving You, loving her and loving everybody I could get my hands on at the time,” for example). That’s why I’m happy that four complete shows from August 1969 have been released from FTD so far, and I’m looking forward to more of the same. And of course the rest of the professionally August recorded 1970 shows are on my wish list too.

In one case professional recordings were done by RCA between March and May, 1977 at various concert halls (released under the title Spring Tours ’77). FTD has also issued the Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis album (taped March 20, 1974), including the eight songs that were cut from the original release in 1974.

With one of the latest concert offerings FTD managed to surprise us all. Last year, out of the blue, a professionally recorded Elvis concert suddenly made an appearance. Titled Forty Eight Hours To Memphis, it features a show recorded in Richmond, Virginia, on March 18, 1974, two days before the show in Memphis that was released as the Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis album I just mentioned. Elvis sounds engaged, like he is having a great time. It’s really incredible that a concert in this sound quality has surfaced so many years after it was recorded. The release shows that there is still more out there, waiting to be discovered. Things not even rumored to exist. In some ways, it was almost as exciting waiting for it as listening to it.

The last of the professionally recorded live material done by RCA that has been released by FTD on an album so far (I’m still waiting for Elvis In Concert) comes from Elvis’ January-February 1972 Las Vegas engagement. Titled An American Trilogy it includes songs from different shows done on February 14-17, recorded for the abandoned Standing Room Only album. Which brings me to the three “what if” albums that FTD has put together, one of which is, yeah, you guessed it, Standing Room Only

To be concluded on July 29 (Part 4) …

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Following That Dream (Part 2)

Here follows the second part of the article “Following That Dream,” that I wrote for the Elvis International magazine. This part focus on the Classic Album series.

But it was with the launch of the Classic Album series in 2003 that FTD opened the doors wide to the different studios where Elvis worked during his career, and let us experience the recording sessions first hand. By releasing Elvis’ original albums in deluxe 7” size packaging together with an accompanying booklet and most of the times a second CD full of outtakes (many of them previously unreleased) we are offered a fly-on-the-wall experience of how Elvis and his group of musicians and singers develop the different arrangements of the songs in question.

I, for one, love to put my headphones on and time-travel to a recording session, listening to the laughter, banter, tuning of instruments and discussions taking place among Elvis and the musicians as they work out intros and make progress with the songs. Let me illustrate with a few examples, taken from the FTD classic albums Jailhouse Rock Volume 2, Blue Hawaii, How Great Thou Art and Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas.

Starting with Jailhouse Rock Volume 2, I've always thought the title track must've been a demanding song for Elvis, and listening to the last couple of takes confirms that. “I don’t think I’m gonna make it all way through,” he says after take 8 and then goes on recording just the ending. Another highlight is the first movie version of “Treat Me Nice,” where not only the tempo changes during the course of the 19 takes of the song, but also the beginning and the ending. “That’s a hit,” Elvis jokes after the third take and a bad ending by the Jordanaires.

Overall, Elvis seems to be in a good mood during the Jailhouse Rock sessions. “How bad you want me to get,” he laughs after the second take of “Young And Beautiful” (jail version). The only time he seems irritated is while recording the second version of “Don't Leave Me Now.” “Seems like everybody is holding down, we can’t get any feeling out of it this way,” he mutters after the first couple of tries of the song.

Moving on to Blue Hawaii, the FTD version of the soundtrack offers a fascinating insight into the making of one of Elvis’ biggest selling albums. The first takes of “Rock-A-Hula Baby” are worth the admission alone. When Elvis for some reason stops singing 40 seconds into the second take, the band just keeps going, seemingly unable to stop. “Hold it,” Elvis shouts, then laughs, before launching into the third take, delivering a wild and cooking performance. Another highlight is the making of the movie version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” Elvis going through 26 takes of the song (12 of them are included on the FTD album). “Damn pants too tight,” he says before take 14. The following takes shows Elvis having trouble with the slow tempo of the song “I can’t hold a note worth a damn,” he sighs after abandoning take 22.

Slicin’ Sand” might not be called a classic, but many of the 12 takes included are fun to listen to. One example is take 6 which has Elvis throwing in an extra verse: “Sand in my toes, sand in my hair, sand in my sandwich but I don’t care.” Elvis worked hard with “No More,” going through take after take of the song. As they all sound pretty similar, I was wondering about this, until I read today in Ernst Jorgensen’s A Life In Musicthat the writer of the song, Don Robertson, was invited to the studio that day. Elvis obviously wanted to show him that he was serious about the song.

Next in line is How Great Thou Art, recorded in May 1966. 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 great listening experience. The five takes of “Stand By Me” are good examples 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.” “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. 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 lose his way among the keys.

One of the last albums FTD released in 2011 was Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas. Elvis seems to be having a good time from the start during the session that took place in Nashville during two nights in May, 1971. While producer Felton Jarvis and the musicians discuss the beginning of “It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You)” featuring a celeste, Elvis throws in a line of “Merry Christmas Baby.” David Briggs follows suit, hammering away on the celeste. “I gotta hold you guys down, man,” Elvis laughs. Admittedly, he sounds a bit annoyed when the second take breaks down, complaining that the lyrics aren’t written out, but then works hard through a couple of more takes before settling on take 7 as the master. The previously unreleased take number 5 is a highlight, with Elvis pushing the boundaries of the song, the result a looser and less polished version than the master.

The FTD treatment of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas also reveals a more intimate and sensitive side of the 1971 Christmas recordings, with the help of outtakes not being overdubbed in any way. One example of this is “If I Get Home On Christmas Day.” When originally released in October 1971, Felton Jarvis had just about used every trick in the book when it came to making overdubs on it, adding strings, horns and a lot of backing vocals. Listening to the alternate takes, especially the early ones, you can almost be fooled into thinking it’s another song, it sounds so much more intimate.

As promised, those were some examples from the Classic Album series that give you an idea of how Elvis practiced his craft. I love the feeling of “being thrown” into the studio like that, and on occasion, see the recording sessions in a different light. For example, in his book Careless Love, Peter Guralnick writes that Elvis “was no more at ease than he had been at that strange session the previous September” while recording the songs for Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas. Maybe that was the case, but it’s not something I found evidence of while listening to the outtakes provided by FTD's treatment of the album.

To be continued on July 27 (Part 3) ...

Monday, July 23, 2012

Following That Dream

Earlier this month I received an e-mail from Phil Arnold, who runs the ElvisBlog and is a regular contributor to the Elvis International magazine. He told me that he had just received his copy of the latest issue of the magazine and that the article I wrote for it looked great.

It was Phil Arnold who at the end of last year asked me if I was interested in writing something about the Follow That Dream (FTD) collector's label. Thinking about it, I came up with the idea of focusing on the CD's in the series and how listening to studio outtakes and live concerts can help you get a feel for how Elvis approached his work.

During two months I wrote the article in my spare time, so reading the mail from Phil Arnold felt good. He had noted that the editor Darwin Lamm had split my story into parts, and that he looked forward to reading more in the next issue.

I then wrote an e-mail myself, to Darwin Lamm, asking his permission to publish the whole article on my blog. He replied that it was OK, so this week I devote my blog to the FTD label and the article “Following That Dream” in no less than four posts, starting today.


Following That Dream (Part 1)

With over 100 titles since the start in 1999, Sony BMG’s official Elvis Presley collectors label Follow That Dream (FTD) has released more albums than Elvis did during his life time. The wide range of available concerts as well as studio outtakes offers an interesting insight into how Elvis approached his work. Thomas Melin, author of the Elvis Today Blog, takes a closer look at some of the CD releases from a label that has served the fans with unreleased material for more than a decade.

The summer of 1999 saw the launch of the collectors label Follow That Dream (FTD) with the title Burbank 68, featuring rehearsals, studio and live recordings from Elvis’ legendary TV Special.

I still remember how excited I felt reading the announcement of the label in the British fan club magazine and ordering the CD. For years the major European fan clubs had discussed the possibility of establishing a legitimate Elvis Presley collector’s label, and finally Elvis’ record company had agreed. The goal with the new label was (and still is) to serve the dedicated Elvis collector with unreleased material. Since then, FTD with producers Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon at the wheel has produced an average of eight releases a year.

That’s an impressive release schedule if you stop and think about it for a moment. Just compare it with the “dry” years between 1978 and 1986 when only about 25 Elvis releases from RCA saw the light of the day (that's averaging three albums a year), many of them compilations with mostly old material, like The Rocker and Always On My Mind. In those days it was a long wait for an Elvis record including unreleased material, and releases such as Elvis: The First Live Recordings and Elvis - A Golden Celebration were a big happening, indeed.

Things just had to get better – and they did. In the mid 1980’s Ernst Jorgensen (then employed by RCA in Denmark) and Roger Semon (then employed by RCA in London) teamed up and during the 15 years or so that followed they brought order and vitality to the Elvis Presley record catalog. Not only did the releases improve greatly, they also served to reestablish Elvis reputation. Suddenly people around me thought it was cool that I listened to Elvis (something I’d known all along).

A steady stream of critically acclaimed box sets like Collectors Gold, The King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll, From Nashville To Memphis, Walk A Mile In My Shoes and Platinum – A Life In Music were released, but also a couple of albums that in a way were the forerunners to what was to become the FTD label. This was the Essential Elvis series, where Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon used the same formula that they would on many of the FTD releases. That is, collecting unreleased outtakes from a certain recording session or studio on an album.

In fact, during 1999 and 2000, Ernst and Roger produced albums for BMG that could as easily have been FTD releases, as well as the other way around. One example of this is the last Essential Elvis volume Such A Night (2000) that focused on the early sixties sessions that took place in RCA’s Studio B in Nashville, another the FTD album Long Lonely Highway released the same year, featuring Studio B outtakes from 1960 to 1968. With this in mind, it came as no big surprise when I read in an FTD catalogue from 2004 that the highly popular FTD album The Jungle Room Sessions (2000), with material from Elvis’ two last albums, was originally planned as a release on the Essential Elvis series on the main label.

And speaking of the The Jungle Room Sessions, this was the first FTD title that made many fans, me included, revaluate a certain recording session, as it presented the 1976 recordings in a much more positive light than was the case with the original albums From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee and Moody Blue. Elvis generally seems to be in a good mood, laughs between songs and above all, is committed. And without the heavy overdubs (strings, horns and voices) found on the masters, the takes included on The Jungle Room Sessions makes for a more moving listening experience as well, exposing Elvis feelings. One such example is the first take of “It’s Easy For You.” As the musicians hit a couple of notes to check their instruments, Elvis says, “I get carried away very easily. Emotional son of a bitch.” And he’s right. What follows is one of the most emotional performances ever done by Elvis, at least in my book.

To be continued on July 25 (Part 2) …

Sunday, July 22, 2012

To My Surprise! (Reprise)

On August 22 last year I wrote a post called “To My Surprise!” after having returned from a one week holiday in a Danish cottage where I had no access to the Internet. The post dealt with me finding out that Ernst Jorgensen had announced the upcoming FTD release 48 Hours To Memphis while I was away. Featuring a professional recording of Elvis' concert in Richmond on March 18, 1974, this was big news indeed.

My buddy Troy Y. who runs The Mystery Train Blog must have remembered that post. Because today, aboard a ferry from Denmark to Sweden after another vacation in Denmark without the Internet, an e-mail was waiting for me as I checked my inbox on my smartphone. Titled “Doesn't the biggest Elvis news always break while you are away?” it went like this:

First, the fantastic live recording of "I Forgot To Remember To Forget" surfaces, and now PRINCE FROM ANOTHER PLANET 2 CD/1 DVD set is announced covering MSG!

Thomas, if you keep going away, all us Elvis fans are gonna go broke! ;)

Reading this, I immediately visited my favorite Elvis sites to learn more (a good thing the ferry had WI-FI aboard). My wife, sitting beside me with our 21 months old daughter in her lap, ready to give her some food, sighed as I became absorbed with the big Elvis news that had broken during our stay in Denmark.

As I quickly found out, Troy Y. himself had actually written a great piece about the out-of-the-blue clip on Youtube of Elvis singing “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” live on the Louisiana Hayride radio show in 1955. He actually sent me a link to the clip on the very day I went off to Denmark, so unfortunately I just missed it. How typical, as it is now removed from YouTube.

But, as Troy points out in an update, this may in fact be a really good sign, as Ernst Jorgensen is “now in contact with the owner.” Hopefully, it will see an official release soon (it's not part of the new FTD box set A Boy From Tupelo: The Complete 1953-55 Recordings, as Ernst himself didn't know about its existence either. “Wow it's unbelievably beautiful. I'm still trying to recover from the shock,” was his reaction).

As if this piece of news wasn't enough, I also learned that it was announced yesterday that Sony Music will release Prince From Another Planet, a Madison Square Garden 40th Anniversary Set on September 28. The set will include a 40 minute DVD with never-before-seen footage of Elvis' performance at The Garden' in June 1972 along with two remastered CDs of the June 10 afternoon and evening shows.

My eyes glued to the screen of my smartphone, I remembered the posts about lost footage from The Garden that I wrote in 2009 and 2010, wondering about the content of the DVD. I was then brought back to reality by my wife, asking me to remove some food from her clothes courtesy of our daughter.

“Seems like the biggest Elvis news always break while I'm away,” I told her with a silly grin on my face, grabbing a paper napkin and halfheartedly starting to wipe away spilled yoghurt from her trousers. Once again, Elvis was foremost on my mind. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The First Time Elvis Sang In Public

There is no mistaking it, it's Elvis Presley I'm listening to. But the song doesn't sound the way I'm used to, with Elvis playing the piano and the Jordanaires backing him up.

Yet there is something in the small child's voice that reveals to me who is standing behind the microphone. Because, although he is only ten years old and singing without accompaniment, he makes the Red Foley “weeper” about a boy and his dog his own.

Eleven years later he will record an emotional version of “Old Shep” for his second LP album, at Radio Recorders on September 2, 1956. But the young Elvis I hear now is performing the same song in a talent show at the annual Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy show in Tupelo, on October 3, 1945.

As he finishes the song, I picture him looking up from where he is standing on a chair to reach the microphone, smiling shyly as he hears the audience of several hundred his age applauding enthusiastically. The microphone then follows him down to his parents, clearly picking up the sound of  his mother Gladys talking to him. “I'm so proud of you, son,” she says.

The announcer from the local radio station WELO which is broadcasting the contest, then reveals the winners. Elvis wins fifth place, just like he will state 27 years later, in a 1972 interview done for his last movie Elvis On Tour. The last thing I hear before the recording fades, is the announcer asking all the contestants to once more get on the stage for a group photo.

I look down at the one-of-a-kind audio recorder in my hand. It has just traveled through time, capturing ten minutes of Elvis' life. As it could only make one round-trip journey through time, and only record for ten minutes, I had to choose wisely. Pressing the “play” button to once more listen to Elvis singing for the first time in public, I'm convinced I did.

The imaginary story above is the result of a recent post by Troy Y. over at The Mystery Train Blog titled Choose Your Elvis Adventure: 600 Seconds.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

They Wrote Upon It Too!

Some four months ago I wrote about the records that I value the most – those signed by musicians I've talked to who once played or sang with Elvis. Since then I've added another two singles to that category.

In fact, they were both signed at the same night, when The Original Elvis Tribute 2012 played the Swedish town of Vara, on April 7. This show features some of Elvis' original musicians, among them bass player Duke Bardwell.

The first single happens to be one of my favorite Elvis songs, the 1975 rocker “T-R-O-U-B-L-E.” As it's also the only recording from the March sessions in Hollywood where Duke Bardwell's bass parts weren't removed, I thought it the perfect record for him to sign.

“It's a great song,” I told him during the intermission. “Yeah, it is, isn't it,” he answered while writing his name on the cover as well as the label on the record itself.

A couple of minutes later I managed to get a few moments with backing vocalists Mary and Ginger Holladay, who turned out to be two very nice and charming ladies. As the first time they sang backup for Elvis was during the famous 1969 American Sound sessions in Memphis, I thought it appropriate to bring along one of the resulting singles.

Handing over “Don't Cry Daddy”/”Rubberneckin” I asked them, “You did sing on 'Rubberneckin''?” fully well knowing that no female voices were present on “Don't Cry Daddy.” Mary assured me that they did, and then they both signed the cover.

Attending the show and meeting these musicians was an incredible experience, and the autographed singles will always remind me of that. Now, the only thing that could have made that night even more special would have been the presence of musician and songwriter Michael Jarrett. He was part of The Original Elvis Tribute in 2009 and 2010, but unfortunately I was never able to attend any of the shows back then.

I am, however, honored to have Michael Jarrett among my readers, so recently I sent him an e-mail, asking if I could send my copy of the single “I'm Leavin'” for him to sign. “I'm Leavin'” is one of the best songs Elvis ever recorded, so this would really mean a lot to me.

When Michael Jarrett answered that he would be honored to sign it, adding “we'll have to send Elvis across the ocean a couple of times to do this, but I think it will work,” it really made my day.

So, right at this moment, next to my computer, lies a package marked “fragile, handle with care,” the single resting securely inside. Tomorrow it will begin its journey across the ocean, and I can't wait for it to return.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Raised On Rock Revisited

Raised On Rock by FTD was released in 2007.
When released five years ago, the FTD classic album version of Raised On Rock made many fans, me included, revaluate Elvis’ 1973 July recording session at Stax. And listening to all the outtakes once again the last couple of days, they do present these recordings in a much more positive light than was the case on the original 1973 album.

One of my favorite tracks from Raised On Rock has always been the fast and bouncy “Find Out What’s Happening,” and it’s an interesting journey to follow the development of the song leading to the master (take 9). Elvis seems to be in a good mood throughout, but uses a lot of bad language as he messes up the lyrics on many of the takes. “Goddamn it! I want to find the writer of this and crush his fingers … break all of his pens,” he mutters after abandoning take 8. Take 9 is the master, but I’ve preferred the funky take 6 ever since I first heard it on Rhythm And Country back in 1998.

Another highlight is “For Ol’ Times Sake,” the alternate take 4, also released on Rhythm And Country, sounding even better than the master, conveying genuine feelings of loneliness in a way that only Elvis can. “Boy, that’s a good one, it had a great feeling to it” says producer Felton Jarvis, and Elvis obviously agrees. “That’s pretty, James,” he says before tackling a couple of more takes. Unfortunately he messes up the ending of a lovely take 7, but then breezes through the master (take 8).

An underrated song, in my opinion, is the pretty ballad “I Miss You,” recorded two months later at Elvis’ home in Palm Springs. Elvis went through no less than 15 takes of the song, so he must have felt some attraction to it. Featuring just piano, guitar and bass together with vocals by Voice, Elvis delivers some beautiful versions, and the composite of takes 10 and 11 is an absolute delight.

Another song Elvis tried out 15 times is “Three Corn Patches,” but in this case it’s more difficult to understand why he didn’t quit earlier. “You can’t kick this motherfucker if you … stick a dynamite in its ass,” he sums it up after a first false start. Listening to all the outtakes, I have to give him right; this is a song where no spark is ever evident, although the musicians do their best to light some fire to it. Take 14 does sound better than the master, especially the ending that has Elvis shouting “Take it home!” and the band then kicking in a higher gear.

No alternate takes are included of the title track “Raised On Rock” (the master is take 10), so no clue is offered as to what Elvis thought of the song. My guess is he shared Ernst Jorgensens opinion as expressed in the book A Life In Music: “the lyrics to ‘Raised on Rock’ (which had Elvis growing up on the music he himself had helped create) were downright silly.”

“If You Don’t Come Back” is better, a funky song featuring a wah-wah guitar, a pumping organ and some great backing-vocals provided by Kathy Westmoreland, Mary Greene and Mary and Ginger Holladay. Although Elvis sound a bit tired at times, he seems committed from the start. “The tempo was a little bit slower than the demo record,” he points out after take 3. I wonder how the song would have sounded, had he recorded it five months later, during the more successful December session at Stax. That goes for “Just A Little Bit” as well, which Elvis nailed after one false start.

The ballad “Girl Of Mine” shows Elvis in a good mood, the outtakes sounding much better than the heavily overdubbed master (take 11). Take three is quickly abandoned, due to a popping sound. “We got a pop on that pillow,” Felton Jarvis explains, Elvis shooting back, “How can you say ‘pillow’ without a ‘p’?” This is followed by take 4 where Elvis breaks down after omitting a “p,” singing “Your hand upon the ‘illow’, then laughingly saying, “That stops that shit, don’t it?

As “Girl Of Mine” was to be the last song Elvis recorded during the July session, Felton Jarvis recorded a couple of instrumental tracks for Elvis to overdub at a later date. Only “Sweet Angeline” was finally completed, at Elvis’ home in Palm Springs. The other three, “Color My Rainbow,” “The Wonders You Perform” and “Good, Bad But Beautiful” were left unfinished, but listening to them I can’t help thinking “what if?” How would they have sounded? Good, bad or beautiful? The rehearsal of “It’s Different Now” has me thinking along the same lines.

Elvis also recorded “Are You Sincere” at his California home, and take 1 is a real treat. Lasting for more than three minutes (the master clocks at 1:58) it has Elvis repeating the second half of the spoken part, as well as the ending.

Last, but certainly not the least, I have to mention the rough mixes on CD 2. Including six of the tracks from the Raised On Rock album, they lack the echo featured on the final mixes, sounding much clearer than the original version, and also running a bit longer.

Now, what if those mixes had been used instead, and if Elvis hadn’t insisted that “I’ve Got A Thing About You Baby” and “Take Good Care Of Her” (both recorded in July as well) be taken of the album for a future single release instead. Then the track listing would have looked like this (as written on a note featured in the accompanying booklet):

Side I
Take Good Care of Her
Find Out What’s Happening
For Ol’ Times Sake
If You Don’t Come Back
Sweet Angeline

Side II
I’ve Got A Thing About You Baby
Just A Little Bit
Raised On Rock
Girl Of Mine
Three Corn Patches

Although certainly not in the league of Good Times or Promised Land, it would have made for a stronger album than the original one. Maybe with the title Take Good Care Of Her instead?