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.


Mike Hermenet said...

An OUTSTANDING essay all the way around my friend!! I couldn't wait to read each part of your article and you certainly didn't disappoint! No wonder they wanted to use it for their magazine! You have pretty much nailed the whole concept of the FTD label with your writing, including the often maligned comments that come in from the fans who are disgruntled with what FTD occasionally puts out (and yes, I am one of those fans too!)

But in the end, the fact is that regardless of the little things that us fans find wrong, like poorly mixed audio or bland artwork, the fact is that us fans are treated annually to new recordings from an artist who hasn't recorded anything new in almost 35 years!! And, regardless of what some fans may find wrong with a particular FTD release, the fact is that it could be a whole lot worse and all Elvis fans need to be eternally grateful to Ernst and his crew for what they have done with the FTD label and the entire Elvis catalog in general.

Kudos to you my friend for truly realizing that with your amazing essay!! As someone who occasionally dabbles in writing reviews for some Elvis websites, I could have never come up with anything so succinct as your article!! Well done!!


Thomas said...

Thank you so much for your kind words, Mike, they mean a lot to me! And I agree, it's truly amazing how many new releases we get from FTD each year. And it never seems to stop, either :-) 35 years after his death, it's still great times to be an Elvis fan!