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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Ralph Strobel Signed Harum Scarum Album

Close up of Ralph Strobel's autograph on my Harum Scarum LP. 
Last week I received two packages from Ralph Strobel, who played the oboe on the Harum Scarum sessions on February 24–26, 1965. A couple of months back I found out that he is an assistant professor emeritus at Ball State University, so I contacted him and asked if he would like to answer some questions about those sessions. He graciously accepted, and reading his story I almost felt like I was there in the studio with him.

Some time after publishing the interview on my blog, I got another idea. Would Ralph Strobel agree to sign my copy of the Harum Scarum album? He thought it was a great idea, so I sent the cover across the Atlantic at the beginning of the summer. As I was going to Denmark on my vacation, Ralph Strobel wisely decided to send the cover back to me after I had returned. It took about a month to reach me, but it was well worth the wait. 

Opening the package, and pulling out the album cover, I saw that it was signed Ralph Strobel "OBOE" on the front cover in the lower right hand corner. It looked great. Harum Scarum is now one of those records in my collection I value the most – those signed by musicians I've met in real life or through e-mail conversation who once played or sang with Elvis. 

My signed copy of the Harum Scarum soundtrack.
In the smaller package I found an Elvis souvenir in the form of a very nice toothpick holder as well as a letter from Ralph Strobel where he told the story behind it. He also explained that he was happy that I had encouraged him into writing about the Elvis recording sessions, something he had wanted to do for years. That made me feel good.

I am happy to call Ralph Strobel my friend and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank him again for writing about his time recording with Elvis, signing my Harum Scarum album and sending me the Elvis toothpick holder. It meant a lot.

Additional reading:

Saturday, August 28, 2021

I'm Leavin': Elvis Back In Nashville

The first take of "I'm Leavin'" is included in the upcoming set Elvis: Back In Nashville.

During Elvis Week I was pleased to see the announcement for the 4 CD set Elvis: Back In Nashville covering his 1971 Nashville sessions. Like last year's From Elvis In Nashville it showcases Elvis Presley and his band as they sounded during the actual session without orchestral and vocal overdubs. 

But, unlike the 1970 Nashville recordings, many of the 1971 tracks included backing singers. One such example is "I'm Leavin'" that has been released as the first official audio promo/digital single for the set. Featuring take 1, you get to hear Elvis, the musicians and the Imperials rehearse the song (this was not included when take 1 was originally released on the Elvis Now FTD back in 2010) and then deliver a beautiful first attempt. 

I decided to email Michael Jarrett who wrote the song, sending him the link to the audio promo and asking him what his reaction was, listening to the take. This is what he wrote back:  

I just listened to Cut #1. Amazing! Truly amazing for this older songwriter to be like a fly on the wall in the studio listening to these great players 'carving out' my song. Actually, it's not very often that songwriters get a peak behind the curtains at the making of a song they've labored over to get just right in presenting to an artist or producer for recording consideration. Too Cool! ..So wonderful to hear them talking ..it's like being right there.

Thinking back fifty years, oh my! ..

When I first ventured into Hollywood back in the Spring of 1970, I hit the streets running with a pocket full of songs and a pocket full of dreams. With the help of a friend, I was fortunate to get a few meetings with some music producers right away. This was very lucky for a 'newcomer' to Crazyland, L.A. ...but I digress :)

Some of these music producers let me know right away that my songs were 'esoteric' and certainly not "commercial". Others just played a few seconds on the tape of each song and would then turn to me and say, "I just didn't hear anything that caught my ear" ..and I'm thinking after hearing this person say that to me, ... Certainly You Didn't Hear Anything Because You Didn't Even Listen!!

This producer then said to me, "let me suggest that you go back home and listen to the songs they play on "Top 40 music stations" and write songs like that. I will be happy in the future to listen to them. ...good day ..

Good day, INDEED!

I just told this story to encourage songwriters out there that might be reading this to follow your heart when you write and don't be swayed by what others say about your writing! It's the doing of it that is the most important thing.

Boy did Michael Jarrett prove those music producers wrong. Not only is "I'm Leavin'" a firm favorite among many fans (me included), Elvis obviously liked it too and sang it live many times. 

I'm really looking forward to Elvis: Back In Nashville that is to be released on November 12. Until then, be sure to listen to take 1 of "I'm Leavin'." Mixing engineer Matt Ross-Spang has done a great job and if the rest of the sessions sound like this we will have us another winner. 

Additional reading:

Monday, August 16, 2021

Welcome To My World

Elvis grave at Graceland photographed during Elvis Week 2005.

This post is a loose translation of a radio program I did in Sweden after having returned from Elvis Week in Memphis 2005 - 16 years ago.

Intro music: Beginning of "Welcome To My World"

The song "Welcome To My World" is playing in the visitors' headphones on their way up to Elvis Presley's home in Memphis - Graceland. And even though the song was not originally sung by Elvis to greet tourists, I think it feels quite appropriate. 

Because Graceland, and a large part of Memphis for that matter, is truly a world that revolves around Elvis. And this is especially true during the days around August 16, which is the date Elvis died. This is when the annual Elvis Week takes place, when fans from all over the world and of all ages gather in Memphis to pay tribute to their idol.

Music: Ending of "Welcome To My World"

A huge sign in Memphis stating the obvious.

On the way from the airport, I see huge billboards by the roadside with the slogan "Elvis lives." And once at the hotel, this feels like the place to be if you, like me, have liked Elvis since childhood.

Music: Beginning of "Heartbreak Hotel"

In the foyer, Elvis music blasts out from the head speakers by the bar, everywhere are people wearing Elvis t-shirts, and at the reception there is an Elvis impersonator wearing a blue jumpsuit and obligatory sunglasses.

And as if that wasn't enough, I see Elvis' old friend Sonny West sitting at a table signing autographs. It turns out that he performs at the hotel every night, talking about his time with the King. After saying hello, I ask him to comment the fact that Elvis, 28 years after his death, seems to be more famous than ever.

"Well, if you would have asked me at the end of the fifth year, at the fifth anniversary of his death, if he would continue to be so big, I would have said 'No i don't think so.' Would I have been wrong, right."

But since new fans are constantly discovering his music, he continues to be at least as famous now as then, is Sonny's explanation.

Music: Beginning of "Memphis, Tennessee"

In front of Graceland - a dream come true.

Just a few minutes bus ride from the hotel is Graceland, the destination of my journey. The house is located on Elvis Presley Boulevard, opposite Graceland Plaza, where the bus stops. Here, tourists flock around the souvenir shops that have grown up like mushrooms out of the ground, and the wealth of invention when it comes to what to buy with Elvis motifs knows no bounds.

In addition to sweaters, caps, key chains and fridge magnets, there are, for example, baby clothes, slippers, wallpaper, rubber ducks, the Elvis wine Jailhouse Red, bowling balls and Graceland in the form of a soft toy.

But I'm here to see the real Graceland. The trip costs 28 dollars, but in addition to the house I get a look at Elvis' cars, motorcycles and his private jet Lisa Marie, christened after his daughter.

The house itself turns out to be a bit smaller than I thought. But it's fascinating to see the different rooms, especially the Jungle Room where Elvis recorded his last studio songs among gods statues, a small waterfall and armchairs with armrests shaped like dragons.

Studio banter: "It's Easy For You"

The Trophy Room - mindblowing.

Another highlight is the Trophy Room, Elvis' old squash hall where the walls are covered with gold plates from floor to ceiling and some of the most famous jumpsuits are on display. I just stare with my mouth open like all the other tourists. Then, after the tour has ended at Elvis' grave, I meet two lyrical Danes, Kirsten and Jörgen.

"This is a dream come true, I have seen pictures of Graceland and know it meant a lot to Elvis, so it was fantastic to see it."

"It has always been a dream to see it, since I became a fan at twelve, and now I had the means to do it."

As Elvis, for obvious reasons, can't perform for us, we who are in Memphis have to make do with the next best thing. During Elvis Week, a number of concerts are arranged with his old musicians. Among them are the guys who accompanied Elvis in 1969 on songs such as "Suspicious Minds" and "In the Ghetto."

Music from the actual concert

And pianist Bobby Wood and organist Bobby Emmons, who are usually anonymous studio musicians, think it's fun to be in the spotlight for once.

"Its a good feeling, you know, that there are fans out there, people that actually like you."

"They consider that what we did had some bearing of the records that they love so much, it just makes you feel great.

Together with two of my musical heroes: Bobby Emmons and Bobby Wood.

During one of the last nights in Memphis, I am part of a somewhat different experience - the Candlelight Vigil.

Traditionally, the night before the anniversary of Elvis' death on August 16, the celebration during Elvis Week reaches its peak as thousands of fans gather outside Graceland to honor the King. Together with all the other fans, I receive a candle, and then stand in the queue that slowly winds through the gates to Graceland, past Elvis' grave and out again. It feels a bit like a marathon, there are fluid checks everywhere and it takes three and a half hours.

TV is there and the next day I read in the newspaper that we were 10,000 people who attended.

Music: The beginning of "Talk About The Good Times"

Elvis Week is over and it's time to go home again. I have to agree with my Danish friends that it has been a fantastic experience that I will never forget. For a week, everything has revolved around Elvis and I have met people from all over the world who share my interest.

The only thing I regret is that I didn't buy Graceland as a soft toy.

Outro music: "Talk About The Good Times"

Friday, July 30, 2021

Guarding Elvis In The Summer Of ´61

Toby (Elvis Presley) enters a bank to take out a loan in the movie Follow That Dream. The scene was filmed in Ocala, Florida.

Currently on vacation in Denmark with my family in our summer cottage by the sea, there is little time for blogging. But stumbling across an interesting article on the Internet where Martin Stephens, 82, reminisces about guarding Elvis while he filmed Follow That Dream in 1961, I just had to write a short post about it.

The article is titled "The summer of Elvis" and written by Susan Smiley-Height of the Ocala Gazette. In it, Martin Stephens recalls the story of how he, as a 22 year old police officer, was assigned to provide security for Elvis on the movie set in Ocala, Florida, where they did the bank scenes (most of the movie was shot in Yankeetown).

“We weren’t worried about riots or somebody hurting Elvis. The security was strictly to keep people back,” he explained. “He couldn’t do nothing without a crowd. We would offer to chase people off, and he’d say, ‘No, no, that’s what I’m supposed to do.’ He was very personable and a nice guy. He was interested in people and was easy to work with.”

He tells the reporter that it was unbearably hot in the bank as the film crew turned off the air conditioning because it made too much background noise. Elvis had to change his denim shirt every 15 to 20 minutes. He also remembers how Elvis got hold of a pair of sunglasses worn by a deputy on the security detail. ("I know, though the deputy never admitted it, that he sold his sunglasses.")

According to Martin Stephens, the filming in Ocala took place over two long weekends. ("The building is still there, right before the railroad tracks if you're going into town.") In the article, he describes one of his fondest memories during the time he was assigned to accompany Elvis on the movie set: 

“They had rented the Marion Hotel, and the movie crew went over there to eat. When we went to eat lunch that first day, Elvis told me, ‘Let’s go.’ So I grabbed three guys. We went over there, and I didn’t know exactly what we were supposed to do. Elvis went inside, so I said, ‘Well, I guess we guard the doors,’” he said. “We’re standing there, and in a minute, Elvis comes out and says, ‘Come on boys, you don’t have long to eat.’ We go in, and he’s got a table, and he says, ‘I went ahead and ordered for you.’ They brought us T-bone steaks, and he got a grilled cheese sandwich. ‘I didn’t know what you wanted,’ he said. ‘I just went ahead and ordered for you.’ That’s the guy I remember.” 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

"It Was A Helluva Show"


I have a confession to make. The last couple of years my pile of unopened FTD concert releases has gotten higher and higher. Therefore, two days ago, on July 4, I thought the timing just right to remove the shrink-wrap from the Elvis: The Bicentennial Show 2 CD set released in 2017 and listen to CD 1 and Elvis' performance in Tulsa on Independence Day, 1976.

Before pressing the play button I checked out the review of this release on the Elvis Information Network, where it had this to say about the sound quality:

Tulsa was recorded on reel-to-reel and so would sound fabulous, as did the July 3rd Fort Worth soundboard, were it not for some awful distortion. While it can be interesting to hear alternate mixes with various instruments high in the mix, the Tulsa show sounds terrible for having James Burton’s guitar wound up ridiculously high and so distorted. Obviously his guitar level was way over-driven on the original recording and it sounds terrible. 

Surely it can't be that bad, I thought, but it was. Which is a shame, as the show is a pretty good one, including highlights such as "America," "An American Trilogy," "Hurt" (sung twice) and "How Great Thou Art." And judging by the screaming fans it must have been an exciting way to spend the Fourth of July that particular year. This is what Bill Donaldsson of the Tulsa Tribune had to say about Elvis' performance:

He gave his fans about the best concert any pop singer can. He sang songs ranging back to the beginning of his career, several new ones, and he didn't shortchange the faithful. Remarking that he had only one show to do Sunday, and therefore could extend his performance, the star held the stage for more than an hour. [...] If Presley repeats with the same voltage he displayed this time around, his devoted fans will be fully repaid for their efforts to get those tickets. It was a helluva show.

Elvis concluded this particular tour in Memphis the very next day, on July 5, with a great show. Maybe it was the fact that it was an evening show and not an afternoon show like the one in Tulsa, maybe is was because it was Elvis' home town. Probably it was a combination of both. Elvis is focused, is clearly having fun on stage and delivers such gems as "Softly As I Leave You," "One Night," "Blue Christmas" and "That's All Right."

The Memphis show has been bootlegged twice on CD, and the sound quality is very good (with James Burton's guitar exactly where it should be in the mix). Had I been at the helm of the FDT label,  I would have included this concert as CD 2 on the Elvis: The Bicentennial Show instead of the one from Duluth, October 16, 1976, that was RCA's Joan Deary's initial choice for the 1980 box set, according to the before mentioned review on the Elvis Information Network. 

Or come to think about it, the best thing would probably have been to swap the order of the CD's and rename it Elvis: Mid-South Magic or King Of Rock 'N' Roll Day (as proclaimed by then Memphis Mayor Wythe Chandler). Including the Tulsa show as kind of a bonus CD due to the terrible mix would have been a more logical move, at least in my book.

That said, the shrink-wrap has been removed and I have finally listened to Elvis: The Bicentennial Show. I wonder what concert will be next?

Additional reading:

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Mama's Little Prince: The Mårten Melin Interview


Interview with Mårten Melin about his book Mama's Little Prince.

My brother Mårten Melin is the author of the Swedish book Mammas lilla prins (Mama's Little Prince), a novel about Elvis Presley's childhood. Yesterday I published a sample of it in English here on my blog and today's post features an interview with Mårten where he talks about his book.     

First, can you tell me a little bit about your relationship to Elvis?

Well, I've been a fan since our brother Staffan bought the German 2-LP collection Elvis Forever. My favorite song was "King Creole" so the first album I bought with my own money was the King Creole soundtrack. Elvis has always been important to me, and I would say I listen to him almost every day.

Why did you decide to write a novel about Elvis childhood?

As a writer I always look for good stories. And I realized that Elvis' childhood is exactly that, a great story, with his still-born twin, his constant singing and his over-protective mother. I first wrote a more poetic script with snapshotlike scenes. That version became a short story for Swedish Radio, narrated by actor Sven Wollter. But my publisher Rabén & Sjögren wanted a story that was more like an ordinary novel. So I gave it a try and it worked out well. They did publish it, at least!

What ages is it aimed at?

The publisher says 9-12 years, but I'm sure it works for adults as well.

How did you go about your research?

I thought of going to Tupelo, but I don't think that would have helped since I guess it just doesn't look the same anymore. But I read a lot of books, the most important being Elaine Dundy's Elvis and Gladys. I also found some interviews with Elvis' friend Sam Bell, and photos and maps of Tupelo from the 1940's. Dundy found out about Elvis' obsession with the comic book character Captain Marvel, Jr. So I use that in the book.

How did you plan the plot?

The first version of the story was much about him getting ready for his performance at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. But then I found out that a lot of interesting things happened after that, so the story pretty much follows his life from the first day of school in September 1945 to the family's move to Memphis. Then I thought it would be effective with a short epilogue from his more famous days, where he for a few seconds looks back at his childhood.

Elvis is one of the most famous persons that has ever lived. What challenges did that entail when writing the book?

Strangely enough there is not really that much known about his childhood. But I guess the challenge is to not think about fans reading the book and complaining that some details are made up. Which brings us to your next question ...

The novel is based on true events. But how much is truth and how much is fiction?

I would say of the things in my book that didn't occur in Elvis' real life, that they could have occured. A lot of stuff did happen: he did win fifth place in the fair show, he did jump to the black people's seats at the cinema, and he must have thought about his lost twin a lot, being a lonely (and only) child.

What were the biggest challenges in writing the book?

To try to find Elvis' own voice. Since it's written in the first-person point of view that was very important. How did he really think about things? How did he express himself? Also, since it is a novel based on truth, how much can you change the facts without straying to far away from the real life of Elvis? 

There are many topics in the book that are as relevant to youngsters today as they were when Elvis was a boy: your first love, the relationship with your parents, racism, bullying, being popular and so on.  Was it easier or harder to write about that with the help of Elvis?

It helped a lot, I would say. He wasn't very popular in school, so I thought: Why was that? And he did attend a Halloween costume party, so that set my brain going: What did he wear? Who did he meet there? Some of the facts of Elvis' childhood is very brief, so it's ideal writing a novel about it. Why on earth did he wear glasses on that talent show in 1945? There are no other photos of him wearing them! I had to find the answer to that. (Or rather, make it up!)

The book ends with Elvis on stage in 1971, remembering his childhood. How much of the boy do you think was left in Elvis by then? Was he still Mama's little prince?

I think the life of Elvis Presley would have looked a lot different if his mother hadn't died when he was so young. He did go back to Tupelo in 1970, showing his wife some of his childhood sites, so he must have remembered something. But I also think he didn't want to think too much about his poor days. He was a person that lived very much in the present. (Otherwise he would have taken care of his economy a bit more, as well as himself!)

What do you want the reader to remember after reading the book?

Maybe that your childhood is important to who you later become. That even famous, larger-than-life people have once been children. And that wishes and life-goals can come true if you really believe in them.

You have said yourself that this is probably the first novel about Elvis' childhood. Why do you think that is the case?

For a lot of adults, being a child is just something you are before you grow up. And, as I said, not too much is known about Elvis' childhood. Other writers have just not been too interested in that part of his life.

Which reactions do you hope to get?

It would be great if my readers, adults and children, will become more interested in the life and career of Elvis. But I also hope they think it's just a good story!

Additional reading:

Monday, June 28, 2021

Mama's Little Prince: A Sample In English

Mamas Little Prince: Elvis Presley in 1945.
As I promised in my previous post, this one will include a sample from my brother Mårten Melin's new book Mama's Little Prince, translated by him as it is written in Swedish. The novel was released today, it has 213 pages and the reading age is from 9 years.

But before we begin, I'd like to let Mårten himself introduce the book:

This is the story about Elvis Presley. But not the one about the world-famous entertainer, adored by millions. No, this is the story about the poor eleven-year old boy from Tupelo who just wanted to sing. And to buy his mama a pink cadillac.

It's about the boy who would be known to the world simply as ”The King”.

Dealing with issues like bullying, racism and the first big love, you really don’t have to be an Elvis aficionado to enjoy it. But after reading it, maybe you will be.

Based on true events, and thoroughly researched, the story takes place in the small town of Tupelo, Mississippi in the mid-1940’s. Elvis Presley moves from house to house with his mama (who likes to spend money) and his daddy (who’s not to keen earning them). Among bullies, neighbors, friends and love interests, he plans for the future: to become a famous singer. But how is he to achieve his goal? Could the talent contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy show be the beginning of success? Or will the feelings of guilt, being the only surviving twin, hold him back?

This is a story told with warmth and humor, filled with both sadness and triumph. We believe it’s the first book of its kind: a novel for young people about the young would-be king, before fame and fortune came his way, when Elvis Presley was still just his mama’s little prince. Or at least, when she thought he was.

So now, without further ado, here follows a sample in English
from Mama's Little Prince.  

Chapter 15

I place the cans on top of the fence. Squeeze the rocks in my hand.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I haven’t lost it. I hit all of them. I put the cans on the fence again, pick up the rocks. It’s the same cans I had on Berry street. Same rocks, too. I never did unpack them, not until now.

”Will you let me try?”

I turn around. There’s a black guy standing there, about my age. He’s alone, standing in the garden on the other side of the fence. I don’t answer his question, just nod towards the house behind him.

”You live there?”

”Sure. With my grandpa.”

I wonder where his parents are, but before I ask he says:

”Most people here on the Hill are black.”

I shrug.

”Not us.”

We look at each other for a while, then I hand him the rocks.

”Be my guest.”

He climbs over the fence, glancing to both sides as he does. He takes the rocks and throws the first one. He misses.

”Throw like this, from the side.”

I show him. He misses again, but he’s getting there. Third time he scores. He smiles at me and I can’t help smiling back at him.

”Name’s Sam,” he says. ”Sam Bell.”

”Elvis. Elvis Presley.”

We shake hands, just as if we’re grown-ups.

”Where did you live before you came here?”

”Mulberry Alley. But originally we’re from East Tupelo.”

 ”Got any siblings?”

 I think of Jesse, of course I do. But I just shake my head.

 ”Nah, it’s just me and my ma and daddy.”

 ”Mulberry,” he says. ”That’s close to Shakerag. It’s pretty wild, I hear.”

 ”Yeah!” I say. ”There was this man, he could really play the guitar!

 Sam laughs.

 ”I was thinking of fights and stuff. You like music?”

 ”I love music.”

 ”I got something for you then. Come on!”

 I gaze towards the house.

 ”I just gotta tell mama. Follow me!”

 ”You sure?” Sam asks.

”Yeah!”

We run up to the house, it’s like a race that Sam wins. We enter, mama sits there with a cup of coffee, listening to the radio. Of course, Grand Ole Opry is on soon. But it can’t be helped, I’m too curious to see whatever Sam wants me to see.

”Mama, I’m going out with a friend.”

Mama looks at me.

”What friend?”

”A new one, he’s living next door. Sam, say hello to my mama.”

Sam, who has been standing in the hallway, takes a few steps forward and bows. He looks nervous.

”Nice to meet you, ma’m.”

Mama looks at him, surprised.

”Well, hello Sam. What you gonna do?”

”Just listen to some music, ma’m.”

Mama nods her head.

”All right. Just be back at five.”

”Thanks, mama!” I say. ”Bye!”

When I pass the window from the outside, I look up. Mama is standing there, looking at us. I wave at her, she waves back.

”Your mama’s all right, Elvis.”

I smile at him.

”I guess she is.”

               *       

Sam starts to run, I have to work hard to keep up with him.

”Let’s see,” he says. ”Yes! There they are.”

I hear music. Guitar and singing, it’s a woman’s voice.

”Who?” I ask.

”I don’t know their names, but ... there!”

Sam is pointing to a man and a woman sitting outside a little drug store. They each have a guitar, but only the woman seems to be singing. They could be about mama’s and daddy’s age.

 Look down, look down that lonesome road
 Before you travel on
 Look up, look up and greet your maker
 For Gabriel blows his horn

At first I believe they have a speaker somewhere, it’s so loud! The singer makes faces, she’s really into it, singing with her eyes closed.

I applaud them when they’re done. The woman looks at me, surprised, then she smiles. They play some more and I long to get home, to play the guitar myself. Somebody comes out and hands them sodas.

”She sounds a little like Sister Rosetta Tharpe,” Sam says.

”Who?”

”You gotta listen to her. Let's go to my house!”

”Does she live there?”

Sam laughs, then starts to run. He makes a gesture that I should follow him. Does he ever walk?

                   *   

Sam’s house looks just like ours. It smells of tobacco inside. An elderly man is sitting in an armchair, reading the paper. He looks up at Sam.

”There you are, my boy! How’s everything?”

”Great, grandpa. This is Elvis, he lives in the house behind ours.”

”How are you, sir?”

I bow, just like I’ve been taught to do in front of older people. Sam’s grandfather raises his eyebrows, then smiles at me.

”Just fine, son. Welcome to the Hill!”

”Could we use the record player, grandpa?”

”Record player?” I cry out. ”You have a record player?”

”Of course! We can’t listen to a record without a record player, can we?”

I look around. And there it is, the big brass horn is gleaming in the sunlight that looks in through the curtains. They have a piano as well. What luxury!

Sam’s grandfather laughs out.

”You gotta have a record player to hear the really fine songs. What will you play?”

”Sister Rosetta Tharp,” Sam says.

”Good choice!” his grandfather says.

Sam starts to browse through a pile of records. I want to hear them all.

He finds the record he’s looking for, puts it on the turntable and starts to wind it up. When the turntable is spinning, he puts the needle down, and soon a powerful voice fills the room. Sister Rosetta Tharpe slides on the notes, drowns out the trumpets in the background. Sometimes she talks more than she sings.

When she’s holding the last note I hold my breath. What a voice!

Music is really everywhere. Outside stores, in the church, on the radio. But with a record player you can decide for yourself when you want to listen, what you would like to listen to. It must be the greatest invention of all time.

”She sounds like the woman at the store, doesn’t she?” Sam asks.

”Uh-huh,” I say. ”Only better.”

We listen to the other side of the record. It's just as good as the first. I want a record player too. And records!

I make a promise to myself that when I grow up I’m going to have a whole room full of them.

Then it’s time for me to go, mama will wonder where I am if I don’t come home.

”It was nice meeting you, Elvis. You’re a very polite boy. Come back anytime.”

”Thank you, Mr Bell.”

I bow before I go out through the door. Sam joins me.

”You know what, Elvis? You’re weird.”

”What do you mean?”

”You don’t have to call my granddad Sir. Whites usually don’t say that to black people.”

”He’s your grandfather. He’s older than I am. Of course I will call him Sir.”

Sam gives me a big smile.

”As I said, you’re weird.”

He says it like it’s a good thing.

”See you!” I say and jump over the fence.

Sam waves back at me.

       *               

Next Saturday he enters our garden where I sit and practice. I keep playing, while he’s standing there, listening. When I’m finished he laughs a little.

”You sound like a black person when you sing.”

I shrug.

”I don’t think I sound like a black person.”

”Is that so?”

”Or a white person, for that matter.”

”So who do you sound like?” Sam asks.

I have to think about that for a while.

”I sound like myself.”

Sam laughs again.

”Wanna do something?” he asks.

”Sure,” I say.

”What do you like except music?”

”The movies! We can go to the movies! Strand has a showing at three o’clock.”

”But we can’t sit together,” he says.

”Don’t worry about that,” I say.

”And I don’t have any money either.”

”I have money,” I say. ”I can pay for the both of us.”

”All right, it’s a deal!”

We go into the kitchen. Mama gives us each a sandwich and we’re off.

”Two tickets, please!” I say.

The cashier looks suspiciously at Sam, then at me. But she gives me the tickets. I hand one of them to Sam.

”See you inside!” I say. ”Keep a seat for me.”

”What?”

”You heard.”

The house is half-filled, mostly with children. I wave at Sam, he waves back, but looks at me, uncertain.

When the lights go down, I climb the railing that separates Sam’s part of the house from mine. It’s easy.

I sit down beside him.

”You’re a fool, Elvis,” he says and laughs.

”In the dark you can’t see who’s white and who’s black, can you?” I say.

I think of music, of different voices. Is it really possible to hear who’s black and who’s white? For real?

© Mårten Melin, 2021

 If you are a publisher and interested in this book, please contact Rights director Åsa Bergman, Rabén & Sjögren Agency, at asa.bergman@rabensjogren.se  

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Mama's Little Prince

My brother Mårten, who is an author, has written a novel about Elvis' childhood called Mama's Little Prince (Mammas lilla prins in Swedish). 
As I have mentioned from time to time here on my blog, I am lucky to have a brother - Mårten - who is just as huge an Elvis fan as I am.  What I haven't told is that he is also an author who has published over a hundred books for children and teenagers that have been translated into various languages and won him several prestigious awards here in Sweden.  

The reason I bring this up now is that he has written what is probably the first novel about Elvis' childhood, called Mama's Little Prince. This is how the book is presented on the publisher's website (translated into English):

Tupelo, Mississippi, 1945. Elvis is ten years old and loves to sing. His mother encourages and believes in him, but at the same time she wants to protect him from all evil. They have been very close since Elvis' twin brother died.

At school, Elvis is pretty lonely. He gets teased for being a mama's boy and for bursting into song as soon as he gets the chance. But there is a girl in the class who likes to hear him sing. Her name is Eloise. To her, Elvis dares to tell about his secret dream: that he one day will sing in front of thousands of people.

In Mamma's Little Prince, Mårten Melin shows evidence of a new side when he in a tenderly portrayed portrait brings to life the childhood idol Elvis Presley. The boy, who before the breakthrough, lived in poor conditions in a city marked by class divisions and segregation. This is a story about school, exclusion and your firs loves. And above all: the love of music.

Since the book is coming out tomorrow, I thought it appropriate to dedicate the next couple of posts to it. The first will include a chapter in English, translated by the author as the novel is written in Swedish. The second will feature an interview I did with my brother a couple of days ago where he talks about, among other things, why he decided to write a book about Elvis' childhood, how he did his research and what the biggest challenges were. 

And yes, I have had the honor of reading Mama's Little Prince in advance, and it's great. So stay tuned.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

What If: Celebrating My Birthday In Memphis, June 10, 1975

Elvis on stage in Memphis on June 10, 1975. I turned eight that day.

Last week, on June 10, I listened to the second CD on the FTD release Elvis Hometown Shows, featuring Elvis' 1975 concert in Memphis. It seemed appropriate. Not only was it my birthday, but the show was performed on that date as well, although 46 years ago. I was in Sweden celebrating my eighth birthday at the time, but imagine if I had been in the Mid South Coliseum instead. To borrow a phrase from fellow blogger Tyggrius who runs the Mystery Train Blog: You've just crossed over into ... the edge of reality.

My parents had been Elvis fans for as long as I could remember. I grew up listening to them talking about how great he was and there wasn't a day when one of this records wasn't on the turntable. And they must have told the story of how they met a hundred times. Would you believe it was outside the cinema after watching the Swedish premiere of Blue Hawaii on March 31, 1962, with their respective friends?

Five years later, on June 10, 1967, I was born. To celebrate, my dad gave my mom a copy of the Double Trouble album that had been released just a couple of days earlier. So "Old MacDonald" was probably one of the first Elvis songs I heard, together with the rest of the tracks on that LP. My mom later confided in me that she wasn't overly impressed with it at the time, but that it has remained special to her all the same. Like me.

A couple of days after my fifth birthday, in 1972, my parents bought me my first Elvis album ("A late present" they called it). It was a brand new copy of the Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden recorded on my birthday, June 10, and rush released just eight days later. It was love at first sight. One of my earliest memories is holding the cover in my hands and thinking Elvis looked like a superhero. I don't remember the first time I listened to it, but my parents do. Apparently I was moving around a lot to the music with a big smile on my face, enjoying every second of it. I still do.

Three years later I guess you could call med a full-fledged Elvis fan. I listened to all the new releases my parents bought, read the fan club magazines they subscribed to and dreamed of seeing Elvis in concert. My two-year younger brother couldn't understand what all the fuzz was about, and neither could my three-year younger sister. My youngest brother, just three years old, showed some promise, though, clapping his hands every time I played an Elvis record.

With my birthday just a couple of days away, my parents told me they had a surprise. As Elvis' latest single "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" was blasting through the speakers, they asked me to turn the volume down. "We are flying to Memphis in two days, and you are coming with us. You are going to see Elvis perform on your birthday in Memphis."

Mid South Coliseum, June 10, 1975.

When I think back on my journey to Memphis, some memories are crystal clear while others are faded or a bit sketchy. I don't remember much of the actual flight or the hotel where we stayed but thankfully a lot from the actual concert is still vivid in my mind: all the cars and people outside the Mid South Coliseum as we arrived, the excitement in my parents' eyes as the first notes of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" sounded through the building, Elvis entering the stage in his Indian feather suit and so many flashbulbs going off it looked like daylight. 

Another thing I will never forget was the screaming fans, my mom among them. "We love you, Elvis!" she shouted at the top of her lungs more than once. I think my dad was close to screaming, too.

As for the show, I remember bits and pieces, like Elvis throwing his guitar at a guy on stage (Charlie Hodge) who dropped it. I also recall Elvis kissing a lot of girls during "Love Me," and handing out plenty of scarves as well. My parents later told me he ripped his suit during this song, and joked about it throughout the concert, something I didn't notice. I guess my English wasn't as good as I thought it was.

Two songs I clearly remember that he sang was the rockers "Burning Love" and "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" as those were among my favorites at the time (they still are). Before the show I told my parents I hoped he would perform them and he did. The extended endings of both songs were so exciting!

If I close my eyes I can also see most of the people in the audience clapping their hands during the chorus of "How Great Thou Art" and maybe half the audience standing. When he finished the song everyone was standing and they would not stop applauding. That I will never forget. 

A funny thing is I don't remember the final part of the concert or Elvis leaving the stage. But that's OK. My parents and me shared an incredible experience together with the other 12,364 people in the audience that night. It remains the best birthday I have ever had.

Back in this universe, my parents met under completely different circumstances. I became a fan after one of my brothers bought an Elvis album in the late 1970's, and I first laid eyes on the Mid South Coliseum during a trip to Memphis and Graceland in 2005. But that's another story.  

Additional reading

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Harum Scarum: The Charlie McCoy (Guitar) Interview

Interview with Charlie McCoy who played guitar on the Harum Scarum soundtrack.

In my recent interview with Ralph Strobel, who played the oboe on the Harum Scarum recording sessions on February 24-26, 1965, he had, among other things, this to say about the soundtrack:

“I believe that other than myself there is only one other living musician that performed in the soundtrack of Harum Scarum. That musician is outstanding guitar player Charlie McCoy. Charlie was born March 28, 1941. I was born September 23, 1940. We are both 80 years of age.” 

In an email to me, Ralph Strobel suggested that perhaps I could contact Charlie McCoy to see what he remembers regarding the Harum Scarum sessions.

I thought that was a great idea and sent Charlie McCoy an email, mentioning the interview with Ralph Strobel, and asking him if he would like to answer a couple of questions about those recordings back in February, 1965. I was happily surprised when he wrote back to me within a couple of hours. That really made my day!

He started his letter with mentioning Rufus Long, who played the flute on the Harum Scarum soundtrack. Here goes:

Rufus Long was a very good friend of mine. He has played on one of my solo CDs. I’ll try to answer your questions here. 

How did you become a musician?

I came to Nashville in 1959 to audition as a singer. I was turned down but was then invited to watch a Nashville recording session for 13-year-old Brenda Lee. When I watched that session, I decided that I didn’t want to be a singer. I wanted to be a studio musician. 

So what happened then?

I moved to Nashville to stay a year later and on May 9, 1961, I played on my first session as a studio musician. (With a new singer from Sweden named Ann-Margret.) This past May 9, I celebrated 60 years as a studio musician and I’m still going.    

Charlie McCoy's first recording as a harmonica player was the song "I Just Don't Understand", by Ann-Margret for RCA.
How did you end up playing on the recording session for the Harum Scarum soundtrack?

The movie company changed dates on the sound track and all the regular musicians who usually played on Elvis’ recordings were booked. We were the relief band.  

I believe this was the first time you worked with Elvis. What were your thoughts when you said yes to play on an Elvis recording?

I was thrilled. He had been one of my favorites growing up as a rock and roll guitar want to be, loving those Scotty Moore sounds on his records. 

And how was it to meet him?

He was so very nice, shook everyone’s hand and said, “Thanks for helping me!”  

Do you remember how the recordings took place?

Like normal Nashville sessions, hear the song, learn it on the spot (no charts) and within 30 to 45 minutes, you have a record. The only rehearsals were to learn each song, perhaps 20 minutes.  

How was it to work with Elvis?

It was great, we, the substitute band, were thrilled to be working with him. 

What did you think of the songs that were recorded?

I thought the songs for Harum Scarum, overall, were probably way below the average in his other movies.  

Elvis singing "So Close, Yet So Far (From Paradise)" in a jail cell after being apprehended in King Toranshah's palace.
“So Close, Yet So Far (From Paradise)” is often seen as the highlight of the session, what do you think of it?

I’m sorry to say that after about 14,000 sessions, no I don’t remember that one. 

You continued to work with Elvis through the 60’s, as well as on his studio recordings from 1970 and 1971. Any memories you’d like to share?

I ended up on 13 Elvis albums. My main instrument is harmonica, and I got to solo on “Big Boss Man”, “High Heel Sneakers”, “I washed My Hands In Muddy Water” and in Frankie and Johnny on “Hard Luck”.

Additional reading:

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Writing I’m Leavin’ For The King

Michael Jarrett wrote "I'm Leavin'" which was recorded by Elvis in 1971.

After publishing my latest blog post about “I’m Leavin’” I emailed Michael Jarrett who wrote the song, telling him it was 50 years since Elvis recorded it. I thought his reaction was so interesting that I asked his permission to use it on my blog.  

50 years! Wow! I can still remember writing this song while sitting on a tiny stool in a glass-covered shower (water off, of course). The natural sound in that environment was; lots of reverb. :-) There was barely room for me and my guitar in that small space and I was enjoying the heavy reverb sound and was just fooling around with a few things when the La La La's came out in place of lyrics that had not yet popped into my head. 

As it turned out, I didn't have to replace the La La's with lyrics. My writing partner, Sonny Charles, convinced me that the La La's could actually be the "hook" of the song. So we continued to compose the rest of the piece together that day.

Sonny was very important in the writing of "I'm Leavin'". He didn't contribute all that much regarding the music and lyrics as much as his suggestion to me about the build up to the words, "I'm Leavin". He suggested that we sing the build up twice before the resolve into, "I'm Leavin''." I believe that suggestion really made the song happen. Some things we never forget, eh? 

Reading this I had to ask Michael Jarrett another question. Did he also remember the first time he heard Elvis' recorded version of the song and what he felt at that moment? This is his answer: 

Yes, I'll always remember. Sonny Charles and I were playing chess one late afternoon at his Laurel Canyon home when Sonny's girlfriend came running up the stairs into his house excitedly saying, "It's on the radio, It's on the radio!" Sonny asked, "What is?" Judy said, "It's Elvis singing I'm Leavin’!". 

When we got down the stairs to her car, the car door was still wide open and there blaring on her car radio was Elvis' golden voice singing our song. Judy turned to me and said, "Elvis is singing the song just like you singing like him!!” To preface her statement, I must tell you that when making the demo of "I'm Leavin'" to give to Joe Esposito to take to Elvis, I sang the song as much like Elvis as I could to try and peak his interest.

The L.A. radio station was KRLA. I also must confess that; I stayed up most of that night listening to our song being played once an hour as Elvis' latest release. It's difficult to really convey in words how I felt that wonderful day other than to say, I was extremely elated!! 

I’d like to thank Michael Jarrett for sharing his memories of writing “I’m Leavin’” and hearing Elvis version for the first time. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.

Additional reading:

Thursday, May 20, 2021

I'm Leavin' 50 Years Ago

A treasure: My copy of "I'm Leavin'" signed by Michael Jarrett.

Today in 1971, exactly 50 years ago, Elvis recorded "I'm Leavin'," one of  my all time favorite songs. With its haunting quality I find it irresistible, and I know many fans share my opinion. Elvis obviously liked it too.

I am honored to know Michael Jarrett who wrote the song. Not only did he write a really nice foreword to my second book The Elvis Today Blog: Volume 2.  He also went to the trouble singing my copy of the single "I'm Leavin'," pointing out that "we'll have to send Elvis across the ocean a couple of times to do this, but I think it will work." And it did. That single is now one of the records in my collection that I value the most. 

Ten years ago, I wrote a post on my blog where I, with the help of outtakes, some studio banter, information in books and last, but not the least, some imagination, tried to describe what was going on when Elvis recorded "I'm Leavin'" on May 20, 1971, at RCA Studio B, Nashville. In a comment to that post Michael Jarrett wrote the following:

Thank you Thomas for painting us a great picture of the "I'm Leavin" recording session. It's so cool to hear these outtakes and the coming together of the song ... It's like being right there in the studio as it's happening when they were "carving it out " ... they all worked extra hard on it and it shows.

Elvis recording what was then - and probably now - a song considered in the music business to be 'esoteric'; meaning that it had personal meaning to him; like it did for me when I wrote it.

I'm still amazed each time I hear him sing it; especially knowing that it had such meaning to him ...

Additional reading:


Friday, May 14, 2021

Harum Scarum: The Ralph Strobel (Oboe) Interview

Interview with Ralph Strobel who played the oboe on the Harum Scarum soundtrack.

As my ten-year-old daughter is playing the flute (I played the clarinet for some 20 years and my brother the oboe), I started thinking about Elvis music with woodwind instruments in it. The flute led me to the recording sessions for Elvis’ movie Harum Scarum from 1965, where the studio musicians were joined by Rufus Long on flute and Ralph Strobe on oboe in order to lend a middle Eastern touch to the soundtrack. The recordings took place on February 24-26, that year.

A bit of research revealed that Rufus Long unfortunately had passed away in 2016. However, I also found out that Ralph Strobel is an assistant professor emeritus at Ball State University. Therefore, I contacted him, asking if he would like to answer some questions for my blog. I was delighted when he wrote a long letter back and I can’t thank him enough for taking the time sharing his memories of recording with Elvis.

First, can you tell me a little bit about your background in music?

In the fifth grade I took a year of piano lessons. I am glad I learned to read both the treble and bass clefs before starting a wind instrument. A year later at the age of 11, my parents bought me a metal clarinet for $27.50. That seemed like a great deal of money for an instrument in 1952. I liked the clarinet, but other woodwind instruments fascinated me, and at the age of 13 a school oboe was available so I decided to try it. When I was 14, I also learned to play the saxophone. The clarinet and saxophone were played in marching band, pep band, and dance band. I continued to play the oboe in our high school band and symphony orchestra.  

The oboe is is a type of double reed woodwind instrument.
In 1958 I graduated from Coeur d'Alene High School in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Since I liked performing in ensembles and music in general, I decided to major in music and graduated from the University of Idaho in 1962 with a bachelor's degree in performance. I studied all the woodwind instruments privately, but the oboe was my major instrument. I had previously studied the oboe with a lady who was principal oboist in the Spokane, WA Symphony.  She invited the conductor to her home and he listened to my playing. He was impressed and asked if I would like to become the 2nd oboe player in the orchestra. I was 18 at the time. The violin teacher at the University of Idaho would drive us to Spokane for rehearsals and concerts. This was my first professional experience and I was paid a bit for performing. Spokane has a very fine orchestra.  

After leaving Idaho, I was given a graduate assistantship scholarship at the University of Michigan. I taught a beginning oboe class to other music majors five days a week each semester. While there, I also studied all the woodwind instruments privately and received a master's degree in 1964 in performance.  

After leaving Ann Arbor I went back to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, not knowing what would be next.  In August of 1964 I received a phone call from Nashville, Tennessee. My name had been given to a professor there at Peabody College. A new music school was opening in Nashville that was a part of the college. It was the Blair Academy of Music. (Now known as Blair School of Music and a part of Vanderbilt University). I was interviewed over the telephone to teach oboe and bassoon at Blair. I was also told I could begin a doctorate at Peabody College which I did. Unfortunately, I did not complete the doctorate which I now regret. I was hired at the Blair Academy and also auditioned for a 2nd oboe position in the Nashville Symphony and was hired.

How did you end up playing on the soundtrack sessions for Harum Scarum?

In November of that year I received a phone call from RCA Studios regarding my first recording session. Another oboe player was originally scheduled to play these sessions but had a conflict so gave my name as being capable of doing so. I was told the sessions would be February 24-26, 1965 with Elvis Presley and would begin each night at 10 p.m. Since I am a night owl that was fine with me and I certainly could use the money.

RCA Studios in Nashville.

In late February of 1965, Nashville was hit with a terrible snow storm, but fortunately I was able to drive to the RCA studio which was on 17th Ave. S., less than a mile from my apartment. I arrived at the RCA building before 10 p.m. The building is on a corner and on the side street, there were two police cars with flashing red and blue lights and what looked to be over 100 young female fans on the side of the building, apparently waiting to greet Elvis. Policemen were outside their cars watching these screaming females jumping up and down in a very cold temperature of 10 degrees.

I went to the front of the building and found the door to be open. A lady was working at the front desk and I told her I was to be the oboe player. She told me to go straight back to Studio B. I did so and noticed my friend Rufus Long, principal flutist from the Nashville Symphony, was also playing the session. We were the only wind players.  

And when did Elvis arrive?

The musicians waited for some time and finally at 11 p.m. Elvis walked into the studio with his manager Col. Tom Parker and the man who conducted the ensemble. Elvis was dressed to kill, wearing a blue suede suit, bow tie, and blue suede shoes. Finally, everyone was ready to begin recording one of the songs.

The conductor told Rufus and I, "We won't be needing you on this first song, so just sit over there on the other side of the room until we do." Then we were told there would be no sheet music handed to anyone.  I thought, "Oh no, I'm not a jazz musician, I can't improvise. How will I know what to do?" 

Then it was explained that all the songs used in the film would be older songs that had been recorded some years ago by various singers. The conductor had brought a small record player with a 45 rpm recording of each song. Once he put the needle down on the record, each of the four outstanding guitar players began writing each chord in every measure on a piece of staff paper. I was impressed that these men could identify each chord without hesitation. They could also easily identify the key the song was in and would write C Major, G Major, etc. The record was played a number of times. Another impressive musician was the pianist, Floyd Cramer. Floyd played piano for many country singers and Elvis. He was a genius at improvisation.

Chords for "Shake That Tambourine," the only song recorded on February 24.

So what happened next?

There was quite a bit of rehearsal time before the recording began. It was obvious that Elvis was not prepared at all. When the recording began, Elvis was having problems with the lyrics and rhythm. The conductor would stop and everyone would try again. This happened over and over many times. Finally, Elvis got upset with himself and every time he made a mistake he would say, "Oh ---- !! (I told my Music History 100 classes at Ball State that Elvis's favorite cuss word rhymed with mitt, fit, and a few other words I best not mention. The students laughed)!

After numerous tries to get the song recorded, we were told there would be a thirty minute break. Someone had gone to a restaurant and brought in huge boxes of food for all of us. The boxes were filled with coffee, cold drinks, all types of sandwiches, French fries, etc. We had a nice snack. Then it was back to work.

I asked Rufus, "If it takes this long to get one song on tape, how is it possible in the next two nights, to get ten more?" He didn't have any idea! Now it was 2:30 a.m. and Rufus and I were getting paid just to watch. Elvis was still upset with himself cussing away, but the men in the control room and the conductor were always very polite.

Finally, at 5 a.m. the 50th take of the song was perfect and we could stop for the night. Rufus and I hadn't played a note, but were making money. Also, the Musician Union rules state that after two and a half hours, all musicians are paid time and a half. We liked that rule!! Upon leaving, the police cars with flashing lights and the young screaming girls were still outside in the freezing cold.

And how was it when you came back for the second night of recordings?

The second night was quite similar. Police cars were there with flashing lights, and many young girls screaming and carrying on. We began promptly at 10 p.m. as I recall. Elvis wore the same blue suede suit and boots. Now it was time to record a song that required both flute and oboe. The conductor would play a recording of the piece and while the record was playing, he would tell us what we were to play. There were no problems for either of us to quickly write down the melodies and identify the key the song was in.

Elvis at RCA Studio B on February 25. 1965.

It was obvious that Elvis had done some major practicing and was having no problems. I don't recall any of his cussing that night. Again, at 2 p.m. we took a break with more boxes and nice food. 

That night there were five songs put on tape that could be used in the film and long play record. We went home at 4:30 a.m. Again, police cars with flashing lights and young girls were still outside in the cold. I imagine these girls got rested up in the day like Elvis did?

What are your recollections of the third and last night of the sessions?

The third night had the last five songs to be recorded. The same situation with the cold weather, snow, flashing lights on police cars, and screaming young females outside. Elvis was decked out in the same beautiful suit as usual. Again, Elvis was prepared and no problems, so five more songs could be recorded. I recall that after one of the songs, the engineer said, "Good, that was a take!" Floyd Cramer piped up and said, "We'll have to do it again. I played one wrong note!" So we went through it again with Floyd commenting, "Now, it's right!" I believe we finished at 5 a.m. that morning.

Elvis then went to each of us individually and shook hands with all. He commented that he thought there would be some really good acting in the film Harum Scarum. If you have read the book Elvis and Me by his ex-wife Priscilla Beaulieu, Elvis was disappointed that was not the case. When I left the RCA building the same situation was outside with the police cars and screaming females. In all three nights, all the musicians cleared well over $500.

Did you see Harum Scarum and what did you think about the soundtrack?

Yes, I did see the movie when it came out and also have the recording. The disappointing part is that the flute and oboe tracks are very much in the background and can not be heard well. One thing I should have done that I didn't think to do what to ask Elvis for his autograph. Today, it would be worth some money.  

The back cover of the album Harum Scarum, released in November, 1965.
I believe that other than myself there is only one other living musician that performed in the soundtrack of Harum Scarum. That musician is outstanding guitar player Charlie McCoy. Charlie was born March 28, 1941. I was born September 23, 1940. We are both 80 years of age.  

Did you record with other artists while living In Nashville?

I also recorded for two of Floyd Cramer's piano solo albums playing oboe and English horn. They are The Class of 1967 and The Class of 1968. These albums are instrumental versions of songs that were popular in those years. Floyd was born October 27, 1933. Being a heavy smoker, he succumbed to lung cancer on December 31, New Year's Eve, 1997 at the age of 64.

In May of 1968 I recorded with the famous country singer, Eddy Arnold. Eddy was born May 15, 1918 and died May 8, 2008 at the age of 89. The album I'm playing on is called The Romantic World of Eddy Arnold. Many of these songs were hits at the time. The arrangements were made by Bill Walker, a man from Australia who conducted the orchestra for these sessions. There were many wonderful oboe and English horn solos in the arrangements. Rufus Long was the other woodwind player, who played flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, and baritone saxophone. The tracks the woodwinds are on are prominently heard on the recording.

The Romantic World of Eddy Arnold includes three songs that Elvis would later record: "It's Over," "What Now My Love" and "Gentle On My Mind."

Every couple of years I receive a royalty check for these recording and the Harum Scarum film. It's not a big amount, but I always save the check stub to prove to anyone I am being truthful. The check stub has my name and those I performed with.

You are now an assistant professor emeritus of music performance at Bell State University, Muncie, Indiana. What road took you there?

The second year I lived in Nashville I taught elementary band in the public schools. I heard one band director say that young players couldn't play with good intonation so it wouldn't do any good for them to tune their instruments. I could not believe such a stupid remark! I made a point with fifth and sixth graders to learn good intonation, rhythm, dynamics and phrasing. I was even complemented by a principal of one school that he could identify the songs the students were playing. He said, "Previous band directors just let the kids make noise." I told him it didn't have to be that way at all.

The following year the Nashville Symphony was given a government grant to begin a chamber orchestra made up of 16 musicians. I was then the principal oboe player in the symphony. The 16 full time members would travel by bus to perform in Central Tennessee schools during the day and evenings. Unfortunately, after two years the grant money had run out and the chamber orchestra folded.

The following year I left Nashville and lived in Durham, NC where I played full time with the North Carolina Symphony. From 1968-72 I taught oboe and played principal oboe in the symphony at the Brevard Music Center, a large summer music camp. In 1969 I got into college teaching at taught at Jacksonville University in Florida. A year later I taught at Texas A & I University in Kingsville, TX and performed with the Corpus Christi Symphony.

In 1971 I heard about an opening at Ball State University, Muncie, IN for an oboe professor and principal oboe position with the Muncie Symphony. I applied for the job. Dr. Robert Hargreaves was the director of the Ball State School of Music and was also the conductor of the Muncie symphony. Dr. Hargreaves had been a guest conductor for the Nashville Symphony when I performed there. He remember me and my oboe playing. 

I auditioned in August of 1971 for Dr. Hargreaves and a committee of six music faculty members. I played the first movement of a concerto for them and expected to play other solos material. Instead, the committee wanted to hear oboe solos from the entire orchestral literature. There was no music brought and everything was from memory. This group drilled me for more than thirty minutes mentioning works that had major oboe solos. Fortunately, I have a good memory for this, and no matter what they asked I played it for them. Even today, although I am retired, I could still play these solos from memory. Melodies go through my mind every day. I'm sure this is what got me the job. I began teaching here in September of 1971 and retired after 35 years in July of 2006.

Finally, I understand I am not the first one to contact you about your Elvis sessions?

I believe it was 2002 when I received an e-mail from a man who wanted to know if I was the Ralph Strobel that played in the soundtrack of Harum Scarum. I assured him I was. He wanted to know if he could send me a picture postcard of the Harum Scarum album cover for my autograph. I told him that was fine. In a few days I got his letter and returned his card signed Ralph Strobel "oboe" as he wanted. He later told me he was a police officer in Lakeland, Florida who collected autographs of famous people. I told my Music History classes I had no idea I was a "famous" individual until this man pointed it out to me.

Track listing of the album Harum Scarum, on which Ralph Strobel played the oboe.

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Swedish RCA LP's

Examples of Elvis LP titles manufactured in Sweden in the late 1970's.
Photo: The "RCA Elvis" Facebook page.

This week I started collecting Swedish RCA LP's in earnest. But the fact is I have done this unknowingly since I bought my first Elvis album Blue Christmas back in the late 1970's. That one was manufactured in Sweden, as stated on the back cover which also included some text in Swedish. And although in time I came to realize that other Swedish pressings existed, I never really gave it any serious thought. Until 2016.

That's when I bought How RCA brought Elvis To Europe, released through FTD the same year and written by the Norwegians Sigbjørn Stabursvik and Hans Otto Engvold. It's a fantastic book, and a treat especially for fans living in the Nordic countries, as it, among other things, includes a full history and discography for Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. 

I spent a lot of time with it the following weeks, reading how RCA Victor launched Elvis and the RCA label globally in 1956. For a Swede like me, it was fascinating to learn how Electra Grammofon AB, one of Sweden's largest record companies, engineered most of the early Elvis activity in Northern Europe. In fact, Sweden was one of the first countries worldwide to release an Elvis Presley record. 

Cover of How RCA brought Elvis To Europe. It's a great book.

How RCA brought Elvis To Europe is one of those Elvis books I found myself revisiting from time to time. One such occasion took place early in 2019, when I once again read the introduction to the pages dealing with the Swedish RCA LP's: 

Original stock of Moody Blue sold out immediately after the tragic death message on 16 August 1977. This prompted a Swedish Moody Blue pressing, the first of many LP titles manufactured in Sweden that fall. [...] Eleven titles were probably made in 1977, and two in 1980.

It was while studying the list of Swedish RCA LP's that I noticed that Elvis' Golden Records Volume 3 wasn't among them. As I stated earlier, I was aware of other titles manufactured in Sweden. And now I suddenly remembered that I had owned a worn copy of one of them, namely the third volume in the Golden Record series, later exchanging it for a copy in far better condition (a German pressing). Apparently a dumb move.

I decided to pay a visit to a store not far from where I live that sells used records. Grabbing my jacket, I went out the door, and in a couple of minutes stood leafing through all the Elvis albums for sale. Suddenly I spotted Elvis' Golden Records Volume 3. Holding it in my hands, I turned it over, and there on the back cover, in small print, it said, "Manufactured by Grammofon AB Electra, Solna Sweden."

Proof it's a Swedish pressing.

Feeling like a true detective, I took a couple of pictures of it and then wrote to the authors via their "RCA Elvis" Facebook page that they had listed at the end of the book:

Thomas: "Hi! Today I found Elvis' Golden Records Vol 3 manufactured in Sweden."

RCA Elvis: "Excellent find. Thank you Thomas. We'll inform our Swedish contacts about this one and hear their opinion about how rare it is."

About two weeks later the authors posted this on their Facebook page:

SWEDISH LP DISCOVERIES

Not long ago Thomas Melin alerted us to the existence of a Swedish Elvis' Golden Records Vol. 3. So ... could there possibly be a Swedish Elvis' Gold Records Volume 4 out there as well? That was the question we needed to ask ourselves. And the answer turned out to be, oh yes indeed, there is a Vol. 4 also. And as if that isn't enough, Elvis In Hollywood turns out to have been made in Sweden as well!

All three seem to have been made at approximately the same time, during late 1977 or 1978. Labels are orange, with n©b, and the second type of label.

Covers are similar to late 70's German issues, although with "Manufactured by Grammofon AB Electra, Solna Sweden" at the back, plus SIB Tryck Tumba in the lower right corner. SIB Tryck was (and still is) a printing company located at Tumba on the outskirts of Stockholm.

Thank you's to Thomas Melin, Paul Dowling and Jarle Jensen.

It felt really cool reading that I had contributed in a small part to new findings when it came to Swedish Elvis LP's on the RCA label. But for some reason it would take another two years before I felt the time was right to start collecting those pressings from Sweden. Just a few weeks ago I spotted a Swedish copy of Pure Gold (with the Take Off! cover) on the online marketplace Tradera. So I placed a bid and won the auction for a ridiculous small sum of money.  

Pure Gold with Take-Off! cover and two extra songs.

The album arrived just the other day, in excellent condition. I noticed that it featured Frankie And Johnny and Clean Up Your Own Back Yard, which are not on US editions. (I wonder what is the story behind that one?)

Then another thought hit me, Maybe some of my other LP's were Swedish pressings as well? A little while later I had the answer. No less than five of them (not counting Blue Christmas, Elvis´Golden Records Volume 3 and Pure Gold) were manufactured in Sweden: Blue Hawaii, Moody Blue (one of my first LP's as well), Burning Love And Hits From His Movies, Elvis In Concert and Elvis Forever Volume 2

Maybe this should come as no surprise as I live in Sweden and started to buy Elvis records in the late 70's and early 80's. Nevertheless, half of my collection of Swedish pressings is now completed, with a minimum of effort from my side. I wonder how hard it will be to find the other eight? 

This is the complete list (so far) of Swedish RCA LP's (Maybe there are others out there?):

  • Burning Love And Hits From His Movies
  • Elvis' Golden Records Volume 1
  • Elvis' Gold Records Volume 2
  • G.I. Blues
  • Blue Hawaii
  • Elvis In Concert
  • Elvis' Golden Records Volume 3
  • Elvis' Gold Records Volume 4
  • Elvis - NBC-TV Special
  • Pure Gold (Take Off! cover)
  • Elvis In Hollywood
  • Welcome To My World
  • Moody Blue
  • Blue Christmas
  • Elvis Forever Volume 2
  • The Las Vegas Years (Same content as record 6 on the Elvis Aron Presley box set, with liner notes in Swedish)

This post is dedicated to Sigbjørn Stabursvik & Hans Otto Engvold, authors of the book How RCA brought Elvis To Europe.