Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Songs For You From Elvis

Front cover of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas.

Elvis' Christmas songs always play an important role in getting into the Christmas spirit for me. This is especially helpful when living in Gothenburg, Sweden, where rain is more common than snow in the winter. So, since the beginning of December, I have been busy playing the undubbed Christmas tracks on the recently released Elvis Back In Nashville 4-CD set featuring his 1971 Nashville recordings.

Listening to them for the first time, I was reminded of my review of the FTD's treatment of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas, released ten years ago. I looked it up, and, among other things, this is what I had to say:

With the help of outtakes not being overdubbed in any way, it reveals a more intimate and sensitive side of the Christmas recordings that took place in Nashville during two nights in May, 1971. 

The same holds true for the Christmas masters, that without overdubs, form a softer and gentler version of the 1971 seasonal album, as my brother wisely points out in his recent review of the Elvis Back In Nashville set (the track order is the same as on Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas). One such an example is "On A Snowy Christmas Night," where an organ and some beautiful acoustic guitar playing that was buried in overdubs on the original release, lends the song a more delicate feel. 

In the same way, "It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You)" and "Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees" both work extremely well undubbed, sounding more sorrowful than before. Even the bombastic "If I Get Home On Christmas Day" offers a more sincere listening experience without the strings, horns and backing vocals producer Felton Jarvis used when making the overdubs 50 years ago. 

Elvis as santa on the cover of the single "Merry Christmas Baby."

One of the highlights on the original album is the blues classic "Merry Christmas Baby," and finally we get the complete unedited and undubbed version. For some inexplicable reason, the unedited version released on FTD's Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas switches to the original album master mix (with a guitar overdub) approximately four and a half minutes into the song, and then back again to the undubbed mix about one minute and ten seconds later. 

The rehearsal part found on the FTD version is also included on Elvis Back In Nashville, and this is what I wrote about it in my original review in 2011: 

Listening to Elvis saying "Yeah, just run it a couple of times and I'll come in there, you know, somewhere. Let's set the rhythm first," it's easy to imagine him in the middle of the studio with a mike in his hand, his musicians in a semi-circle around him.

Another favorite from Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas, and one that I rank among the best Christmas songs Elvis ever recorded, is Michael Jarrett's "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day." I have always had a soft spot for the bluesier June remake version, and that one is included on the Elvis Back In Nashville set as well.

This is what the songwriter Michael Jarrett had to say about Elvis approach to his song, in an interview I did with him in the beginning of 2012:

I believe he approached my song in his own special way, that is to say; he related to what the lyrics were saying and the overall sentiment the song conveyed to him during this time of his life. I believe he chose the song to record because it had personal meaning to him.

"O Come, All Ye Faithful" was the B-side of the single "Merry Christmas Baby."

One song that I actually think benefits from the overdubs Felton Jarvis did is "O Come, All Ye Faithful." Granted, the organ that is now more prominent lends the song a more sacred feel. But I miss the choir as well as the original voices that sang the song with Elvis (unidentified, but most likely Charlie Hodge and Red West). Together with the strings and horns they make the song so much more mightier and powerful.

I still remember buying Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas on cassette in the early eighties, then playing it in my room on my new cassette recorder. I shared my memories of that in a post published in Deecember, 2010:

Listening to the cassette, I was mesmerized by Elvis' singing, hearing for the first time the title track as well as the bombastic "If I Get Home On Christmas Day" and the incredible "Merry Christmas Baby."

Some 40 years have passed since I first heard Elvis singing about the wonderful world of Christmas, and every year I return to it so that Elvis can help me get into the Holiday mood. This year was no exception, but a little different, listening to it in another format without all the overdubs. It worked just as well, though, and with that I'd like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas.  

Additional reading:

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Guest Blog: Elvis Back In Nashville – A Review

The natural follow-up to last year's From Elvis In Nashville 4-CD set is out, and although I haven't yet received the physical product, I've listened quite a lot to it on Spotify. Containing masters and outtakes from Elvis’ 1971 Nashville session, Elvis: Back In Nashville presents the 43 masters on the first two CD’s and the outtakes on the final two discs.

The sound is great, no doubt about it. Instruments that previously have been buried in the mix now sound crystal clear. The drums in ”It's Only Love” for example, without the horns to drown them out, are really moving the song forward.

I've always had a soft spot for these 1971 recordings. Elvis' voice is not as good as in 1970, actually it is sometimes quite weak, but it morbidly fits well with so many of these lost love/broken man songs. Like on ”I'm Leavin’,” one of my favorite Elvis recordings. So I was so much looking forward to this box set.

The idea of presenting the tracks without overdubs, as they were recorded in the studio, is a great one. Many of these songs were really suffering from overuse of horns and strings (although one could argue that they were recorded with overdubs in mind). And I have no problems either with new mixes, making some instruments more prominent than before, and some less so.

But on the first CD the producers have made a strange decision: About half of the masters are presented with the background singers removed. Yes, the singers that were in the studio with Elvis! This was one of the big differences compared to the 1970 Nashville sessions where no other singers than Elvis and Charlie Hodge were present. And now, The Nashville Edition, The Imperials, Mille Kirkham and the Holladays, are gone.

If this had been properly made, maybe I could have accepted it. But often the background singing is bleeding through, and with earphones you sometimes can hear it quite clear. It's like it's there, but far, far away. And even without the bleeding-through, this makes for some strange listening. On ”The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” Ginger Holladay is very much audible during the false start. Then during the master, she is not there anymore.

The first CD actually reminded me of the two Our Memories of Elvis albums from 1979 where the same kind of removal mixes were made. It didn't make sense then, and it doesn't make sense now.

It's a greater delight to listen to the second disc, with songs that would form the albums Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas and He Touched Me. The background voices are luckily intact on the gospel material and a lot of the instruments that you couldn't hear before are really up front. "I've Got Confidence" really rocks! The background singers were not present during the recording of the Christmas songs (I guess the Christmas tree that was put up in the studio took up too much space!) and without overdubs, the songs form a softer and gentler version of the 1971 seasonal album. Unlike some of the folk and pop tracks from CD 1, the Christmas recordings often work without additional singers.

The outtakes discs (where the producers thankfully have not removed the background singers) work well, although there are too many false starts and too much studio banter to really make it a great listening experience. But there are some gems here, including a previously unreleased take on one of the best Christmas songs, Michael Jarrett's ”I'll Be Home On Christmas Day.”

In all fairness, the big problem with this release is the first CD. Unfortunately, that was the disc I looked forward to the most, as it collects all the pop and folk masters from these sessions for the first time. The undubbed Christmas masters are, a bit surprising, the big win for me, and I will play that portion of CD 2 a lot come Christmas time.

Despite my objections, it's terrific that box sets like this are still produced. However, I hope the producers get it together for the next volume in this series, containing Elvis' 1972 and 1975 masters. I have a great title for that release: Back In Hollywood (Well, he was there a lot in the 60's, right?). And an advice: Do not remove instruments and vocals recorded in the studio. Please.


Additional reading:

Friday, November 5, 2021

In Memory Of Hard-Working Ronnie Tutt

One of my favorite shots of Ronnie Tutt and Elvis together. "I emulated and accented everything that he did just instinctively," Ronnie later said in an interview.
Just like other fans all around the world, I was saddened to learn about the death of Elvis' drummer Ronnie Tutt on October 16. At the same time, I found comfort in the fact that I saw him perform during five "live on screen" concerts; in 1999, 2000 (twice), 2010 and 2012, respectively. 

And perhaps even better, I also had a chance to say hello to him in 2016 after a show called Aloha from Copenhagen that celebrated Elvis' 81st birthday and the 44th anniversary of the historical Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite concert. On stage were, besides Ronnie Tutt, two other members of the TCB Band (James Burton and Glen D. Hardin) as well as Terry Blackwood from the Imperials and Austrian singer Dennis Jale.

As Ronnie signed my copy of the double LP Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, I remember my brother asking him if the TCB necklace he wore was the original one given to him by Elvis. Turned out it wasn't.

When we sat on the train taking us home to Sweden, we told each other that we would probably never have the opportunity to see the TCB Band play live again. Unfortunately, that proved to be true.

But as I look at Ronnie Tutt's autograph right now, I am reminded of how much he, like the rest of the TCB Band, meant not only to Elvis, but to me as well. And I'd like to end where it all began for Elvis and Ronnie, back in 1970, during the auditions for the 1969 Las Vegas engagement. In an interview that Arjan Deelen conducted in 1999, Ronnie Tutt had, among other things, this to say when he was asked why Elvis picked him as his drummer:

It wasn't just a matter of expertise, but a matter of rapport. It was a matter of sensing, and watching his eyes, and watching everything he did. I emulated and accented everything that he did just instinctively. Every move, almost like a glorified stripper! And he loved that.

Additional reading:

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! Volume 2

In an alternative universe: Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! Volume 2

FTD has announced three new releases for next month: The Pot Luck Sessions 5 CD set, a 2 CD soundboard titled South Bound Tampa/Atlanta '75 and the double vinyl Raised On Rock: I've Got Rhythm In My Soul

In an alternative universe a fourth album was added for a December release with the following announcement:

43 years after its original release FTD is pleased to announce the Classic Album version of Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! Packaged in 7" format with a full color 16-page memorabilia booklet, this 1-CD set also includes a previously unknown master tape featuring the second volume in the series. 

Newly found documentation (included in the booklet) reveals that a planned Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! Volume 2 was scrapped due to the first volume's poor sales figures and weak #130 on Billboard's Top LPs chart during its 11 weeks on the chart (although it fared much better on the Country LPs chart with #5 and 16 weeks). 

Of special interest is the inclusion of an alternate take of "Your Time Hasn't Come Yet, Baby," which suggests that producer Joan Deary had access to the Speedway session tapes which has never been found since. 

Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too!

The Original Album
01. Teddy Bear 02. Wooden Heart 03. Five Sleepyheads 04. Puppet On A String 05. Angel 06. Old MacDonald 07. How Would You Like To Be 08. Cotton Candy Land 09. Old Shep 10. Big Boots (MO-04, alternate take) 11. Have A Happy

Volume 2
12. Lover Doll 13. Datin´14. Queenie Wahine's Papaya 15. Mexico 16. Earth Boy 17. Confidence 18. Your Time Hasn't Come Yet, Baby (take 4, previously unreleased) 19. Take Me To The Fair 20. It's Carnival Time 21. Don't Cry Daddy 22. House Of Sand 23. Sing You Children

Bonus Songs (considered for Volume 2 but dropped in favor of "Don't Cry Daddy" and "House Of Sand")
24. Carny Town 25. A Dog's Life 

Duet versions
26. Datin' (duet with Donna Butterworth) 27. Queenie Wahine's Papaya (duet with  Donna Butterworth) 28. Mexico (duet with Larry Domasin)

Back in this reality, of course no second volume of Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! was ever planned by Colonel Tom Parker who schemed to put out the original album as early as 1975. Or who could really tell? One thing is for sure though: there were certainly enough songs for a sequel. 

PS: I originally thought of posting this on April 1 next year but couldn't wait that long. 

Additional reading:

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Amazing Grace: Elvis Back In Nashville

The bluesy take 2 of "Amazing Grace" is the third digital single promoting the Elvis: Back in Nashville set due for release on November 12.
Barely had I written about the second promo/preview/digital single from the upcoming 4 CD set Elvis: Back In Nashville when the third one was released yesterday. This time the spotlight is put on the first (incomplete) and second take of "Amazing Grace." Take 2 was first made available on the Walk A Mile In My Shoes – The Essential 70's Masters back in 1995, while the whole sequence containing both takes found its way onto the FTD version of He Touched Me (2011).  

I actually reviewed the latter in a post here on my blog back in November 2011 (was it really that long time ago?!), so I revisited that and read what I had written about the two first takes of "Amazing Grace." Apparently I focused a lot on the studio banter: 

Another example is the banter before the second take of "Amazing Grace" (following the first abandoned one) which has Elvis saying "I hit the wrong words, I was singing 'Love Me Tender'," and one of the musicians answering, "You was singing the hell out of it, whatever it was." I think he's right. I actually prefer the bluesy take 2 over the more conservative master.

Listening to the audio promo today made me realize this still holds true. Ernst Jorgensen puts it well in his excellent book Elvis Presley: A Life In Music (1998):

For this voice piece the rhythm section set a slow, solid, unobtrusive beat, while Chip Young added some bluesy acoustic slide guitar and David Briggs contributed flashy piano runs straight out of the showy gospel music tradition. 

But for some reason, after the second take producer Felton Jarvis told Chip Young to run a straighter course, resulting in a more traditional master of the song (take 5). For the first time this can now be heard on the promo (it wasn't included on FTD's version of He Touched Me). The dialogue runs something like this:

Felton Jarvis: Chip, don't play that funky stuff there man, really just straight.

Chip Young:  Alright.

Felton Jarvis: Simplicity you know.

Then another person says: Jerry, you're not gonna play on your kick drum, are you?

Jerry Carrigan: Ah, not much, no.

The other person: OK. 

So there went the bluesy version out of the window in favor of the master that we know from the He Touched Me album. I like that one too, but take 2 has the edge. In my book, yet another excellent choice to help promote Elvis: Back In Nashville.

Additional reading:

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Until It's Time For You To Go: Elvis Back In Nashville

"Until It's Time For You To Go" (take 5) has been released as an offical lyric video.

So far I have been pleased with the the audio promos/digital singles RCA have chosen to promote the upcoming Elvis: Back In Nashville 4 CD set. In August the first attempt of the stunning "I'm Leavin'" was released (including a new rehearsal part), and a month later we were treated with take 5 of the beautiful "Until It's Time For You To Go." 

I thought it would be interesting to see what some of my favorite Elvis books have to say about "Until It's Time For You To Go" that was originally released as a single in January 1972, coupled with "We Can Make The Morning." First out is Robert Matthew-Walker and his book Elvis Presley: Studies in Modern Music (1979):

"Until It's Time For You To Go" became a classic hit for Presley and this performance is one of his best. He infuses each word with an added meaning.

In 1982 a book called The Complete Elvis edited by Martin Torgoff came out. Among other things, it included an A-Z section, that my brother and I loved to study. Today he sent me a mobile photo of what was written about "Until It's Time For You To Go":

Elvis turned Buffy's 1970 version of her own folksy composition into a ballad with piano and strings nicely complemented by the Imperials. The lyrics are stretched and phrased beautifully. 

Moving on to my well thumbed copy of Elvis Presley: A Life In Music from 1998 (if I could keep only one of my Elvis' books this would be the one) Ernst Jorgensen paints this picture of the recording of "Until It's Time For You To Go" on May 17, 1971:

Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Until It's Time For You To Go" was the next folk number to which Elvis gave his full attention. This kind of material might have been suitable for a pop album, less so for a single – but Elvis was throwing himself into his performances with abandon now, and all anyone could do was stand back and watch.

It's obvious Elvis cared for "Until It's Time For You To Go." Not only did he try to better his May version with a remake of the song at the June sessions (although it was the May recording that was eventually chosen for release as a single), he also included it in his live repertoire. 

I have to confess I like it too. It's a tender song that always strikes a chord when I listen to it. That leaves you, dear reader. What do you think of Elvis' version(s) of "It's Time For You To Go"? 

Additional reading:

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'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.


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.


”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.”


”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  

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 eighth 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 at their feet 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: