Friday, April 23, 2021

On Stage On Super 8

Because so few of Elvis' live concerts were professionally filmed, fans have to turn to amateur super 8 footage to get an idea of what it was like to see him on stage during a certain tour or engagement. I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when my brother sent me the link to a clip on Youtube from Elvis' January/February 1970 Las Vegas "On Stage" session. 

One of the first times I came in contact with fan footage was when I ordered the VHS Return To Splendour from the British fan club back in 1994 (it was released on DVD 10 years later). It was fascinating to follow Elvin live on stage from 1969 up to 1975, but unfortunately it was silent concert footage. The narrator Anne Nixon did a great job describing the different jumpsuits but I missed the sound of Elvis.

Things have improved since then. Thanks to the availability of soundboards and modern technology, it's possible to sync footage and sound with the help of video editing software. Although I guess it takes a lot of patience to do a really good job.

Elvis launching himself into "That's All Right" at Madison Square Garden.
Notice the man passing, oblivious of this historical moment.

One example that works really well is the 20 minutes of fan-shot footage from the June 10, 1972 afternoon show at Madison Square Garden. Synched with audio, it was released on the 2 CD+DVD set Like A Prince From Another Planet in 2012, including a complete performance of "That's All Right."

Another release worth mentioning is the bootleg Final Countdown To Midnight box set from 2014, featuring the nearly complete Pittsburgh New Year's Eve concert  from December 31, 1976. Apparently quite a few fans in the audience that night brought along a super 8 camera, as the DVD includes a lot of multi-camera angles, with perfect sound synchronization. My brother and I actually watched it together one New Year's Eve, I think for the 50th anniversary of the show. We had a great time.

No less than three super 8 cameras captured Elvis during his "I Got A Woman"/"Amen"
routine on New Year's Eve in Pittsburgh, 1976.

I really wish FTD would to something along the same lines. That is, release a DVD with super 8 footage in great quality synched with sound. 

The 2018 documentary Elvis Presley: The Searcher features super 8 film of Elvis performing "An American Trilogy" from what I guess must be the June/July tour in 1973, and the quality is amazing. So how about releasing more of where that came from, together with a book and a CD? What a great FTD project that could be.

Exceptional quality on this super 8 footage having Elvis singing "An American Trilogy" in 1973, used in the documentary Elvis Presley: The Searcher.

A recent example of fan footage complete with sound (I'm guessing both original and dubbed) is the SOLD OUT! volumes, 2 DVD sets containing rare 8 mm footage from the collector Rex Martin. Apparently there was some controversy surrounding the release of this material, as a lot of the footage has been made available on YouTube as well. 

But back to the clip from Elvis' second Las Vegas engagement, in January/February 1970. "Fun to watch," my brother wrote in the email that included the link to Youtube, and it was. During the 3 minutes and 42 seconds that it played, I got to watch and listen to snippets of no less than 11 songs:

  • All Shook Up
  • I Got A Woman
  • Long Tall Sally
  • Don't Cry Daddy
  • Let It Be Me
  • I Can't Stop Loving You
  • Walk A Mile In My Shoes
  • Sweet Caroline
  • Polk Salad Annie
  • Suspicious Minds
  • Can't Help Falling In Love
Once again, this time with the help of 8mm footage with synched sound, I was reminded of why the On Stage album is one of my favorites, and how incredible it must have been to to see Elvis in person. 

The only thing I can't figure out is what sound source has been used. "All Shook Up" has, to my knowledge, only been officially released on the FTD album The On Stage Session: The Opening And Closing Shows - February, 1970, but "Walk A Mile In My Shoes" is only featured on CD 1 (Opening Show) and "I Got A Woman" on CD 2 (Closing Show), so maybe both were used? Or a bootleg?

A final note: Obviously some of the super 8 fan footage was shot with sound, but the one from February 1970 is not. When the screen goes black between the snippets of footage the sound continues. My theory is that the person behind the camera didn't bring along any spare cassettes of film, just the one in the camera which was enough for 3 minutes and 20 seconds of filming (that explains the short sequences). As the clip clocks at 3 minutes and 42 seconds with sound running all the time, it can't be shot together with the film. And besides, the first super 8 sound on film cassette was not released until 1973. Before that, it was a silent system only.

Friday, April 16, 2021

An Elvis Moment

With two children, four and ten years old, and our cottage in Denmark off limits due to corona restrictions, me and my wife were a bit lost at what to do during the Easter Holiday here in Sweden. Then we got the idea to play tourists in our home town and stay in a hotel for one night. 

It turned out to be a great experience, especially for the kids. My sister-in-law had worked as a manager at that particular hotel, and saw to it that our room was full of balloons and  Easter eggs filled with candy. There were even some newly bought magazines placed on a table, one for each family member. Mine had a famous shot from the Comeback Special on the cover and was titled (in Swedish) The Complete Guide To Elvis. It included some 30 articles spread over about 150 pages.

I lay down on the comfortable bed for a predictable but pleasant read. The chapters covered different aspects of Elvis' history such as his rise to fame, his movie career, the '68 Comeback Special and the return to live performances in Las Vegas. It also featured articles about some of Elvis' most important albums, like Elvis Presley, Elvis Is Back and From Elvis In Memphis

The magazine included a lot of photos, and I recognized most of them. But in one of the last chapters, titled "Having Fun With Elvis," I spotted one I hadn't seen before: it showed a handwritten list of the movies Elvis had watched when he rented the Memphian Theatre on Friday, September 25, 1964. 

Four titles were picked by Elvis that night, but only the last one, Dr. Strangelove, was screened from start to finish - apparently for the fifth time! The one before that, Kings of the Sun, apparently didn't grab Elvis and the reels were switched to the Peter Sellers movie after only a couple of minutes. It was also amusing to see what was written below the list: "Elvis was always one hour to three hours late."

Finishing the magazine, I noticed it was written by Gillian G. Gaar and titled Elvis - The Legend when originally released in English. A quick search on the internet on my phone revealed that the author was a music journalist and the magazine an adaption of an illustrated biography authorized by the Graceland Archives to mark the 40th anniversary of Elvis death in 2017.

It's funny how Elvis turns up when you least expect him to. This time in a hotel room full of balloons, Easter eggs and children. Granted, the magazine wasn't something I would have picked up from a newsstand as it was clearly aimed for the general public, offering nothing new. But it was my Elvis moment that day, and it was a good one. 

PS: This is what Jerry Schilling has to say about Elvis and Dr. Strangelove in his book Me and a Guy Named Elvis:

"There was one stretch during which Elvis had us watch Dr. Strangelove at least a dozen times. Me and the boys were probably not the most astute judges of political satire, but, hearing Elvis bust up laughing, we'd start to see the film through his eyes and end up laughing just as hard. [...] As a matter of fact, he did a masterful impression of Dr. Strangelove being choked by his own misbehaving prosthetic hand, an impression that he startled us with countless times over the years."

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Guest Blog: From Elvis In Nashville – A Review

Ever since I got Rough Cut Diamonds in 1985, I’ve longed for this release. Not that I didn’t enjoy the 1985 bootleg album, I thought it was great to hear the 1970 studio masters without all the strings, horns and vocal overdubs that were present on – and in some cases more or less ruined – the songs. But the sound quality was pretty rough (!), there were still fade-outs and there were so many more songs from the Nashville marathon sessions. I wanted it all.

I was eleven years old when I got Rough Cut Diamonds. Now I’m 48. Has it been worth the wait? Well, I would say it has. The sound quality is top notch. And the new mixes sometimes almost transform the songs. I’ve always found "Got My Mojo Working" a bit dull, or as Elvis himself says just after recording the song: "We grew up on this mediocre shit." But through Matt Ross-Spangs’ mixing, with the organ much more prominent, it almost sounds like a new song. It definitely kicks more ass.

Another fine track in which the organ takes a more dominant part is "Funny How Time Slips Away." It just soars, and makes this recording even more haunting. And to think they nailed it in only one take! That is actually the case with several of the songs presented here.

There are some great moments on this album that weren’t on the original releases: Elvis’ fantastic vocalising in "I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water," the end of "When I'm Over You" where he (almost) starts from the beginning again, and the over and over ending of "The Sound of Your Cry," where Elvis sings like he just has to get the chorus out of his system. And for the first time on an offical mainstream release, we get to hear some of The King’s creative swearing. He was a human being, after all.

Sometimes I miss the overdubs, like the backing vocals in "Twenty Days and Twenty Nights," but that is not very often. This is how these songs should sound, and should have sounded when released back in 1970–1971.

One thing that does annoy me is that the songs in many cases still fade out in the end. Especially on disc three and four which contain outtakes, that could have been avoided. In the mini documentary The Making of From Elvis In Nashville (see below), producer Ernst Jorgensen says that the idea of this release is to hear what it would have been like sitting in the studio with Elvis and the band. Well, the fades were made afterwards and kinda contradict Jorgensen’s claim. And when, which is also the case on disc one and two (which contain the masters), you get some dialogue before the songs, the idea to fade them out doesn’t make any sense.

But that is really the only thing I don’t like about this release. From Elvis in Nashville contains great music, with Elvis and the band in great form. Pure Elvis country soul! I would have loved it back in 1985. And I love it now.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Elvis Las Vegas 1975: April Fool's Dinner

Today I punched the date April 1, 1975 into my time machine and attended Elvis' dinner show at the Las Vegas Hilton showroom. Actually, I went there twice.


The first time around I found myself seated at the end of one of the tables located perpendicular to the stage. In front of me was an Elvis souvenir menu. I absentmindedly ordered a "Seafood Cocktail Supreme" that was promptly delivered before the lights dimmed to the sound of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" blasting through the room.

Glancing at the guy sitting opposite me, I saw him fiddling with something under the table. Leaning over and taking a closer look, I realized he was pressing the play and recording buttons on a portable cassette recorder. Looking up at me, he smiled and made a "shusing" gesture, holding his index finger in front of his mouth. I smiled back and handed him the menu. Gratefully, he placed it over the cassette recorder so only the part featuring the microphone was visible.

When Elvis entered the stage he looked a little heavy, but the voice was stronger than ever. As for the show, it was a no nonsense, contemporary affair, with highlights like "And I Love You So," "Big Boss Man," "My Boy" and "Fairytale." Almost all of the quick renditions of songs from the 50's were gone, except "Hound Dog." Obviously, he took his singing seriously.  

At the same time, Elvis was in good spirit, joking and interacting with the audience, clearly enjoying himself. ("Oh yeah, the second part of the show has been cancelled, so ... April fool!") As for me, I sat so close to the stage that I could clearly make out the pattern of the light blue and silver ornaments on the shoulders of his two-piece suit.

All too soon, though, it was over. "It's been a pleasure working for you, so 'til we see you again, take care, God bless you," Elvis told the audience, before launching himself into "Can't Help Falling In Love." I could be mistaken, but before the curtains came down, I am pretty sure he smiled right at me. 

The last thing I saw before travelling back to 2021 was the guy with the cassette recorder hiding it from security. It would eventually find its way to a bootleg LP released in 1980 with the title Rockin' With Elvis April Fool's Day, and later on with upgraded audio on the bootleg CD April Fool's Dinner from 2009.


The second time I punched the date April 1, 1975, I was aiming for the midnight, closing show that took place a couple of hours later. But somehow I must have messed up the time control, as I was transported to the afternoon show once more. Only, this time, I found myself standing in the back of the showroom, next to sound engineer Bill Porter and his mixing console. 

Wearing a checkered jacket and with a TCB necklace around his neck he was clearly frustrated over something, turning knobs and pressing buttons. But as the lights dimmed and I once more heard the the iconic opening of "Also Sprach Zarathustra," I turned my attention to what was happening on stage instead.

This time, the details of Elvis' two-piece suit weren't as recognizable as before, nor was his face. That didn't stop me from feeling that he sang for me and no one else. By the look of the mesmerized faces around me, I was pretty sure everyone in the audience felt the same way.

At the end of "See See Rider" Elvis said quickly in his microphone, "I can't hear on stage, Bill." As I casted a glance to the side, I noticed Bill Porter adjusting a couple of fader controls. That seemed to satisfy Elvis, who soon found himself busy responding to someone on the balcony shouting several times, "Look up here!" 

But clearly something else was wrong, as Bill Porter muttered to himself, "The soundboard recording has stopped." He continued to press buttons and turning knobs, and just as Elvis ended "I Got A Woman/Amen," I saw relief in his face. Clearly, the recording of the soundboard was back on track.

"Love Me" and "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)" followed, and a couple of songs later it was time for a nice surprise. Dropped two years ago from the set list, "Burning Love" was back again, and Elvis delivered a great, funky version. "I'll Remember You" and "How Great Thou Art" at the end of the show were strong performances, too. 

Before returning to 2021 a second time, I saw Bill Porter pressing down a button on the mixing console as the closing vamp came to an end, stopping the recording of the soundboard. It would take 41 years before it surfaced courtesy of the FTD label in 2016, on the second disc of the double 5" release titled Elvis Las Vegas 1975 (featuring the March 22 midnight show on the first disc). 

You could to worse than pick it up and travel back in time, like I did today. But if you want to experience the balcony dialogue as well as "I Got A Woman/Amen," you will have to find the bootleg version instead.


01. Also Sprach Zarathustra (missing on the audience recording)
02. See See Rider
03. I Got A Woman/Amen (missing on the soundboard)
04. Love Me
05. If You Love Me (Let Me Know)
06. And I Love You So
07. Big Boss Man
08. The Wonder Of You
09. Burning Love
10. Introductions
11. My Boy
12. I'll Remember You
13. Let Me Be There
14. How Great Thou Art
15. Hound Dog
16. Fairytale
17. Can't Help Falling In Love
18. Closing Vamp

Additional reading: