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: