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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 J├Ârgen.

"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"