From: Summer 2000 Issue
by Phil Arnold
The Time-Life series of Elvis CD’s is up to 13 volumes, including one titled Rhythm and Blues. This offering does contain some wonderful Elvis blues numbers, but it easily could have been 100% solid blues. Elvis recorded lots of fine blues songs, certainly enough to fill a double CD. I already have eighteen of his blues numbers compiled on a cassette tape, personally selected from thirteen different albums.
The project started ten years ago when I purchased a copy of the 1960 LP, Elvis Is Back, at a record show. I had never owned it as a youth, probably because it contained no hits. Although Elvis had big hit singles that year, like “Stuck On You” and “It’s Now Or Never”, none made it to this album for some reason.
To my surprise, three of the last four songs on Elvis Is Back were blues numbers. Not blues-rockers; these were pure blues songs, and they were great. From that moment, I was driven to make a tape titled ‘Elvis Presley – Bluesman.’
Naturally, I started with those three songs: “Reconsider Baby,” “It Feels So Right,” and “Like A Baby.” “Reconsider Baby” was an earlier hit for its composer, Lowell Folson, and has gone on to become a standard, recorded by almost every blues artist sooner or later. The other two songs were written just for Elvis. One of them, “It Feels So Right,” also has some additional pedigree. The 1965 movie, “Tickle Me,” had Elvis ‘singing’ the song, but what we actually heard was the recording from 1960.
Elvis Is Back was the first album he did after returning home from the Army. Maybe he listened to a lot of blues while in Germany and came back itching to record some himself. If so, he was quickly given the chance.
Elvis was rushed into a Nashville recording studio less than two weeks after he arrived home. His old bandmates Scotty and D.J. were teamed up with some heavy duty session men, including Floyd Cramer on piano and Boots Randolf on sax. I never thought of either as a bluesman, but they do great work on these songs. Within two years, both would break through as major solo performers.
To find more good Elvis blues songs, I checked out my collection of albums, starting with the oldest. The first one, Elvis Presley, from 1956, provided “Tryin’ To Get To You.” This is another song with an interesting history. Elvis recorded it during his last session at Sun Records in 1955, but Sun sold his contract before it could be released, and RCA got to use it instead. It is also the only Sun recording by Elvis to use a piano, which was probably played by Elvis himself. Most notably, “Tryin’ To Get To You” was one of the gritty acoustic songs performed by Elvis on the tiny in-the-round stage during the “68 Comeback Special.”
His second album, also released in 1956, and simply titled Elvis had two blues numbers, “Any Place Is Paradise” and “So Glad You’re Mine.” The latter was written by an old bluesman, Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup, noted for composing Elvis’ first commercial recording, “That’s All Right Mama.”
Elvis’ second movie, Loving You produced his first sound track album in 1957. A good trivia fact is that not one song on Side 2 of the Loving You LP was from the movie. However, one of these filler tunes was an excellent blues number, “I Need You So.”
“Mean Woman Blues” on Side 1 was featured in the movie in a big way. Elvis’ character sang it to the accompaniment of a jukebox in a club. Is there anyone who doesn’t remember the famous scene where Elvis fights a trouble-maker and knocks him into that juke box? Although Elvis never had a hit single with “Mean Woman Blues,” Roy Orbison charted with it at #5 a few years later.
Another 1957 movie, Jailhouse Rock, also contained a blues song, but there was no soundtrack album to showcase it. “I Want To Be Free” had to wait two more years to appear on the LP, A Date With Elvis.
Elvis’ only movie from 1958, King Creole, did provide a sound track album with a blues number for my tape. “Trouble” is different than the other songs in my collection because of its heavy use of blaring trumpets in the instrumentation. Frankly, I wish there were some album containing an alternate version without those loud trumpets.
“One Night” was a big hit in 1957, but didn’t show up on an album until 1959, when it joined many other old hits on 50,000 Fans Can’t Be Wrong. A more powerful version of “One Night” can be heard on any of the various recordings to come out of the 68 Comeback Special. As we watched Elvis (wearing that black leather outfit) wailing to this song in the pit session, we knew he was back. It was an electrifying performance and the version I used on my tape.
The 1961 album, Something For Everybody, was well named, for it did have a blues tune to satisfy this fan. “Give Me The Right” was cut from the same mold as the three songs from Elvis Is Back a year earlier. Boots Randolph and Floyd Cramer again lent excellent support to the recording.
The next song I put on my Elvis blues tape was from the1961 movie sound track, Blue Hawai. It was “Beach Boy Blues”, a tongue-in-cheek number sung by Elvis while in jail after a fight. It has the great(?) lyric, “I’m like a ripe pineapple. I’m in the can.”
It took four more years until another blues song appeared on an Elvis album, the 1965 release, Elvis For Everyone. However, the song “When it Rains It Really Pours” had been recorded back in 1957.
The next year, the soundtrack from Spinout contained three bonus songs not in the movie. One of them, “Down In The Valley,” is a blues song that had been originally recorded by the Clovers.
Elvis’ 68 Comeback Special spawned a number of official and bootleg albums, including Elvis – TV Special, which I own. It’s hard to believe, but there is one song Elvis performed during the show that he had never previously recorded. It was the blues standard, “Baby, What You Want Me To Do,” written by Jimmy Reed.
Also on this album is the shortest song to make my Elvis blues tape. “Nothingville” lasts just about one minute. It was one of many songs, including “Trouble” and “Guitar Man”, woven into the special’s long dance number.
The last song on my tape is one of the best. It is “Steamroller Blues,” which Elvis Performed on the Aloha From Hawaii television special in 1973. However, I prefer the version used on the album, The Alternate Aloha, This recording of the rehearsal concert was released in 1988. The song was originally written and recorded by James Taylor, but the lyrics fit Elvis much better when he wails, “I’m a burning urn of churning funk.”
So that’s it, 60 minutes of solid Elvis blues music. I play the tape all the time and love it. Surely, plenty of other Elvis fans would as well. Elvis music seems to be re-released in new forms nearly every-other month, so maybe the record company will someday get around to an Elvis blues compilation. If so, you and I may be able to watch Darwin on QVC again, introducing a CD called Elvis Presley – Bluesman. I’ll bet it really sells.
© 2000 Philip R Arnold