Monthly Archives: October 2006

A TRIBUTE TO THE KING

On January 13, 2005, I posted the third article in the young life of Elvisblog.  It was titled “The Guitar That Rocked The World,” and it told of an upcoming TV special featuring Scotty Moore and a roster of British guitar heroes playing two dozen Elvis’ hits.  Well, things didn’t quite work out that way.  Here’s a little background.

 

Certain European music producers were well aware of the high esteem that top-name English guitarists had for Scotty Moore.  They were sure these musicians would jump at the chance to record with Scotty, so they conceived a three-day filmed performance at famous Abbey Road Studios in London.  The producers then sold Scotty on the idea of a tribute to him titled “The Guitar That Rocked The World.”  Naturally, he wanted to do it.  Who wouldn’t want to perform with Eric Clapton, Mark Knoffler of Dire Straights, David Gilmore of Pink Floyd, and Bill Wyman and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones?

 

Scotty was promised certain financial rewards and artistic controls over the finished product.  However, when he arrived at Abbey Road in December 2004, no contract was prepared.  Scotty (and his traveling party of three) had two choices:  turn around and go home, or go through with the deal on a promise and a handshake.  With all the British rockers already there and ready to play, Scotty decided to do the show.

 

Well, as it turned out, Scotty got taken advantage of.  The money and controls didn’t happen.  The Abbey Road sessions did not end up as a TV special; they were released as a DVD titled, “A Tribute To The King.”  In small print at the bottom of the box it says “By Scotty Moore and Friends.”  What started out as a tribute to Scotty was now being marketed as a tribute to Elvis.

 

I did not write about this earlier because of the deep disappointment it caused Scotty.  But time has mostly healed the wounds, and last week he told me it was OK to do a blog story on it.  After all, as he said, “It is some wonderful music.”  And I agree.  I’ve watched the complete DVD (27 songs) three times, and it just keeps getting better.

 

My favorites are the three songs Scotty does with Eric Clapton: “That’s All Right,” “Mystery Train,” and “Money Honey.”  Clapton got to pick the songs, and he went for the early stuff, including two Sun Records rockabilly numbers.  He and Scotty are seated and backed by a minimal band, but the sound is just wonderful.  For the first time in history, these two guitar immortals played together.  What a magic moment.

 

One other personal favorite was David Gilmore playing “Don’t.”  Scotty was not on stage for this one, and Gilmore stayed fairly true to the original Elvis version of the song, until he came to the instrumental bridge.  Then he blended the Pink Floyd sound into an Elvis classic, and literally gave me goose bumps the first time I watched it.

 

My other favorite on the DVD is a group you probably have not heard of: The Grundy-Pritchard Band.  Scotty is much revered in England and Europe, so he has been traveling over there to perform since 1992.  On every tour, he has played with Liam Grundy and Pete Prichard and various other musicians in their group at the time.  Scotty has recorded with them on the CD Western Union.  In recent years, Paul Ansell, who has had a two-decade career with his own band Number 9, handled the lead vocals.  Scotty also recorded with Ansell on the CD Live At Sun.

 

On the A Tribute To The King DVD, Scotty and The Grundy Pritchard Band do a superb job on six Elvis rockabilly and blues songs.  They cover “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” “A Mess of the Blues,” “ One Night,” “I Forgot To Remember To Forget,” “Reconsider Baby,” and “Ready Teddy.”  The music is tight, Ansell’s vocals are dead-on, and the end result is very impressive.

 

So, let me suggest two things.  If you want to get a great Elvis-related gift for Christmas, tell your spouse to go to Amazon.com and order the video.  If you love Elvis music and want to see how it sounds done by several famous British rockers, you will enjoy it thoroughly. 

 

And second, if you are going to Elvis Week 2007, please plan to attend the Scotty Moore tribute concert “The Last Man Standing.”  In my October 3 Elvisblog, I wrote about Scotty’s Nashville blues band that will do the first set.  After the intermission, Scotty’s English band (as his website calls them), Grundy-Pritchard, will do the second set.  This is going to be one outstanding concert.

 

©  2006   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.elvisblog.net

ONE EARLY NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE ON ELVIS DIDN'T SLAM HIM

A few weeks ago we looked at a scathing review of Elvis’ second appearance on the Milton Berle Show by the Times’ TV critic, Jack Gould.  In another Elvisblog article, we noted the disdain shown by the Times’ movie critic for Elvis’ first few movies.  So, it may come as a surprise that the Times music critic, John S. Wilson, actually had some good things to say about Elvis’ second album, Elvis.

 

John S. Wilson had a four-decade career with the New York Times, starting in 1952.  He was the newspaper’s first critic to cover popular music.  He wrote about blues, cabaret, Latin, folk, pop, and his favorite, jazz.  Wilson’s article on January 13, 1957, was a four-column piece about Elvis.  The text framed around and under a good 4×6 photo of him centered on the page.  It was titled, “Elvis Presley: Rocking Blues Shouter.”

 

Mr. Wilson certainly knew his blues, and early in the article, he makes the argument that Elvis was imbued with the spirit and style of Negro country blues singer Big Bill Broonzy.  I have a little Broonzy music, and I can see where Wilson was coming from.  He continued, “His outright rock ‘n’ roll efforts generally are based on an exaggeration of his blues roots.”  OK, I buy that.  However, Wilson totally shot the mood by saying, “essentially, rock ‘n’ roll is a grotesque extension of the blues.”  Uh, oh.  This guy doesn’t like rock ‘n’ roll, I thought, and he’s going to slam Elvis.

 

But, no.  Wilson used great phrases like, “he is tuned to his times with …catalytic precision” and, “He will eventually settle into the mainstream of popular singers.”  I didn’t quite get it when Wilson wrote that Elvis’ music was “all amplified to brain-shattering proportions by doom-filled echo chambers.”   What?  The Sun Records echo sound is now recognized as pure musical genius, so Wilson was just wrong on that one. 

 

More than halfway through the article, Wilson finally got to the business at hand – his review of the new album Elvis.  He called the song “So Glad You’re Mine” an excellent, practically unalloyed, sample of country blues.  He described “Any Place Is Paradise” as another basically strong blues.

 

When Mr. Wilson finished talking about his favorite songs on the album, he started talking about Elvis, the singer.  The next two paragraphs are word-for-word from the article.

 

Mr. Presley is completely at home with the shouts, the whoops, the hoarse zest and the plaintive cry of the country blues singer.  When he is using these devices with artless skill, he is a genuinely exciting performer.

 

And on the artful side, Mr. Presley should not be underestimated.  Between his first disc, Elvis Presley, and his second, Elvis, the improvement in his diction, in the use he makes of his strong natural voice, and in the thoughtfulness of his presentations is very marked.  All these suggest that his horizons are far from limited. 

 

Boy, was John S. Wilson right about that.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the nearly fifty-year-old article, “Elvis Presley: Rocking Blues Shouter.”  It is probably my favorite in the New York Times Elvis commemorative newspaper called The King.   However, even the articles I don’t like make excellent topics for Elvisblog, so we will return here again.

 

©   2006   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.elvisblog.net 

 

THE KING'S CHAMBER

The King’s Chamber – sounds like something archeologists discovered in an ancient pyramid, doesn’t it?  Or maybe, the secret boudoir of a medieval monarch?  Well, this is Elvisblog you are reading, so you’ve already guessed the King in question is Elvis.

 

If you ever plan a pilgrimage to Memphis to revel in all-things-Elvis, put the King’s Chamber on your ‘don’t miss’ list.  It will give you one more reason to experience famous Beale Street, because the King’s Chamber is located right in the action – on the second floor of the Hard Rock Cafe.   According to Giovanni Taliaferro, the Hard Rock international memorabilia designer, “We wanted to pay tribute to the King by creating an exclusive section in our café where guests would be surrounded by Elvis memorabilia… our King’s Chamber.”

 

Last October 1, the Memphis Hard Rock Cafe unveiled its extensively remodeled mezzanine level, proudly displaying 100% Elvis memorabilia.  Remember the denim jacket Elvis wore in the movie, “Jailhouse Rock?”  It’s in the Kings Chamber.  So are the outfits from two other movies and a two-piece jumpsuit from 1972 Las Vegas performances.  These three are housed in self-contained, dramatically lit display cases built into large vertical support columns.

 

There are Elvis hats and belts, and believe it or not, even a tissue holder and wastebasket from the house he rented in Beverly Hills during the movie years.  (Elvis memorabilia knows no limits.  The Honky-Tonk Hall of Fame & Rock-N-Roll Roadshow has a pair of Elvis’ underwear on display.)

 

The guitarists who played with Elvis are represented in the King's Chamber as well.  The Memphis Hard Rock’s mezzanine features both Scotty Moore and James Burton guitars.  You wouldn't expect to see a tank banner, but they have one from Company D, 1st Battalion, 32nd Armor Division, that Elvis signed while stationed in Germany. 

 

To adorn the stairwell going up to the King’s Chamber they have created a progression through Elvis’ life.  Designer Taliaferro expressed thanks to Elvis Presley Enterprises for some rare photos of Elvis, along with historical information, so you know they got some good stuff.

 

It sounds like the King’s Chamber is a permanent feature of the Memphis Hard Rock Cafe, hopefully with the occasional rotation of items.  So, if you get to Elvis Week 2007, be sure to check it out.  Otherwise, whenever you do visit Memphis in the future, the King’s Chamber will be waiting for you.

 

©   2006   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.elvisblog.net        

VIRTUOSO of HOOTCHY KOOTCHY

Jack Gould was the king of TV critics during his 35-year career with the New York Times.  He was there when the new medium was born, and he was its most notable commentator for the next two decades.  Like the rest of America, he saw Elvis’ second appearance on the Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956, the broadcast that freaked out the entire country.  The next day, Jack Gould’s pen dripped with condemnation of Elvis, and his comments set the tone for the huge national backlash that followed.  It’s fun to look at some of his statements, line-by-line, now that we have the historical perspective to make judgments on them.

 

“Elvis Presley is currently the entertainment world’s most astonishing figure.”  (So far, so good, but Mr. Gould gets no special credit for this statement.  Whether people liked or disliked Elvis in early June, 1956, nobody disputed he was the most astonishing figure in show biz.)

 

“Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability.”  (This is the first indication that Mr. Gould just didn’t ‘get’ Elvis.  And, we can safely assume Mr. Gould never went out and bought any Elvis records.)

 

“His specialty is rhythm songs, which he renders in an undistinguished whine.”

(Oh come on.  Elvis’ whine is very distinguished.)

 

“His phrasing, if it can be called that, consists of the stereotyped variations that go with a beginner’s aria in a bathtub.”  (Say what???  Certainly not the simplest and clearest metaphor Mr. Gould ever wrote.  A lowly blog writer might say “like a kid singing in the shower.)

 

“For the ear he is an unutterable bore…”  (You want boring?  How about “stereotyped variations that go with a beginner’s aria in a bathtub”?  Maybe Elvis was a bore to Jack Gould, but he could make the girls cry at his concerts.  Elvis was anything but boring to them.)

 

“From watching Mr. Presley it is wholly evident that his skill lies in another direction.  He is a rock-and-roll variation on one of the most standard acts in show business: the virtuoso of the hootchy-kootchy.  His specialty is an accented movement of the body… identified with the repertoire of the blond bombshells of the burlesque runway.”  (At the end of “Hound Dog” on the Berle Show, Elvis sure did do some classic bump-and-grind.  Mr. Gould’s loquacious pontification took a long while to say that, but, you will note, he didn’t say he disliked it.)

 

“The gyration never had anything to do with the world of popular music and still doesn’t.”  (Boy, did Mr. Gould get that one wrong.  It’s a good thing he passed away before music videos showed up on MTV.  He’d probably roll over in his grave if he saw one now.  Today’s popular music is synonymous with sensual gyrations.)

 

Jack Gould was a middle-aged man when he watched Elvis perform on TV on June 5, 1956, so he can be excused for ‘not getting it.’  But millions of American teenagers saw it and got it.  Got it big time.  Elvis’ career shot into overdrive and all of the bad press from TV critics and others could not stop it.

 

©   2006    Philip R Arnold    All Right Reserved    www.elvisblog.net 

THE BEST ELVIS GIFT EVER


Sorry about the late hour for posting this article.  We had 14 people in my house yesterday, so it’s been a busy time.  One visitor was my sister-in-law, and she blew me away with an Elvis goodie I just love.  It’s a new product offered by the New York Times Store:  THE KING — a boxed collection of 74 articles printed in the Times from 1956 to 2003.  It’s so much fun to travel in the ‘way-back machine’ and read what the New York Times had to say about Elvis, particularly in the early years.
 
This nifty idea is presented like two thick regular newspaper sections.  The first is styled like a commemorative supplement with a two-page cover story, “Elvis:  The Music, the Legacy and the American Dream.”  The front page of the other section is a duplication of page 1 of the New York Times on August 17, 1977, one day after Elvis died.  Inside each section is a chronology of selected articles seamlessly woven together to appear as successive pages of a single newspaper.  It is a truly unique idea, and the New York Times is to be commended for coming up with such a great concept.
 
Perhaps my enthusiasm for this item is inflated with the knowledge that I have come across something that will provide many topics for short Elvisblog articles and longer ones for Elvis…The Magazine.  THE KING is a veritable gold mine for an Elvis writer.
 
On page 2 of the first newspaper section is a table of contents.  Rather than starting at the beginning of the paper and just reading through it, I scanned the “Contents” and selected “Elvis The Pelvis” on page 5 as the first article I would read.  When I got there, I could not find that title.  However, I did find “Elvis Presley:  Lack of Responsibility Is Shown By TV in Exploiting Teenagers.”  A little more research revealed THE KING’s “Contents” used newly coined titles (or subject names) that were shorter and generally better.  “Elvis The Pelvis” certainly beats that other long thing.
 
So, the editors’ decision to not show actual article titles in “Contents´ does make it more difficult to spot the stories, but it’s no big problem once you understand the set-up.  Because the alternate titles are so much better, a comparison with the original titles should be fun.  It will also give you a taste of what kinds of stories are in there.
 
Elvis movie reviews provide a great example, starting with his first.  “Culture Take A Holiday” on the page became “Love Me Tender” in the “Contents.”  If it sounds like the Times reviewer didn’t like Elvis or the movie, you are exactly right.  It will be interesting to dissect that article.  How about this change?  “Double Feature on the Lowe’s Circuit” became “Jailhouse Rock.”  They liked this movie a little better but still found plenty to gripe about.  “Actor With Guitar” became “King Creole.”  Elvis got a little respect on this one, but those Times critics were hard to please.
 
A lot of the Times reprints were commentaries, scholarly tomes and some serious babble.  I don’t really care for Elvis articles that heavy, but the name changes interest me.  “Pop: Presley’s Back, The Nice Are Leaving” became “Back With A Blast.”  Now that was a big improvement.  There is one article I am prepared to dislike.  The title shows complete disdain for Elvis.  Fortunately, “Hy whu-hawnt you, hy nee-heed you” was changed to “Rock Revival.”
 
There is one article where I think they should have stayed with the original title.  “Presley Pure Showbiz in Aloha Hawaii” was not improved with the change to “On TV, in Hawaii.”  On TV???  “Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii” was beamed by satellite to one billion people in forty countries.
 
Starting next week, we’ll take a close look at some of the New York Times archives about Elvis.  Anyone interested in buying a copy of THE KING for $25 should check out:

http://www.nytstore.com/ProdDetail.aspx?prodId=5124

 

©   2006   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.elvisblog.net