Monthly Archives: March 2007

WHILE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT ELVIS JUMPSUITS

Last week, we discussed how you can now go to Graceland and see 72 Elvis jumpsuits, 58 of them housed in the new Elvis Jumpsuits: All Access exhibit.  I hope the exhibit signage and the catalog give proper credit to the men who created them.

 

Yes, I said men.  Although many fans immediately think of Bill Belew when Elvis jumpsuits are mentioned, there is more to the story.

 

Bill Belew started his connection with Elvis by designing the famous black leather suit Elvis wore in the 68 Comeback Special.  Belew next created the earliest two-piece Karate-style outfits, designed to allow freedom of motion for kicks and other moves.  Soon, he created a series of increasing intricate one-piece rhinestone-studded jumpsuits.  Belew came up with the first large flashy belts, and he originated the capes at Priscilla's suggestion.  A few of the more famous Belew designs are Powder Blue, Burning Flame of Love, and Red Dragon.

 

Belew also designed costumes for dozens and dozens of other entertainers and for theatrical productions, the Grammy Awards, television shows and specials, movies, and the New York City Ballet.

 

By 1972, Belew’s career was booming, and he was in big demand, so he started farming off the Elvis work to Gene Doucette.  Doucette had made some noise at Pzazz Designs, but he stayed in the background while Belew continued to be synonymous with Elvis costumes.   The names of some of Doucette’s best-known jumpsuits show the variety of his imagination:  Peacock, Sundial, Tiger, Aloha, and American Eagle.  He is considered a wizard for his intricate embroidery.

 

Both Belew and Doucette are now associated with B & K Enterprises, one of several companies that will come up when you Google Elvis jumpsuits.  How much do you think really classy reproductions of Elvis’ most famous outfits go for?  Here’s a sample from B & K:

 

Gold Lamé suit                 $1900

Powder Blue Jumpsuit       $1700

American Eagle                $2800

Sundial                            $4100

68 Comeback                   $1300

Aloha                               $3300

 

If you go to www.b-k-enterprises.com/costumes.html, you can spend a lot of time just looking through the 57 Elvis costumes they offer.  You get front, side, and back views on some suits, front and back on the rest.  There are close-ups of many capes and a few outrageous belts.

 

Gene Doucette had a couple of memorable quotes on Elvis and his jumpsuits:  “I had the world’s greatest easel in front of me.”  “If you took any one of these suits to the farthest ends of the Earth, …they’d know whose it was.”

 

Bill Belew said, “You could be daring as a designer and put anything on Elvis and he could make it work.”

 

I am certainly looking forward to seeing the work of Bill Belew and Gene Doucette in Memphis this summer at the Elvis Jumpsuits: All Access exhibit.  Again, I applaud Graceland for the insight to present this exhibit, and for the good sense to charge us only $7 to see it.

 

©  2007   Philip R. Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.elvisblog.net

ELVIS JUMPSUITS: ALL ACCESS

Well, Graceland has come up with one more thing for us to spend our money on when we get to Memphis – and I will be glad to do it.  I can’t wait to see the new exhibit of 58 jumpsuits.  Wonder why it took them so long to think of this great idea?  It’s a natural.

 

Of course, they also have an exhibit catalog we can purchase, and I’m up for that, too.  The elvis.com website shows what a couple of pages look like, and they are first class.  Very nice photos, including close-ups showing the intricate design on the flared pants leg and the back.  The exhibit book will be a great keepsake.

 

They have created an official logo for the exhibit, and I would post it here on Elvisblog if I weren’t afraid of getting in trouble.  There is a color scheme on it, as well as on the exhibit backdrops and the surround design.  Remember the red, gold, and orange circles in the Aloha From Hawaii backdrop?  They’re back at Elvis Jumpsuits: All Access.

 

Here are some quotes from Graceland staff about the exhibit:

 

Amy – Graphic Design:  “To be so close to the costumes and see the detail and workmanship that went into these suits [is] just amazing.”

 

Kevin – Media:  “Our new exhibit is one that REALLY has the WOW factor… These stage costumes are truly works of art and an important piece of pop culture.”

 

Angie – Archives:  “I found the perfect Elvis quote to open the exhibit.  It’s from [1970 movie] That’s The Way It Is.

 

Elvis – Special Contributor:  “If the songs don’t go over, then we can always do a medley of costumes.”

 

Kevin in media also mentions the stories behind the names of the jumpsuits, including his favorites, the King of Spades and the Dragon.  Many of the jumpsuits have been named by the fans, causing a few to be multi-named, like the Burning Love/Matador/Red Pinwheel suit.

 

Graceland owns a total of 88 Elvis jumpsuits out of the approximately 120 he wore from 1969 to 1977.  Fans can also see eight more in the Graceland racquetball court, four more in the trophy building, and two in the Elvis After Dark Museum.  There are at least twenty jumpsuits we will never see because they are in the hands of private collectors.

 

As we all know, Elvis was a lot thinner in 1969 than he was in July 1977 (in that famous Aztec suit).  It is not surprising to learn that Elvis’ belt size grew from 32 inches to 38 inches during that period.

 

There is one thing about Elvis Jumpsuits: All Access that disappoints me.  It is housed where the Elvis ‘56 exhibit used to be.  This was one thing I looked forward to seeing during Elvis Week 2007, but it won’t happen.  The Elvis ‘56 exhibit opened on March 20, 2006, so we fans had just one year to catch it.  Elvis Jumpsuits is scheduled to stay open for only two years.  It appears that EPE now has enough memorabilia in their growing collection to do rotating exhibits.  That will certainly reward those loyal folks who visit Graceland every year, and it may induce the rest of us to go more frequently.  Good marketing, but I’m still bummed about missing Elvis ’56.

 

Oh well, seeing Elvis Jumpsuits: All Access will help ease the pain.

 

©  2007   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved    www.elvisblog.net

“ELVIS LIVES” on ETV

Have you watched “Elvis Lives” on your local educational television channel yet?  I watched it this week and enjoyed what I saw very much.  However, they left out some stuff I was looking forward to, so I’m a little bit disappointed.

 

For anyone who doesn’t know, “Elvis Lives” is the name of a new DVD release of the performance of “Elvis The Concert” in Memphis during the 25th Anniversary Elvis Week 2002. Hopefully, all Elvisblog readers know that “Elvis The Concert” is a multimedia blending of old Elvis performance video with live musical backing by the band-mates, vocal group back-ups, and the orchestra that performed with him throughout the 70s.  Because I had attended the real event five years ago, I was interested to see how that unique concept translated to DVD.  I must say, it worked very well indeed.

 

Even though my tickets for the original concert cost $65 each, I was still a long way from the stage.  I primarily watched the three giant screens above the musicians.  The largest one in the center had the old Elvis footage, and the two side screens had live shots of the guys in the TCB Band, the Imperials, JD Sumner and The Stamps, and the Sweet Inspirations.  From my distance, all these folks looked to be about a half inch tall.

 

However, the DVD showed close-ups of all the live musicians and singers, and this added so much to the experience.  Now, I could see James Burton’s fingers working when the camera zoomed in on his guitar.  I liked the frequent shots of Ronnie Tutt beating on that monster drum set and Glen D. Hardin pounding on the ivories.  One particularly interesting feature was when the DVD showed side-by-side split-screen images of 1973 and 2002 James Burton doing guitar solos on the same song.

 

Speaking of instrumental breaks, there was a little segment where Ronnie Tutt explained how the TCB guys could do longer solos in 2002 than on the original footage of “Johnny B. Goode.”  The film technicians would repeat a loop of the Elvis stuff on the main screen while each of the band-mates had their turn to solo.  James was great, and Jerry Scheff did some fine work on the bass, which is not an easy thing to pull off.  Glen D. Hardin did his solo, and then it was up to Ronnie to end it all at the right time and match up with the return of Elvis singing.  He pulled it off and the whole segment was a blast.

 

Much of the vintage footage used in the production was from the “Aloha From Hawaii” TV special.  However, Elvis did appear in two other jumpsuits, but these costume switches didn’t mess up the continuity.  Which brings me to the part that was missing from the TV special and the DVD.

 

“Elvis The Concert” was created in the mid-90s and was built around video from the 70s when the TCB Band backed Elvis in Las Vegas and on tour around the country.  However, to make the 25th Anniversary celebration in Memphis really special, a new opening feature was added.  It was film from Elvis’ career on TV shows in 1956 and from his earliest movies.  Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, Bill Black, and The Jordanaires backed Elvis in those days.  Bill Black had passed away in 1963, and Scotty and Graceland had not yet patched up their differences, so DJ was the only original musician on the stage.  Fill-in players, whose names were not familiar to me, capably handled the guitar and bass parts.

 

I can’t remember all the songs in this early Elvis segment, but I’m pretty sure one was “Ready Teddy” from The Ed Sullivan show where Elvis really got to shake his hips and drive the girls in the TV audience crazy.  One other song I was so happy to see in the 2002 concert was “Baby I Don’t Care.”  This has long been one of my favorite Elvis songs, and I consider it his best recording never released as a single.  The footage of Elvis doing the song came from the poolside scene in the movie Jailhouse Rock.

 

For some reason, this wonderful early Elvis segment was not included in the ETV special. Nor were ten additional songs from the 70s that are on the DVD.  The 1-1/2 hour telecast had several long breaks asking for donations to public television, so the actual concert time totaled only an hour or so.  The DVD is much longer with the extra songs and a half-hour of interviews as a bonus.  Priscilla and Lisa Marie both came on stage during the 2002 presentation of “Elvis The Concert,” but it is unclear whether this is shown in the DVD. 

 

One of the best songs on “Elvis Lives” is “Steamroller Blues.”  I get tickled when Elvis sings, “I’m a churning urn of burning funk.”  Other good songs on the TV specials were: “That’s All Right,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Suspicious Minds,” “A Big Hunk Of Love,” “ My Way,” “American Trilogy,” and “I Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

 

Some folks criticize EPE for just about anything they do.  Not this time.  Graceland has created a most unique Elvis video, a true technical marvel.  First, they created a superb concert experience blending the music of a live band with Elvis voice from 29 years earlier.  Now they have made real magic with the video of it all.  It is done so well, you might scratch your head and ask, “When did Elvis play with all those old dudes?”  Don’t worry about it.  These old dudes kick butt.

 

©  2007   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.elvisblog.net

MORE THOUGHTS ON FOLLOW THAT DREAM CDs

About fifteen years ago, I went into a record store in Memphis and asked what they had in Elvis bootleg albums.  The guy behind the counter gave me a skeptical look and sort-of danced around the question.  I should have expected this, because bootlegs are illegal, and he could get in trouble for selling them.  So, he asked me a bunch of questions, and, once he was satisfied I was a collector and not a federal agent, he finally reached under the counter and brought out a cardboard box full of bootlegs.

 

To my surprise, most of them had excellent full-color covers featuring uncommon photos of Elvis.  There were track listings and liner notes, and best of all, Elvis music that was not available on commercial releases.  The prices of these bootleg albums ranged from $25 to $200, and the shopkeeper assured me the sound quality was excellent on all.

 

I selected a few treasures and parted with nearly $100, but I was thrilled with the new additions to my collection.  Now I could listen to the audio tracks from Elvis’ appearance on The Milton Berle Show, alternate takes of Elvis’ songs on Sun Records, and alternate takes from the “King Creole” rehearsals.

 

But my favorite of all was the double album, “The Burbank Sessions Vol.1,” which contained songs from the unplugged session in the 68 Comeback Special.   That wonderful segment lasted a half hour or so, but Elvis and the boys actually were filmed going through it four different times with a flexible song list.  From that trove of videotape, the producers edited the best to use for the show.  My bootleg contained the songs from two of these filming sessions, both held on June 27, 1968.  Because there are some lyric flubs and other distinctive features, I can tell most of it did not appear in the original TV show.  So, technically I had purchased “Previously Unreleased Alternate Versions” at a time when the original versions had not yet been released, either.  Did you follow that?

 

When I got home, I immediately put the music on cassette tape, and I have played it zillions of times since.  Whenever I hear the songs of that unplugged session with all the screaming from those girls in the studio, I visualize Elvis wearing the black-leather outfit and looking as cool as he ever did in his life.

 

As I mentioned last week, the sales of bootleg Elvis music had grown to such a level that Sony/BMG and Graceland decided to minimize the problem and started the Follow That Dream label in 1999.  So, what do you think was the first thing they released?  Of course, it was music from the 68 Comeback Special titled “Burbank 68.”  It contained songs from the June 25 rehearsal and the June 29 show taping. 

 

In 2006, FTD’s Earnst Jorgensen went back to the well one more time and released “Let Yourself Go – The Making of ‘Elvis’ – The Comeback Special.”  It contains a lot of music from the special’s production numbers and Elvis’ solo performances.  Although both of these Follow That Dream releases have now caused the value of my prized bootleg album to drop, I’m not mad.  I would still recommend both CDs to any Elvis collector looking for something different.  I also would be surprised if there isn’t at least one more release of music from the 68 Comeback Special yet to come

 

There is one other interesting title on my Follow That Dream wish list.  It is titled “Tickle Me,” and FTD describes it as a Movie Soundtrack Reissue (Sort Of).   There never was any recording session to produce songs for the low-budget 1964 movie “Tickle Me.”  Instead, the producers saved money by using nine songs recorded during the preceding three years.  The songs were selected from seven different recording sessions.

 

“Tickle Me” did not have a soundtrack album, but now we can get FTD’s pseudo-soundtrack CD.  All nine songs from the movie are in it, as well as an alternate version of each.  Plus, as a bonus, five more tracks from those same earlier sessions are added.  It’s a totally screwy, contorted concept, and I love it.

 

©  2007   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.elvisblog.net