Monthly Archives: August 2010

Two More Elvis Record Oddities

The recent Ultimate Elvis Auction in Memphis contained a treasure trove of delightfully odd Elvis records.  In an article a couple of weeks ago, we covered two that paired Elvis with other singers  Here are two more, and they both have origins with Elvis movies.

Flaming Star on Blue Vinyl:

Elvis’ 1960 movie Flaming Star went through a series of title changes:  Flaming Lance, Flaming Heart, Black Heart, Black Star and finally Flaming Star.  On August 8, 1960, Elvis went into Radio Recorders studio in Hollywood and recorded the title track, which at that time was “Black Star.”  Sometime within the next two months, the title was changed to Flaming Star, so a new title song needed to be recorded.  It was a simple matter for songwriters Sid Wayne and Sherman Edwards to change the lyrics of “Black Star.”  Within the Indian mythology of the film, either a ‘black star’ or a ‘flaming star’ worked as a vision some Indians claimed to see as a sign of impending death. 

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So, the producers had the new song they needed for Elvis to record, but they still had a bigger obstacle to contend with — Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker

When they met with Parker, they quickly realized he had them boxed.  They needed a rerecorded title song, and it had to be done in a big rush.  Well, if you know Col. Parker very well, you can appreciate his next move.  He asked for more money.  According to different reports, he demanded either $5,000 or $10,000.  Either way, that was a lot of money fifty years ago.

Col. Parker called it his ‘late fee’ — and they paid it.  Elvis recorded “Flaming Star” at Radio Recorders studio on October 7, 1960.   When he finished, the studio gave a 45 RPM copy of the song to Parker.

In addition to the title cut on the A-side, the B-side is “A Cane and a High Starched Collar.”  This song was sung in the family’s cabin during the first few minutes of the film.  From that point on, there was no more Elvis singing.

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“Flaming Star” Title Song on Blue Vinyl

As you can see, the record is blue vinyl with no printing other than Elvis’ name and the song title.  Recently this record failed to sell at the Ultimate Elvis Auction, because no one met the minimum starting bid of $1,500 ($1,792.50 including auctioneer’s fee.)  It seems like it would be worth more than that, because it is the only known copy, and likely the only copy in existence.

 

Record Sleeve Movie Prop:

 

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This looks like this could be the picture sleeve for an Elvis 45 RPM single, but that’s not his name on it.  So, who is Guy Lambert?  He is the lead character in Elvis’ 1967 movie Double Trouble.  In the movie, Elvis plays Lambert, a singer who travels the world with his band Georgie and his G-Men. 

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In the movie, Elvis/Guy goes into the Peca Records studio, and records the song “Could I Fall in Love.”  One night, Guy is with his girlfriend in her apartment, and as a surprise, he puts his record on the turntable.  Then he proceeds to sing a duet with himself.  It must have soothed her, because she was asleep on his shoulder at the end.

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Guy Lambert Putting His Record on Turntable

 

Although the picture sleeve appeared on screen for just five seconds, the MGM prop people created a very real looking fake record to use in the movie. The disc inside was just a generic 45, because it wasn’t seen close-up in the scene.  As far is known, just one copy of the sleeve was made.

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Close Up of Record in the Movie Double Trouble

This phony record sleeve has changed hands a few times, most recently at the Ultimate Elvis Auction in Memphis.  Because it was presented as a one-of-a-kind item in mint condition, the high bid was $5,000, plus the auctioneer’s fee of $975.50.  How about that?  $6,000 for an empty, phony 45 record sleeve.  Only with Elvis.

I did equally bad predicting how the bidding would end up on these two records with movie origins.  I never thought the picture sleeve would bring so much, and I figured the only copy of blue vinyl “Burning Star” would top out over $3,000.  Shows how much I know.

 

©  2010    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net

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Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

 

 

Writing With Wertheimer

“Alfred Wertheimer is sometimes called the godfather of rock & roll photography, and he well deserves the title.  As a struggling twenty-six year old free-lance photojournalist in New York City, Wertheimer’s good fortune gained him access to Elvis Presley during that first, heady flush of fame in 1956.  The resulting photos captured the everyday Elvis, relaxed and off-guard during down times.”

The above lines open a 2006 article I wrote for Elvis International magazine titled “Al Wertheimer — 7 Days with Elvis, 4000 Photographs, 50 Years Ago.”  I also added it to the archives of ElvisBlog to provide more content in the early days of the blog when it had little.  I never dreamed that this would pay off big time four years later.

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This photo is a preliminary cover design for Alfred Wertheimer’s third book titled “Elvis: The Early Years.”  It will be published by earBOOKs and will be out in October.  In addition to Wertheimer’s stunning photos of Elvis, the book also contains three CDs with a sizeable selection of Elvis’ songs from 1954 through 1958.  The book is being published with the cooperation of Elvis Presley Enterprises.  If you are interested, go to this Amazon page and click to be notified when it is available.

Alfred Wertheimer’s last book, “Elvis at 21,” contained a foreward by noted Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick.  EarBOOKs’ Editor Astrid Fischer wanted to use somebody new this time, so she did an internet search and found my article.  She liked what she read, and she contacted Alfred Wertheimer to get his opinion.  He told her he “found the text very good.”  Ms. Fischer then contacted me and we worked out a deal for me to write the foreward.  To say the least, I am thrilled to be associated with an Alfred Wertheimer project.

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Alfred Wertheimer and his famous photograph “The Kiss”

(Photo by Tim Mantoani)

Because the foreward would require substantial revisions to my text, plus a new section on the photographing of Elvis’ Army departure for Germany in 1958, I conducted three hours of phone interviews with Al (He prefers Alfred for professional references, but his friends call him Al, and I took this liberty.)  The foreward is now finished and submitted, and the earBOOKS editor calls it “a brilliant job” and “I think your foreword perfectly reflects the spirit of the idea behind this project.”

The reason my four phone interviews with Alfred Wertheimer totaled three hours is because he loves to talk.  He also filled me in on what has been happening in his life the last year, and he has been a very busy man.


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A selection of Wertheimer’s Elvis photographs has been celebrated this year in a travelling exhibit, a joint venture of the Smithsonian Institute and the History Channel.  He attended the opening of Elvis at Twenty One at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles in January 2010 and will attend the October opening at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.  In between, the exhibition has been to the Boca Raton Museum of Art and the Museum of the Shenandoah in Winchester, VA.
Cirque du Soleil licensed twenty of Wertheimer’s photos to incorporate into the new Viva Elvis show in Las Vegas.  The images are mainly used during the transitions between major segments of the show.
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Wertheimer was also one of the famous photographers whose work is featured in the travelling exhibition called “Who Shot Rock and Roll?”  He attended its opening at the Brooklyn Museum last fall.  The exhibition has been at the Brooks Museum in Memphis all summer.
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The most fun event that Wertheimer participated in was the Elvis Cruise last November.  His birthday fell on the last day of the cruise, and he was treated to cake and “Happy Birthday” singing three different times.
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He also conducted a talk in front of 400 people about his experience photographing Elvis back in the 50s.  His talk was supposed to be accompanied by 50 images projected on a screen, but there was a screw up.  As a joke, the staff in charge of the images prepared a joke disc showing Wertheimer getting kissed by various women.  That was a big hit with the audience, but when the correct disc was inserted in the projector, it turned out to be just another copy of the joke disc.  Uh, ohh.  No Elvis photos. 
Wertheimer carried on, describing the photos as well as telling the stories about taking them.  He now has his own version of the old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  On the cruise, he believes “A thousand words became the pictures.”
His other official duty on the cruise was to man a table and sign autographs for any fans who wanted one – and many did.  At one point, Wertheimer estimates the line was 100 people long.  The majority of the ladies wanted their photo taken with him, so he came up with a new rule.  They had to sit on his lap as the pose for the photograph.  Nice work if you can get it.
And, so is writing the foreward for an Alfred Wertheimer book.  Thank you Astrid Fischer and earBOOKs.  Thank you, Al.

(Ed. note:  If you have an interest in viewing or purchasing iconic Elvis photographs by Alfred Wertheimer, please go to Photokunst/com.  Barbara Cox is the contact person for licensing or exhibition information.)
 
©  2010    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net
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Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.
 
 

Is Elvis' White Knabe Piano a White Elephant?

For the second time in 18 months, a prized Elvis collectible has failed to garner the minimum bid set by the auctioneers.  Of course, it was a pretty steep minimum – a half-million dollars – and the projected sell price was $1,000,000 plus.  The item with these lofty expectations is a white Knabe grand piano that Elvis owned for twelve years. 

The latest attempt to auction it was at the Ultimate Elvis Auction that just completed during Elvis Week in Memphis.  It was presented by Heritage Auction Galleries, and they included quite a story about Elvis and the piano on their auction website.  The following article comes from that text, with a little editing from me.  I would give author credit to whoever wrote it, but that information is not given.

 

Glowing words of Praise by Heritage Auctions:

For the serious Elvis Presley fan or collector, it's hard to imagine a more important musical relic ever being made available to the public. The vibrations that emanate from this venerable instrument are not just from the strings as they are hit by the hammers. These vibrations emanate from nearly a century of glorious music-making at the hands of legions of talented and famous musicians. One of those musicians who treasured this piano as his own was the undisputed King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. What else needs to be said?

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We are presenting an elegant musical instrument, with wonderful provenance back to the 1930s, which was an emotionally-charged prized possession of the King himself: a Wm. Knabe & Co. grand piano, serial number 70545, refinished in white with gold trim per Elvis' personal specifications and under his direct supervision in 1957.

It is sold with the original white vinyl-cushioned bench on gold-colored metal legs as selected by Elvis to accompany the piano to his new home at Graceland. Included with this lot are letters of authenticity from Ron Blackwood, George Klein, Ted Sturges and C. B. Colthard, each attesting to a portion of the intriguing background of this fascinating piece of musical history.

 

History of Knabe Pianos:

William Knabe, a German immigrant, started his piano-manufacturing company in Baltimore in 1837. His instruments were of a high quality and well regarded, especially in the antebellum South. Owners and players of Knabe pianos through the years include Albert Einstein, Brigham Young, Rutherford B. Hayes, Camille Saint-Saens, Francis Scott Key, and Hans von Bülow; Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky played a Knabe at the opening concert of Carnegie Hall in 1891, and Knabe pianos were used by the New York Metropolitan Opera for forty years. Based on the serial number, this particular instrument was carefully manufactured in 1912.

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Owners Before Elvis:

Who may have created beautiful music with this piano from its date of manufacture until its installation as a stage instrument at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1930s is a mystery. From that point forward though, there is an unbroken line of ownership to the present. The multi-purpose Memphis Auditorium and Market House was built in 1924 at the north end of Front Street with John Philip Sousa performing at the opening performance. The name was changed in 1930 to Ellis Auditorium in honor of its manager Robert R. Ellis, and the market stalls were eventually dropped. During the 1930s, '40s, and early '50s, the stage at Ellis Auditorium was graced by the greatest local and national touring musical acts of the period including W. C. Handy, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, and certainly many, many others.

In 1957, this Knabe grand piano was sold during a remodeling project at the Ellis. The purchaser was Jack Marshall, owner of Marshall Music at 3627 Park Avenue in Memphis.  Jack Marshall knew of the quality and history of this piano; he had played it onstage at the Ellis numerous times as the accompanist for the legendary Southern Gospel group, the Blackwood Brothers.

 

Elvis and Ellis Auditorium:

What possessed Elvis in 1957 to choose this particular “used” piano for his grand new home?  There were certainly plenty of other pianos, both new and used, to choose from. It's likely that many of those could be ordered in white, avoiding the tiresome refinishing process.  A look at the history of Elvis Presley and the Ellis Auditorium may answer that question.

A poor young teenager living in public housing, Elvis often attended the Gospel “Sings” that took place at Ellis Auditorium.  He and his mother both loved that type of music; they attended the First Assembly of God Church where the Blackwood Brothers were based.  On the nights that Elvis couldn't get a job selling sodas at Ellis to earn admittance and didn't have the pocket change, he could usually count on the Blackwoods to let him sneak in through the back door.  He would sit in the audience, watch Jack Marshall play this Knabe piano with the members of the beloved quartet he called friends, and dream of the day he might perform on that very stage.

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Of the many memories Elvis held of Ellis Auditorium, one of the proudest must have been the night that he walked across that stage for the first time. The date was June 3, 1953, and the occasion was his graduation from Hume High School; he was the first member of his family to accomplish that feat.  His parents were likely in the audience beaming with pride at their son.

Another memory, certainly vivid but evocative of a much sadder event, was his attendance, on July 2, 1954, of the funeral for R. W. Blackwood and bass singer Bill Lyles, both killed in a plane crash. He and girlfriend Dixie Locke were among the 5,000 mourners at Ellis that day.

It was with a heavy heart that, three days later, Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black recorded their first hit, “That's All Right,” for Sun Records. The very first time Elvis performed on that hallowed Ellis stage was on February 6, 1955. He was fourth-billed, behind Faron Young, Ferlin Husky, and Martha Carson.

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Fourth Billing February 1955                   Top Billing November 1955

 

At Elvis' next gig at Ellis Auditorium, on November 13, 1955, he was top-billed over Hank Thompson, Carl Smith, and Carl Perkins.  This would be his last performance there as a Sun artist; eight days later, RCA bought out Elvis' recording contract.  During 1955 and 1956, Elvis performed at Ellis Auditorium six times.

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Performing at Ellis Auditorium, May 15, 1956  —  Is that the Knabe Piano on the left?

He had become a superstar by the time he bought this piano in 1957, but he most certainly still had a strong emotional connection to that venue.  When the piano became available, it's no wonder that Elvis felt he absolutely had to have it for his very own.  What an amazing story — from sneaking in the back door to hear it played behind his favorite Gospel group to owning it and playing it himself in his own music room just a few short years later!

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Through the later years, Elvis remained associated with Ellis in various ways.  His first Memphis concert after returning from the Army was a charity event with two shows there on February 25, 1961, his next-to-last public performance for seven years.  In 1971, Elvis would once again appear on the Ellis Auditorium stage when he was named one of the “Ten Outstanding Young Men of America” by the Jaycees.

 

Elvis Buys the White Knabe Grand Piano:

As soon as Elvis heard of the availability of this instrument, he wanted it as part of the original furnishings for his new home in Memphis called Graceland.  However, he had a definite vision as to the appearance he desired.  To that end, he personally supervised the refinishing of the Knabe, a process that took place in Marshall's store with a young high school-aged member of the singing Blackwood family named Ron Blackwood performing most of the stripping and sanding procedures.

Blackwood had a fond memory of Elvis and the piano:  “One special event involving this piano occurred when one evening while I was working on the refinishing in the warehouse at Jack Marshall's music store, Elvis came by to check on the progress, as he often did. He and several of the Blackwood Brothers began singing and playing gospel songs together.  This continued until past 4:00 a.m. I was still in high school at the time, but I stayed and participated in the sing along jam session the entire night.  I was so tired the next morning, I couldn't go to school. My mother was so upset.”

When piano was completed to Elvis' satisfaction, he purchased a matching bench and had them moved into a prominent place in his music room at the new mansion.

That is where this piano stayed for twelve years.  During that time, he proudly played it and allowed his musician friends to practice and jam on it.  When Elvis allowed photographers from a Memphis newspaper to photograph Graceland in 1965 (the one and only time), several shots were taken of Elvis standing beside or playing this very piano.

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According to Elvis’ close friend George Klein, “One special event involving this piano occurred when one evening Sam Phillips called and asked if he and Jerry Lee Lewis could stop by Graceland.  The result was that Elvis and Jerry Lee played and sang together on that piano for over two hours.”

 

The End of the Knabe at Graceland:

On the occasion of his and Priscilla's first wedding anniversary, she gifted him a new gold piano to replace the Knabe.  Off to storage it went, its mellow voice sadly silenced for several years.

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In 1976, Vernon Presley decided to sell the grand piano to Ted Sturges, a local recording studio owner and record producer.  During the five years he owned this Knabe, it was used in recording sessions for more than 50 albums from various artists including the Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis.  In 1981, Sturges appropriately sold the piano to a close friend of Presley's, entertainer Jimmy Velvet.  He had opened an Elvis memorabilia museum in Memphis, and he proudly exhibited it there until 1990.  At that point, it returned to private ownership where it has remained for the last 20 years.

 

Editors note:  The name of that owner has not been revealed.  What has been revealed is that the next time he tries to auction Elvis’ White Knabe Piano, he better open the bidding at less than $500,000.

 


©  2010    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> 
 
Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

Two Very Rare, Weird, and Valuable Elvis Records

I started collecting record albums back in the 80s when CDs took over as the dominant music format. When people bought CD players and started building CD libraries, their old LPs and 45s languished in disinterest.  Ultimately, many people sold their record collections at garage sales.  For years, I was a regular Saturday morning scavenger, hitting as many garage sales as possible, looking for records.  Sometimes I would buy selectively, and sometimes I would make an offer on everything they had.

Ultimately, I ended up selling my doubles and other unwanted albums at record shows in Atlanta, Charlotte, Ashville, and my hometown of Greenville, SC.  I had a partner in these ventures, and sometimes I would leave her minding our tables while I roamed the floor looking for deals on Elvis albums and 45s.  I built up a substantial collection I am quite proud of.

To learn more about the hobby, I subscribed to a record collecting magazine called Discoveries.  For twenty-five years I have read hundreds of articles and learned of several super Elvis rarities worth big bucks.  Despite all the record shows I attended, I have never seen anything that rare or that valuable.  They seemed to be the exclusive providence of the big collectors, who scooped them up whenever they appear on the market.  I’ve thought about doing blogs on some of these Elvis rarities, but it would be a real chore to go back through 600 old issues of Discoveries to find the background information I’d need.  Plus, the lack of quality color photos to illustrate any articles cooled my enthusiasm.

Now, two of these very rare, very weird, and very valuable Elvis records have come up for auction in Memphis during Elvis Week.  Heritage Auction Galleries calls 2010 the Year of The King, and to celebrate his 75th birthday, they are conducting the Ultimate Elvis Auction live at The Peabody Hotel.  The final bids will go in on August 14.

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Here’s what Heritage has to say about their Ultimate Elvis Auction:

Every year, [we] present selections of Elvis memorabilia as unique and superior as the legacy of The King himself.  Now, in this milestone year, we're taking it to another level.

Indeed, Heritage has put excellent hi-def photos of all items in their on-line catalog, so let’s take a look at two really cool Elvis records.


Elvis Shares an Album with Jaye P. Morgan —  What?

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Elvis Presley and Jaye P. Morgan Promo Double Disc EP 1956

The picture above is not two albums photographed side-by-side.  Rather it is what is called a gatefold double album that has been opened up to show the back and front covers.  Think of it as a skinny book with Elvis on the front cover and lounge singer Jaye P. Morgan on the back cover.  Inside each cover is a pocket containing a 45 RPM record.  However, each disc is an EP (Extended Play) record with two songs on each side.  Elvis released several dozen EPs in the 50s and early 60s, and I own copies of almost all.  They were like mini-albums kids could play on their personal 45 RPM record players (usually found in their bedrooms.)

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Personal 45 RPM Record Player, Usually Found in Teens’ Bedrooms



Here is the original Elvis EP with the four song titles across the top: “Rip It Up,” “Love Me,” “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again,” and “Paralyzed.”  There is an interesting bit of trivia about “Love Me.”   Although it was never released on a regular two-song record, “Love Me” reached # 2 on the Billboard chart.  Jukebox and disc jockey play clearly showed which of the four songs was the big winner.

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1956 Four-Song Elvis EP Album

So, why did RCA combine eight songs from two different artists on this strange product?  Like many other rarities, it was a promotional item.  RCA was trying to do two things.  Mostly, they wanted to convince retailers to carry Rock and Roll records in addition to those of crooners like Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore.  This double disc promo was wrapped horizontally with a 1.25″ wide paper band which contained a multiple choice question (with check-off boxes):

“One of these albums sold… two, four, ten, twenty, hundred, or thousand… times better than the other… which one?”

The album contained an insert with the answer:

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To facilitate their other goal, RCA also listed some facts inside intended to convince retailers that did not already sell records that they should:

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So, what is this rare Elvis promo record worth?  Heritage Auction Galleries has listed the minimum starting bid at $6,000, and they estimate it will bring $12,000 or more.  Based on the prices of those other Elvis rarities I read about, I think it will do that easily.

Elvis in the Grooves, The Whispers on the Label:

Once or twice before, I have commented on ElvisBlog about how auctioneers have made really low estimates about what certain Elvis memorabilia will bring.  Well, this is another one.

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“Doncha’ Think It’s Time” by Elvis – pressed on disc with The Whispers label.

This is a picture of a 45 RPM record.  You can see that the label clearly says the song is “One For The Money” by The Whispers.  However, the song pressed in the grooves is Elvis’ minor hit “Doncha’ Think It’s Time.”   Screw ups like this create valuable collectibles, especially if Elvis is involved… and, especially if there are only two of them in existence.

We are talking about a very rare, very desirable record here.  The auction minimum bid is $1,500 and the estimate is $3,000 and up.  I’m betting it will be way up.

So, what’s the story on this Elvis record anomaly?  It dates back to 1976 when RCA’s Indianapolis plant wanted to test a new process whereby all label information was actually stamped, or embossed, right into the vinyl itself, rather than printed on paper which was glued to the disc.  The result of this stamping process was slightly raised lettering, similar to Braille.  Somehow, they had the technology to incorporate different shades of gray into the embossing process, so all the printing you see above is right on the disc.  Because RCA’s record labels were basically black and white, unlike the multi-colored labels of most other record companies, they could be simulated in the embossing.

This experiment did not give the intended result and the idea was scrapped, but three test copies were kept to substantiate the results.

The description of the record on the Heritage Auction website is about two of these.  The other information they reveal does not fully explain how we got Elvis songs on Whispers records.  Here is what they say, for what it’s worth.

Both sides of the disc play the original 1958 Elvis hit, “Doncha’ Think It’s Time.”
However, the “label” imprint is for “One For the Money,” a 1976 soul single by the Whispers — a convenient hit record being produced at that same time.

Obviously, there is more to the story.  Why would the flip side of Elvis big 1958 hit “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” be on a record produced in 1976?

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I spoke with Jerry Osborne, famous music historian, writer, Elvis collector and memorabilia marketer.  At one time he owned all three of these strange records.  The third one had Elvis’ song “What’d I Say” on it, with the same Whispers song information on the disc.  Osborne sold it and one copy of the “Doncha’ Think It’s Time” record to a major private collector, and so far, they haven’t come back on the market.

All I know is – this is one very rare, unique Elvis record, and it should bring well over $3,000. 

©  2010    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net

Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

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