From: 29th Anniversary Issue, August 2006
(7 Days With Elvis, 4000 Photos, 50 Years Ago)
by Phil Arnold
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. Now, Al Wertheimer’s classic photos are the most esteemed collection of pictures of Elvis Presley ever taken.
Elvis…The Magazine has been fortunate to have Wertheimer’s photos of Elvis featured in nine issues over the years. Now, on the 50th anniversary of his photo-taking extravaganza with Elvis, it’s time to honor Al Wertheimer’s remarkable achievement. Here’s the story.
RCA Victor Records bought Elvis’ contract from Sam Phillips for $40,000 in December 1955. Their new artist was hot in the mid-south and southwest, but unknown in the rest of the country. So, it was important for them to get Elvis booked on national TV. On January 28, 1956, Elvis made his first of six appearances on Stage Show, which starred Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. About halfway through this engagement, RCA realized they had nothing in their photo file on Elvis. They needed to get a few publicity shots.
In early 1956, Al Wertheimer shared a studio with six other photographers. One of them, Paul Schulzer, introduced him to Ann Fulchino in the Public Relations department of RCA Victor Records. She put Wertheimer on a list of free-lance photographers she would call as various assignments came up. When jobs went out to people, they would move to the bottom of the list. Al Wertheimer happened to be on the top of that list when she needed the Elvis pictures, so he got the call. She asked if he was free on March 17 to take some shots at the Dorsey Brothers show. Wertheimer was a fan of big band music, so he jumped at the chance.
Then she told him he would actually be photographing Elvis Presley. After a pregnant pause, Wertheimer said, “Elvis who?” He had never heard of Elvis Presley. He also had no clue how drastically this job would change his life.
It was just a one-day assignment at the rehearsal and telecast of Elvis’ fifth Dorsey Brothers Stage Show in New York. RCA wanted photos for release to newspapers: head shots; Elvis at the microphone; Elvis with fans; or, best of all, Elvis with celebrities. Al Wertheimer took the required photographs, but he didn’t stop there.
By the time he parted company with Elvis that night, Wertheimer had snapped over 400 photos of Elvis, nearly all of which caught casual off-stage moments. Wertheimer was able to shoot before, during and after the Dorsey show rehearsal, as well as back stage before the live telecast.
But, in between the rehearsal and the national telecast, Elvis had hours of free time, and Wertheimer tagged along for every bit of it. They walked back to the Warwick Hotel together. Along the way, there was a stop at the Supreme Men’s Shop where Elvis considered several shirts but purchased none. Then, it was up to Elvis’ suite. At that point, Elvis had known Wertheimer for only five hours, but he obviously felt comfortable around the young photographer. Elvis stretched out on the couch and looked through 200 fan letters he dumped out of a sack. Wertheimer took more shots, then settled into a nearby chair and fell asleep.
Sometime later, Wertheimer woke up to the buzzing of an electric razor. Elvis had showered and was getting ready for the TV show. Wertheimer asked if he could step inside the bathroom and snap more pictures (Elvis had pants on), and that was fine with Elvis. Soon, Wertheimer got to observe from the closest perspective the nuances of Elvis doing his hair combing ritual.
After the TV telecast was over, Elvis left through the stage door and was surrounded by approximately 100 screaming teenage girls. Wertheimer suspected that Ann Fulchino of RCA had encouraged this by contacting local fan clubs, but he could tell the enthusiasm was genuine. Elvis launched into serious autograph signing, obviously loving every minute of it. Al Wertheimer climbed on an up-side-down trashcan and clicked away from behind what he called “this sea of hair.” After Wertheimer was back on the ground, a girl asked him “Are you anybody?” Sadly, he had to tell her “No.”
Wertheimer turned in to RCA Victor the dozen shots he felt were best suited to their needs. They licensed the rights to use them for promotional purposes like press kits, or to put them on the back of future album covers. RCA also got what are called ‘Contact Sheets,’ Each one contained the images from a roll of his film, and they provided an inventory of other available photos. However, all the negatives belonged to Al Wertheimer. He didn’t know how much good these pictures would do him, but he had a hunch.
Two months later, Alfred Wertheimer was hired for a second round of photos. Elvis was all over the news then. There had been a national outrage over his wild performance of “Hound Dog” three weeks earlier on his second Milton Berle Show appearance. Elvis’ gyrating hips were blasted as ‘suggestive and vulgar’ by dozens of newspapers and hundreds of preachers in pulpits.
In the midst of this furor, Al Wertheimer quietly slipped back into Elvis’ orbit. Elvis was always happy with a group of guys around him, and Wertheimer quickly became one of the boys.
The first day of Wertheimer’s new job was June 29, during the read-through rehearsal in New York for Elvis’ only appearance on the Steve Allen Show. This will always be remembered as the show where Elvis had to dress up in a tux and sing to a basset hound sitting on a 2 x 3 foot platform atop a high pedestal.
No sooner was rehearsal over, when Elvis and crew headed to Penn Station to board a train. In the day-and-a-half opening between the rehearsal and the actual Steve Allen Show telecast, they had to ride overnight to Richmond, give two concerts, and ride the train back to New York. This was precision logistics thanks to Col. Parker, who also put no restrictions on Wertheimer during the train rides. Wertheimer had free reign during the Richmond concerts, too, because Col. Parker spent the whole time up-front dealing with business matters.
It was during the Richmond performances that Wertheimer had his real epiphany about Elvis. While Elvis sang, Wertheimer watched the audience and was amazed at how many teenage girls were crying — hugging each other and crying. Wertheimer now says, “In my experience, nobody’s ever made the girls cry. They’ve made them jump, scream, yell, cheer, but not cry … That was my clue. Anybody who could make the girls cry is going to be a huge success. And, I better stick around.”
Once the train arrived back in New York, they all headed to the Hudson Theater where the Steve Allen Show originated. During the dress rehearsal, Elvis had fun with the basset hound, and Wertheimer got a whole sequence of shots. Steve Allen was determined that nothing like what happened on the Berle show would happen on his. The tuxedo and the basset hound on a pedestal effectively cut down on the movements Elvis could do. Wertheimer observed that Elvis knew he was being controlled but was a good sport about it.
The next day Wertheimer accompanied Elvis to the RCA Victor recording studios in New York and witnessed the birth of “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Col. Parker was not at this recording session, allowing Wertheimer more unimpeded access. This time, Wertheimer brought two rolls of color film along, as well as all the usual black-and-white. That turned out to be a smart move. Later that year, he licensed the rights for one of the color photos to TV Guide for the first of their many Elvis covers. He received $250, big bucks back in 1956.
The next day was July 3, and Elvis had a benefit concert to do in Memphis on the night of the Fourth of July. So, it was back to Penn Station to start a twenty-seven hour train ride to Memphis. This trip was unlike the train rides to and from Richmond. They were at night and everybody slept. This trip provided daylight travel during large portions of two days. Wertheimer got to spend lots of time with Elvis – and the Colonel.
Wertheimer took some shots of Col. Parker. Although it may not have been intended, this warmed up Parker, and he and Wertheimer had several good conversations. After watching Col. Parker in action and talking with him, Wertheimer said, “This guy is pretty smart. He’s thinks like a chess player. You know, he’s thinking way ahead – three or four moves ahead. He has a great understanding of cause and effect”
There has to be some hi-jinks on a long train ride, and this trip had some. A huge stuffed Panda showed up from nowhere. Wertheimer thought maybe the Colonel snuck it in. Elvis and the guys loved it. The Panda moved around and got used as a pillow a lot, but it always had his own seat next to somebody. That night, Wertheimer went to Elvis’ compartment, where he was listening to acetates of the recent recordings. The Panda was on his upper berth, strapped in with its legs coming through the webbing.
The next day Elvis put the Panda on his hip and walked down the aisle of the passenger car. It became a prop as he flirted with the girls on board. When two teenagers didn’t believe he really was Elvis, he pointed to Wertheimer and said, “See that photographer over there? Would he be taking my picture if I wasn’t Elvis Presley?”
Wertheimer was now traveling on his own tab. He took it upon himself to complete his Elvis photo story by accompanying Elvis to Memphis to see him at home with his family. When the train arrived in Memphis, Wertheimer got to spend the afternoon hanging out at Elvis’ recently-purchased house at 1034 Audubon Drive.
Gladys and Vernon had no problem with Wertheimer coming into their home and snapping all kinds of pictures. He got along so well with Gladys that historians consider him an authority on her. He says, “I seemed to become the resident expert on Gladys Presley, even though I was only around her a few hours.” Wertheimer was interviewed extensively about her for a book, and Elvis Presley Enterprises has also gone to him to get a sense of what she was like and her relationship with Elvis.
One of Wertheimer’s shots that day was of Elvis with no shirt on, a boil and pimples on his back in full view. A German magazine licensed the rights to use that picture years later and airbrushed Elvis’ back clean. Wertheimer feels his original image shows that none of his Elvis photos were posed; that all his shots were of the real Elvis.
At 7:30 that night, Col. Parker showed up at Elvis’ home. Shortly after that, the local Sheriff arrived. He drove Elvis, Parker, and Wertheimer to Russwood Stadium for the homecoming concert. Wertheimer got one shot in the squad car and dozens at the concert. This was Elvis’ triumphant return home. As he told the 14,000 fans, “You’re going to see the ‘real’ Elvis Presley.” When it was over, the Sheriff drove Elvis home, and Col. Parker took Wertheimer to the train station.
During the two-day trip back to New York, Alfred Wertheimer had time to reflect on what had happened during the past six days: a TV show rehearsal and telecast, a concert in Richmond, a major recording session at RCA Victor, three long train rides, an afternoon with Elvis’ family at their home, and a big holiday concert in Memphis. To simply share all that with Elvis would be reward enough, but Wertheimer also had rolls and rolls and rolls of film.
The exact number of pictures has been subject to speculation and two earlier magazine articles on Wertheimer used the round number of 4000. He says this is too high; that what really counts is the number of marketable photos. After culling out the unusable shots (too dark, out of focus, etc.), Wertheimer says he has 2053 photos to license for future commercial ventures.
Wertheimer abstained from using flash bulbs. He took the attitude of being ‘a fly on the wall,’ unnoticed and able to catch the casual un-posed moments. So, he used two small and very quiet 35 mm Nikon S-2 Rangefinder cameras with no flashes, which kept Elvis oblivious to Wertheimer’s presence most of the time.
Without a flash, it was often necessary for Wertheimer to use very slow shutter speeds to get enough light for a good exposure. This technique is called using “available light,’ but Wertheimer pushed it to extremes and coined the phrase ‘using available darkness.” He says, “The darker your environment, the more people let it all hang out.” That certainly worked with Elvis.
During 1956 and 1957, Wertheimer licensed some of his Elvis photos to magazines including Life, Pageant, Coronet, Colliers, Look, and several teen fanzines. He co-published a newsstand magazine called The Amazing Elvis Presley that sold 400,000 copies with a cover price of 35 cents.
However, once Elvis was drafted into the Army in 1958, and was stationed in Germany, demand for Wertheimer’s Elvis Presley photos fell off substantially. Wertheimer derived no income from his Elvis photos for the next nineteen years. During that time, Elvis was arguably the most photographed man in the world. The media seemed happy with current Elvis photos, and cared little about shots of young Elvis.
All that changed on August 16, 1977. Within 24 hours of Elvis’ death, Time Magazine called and asked if Wertheimer had anything they could use. Soon, all sorts of media hungry for classic images of the young Elvis rediscovered Wertheimer’s archives. “And the phone hasn’t really stopped ringing in the last thirty years,” he says.
Wertheimer’s photos of Elvis have now appeared in countless books, calendars, watches, posters, and gallery prints. The book “Elvis ’56,” published in 1979, is a remarkable collection of Wertheimer’s pictures that, as one critic noted, “Had the intimacy of a diary and the authority of a historical document. “Elvis ‘56” is also the title of a 1987 video that used about four hundred of Wertheimer’s images, many of which have not appeared in print.
Alfred Wertheimer is excited about his next venture, a coffee table book titled “Elvis at 21: From New York to Memphis.” Unfortunately, it won’t be published in time for Elvis Week this year, but he will still be there as usual — doing a slide show and telling stories at the “Elvis Insiders Conference.” He will be the hit of the day. Al Wertheimer has great Elvis stories, and he loves to tell them.
© 2006 Philip R Arnold All Rights Reserved
Contributing Editor, Phil Arnold is also host of ELVISBLOG. www.elvisblog.net
From: 29th Anniversary Issue, August 2006
(The 30th Anniversary of Elvis’ Best Album)
by Phil Arnold
How odd is it when it takes more than 20 years for a successful singer’s first five singles to show up in an album? How strange is it when a record album reaches only #76 on the charts, but most music critics consider it the artist’s greatest album achievement? Like so many things about Elvis, The Sun Sessions don’t fit into conventional patterns.
Everybody knows the story about Elvis getting his start at Sam Phillip’s Sun Records Studio and recording those great rockabilly songs in 1954 and 1955. Sun released five Elvis 45’s, using ten of the songs, but never put out an album of Elvis music. Another five songs had been recorded, but not released, when Phillips sold Elvis’ contract to RCA for $35,000 in November 1955. The entire library of Elvis songs went to RCA as part of the deal.
RCA released their first Elvis album in March 1956, simply titled Elvis Presley, and it contained seven songs from the young star’s first Nashville recording sessions with the company. The LP also included the five unreleased songs from Sun. For the next twenty years, the folks at RCA never saw the potential for an album of all the Sun songs together.
What finally pushed RCA into action was the wide distribution of an import from England titled The Sun Collection. RCA released The Sun Sessions in early 1976. It contained fifteen songs (plus an alternate version of one song, for some reason). Here are the songs on the album, divided into two groups – the ones released on Sun 45’s, and the ones that weren’t, but did appear on the first RCA album.
Elvis Sun Recordings Released As Singles
That’s All Right Sun 209 (recorded July 5, 1954)
Blue Moon of Kentucky “ (recorded July 6, 1954)
Good Rockin’ Tonight Sun 210 (recorded Sept. 10, 1954)
I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine “
Milkcow Blues Boogie Sun 215 (recorded Nov. 1954)
You’re A Heartbreaker ” “
Baby, Let’s Play House Sun 217 (recorded February 1955)
I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone “ (recorded March 1955)
Mystery Train Sun 223 (Recorded July 11, 1955)
I Forgot To Remember To Forget “ ”
Elvis Sun Recordings Not Released As Singles, But On 1st RCA Album
I Love You Because (recorded July 5, 1954)
Blue Moon (recorded August 19, 1954)
I’ll Never Let You Go (recorded September 10, 1954)
Just Because (recorded September 10, 1954)
Trying To Get To You (recorded July 11, 1955)
In fairness, it can be said that the four songs recorded in 1954 and not released on singles were probably the weakest of Elvis’ production at Sun Records. However, “Trying To Get To You” is a strong rocker that Sam Phillips planned to release as Elvis’ sixth single. Elvis was actually in the studio trying to record the B-side for it when the sale of his contract to RCA was announced. They stopped in mid-session, and Elvis sent everybody home.
A significant body of critical review considers The Sun Sessions Elvis’ best album. Of particular note is the recent Rolling Stone Magazine listing of “The 500 Greatest Rock & Roll Albums.” As usual with contemporary media, Elvis’ got pretty shabby treatment overall, but The Sun Sessions did rank # 11 on the list. In a similar poll three years ago, VH1 ranked The Sun Sessions as the 21st best album ever.
It’s tempting to argue with the much lower rankings these two authoritative sources gave to Elvis Presley, Elvis’ first album. After all, it was the first LP to sell more than a million copies, the first rock & roll album to reach #1, and the catalyst that changed the buying habits of America’s teenagers (who previously bought only 45’s, not long-play albums). However, the songs on Elvis Presley were mostly Sun leftovers and covers of earlier hits by Carl Perkins, Ray Charles and Little Richard, so maybe VH1 and Rolling Stone based their decisions on the quality of the music, rather than the impact of the album.
In the case of The Sun Sessions, there was almost no impact when the album was released in 1976, reaching only # 76 on the charts. But there was plenty of significance for many of the songs it contained. As Rolling Stone has said, “In a tiny Memphis studio, in 1954 and 1955, Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley created rock & roll.” You can’t get more significant than that.
Beyond its historical importance, there is much more to recommend The Sun Sessions, as noted in a review on www.allmusic.com: “This music is fun; you can hear the thrill of discovery and experimentation on every cut.”
Which makes it hard to understand yet another delay in bringing The Sun Sessions to the masses. It took more than fifteen years after compact discs rose to the dominant musical format for The Sun Sessions to be released on CD in 1999. Now, it is exalted by a great many print and Internet references as a must-have for any Elvis fan’s collection. Fifty years from now the critical assessments will probably be the same, and The Sun Sessions will still be selling to the fans.
© 2006 Philip R Arnold All Rights Reserved
Contributing Editor Phil Arnold is host of ELVISBLOG www.elvisblog.net
From: 28th Anniversary Issue, August 2005
by Phil Arnold
If you were on the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee, which of these drummers would you pick for the relatively new “Sidemen” category?
DJ Fontana: The beat behind the King. Elvis’ original drummer, who performed and recorded with him from 1955 to 1968.
Benny Benjamin: Motown’s first drummer and the most beloved musician in Hitsville.
Hal Blaine: May well be the most prolific drummer in rock and roll history.
Earl Palmer: Probably the greatest session drummer of all time.
Pretty hard choice isn’t it? Well, the selection committee has already enshrined three of these drummers, and it is time for them to add one more – DJ Fontana.
There can be no arguing with the merits of Benjamin, Blaine, and Palmer. The capsule summaries above come right from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame web-site. Benny Benjamin recorded with all the Motown greats like the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Supremes, Gladys Knight, Martha and the Vandellas, and Marvin Gaye. Hal Blaine was a first-call session drummer in Los Angeles, recording with the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, the Mamas and Papas, the Byrds, Johnny Rivers, the Association, Sonny & Cher, the Grass Roots, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, and Herb Alpert. Earl Palmer started in New Orleans and recorded with Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, and Little Richard. Then he moved to Los Angeles and backed Ritchie Valens, Ray Charles, Duane Eddy, The Monkees, Neil Young, and Elvis Costello.
Looking at these resumes, you will note all three men were outstanding session musicians, but none was ever a sideman to one rock star for an extended period of time. DJ Fontana, on the other hand, was a sideman in the truest sense. He performed with Elvis on hundreds of live shows and played drums on 460 RCA Elvis cuts. Plus, he did other session work in Nashville for over 30 years, recording with a veritable who’s who of singers.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame created the Sidemen category in 2000, and got it right when they picked Scotty Moore among the first five inductees. But, in a move that defies logic, DJ was omitted, and two other drummers, Blaine and Palmer, were selected. Scotty and DJ should have gone in together.
In 2001 the Hall enshrined the other Elvis guitar player of note, James Burton, of TCB band fame. No drummer went into the Hall that year. Another slight to DJ.
In 2002, only one musician, Chet Atkins, was added to the Sidemen list. Why not DJ? Who knows, but it surely wasn’t his lack of credentials.
In 2003, the Hall added a third drummer, Benny Benjamin. This is when the fans of DJ Fontana started to really get upset with the selection process. Rumblings of ”let’s get DJ into the Hall of Fame” were heard at Elvis Week and other gatherings, and on Internet chat groups. Hundreds of letters and petitions went to the Hall extolling the praises of DJ and cheerleading for his inclusion.
As reported in Elvis International magazine a year ago, four of the world’s most famous rock drummers formally approached the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Sidemen Nominating Committee about DJ Fontana’s qualifications. Ringo Starr of the Beatles, Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, Levon Helm of the Band, and Max Weinberg of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band had it right.
In spite of this intervention by all-star drummers with Hall of Fame credentials, the selection committee ignored DJ again in 2004. Incredibly, they did it again in 2005. The most frustrating thing is that they selected no one to the Sidemen category in either year. If there were no other notable musicians worthy of induction, how could they ignore DJ with such great qualifications.
Maybe we need more people championing his cause. How about a lot more? This writer thinks the time has come for the citizens of Elvis World to let the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame know we are fed up. We cannot e-mail them, because they do not publish an e-mail address. But they do have snail mail. Please take a few minutes to write a letter to:
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation
1290 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10104
There’s no need to remind them what stupid jerks they are. Instead, you might want to add substance to your plea by emphasizing DJ’s qualifications. To review, they are:
It’s time to stop the injustice to DJ Fontana. Please send a letter and help get DJ into the Hall of Fame.
© 2005 Philip R Arnold
Contributing Editor, Phil Arnold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
From: 28th Anniversary Issue, Summer 2005
by Phil Arnold
Suppose you got to help create a list of the Top 500 Rock & Roll songs of all time. Bet you’d have lots and lots of Elvis hits in there. I know I would.
Well, the folks at Rolling Stone Magazine would not. Elvis had a few high spots in their survey, but his overall total seemed low. In all fairness, we do have to thank Rolling Stone for presenting the list in their December 9, 2004 issue. It was a wonderful thing for this old rock fan and many others to read and think and reminisce about.
This not the first time Elvis fans have been disappointed at The King’s representation on a major list of top songs. Three years ago, VH1 presented their Top 100 rock songs of all time (complete with music video clip on each one). Elvis got some recognition, but not what you’d expect. Let’s take a look at what these very credible music enterprises had to say about Elvis’ songs, and where they reside in the galaxy of the greatest.
Rolling Stone – 0 VH1 – 0
That was tough to take. Not one Elvis song in either Top 10. Of course, the competition was very tough, with the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, John Lennon and others taking a position in the top 10. Both polls had great songs selected on their lists, although they had some significant differences. I’d have trouble disagreeing with any of the choices. There just wasn’t any Elvis in there!
They each pick one… but not the same one. VH1 rates “Jailhouse Rock” as #18, while Rolling Stone has “Hound Dog” at #19. These classic old songs both deserve that recognition, or better. But, there are other equally good Elvis songs that should have been there, too.
Rolling Stone – 2 VH1 – 2
Come on! Only 2 Elvis songs in the Top 50 of all time. That’s just wrong. All VH1 could add was “Hound Dog” at # 31. Rolling Stone added “Heartbreak Hotel” at # 45. Out of the Top 50 rock songs, they found only three Elvis recordings between them: “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Heartbreak Hotel.” Sorry, they are all Top 20 material, at least.
SONGS IN THE TOP 100
Rolling Stone – 5 VH1 – 4
Rolling Stone gets on board with “Jailhouse Rock” at #67 and adds two new titles: “Mystery Train” at # 77 and “Suspicious Minds” at # 91. It’s easy to agree with these picks. We can be pleased Rolling Stone’s Top 100 recognized both a song from Elvis’ early work at Sun Records and also a staple of his later jumpsuit years. “All Shook Up” is mentioned for the first time at #68 on the VH1 poll, and they gave a belated nod to “Heartbreak Hotel” at #71. Between the two polls, there were just six different Elvis songs selected in the top 100. That’s not enough.
Rolling Stone –11
Next up was another Sun disc, “That’s All Right (Mama),” at # 112. That’s a good pick, but this was followed by the poll’s second-biggest mistake: “Don’t Be Cruel” at only # 197. I can’t believe it. There can’t be too many members of the selection committee who were around in 1956, and had that song in their 45 collection. If they had, “Don’t Be Cruel” would be Top 20, maybe Top 10.
Rolling Stone rated “All Shook Up” at # 352. Give me a break. “All Shook Up at # 352??? The song stayed # 1 on the charts for twelve straight weeks. How could they possibly make a mistake this big? At least VH1 had it at # 68.
The first Elvis ballad to appear was “I Can’t Help falling In Love” at # 394. Next came “Blue Suede Shoes” at # 423. Carl Perkins’ version came in at # 95, making “Blue Suede Shoes” the only song to be in the Top 500 by two different artists. Frankly, I think a good argument could be made for Perkins’ version being in the Top 20.
The last Elvis song to make the Rolling Stone list was “Love Me Tender” at # 437.
My initial anger at the lack of respect given to Elvis songs in these polls has now been tempered by a new realization. It wasn’t the songs that made Elvis special. It was Elvis. His looks, his clothing, his voice, his stage persona. He was the total package and probably would have succeeded even if he had recorded lesser material.
In spite of this handy justification, it’s still fun to think where we would put Elvis recordings in the Top 500 rock & roll songs of all time. “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” would squeeze into the Top 10 somewhere. “Heartbreak Hotel,” “All Shook Up” and “Don’t Be Cruel” belong in the Top 20. “That’s All Right,” “Mystery train,” and “Suspicious Minds” would be in the Top 50. “Love Me Tender” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love” would be joined by another ballad, “Loving You,” in the Top 100. Certainly the next 400 places would include “Teddy Bear,” Blue Suede Shoes,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and “Burning Love.”
Adding it up, our revised list would have two Elvis songs in the top 10, five in the top 20, eight in the top 50, eleven in the top 100, and eighteen in the top 500. Now that’s more like it.
If it was up to this writer, the Top 500 would also include three personal favorites. “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care,” featured the movie Jailhouse Rock, is arguably the best song Elvis recorded that was never released as a single. “Reconsider Baby” from the album Elvis Is Back is considered by many to be Elvis’ best blues recording. And “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” is simply the best rock & roll Christmas song ever.
There were six songs selected to the Top 10 in both polls: “Like a Rolling Stone”/Bob Dylan, “Satisfaction”/ The Rolling Stones, “Respect”/Aretha Franklin, “Imagine”/John Lennon, “Good Vibrations”/Beach Boys, and “Hey Jude”/Beatles. The polls were done years apart by different all-star juries, which gives credence to the outstanding quality of these songs. The biggest Top 10 discrepancies were “What’d I Say”/Ray Charles (# 10 Rolling Stone, # 41 VH1), and “Hotel California”/Eagles (# 6 VH1, # 49 Rolling Stone)
The selection committee for the Rolling Stone Top 500 seemed to be especially fond of 60’s music, choosing 202 hits from this decade. The 70’s were next with 144 selections. The 50’s were only the third best decade with a puny 71 picks. That’s not enough. It’s painfully obvious that not many of the judges were around and listening to music in that decade. They missed dozens of outstanding songs on their list.
In yet another tribute to the genius of Sam Phillips, Sun Records provided five of the Top 100 songs. The honored songs were: “I Walk The Line”/Johnny Cash, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On”/Jerry Lee Lewis, “Mystery Train”/Elvis Presley, “Blue Suede Shoes”/Carl Perkins, and “Great Balls Of Fire”/Jerry Lee Lewis. And “That’s All Right” was close behind at # 112.
Chuck Berry challenged Elvis with the second most 50’s songs on the list. Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Little Richard and Bo Diddley followed, but Fats Domino was way under represented (eight Top 10 hits, only two songs on the list)
Every song on Rolling Stone’s list received a critique narrative, which enabled the magazine to fill forty-one pages of the issue. It was also interspersed with fifty-six full-page advertisements and numerous partial pages, so it was a good marketing move.
Here’s some of what they had to say about the Elvis songs.
Hound Dog: “With snarling vocal authority, precision rockabilly jump and slashing lead guitar by Scotty Moore, Presley transformed the song’s blues changes and put-down rhyme into a declaration of independence… “ (For my money, everything Elvis recorded in the 50’s was a declaration of independence.)
Heartbreak Hotel: “… what Sun Records founder Sam Phillips called a ‘morbid mess’ went on to become Presley’s first Number One hit and million selling single, thanks in part to Scotty Moore’s steely guitar and a thumping bass from Bill Black.” (Would it have hurt to give some kudos to DJ Fontana, too?)
Jailhouse Rock: “The King… sang it as straight rock & roll, overlooking the jokes in the lyrics and then introducing Scotty Moore’s guitar solo with a cry so intense the take almost collapses.” (I’ve gone back and listened to that part of the song again several times, and I still don’t know what that writer was talking about.)
Suspicious Minds: “Recorded between four and seven in the morning, during the landmark Memphis session that helped return The King to his throne, ‘Suspicious Minds’ is Presley’s masterpiece.” (But only # 91 on their list.)
That’s All right: “Recorded in a shockingly fast, lusty new style, the single was the place where race and hillbilly music collided and became rock & roll. … and the world changed.” (When the magazine sang the praises of their top pick, ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ they said, “no other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time.” (Baloney! “That’s All Right” did all that and more. It changed the world, remember?)
Don’t Be Cruel: “… his take on this blues song, “Don’t Be Cruel,” backed with “Hound Dog,’ became a double-sided hit on the pop, R&B and country charts.” (But that was only good enough for # 197 on your list.)
All Shook Up: “Presley fell in love with the tune the first time he heard it. The song went on to sell 2 million copies.” (Not enough to get it higher than # 352. Their biggest slight to an Elvis song.)
I Can’t Help falling In Love: “… this was no vacation for Presley. It took him twenty-nine takes to nail his exquisitely gentle vocals.” (Rolling Stone accompanied this narrative with a nice picture of Elvis.)
Blue Suede Shoes: “Perkins’ single got to Number Two, but Presley’s peaked at Number Twenty.” (Carl’s version was better, but Elvis did a major improvement when he re-recorded the song for the movie, “GI Blues.”)
Love Me Tender: “It represented a brand-new sound for The King. He sang in his softest voice, accompanied by his own acoustic guitar.
Rolling Stone magazine had no trouble referring to Elvis as “The King” in most of their song critiques. We wish they had treated his songs with more respect in their list; but let’s face it, the key to Elvis’ success was Elvis himself, not just his recordings.
© 2005 Philip R Arnold
Contributing Editor Phil Arnold is a big Elvis fan and can be reached at email@example.com
From: 70th Birthday Tribute, January 2005
by Phil Arnold
It’s been a real kick contributing to Elvis International magazine for six years, and my best fringe benefit so far happened in Memphis during Elvis Week 2004. It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Darwin Lamm, Editor/Publisher of Elvis International, put on the two biggest concerts of the week … back to back on one night. Darwin is exceptionally organized, and he has been promoting concerts since 1988, but he still needed two “Production Assistants” for these shows.
Gary Olsen, a Vancouver, BC, disc jockey and experienced concert promoter, was the number one man. I was the go-fer. Gary carried around a stack of papers, referred to them often, made decisions and gave orders. I went for ice. I also went for sandwiches, sodas, and Xerox copies (three different times). If Scotty Moore wanted a bottle of water from the VIP room, I was tickled to go-fer it.
The first of the two concerts was “The Legends Salute the 50th Anniversary of Rock & Roll.” The title, of course, was tied to the theme for this year’s festivities, a celebration of the 50 years since Elvis recorded his first release “That’s All Right (Mama)” in 1954. The Legends concert was scheduled to start at 6:30 PM, but Darwin, Gary and I got to the venue at 9:30 AM. And what a venue — The Cannon Center for The Performing Arts. This theater is almost brand new and there isn’t a bad seat in the place. It is home to the Memphis Symphony, so you know it has superb acoustics.
When we arrived backstage, the two biggest names on the whole program, Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana, were already there. There wasn’t any of that big-star-late-arrival stuff for these good old boys.
Also on the scene were several members of Ronnie McDowell’s band. Steve Shepherd, keyboard player in the band, quickly assumed the role of floor manager, as he put tape down on the stage to mark where the vocalists and other performers were to stand. It looked like he had plenty of experience doing this. Later, I learned he is also a superb keyboard player, and he contributed significantly to the quality of the music that evening.
Scotty and DJ supervised the construction of the riser, which is an elevated platform, three steps above the floor, on which DJ would do his magic. It was at the back of the stage, but the height enabled the audience to see him.
As time went by, other performers strolled in. Bob Moore, who was Elvis’ bass man for 18 years, was an early arrival. Billy Swan, one of five featured vocalists, showed up soon afterward. One by one, the four Jordanaires joined the group. Millie Kirkham, who did back-up vocals for Elvis for 15 years, was warmly received by all the men. Everyone was in a happy mood, catching up with the others. It began to resemble a family affair. Each new arrival made the rounds, talking with the rest, just like at a reunion. Obviously these folks were dear old friends.
Lee Rocker, fresh off the Straycats reunion tour in Europe, added his unique presence to the swelling crowd of performers. He sported black leather and lots of sterling silver ear-rings. Ronnie McDowell, who would be the surprise vocal guest of the night, dressed another way with shorts, tee-shirt and sandals.
Stan Perkins, oldest son of rockabilly legend Carl Perkins, arrived with a few friends and had a good time shaking hands and talking with everyone. Eddie Miles, the great Elvis tribute artist, showed up wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. His entourage blended into the growing group of people who displayed all-access badges, but who had no specific part in the performances. It just added more to the party atmosphere.
Finally, the one man everybody adores, Boots Randolph, strolled on stage. It didn’t take long to figure out that Mr Yakety-Sax is a super nice guy. Boots was so friendly and had lots of stories to tell. Later, backstage at the second concert, when a chair next to Boots became available, I wasted no time claiming that prized spot.
Actually, the entire day at the theater was a prize, one that gave me the opportunity to go autograph hunting. For a fifteen hour period I carried with me the 50th Anniversary issue of Elvis International. Darwin Lamm had honored me by publishing in this milestone issue three articles I had written. One was about Scotty, DJ, and the Jordanaires, plus a nice sidebar piece on Bill Black. Another was about all the singers and other musicians who joined them in the Legends concert. Finally, I wrote about the four members of the TCB Band, plus Terry Mike Jeffrey. He handled the vocal duties for the second concert, “The TCB Band Salutes Elvis and the 50th Anniversary of Rock & Roll.”
In total, the three articles featured short biographies and other commentary on 21 performers. My goal was to get each one to sign their name over the text I had written about them. In my mind, every performer was a legend with a connection to Elvis, and I was out to get all their autographs in my magazine.
First, and most important to me, were Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana. I got them early while the concert hall’s crewmen were assembling DJ’s riser. By the time the Legends Salute rehearsals and sound checks began, I had the autographs of everybody appearing in the first concert.
Rehearsals were interesting, but these folks had all worked with each other enough times in the past that not much rehearsing was needed. Sound checks were kind of boring. I was surprised to learn that there is so much difference in the settings each singer specifies to the guy up in the sound booth.
In between the autograph seeking, I did various Production Assistant jobs. I helped to set up lunch in the VIP room. I was blown away when Elvis’ long-time nurse and friend Marion Cocke pulled into the backstage loading zone with a car full of sandwiches. This wonderful 78 year-old woman made them all in her kitchen. There were four different kinds (but no peanut butter and ‘naner). Later, after the thirsty crowd of performers and their guests consumed all the cases of bottled water, we solved that problem by loading the large bottled water unit in the venue office on a cart and taking it to a prime spot just off-stage.
By the time the first group of performers finished rehearsals, Terry Mike Jeffrey and the four TCB Band members were ready to do their thing. Drummer Ronnie Tutt had been hanging around for several hours spending time with old buddies, and I got his autograph early. Terry Mike was another early arrival, so it was easy to get his signature.
However, guitarist James Burton, bass player Jerry Scheff, and piano player Glen D Hardin got right to business before I could shove my magazine and black Sharpie pen in front of them. The TCB boys really didn’t have to do any rehearsing, as they have played together so many times in the “Elvis, The Concert” shows. Terry Mike Jeffrey has performed with them numerous times in the past few years. I decided to skip their sound check and went back to the hotel for a little nap. It would be a long night, and I wanted to be sharp for all of it. I’d get their autographs later, before the show.
The nap was great, but it turned out to be poorly timed. By the time I returned to The VIP room, a catered hot supper had been delivered … and consumed. I settled for two slices of bread, some potato chips and a soda for my meal. Soon, all thoughts of food vanished as other responsibilities called. My favorite Production Assistant assignment of the night occurred when the son and daughter of the late Bill Black couldn’t get their will-call tickets at the window. I went out front and was able to save the day by talking some sense to the ticket lady. I felt so proud of myself. It also gave me the opportunity to get both of Bill’s children to sign my magazine over the paragraphs I had written about their dad.
The only other non-performer to sign my magazine was Red Robinson, another Vancouver DJ, who served as master of ceremonies and announcer for both concerts. Red turned out to be a real buddy and a great guy to hang out with on Beale Street.
Other writers in this magazine will regale you with accounts of the two concerts as they experienced them from their seats in the audience. My vantage point was backstage, or should I say side-stage. True backstage would be behind the tall black curtain. However, there was a series of parallel side curtains which allowed us to look at the bands from the side, but the audience couldn’t see us. With so many singers and musicians in the Legends Salute, there were a lot of folks backstage. It was so much fun being part of this group.
When the first concert ended, another important Production Assistant job was to guide the performers out to tables in the lobby where they would sign autographs for the fans. We had to be firm with several determined folks who wanted to get autographs before the musicians got to the tables. Once everybody was seated and the line of fans was moving nicely, my assignment was to help out at one of the doors. The venue employee there was overwhelmed trying to take tickets from new fans while trying to keep track of those coming back into the building after a smoke break.
I helped him for twenty minutes, then I begged off to go backstage again and pursue more TCB Band autographs. I got Glen D Hardin’s, but James Burton and Ronnie Scheff were on center stage working out some stuff, so I didn’t bother them. I returned to the lobby and helped escort the Jordanaires back to the VIP room. It was almost 10 PM, and Gordon Stoker needed to get some food before diabetic problems got to him. We literally had to push our way through fans who wanted him to pose with them for pictures. Gordon is too nice to ever say no to fans, so us Production Assistants had to be the bad guys and say, “Sorry, can’t do it.” Gordon paid me back the next night, buying me a meatloaf dinner at the hotel restaurant. Did he ever tell some funny Elvis stories that will never make it to print.
The second concert was also terrific, but it seemed a bit more business-like than the first. There were fewer musicians and only one singer. Terry Mike Jeffrey meshed his traveling band with the TCB boys, and his off-stage entourage consisted of only his daughter-in-law. This time, hardly anybody was backstage, because the whole gang from the Legends show was now in the audience to watch the second concert.
That was good because it gave me a chance to talk more with Boots Randolph. This distinguished 78-year-old gentleman was the only performer to wear a coat and tie. He had been a huge audience favorite during the first concert when he played a down and dirty sax part on the Elvis blues classic, “Reconsider Baby,” followed by an energetic romp with his own hit, “Yakety Sax.” I yelled and cheered during both songs, just like most other folks backstage. Boots was impressive.
Terry Mike Jeffrey certainly thought so, too, because he cornered Boots between the shows and talked him into doing the songs again during the second concert. As we sat together backstage, waiting for Boots’ time to go on, I asked him which he preferred, the keyboard we heard in the first concert, or the piano playing in the second. Boots started out saying he liked both equally well, but the more he talked, the more he realized he liked the keyboard sound better. So did I.
I actually got to walk out on stage during the TCB Salute. Between songs, Jerry Scheff signaled he was thirsty, and I carried a paper cup of cold water to him. It was fun later when a friend of mine from Canada said she saw me on stage.
It was past midnight when the TCB Band Salute ended. I still lacked the autographs of Jerry Scheff and James Burton. I wasn’t sure they were going out to the lobby, because they had a 7AM flight departure that morning for Las Vegas. I hated to bug them, but the window of opportunity was about to close. My new friend Red Robinson helped me get Scheff’s autograph, and I found the nerve to approach James Burton as he was putting his guitar in the case. Both musicians were pleasant while doing my little favor.
So, my magical night backstage with 21 genuine music legends ended on a high note. I went back to my hotel room exhausted, but I was too hyper to sleep. Before finally dozing off, I pondered whether the health of all these people will hold up for another couple of years so we can do this again. I sure hope so. I know where they can get an experienced go-fer.
© 2005 Philip R Arnold
From: 50th Anniversary Of Rock & Roll, August 2004
The heart of any band is the lead guitar player, and Scotty Moore will be ‘The Man’ for the 50th Anniversary Legends Salute, just as he was for Elvis. Scotty will be the most admired and appreciated man in Memphis this year during “Tribute Week, 2004.” Now that Sam Phillips is gone, Scotty Moore is the only remaining link to Elvis’ original start in music.
In June 1954, Elvis came to Scotty’s house and met him and Bill Black for the first time. Eight days later, the three musicians recorded “That’s All Right (Mama)” at Sun Records. Everybody knows the story after that. The history of rock ‘n roll spun into a new orbit, with Elvis at the helm and Scotty stoking that musical engine.
The closest we can now come to those days will be at Darwin Lamm’s Legends Salute on August 13 at the Peabody Hotel Grand Ballroom. A few thousand lucky folks are going to have a real treat. Scotty will be surrounded by a group of superb musicians and singers, but his work on guitar will be the main item of interest for most fans. It’s worth the price of admission just to hear Scotty’s guitar licks. After all these years, he produces charming guitar sounds so close to the original, it’s like those fifty years had never passed.
What makes this even more incredible is that Scotty did not perform live for 24 years. After the ’68 Comeback Special on TV, Scotty pretty much put his guitar away and took on new challenges in the music business. He started a record label, supervised all elements of studio operation, and produced albums and a hit record. He owned a tape-duplicating business, and he specialized in record and TV engineering, the latter for Opryland Productions.
In 1992, publisher and concert promoter Darwin Lamm, along with the help of Carl Perkins and DJ Fontana, lured Scotty back on stage. He was paired with Carl Perkins as part of the “Good Rockin’ Tonight Concert,” an Elvis Week staple. Scotty’s reemergence into the public eye was so well received, it became the catalyst for his return to regular touring and recording.
Which brings him back to where it all started. Memphis – 50 years later – reunited with DJ Fontana and the Jordanaires – and backed by a most excellent crew of bandmates. This is going to be such a terrific show.
The early touring schedule for Elvis, Scotty, and Bill took them to the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport in October, 1954. The house drummer, DJ Fontana, joined in during their performances, and he meshed perfectly with the other musicians. Soon, DJ was a full-fledged member of the Elvis team, and he went on to play on approximately 460 RCA cuts with Elvis.
For decades, DJ Fontana has been a veritable fixture in the Nashville music scene. He has recorded with a who’s who of country and rock singers and musicians, including Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, Kieth Richards, Waylon Jennings, Jim Reeves, and Ringo Starr. For nine years he toured with an all-star band, the Sun Rhythm Section.
In 1998, DJ and Scotty teamed up to record a new CD, All The King’s Men. It received the Nashville Music Award for the best Independent Album Of The Year.
Now, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the birth of rock & roll, interest has intensified to get DJ inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. In fact, a campaign to make this happen is led by four famous drummers: Levon Helm of The Band, Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, Ringo Starr of the Beatles, and Max Weinberg from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
DJ has performed in every “Good Rockin’ Tonight Concert” since 1989, and Darwin Lamm, promoter of the concerts has been quoted, “DJ is such a down home ‘good ole boy’ that when you get to know him, you’ll forget what a great legend he really is.” After you see him in the Legends Salute, you will never forget it.
DJ has more fun at Elvis Week than just about anybody. He makes hundreds of new friends each year as he tirelessly signs autographs. DJ is a great guy, and everybody loves him. Plus he plays some mean drums.
When it comes to legendary achievements, it’s hard to top the Jordanaires. It has been estimated that songs with their backing vocals have sold over 2.6 billion records. Think about that: 2,600,000,000 records in a half century of singing behind stars like Marty Robbins, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, K.D. Lang, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ricky Nelson, Ringo Starr, Chicago, Neil Young, Jimmy Buffett, Connie Francis, Julie Andrews, the Judds, Billy Ray Cyrus, Vince Gill, and, of course, Elvis Presley.
The Jordanaires were formed in 1948 in Springfield, MO, and made their first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry the next year. In early 1955, they appeared at the Cotton Carnival in Memphis. Elvis, who was just in the beginning of his career, came back stage to meet them. He remarked, “If I ever get a recording contract with a major company, I want you guys to back me up.” True to his word, soon after Elvis signed with RCA, the Jordaiaires backed him on the session that produced “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Any Way You Want Me.”
The Jordanaires personnel at that time were Gordon Stoker (lead tenor), Neal Matthews (second tenor), Hoyt Hawkins (baritone), and Hugh Jarrett (bass). They appeared behind Elvis on most of his landmark TV appearances in 1956 and 1957. In 1958, Ray Walker replaced Jarrett, and the new lineup performed together for the next 24 years. The lineup appearing at the Legends Salute will be Gordon Stoker and Ray Walker, along with newer members Louis Nunley (baritone) and Curtis Young (second tenor).
Elvis had many musical influences, but it was the gospel quartets that moved him the most. The Jordanaires were one of his favorites, because he heard them every Saturday night on the Opry radio show. Once Elvis connected with them, they sang on almost every song he recorded over the next 13 years.
The Nashville Music Association has presented the Jordanaires the coveted ‘Masters Award.’ The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave them an award for having sung on more top-ten records than any other vocal group. If awards were presented during Darwin Lamm’s Elvis Good Rockin’ Tonight concerts this year, the Jordanaires, Scotty Moore, and DJ Fontana would all be recognized for what they are: Genuine American Music Legends.
Since rumor has it that this will be Darwin Lamm ‘s last concert in Memphis, this could very well be the last time you will see all the legends performing together. Don’t miss it.
© 2004 Philip R Arnold
Contributing Editor Phil Arnold will be in a front row seat for the Legends Salute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
From: 50th Anniversary Of Rock & Roll, August 2004
by Phil Arnold
The 50th anniversary of the birth of rock & roll cannot pass without giving just praise to one of the men who was there: Bill Black. Scotty Moore and Bill were the old pros in Sun Records studio on July 5,1954, when “That’s All Right (Mama) was recorded. They were pioneers, just like Elvis, in the unearthing of this new sound. Their musical talents on guitar and base blended with Elvis’s powerful vocal to create history.
Scotty Moore is a headliner of the 2004 Legends Salute. Bill Black, unfortunately, will not be on stage, as he died in 1965 of a brain tumor. His memory should be honored, not just for his contributions in the studio, but also for the huge benefits Elvis’ early live shows got from his stage presence. Quite often Bill’s joking around warmed up the crowd and took some heat off Elvis. Scotty Moore states, “If it hadn’t been for Bill, there were a bunch of shows where we would have died on the vine.”
Bill Black’s bag of tricks included blacking out some of his teeth, wearing oversized bloomers, and riding his stand-up base across the stage. In “That’s Alright Elvis” Scotty Moore tells of the times on stage when Bill would take off Scotty’s belt while he was doing a guitar solo, and throw it out into the audience.
Bill parted company with Elvis in 1958. He went on to considerable success with a string of instrumental hits by Bill Black’s Combo in the early 60’s. He is a true trailblazer in the birth of rock & roll, and should be remembered when “The Legends” salute the 50th anniversary of rock & roll. Bill Black’s spirit will be up on stage with them that night, a legacy from the ‘unsung legend.’
© 2004 Philip R Arnold
From: 50th Anniversary Of Rock & Roll Issue, August 2004
by Phil Arnold
Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, and the Jordanaires are the headliners at Darwin Lamm’s “The Legends” Salute the 50th Anniversary of Rock & Roll in Memphis this year. But you will see many other musicians and singers on stage, rounding out the band and belting out the lead vocals. All of them have a history with Elvis, a musical connection we draw on for this spectacular show.
Just about every artist on the stage at the Legends Salute has recorded with Scotty, DJ and the Jordanaires numerous times. This show will be like a reunion of sorts for a group of veteran musicians who have known each other for 30-40 years. When all these musical buddies assemble in Memphis in August, it won’t take a great deal of rehearsal time for them to get back into the old groove. Scotty and DJ will have a very tight band that night.
BOB MOORE (Standup Bass): No relation to Scotty, Bob Moore followed Bill Black as the bass player in the band behind Elvis for 28 recording sessions from 1958 to 1966. He played bass on such hits as: “A Big Hunk of Love,” “I Got Stung,” “A Fool Such As I.” “Stuck On You,” “A Mess Of The Blues,” “It’s Now Or Never,” “Are You Lonesome tonight?” and many, many more. Bob Moore is the quintessential Nashville session man, and has played bass in over 17,000 recording sessions. The list of singers he backed would go on for several pages, but some notables include Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, Roger Miller, Jim Reeves, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire, Don McLean, and Debbie Boone. It has been noted that his dependability, his rock solid beat, his impeccable timing, and his ability to work well with other musicians were the keys to his success in a recording studio. Bob Moore’s web-site claims he may well have played on more recordings than any other musician in the world, and that he could be the greatest all around bassist that has ever lived.
BUDDY HARMAN (Drums): You will notice the Legends Salute has two drummers. Second drummer duties will be performed admirably by Buddy Harmon, another famed studio musician, with almost as many recording sessions to his credit as Bob Moore. Buddy Harman played on most Elvis recording sessions from 1958 to 1968. Nine soundtrack albums from Elvis’ movies feature Buddy Harmon’s drumming. His career also includes drum work with the Everly Brothers, Johnny Burnette, Patti Page, Loretta Lynn, Roy Orbison, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, Barbara Mandrell, Simon and Garfunkel, Ann Margaret, Ringo Starr, and dozens more. Buddy Harman has had two terms as house drummer for the Grand Ole Opry, and he was awarded ”Drummer of the Year” in 1981 by the Academy of Country Music. He had the privilege of performing for four American presidents: John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Regan. Buddy Harman can be especially proud of being named by the Country Music Hall of Fame as one of a handful of top musicians recognized for creating the “Nashville Sound.”
BOOTS RANDOLPH (Sax): Another member of the band was among the pioneering creators of the ‘Nashville Sound,’ and he has reached “legend” status on his own. Boots Randolph has been a star ever since he recorded “Yakety Sax” in the early 60’s. Several other hits followed, as did more than 40 albums. In addition to recording and performing, Boots has been a much-sought-after session musician. He was the first sax player to play on Elvis recordings, and the only one to have a sax solo in an Elvis song, in the superb blues number, “Reconsider Baby.” Boots Randolph contributed to the soundtrack music for eight Elvis movies. He has played with Chet Atkins, Buddy Holly, Alabama, Al Hirt, Johnny Cash, Pete Fountain, and Doc Severinsen. He has appeared on numerous network TV shows, like those of Ed Sullivan, Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson and Jimmy Dean. More recently, Boots has been a frequent guest on TNN’s “Music City Tonight” and “Prime Time Country.”
MILLIE KIRKHAM (Vocalist): The Jordanaires and Millie Kirkham have recorded and performed together so much that, to many fans, Millie seems like the female member of the vocal group. Millie was with the Jordanaires during her first Elvis recording session in September, 1957. She last backed Elvis at a session in June of 1971. In between her strong, clear soprano voice was recorded on dozens of Elvis’ songs including: “Don’t,” “Blue Christmas,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Guitar Man,” “Surrender,” and ”Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Millie Kirkham also appeared on stage with Elvis in Las Vegas. As a fixture in the Nashville recording scene for decades, she has appeared on record with a galaxy of stars including: Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Carl Perkins, Brook Benton, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, and Eddy Arnold.
BILLY SWAN (Vocalist): You will see a number of men playing guitar during the Legends Salute, and one of them, Billy Swan, will step to the mike to take over lead vocal duty for a part of the night. He’s had lots of practice singing Elvis songs, having released a CD of them titled “Like Elvis Used To Do.” Billy Swan had a two-million seller hit in 1974 called “Let Me Help,” which Elvis later recorded. Billy Swan has been through just about every area of the music business. In addition to his own singing, he has written songs covered by Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, and many more. Indeed, Swan wrote the Clyde McPhatter hit “Lover Please” when he was just 16 years old. He produced three albums including Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie.” He was tour manager for Mel Tillis, Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph, and Floyd Cramer. Billy Swan even appeared in two movies and served as Assistant Musical Director on “Great balls Of Fire.” Over the past decade, he has released a dozen CD’s, including “The Sun Studio Story.”
EDDIE MILES (Vocalist): Only one Elvis tribute artist will be presented at the Legends Salute. Eddie Miles is without a doubt among the very best, and he has a huge national following. All tribute artists have the costumes and the hair, and they sound like Elvis, but no one looks more like the King than Eddie Miles. On top of that, he has a smile that connects with the audience. You just want to like the guy. Scotty Moore once said, “Eddie Miles, a fine entertainer, respectfully re-creating the image. But, most of all, keeping the music alive.” As he did at the Legends Concert two years ago, Miles will specialize in songs from the jump suit era. He will dig deep into the Elvis musical library and perform some lesser-known songs. Fans who dig Eddie Miles will be able to see him headline his own show later in Elvis Week.
STAN PERKINS (Vocalist and Guitar): If DJ Fontana or Buddy Harman need to take a break during the Legends Salute, Stan Perkins can fill in admirably. He is the first born son of Carl Perkins, and he played drums in is father’s band for 22 years. He also recorded with Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Paul Simon and John Fogerty. After Carl Perkins passed away, Stan emerged to pursue his own career. He is an accomplished guitar player, an excellent singer, and a grand showman who carries on the family tradition in rockabilly and rock ‘n roll music. You will be thoroughly entertained when Stan Perkins talks the stage to sing the songs of both Elvis and his dad.
LEE ROCKER (Vocalist and Standup Bass): A big surprise at the “25th Anniversary, The Legends Concert,” was Lee Rocker, who has currently rejoined the Stray Cats on a European tour and returns just in time for The Legends Concert August 13th.
© 2004 Philip R Arnold
Contributing Editor Phil Arnold wouldn’t miss the Legends Salute for anything. He can be reached at email@example.com.
From: 69th Birthday Tribute Issue, Junuary, 2004
by Phil Arnold
Elvis’ first commercial recording session at Sun Recoerds, on July 5 1954, produced three songs. That’s All Right (Mama) started a musical revolution. What’s the story on the other two songs?
We’ve all heard the tale many times. Elvis and Scotty and Bill were playing a few songs that first night, but nothing really clicked. Then, Elvis started cutting up with That’s All Right (Mama), a blues song released eight years earlier by Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup. Scotty and Bill joined in, and in no time the three musicians were cookin’.
Then, Sam Phillips rushed out of the control room and asked Elvis what he was doing. Sam told them to do it again, this time with the tape player going. A short time later, Elvis had the song for his first 45 RPM release in the can, and the rest is history.
So what were the two songs they did before catching magic in a bottle?
Harbor Lights was the first song put on tape, and Sam Phillips was not happy with it. Elvis’ voice was high and thin, as though the song should have been played at a lower key. The instrumentation is sparse and at a surprisingly low volume. Even Elvis’ chorus of whistling in the middle did nothing to enhance this generally weak ballad.
Sam Phillips filed the tape away as nothing more than a warm-up effort, where the boys got used to working together. When RCA bought Elvis’ contract and his entire Sun catalogue of 19 songs, they apparently saw little value in Harbor Lights. It remained unreleased for the next twenty years.
Even when RCA released “The Sun Sessions” in 1975, Harbor Lights was still in bad favor and was not included. The producers correctly assessed it would distract from the cohesive Rockabilly sound of the rest of the Sun songs. “The Sun Sessions” album was compiled to present a top quality package, so Harbor Lights would have to wait for use as a curiosity item.
And curiosities were exactly what RCA featured in the 1976 double LP, “Elvis – A Legendary Performer, Volume 2.” Even back then, record producers realized the strength of the public’s demand for never-before-heard Elvis songs. This album contained a little bit of everything: an alternate version of I Want You, I Need You, I Love You, in which Elvis reversed the lyrics; unreleased live versions of Blue Suede Shoes and Baby What You Want Me To Do from the “68’ Comeback Special”; an alternate version of Blue Hawaii from the “Aloha from Hawaii” TV special; in addition to the nearly forgotten song from that first Sun recording session.
Harbor Lights was also selected for the six-record boxed set, “A Golden Celebration.” Released in 1984, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Elvis’ birth, this album also tapped into the deep vein of fan yearning for something different in Elvis songs. It contained outtakes from the Sun sessions, as well as songs from “The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show”, “The Milton Berle Show”, “The Ed Sullivan Show”, and the ever-popular “Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show.”
Harbor Lights also appeared on the four-disk “The Complete Sun Sessions” in 1987 and the five-disc “Elvis, The Complete 50’s Masters” in 1992. It has probably been on several other CD’s since then, but it’s been hard to keep up with everything that’s coming out these days.
Its not surprising Elvis chose this song. It had previously been a popular number for Guy Lombardo, Bing Crosby, and Ray Anthony. The Platters had a top-ten hit with Harbor Lights in 1960.
The second song recorded on July 5, 1954, was I Love You Because, previously released by Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, Eddie Fisher, and Patti Page. Although Elvis and the boys improved with their second effort, Sam Phillips wasn’t crazy about this song, either. There still wasn’t any spark in Elvis’ voice, and more whistling certainly didn’t help. At least he instrumentation was better, indicating the three musicians were starting to get comfortable with each other.
Sam had five takes, but he deemed none to be worthy of commercial release. However, when Elvis’ fame skyrocketed, RCA saw it differently. In early 1956, they created a hybrid version using splices of takes #3 and 5 from the Sun tapes and included it in Elvis’ first album, “Elvis Presley.” Later that year, RCA put I Love You Because on the flip side of a 45 record featuring another previously unreleased Sun recording, Trying To get To You.
A different version of I Love You Because showed up in 1974 on “Elvis – A Legendary Performer, Volume I.” This time it was take 2. Both the spliced version (now called the ‘master’) and take 2 appeared on “The Sun Sessions” in 1975. This album was re-released on CD in 1999 and is now considered a must for serious collectors of Elvis music. VH1 named “The Sun Sessions” number 20 in their ranking of the Top 100 Rock & Roll Albums Of All Time.
The most dedicated Elvis collectors were enticed by 1987’s four-disc set, “The Complete Sun Sessions,” which must contain every single minute of tape Sam Phillips recorded when Elvis was singing. It has outtakes galore and a numbing quantity of alternate versions, including all five takes of I Love You Because. If that sounds like overkill, the album contains seven alternate takes of I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.
When Elvis went home the night of July 5, 1954, he must have been excited about the prospects for his first single release. He and Scotty and Bill were back the next night, and they clicked again on Blue Moon of Kentucky.
On July 19, Sun Records released Elvis Presley’s first record, That’s All Right (Mama) with Blue Moon of Kentucky on the flip side. The world was never the same since.
© 2004 Philip R Arnold