Monthly Archives: September 2006


 Back in 1997, 24-hour news network CNN decided to do something special for Elvis fans.  As the 20th Anniversary Elvis Week festivities approached, CNN added a special link to their website.  It was called “VIVA ELVIS,” and it must still get enough hits to keep it accessible deep within their archives.  If you are looking for something different to fulfill your need to connect with Elvis, may I suggest you click on


You will see the site boasts “7 Great Selections,” but the passage of time has rendered some of them less satisfying (especially links to sites that are no longer available).  However, the first choice, “Destination Elvis” is still a good one.  The subtitle, “All Roads Lead to the King,” is an apt description of what you will find.  There are short articles telling you about all sorts of lesser known Elvis-related places and things you might want to check out when you plan an Elvis pilgrimage.


A sample of these includes:  wax images of Elvis in four different wax museums around the country, various private museums of Elvis memorabilia, the famous (?) “Plywood Elvis” of Bozeman, Montana, the “Elvis Inn” in Israel, and a bronze statue of Elvis, one of his guitars, and a jumpsuit on display in the lobby of the International Hotel in Las Vegas, where he performed in the 70’s


“Destination Elvis” also includes “Graceland Tour de Force,” which is a brief slide show of Graceland, inside and out.  Other websites do a more complete job with this, but you might as well check it out while you are there.  The next category is “Meet Me in Memphis,” which would have been of value for any fans traveling to Elvis Week ’97.  It’s a bit dated now, but one link shows the limited list of events and features offered at Elvis Week nine years ago.  There sure were a lot more this year, and there will be even more for the 30th Anniversary next year.


I would suggest you skip “Interactive Elvis.”  This would have been fun if you could access the overall votes for best and worse Elvis movies and songs, but the results are no longer available.


The next category is “The Elvis Presley Story,” and most of it is familiar stuff for long-time fans.  However, the “Long Live The King” section has some information on the old Elvis Is Alive theme, and “Elvis Almanac” has a list of interesting Elvis statistics (I didn’t know his favorite toothpaste was Colgate).


“King of the Web” is not of much value, because most of the links to suggested websites no longer work.  “Arcade Elvis” offers quizzes on Elvis song lyrics, movie promos, and who made quotes about Elvis, but again you can’t click to find out the correct answers.  I think I’ll do some research to get it all straight, and then steal the ideas for Elvisblog. 


So, if you’ve got some time to kill and want to have some Elvis fun, check out “VIVA ELVIS.”  You might want to do it before January.  Maybe the CNN website archives automatically delete when they reach ten-years old.


©   2006   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved



A VERY SPECIAL LADY:  Doris Arnold, the wonderful mother of your Elvisblog host, died this past week at age 88.  Her long slow decline due to pancreatic cancer has required an extensive and very draining vigil for my wife and I.  There hasn’t been time or inclination to research and write a new weekly article.  However, there is new content, so please read on.


NEW ARCHIVES from ELVIS…THE MAGAZINE:  Now that the 29th Anniversary issue of Elvis…The Magazine (new name) is out, two longer articles from it are posted on Elvisblog.  The six-page long “Al Wertheimer” story led off the issue, and it contained nine of Werteimer’s famous photos.  The article, without pictures, is on this blog.  To see it with pictures, go to, register, and pay $3.95 to view or print the whole magazine.


The other article is “The Sun Sessions.”  A condensed version titled “Elvis’ Best Album” was posted here on March 5, but there’s extra stuff in the long article.  “The Sun Sessions” gave us classic Elvis rockabilly from a historically significant period.  However, the album itself also has an interesting and unusual story of its own.  Check it out.




Darwin Lamm has announced his schedule of Elvis Week concerts for next year — and he will be going out in style.  Since 1988, Lamm has entertained close to fifty thousand Elvis fans in Memphis with his series of Good Rockin’ Tonight concerts.  In all likelihood, 2007 will be the last blast from Darwin.  It could also be close to the end of the performing careers for some of the musicians.  So, this will be the year to go to Elvis Week and take in great concerts.  Here’s what Darwin has lined up. 


On August 14, the TCB Band does two “Good Rockin’ Tonight” shows.  Fronting them will be Terry Mike Jeffrey.  I’ve seen Terry Mike perform with the TCB boys twice, and he does a great job on Elvis songs.  The previous Elvis Week concerts with TCB Band and Terry Mike Jeffrey have been great successes.


On August 15, Scotty Moore will be honored at “The Last Man Standing” double-concert.  See last week’s blog article on this exciting event.


Finally, on August 16, there will be two “Spirit of The King” shows featuring a dozen or more of the best Elvis Tribute Artists.  This will be similar to the terrific show Darwin presented in 2005, and it was the entertainment bargain of the week.  These are not guys who perform at retirement homes or shopping center openings.  These tribute artists all make a nice living touring North America with their individual shows, and now they all will be assembled on one stage.  These are going to be fun concerts.


©  2006   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved


From29th 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.


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  “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


I just got the details on what should be the best concert coming to Elvis Week 2007 – “The Last Man Standing.”  And that man is legendary guitarist Scotty Moore.  Scotty has been a fixture at lots of Elvis Week concerts over the years, but this year is totally different.  The concert will be split into two different sets, and Scotty will join both bands.  Two REALLY GOOD bands.


The first set will feature a bunch of Scotty’s Nashville buddies calling themselves “The Mighty Handful.”  That name sounds like they might do gospel; but, no, these guys play the blues.  They recorded enough songs at Scotty’s home studio to fill a self-titled CD that will be released in a few months.  Now they are going to perform all those blues songs during Elvis Week.  This is going to be great.


I know it will be great because of the men who make up “The Mighty Handful.”  The biggest name is sax player supreme, Boots Randolph, another legend.  I’ve seen Boots do “Reconsider Baby” at four concerts, and let me tell you, he nailed the sax solos every time.  The audiences ate it up.  Standing ovations.   Paired with Boots on two of those occasions was Billy Swan doing the vocals.  Billy will be at the mic for this blues concert, and he will thrill those in attendance.  Billy has tremendous stature among the music community in Nashville as a successful songwriter, tour manager, producer, and singer (biggest hit – “I Can Help” —  # 1, 1974).  He not only has the voice of a great bluesman, he has the attitude.  This grand performer will get a opportunity to show his stuff at “The Last Man Standing,” and he will not disappoint.


The only other member of the group I have seen perform is Steve Shepherd, and he is a fabulous keyboard player.  Steve has played with Scotty many times and was a long-time bandmate of Ronnie McDowell.  Steve’s keyboard playing will add so much to the sound of the concert.


The other musicians in the band will be Bucky Barrett (Roy Orbison’s guitarist), Bob Moore on bass, Fred Satterfield on drums, and Buddy Spicher on fiddle.  These men have to be as good as Boots, Billy and Steve, because Scotty picked them.  Any musicians who end up on a Scotty Moore CD are tops in their game.


If you go to Elvis Week 2007, be sure to take in “The Last Man Standing” concert on August 15.  It should be the highlight of the week, and the blues set will be only half the show.  Scotty will also join the Grundy-Pritchard Band for a concert of Elvis rockabilly music.  More news about this terrific English band in a future Elvisblog article.


Perhaps a few words are in order about the concert‘s title, “The Last Man Standing.”  Scotty Moore was with Elvis when rock & roll was born — that first recording session for “That’s All Right (Mama)” at Sun records on July 5, 1954.  It  was the collaboration of four unique musical talents.  Along with Elvis and Scotty were Bill Black on bass and Sam Phillips turning dials in the control room.  Bill Black left us in 1965, Elvis in 1977, and Sam Phillips in 2003.  Scotty Moore is indeed the Last Man Standing.  Don’t miss this rare chance to see him perform. 


©  2006   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved

Elvis and Jake Hess

Several Elvisblog articles have been reprinted in the new 29th Anniversary issue of Elvis…The Magazine.  One was “Elvis and the Grammy Awards,” originally posted on Elvisblog on January 8, 2006.  In the article I said that Elvis won the Best Sacred Performance Grammy in 1967, and he was nominated in the same category in 1968 for “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” but he lost to Jake Hess.  Then I added:  (Has anybody ever heard of Jake Hess?)  In the last paragraph of the story, I mentioned that Elvis received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1991.  In an attempt at humor, I added, “Jake Hess is still waiting for his.”


Well, it turns out that one avid Gospel music listener named Harriet Heigl has not only heard of Jake Hess, she is a big fan.  She took offense to my comments and sent an e-mail to Elvis…The Magazine to register her displeasure.  She went on to list Jake Hess’ many achievements, and I must admit they are pretty impressive.  After some research, I now know that Jake Hess was a superstar in the world of Southern gospel music. If I had known that back in January, I would never have said those things.  In fact, now that I’ve studied up on Jake Hess, I know he is enshrined in The Gospel Music Hall of Fame, he received four Grammy Awards, and he performed well into his seventies as part of Bill Gaither’s Homecoming gospel video series.  Honestly, I’m surprised the Grammy people have not yet given Jake Hess a Lifetime Achievement Award in gospel music.


To me, the best news about Jake Hess is discovering that he had a strong Elvis connection.  In 1948, Jake Hess became the lead singer of The Statesmen Quartet.  For the next fifteen years, this legendary group recorded for RCA Victor, appeared on network television shows, and created one of the first syndicated gospel music TV shows.  In 1953 and 1954, Elvis, Vernon and Gladys were regulars at the monthly “All-Night Gospel Singing” at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis.  Gladys’ favorites were the Blackwood Brothers, but Elvis much preferred the Statesmen Quartet.  Lead singer, Jake Hess, had a powerful voice and unique styling that young Elvis particularly admired.  It turns out Jake Hess had a profound influence on the future King of Rock & Roll.


In 1963, Jake Hess founded The Imperials, and introduced the guitar, bass, and drums to Gospel music — a bold move for the times.  Three years later, Elvis was thrilled to have The Imperials do backing vocals during the recording sessions for the album How Great Thou Art.  Several times during the sessions, Elvis tried unsuccessfully to hand off the lead mic to Jake Hess.  Elvis was so pleased to have Jake on hand that he gave an inspired performance.  The album How Great Thou Art has been hailed as one of the highlights of Elvis’ sixties recordings, and it won the 1967 Grammy Award for Best Sacred Performance.  How Great Thou Art sold over one million copies and went to # 18 on the charts.  Noted Elvis historian Ernst Jorgenson called the album, “tough, powerful, even threatening – different from any religious music Elvis had ever recorded.”  Jake Hess made the difference.


When Elvis died in 1977, funeral preparations included selecting an elite group of Gospel music stars to sing at the service:  JD Sumner and the Stamps, The Statesmen, James Blackwood, Kathy Westmoreland – and Jake Hess.  (Hess also sang at the 1953 funeral for Hank Williams).


So, let’s see.  Jake Hess greatly influenced Elvis’ performing style.  He recorded with and inspired Elvis to new artistic and commercial heights on a Gospel album.  And he sang at Elvis’ funeral service.  It seems like anyone who considers himself a serious Elvis fan would know about Jake Hess.  Yes, I blew it, and Harriet, I am sorry. If I offended any Elvisblog readers as well, I apologize.  Should anyone decide to start a petition to get Jake Hess a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award, I’ll be glad to sign up.  He deserves it.


©  2006   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved