I’m not a huge metalhead, but it’s hard not to get sucked into That Metal Show when I come across it on VH-1 Classic (which is often the case on weekday mornings before work). Hosts Eddie Trunk, Jim Florentine and Don Jamieson are crazy about metal – and with their lively discussions, album & artist list rankings, and the variety of guests they bring into the studio for interviews – it’s hard not to get caught up in their passion for the music.
Last week, Alice Cooper dropped by the show for an interview, and he told the best Elvis Presley story involving Vegas, Linda Lovelace, Chubby Checker, and a loaded snub-nosed .38. It’s a great interview all around, but if you want to skip straight to the Elvis story, go to 20:35.
March of 1960 was a busy, eventful month for Elvis Presley. On March 1st, Elvis shipped off from Germany, returning home after a two year stint in the U.S. Army. Colonel Parker scheduled a train ride from New Jersey to Tennessee, alerting towns along the way that Elvis would be rolling through. Throngs of fans greeted him at every stop.
On March 20th, Elvis and his entourage chartered a bus to Nashville for the first recording session that would become part of the Elvis Is Back album. “Stuck on You” and “Fame and Fortune” were two of the songs recorded, and within 72 hours, 1.4 million records were pressed and shipped out. Along with regulars Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana, some of Nashville’s top session pros were brought in to help – including jazz guitarist Hank Garland and piano man Floyd Cramer.
Less than a week later, on March 26th, Elvis was in Miami for a taping of The Frank Sinatra show. Elvis performed “Fame and Fortune” and “Stuck on You”. Sinatra then came out for some awkward banter, followed by a joint medley of tunes: Sinatra’s “Witchcraft” and Presley’s “Love Me Tender.”
What a month… Within 26 days, Elvis had returned from Germany, recorded his first singles, and performed them on Sinatra’s TV show.
How’d he do it? Well, the truth is that by this time, Elvis had discovered amphetamines – the little white pills that were introduced to him while on tank maneuvers in Germany. It’s hard to gauge to what extent drugs had become a part of his life, but there was no turning back at this point.
It doesn’t diminish his stature as a performer though – not in my opinion. Yes, fast forwarding 10-15 years, it’s clear that his lifestyle choices were taking their toll. But in this moment in time – March 26th, 1960 – it’s amazing to see how natural and at ease he is as a performer. Keep in mind that during his 2 years away, he didn’t perform at all. And to deliver something like this just a few weeks after returning stateside… it’s still incredible – fifty years later.
I finished up Peter Guralnick’s “part one” bio of Elvis Presley last week, a book called Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley. It’s a fascinating and exhilarating look at “50’s Elvis,” including his first TV appearances in 1956.
Earlier in ’56, Elvis had made his first television appearances on shows hosted by the Dorsey Brothers, Milton Berle, and Steve Allen. These appearances shocked – SHOCKED! – the nation’s old guard. The media, parents, and citizens of high moral fortitude (yeah right) were appalled at the sexual connotations set forth by Mr. Presley. Of course, his actions then wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in today’s cesspool of cultural waste – but in 1956, ooo-weee, look out America, Elvis the Pelvis is comin’ for your kids!
On September 9th, 1956, Elvis made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Mr. Sullivan was recovering from a serious car accident, so Charles Laughton actually hosted the program in the New York City studio. Across the country in Hollywood, Elvis was filming his first motion picture, Love Me Tender, so his first appearance on Ed Sullivan was simulcast from CBS Television City.
The clips below skip the intros by Laughton, so if you have a Netflix account, I’d recommend watching the entire show (available streaming). But what we have here with Elvis’s performances are pure magic. The show was viewed by 60 million Americans that night – a staggering 82.6% of the total television audience. I’m sure it changed some minds and solidified some others.
But man oh man, to be a music lover in the year 1956. It’s hard to imagine now, but try to think back to the mindset of 1950’s America – you flip on the television on a Sunday night and you see this…
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“Ready Teddy” is my favorite of the bunch. I love the way he kicks off the song with a finger point to the drummer – going from 0 to 60 in about 5 seconds. This is pure Elvis – unrestrained and one of a kind.
This past January, on what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday (Jan 8.), I was watching some concert specials and sharing some thoughts on Twitter. It then occurred to me that I’d never read a definitive biography about the life of the King. One of the great things about Twitter is the instant feedback, so I put the question out there – what Elvis bio do I need to pick up? The answer came quickly from Dave and Ken: Peter Guralnick’s two-volume series: Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley and Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley.
I started Last Train a week or so ago, and let’s just say I am enthralled by this book. Reading about Elvis’s early days recording for Sam Phillips at the Memphis Recording Service, his early tours around the South with the Louisiana Hayride and Hank Snow‘s Jamboree – going from virtual unknown to the new “country & western” sensation… and up to where I currently am in the book: being scooped up by Colonel Tom Parker and signing with RCA (who bought out his contract from Sun for $35,000 – the highest price paid for a contract buyout to date).
Many know that Elvis’s first hit with Sun Records was “That’s Alright Mama”. But those early sessions in 1954 started out with Elvis singing “Harbor Lights,” a ballad made popular by Bing Crosby. This is the very first song recorded in Elvis Presley’s very first studio session (with Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black on bass):
When it comes down to it, it’s true – Elvis IS Everywhere.
Had a chance to hear Mojo Nixon hosting his radio show on Sirius Outlaw Country, and he played this tune of his from 20 years ago. So don’t get mad at Mojo when he calls Michael J. Fox the “Anti-Elvis” – it was 1988. It was Family Ties and Back to the Future era. Was Alex Keaton the Anti-Elvis?
Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper – Elvis is Everywhere (mp3)
Well, not exactly, but it is his birthday today. The King would have turned 73 today if he had managed to keep that ticker going. But he didn’t. Thankfully, we have the music (and the movies – can I get a Clambake!); and the music never gets old for me. There’s so much that I still haven’t heard.
This past week, I used my iTunes gift card to pick up Elvis is Back! It was his first studio release after returning from his stint in the U.S. Army, where he did his duty and managed to seduce a young Priscilla Beaulieu over in Germany.
In March 1960, Elvis and his gang hit RCA’s Studio B in Nashville. They recorded into April. Musicians included the usual suspects: Scotty Moore on guitar, D.J. Fontana on drums, Bob Moore on bass, and the Jordanaires providing their trademark vocals. Floyd Cramer also played piano on the album. He would hit it big that same year with an instrumental: “Last Date”. You know the tune…
Floyd Cramer – Last Date
So the resulting album from these sessions was Elvis is Back! Now, if you don’t care for Elvis’s music – particularly pre-Hollywood “early Elvis” – I don’t understand you. There’s something so appealing and universal about these songs, that voice. It’s always struck a chord with me, and it looks to have the same effect on my kids. They won’t shake their moneymakers to just any ol’ tune. But when the first chords of an Elvis song plays, their primal instinct is to move – to smile… It’s really a testament – not just to music in general – but to the timelessness of Elvis Presley in his prime.
As I’m sure you’re all well aware, Thursday marks the 30th anniversary of the passing of Elvis Presley. In light of that I thought I’d pull some of my favorites together for a video montage… Everyone grab a peanut butter and banana sandwich and enjoy!
Pete Yorn – Suspicious Minds
No Doubt – Suspicious Minds
The Flaming Lips – Suspicious Minds (Can you tell what my favorite Elvis tune is?)
Cheap Trick – Don’t Be Cruel
UB40 – Can’t Help Falling In Love
Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind
Tommy Emmanuel – Heartbreak Hotel
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – In The Ghetto
And I’d be remiss if I did not post the King himself covering some great tracks
August 16th will mark the 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. I am an Elvis fan.
Examples of my dedication to the King:
If an Elvis movie is located while flipping the channels, normal day to day life is put on hold until the last of the credits roll. It doesn’t matter if it’s Clambake, King Creole, or Roustabout.
The summer of 1989 included a pilgrimage to Graceland with my buddy Mark.
I sang “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to my new bride at our 2003 wedding with my brother on guitar.
I also sang “Can’t Help Falling in Love” with a full band as best man for my buddy Derek. It was an impromptu performance. I had hit the open bar juuust a bit too hard prior to my toast, and before I knew it, there I was, frozen in front of 500 people with not a coherent phrase in my head. Lucky for me, there was a band behind me. I turned around, asked the guys if they knew any Elvis, and they launched into “Can’t Help..” I went from the tipsy, embarrassed best man to matinée idol in a matter of minutes. My shining moment!
Elvis’s music has always connected with me. His last years were a tragedy for sure, but behind the troubled “Vegas Elvis”, underneath the uppers and the downers, was the same Elvis – a warm and compassionate spirit.
So on to the giveaway. On July 31st, Sony BMG released Elvis: Viva Las Vegas, which is a CD collection that “features music from and is inspired by the ABC television special ELVIS: VIVA LAS VEGAS – the visual chronicle of Elvis’s life during the Vegas years with particular focus on his music, his ground-breaking style and his legacy.” The ABC special will air on September 18th at 9pm EST.
Leave a comment below if you’d like a chance to win the CD. I’ll pick one in a few days.
Here are a couple of tracks that Sony is streaming…
For a special treat, listen to this performance of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” (not included on the CD). It’s the infamous “laughing version.” It starts off innocent enough, but as soon as Elvis sings “Do you stare at your bald head, and wish you had hair?”, well, all bets are off, and he basically loses his shit. It’s great!
1) Viva Las Vegas
2) See See Rider
3) The Wonder Of You
4) Polk Salad Annie
5) Release Me
6) Let It Be Me
7) I Just Can’t Help Believin’
8) Walk A Mile In My Shoes
9) Bridge Over Troubled Water
10) Patch It Up
11) You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me
12) You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling
13) An American Trilogy
14) Never Been To Spain
15) You Gave Me A Mountain
16) The Impossible Dream
Ickmusic sends a shout out to the skies above….Happy 72nd Birthday Elvis!
I watched King Creole a couple of times over the holidays to help prime me for my trip to New Orleans. Here’s a quality moment from the film when Elvis the bus boy jumps up on stage at the request of the film’s heavy, Maxie Fields, played by Walter Matthau. The female lead sitting next to him is Carolyn Jones, aka Morticia Addams from The Addams Family.