Hello fellow Elvis fans! For better or worse, I have decided to post some old articles I wrote many years ago for what I feel was the best Elvis fan magazine ever, Elvis Monthly. This UK publication once boasted an international readership in the tens of thousands. If you watch That’s The Way It Is, you will see a clip of the Monthly’s editor, Todd Slaughter, who led groups of fan club members to Las Vegas for some of Elvis’s shows. As you know, Elvis never toured abroad, so the only way fans from overseas got to see him perform was by coming to the States. The Monthly did a fabulous job of keeping Elvis fans informed of what was going on in Elvis World.
The articles are listed by oldest first. I will be adding many more in the days and weeks to come, so do check back often.
AN ELVIS DEPRESSION by Connie Kirchberg
(Originally published in Elvis Monthly #340, May 1988)
The mid-winter blues, and a case of what I call my “Elvis depression,” or perhaps better stated, a “lack of Elvis” depression. I’ve been spending the past few weeks of my spare time cataloguing my Elvis records and videos. I thought it would be interesting to find out just how many different versions of the same songs I have on record. Though nowhere near completed, I do have a list of all the live recordings, and I’m presently in the process of taking my favorite version of each to make a concert tape collection.
Ah, you say, so why would this project depress anyone? Well, an attempt at an explanation. Many of you younger fans will find it hard to understand. Oh, let me clarify by “younger” I’m not referring strictly to age. It applies to any of you who have become fans since August of 1977. Many fans who I’ve met and talked to over the past few years always want to know what it was like to see Elvis live. They want to know what it was like to be a part of those special “concert years.” They always approach the subject with excitement and anticipation. I try to give them some idea of what it was like, but for those of you who’ve seen the man in person, you know there really are no words to describe it. And so with this article, I’m going to give some of you younger fans something to think about that I’ll bet hasn’t crossed your mind much. And that is, what is it like for those of us who’ve seen Elvis in person now? A comparison of the “then and now” is in order.
THEN: Whether you personally experienced Elvis live or not back then, they were still great times, wonderful times. There were new records, 2/3 singles, 2/3 albums, every year. You never knew when you might hear a new song by Elvis on the radio for the first time. It was exciting. These were new albums, with new material you had never heard before. There were TV specials. “T.T.W.l.l.” and “On Tour,” Elvis doing his thing on the big screen. And of course, the tours. Even if you couldn’t be there, you could read reviews of the shows and see pictures in the papers. You knew he was out there performing. Magazine articles appeared constantly, always revealing some new pictures. There was always something new to look forward to.
NOW: “New” records consist of repackaged old material. We search the sleeve for any “alternate takes” or “unreleased live” performances. I always appreciate these cuts since they’re different, but they aren’t really “new.” It’s not the same. Going to the record stores these days is different for sure. Most are going away from handling records at all, and instead are lining their shelves with cassettes and compact discs. (I must admit I hate this, even if the sound is better, it’s just not the same as buying that 12” disc.) Some stores don’t even have any Elvis titles – that’s ZERO folks, none! What is a music store with no titles by the King? Well, it’s hard to get used to, that’s for sure. It’s a different life for us “old fans” now. The memories are wonderful. A part of us, as Elvis is and always will be. But as great as those memories are, they are at times painful. We want things the way they used to be, and we know they never can be.
Sometimes, I envy you ‘younger” fans. You can enjoy all the records, the movies, the videos – and you don’t have to remember how it used to be. We can never forget how it was. I know the memories I have today will still be as strong 20 or 30 years from now. I’ll never be able to watch the “Aloha” video without remembering the excitement and anticipation I felt during its first broadcast. It’s hard to watch it now without passing a tear or two. Memories they’re both good and bad, my friends. It’s hard living without a part of yourself.
(originally publshed in Elvis Monthly #345, October 1988)
Recently I acquired some back issues of Elvis Monthly at a convention down in California, the oldest one dating back to #213, the issue following Elvis’ death. Reading through these prompted some thoughts I’d like to share. An article from #214 entitled “Elvis Lives Through Us” brought back many memories of those few days in August 1977. For those of you who don’t have that issue to look up the article in question, it gave a very detailed description of what happened at Graceland the day of the funeral. Before reading that article, I had always regretted not being in Memphis that day. Being a fan as long as I had (nearly 10 years at that point) I felt I owed it to Elvis to pay my respects. But since reading that woman’s account, I’m glad I don’t have the memories she does. A quote from the article: “People started stealing things from the house, scraping paint from the walls, tearing drapes etc. The crowd was like a bunch of wild animals.” What a way to spend a day of mourning. How could people behave that way? I’m glad my last memory of Elvis was on the stage in concert and not in a casket at Graceland, surrounded by such madness.
Thanks to that old issue of the Monthly, I now feel much better about my decision not to be in Memphis that day. I would not have been able to cope with it emotionally. Funny how something written 11 years ago, yet just read today, still holds as much meaning for me now as the day it was written. I wish I’d known of this magazine when Elvis was alive, it would have made it more fun to be a fan, to be able to share my thoughts and feelings with all of you back then, during the good times. Now the best I can do is share the memories.
In issues of the Monthly following Elvis’ death, articles expressed concern for the future. People wondered if Elvis would soon be forgotten now that he was gone. I guess the fact that I’m writing this and you’re reading it means those fears were unwarranted. And what of the future, 10, 20, or 30 years from now? There will still be fans “Discovering Elvis” for the first time! Amazing, isn’t it? The beat goes on.
(originally published in EM #352, May 1989)
A response to “Elvis was only human” by Brett Grieve, EM #343
Because of the gutsy move by Todd as Editor of the Monthly, Brett Grieve has made a name for himself among EM readers. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear he’s gotten a lot of angry responses, some much more vocal than the two printed in EM #346. I’m not a new fan in the Elvis world, nor am I “middle-aged trying to recapture my youth,” so I guess I fall somewhere in between. I became a fan at age 12. I was 20 years old when Elvis died, so he was a part of my life at a very impressionable time. I loved and admired him, and in my mind he could do no wrong.
If I had read Brett’s letter 5 or 6 years ago, I would have felt outraged, angry and hurt. But today . . . well, I can’t put myself in Mr. Grieve’s position. He has become a fan since the man’s death. Most of us who’ve been fans when Elvis was alive as well as now have a natural emotional attachment to him. At least I certainly do. But most younger fans don’t feel that – how could they? And realistically speaking, most future Elvis fans won’t have that emotional attachment either. Let’s not hold that against them. If interest in Elvis is to continue into the next century, it will be the new young fans who are responsible. For when we are gone, who shall be left? We have to listen to their views, and try to understand what they’re saying. I doubt there’s any fan anywhere who loves Elvis more than I do. My feelings haven’t changed since his death. But my tolerance has. I can accept the fact that not everybody loves Elvis. I’ve read a lot of Elvis books over the past five years. I’ve met some of his friends and had the privilege to spend time with a few of them privately. The most important thing I’ve learned from these things is, that as Brett suggested, Elvis was only human. Like you or I, he wasn’t perfect. It is the fans who refuse to admit this who apparently have Brett upset. Let’s examine his complaints. Are Elvis’ versions of every song he did better than the original artist’s versions? I’d have to argue that most are, but I can think of an exception or two, “First time Ever I Saw Your Face” being one of them. I’m sure almost every one of you can think of at least one song.
On to the movies. To compare Elvis’ films with “the classics”? I’m sure Elvis himself would agree this is foolish. But to compare his acting ability with a great actor is anything but foolish. When presented with a decent script (i.e. “King Creole,” “Kid Galahad,” “Wild In The Country”), Elvis was an excellent actor who could hold his own. So why put up with all those formula films? Perhaps he had little control over it, or perhaps he was just afraid of trying to go against the tide. After all, he was first and foremost a singer. Music was what he loved to do. Maybe he thought to become a great actor he’d have to give up the music, as he didn’t have enough time for both. How many people can you think of who are both great singers and great actors? Personally, I’m glad he chose music. We have hundreds of songs on record, instead of maybe, 15-20 great movies to watch. If Elvis had been a huge success on the big screen, we wouldn’t have had all the concerts in the ‘70’s. No way he could have done it all. Think about it.
And now on to the toughest subject, the last few years of his life. No, Elvis didn’t look the same in 1977 as he did in 1970. No one can age without changing physically. Have you ever considered that Elvis probably lived more in the last ten years of his life than any of us will in our lifetimes? The concert road took its toll. He gave us what we wanted: concerts, concerts and more concerts. And he wanted it too. He loved being up on that stage entertaining us as much as we loved watching him. If you ever went to one of his shows, you couldn’t help but feel that. Perhaps that’s what made him so different from other performers. You were entertained when you went to see Elvis, and baby you didn’t forget it for a long, long time! Those all-out performances and all the travel couldn’t help but catch up with him. When health problems caught up too, he didn’t stop to rest. He got temporary cures from prescriptions. Sometimes too many prescriptions. Maybe he talked himself into believing all those medications would be an adequate substitute for just plain rest and relaxation. We’ve had plenty of people, including those close to Elvis, speculate on why he drove himself so hard, but the truth is, no one but Elvis could know the answer to that.
My 8-year-old daughter came home from school a few weeks ago asking me if Elvis died of drugs like her friends were saying. It seems no matter how hard we fight it, a drug-related death will haunt Elvis. We have the West brothers and Goldman, among others, to thank for that, It’s hard to explain to a small child, but I did the best I could, telling her Elvis had a lot of health problems which eventually caused a heart attack. I could never believe Elvis died from drugs and certainly not the chemicals the West’s speak about. An illegal drug overdose death? No way.
As far as Goldman’s book is concerned . . . is there any truth in it? Well, he just released a book about John Lennon which Paul McCartney discarded as “trash – don’t believe any of it.” Why is it Goldman waits until a person is dead before he writes his “Biographies?” Could it be he fears reprisals of some of his “facts’ from the living? Although Mr. Grieve expressed his views rather “coldly” by his own admission, perhaps that was the best way to get us to stand up and take notice. Let’s face it, he can’t be the only fan who feels this way. Maybe it’s time to stop setting “qualifications” for being a fan. Let everyone appreciate Elvis in their own way. They don’t have to love the man to admire his work. Do you think, say 50 years from now, when people speak of Elvis they’ll say, “Yeah, that Elvis Presley was a terrific guy, he could do no wrong, he was the greatest at everything!” That would be great, but it won’t happen. We can’t pass on the emotional ties we have to the next generations; they don’t understand what we feel for Elvis, what we’ll always feel. But what will be left is his music – it will indeed, as his daughter said, “live forever.” Let’s not discourage new fans by forcing them to think as we do. Let them enjoy Elvis in their own way, whether that be self-righteous, cocky, or whatever.
(originally published in Elvis Monthly #357, October 1989)
This will be a first for me, first in that I’ve never written an article for the ‘Monthly’ before when I’ve been in an overly emotional state. Most of the time, I try to write with a realistic slant, so that I can reach all of the fans who read this magazine, not just the ones who share my emotional ties to Elvis. That will not be the case this time, so if any of you feel you might be bored, or even offended; by this out pouring of personal feelings on my part, please just skip this article – you probably won’t understand it anyway.
So what is she going to write about, you ask. Well, August 16th is fast approaching (now less than six weeks away), and I’ve often wondered how many of us have the same feelings this time of year. Do we share the same thoughts? What really goes through our minds on August 16th? I suppose the truth is that each of us has their own way of feeling Elvis’ loss and remembering him. Some fans get together with others and kick up a good time, celebrating Elvis’ life instead of thinking about his death (and personally, I think he’d like that). Other fans cry and spend the day in mourning. And still others need to just be alone with their memories on that day. I’ve alternated between these things throughout the years, basically, it depends on my mood about this time of year.
This year I’ll be in Memphis, getting together with some friends I haven’t seen in a couple of years. But on the eve of the 15th, and into the dawn which follows, I’ll spend the time alone with my memories. I’ll sit across from Graceland, and watch all the candles marching up the driveway to the gravesite. Many of those candles are held by fans who are up there to pay their respects to Elvis, but still others belong to curious onlookers who are just going along for the ride. They want to experience the event, so they can tell everyone they were there. Sometimes I can blend in with those crowds, and it doesn’t bother me because I know why I’m there. But this year, I know I won’t be able to do that, so I’ll just watch and remember. Yes, there will be thousands of people around, but I won’t see them. When you’re alone with the memories of Elvis, you’re totally alone, no matter how many others are standing around watching. That’s weird, but it’s true.
What will I be thinking about? I’ll be thinking about Elvis, and how much his music enriched my life for the past twenty plus years.
I’ve always considered August 16, 1977 to be “the day the music died. For those of you who aren’t familiar with those words, they’re from a song by Don McClean entitled American Pie, which was a huge hit her in the States back in the early 1970’s. Of course the song wasn’t about Elvis, but the words took on new meaning for me once Elvis was gone – I can think of no better way to describe his loss.
Oh, but there will always be new music, you say, and I suppose that’s true. Most of us listen to other artists – we all have our favorite contemporary singers or groups. Maybe we even look forward to their new releases every year or two. We enjoy their songs – might even go to see them in concert when they come to our city. After all, we must keep abreast of the changing times, right? So perhaps that means the music hasn’t really died. So, music as we have it now is still alive and well, granted. But . . . how does this “music as we have it now” stand out in relation to Elvis? Like a drop of rain amidst a thunderstorm, as far as I’m concerned. They are so pale in comparison that I can’t even think of the words to describe it.
Here’s a way to test this for yourself. Play all of your “new music” for a period of one week. Play all your favorite artists – the groups or individuals whose music you most admire (for me that would be Springsteen). Do not put on an Elvis tune during this time period (yes, I know that’s tough, but try it). By the end of the week, you’ll be saying, yeah, that stuff is really good, it’s great. Now, put on one of your favorite Elvis songs – any one will do. Sit down, totally alone in the room, and listen to his voice coming through the speakers. What do you feel? You feel embarrassed to even consider that the stuff you’ve been listening to for the past week could even vaguely compare to what you’ve just heard, that’s what you feel.
I’ve done this before, and I’ll do it again, because it never ceases to amaze me. Tonight I listened to “An American Trilogy” from the “This Is Elvis” album (in my opinion, the finest version of this classic). I’m going to share with you what I felt as I listened to this song. (Now, for those of you who hate this emotional approach, back off right here, because it’s about to get worse). A chill ran through me. I could feel the power of that performance as though he was singing it right in front of me. I saw Elvis do that song several times in concert, and each time it was the highlight of the show for me. It’s not my favorite Elvis song, but the way he did it up on that stage . . .
Close your eyes and put yourself in an auditorium with 20,000 other people. The band begins the song, and there is applause and recognition of the tune as Elvis begins it. When he begins the quiet verse, “For Dixieland’s where I was born, early . . .” there is hushed silence. You can hear his voice clearly, every word, every syllable. There are no screams, no people jumping up and down, there is only silence from the crowd as he sings the words. Then the orchestra picks up, the chorus begins, “Glory, glory . . .” There are a few scattered screams as Elvis sings this part, but the power of his voice is so unbelievable that the screams are just drowned out – lost amid the sheer strength of his voice. Then the orchestra quiets again as Elvis starts the next verse. “Hush little baby, don’t you cry, you know your daddy’s bound to die.” (There are now a few screams and moans at the thought, but nothing overbearingly loud) “Let all my trials Lord soon be over.” Dead silence for a few seconds and then the flute solo begins. The crowd noise picks up steadily, and just before the orchestra breaks into the chorus again, there are screams – uncontrollable ones – and then Elvis delivers the final “Glory, glory hallelujah, His truth is marching ON!!!” Screams and wild, deafening applause fill the building (most people stand), continuing on for several minutes until Elvis starts the next song.
For those of you who never experienced what I just talked about (and I realize that all the young fans out there, and many of you who were just too far away to travel here to see Elvis, that will include many of Elvis Monthly’s readers) I’m sorry you never felt it, because it was the experience of a lifetime. Videos are wonderful, and thank God we have them, but… there is no way they can begin to portray what was actually felt in that auditorium while witnessing Elvis first hand. I can watch him do Trilogy from the “On Tour” video, or “Aloha From Hawaii,” and I can feel much of what I just described to you in the previous paragraph. But if I hadn’t been there, this wouldn’t be so. I guess what I’m trying to say is that as Elvis is passed down through the generations which follow (as I know he will be), a very part of what he was all about will be lost forever. I can’t think of anything that could be more depressing than that thought, except, perhaps, the fact that it’s true.
Perhaps this next subject should be dealt with another day and time, but, since I have it on my mind, I’ll just go ahead and add it on right now. In one of my recent articles, I defended Brett Grieve’s right to have his own opinion on Elvis. Let me reiterate that those are indeed my feelings – each fan should be able to appreciate Elvis in his or her own way. So, Brett, if you’re reading this now, listen up. The following is my opinion, and I was there, so you’re not getting second hand news.
I first saw Elvis on stage when I was twelve years old. The last concert I attended was in October 1976. Yes, Brett – Elvis looked different in 1971 than he did five years later. I won’t deny that, or try to cover it up. At the time (1976) I hadn’t seen him in concert for two years. All the magazines and tabloids were printing pictures (mostly touched up ones, but I didn’t know that then) of a very different looking Elvis. I went into that arena expecting that I’d hardly recognize him. But you know what, Brett? I recognized him just fine. I had a very good seat to that show – off to the side of the stage somewhat, but close, only a few rows up. When Elvis came over to our side of the stage, at times he was barely fifteen feet away, nearly close enough to reach out and touch. I saw him clearly. I saw his face – and I’m glad I did because he looked nothing like those pictures I’d seen of him recently. He’d put on some weight, but nothing like I’d been led to believe. His eyes and his smile were unmistakably Elvis.
The performance was one of the most powerful I’d been to. Elvis was, simply put, magnificent. I left the building exhilarated, awed, and perhaps a little bit dazed. The man’s ability to entertain – to deliver a song, not merely sing it – hadn’t changed on bit, he was Elvis, and nothing less. If you’ve heard differently from other people who attended his later concerts – if they told you he wasn’t the same – well, then they never really felt the effect of his music, and that really is a shame. It’s quite depressing to think that some fans could witness Elvis on stage in the flesh, yet not really experience what he was all about. He was all about music, and he was the best. “Ridiculous,” you say, Mr Grieve, “to suggest that Elvis was the ultimate artist?” I beg to differ, sir. What’s ridiculous is to suggest anything else.
(Originally published in Elvis Monthly #361, February 1990)
I began buying records when I was ten years old; consequently, I have hundreds of albums in my collection, dating from 1966 to the present. Playing some of the older ones proves without a doubt that our tastes do indeed change. Let me put it this way: I won’t be worrying about replacing these titles with the CD version any time soon. Although the songs were great at the time they were released (many hit No.1), they just don’t sound ‘right’ anymore. They’re from another time, a different world than we live in today. The music is dated; it sounds old. I suppose this explains why so many artists come and go so quickly. Though there are always exceptions to the rule – Paul McCartney and Elton John come specifically to mind – there aren’t many artists still recording regularly today (new releases every year or two) who were around 20, 10 or even 5 years ago. It takes tremendous talent in the music field to stay afloat as musical tastes change on almost a yearly basis. If the artist cannot change with them, he’s out and someone new is in.
But what about Elvis? I was buying his records right along with all the others at the top of the charts, and though I don’t like most of those songs anymore, I still like each and every one of his. Oh, but that’s because I’m an Elvis fan, right? Wrong. There are people reading this article who have all of Elvis’ records, and they weren’t fans when the records were on the charts; many of them were just babies when Elvis died. Elvis’ songs sound just as good today as they ever did, and they’ll still sound just as good thirty years from now. The reason is abundantly simple – the music itself is timeless, not just to Elvis fans, but to the music listening public in general. They know a good thing when they hear it.
Musically speaking, Elvis Presley was a genius. We’re not talking about going back 10 or 20 years, but over 30! The recordings he made back in the 1950’s are still available in almost any record store today. Think about that for a minute. Elvis has been physically absent from the public eye for over 12 years, yet his music is still going strong today, without the help of music videos to promote it, I might add (good show, RCA). Can you think of any other artist that this is true of? You might argue a case for the Beatles, but that’s an unfair comparison, and here’s why: First of all, there were four of them and only one of Elvis. Secondly, Paul McCartney is still fresh in the public’s mind. He turns out new material on a regular basis, and occasionally tours the concert circuit, not to mention the videos. This gives him an unfair advantage, so the Beatles are disqualified. Think of any others? I rest my case.
Taking things a step further, not only are Elvis’ songs still available as he recorded them, they’re being redone by today’s popular singers. Yet another sign that the man’s music itself is timeless. Many of these cover versions did well in the charts. I’d venture to say that nearly any song Elvis recorded could be re-done today, and it would sell well. Why? Because the songs themselves are – here’s that word again – timeless. Elvis knew how to pick good material. (Note: Movie songs are not included in this analogy; he didn’t pick those songs, they came with the movie contract). Why doesn’t RCA release some of those songs with a new instrumental backing to suit today’s tastes? I have no idea. I guess they have yet to grasp the reality of what a superb talent Elvis had.
Here’s an interesting footnote to this article. Shortly after I got the idea for this piece, I accidentally stumbled across a supporting opinion. An opinion of some merit, I might add. Singer Barry Manilow was a recent guest on the Tonight Show. He was discussing his recent tour in Japan and his upcoming world tour. He talked about a song he’d recently added to his repertoire which was going over really well. He described it as “a song about 20 years old,” which he felt was “just as appropriate today as when it was first released.” He then took the stage to perform If I Can Dream.
Now, unfortunately I’m going to drift away from the point momentarily. (Yes, I know. What else is new?) Barry Manilow is a worldwide star. He has a fairly decent voice – above average, I suppose (at least by today’s standards which are set unbelievably low). I even confess I own a few of his earlier albums (most of which fall into the earlier category I described, I’m afraid). What I’m trying to say is that I’m definitely not anti-Barry, but hearing Barry Manilow sing “If I Can Dream, was . . . well, shocking. Manilow simply does not possess the talent to sing that song in the manner in which it was meant to be sung.
To restate the major point of this article, EP recorded some magnificent music, and it will live on right alongside him in the halls of eternity. Not to worry Arjan Deelen (“Beginning To Forget You,” EM 356). Whether RCA does or doesn’t do anything, Elvis will not be completely forgotten in ten years, or a hundred for that matter. The King will live on, to borrow a line from a terrific song by Randy Travis, “Forever and ever, amen.”
(Originally published in Elvis Monthly #362, March 1990)
Recently I’ve been doing some thinking about the new Elvis fans, specifically those in the under 17 age bracket. As these young people begin to discover Elvis, it follows that they’re going to want to know more and more about the legend that surrounds him. I’ve tried to think like they might; put myself in their place, so to speak, but obviously it’s a very different world today, so that’s difficult to do. When I was first discovering the magic of Elvis, he was alive and well – a legend among the living to say the least. There were more things being written and said about him, but in a completely different context than the books of today. I formulated my opinions as to what type of person he was by the things he said and did. Then it wasn’t uncommon to read about the good things Elvis did – giving gifts to strangers, doing concerts to benefit charity, etc. And since I was fortunate enough to see him in concert several times, I felt the love he had for his fans personally; it was a wonderful relationship. But what of the kids of today? How can they determine what Elvis was like since he’s no longer with us? I suppose there are those who are only interested in the musical career of Elvis Presley, so for them perhaps it doesn’t matter. Either they like his music or they don’t; the type of person he was is irrelevant. But what of the fan who wants to know more, wants to look beyond his musical achievements and into the human side of his life? Where do they turn?
If I were going to investigate someone who lived and died before I knew of him, I would seek out the sources available. As an example, back in high school, I did a term paper on Abraham Lincoln. I did most of my research in the library, reading whatever books were available on the subject. I formulated my opinion of the man by what others had written about him. It follows then that someone trying to learn about Ems now would approach things in about the same manner. So what do these young investigators find at their local libraries and book stores? The two most common entries (at least here in the States) are Elvis by Goldman and Elvis What Happened? Both books are readily available under the heading of “biographies.” The Random House Dictionary defines a biography as “A written account of another person’s life.” Since it doesn’t specify the account must be a truthful one, I suppose both of the above mentioned books do qualify as biographies.
Perhaps this young person has just purchased his or her first Elvis album, or seen That’s The Way It Is for the first time. They are overcome with a feeling they can’t explain; they have to know more, so they eagerly pick up one of those “biographies” and start reading. When they’re finished, what do they think? What would I have thought if I’d have read these books when I was twelve years old? I’m not sure, but one thing is likely – I probably would have believed them. Aren’t we always taught as children to respect adults? To take their word for things? Looking at it from the eyes of a child, how could these books print things if they weren’t true? And why would these people lie? As a child, you just don’t have much of an understanding of the way the world operates. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but I feel it is an accurate assessment.
No, I’m not going to climb up on my soapbox and preach to you about the damage these books have done (and still are doing, for that matter). Rather, I thought I’d present another view of Elvis, drawing on my own personal experiences. I don’t write for the young fans very often, but for those of you reading this story now, the following story is being related especially for you. I hope it gives you a little insight as to the type of man Elvis was.
In previous articles, I’ve described how Elvis’ music, and seeing him perform that music on stage, has affected me. The following story describes how Elvis the man, the human side of him, affected me. I’ll begin by mentioning that my article ‘Personal Reflections” from EM 357 had an error in it (either my typo or the editor’s). I was fourteen when I attended my first Elvis concert, not twelve. That puts me at the tender age of nineteen (just six weeks shy of twenty) when this incident occurred. The date of the final concert I attended was October 22, 1976.
I’m an amateur artist, and naturally, one of my favorite subjects has always been Elvis. I wasn’t very experienced at 19, but I did turn out a small (9 x 12) oil portrait of the King which many people commented was really very good. A few of them suggested I should send it to him. I was never too hot on the idea, but as the October concert approached, it grew on me. As a last minute thought, I grabbed the painting off the wall and took it along when I left for my aunt’s house in Illinois (at the time I lived in Wisconsin; Champaign was about a six hour drive so I left a day early).
I had no idea where I’d be seated at the show (the ticket was an early birthday gift from my aunt) but I hoped it might be close enough so I could go up to the stage and give the painting to Elvis. The seat turned out to be a very good one, but it was up a few rows off the floor, and to the side of the stage. I spoke with a couple of the security guards working down by the front of the stage, inquiring if it would be all right for me to give Elvis something. They informed me that only those seated in the first 20 rows could go up to the stage. Absolutely no one NOT seated on the floor. I pleaded my case to no avail: rules were rules, they said. One of them asked to see what I had, and when I showed it to him he seemed impressed – but not enough to make an exception. However, he did offer to give it to Elvis for me. Rather reluctantly, I agreed, thinking that at least Elvis would see it. I handed it over and went back to my seat. Show time was still about 30 minutes away.
A few minutes after I’d returned to my seat, the security guard I’d talked with came over and said he’d spoken with one of Elvis’ personal security staff, and after seeing the painting, suggested it would be best to leave it for him in his dressing room rather than give it to him while he was on stage because many times gifts got lost during the course of the show. Then he asked me if I’d like to go with him so I could see Elvis’ dressing room. (Elvis wasn’t there yet, of course; he never got to the show until a few minutes before he was scheduled to go on.) The guy certainly didn’t have to ask me twice.
We walked down a long corridor behind the stage. I can’t recall if there were other people around or not – for some reason that particular detail is very vague in my mind. The rest I remember clearly. There were two security guards stationed outside the door of the dressing room, even though Elvis had yet to arrive. They opened the door for us and we went inside. The room was very large – about 20 x 30 feet I’d estimate. The most vivid thing I can recall is there were flowers everywhere – large, gorgeous arrangements. Most had gift tags hanging from them. There were other assorted gifts lying about the room, most of them wrapped in fancy trimmings. The entire sight was quite stunning and truly beautiful, and I thought at the time, what a nice way to welcome Elvis to the city. Even more stunning than the beautiful surroundings, however, was the thought that in about an hour’s time, Elvis himself would be standing right where I was, looking at the exact same things. I looked around a little while until the security guard with me seemed to be getting a bit impatient. Not wanting to push my luck, I left the painting on a large table and walked towards the door.
“Don’t you want to write something?” the guard asked. ‘To leave with the picture,” he explained. I hadn’t really thought about it until then, but as I did, I realized it was quite an opportunity. I knew Elvis would read what I wrote personally. In those days, fans could always write to him at his Memphis address, but there was no way to be sure he’d see it. With the tons of mail he got every day, it would be impossible for him to read it all. But this was a sure thing. The man handed me a piece of paper and a pen. I took them from him and stood there for a few minutes, trying to decide just what I should say. I don’t recall everything, but I do remember telling him not to worry about what all the movie magazines were writing about him because none of his fans believed it. I also mentioned I was only 19, but 1 had loved his music for years and knew I always would. I also told him it didn’t matter that he didn’t look 20 years old anymore, because we loved him just the way he was. I signed the note and taped it to the back of the painting with a small piece of scotch tape (also supplied by the security guard). Then I took one last look around before going out the door. Since I’ve already described the concert which followed, I won’t repeat myself. I left the building that night feeling thoroughly entertained, and pleased that Elvis had personally read what I’d written, and picked up and looked at something I’d made.
About three months later, 1 came home from another long day battling the cold, snow and ice outside. January in Wisconsin is awful, no other word to describe it. But this day was to be something special; a time to forget all the dark dreary things that go along with winter. There was a card on my desk that day, waiting along with my other mail. It had a Memphis postmark. Strange, I thought. I didn’t know anyone in Memphis. I opened the envelope, read the card inside, and stood there staring at it for I don’t know how long. It was a thank you card with the following inscription: “Dear Connie; Thank you very much for the painting. It was very thoughtful of you and I really do appreciate your loyalty. Best wishes and may God bless you. Sincerely, Elvis Presley.”
The note is typed, except for his signature of course, which is signed below. The typed text contains one typographical error which was erased and typed over, but still noticeable leads me to wonder if Elvis might have typed it himself? Anyway, the date typed at the top of this note is Jan 26, ‘77. I don’t remember putting my address on that little note I taped to the back of the painting, but I must have. As I look back on that evening now, and see that huge room loaded with gifts, I wonder how he could have possibly kept track of a tiny piece of paper (it wasn’t more than 4 x 6 inches, if that) for over three months. Bear in mind that the scene I witnessed was just one room, one night. That particular tour was fourteen shows in fourteen nights. There’s no reason to doubt that he received just as many gifts in each and every town. Did he keep track of all those things? Thank everyone personally’? I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
Now let’s examine this a little closer. This is no form letter with a polite “thank you for the gift” (which, considering the huge superstar Elvis was, would have been considered an exceptional thing in itself). He mentions the gift specifically – “Thank you very much for the painting.” So not only did he keep the note, he kept track of which gift it belonged with. Taking into account all those presents I saw – and the hundreds of other ones I didn’t see – that’s no small feat. Then he also comments on what I’d written – “I really do appreciate your loyalty.” This card is dated less than seven months before his death, by which time – according to Goldman, the Wests and the Stanley brothers, etc. – Elvis was supposed to be so spaced out all the time he didn’t know what he was doing. Well excuse me, but I really have a hard time buying that theory. There’s too much evidence to the contrary – my story being just one of many thousands like it I’m sure. (If anyone out there has a similar account, why not write it down and share it?) There will always be another Goldman waiting around the corner to step forward, taking his or her turn to trash Elvis. I doubt it will ever end. We certainly can’t stop it, though God knows we’ve tried. So all you young fans out there just learning about Elvis – I urge you to ignore those accounts. The people who wrote those books never really knew Elvis, even if they lived with him (the Stanleys) or worked for him (the Wests). There are too many good books you can read if you want to know what kind of man Elvis was; I would expect many are still available through the fan club. I’d suggest Ed Parker’s book Inside Elvis and Elvis and Kathy by Kathy Westmoreland as two excellent places to start. Neither portrays Elvis as a saint, but rather as a caring human being with faults just like you and I.
(originally published in Elvis Monthly #366, July 1990)
After reading my friend Scott Jenkins article a while back, in which he reviewed the book Elvis by K.D. Kirkland (EM #356), I found myself wondering just how many books we are yet to be subjected to during the remainder of our lifetimes. Already we’ve been saturated with biographies and tell-alls, most of which weren’t factual in the sense of a true biography and didn’t tell us much, except about the author, who continually stressed throughout his masterpiece how Elvis could never have survived a day without him.
Unfortunately, there isn’t likely to be an end to these type of books because, let’s face it, most of us will buy a “new” product on Elvis. I’ve tried to figure out why it is we do this, and the best explanation I’ve come up with is this: We want to see “new” Elvis stuff (records, books, photos- whatever) because it reminds us that his legend is still alive ¡n other people’s minds as well as our own. We don’t want the general public to forget about him, and even though we don’t seriously consider this plausible, secretly we all fear that it might be.
So there will continue to be “new” Elvis books, even though they keep repeating the same old thing (or worse yet, print outrageous new lies). Billy Stanley has a new one out right now, inappropriately titled Elvis, My Brother. Paging through it briefly at the bookstore, it provided no surprises. The first half is filled with talk of drugs and how Elvis was out of control, etc. We’ve heard it all before. The latter half of the book is (of course) devoted to how magnificently Stanley has managed to turn himself around after witnessing the decline of his “brother.” As is usually the case with this type of rubbish, it’s put out by a major publishing house and readily available in all the book stores.
Some of these books are better than others. As Scott suggested, many times they’re worth buying for the photographs included. But what if a book has both a worthwhile text AND terrific photos? “I’d buy it!” I hear you screaming. OK, then save up your money, because there is such a book; in fact, there are two. You’ve seen them advertised right here in EM: The Elvis Book II and III. All right, all right, I hear you screaming again- “But they’re too expensive!” OK, so how expensive is “too expensive”? Remember the old saying, you get what you pay for? Well, it’s usually true, and definitely so in this case. If you buy either of these books, you won’t be disappointed.
Both books are similar in format: a full 11 x 14 inches, approximately 325 pages, half of which are full page color photos. They weight about eight pounds each, due mostly to the heavy paper they’re printed on. The quality of color in these photographs is as close to perfect as it gets. You’ve never seen Elvis like this before! None of these photos look like second or third generation (as though they were copied from other books and reprinted). This is firsthand stuff – straight from the negatives, folks. Many are previously unpublished (at least I’ve never seen them before). One can’t help but feel tempted to tear all of them out of the book and frame them. (I can picture Shaver reading this and screaming, ‘NO! NO! NO! Don’t do that!”) As good as Sean’s previous works are, they can’t equal the perfection of these two books. You have to see them yourself to understand what I’m talking about.
OK. Considering that Shaver is a photographer – and taking into account his previous books and photographs – we would expect that the photos in these books would be top-notch. So what about the text which accompanies these photos? Is it worth reading, or are we paying simply for the pictures? If so, then we’re getting a 165 page photo album, not a 365 page book.
Really, when you get right down to it, is there really anything new so say about Elvis? Haven’t we heard it all? Well, we certainly know Elvis Presley’s life history backwards and forwards. We’ve read some pretty interesting things about his personal life as well – thanks to those who were truly his friends, not all of it garbage. But what could Sean Shaver have to say that he hasn’t already said before?
I was rather pleasantly surprised to find out that he has a lot more to say. These books are filled with stories I’ve never heard before (some funny), some not so funny, and some just plain interesting). Let’s remember that this guy followed Elvis around for over ten years . . . and he has the memories to prove it. What I liked the most about his approach in telling these stories is the fact that he doesn’t claim to have been Elvis’ best buddy or his personal confidant. He knew the man, and the man knew him; that’s it. There’s no claim that the two of them spent hours and hours discussing their most personal secrets with each other. Sean Shaver saw Elvis through the eyes of a fan – just as you and I – and his stories are related in exactly that manner; from a fan’s perspective and nothing more.
He describes many of the concerts he attended in full detail – many times relating Elvis’ dialogue word for word (taken either from actual recordings he made at the time, or from notes he took afterward). For the Elvis Book II, the text covers the period from the “68 TV Special” to the end of 1973. Book III picks up in January of 1974 and continues to the end of Elvis’ fabulous life. Photos in the book are not limited to these time frames, however. They are intermingled throughout various years, most from the concert era of the 70’s, but some earlier ones mixed in on occasion. (If you’re wondering where is The Elvis Book I, it’s not completed yet, but as I understand, it will be forthcoming.) Both books also list the tour dates covered in the text, and their respective cities. In the back of the book an index is provided, stating a location and date of each photograph, as well as other relevant notes pertaining to a particular photo.
As should be the case with any decent book review, I’d like to point out both the pros and cons. Unfortunately that will be difficult since I couldn’t come up with any cons . . . welI, except maybe for the price, which is pretty steep for the average fan, especially the younger ones. So why am I saying so many good things about these books? Because Shaver paid me to, that’s why – no, just kidding. The fact is I’m doing it because these books are too good to leave out of your collection, regardless of your financial status. Any one of you reading this magazine would enjoy either of these books tremendously. I just wanted to make you all aware of how good they are, and to point out that you shouldn’t disregard them strictly because you can’t afford them. Let’s be straight with each other – we all find a way to afford what we want when it’s related to Elvis. Put these books on your list; they’re worth every penny, and perhaps then some.
Before I sign off, I’ll leave you with this picture. Elvis standing in front of the gold curtain of the International as it begins to fall. Arms spread out, fully extending the pure white cape attached to his jacket. Turquoise shirt with low, open neckline. White pants. White macramé belt with turquoise studs woven in. Fringe draped loosely down the left leg. Bashful smile. Page 828 of The Elvis Book III. See it to believe it.
I’D LIKE TO TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT BOOTLEGS – QUITE A BIT, ACTUALLY by Connie Kirchberg
(Originally published in Elvis Monthly #370, November 1990)
Don’t you love RCA’s latest CD releases? Let’s see, within the past six months I’ve found the following in the local Seattle record shops: Legendary Performer, Volumes I & 2 (minus a few tracks), Elvis Sings for Children and Grown-ups Too (hard to do without that one), An Elvis double feature: Speedway & Clambake (minus MANY tracks, but does include Nancy Sinatra singing Your Groovy Self. Thank God! I can’t tell you how long I’ve yearned to hear that song on CD.) The latest to date is Gold Records Vol. 3. A good collection of songs, but we already have these titles on CD. Where are the digitally remastered versions of On Stage, That’s the Way It is, and Elvis Country? How about Elvis In Concert? These albums contain some of the best material Elvis ever recorded! What is going on? The only answer is that the people at RCA/BMG have absolutely NO IDEA what is going on as far as what we want . . . which brings me to the subject of this article – bootleg recordings.
Did you catch the letter by Dave Barry in EM 366 on the subject? He is absolutely right – the future does look very bright indeed. And the material becoming available on CD’s via Bilko and other manufacturers is only the tip of the iceberg. More and more concerts are turning up all the time and some of the video footage of late has been unbelievable. For those of you who still refuse to purchase “unauthorized” products, let me tell you, you’re depriving yourself of some very excellent material.
For example, last month Brett Grieve’s article “Farewell To Vegas” listed the songs for Elvis’ final Vegas engagement. The quality of these tapes is excellent (they were said to be recorded from the soundboard). Yes, there’s crowd noise in the background, but so what? You can still hear the songs very clearly, as well as most of Elvis’ dialogue in between. To stimulate your interest, I’ve decided to highlight a few of these shows – but my approach will be a little different than the usual concert review. I’m going to concentrate mainly on Elvis’ dialogue between songs, for reasons I’ll explain later on.
Before I get started, let’s correct a few errors in Brett’s article (at least according to the tapes I have of this engagement). Elvis did two shows on Friday and Saturday, not Saturday and Sunday. The tracks listed for the 1:00 a.m. show on Saturday are correct for the Friday 1:00 a.m. show. The tracks listed for Sunday 1:00 a.m. show are correct for the Saturday 1:00 a.m. show. Elvis only did one show on Sunday: the tracks for the 9:00 p.m. show are correct.
Opening Show – 12.2.76. This is a long show (over 100 minutes) and Elvis is in excellent mood. His opening comment following See See Rider: “It’s scary every time I come out here, I’m not kidding you. Do you realize how big this showroom is? There are people hanging from the rafters.” Following J.D.’s Amen, a fan shouts out “average!” Another one says “below average!” Elvis says. “C minus. He can do better (pause) at least that’s what he tells me.” He starts the part over and when J.D.’s turn comes, Elvis says, “Wait a minute, J.D. Don’t get anxious, because if you get nervous, then you can’t do it.”
Introducing Jailhouse Rock: “My third movie was Jailhouse Rock and the words don’t make any sense whatsoever, and it’s so fast and so I have to ah . . . I sound like Donald Duck.” Following a beautiful version of It’s Now Or Never, fans start telling Elvis “Over here!” He says, “I’ll be over there, over there, and up there . . . I’m also a great big liar.” After he sings Don’t Be Cruel, someone throws something up on stage. Elvis says, “This looks like Charlie – about the same height.” When someone requests I just Can’t Help Believin’, Elvis says, “I Just Can’t Help Believin’? Oh my God, I haven’t done that in 27 years.” He asks the band, “You remember that one?” As they get ready, he says, “Man, I forgot the words. I never even learned the words to it.” (He and the audience laugh together.) He follows with a pretty good version of the song (considering he hadn’t performed it in years), messing up only when the instrumental break commences. He begins singing when he shouldn’t, and then tells the band, “That’s right, you’re right.” They finish the song without another hitch.
Following the band introductions, Elvis introduces two people in the audience. First saying, “ladies first” he acknowledges Vicki Carr, calling her “one of the finest singers in the business,” then he continues, “and the other one is . . . weird. Anybody from Peili, Arkansas . . . Peili, Arkansas, good grief. That’s worse than where I was from. But he’s one of the finest musicians and singers around, Glen Campbell.” After considerable applause, Elvis says, “That’s enough. (pause) Hey Glen, I want to talk to you about the imitation you do of me (he pauses and then laughs). No, it’s really a compliment anyway.”
Hurt follows. The audience is so responsive he asks them if they want to hear it again. Of course they do. Then he says to Campbell, “Glen, you sing high, boy. I might need some help.” He then repeats the entire song, not just the ending. Before beginning Hawaiian Wedding Song, he says, “We did a movie called Blue Hawaii and in the movie was a song called Hawaiian Wedding Song, so I’d like to . . . get married. No, I’d like to do that song.” When he finishes, he says, “Kathy, I guess you know we just got married. You know that don’t you?”
Next he says “I tell you what I’d like to do. I’ve been on a lot longer than normal and I don’t want to wear you out (groans from audience). No, Glen gets tired easy.” Then he gets out his guitar, preparing to do Blue Christmas. At this point Campbell is harassing him, though you can’t hear all of what he says. Finally Elvis says, “Hey Campbell, I tell you what. You wait until I come in and see your show, son. You know, you won’t have a MOMENT of peace.” Glen responds, “If I was singing as good as you are, I wouldn’t worry about it at all.” Elvis says something acknowledging the compliment but the audience is screaming their approval to Campbell’s remark so you can’t pick it up.
After Blue Christmas and That’s All Right (with Elvis playing guitar on both), he does a powerful version of Bridge Over Troubled Water. Then he introduces his father, thanks the audience for making his opening night such a success and goes into his closing number.
Sunday, 12-5: Elvis talked quite a bit during this show and managed to churn out 22 songs despite a sprained ankle. Following See See Rider, he says: “Let me apologize for being late but I did twist an ankle today. Swear to God. No really. In my bedroom there’s a step (screams from the audience interrupt him). What’d I do . . . what’d I say? (laughter) Naw, you know, it’s a step down, you know, to go to the bathroom. So, it was dark, so I stepped off and bump! There went the ankle. So if you see me, you know, like Chester on Gunsmoke . . .” At this point a guy shouts out, “You’re still the King!” Elvis says, “Thank you, thank you. You’re fantastic.” A girl tells him “Take it easy, Elvis.” He says, “I will honey, I’ve got to. (pause) It’s got to be slow love songs tonight.” (Screams of approval from the ladies in the audience).
As he begins his hip shaking routine following Amen, he points out, “You will notice I’m hanging on to the microphone, the left one’s okay.” He grunts a few times, encouraging his right side on, he says, “Come on, come on.” Judging by the crowd’s response, he gets it going. “I may die after the show,” he adds, “but, you know . . .”
Before he does Blue Christmas, he takes a water break, and asks the audience, “Can I sit down?” There’s no objections of course and then he says, “It’s not that bad, really. I’m glad that you’re understanding, because it can happen to anybody, really. It’s just that, ah, I do so much stuff in this show, you know, physical movements and stuff, it does, I can’t, you know, I can’t do a hundred percent. So if you’ll just bear with me, we’ll do our best to do a good show, entertain you and do all the songs that we can. We’re here to please you, so . . .” (Cut off by applause).
As he introduces Are You Lonesome Tonight? he says, “I did a song called Are You Lonesome Tonight and did you sprain your ankle the day before.” He says to Charlie, “Yeah, the chair and water . . . and a crutch. You know what I could do? I could get a crutch and put strings on it.”
Following this song, Elvis says, “You know on top of everything else, I’ve got acid indigestion.” The crowd laughs but he says, “I swear to God, I need a Rolaids.” No one seems to take this seriously at first. After the audience shouts out a few song titles, Elvis says, “Charlie, I need some water and a scarf . . . and Rolaids, I’m tellin’ you.” At this point a girl comes up to the stage with a pack of Rolaids. “Honey, you’ve got the Rolaids? Okay. Boy, I’ll tell you what, honey. Give her a scarf, or a boot, or something. Anything she wants.”
When the fan returns to her seat, Elvis starts talking about his new ring. “My, ah, birth . . . see I was born January 8th (crowd applause) and ah, since that time I’ve studied numerology, astrology and so forth. In numerology it says that according to my birthday, my lucky stone is supposed to be the dark tone sapphire, a black pearl, or a black diamond. I have never seen or heard of a black diamond in my life, so two weeks ago some police officers found this from a collector – not at a jewelry store – so it’s about three and a half black diamonds. You know, there’s nothing to it, it’s a piece of coal. So it took me 14 years to find one, cause I don’t think they’re in big demand, really, you know? (He laughs with the audience) They don’t shine, they don’t do nothin’, they’re just there. They’re like Charlie.”
Elvis takes time out here to give out some scarves but remains seated as the girls come up to the stage. Someone requests Sweet Caroline. Elvis says, “What, sweetheart? Oh, Sweet Caroline? Okay.” Then someone shouts out “Turn Around, Look At Me.” Elvis replies, “What? Turn around look at me? I don’t know that. Honey, I never did that song.” The girl shouts back, “Yes you did and it was beautiful!” Elvis says, “OK, I’ll tell you what. There’s a couple right in front here that comes here every time I’m here. You know, and stay forever. They like the song that Neil Diamond did called Blue Hawaii. Naw, called Sweet Caroline, so we can do that for them.”
Elvis does the rest of the songs without any long dialogue breaks in between. Before How Great Thou Art, he introduces his father saying, “He’s kind of been ill, you know. But he’s much better. Also in the group – and believe me, she takes over the whole house, you know, everything. She runs everything. Knows all the telephone numbers. She’s just eight years old. She’s my daughter, Lisa Marie.”
You’ll note in Brett’s article, the show for Monday, December 6, contained only 14 tracks. Elvis’s sore ankle was obviously bothering him during this show. He came out on stage feeling pretty good but after the first few songs, he was starting to rush through them. After the band introductions and solos, he went into Help Me Make It Through The Night. By the end of this song, his voice had begun to lose its usual power, so he asked Sherrill to come center stage and sing Danny Boy and Walk With Me. Following these songs, Elvis asked Kathy to do My Heavenly Father.
After Kathy’s solo, Elvis says, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to, I’d like to tell you that, ah . . . I’m having an awful lot of pain in my leg and you know, I don’t want to stand here and make it more aggravated. Maybe tomorrow it’ll be well.” Someone near the stage says something to which Elvis replies, “Oh, sure. No, I’m still going to do the last song, ah . . . but you know. I hope you understand, really, because I mean I can tolerate pain, but it’s starting to interfere with my singing and I can’t deal with that.” He goes into Can’t Help Falling In Love immediately following these comments.
Tuesday 12-7: Elvis ankle in’t well, but it’s getting better. Remarks after See See Rider: “First of all I’d like to apologize to you about being late. For those of you in here who don’t know, I’ve got a pinched nerve in my right foot and between last night and today it just travels. It’s going up the back of my right calf, into the thigh . . . that’s all I’m going to tell you. But anyway, we’re going to do our best to give a good show and entertain you.”
After Amen, he says, “I’d like to welcome you to the show. We’re going to do a lot of old songs, new ones, and a lot of slow ones.” Some shouts “Polk Salad.” Elvis says, “Polk Salad Anne? Are you kidding me? They don’t have enough money in the Swiss bank to get me to do Polk Salad Anne tonight.” Introducing That’s All Right, Elvis says, “I’d like to do that song. It don’t make no sense, the words are crazy but you know, nothin’ does tonight, so . . . Except you people showing up. That’s fantastic. I would have come out here (interrupted by applause) I would have come out here REALLY if I’d had to do it from a wheelchair.”
Regarding Brett’s article listing Are You Sincere for this show, I wouldn’t even call it a partial. Elvis is sitting down at this point to keep the weight off his foot. He asks the audience “What else can I do while I’m sitting here? Anybody got any ideas?” Then he sings ONLY THE TITLE of Are You Sincere. After song titles are tossed at him, he eventually settles on Softly.
Following Hawaiian Wedding Song Elvis says, “There’s something that I want to do before I leave here, because we’ve never done this before and I’ve always had a hankering . . . a hankering? (He laughs) I may have a hankering before this show’s over with. If you don’t mind, I know you’ve been sitting here for a long time, ah, I’d like to do a couple of spiritual songs for you. I’m going to ask the Stamps to come out here and, ah, I don’t know how you’re going to do it fellas, just, you know Someone shouts out How Great Thou Art and Elvis says, ‘No, no, this is something new. I’ve never done this before.” A guy then shouts out, “You’re the King!” Elvis says, “Thank you, sir, I’m fixing to sing about him.” As the Stamps set up, Elvis tells them, “We’ll all sing together . . . on the bass.” There’s laughter from the crowd and then one of the Stamps says in a mocked high voice, “Okay, Elvis.” Elvis laughs and says, “Well, there goes another one, folks.” The songs You Better Run and Bosom Of Abraham follow with very little instrumental backup. Before he does Can’t Help Falling In Love, Elvis thanks the audience. “I think, ladies and gentlemen, that, ah, all kidding aside, I really think you’re fantastic for staying here waiting for us. And I’m sorry that I have a pinched nerve in my ankle and everything, but ah, you know, I hope that it’ll get better by tomorrow, or the next day, it just takes time, you know.”
Wednesday, 12-8: (This show must hold special significance for Todd, as well as the four hundred others who travelled with him to attend this concert). Elvis’ ankle must have felt much better because he doesn’t mention it when he comes out. Prior to Are You Lonesome Tonight? someone shouts out “When are you coming to England?” Before Elvis can reply, another fan yells out “Canada!” Elvis says, “Canada?” A girl screams out, “No, England!” Elvis says, “Yes, honey, listen, it’s ah . . . being prepared now.” The audience laughs, but Elvis says very seriously, “It really is. No believe it or not. It just takes a little while to . . .” Then someone asks, “Are you coming to Canada?” to which Elvis replies, “Yeah, we’re coming to Canada too.”
Following a humorous version of Lonesome (incidentally, these are all humorous versions throughout this engagement) Elvis’ mood seems to take a downswing. (It’s almost as though the above topic upset him. Perhaps he was wondering WHY it had yet to happen?) When fans start yelling out song titles, Elvis gets irritated and says rather sharply, “Please, don’t start yelling song titles at me right now because I cannot and will not do them right now. I will later, but . . .” Then he tones it down a little and adds: “I want to please you and everything else, but, you know, I’ve got a line-up for the show.”
Then after Blue Suede Shoes, he says, “Somebody wanted to hear Heartbreak Hotel, so we can do a little of that.” (A fan shouted out the song title three or four times during the show). Elvis does a great version of the entire song. Bridge Over Troubled Water follows. Elvis stops the band twice, concentrating on Tony Brown, before they get the tempo the way he wants it. When he’s finished, he says, “We haven’t done that song for a long time and there’s a lot of words to it and a lot of chord changes and Tony is fairly new with us. He’s never played that song until tonight . . . I tried to cover for you,” he adds as the crowd laughs.
After the intros, Elvis says, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to, ah, bring something to your attention. Today there were four hundred people from England came in here especially to see the show. And they gave me this award and it’s a gold record, and, ah, I’d like to welcome them here and . . . the gentleman that brought them over here, his name is Todd Slaughter (I think Elvis names someone else after Todd, but I can’t make it out. This tape is not as clear as most of the others.) He also introduces Liza Minelli, Merv Griffin, his father and Tanya Tucker.
Saturday, 12-11: You’ll note that both these shows contain 17 tracks. Elvis seemed a little nervous throughout these shows. The reason became clear following “Help Me” (9:00 p.m. show). Elvis says, “I tell you what. There’s somebody in the audience that I dearly love. And you all – maybe – have heard of Priscilla (light applause). Well, her mother and daddy are here. And her father used to, ah, he recently retired from the Air Force at, ah…Colonel. And so this is the first time they’ve seen me in at least two years. Anyway, I’d like to dedicate this next song to them because, ah . . . it’s weird.” I’m not sure if there was a message here or not, but the song which follows is My Way.
I could list a few more pages of dialogue but then I’d never finish this article. If you are anti-bootleg, what you are missing out on should be clear by now. Part of what Elvis was all about was his rapport with the fans. Throughout all these shows, fans are talking to Elvis and he’s answering them. They’ll make a joke, he’ll laugh. He’ll make a joke, they’ll laugh. They’ll laugh together. It was the atmosphere, you see. That’s what you missed the most by not witnessing Elvis in person. You can experience this to a point by listening to tapes such as these. Incidentally, there are hundreds of concerts available, but the Vegas shows are the best. Elvis is more relaxed, there is much more interaction with the audience and the sound is usually very good (due to the smaller showroom, of course).
There are also videos available that show this interaction. No, the quality isn’t exactly Aloha From Hawaii, but improved technology and state of the art equipment make most of them – especially the stuff from the last couple of years – quite satisfactory. It gives you the chance to see Elvis as Elvis. If you’re looking for sound quality, play your CDs. You aren’t watching these tapes to hear Elvis sing, you’re watching them to learn what he was like as a performer. You’ll never get the point by watching the commercially released concert videos, because (sadly) these moments are cut out.
One of the best concerts Elvis ever gave was the New Year’s Eve Show in Pittsburgh. It you don’t have this video, at least get a copy of the album. You will never hear a better version of either Unchained Melody or Rags To Riches, with Elvis playing piano on both. Unbelievable. Another must is the LP Command Performance, with terrific live versions of My Boy (Before Elvis had recorded it – he mentions that he’s going to sometime soon.), It’s Midnight, First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (MUCH Better than the studio version!), Trouble, Spanish Eyes and Oh Happy Day to name the highlights.
For great songs and perfect sound quality, I’d recommend Rough Cut Diamonds, Volumes I & 2. These albums are among my favorites. All of these songs are from the early 70’s and are studio versions – some are alternate tracks but all are without overdubs. These albums differ from the Memories of Elvis albums in that they don’t have all the background vocals removed, just those that were added after the fact. You’ll never hear Elvis’ voice any clearer than this. First Time Ever I Saw Your Face appears as a duet here, and sounds much better than the version which was eventually released.
I know many of you think these items are out of your price range. Know what? They’re not Prices have been gradually coming down over the years. (This does, unfortunately, exclude most record albums. These products are sought after by collectors as well as fans, so it’s doubtful the price will ever be reasonable.) Most videos can be purchased for the same cost as commercially released ones. ($25 to $30). The entire audio set of the last Vegas engagement cost me about $75. Unfortunately, the fan club can’t deal with these ‘illegal’ suppliers for obvious reasons.
For those of you who don’t know where to find these products, my advice is to just ask around; your friends, or your friend’s friends. Eventually you’ll come across someone who knows – and you’ll be glad you did. If you’re holding out for RCA and/or the estate to get around to releasing products like this, okay, fine. I’m sure the quality will be better and the price will be cheaper. But I’m thirty-three and climbing . . . I don’t have a hundred years or so to wait around. (Do you ever get this picture of some guy going through the vaults at RCA, scratching the back of his head and saying. “Elvis who?”)
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY by Connie Kirchberg
(Originally published in Elvis Monthly #373, February 1991)
“We simply had no idea that he was still so popular.” That statement was made by an RCA executive back in 1977, following the onslaught of buyers cleaning out the shelves in the record stores following Elvis’ death. The quote is from an article entitled “The Legend Of A King” by Neal Umphred, printed in the August 10th (1990) issue of Goldmine (a record collector’s magazine). Why is it that such a statement doesn’t really surprise any of us?
The article mentioned above deals with a new project floating around. The old “Legend Of A King” radio broadcast (a documentary on Elvis containing music and interviews) has been remastered and edited down to 140 minutes (the original was about 3 hours) onto two CD’s by independent producer Don Vogel. Another quote from the article: “He (Vogel) has been engaged in on-again, off-again negotiations with RCA for several years. Unfortunately, the RCA execs are unconvinced that such a set is a commercial viability. At least RCA America remains unconvinced; Roger Semon, responsible for RCA’s excellent Elvis re-issue series in Great Britain, was quite enthusiastic but unwilling to go with it without American okay. Again, RCA’s policy regarding Elvis is, essentially, unchanged from the attitude that prevailed throughout the last five years of his life . . .”
The last five years of his life and ever since! When I read Ger Rijff’s article “Diggin’ In The RCA Vaults” in Elvis International Forum this past Spring, I could easily picture the scene he described and I’m sorry to say that it didn’t surprise me. Ger talks of boxes and boxes of tapes lying about the floor in total disarray. Also many of the tapes were labeled incorrectly. To quote Ger: “With eagle eyes we absorbed the information written on the tape legends attached to the back of the boxes, only to find out quickly not all the information given on the tape sheets corresponded with what was to be found on the tapes!” Some Elvis material was hidden away completely out of place. “In between Mario Lanza and Hank Snow, I pulled out at least a dozen Elvis tapes including one with outtakes from the King Creole session! This was a real lucky find because it was number one on our want list. The reason Essential Elvis III had been delayed all this time was because no one could locate the King Creole outtakes needed for this release.” in Ger’s later article “Diggin’ In The Indy Vaults” (EM 368), he speaks of discovering all those original master tapes which have gone unused all these years. I loved his thoughts as to why this happened and feel it sums up RCA’s attitude on Elvis’ catalogue in general – “A – They didn’t care. B – They didn’t know.” Perhaps combining the two says it best – they didn’t care to know.
Moving on to RCA’s latest project, the new album Elvis The Great Performances is now available here in the U.S. Overall, it contains a very good selection of material from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. I’d say it’s an excellent collection for the prospective new Elvis fan to discover – and for once, no second class songs sandwiched in between. And get this, the CD has twenty (yes twenty, count ‘em!) tracks, for a total play time of 51.02. Yes, that’s 51 minutes! Can you believe it, all on ONE disc and for the price of a single CD
($14.99). And you know what else? This album does not contain Hound Dog!
It does, or course, contain My Happiness. Wait until you hear this song! Just Elvis and his guitar – pure magic. I heard there were a few so called “music experts” claiming that the voice is not that of Elvis. Don’t believe it! This is Elvis without a doubt!
But alas, RCA can’t seem to complete any Elvis project without screwing something up. According to the notes written by Andrew Soit, there are six previously unreleased performances on this album. However, these notes are not visible on the CD as packaged (they are folded up inside), and nowhere by the song titles is there any mention of any of the songs being “previously unreleased.” Also, with the exception of track No.3, Shake, Rattle and Roll/Flip Flop and Fly, no recording dates are listed. Anyone unfamiliar with Elvis’ music probably wouldn’t realize they are getting songs from three different decades. And in the case of the established fans, we aren’t told where these recordings are from (session, dates, etc.). Just out of curiosity, why do you think they did identify Shake, Rattle & Roll? Why just that one track?
Now on to the video tapes. Here we’re given the dates of the performance (so why weren’t they included on the album?) My eyes soon confirmed what my ears had already suspected; most of the ‘unreleased’ material comes straight from the movies, so it’s not really ‘new’ at all. (I suppose that answers my above question).
Both volumes are priced at $19.95, though they only contain about 50 minutes of material each. And unfortunately, very few of these minutes contain ‘new’ material. The early clips are songs from movies – Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock and King Creole from the same and Teddy Bear from Loving You. Other clips are from the Berle, Sullivan and Allen shows. We’ve already seen most of the footage in This Is Elvis. Moving along to the later years, Guitar Man is from the 68 Special. Suspicious Minds is a shortened, cut up version from That’s The Way It Is (As if this video was so long they couldn’t even include the whole performance!) There is one unreleased performance – Unchained Melody. This was originally intended to be included in the CBS special but later cut. It’s a fine performance with Elvis on piano but the camera angles are, for the most part, terrible. The close-ups are too close-up; Elvis’ face takes up the entire screen most of the time, and he does not look well. To make matters worse, directly following this song, they switch back to the ‘68 Special for All Shook Up – as if to force a comparison of Elvis in ‘68 and ‘77.
There are also some mistakes in the time frame. At one point George Klein says “While Elvis wasn’t playing Vegas or making a movie in Hollywood, he liked to go home to Graceland.” Come on, George! Here we are seeing footage from Joe Esposito’s Home Movies video and this particular footage was taken years before the Vegas era began! Also, when discussing Elvis’ return to the International in ‘69, they are showing photos from engagements of 1972-73!
A huge flaw (in my opinion) concerns the deletion of the entire period from 1958 to 1968. The video goes from the famous title song scene in Jailhouse Rock to the Guitar Man sequence without any explanation. The video effect of this is quite stunning but come on. It’s as though Elvis did nothing to warrant mention during that span of over ten years. I know most everyone, including Elvis himself, would prefer to forget about the movie years but no mention whatsoever!
On the positive side, there are some early rare photos mixed in, using Elvis’ own voice (taken from interviews and concert dialogue) to narrate from time to time. The picture quality is near perfect, even for the early clips. Both sound and picture from The Berle show on the U.S.S. Hancock is much better than the recently released video entitled The Lost Elvis. There is also a fascinating clip – some home movies taken by a fan back in 1955 that show Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly all together beck stage! Unfortunately, things like this are few and far between.
Volume Two opens with Elvis singing American Trilogy but again, it’s nothing new. This is from the Aloha concert (couldn’t they have at least used footage from the Rehearsal show?) There are some excellent photographs mixed in here; early family pictures, some beauties of Elvis and his mother as My Happiness plays in the background. It’s the highlight of the video set without a doubt. Video-wise, there’s a very short concert clip of what looks to be Elvis’ appearance at the International in ‘69 (yes, VIDEO footage and it’s crystal clear!) but as far as unreleased material, that’s about all we get. At least this volume does make mention of Elvis’ army years – but we’ve already seen most of the footage in This Is Elvis. Other footage is from the early movies and TV shows (as in Volume One). All the later concert clips have been previously released on other videos.
I suppose it sounds as though I’m saying don’t buy these videos. No, I’m not saying that at all. Buy them. We want these videos to chart, so we all have to do our part to give them a chance. I don’t mean to give the impression that this isn’t a quality product. It is. It’s just unfortunate that what could have been a great addition to our collections is only a good one instead.
Perhaps this video set is aimed at the young, record-buying audience. If so, that would explain why they try to slip over the movie era; they want the kids who’ve seen all his movies to know there is more to Elvis than the soundtracks of the sixties. OK, I’m for anything that will attract new fans to Elvis’ marvelous talent. But does it have to be at our expense? I just wish for once they (RCA and/or the Estate) would have given a little more thought to us – the fans who have been supporting their Elvis releases for years and years and years. Why couldn’t they have used some new footage in these tapes? We all know they have hours and hours of concerts we haven’t seen. They could have presented this video set in basically the same format, and still presented us with performances we haven’t seen before. I guess the answer is the same old thing – A. They didn’t know, or B. They didn’t care.
After reading Ger’s firsthand account of all the material that does in fact exist, I felt the future looked brighter. But after reading Todd’s editorial in September’s EM, most of these hopes were crushed. I can’t help but wonder if this is just another excuse, an attempt to shut us up for a while. Is it the real truth they just don’t want to bother with Elvis anymore, thinking he doesn’t have enough appeal to the general public to make future releases worthwhile? If that is indeed their line of thinking, then what are we going to do about it? I guess that’s just one of those hypothetical questions that you hope you never need an answer for.