Ben Weisman - Why Elvis Recorded 57 Of My Songs
Ben Weisman's recording statistics are staggering: over 60 gold records, record sales of over 75 million, 30 motion picture scores, and 57 songs recorded by Elvis Presley - all of which went gold or platinum, more than any other songwriter! To add further luster to Weisman's credits, he is one of the few songwriters to bridge the gap between the music of the '50s up through the '90s. His '50's hit 'Let Me Go Lover' earned him a place in music history as the songwriter of the first song ever to be popularized through the medium of television ('Studio One'). He received an Oscar for the Best Feature Length Documentary, The Young Americans, his 'Concerto For Elvis' for piano was made into a ballet, and he performed on the CBS soap opera, 'The Young And The Restless' for four years. He's been equally at home writing rock and roll, country, jazz, pop or classical, and has even written marches a la Sousa.
Some of Weisman's biggest hits include 'Let Me Go Lover' (on the charts in the Top 20 four times in '55, with four different artists - Joan Weber, Teresa Brewer, Patti Page, Sunny Gale), Conway Twitty's 'Lonely Blue Boy', 'The Night Has A Thousand Eyes', sung by Bobby Vee, Reba McEntire's 'Silly Me', and, of course, Elvis Presley's hits such as 'Wooden Heart', 'Rock-A-Hula Baby', 'Follow That Dream', 'Frankie And Johnny'. Plus he had recordings from the major artists of every era and genre such as Barbra Streisand's 'Love ln The Afternoon', the Beatles' 'Lend Me Your Comb', Johnny Mathis' 'When I Am With You', Gladys Knight's 'Love Gives You The Power', Cher's 'I Love Making Love To You', 'Nat 'King' Cole's 'Mother Nature And Father Time', 'Dusty Springfield's 'All I See Is You', and many, many others.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island and raised in Brooklyn, Weisman comes from a family with deep musical roots. At the age of five, under his father's supervision, he sang professionally at the neighborhood temple during the High Holy Holidays. In his teens, he was introduced to the classical world of Bach and Beethoven, and for five years studied with the concert pianist Grace Castagnetta. This led to study at New York's preshgious Juilliard School of Music. Next, Weisman's musical abilities were put to use by Uncle Sam - he was drafted and made Special Services Music Director for the U.S. Army Air Force. When his stint in the service was over, he returned to New York and began working playing piano and teaming up immediately with established songwriters. Because of his versatility, the doors of Tin Pan Alley quickly swung open for him.
However, one particular company, Hill and Range, pursued Wiesman to sign an exclusive contract with them. This was the company that already had major big band, country, and top pop chart hits, and was ready to enter the budding rock market. Under the guidance of Hill and Range's leader, Jean Aberbach, Weisman became a skilled craftsman and was on his way to the top of the charts...
First In Line
'As I look back, it seems like yesterday...in the summer of 1956 I received a call from my music publisher, Jean Aberbach to come to his office to discuss Elvis Presley, a new singer he was about to represent. He asked me to watch the 'Tommy Dorsey Television Show' on which Elvis would be performing. He said, 'Study his style'. Elvis, who had just signed with RCA, was going to be recording an album, and Aberbach wanted me to write for him'.The first song I submitted for the project was entitled 'First In Line' and Elvis recorded it!'
Don't Leave Me Now
'For my next assignment, I received a script called Jailhouse Rock for a new movie that Hal Wallis was going to produce at Paramount, starring Elvis. I soon found out that other writers under contract to my publisher had received the same script. The competition was fierce! 'After my collaborators and I completed the songs, we submitted them to Freddy Bienstock [now the head of a mega-publishing empire], who was in charge of selecting the ones to be sent to Hollywood, where they would be screened for Elvis. 'There were many songs competing for each scene. Finally I got the call from Freddie saying, 'Good News', Don't Leave Me Now is in!'
Got A Lot O' Livin' To Do
'In 1957, I flew to Hollywood to finally meet Elvis. Our meeting was at Paramount Studios where he was recording the soundtrack for his film, Loving You. It was late in the day, and Elvis had already recorded quite a few songs. 'During a break in the session, I noticed Elvis sitting alone in the corner, adlibbing some blues on the guitar. I wandered over to the piano next to him, sat down and joined in. He didn't look up, kept on playing and even changed keys on me, but I followed along. Then he looked up with that smile he was famous for, and asked who I was and what I was doing in the studio? I told him I was invitedto the session and that I composed one of the songs he was about to record called 'Got A Lot O' Livin' To Do'. He immediately called out to his musicians, 'Got A Lot O' Livin' To Do', and they recorded it on the spot.
'During the early period of those sessions, he would get so carried away, he would forget to sing directly into the mike. His close friends, the studio musicians, would start dancing around him, creating a great deal of excitement. It made a tremendous impression on me, and the feeling is still with me today. Little did I know that because of that meeting, I would end up writing fifty-seven songs for Elvis - more than any other songwriter. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined the impact he was about to make on the world'.
'I was so into Elvis that I was always looking forward to the next assignment. The project that came next was a movie called Danny based on Harold Robbins' book, A Stone For Danny Fisher. The story took place in New Orleans, so I immediately did research on the street cries and sounds of that city.
'The first song I submitted was 'Danny' the title song. It was approved by the producer and recorded by Elvis. However, after the film was completed they decided to change the title to King Creole, and 'Danny' was eliminated from the film and putin the 'can' (recordings of unreleased material).
As fate would have it, I changed the title of the tune to 'Lonely Blue Boy' and, to my delight, Conway Twitty recorded it and made it the #1 hit in the country. It sold over a million records.
'Later, fate stepped in again, and the original version of 'Danny' sung by Elvis was released in his Legendary Album #3. To this day, my songs in King Creole are among my favorites'.
Fame And Fortune
'My next meeting with Elvis was in Philadelphia at his last concert before he entered the Army. Backstage, there were police standing by to escort him to his car. Before leaving, he said to me, 'Keep writing those hits'. Emphasizing hisstatement again with that very infectious smile.
He was gone for a few years, but during that time I wrote with him in mind - waiting for his discharge.
'When Elvis returned from the service, he decided to record two of my songs. Oneof them, 'Fame And Fortune', was his first post-Army single release. He introduced it on the 'Frank Sinatra Television Show', which had a record-breaking rating. The people had missed him and loved him more than ever'.
'G.I. Blues' was the first movie Elvis made after leaving the Army. As usual, we all received scripts, and once again the [songwriters] race was on. In this film, Elvis was in the service, stationed in Germany. There was a particular scene in the movie for which I thought it would be fun to write. In it, Elvis, who is in love with his leading lady, tries to convey his feelings to her by becoming the puppeteer at a puppet show, and singing, 'I don't have a wooden heart'. Hence the song 'Wooden Heart'. (An interesting side note: the big hit version of 'Wooden Heart' was sung by Joe Dowell, because RCA decided not to release Elvis'version in the U.S.)'
Summer Kisses, Winter Tears
'Summer Kisses, Winter Tears' was written for Elvis' movie Flaming Star. It was a lovely ballad written to be sung by Elvis to his leading lady during a love scene. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be decided to have him sing it to a group of Indian sitting around a campfire smoking a peace pipe!
'At the preview, the audience broke into laughter when the scene occurred, and I don't blame them. As a result, the song was cut from the film. Over twenty years later in 1992, as fate would have it again, Elvis' recording was released in a Wim Wenders' film entitled 'Until The End Of The World', directed by David Lynch'.
'Music for the film Blue Hawaii was a challenge. Because of the locate, I thought the music should have a Hawaiian flavor, but with a rock beat. At the time, the twist was very hot, and I found that the twist and the hula were perfect together. Out of that combination 'Rock-A-Hula Baby' was born'.
Follow That Dream
'Follow That Dream' was one of my favorite songs because of its upbeat message.
It seems Bruce Springsteen, who is a big Elvis fan, agrees with me, because it is also one of his favorite Elvis songs. He sings his version of it at many of his concerts'.
'I had just moved to Los Angeles, when I received a call from the producer of It Happened At The World's Fair to write a rousing song for the closingscene of the movie. It had to be ready overnight and recorded the next day! This was one of the rare 'Elvis' assignments without competition. Why? Because I wasthe only songwriter living in Los Angeles! So 'Happy Ending' closed the film in a marching band sequence'.
Conclusion: Why Elvls Recorded 57 Of My Songs
'I approached writing for Elvis differently than I did for any other artist. The songs had to have acombination of blues, country, rock and pop [what came to becalled 'rockabilly']. It was like walking in his musical shoes. With each new Elvis movie, more of my songs were being recorded. It became more and more exciting, for I was becoming the only songwriter to have so many songs recorded by him.
'After completing each song, I would make a demonstration (demo) record, using a singer that could copy Elvis' sound. I used the same type of rhythm section that he used, with the same type of vocal backgrounds.
The end result was a tailor-made production, just for him.
'One of the first demo singers I hired was Otis Blackwell, who wrote such great Elvis songs as 'Don't Be Cruel', 'All Shook Up', and many more. Some of the other talented singers I found were Glen Campbell, Delaney Bramlett, P.J.Proby, Ray Peterson and Dorsey Burnette.
'My friendship with Elvis developed during the studio sessions in Hollywood, to which I was always invited to attend. Since they copied my demos note-for-note, Elvis liked to have me around in case there were any problems. He had a great sense of humor, and used to call me the 'Mad Professor'. He made the sessions fun. I remember one particular time when the conductor didn't show up for a session and I was elected to conduct, as well as work with Elvis on the vocals. The song was 'Frankie And Johnny' and I ended up producing it.
'The very last time I was with Elvis was in 1976 at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. It was the last show of the season. Elvis usually gave a farewell party after a show run was over. It must have been around 6:00 am, and the party was still going strong. He noticed me and came over. We chatted a while, and, in the course of our conversation, he asked how many songs of mine he had recorded. I replied, 'Fifty-seven'. He was so impressed with this number that he quieted the crowd and announced that he had recorded more of my songs than of any other songwriter's. With that, he gave me a big bear hug.
'Later on, Elvis and I found a quiet spot and had a nice talk about music, life and other things.
Because this was our last meeting, I remember it with great affection'.
Songs Ben Weisman wrote for Elvis
A Dog's Life
All I Needed Was The Rain
Almost Always True
As Long As I Have You
Beyond The Bend
Change Of Habit
Cross My Heart And Hope To Die
Don't Ask Me Why
Don't Leave Me Now
Do The Clam
Easy Come, Easy Go
Fame And Fortune
First In Line
Follow That Dream
Forget Me Never
Frankie And Johnny
Fun In Acapulco
Got A Lot O' Living To Do
Have A Happy
He's Your Uncle, Not Your Dad
How Can You Lose What You Never Had
I Got Lucky
I'll Be Back
I'll Never Know
In My Way
I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell
It Feels So Right
It's Carnival Time
It Won't Be Long
Let Us Pray
Pocketful Of Rainbows
Ridin' The Rainbow
Signs Of The Zodiac
Slowly But Surely
Stay Away Joe
Steppin' Out Of Line
Summer Kisses, Winter Tears
There's So Much World To See
This Is Living
Twenty Days And Twenty Nights
We Call On Him
Who Are You
If you like reading this article, you will love the book; Writing For The King - a 400 page Book with more than 140 interviews with songwriters like Paul McCartney, Leiber & Stoller, Pomus & Shuman, Red West, Mark James and Tony Joe White. Included are two CDs, the first contains previously unreleased RCA recordings of Elvis performing live in Las Vegas (1969 through 1972), the second a selection of the original demos submitted to Elvis.
The demo CD takes us from Heartbreak Hotel through classics like Teddy Bear, Trouble, Burning Love and Way Down. 'Writing for the King' by Ken Sharp is a fascinating behind-the-scenes story of politics, money, inspiration and great trivia about Elvis and the songs he turned into classics.
Interview with Larry Muhoberac
Interview with Michael Jarrett, songwriter, I'm Leavin'
Interview with James Burton
Interview with James Burton Sydney Australia 2006
James Burton : First Call For The Royalty Of Rockabilly
Interview with Ronnie Tutt
Interview with Ronnie Tutt #2
Interview with Jerry Scheff
Interview with Glen D. Hardin
Interview with Sherrill Nielsen
Interview with Terry Blackwood & Jim Murray
Interview with Tony Brown
Interview with Scotty Moore
Interview with D.J. Fontana
Interview with Charlie Hodge
Interview with Ernst Jorgensen
Elvis Presley & the TCB Band
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD + 16 page booklet.
Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.