Interview With Roger Semon, Elvis Expert
This morning, we have a rare glimpse into The King's past. It's a new four CD boxed set with 100 songs of outtakes, alternate versions and never heard before live recordings of Elvis Presley's music.
Joining us live from London this morning is Roger Semon, an Elvis expert and consultant for BMG, where he has been associate producer for Elvis Presley. RCA Records and BMG Heritage are behind the release of 'Elvis, Today, Tomorrow & Forever'. Roger,so glad you're with us. Tell us how you came across all this great music.
Roger Semon, Elvis Expert: Well, it's been a long, ongoing exercise over a long period of time. Very early in the '90s, RCA commissioned myself and some other folks to go through all of the archives and to transcribe all of Elvis' session recordings, and we've been doing that meticulously now ever since this day. And for that reason alone, obviously, we were able to secure and find lots of rare recordings of Elvis Presley, and it's an ongoing exercise.
Kyra Phillips: All right, we're going to get right into it. We're going to start and listen to the first song, 'Treat Me Nice'.
Kyra Phillips: Now this is from Elvis' personal collection, right?
Roger Semon: Actually, that's not true. I'm not sure where you got that information from, but 'Treat Me Nice' was obviously recorded for the movie 'Jailhouse Rock', and obviously one of the songs that Elvis really thought was going to be a big hit single in its own right.
Elvis recorded the song three times and the particular version from on this album was actually from the first session and the version that was actually included in the film but never released, and it's a really exciting record.
Elvis actually slaps the back of a guitar throughout the record, which was something that he also did for 'Don't Be Cruel' and 'All Shook Up'. So he really did think this was going to be a number one single.
Kyra Phillips: We had a note here that it was from his personal collection. Well, that's OK. I bet he's got a lot of great stuff in his personal collection. OK, let's go to song number two. This is 'Today, Tomorrow & Forever'.
Kyra Phillips: Now if you kept listening to that, you would hear the voice of Ann-Margret, isn't that right? Didn't they do this together?
Roger Semon: Yes, they did. Elvis recorded this song for the 'Viva Las Vegas', and it's such a beautiful song and obviously the title of this boxed set 'Today, Tomorrow & Forever'. Elvis actually recorded three duets with Ann-Margret for the 'Viva Las Vegas' movie and, in fact, all three of them were actually deleted from the film, probably for some contractual reason. The other two songs were released a number of years ago, but this one, as I said earlier, has been part of an ongoing research that we've had and only recently did we discover this duet that had long been rumored.
And obviously, as we know, Elvis and Ann-Margret supposedly were very close to each other throughout this film, and this duet really captures something that goes beyond just a performance. It's really great.
Kyra Phillips: Didn't they sort of have a love affair going on though?
Roger Semon: Well, I think it's fair to say that if you've seen that film, there is electricity that goes beyond just the power going to the projector.
Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon
Kyra Phillips: Absolutely. I agree, Roger.
Kyra Phillips: 'Are You Lonesome Tonight'. Now what's the mystery that surrounds this song, Roger?
Roger Semon: Well, it's unusual. In the very few songs that were actually recorded by Elvis at the request of the Colonel, Elvis' manager. But when Elvis came out of the army, apparently 'Are You Lonesome Tonight' was one of the Colonel's wife Marie's favorite songs of all time. I believe it was first recorded in about 1927, and then it was a hit for Blue Baron (ph) I think in the 1950s, which Elvis based his interpretation on.
So Elvis was insecure about recording this in Nashville in 1960, but because the Colonel wanted him to, he actually had a go at it there, and I have to say that I don't think even to this day there's been a recording by any artist that is actually so pure, so clean, and so simple in its arrangement and form.
And I think it was this particular song, along with 'It's Now or Never' the really transformed Elvis from the Rock and Roll rebel of 'Jailhouse Rock' and 'Don't Be Cruel', into you know a world-renowned leading singer and song stylist. So it was a brilliant interpretation but at the request of the Colonel.
Kyra Phillips: Oh, wow that's amazing, very romantic too. All right, this is my favorite, 'In the Ghetto'.
Kyra Phillips: His first protest song, wouldn't you say?
Roger Semon: Most definitely, and I think one of Elvis' purest performances. There was a lot of controversy at the time when this song was first brought into the studios. Elvis was recording back in Memphis for the first time since he'd recorded there at Sun in the mid '50s, and there were some brilliant songs that were brought into the studio at that time and there was a new young songwriter that had been creating some stir during that time, and his time was Mac Davis.
And Mac Davis submitted 'In the Ghetto', which was originally entitled 'The Vicious Circle', and I believe at one time it was rumored that it was meant for the Righteous Brothers, and certainly wasn't written for Elvis. But Elvis really loved the song, really wanted to record it, and there was some concern by other members of his entourage because of the political nature of the song.
But I think realistically, Elvis when he sang it realized that he'd also come from a very poverty-driven background and that he could really relate to the lyrics.
So at the time, people were suggesting that he shouldn't do it, but thank God that he did do it, because it's such a superb recording and this very early take of the song was included on 'Today, Tomorrow & Forever' for obvious reasons, because it is so beautiful.
Kyra Phillips: Oh, it is beautiful. I loved it when I heard that. I listened to it over and over again.
Roger Semon: It's lovely.
Kyra Phillips: 'U.S. Male'. He was quite the U.S. male, wasn't he, Roger?
Roger Semon: Well, perfectly written really, wasn't it, for The King?
Kyra Phillips: Absolutely.
Roger Semon: I mean, it's just unbelievable. Elvis at this time was just coming out of the doldrums quite frankly. I mean, you know, Elvis' bad career was probably a lot of people's best, if you know what I mean. But Elvis was kind of out of the charts, trying to find a new direction musically, and certainly I think this was very inspirational for the fans during that time, because most of Elvis' songs had been strictly movie based and didn't really have any depth and meaning way back then.
And I think when people first heard this on the radio, they were truly inspired by it. Elvis met up with another RCA recording artist at the time called Jerry Reed, and Jerry Reed was renowned for writing great songs, but also his unique picking guitar style, which had attitude about it, was accentuated, and almost blues driven.
So Elvis again managed to get back to his roots musically and it reflects in the performance. There's a great comical innuendo with the lyric. It's brilliantly performed and this sort of early take of the song, I think, is quite exceptional and deserves to be on the set.
Kyra Phillips: And I know African-Americans really influenced his music. You can hear the gospel. You can hear...
Roger Semon: Oh, without fail.
Kyra Phillips: Oh, wonderful stuff.
Roger Semon: Yes.
Kyra Phillips: Roger, how can...
Roger Semon: Well, I think realistically -- yes.
Kyra Phillips: No. No. Go ahead, I'm sorry.
Roger Semon: I'm sorry.
Kyra Phillips: How can folks get their hands on this boxed set?
Roger Semon: I was just going to say really -- well, I think realistically they can get their hands on it by going to the record stores on June 25 when it's commercially available and, as I say, it's the first comprehensive collection of Elvis' entire career that's completely, previously unreleased. And as you just said, you know, it reflects every single aspect of Elvis' brilliant recording career, Gospel, blues, Rock and Roll, ballads, movies. Everything's in there that anyone could ever possibly want and it really does truly reflect, you know, the stature of the artist and how really great Elvis Presley was as an artist.
Kyra Phillips: And there are some pretty funny outtakes on there as well. Roger Semon, thank you so much. What a pleasure and what a delight, sir. We appreciate you sharing the Elvis story with us.
Roger Semon: Thank you very much.
Kyra Phillips: All right. We got much more ahead, stay with us.
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