We didn't have them when we did the 'Double Features' releases. We keep acquiring tapes, and we try to put out stuff that we acquire as soon as we can. Of course, sometimes there's an RCA release coming up and some stuff is held for that.
What's your favorite FTD release so far?
There's two ways of looking at that. Musically, I think it's 'Long Lonely Highway', because I love the Nashville 60's sound. But from a professional point of view, I think 'Jungle Room Sessions' is the one I like the most, because it was possible to make Elvis sound a lot better that I thought he did at the time. So that was a personal triumph in a way.
Can you tell us a bit more about the coming FTD release, It's Midnight?
It is basically what was recorded of the Las Vegas Midnight Show on August 24th, supplemented with the tail of the Dinner Show from the 29th, in order to make it feel like a show. There are very few concerts that are complete on soundboard. Although Elvis did change the shows quite a bit in 1974, we think we've given the experience of a good regular show. The reason we've chosen the 24th is that we think it's a good show, and Elvis does some good versions of songs like 'Hound Dog' and 'Spanish Eyes' that are good fun. It's a very intense show. And we took the 29th, because there's an almost complete version of 'Early Morning Rain', which was a very rare track in 1974.
Any info about the FTD release after that?
Not other than that it's going to be a studio album, with studio outtakes. We've just done the film one, we're just doing a soundboard, and we've just had a Live In Las Vegas box set, so - Since we don't have an hour of Elvis home - recordings in stereo (laughs), it will be a studio thing.
60's or 70's?
Either, or - You see, there is a cost with the process of getting new tapes in, but it's also a question of what happens next year with the new RCA box set. We have to try and see what we are going to use. But we're in a good shape to do 'either, or - '.
With that you mean that there's enough material?
There is definitely enough stuff for a bunch of studio albums covering everything from the 50's to the 70's. I mean, on some sessions we may not have a lot, but sometimes we acquire just a single tape from a session, that gives us an opportunity to release an outtake of that. I mean, there was a session where we had all the tapes, except for one. It wasn't a rare song or something, it was more like, 'funny, why is that tape missing?' We found an individual who had it, so we can release that particular song where no outtakes were released before.
Can you tell us something about the Anniversary box - set that is planned for next year?
As it stands now, with all the uncertainties within BMG - The 4 CD - set that at one stage became a 2 CD - set, and then it disappeared completely - Now we're talking again about a 4 CD - set for next summer. It's decided, but there's a lot of meetings still to be had before we know exactly when and how and - It will consist mainly of rarities for the fans, and in spirit it will be the same as Platinum. Whether it works that way exactly as repertoire is a different matter. We haven't decided yet what will be in there.
Do you think there's still unreleased live - material in existence from 1955?
Yes, I think eventually we will find someone who has quite a bit. What surprises me is that almost everything we found is from the first half of the year. As he became more famous in the second half, you'd think that more people would tape his show.
Do you have any realistic hopes of ever releasing another previously unreleased SUN - studio recording?
Only by the philosophy that you never know what you'll find. If we look at the rumours about Sun recordings, the ones that make any sense at all, then one element is that RCA never got any tapes, not even the masters, from the session of 'Milkcow Blues Boogie' and 'You're A Heartbreaker'. If those tapes exist somewhere, then who says that he didn't try out another song or two? People have been trying to connect stuff like 'Night Train To Memphis' to that particular session, but I think that's just speculation. If we look at what RCA really knows about, which was the 15 tapes that they got originally, then we know that some of them are on the list of tapes that were destructed. The description we have of each tape is not accurate enough, so that we can know exactly what's on every tape, but in most cases they are. And from the numberings we know that the tape that included 'I'll Never Let You Go' and 'Satisfied' is on the list of those that were destructed. The other one that was destructed as far as we can see on that list, the one that also held promise for unreleased song is a tape called 'That's All Right' plus two other selections. This notation can be interpreted whichever way you want, but it could be that those two other selections are not listed by songtitle as they are not Elvis songs, so what would it matter? Sam Phillips used to record over other tapes. It could also be that they are Elvis recordings, and that Sholes didn't know the songs. It could also be that they were so bad, that he didn't bother to write them down. Remember, the one thing that he wanted to achieve by listening to these tapes was to find material that they could use. So if you have all these weird lists of songs that Elvis sang at the first session, or in preparation at Scotty Moore's home, I think the best bet of what it could have been would have to be 'Tiger Man', because of all the later references that Elvis made that this was his second record, and not too many people ever got to hear it.
I have difficulty believing that, as Elvis was known to be hopelessly inaccurate about his early career, and perhaps he just mistook it for 'Mystery Train', which was often performed in medley with 'Tiger Man' and has a similar feel.
Well, there are situations where Elvis says it in isolation, only in relation to 'Tiger Man', where there is no 'Mystery Train'. But as we all know, Elvis was very inaccurate in describing the early stages of his career. Moreso than actually the later stages. He very much had that in place, probably because someone in his staff told him! (laughs). Nobody was there in 1954 and '55.
So that is basically the Sun tape situation. Of course, people don't know what we have at this stage, but it goes without saying that when we released 'Sunrise', had we had anything of that nature, then we would have used it. There is no holding - back philosophy at RCA. If we have something great, then we try to get it out as fast as it's possible within the constraints of doing the marketing business. The likelyhood of finding something is very small I think, but that doesn't stop me from dreaming about it or asking around. I think the likelihood if we talk about the same period is bigger on live - performances and radio - performances that somebody may have taped. But not a lot has been forthcoming, and often the quality is very poor. A lot of fans objected to the soundquality of some of the tracks on 'Sunrise'. I think that has to do with several issues. One of them is that Elvis' earliest years are not his most popular today.
Do you have an explanation for that?
I think it's because a lot of the fans are younger than that. They grew up with Elvis in the 60's and 70's.
You mean that the 50s are too 'ancient - sounding'?
Yes, and the songs are too simple. There is a lot more current type of songwriting in a song like 'Suspicious Minds' or 'It's Midnight'. It's more like you would think of a song today. Even a song like 'Devil In Disguise' is dated in a way, it's dated in the way you wrote songs. They were simple songs. I don't think that if we found 'Satisfied', that on the commercial market it would make a lot of difference. Not anymore. Maybe ten years ago, but the marketplace changes all the time, and that would be reflected in RCA's release policy, as it probably already has in the last two or three years.
According to 'Recording Sessions', the Master take of 'I Love You Because' (G2WB - 1086) is a splice of takes 2 and 4. However, on 'The Complete Sun Sessions', takes 1 to 5 are available. When listening to these takes, I come to the conclusion that the Master is a splice from takes 3 and 5. First take 3, followed by take 5 from the line 'No Matter What Will Be The Style Or Season' (the verse which is right after the spoken part, and which was omitted in the Master). If the very first False Start from this session is counted as take 1, then my theory is right. If that False Start is just a part of take 1, followed by the PB version take 1 then the book is right. That means that we only have takes 1 to 4, and not takes 1 to 5. Which one's right?
Both. The problem is that on sessions where no slate - numbers were given, Greg Geller would assign some numbers, and we would assign some numbers that we felt comfortable with. That is of little consequence most of the time, except for Sun and for the Memphis 1969 sessions, where they forgot to give slates because Chips Moman couldn't care less about them. So you will find those discrepancies in there. It's the same amount, we all know the same takes, it's just what you call them. So if you want to call it takes 3 and 5, then that's fine by me.
The versions of 'That's Allright Mama' and 'Blue Moon Of Kentucky' from October 16th, 1954, both have the same matrixnumber in your book, HPA5 - 6101. Is this info correct?
It's correct information, but it's an error that was made when these numbers were assigned. They planned to release them on the same side of a single, and gave them the same number because it was the number of the side. That was practical for those reasons, but you wouldn't normally do that. That was a mistake, made when they originally wanted to release them in 1977, and then they dropped the idea of using them.
In my (unpublished) interview with producer Billy Poore he swears that rockabilly - legend Charlie Feathers played him a demo - recording of Elvis performing 'We're Getting Closer To Being Apart' in 1974. Feathers added that this song would be Elvis' sixth Sun single, with 'When It Rains, It Really Pours' on the B - side.
That's one of those stories that may be pure fabrication, just like the story about Elvis and Roy Orbison. But it could also be true. But, since nobody plays this for anybody within 'our' world, we can't do anything about it. It's a likely story, but I could tell you five likely stories that you could print, and everybody would think: 'Yeah, that's probably true'. But they could just be fabrication. And there are people who create crazy stories. I'm not saying that he does, but I have tried to talk to him at some stage many years ago, about another issue where he had another story about rare Elvis stuff, and when it came down to meeting up, he backed off just like that, like Danny Mayo backed off on the Roy Orbison story.
In his book 'The Sun Years', Bill Burk says that the 'Southern Made Donuts' commercial was recently discovered, and would be released soon. That was in 1997. Do you have any info on this?
Yeah, I heard that story and I also know where it came from. And I contacted the guy who would have been behind it, and he says that he hasn't found it. So that was a misinterpretation of the fact that Joey Kent has been spending a lot of time trying to find it, but he hasn't come up with it. And I'm sure that he doesn't have it, because we would have made him a decent offer for that, and Joey is a businessman, so we would at least have had the discussion, and we haven't.
Is there a chance of RCA releasing the 1955 Eagles Hall concert from the original tapes, and at the correct speed?
Yes, there is. But we haven't looked into that yet, because it's all held up in a court case in America. So we can't really touch it until the court case is done. Scotty Moore knows more about that probably than I do, because I think he's involved in that. Not in the court case, but he knows about it. I thought of re - using it on SUNRISE, but it was just so complicated at this time. But maybe later, maybe we can do a really early package one day, if we can find enough goodies to add to what we already have. But there are no plans for this at present.
What about the Little Rock '56 concert?
Yeah, that's another possibility that I think we should be looking into. It's a nice show, although it's the only show where he didn't sing 'Only You' on the whole May '56 tour! There's also the stories about Dowling and this guy who had several concerts from 1956 and '57, and if he arrives one day with the tapes? I mean, that opens a whole new ballgame! And if he doesn't have it, then who does? There was a story at one time that radio - stations in exchange for an interview taped shows for Elvis. And we don't know whether that's true or not, because Diskin is not there anymore, and Colonel Parker is not there anymore, so we don't know. It was a tragical loss from a historical point of view that these two men would never speak. Colonel Parker and Diskin kept stuff very close to themselves. Mrs. Parker and Mrs. Diskin both say that they don't have any tapes, and we have no reason to mistrust them. They have been very nice towards us, and they both seemed to be lovely people. Since there would have been nothing wrong or illegal in them having tapes, that would not have been a legal issue. I can't come up with a reason why they wouldn't tell us if they had them. There were rumours after Diskin died that he had a lot of tapes, but all that stuff comes from notes that Diskin made at the rehearsals. We don't know whether those notes were made before rehearsals, of songs that Elvis would likely do, or after the rehearsal session. And it doesn't have to be one or the other, it can be both on different days. When I look at the information that Joe Tunzi has used, then it's random. We know a lot more on what he did on every day than Joe pretends in his book. It's hard for Joe to get complete access to it. It's hard to get access to that kind of information, because it's confidential information within the Estate, and they decide when they want to share it or not. Which is fine. It would be more interesting if there were tapes. That would be a VERY interesting thing to look into.
A couple of years ago, there was talk of a book by you and Ger Rijff about 1954 - 1955 concerts. What happened to that one?
The prices on all photos from that period were multiplied by ten when we tried to put it together, so we had to back off. At this time I'm operating with a research project that collects information and photos from that time, hoping that one day there'll be a book. That's what I'm working on. At this time there are no plans between myself and Ger Rijff to do that, and the bookworld of Elvis Presley is not a very profitable one. It's the last personal ambition I have on books, is to do a book like that. But at this stage. You don't ever get a friendly call from some person who says: 'I've got two photos and you can use them for the book'. It's all about: 'How much will you pay me?'.
Is the second show in Tupelo on September 26th 1956 complete? Is that first part of 'Love Me Tender' the only thing that's missing, or were there more songs before that one?
We don't know, because we got the tapes as you know them. We didn't have any information coming with them. But basically we're not looking for the surprises of what Elvis sang there, that we never dreamed that he would sing. There's none of that. If you look at the repertoire for that whole period, then it was very predictable. As it should be, with the kind of commercial success he had. That was what people wanted to hear.
I remember reading that RCA have a tape of the Million Dollar Quartet in their vaults, although this was discovered after they had released it. Is that tape the 'master' and is it any better quality than what we already have?
The quality is the same, and I think the two tapes, the one that the CD was made from and the one that we have, are both copies of another tape. It has more material on it than what was put out, but nothing more with Elvis. It's basically just fiddling around. There's no songs, it's just Carl Perkins' band that sitting there tuning guitars and so forth.
Do you any idea how RCA came to get the tape? I find it difficult to visualize Sam Phillips handing it over the day after recording it.
No, we got that from Shelby Singleton, who had it. We got the second one from Shelby in the eighties. I don't know where we got the first one from. I assume it's the Colonel. We got a lot of stuff from the Colonel in 1983. That's where we got all the soundboards, 274 in all.
Is it true that there's a tape from the Million Dollar Session where they are singing Christmas songs?
No, I know that Joe writes that in his book, but that's a misinterpretation. They sing a few lines of 'Jingle Bells', which I think you can hear on 'Reconsider Baby'. Elvis is not singing on any of that.
Where does the version of 'I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen' that was used on 'The Bad Nauheim Medley' come from? I noticed that it's not the same fast version as featured on the bootleg 'Greetings From Germany'. If that release contains the complete (home) recording as the bootlegger indicates, then where does the 'official' Kathleen (fast) come from?
Who says that that's the complete stuff, only the bootlegger, right? Why would we trust that it is the complete stuff, how would he know? He's wrong. It is not the complete stuff, but it's roughly the complete stuff. And I would assume that the bootlegger has the complete stuff. There would be no logic in that it wasn't complete.
Who knows, perhaps he's saving it for a volume two!
That's very unlikely! That would be very suicidal, I think. In this climate it would be very, very dangerous. And it will only get worse for the bootleggers, because the record industry has realized that they have to control their rights, with the Internet and all that's going on, so I think they will be much tougher on the bootleggers in the future.
I can see no real harm in some guy releasing a soundboard or an outtake CD in a quantity of about 1,500 or 2,000 copies for the fanatics.
It's a legal point. Of course it doesn't take away any sales from RCA, but it's a legal point. If you own the rights to something and don't defend them, then you end up with the stupid situation we have in certain European countries on the Hayride recordings, where courts say: 'This is too complicated. We can't understand what it's all about', and people have gotten away with stuff. And that's a very good lesson for record companies. I'm sure that every record company has been through that situation.
Now I know your official standpoint, but how do you as an Elvis fan feel about well - presented releases like the 'There's Always Me' series?
Arjan, I have been in the record business since 1977. It's part of my culture and part of my personal beliefs that this is not right. If you from an Elvis fans' point of view argue that without the bootleggers RCA would never have released this kind of material, then I can fully understand the fans saying so. But I don't think that's true, and I think Joan Deary already sent the first signal that the company was willing to release this kind of material. I think we later used so much unreleased material that, if I had to turn the blind eye to things, then I would rather do that on some great old blues recording that no record company was ever gonna release. Also, I don't think it's right to send out every outtake of a particular song. It's boring, and I also believe that, whereas a lot of people for all the right reasons have a resentment of capitalist big record companies, which is part of the European or leftwing upbringing? I think that when you really start to think about it, that those that don't get payed are also the musicians, who are old men now and don't have a lot of money in many cases, it's the songwriters who are old now and don't get any income anymore? That it's these people who are not payed. And I think you met some, and I met some, great musicians and songwriters that, because they live in America don't have a lot of social security. To think that these people are being robbed of money, that sucks basically. Everybody has turned a blind eye to that.
Do you think that some of the stuff that's out on bootleg could be damaging for Elvis' popularity? We now have the example of TV producers getting hold of a copy of the 'Desert Storm' bootleg, and using it for damaging specials.
The normal person, the non - fan, will remember scandalist stories like that. We still have the situation where people think that if Elvis is in a white jumpsuit, that he's over - the - hill, fat and drugged out. And he's not. They are confusing 1970 with 1977, or 1975 with 1972, where in reality there are some marked differences. So I think it can be very hurtful. The Elvis Presley Estate is run by Lisa Marie, and I can definitely understand it if she'd be angry with the bootleggers for showing her father in such a bad light. At home, we've all acted like an idiot on a bad day, and you don't want to have that shown to the rest of the world. And I think there's a privacy element that we have to respect in a situation like the rehearsal of 'Stranger In My Own Hometown'. I think there's no words in there that we don't understand. A lot of us may have used those words ourselves. But I don't want to see them on TV with me in an interview when I'm talking to a journalist, although I may use them in private. I see a lot of fans arguing: 'Well, we're grown people and we understand swear words', which I fully accept. We are that liberal minded, but not everybody is. And a lot of Elvis' fans are God - fearing religious people in America.
'The Bible - Belt'.
The Bible - Belt, yes. And they have every right to feel the way they do about that, and they don't want to hear it. The tolerance has to go both ways. We have to accept that there are certain people who don't want to listen to swear words.
There's a persistent rumour about a tape existing of a jam - session between Elvis and the Golden Gate Quartet in Paris in 1959. Collector Paul Dowling says he's heard 'I John The Revelator' and 'Joshua Fit The Battle'.
The first time he talked about it he had 'Swing Down Sweet Chariot' in there as well. I've talked to Anders Wilson, who was the leader of the Golden Gate Quartet at the time. He confirms that Elvis came backstage, and that they sung together. But if anybody taped it, he didn't spot that it was. And nobody has ever told me that he taped it. But the person that Dowling is referring to is a guy who ran an Elvis - magazine many years ago, and died. And it was at his house that both Dowling and a girlfriend that this guy had at the time heard it. His mother, who's still alive, remembers him listening to this piece of tape where you couldn't hear anything for noises and this and that, but there were some people singing in the background. So it's very likely that this tape existed, but it's the same Paul Dowling who met a lady who had footage of Elvis at the Hayride, and her father had tapes of the same stuff. But they disappeared into thin air. It's also the same Paul Dowling who heard a bunch of 50's concerts, including Elvis singing 'Fools Hall Of Fame', 'Only You' and 'Don't', and this guy disappeared as well. He's also called me on some home - recordings that include 'Do The Clam', 'I Almost Lost My Mind' and 'Puppy Love'. This may be true, but as long as I haven't heard it I'm not going to believe it. You can only spend so much time, and if people disappear on you all the time then there's something wrong with the story. A good example is the story about this lady, Evelyn Cramer from Pine Bluff, Ark. He told me that he'd gone down there, rented a projector, and seen the footage of Elvis at the Hayride. When I went there a year later and had her address, she didn't exist, never lived there, and there were no records of an Evelyn Cramer ever living in Pine Bluff. We wrote to over 200 Evelyn Cramers living in America. The only response we got were a few angry letters, but nothing from THE Evelyn Cramer. And why would she be shy about it if we offered her a lot of money? So some of these stories are either imagined or just very bad luck. You know, when you have a homepage you need to write something interesting from time to time.
The tape box on page 206 of your Sessions book lists titles like 'So High', 'Indescribably Blue' and 'Rock Of Ages'. Were these recorded over?
Some of those tapes that Elvis recorded over were tapes that were sent to him, with the masters of his songs. What would he use that for, so he recorded over them. On this particular one, the assumption is that because it says this it's Elvis singing, but in the case of 'So High' it's the Harmonizing Four version that Elvis copied for the 'How Great Thou Art' album. He was in love with the bass singer, thought that he was fabulous and wanted to be like him. So when we went through those tapes, we listened to many records from Elvis' collection that he was listening to at the time. Remember Elvis singing 'Wasted years, wasted years' on 'Rhythm & Country'? It's a Stuart Hamblen record that Elvis played in preparation for the 'How Great Thou Art' album. It was on the same tape as 'So High' for 'possible Gospel songs to record'. It was the same with 'His Hand In Mine'. There were many different songs that he was considering, but he kept changing his mind all the time.
Where does the private recording of 'Moonlight Swim' come from?
I can't remember my assessment of it. Is it even Elvis?
It definitely sounds like him, but there's also a girl singing and this sounds like an overdub.
I can't remember. I remember having listened to it, but I really don't know. It could be from the same period as the 1960 (or early '61) tape. Why not? It could have been on it, as it's such as weird assembly of songs. The girl could be the same girl that's on 'Make Believe'. She's probably Nancy Sharp. We cannot find her, but she used to come around to the house a lot, and Red West remembers her as the only one who could sing.
Joe Tunzi's recording sessions book lists two extended takes of 'Santa Lucia' under an overdub session of October 19th, 1965. Any further information on these?
They tried adding various instrumental parts to what is still the same master. They never used them. I think they thought of making it a longer record, and it didn't work out. They're not very exciting, I can tell you that. And it's got nothing to do with Elvis, it's just somebody else fooling around with a tape.
In your book you write that there's a homerecording of 'Baby What You Want Me To Do' from ca. 1966. Is this a complete version?
No, it's not complete, but it's there. It's very, very poor quality, otherwise we would have used it. There's a lot of little bits and pieces in general on the homerecordings - tapes. This is not a tape found at Graceland. There's a lot of things where you just get the ending. 'You Belong To My Heart' is there, and the last couple of bars of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' with distortion. I don't know how great that is, but it does exist.
Is a blues compilation still in the cards?
As a commercial idea, yes definitely. But my whole point on that is we're in no hurry to do that because ideally we would like to have one or two things that people haven't heard before. An early home - recording of 'Baby What You Want Me To Do' would be interesting. We know that Elvis cared for this song all through the sixties, and that he planned on recording it in August 1967. With so many projects that people are looking for I see no harm in delaying this until we have something really interesting for the album. There's always room for mass - market products like another country CD, another love songs single, double or triple CD, another variation of the religious material. I don't know how many more greatest hits - packages we can release over the years, but I'm sure that it will be many and they will all be successfull. So you have both this thing that is run by commercial logic: what will a mass - market accept? And then you have what is coming from within, which is what is part of Elvis' musical legacy and what is unreleased and needs to be put out. And these two elements walk hand in hand. There is no inner logic in releasing 'Elvis' Jukebox Favorites' or '50 Greatest Love Songs', but they sell. That's also important. We cannot expect everyone to be interested in his career beyond the level of that one love song CD that they bought because they thought it was so romantic.
Is it true that the Weisman - Wayne composition 'Stay Away, Joe' is based on 'Pick A Bale Of Cotton' by Jerry Reed?
Well, what is 'Pick A Bale Of Cotton' by Jerry Reed then based on? I think it's an old hoedown routine, and Ben Weisman did that a lot. He claimed writership on 'Cindy, Cindy' and a lot of other stuff where he basically adapted them. And that's perfectly legal. Ben Weisman was a very smart guy, and I'm not saying that in a negative way, because he was a very professional songwriter. And sometimes that was what he would do. Sometimes he would take one song to Elvis, and have it rejected, and then it'd turn up on the next movie with a different title and it got recorded!
The version of 'A Little Less Conversation' on Memories seems rather short when compared to the backing - track released on bootleg years ago. Was it edited?
The version that we have has a skip in the last ten seconds, but it is as short as that on Elvis' own acetate, the one that he got. Elvis and the Colonel kept an enormous amount of demos, both songwriter demos and stuff that was done in the studio. And that's where we have it from. I also think that some of the bootleggers have it. Two different collectors played it for me, but we didn't keep contact because we found the acetate in Elvis' own collection.
Was 'Stranger In My Own Hometown' from the Memphis '69 sessions a studio - jam, or did they do several takes of this song before they got the master?
There's only one take. But of course they rehearsed it. They didn't play it like that out of the blue. But I think they ran through it maybe one time or two times before the tape - machine started. Remember, they always practice before the tape - machine starts, and then Felton or Chips decides: 'Well, they're about ready', and then you start recording.
What is your definition of an 'outtake'? For example, the live - version of 'Blue Suede Shoes' from the August 25, 1969 MS is listed as the master, while the version from the Dinner Show is an outtake. Using this definition, all concert recordings are outtakes!
In principle, yes. It's a definition that you make up yourself, and say: 'Okay, we have eight recordings of one song from an engagement, and one is a master, then the others are outtakes'. But it's not a science.
Ed Bonja says that there's a version of 'Twelfth Of Never' that predates the version we know by about four years. This version was recorded as a gift to Tom Diskin and his wife on their wedding anniversary. Do you have more info about this?
Elvis was fooling around with the idea of using 'The Twelfth Of Never' as early as that first engagement in 1969. I don't think that Elvis thought that that was recording material, but it's a sweet song to sing on an occasion. There may be tapes in private hands, you never know. It's anybody's guess. But Bonja was also the same person who said that he was sure that Diskin had all the rehearsals, but they didn't turn up with the stuff that the Estate got. And Diskin's widow says that she doesn't have it. We can't go any further than that.
Is it true that Elvis fooled around with 'I Want You, I Need You, I Love You' during the May 15, 1971 session?
Well, 'fooling around' seems to suggest that he was singing the song, doing a version of it. But what you have on a lot of Elvis sessions, is what you've heard on both bootlegs and on some of the stuff we do, is that Elvis sings just one line. 'Running Scared' is a good example. It's fun when he gets to like four lines, but when he does only one line it doesn't make any sense at all really. During the course of the May 1971 sessions he may have sung lines of forty songs. Just one line, or sometimes he just speaks the name of a title and then goes into something else. We try to include it a little bit, but we're not going to use ALL of them on one disc, because you get tired of hearing fragments! Two releases that I thought worked really well are Essentials nos. 4 and 5, because it was fun with all these little 'extras'. We didn't take every single one that was there. There's an engineerial problem in piecing all this stuff together. There's some guy out there who's always complaining: 'Well, this didn't sit there, that belongs to some other track'. Well, yeah, but we have to make it into a record.
It's been rumoured that RCA tested their equipment for the Aloha show during the November 1972 tour, and recorded his concert in Long Beach. Is there any truth in this?
No. Remember Felton was sick at the time. It would have been him doing that, but he was very sick. So sick that he didn't do Aloha. He was there, but as you know Joan Deary ended up taking care of it. They may have had plans, I don't know. Of course they had plans originally, because the November shows were originally the official ALOHA FROM HAWAII, but it was postponed because MGM complained that this would ruin the release of 'Elvis on Tour', which also was scheduled for November.
Your book lists a version of 'Young And Beautiful' from a March '72 rehearsal. Is this a complete version?
Yes, it's complete. But we're not going to release it, because it's too good! It would just change the whole image of Elvis Presley, so we're not going to release it! (laughs)
In your book you write that Elvis rehearsed songs like 'Any Day Now', 'Fool' and 'I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water' for the Madison Square Garden shows. Were any of these rehearsals recorded?
No. Which is funny in a way, because RCA's engineers were up at the Hilton, setting up the playback system so that Elvis and the band could rehearse at the hotel. No tapes were recorded. I know the engineer who was in charge of it, and had anything been recorded then he would have known. He's not a guy who would lie about anything.
There's about 10 minutes of professional footage in existence from Elvis' concert in Honolulu in November 1972, filmed by Japanese television. Did they get official permission to film that?
I have not seen any correspondence on that, but it's obvious that Japan was a driving force in the 'Aloha From Hawaii' situation. The Japanese company was heavily involved, so it could have been a gesture in relation to that. Maybe to also get a lot of Japanese fans to fly to Hawaii.
You've mentioned the 'Leavin' It Up To You' rehearsal from January 1973 elsewhere. Have you heard a tape of that?
No, I haven't heard it. It's just a filing of tapes. You have seen it listed in Joe Tunzi's book, and not in mine. The distinction in what I write about and what Joe Tunzi writes about is that I write about those tapes that did exist, and he writes about what he thinks exists. Whenever he finds a list of songs, he automatically assumes that there's a tape. That's not correct. But there should still be quite a few rehearsal tapes around.
You mentioned Tom Diskin earlier.
Tom Diskin was the solid element in the Colonel's organization, who kept everything under control and filed everything. That may be one place where those tapes are, if they still exist. I mean, what have we found over the years? Ed Bonja had one, Joe Esposito had one, there was one from a guy in Las Vegas called Don Lance who had an almost complete tape including the version that we know of 'Leavin' It Up To You', and then Joan Deary at one time bought one that she used on the silver box, 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling' and 'Sweet Caroline'.
There's also a poor quality rehearsal tape containing a.o. 'True Love Travels On A Gravel Road', 'Any Day Now' and 'My Way'.
Yeah, it's difficult to pinpoint when that was done. It could be from as early as 1969, because the repertoire back then was a lot broader than what he ended up with. I think I touch upon that in my book as well. But there is no exact study of what could exist. There's a very good reason to believe that songs like 'Delta Lady', 'Holly Holy', 'Hello Josephine', 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore' and one or two Kris Kristoffersen songs may have existed at one time. It's also very likely that if they existed, that it was with Tom Diskin, because otherwise wouldn't they have turned up? Most of the guys that worked with Elvis don't have a lot of money anymore. They're old, and could be forgiven for auctioning off all their stuff. It's their stuff. And if you look at Elvis' organisation at this point, then it was Tom Diskin's job to keep on top of what Elvis was considering, so he could get Freddie Bienstock to make the necessary deals. I'm pretty sure that at one stage we will find a tape that we're all going to go bananas over. But just remember that these are semi - professional in a way, because they were not done on a 16 - track tape but were mixed down directly on the spot to two track, without a proper engineer doing it. It was just a matter of setting up the sounds, making a rough balance, and then the tapes would roll. The whole idea was for Elvis to listen to what did or didn't work.
Joe Tunzi's Sessions II and also his second Aloha book list rehearsals that include such unlikely choices as 'Sand Castles', 'Am I Ready' and 'Tender Feeling'
I think it's somebody who looked at the paperwork and didn't understand what it was, and assumed that this was what Elvis sang. There's several ways of making lists. There are lists made in preparation for what you want to do. There could be a list suggesting that 'we need twenty songs', which Freddie Bienstock and Charlie Hodge at the time would need to get the lyric - sheets for in case Elvis would want to sing them. Knowing Elvis, he'd sing two out of those twenty they thought he would sing. And can you imagine Elvis singing 'Sand Castles' in 1973? That's why some people who get involved in this and dig out information often are wrong in the assumptions they make. If 'Sand Castles' was ever under consideration for Aloha, then it would have been for clipping in and out of the movie. Just look at the logic: we have these extra songs from Blue Hawaii. What would you automatically think after you saw 'Blue Hawaii' if you were an outside producer? You'd think 'Paradise Hawaiian Style'. So this could very well be Marty Pasetta's idea of what maybe they could end or open the show with. And that's the dangerous thing about this, that's where the rumours start because people don't know what they're looking at.
It's quite noticeable that 'The Twelfth Of Never' often turns up in these lists.
'The Twelfth Of Never' was listed on and on and on. Another example of that is 'Green, Green Grass Of Home', which Elvis planned on doing during the opening show in 1969. But it was cut out. Of course, if you're a creative artist you'd have two or three times as many songs in your head. Some of them you will discard, because 'well, it wasn't such a good idea'. Some you will end up playing, and then it just sounds awful. Or, as Charlie Hodge said at one time, good songs were left out because they had to pace the show. It had to be fast - slow - fast . They couldn't have 'Tomorrow Never Comes', 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', 'Heart Of Rome' one after the other, because Elvis' voice couldn't take it. So there were all these little elements that sometimes meant that a song disappeared.
On August 14 - 16, 1974, Elvis rehearsed for three days at RCA Hollywood. A tape from the 16th is in existence. It is fair to assume that the 14th and 15th were recorded as well?
We don't know. The hope is that it's there and that it will turn up, but there is no evidence. There is only the evidence that paperwork exists that described either what was going to take place or what took place
The info in your 'Day to Day' book is quite detailed on rehearsals, even mentioning songtitles:
Jan. 19, 1972 - 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine', 'I'm Leaving It Up To You', 'Delta Lady', 'The Last Time I Saw Her Face'. July 21, '73 - 'She's Not You', 'I Feel So Bad', 'A Mess O Blues', 'Twelfth Of Never', 'Are You Sincere'. Jan. 15, '74 - 'Born To Lose', 'Twelfth Of Never', 'I'm Leavin' It Up To You'. March 16, '75 - 'You Can Have Her', 'Susie Q' Is any of this info based on taperecordings?
That's a 'no comment' situation. RCA doesn't want me to comment on this. I don't print stuff in my book without paper documentation, and I don't say that these tapes exist and I don't comment on how they sound. I think in general Elvis rehearsed at RCA before every Vegas engagement in the earlier years. If Elvis started a song and stopped it halfway through, it would be written on the list, even if they couldn't play a decent version. Other paperwork suggests very clearly that arrangements were written for songs, but that may have been in anticipation, just an idea that Elvis had, 'We should do that', or that Charlie or Felton thought that it would be a great idea, and Elvis said 'yes', then when they were going to do it, he said 'no'. Because Elvis changed his mind a lot, even during shows. Suddenly, he'd just drop a song.
Yes, it's interesting how often songs like 'I'm Leaving It Up To You' turned up at rehearsals, and yet he never really used them.
Somebody in the group must have liked them. Elvis didn't live in isolation. And I know that a lot of people think that Charlie makes too much of himself in certain situations. I cannot be the judge of that, but when we talk about the music - side and the interaction, then Charlie definitely interacted with Elvis on song suggestions.
Are you saying that Charlie deserves more credit?
I think he deserved credit for being the right man on stage for Elvis, and off - stage, planning the shows. I'm not saying that if Elvis wanted to do something or didn't wanna do something, that Charlie changed his mind, but Elvis needed somebody to discuss with - like we all do - , and Charlie was one. Felton may have been another. There may have been other people as well, but Charlie was definitely in there. Charlie in many cases had the job of supplying sheet - music for songs that Elvis wanted to do.
Don't you think that the people you mentioned had a responsibility to steer Elvis into new directions, as opposed to staying with the same old 'C.C. Rider, I Got A Woman/Amen, Love Me' routine?
You see him back off. You mentioned August 1974 earlier. You see him feeling uncomforable with the grand revision he did on the opening night, which he had prepared for.
That was sad.
Yeah, that was sad. But when you listen to shows from August 1974, they can generally not be faulted. What is wrong with those shows, is that after the day when Elvis cancelled on the 26th, he starts commenting on all the rumours. That ruins the later shows, but if you talk about musical performances, they are very very good shows, all of them. From day one to the last show. It's only the erratic talking from the 27th onwards that ruins it: on the first few days very controlled, with comments that he's 'tired of that', but they expand, as does the karate routine and the talking about it. It's obvious that Elvis has been deeply hurt by the stuff that's circulating, and I also think it's very likely that he actually had the flue on the 26th, as opposed to being 'strung out!'. I think that is very likely.
Apparently, it hurt him so much that he continued to defend himself on the October '74 tour.
There was an element of truth in it. I mean, he said that he didn't have a 'paunch', but he did. His weight was not down, and that hurts. It would hurt you, it would hurt me, and it hurt him. If he felt that gossip was going around the hotel, would you believe that if Elvis was staying at a hotel that there wouldn't be gossip going around? I would INSIST that there would be gossip, no matter what! And it hurt him. He didn't have enough control to just ignore it, which I think most people realize is maybe the better way.
It surprises me a little that the Colonel chose not to interfere this time.
I think it was a gradual shift in their relationship where the Colonel couldn't control him to the same extent anymore. We have rumours, and actually some supportive information, that they were at odds with eachother on various occasions, and I'm sure that both the situation of comments like the ones on 'Desert Storm', but also that Elvis' shows were too long, was something the Colonel would have wished wasn't the case. Elvis comments on a lot of these late August shows: 'Charlie, how long have I been on stage?', and Charlie says: 'One hour and twenty minutes', and Elvis says: 'I should have been off after 55 minutes!', and still does two or three more songs. The Colonel wanted things to be done true to the agreement, and he didn't care much for erratic behaviour. Elvis knew that he could take the liberty of performing for twenty more minutes. What would the hotel do? Throw him out? I don't think so.
According to the book 'The Death of Elvis', Elvis confessed to the Colonel that he took drugs around this time.
Where does this guy have the information from? The fun thing though is, there's a lot of doctors who get introduced from the stage! (laughs). As for him 'doing drugs', I think that you have to look also at the culture as it is. I'm very much against drugs and alcohol as a person, not that I don't drink wine 'cause I do, but I've just seen so many people lose their abilities and lose their life eventually. But the late 60s and 70s was definitely a period where drugs were all around. I don't think it's right that Elvis did drugs, and I don't think it's right that anybody did, but I also like Eric Clapton's records and Jimmie Hendrix' records, and they all did something they shouldn't have done. But they all also came from a culture where you didn't know the full extent of how much it would eventually hurt you.
But the difference between Elvis and the people you mentioned is that Elvis criticized other drug - abusers, even to president Nixon.
I think everybody who abuses, whether it's alcohol or narcotics, lives in denial. Professional people who treat alcoholics and drug - addicts all say that these people live in denial. Very few stand up and say: 'This is who I am', and even if they do, they only tell half of the story. They don't tell about their truly pathetic moments and how bad they often feel. I think people are over - interpreting Elvis' self - denial. There's too much emphasis that there was this discrepancy with what he said and what he did. I think that's true for anybody that's addicted. It's because it is Elvis Presley, and it's not accepted in the same degree. Had Elvis drank too much, wouldn't people have said: 'Well, so did Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and everybody else?'. Elvis is from a culture where you would expect him to drink.
I think Elvis' drug - abuse was such a big media story, because his image was so clean - cut.
Yes, but if you listen to all those tapes from 1969 onwards, it's not Elvis who pretends a clean - cut image. He says some very weird things on stage, and he did the same in the 50s. It's the media to some extent that has created that image. Had anybody been listening to any of Elvis' concerts. I mean, he gets in deep trouble in 1955, when he does the White River Carnival in Arkansas, where he tells a few bad jokes, and the Colonel has to refund the guy money for that. Elvis didn't portray a clean - cut guy himself deliberately, he was himself. The media did that, and the Colonel, as it was in everybody's interest.
In 1995, RCA released a warm - up jam of 'Tiger Man' from 1975. Is there more stuff like that?
Yes, there is, but that's one of the more extraordinary we found. We used that, and 'I Didn't Make It On Playing Guitar', which is not a song, but just goofing around with a beat. We are constantly on the look - out for tapes that are not currently in our vault. We are always making progress on that, I'm happy to say. I mean, it looks better than it did years ago. We're always hopeful that something else will turn up along those lines. It may not have the greatest appeal to the general public, but it does have a lot of appeal to the fans.
The bass playing of Duke Bardwell was erased from nearly all the masters of the Today sessions. This sounds like an unusual and drastic decision. Why was this done, and was it Elvis' decision?
It is unheard of. Well, you've heard a lot of tapes from the period when Duke was with Elvis' band. He gets a lot of stick from Elvis, as does John Wilkinson, where there seems to be a disrespect on Elvis' side on both of them as musicians, which to me is unpleasant to listen to. He belittles both of them on the shows, and he had apparently less respect for them. Duke Bardwell may not compare to Jerry Scheff in playing skills, or Emory Gordy for that matter, but it's an element that I don't particularly like. There's no doubt that Elvis must have felt that Duke's playing on the Today sessions was not up to par.
In March of 1976, you met Elvis' producer Felton Jarvis. What are your memories of that meeting?
I was scared to death! We found out where they stayed, that was with my wife at the time, Lizzie. We were just doing a Greyhound trip of the US. It wasn't planned. Suddenly we found out that Elvis was playing the next town, in Johnson City. We took a bus over there to try and see if we could get tickets. Of course it was sold out. I'd done my Recording Sessions book, the earlier one, and we thought we'd try and see if we could find the band. We went up to the venue, and nobody really knew anything, but there was a guy who said where they were staying, everybody but Elvis. So we went out to their motel, and didn't know what to do. So we went into the restaurant, and after a while, suddenly the Sweet Inspirations and a lot of the musicians and Felton came down and sat at two of the tables. We were sitting there eating, and I was scared stiff, but at the same time I wanted to go see them. So as soon as people started walking out, suddenly I got very nervous about it, and one of the last people to still be sitting there was Felton. So I finally got my nerve and walked over there. Remember, at that time Felton had actually once written to me, also his wife, with a lot of session information. So I had an excuse in my mind to do that. And he was the nicest of guys, and we got to sit and talk, and he told us about the new sessions at Graceland. The one song he was mentioning all the time was Elvis' version of 'Danny Boy'. I mean, he mentioned that instead of 'Hurt', 'For The Heart', 'Moody Blue' or anything like that. So that was really good. We got to have our picture taken with David Briggs, James Burton and Felton, and that was real fun. Then Felton told me where he thought I could pick up tickets. It was a liquor store on the outskirts of town. So we went there, and we bought two tickets, very overpriced. And then we went to see the show. We sat behind the stage up high, which was already a downer, you could only see things from behind the stage. I was somewhat disappointed, but still fascinated by being there. You see, at that time I was hoping that he would sing a lot of songs that I didn't know. The only one he did do was 'Hurt'. I went out and bought the record and travelled around with it for five weeks without being able to play it until we got back home to Denmark.
What were your general impressions of the concert?
That it was very predictable. It was okay, but not great. At that time I was already somewhat critical of some of the things that he was doing. I remember that we were invited down to witness a mixing session because I gave Felton the book, and he thought I could come down to Murfreesboro where Chip Young had a studio at the time, where they would do some of the mixing. We couldn't fit it into the trip we were on, so -
That must be a regret now.
Yeah, you bet! But I wouldn't have met Elvis by doing so, because he was never there for these sessions anyway. Of course it would have meant something to me, but if I'd met him at that time, as overweight as he was, I may have been shocked. You didn't notice that to the same extent in a big hall. It was for 6 or 7.000 fans, and the place was all concrete, so the sound wasn't all that great. We actually snug a taperecorder in there and recorded it. I still have a tape somewhere of the show, but it's definitely not soundboard quality! You hear people talking around me and all that shit.
Going back to the Graceland sessions, why was 'America The Beautiful' erased? It doesn't really make sense, especially when you consider that there was a shortage of material.
RCA did not control those sessions. They were done at Elvis' house, without RCA. Somebody once told me, and I think it was David Briggs, that they at one time recorded over a song on Elvis' specific instructions, because he didn't want RCA to have it, since he wasn't happy with it. And the only place where that fits would be this one, because that's the only time we ever found anything that's been recorded over.
It's also been said that other songs were tried out or at least improvised, like for instance a couple of Platters songs.
That all comes from David Briggs. He's got a taperecording of quite a lot of the sessions. Very poor cassette - really poor. And I've heard a lot of it. It's basically the same outtakes that exist on mastertape, but he has bits and pieces that are not on the mastertapes, because his was rolling all the time, and the mastertape wasn't. But he never played me any of the Platters songs, although he keeps talking about them. At one stage we even went through two hours of those tapes - it's almost like those cassettes that you have in answering machines on the phone - and they sounded quite terrible. So we spent like two hours going through some of that stuff, but didn't find any of the Platters songs.
Wouldn't 'America The Beautiful' be on those?
Not necessarily, because he may not have done it everyday. He may have done it a lot, but they spent twelve hours per night in the studio for six nights. Would he have 72 hours of that? No, he doesn't - he has like five or six hours of it. He did it very openly on the top of the piano, and Elvis even made a remark about it, but he didn't stop him. Maybe Elvis didn't care that much anymore. The day where they recorded 'America' and where they may have potentially rehearsed 'Feelings', was the day where some of the players had already left. Three of the guys left for Emmylou Harris. The vibe on that day was not good at all. Elvis talked to the new guitarplayer Billy Sanford in a very unpleasant way, he didn't talk direct to him. Not a nice attitude at all. He was really rude to Sanford after the first take of 'Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain'. It's not the kind of Elvis that we all know from recording sessions. Maybe he was just dissatisfied with the whole thing.
There's an x - rated version of 'Hurt' on bootleg, which is usually referred to as 'take 69'. Do you know what take this version really is?
We don't know, because that two inch reel is missing. Mary Jarvis burned that in her back garden, so we don't know what the take number is. But it's not anywhere near 'take 69'! I don't think that Elvis did as many takes on that. I don't think he did very many at all, in that Felton knew that you had to catch Elvis fairly early on for such a demanding song. I think that version is very overrated - it's nowhere as dirty as one could think it would be after having listened to some of the other stuff! (laughs).
If the original tape was burned, then where does this recording come from?
I think there were some people who have reference copies of certain stuff. To me it sounds like 5th generation. There's a lot of loss of soundquality. There must have been one person connected to the Elvis world, a musician, an engineer or a friend, who let an Elvis fan borrow it or have a copy of it, and then we all know what happens.
Why was Elvis' voice drowned in so much echo on the master of 'It's Easy For You'?
I can only guess. I guess that Elvis didn't like his voice so much, so he had Felton add echo to it. I'm still curious about why he added so much echo to 'Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain'. It definitely doesn't get better by that. It's not recorded like that. You can get echo or reverb or those techniques that give you this 'bigger' feeling, but when you add it later? Let me give you an example: The wonderful sound there is to Elvis In Nashville in the early 60s, especially on big dramatic stuff like 'You'll Be Gone', is IN the recording. It's there when he records it. If I go in and take a film soundtrack from the same period, I can't do the same thing to the voice by adding it. That's not possible. You can add a different echo, but you cannot create this full sound, because what it really is, is echo on everything. You think it's echo on Elvis' voice to make it sound bigger, but it's in the room with all the musicians, and is created by the ambience of the room.
I've been told that there's a problem with tapes from '75 - '78, because the oxide falls off quickly. Are there any Elvis tapes from that period that cause problems?
There are some that are very hard to play, and that's the October 1976 session. But that's the only session that gives problems. There's nothing wrong with the '75 sessions, or the sessions in early '76. But it's a big problem for many other artists.
Are there still plans for a remake of Elvis On Tour?
Not to my knowledge at this time. There were plans in the past eight or nine months, but as far as I know, they are all put to rest. The remaking of TTWII was not a success financially, and there's no reason to expect that 'Elvis On Tour' would do a lot better than TTWII. It's a crying shame, but it's very expensive to work with film. Elvis does not look nearly as good in 1972 as he did in 1970, and that is another downer on it. The performances are great though. There's a lot of film stuff from the rehearsals which is very, very nice. The performances and the fun in the studio is just great.
Have you seen the rehearsal of 'Young And Beautiful' from On Tour?
I have not seen the clip of 'Young And Beautiful', but it does exist.
When you look at the famous photo of Adidge and Abel standing in front of the tapes boxes, you see that one of them is marked 'Las Vegas'. Did they film any concerts in Las Vegas?
The one that's marked 'Las Vegas' is footage of Elvis receiving gold records and stuff from George Parkhill. It's backstage at the Hilton in August 1972, with Elvis having the sleeves of his shirt rolled up and looking a bit drowsy. There's a whole film sequence of that. He gets a gold record for The Wonder Of You and for the Madison LP.
How do you feel about some of the criticism that has been levelled at you personally, and at the releases on BMG and FTD?
Let's take the RCA releases first. I don't decide on the RCA releases, Omanski and Schmalenbach did. Of course there are fans who would want things differently, like on for instance 'Live In las Vegas'. I can understand that viewpoint, but I definitely do not agree. If we make a mistake somewhere, where we have the wrong caption or something like that, then that's very annoying. But that's sometimes what happens when you work with things. Sometimes we make mistakes. As for the FTD, criticism on the music part means absolutely nothing to me. I basically think that most of the people who criticize it because they don't like it are in their full right, but I don't care, because we have committed to a certain idea with what FTD is. It's meant for the fans. If every fan liked all albums, I would think that they would be crazy, because even I don't like all of them. But I don't care about the general criticism about FTD. I think that most of these people fail to understand what the whole idea is, and that's their problem and not mine.
As for the personal criticism, on the level I've seen it I find it very unpleasant. I didn't mean to be a public person, for the fame and lack of fortune (laughs). I speak, because I want to speak about the music of Elvis. I simply don't like the tone of some of the criticism levelled at me personally, and I think those people are way out of line. But it doesn't make me stop doing my work, or make me want to quit or anything like that. If you're a public person, you will get insulted and ridiculed. I mean, who was more ridiculed than Elvis himself? One thing that is obviously frustrating is that when you tell certain facts a lot of times, that you still have these people say: 'well, we know better', when they don't. Remember, there's a bunch of know - it - alls on the Internet who are only there to make other people think that they are so smart and that they know so much. It's easy to put a name to some of them, on a lot of them it's not so easy because they cowardly hide behind false names. That's why I really welcome the opportunity not to speak or answer questions from now on. It will only be official RCA answers. I will not be in that spotlight anymore.
This interview was conducted in Denmark by Arjan Deelen. © Arjan Deelen 2001. Arjan has kindly given Elvis Australia exclusive rights to publish this interview on the Internet.
The main body of this text is from an interview Arjan Deelen did with Ernst on November 21, 2001. This text was supplemented with parts from earlier Ernst interviews by Arjan.
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