'I Gotta Know'
Elvis had recorded my song, 'I Gotta Know', co-written with Matt Williams. Matt and I were called into the offices of the publisher, Hill and Range Songs.
Matt didn't show up. 'Paul', the publishers explained to me, 'we don't know when or even if your song will be released. We'd like to have it recorded by a new kid we think highly of. His first record will be heavily promoted. But if this new artist's version is released, Elvis' version will never see the light of day. The decision is up to you'. My answer was fast and clear. 'I want Elvis!' End of discussion. The new kid was Fabian. His first release was the smash, 'Turn Me Loose'. Our Presley record was still not out. My co-writer, Matt, was angry with me because we might have had Fabian's first release.
Finally Elvis' 'I Gotta Know' was released. It made it to #14 on the charts and was on the other side of 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?', the # 1 smash. Our first check was based on sales of one and a half million records. Matt was no longer angry with me. (I found out later that Cliff Richard had cut the song in September 1959, prior to Elvis recording it in April 1960. I'm not clear why that didn't preclude an Elvis release.)
Writing for Elvis
Writers would hear that Elvis had a session planned. So we'd write for him, show the songs to Hill and Range and demo the songs they chose. We had to be careful to make our demos sound like an Elvis recording. The singer had to approximate Elvis (I sang on my demos and on demos for some other writers who wanted to pitch a song to Elvis but couldn't sing like him.) and the arrangement had to sound like an Elvis arrangement. The final Elvis recording would often be just an improved version of the demo.
We were looking for a 'sound' for 'I Gotta Know'. Larry Schnapf, our Associated Recording Studios engineer suggested, 'Shoobee Doobee Wha Wha' and we sang those syllables. Check out the Elvis record. What did the singers sing? 'Shoobee Doobee Wha Wha'.
Writers and Hill and Range
The Colonel had struck a deal making Hill and Range Elvis' exclusive publisher. Up until Elvis reached out of this firm for 'Suspicious Minds' and 'In the Ghetto', if you wanted Elvis, you went to Hill and Range. Writers who showed songs for Elvis knew the drill. If the powers-that-be chose your song, one third of the writing credits went to Elvis Presley. For the most part, I ducked that give-back by either not returning phone calls or breaking appointments at Hill and Range. I was finally cornered by their attorney who shoved a paper in front of my nose. It was a blanket agreement, assigning one third of your share of songs cut by Elvis to Elvis and was signed by a shocking group of successful New York writers. 'Kid', he glared, 'you can't duck this anymore. Sign it or else forget about any more Presley recordings'.
We went into Freddy Bienstock's office. Freddy was the writer contact at the publishing office. 'Freddy', I complained, 'you promised that I wouldn't have to give up any of my writing credit (or royalties) to get Elvis'.
'I promised you that?' he asked. And when I swore that he had, he turned to the attorney and instructed him that 'This man does not have to sign that agreement.' Hill and Range eventually tore up that onerous agreement and Freddie told me that my stance was partly responsible for the change.
My Elvis catalogue
Elvis cut four songs of mine.
'I Gotta Know', 'Blue River' (co-written with Fred Tobias) and 'The Next Step Is Love' (co-written with Paul Parnes) were released as singles around the world. 'Something Blue' (co-written with Al Byron, who wrote 'Roses Are Red, My Love' with me) was released in the album 'Pot Luck' here at home but as a single in the U.K. When he passed away, Elvis was holding two songs of mine. One of them, 'Quiet Desperation', was based on a quote from Henry David Thoreau's 'Walden', and would have made a spectacular Elvis record.
'Elvis : That's the Way It Is'
'The Next Step Is Love' weaves its way through a few scenes in the movie. During a rehearsal scene, Elvis was clowning around and sang, 'The Next Step Is Sex'. Seeing Elvis as he sang my song - that was a thrill.
I never met the man. In spite of my good relationship with Elvis' producer, Felton Jarvis, Elvis' sessions were closed and even Felton couldn't get me in.
Elvis inspired the Rockabilly singers who followed him. The Rockabilly singers inspired me to try my hand at recording. But first there was Elvis - and then there was everybody else.