Don Robertson: Writing For The King
October 3, 2020
Donald Irwin Robertson was born in Peking, China 1922 to O.H. and Ruth Robertson. His father, a noted physician and medical scientist (developer of the first Blood Bank), was then head of the Department of Medicine at Peking Union Medical College. His mother, herself a talented pianist and poet/playwright, noticing his interest in the piano, started him on lessons at age four. He began composing simple songs around age seven.
I'm Counting on You
Recorded: 1956/01/11, first released on Elvis Presley
There's Always Me
I had received a phone call from one of Elvis' assistants (don't remember who) who told me that Elvis had said he wanted to meet with me and I was invited to go over to Radio Recorders in Hollywood where he was doing some sessions. When I got to Radio Recorders I was directed down a main hall toward the control room of the studio where he was working. A door was open to the studio and as I walked past I could see Elvis standing in front of a microphone. He was wearing a sea captain's hat and was looking very dapper. I continued to the control booth and was directed to a little lounge off to the side with a view of the studio. In a few minutes Elvis took a break and came in to the lounge and we shook hands and introduced ourselves. We talked for 15 or 20 minutes, trading brief autobiographies. I remember one phrase verbatim when he was talking about Sun Records and the secretary/assistant to Sam Phillips. Elvis said to me, 'if it hadn't been for her I'd still be driving a truck'. When he went back to work, the first thing he did was to walk up to his vocal mike and, looking at me with a mischievous smile on his face, sang a naughty version of the first few lines of There's Always Me.
During another break, Elvis invited me to come to his house after the session, along with the Jordanaires and some of the musicians. That evening, at his house, he played me his recorded version of There's Always Me - it was the first time I had heard it. There were lots of people in the room. He was rather secretive about his new unreleased recordings so we listened on headphones.
Just before the recording reached the end, he said to me: 'Listen to this ending'. He was very proud of his semi-operatic delivery of the title line at the end, as well he should have been.
To my surprise, he knew all about my having originated Floyd Cramer's piano style and announced to the room that I was the one that had invented Floyd Cramer's 'slip-note' style. It makes me sad to think about it, because I never really told Elvis how good he made me feel. Nor did I ever tell him how much I appreciated his fine renditions of my songs. I guess I assumed he knew how good he was. But I wish now that I had put it into words. It taught me a lesson. Now, whenever an artist does an outstanding rendition of one of my songs I make sure I thank the artist [and, if possible, everyone else who worked on the record]. I don't believe that any of them, no matter how rich or famous, are immune to expressions of appreciation from the writer.
Recorded: 1961/03/12, first released on Something For Everybody
In January of 1961 I had received a letter from Freddy Bienstock at Elvis Presley Music in New York regarding material for Elvis to perform in one of the scenes in the movie, Blue Hawaii. Because of the great success of It's Now Or Never (adapted from O Solo Mio), he said they would like to have another adaptation of an old Italian or French (Public Domain) folk song with new English lyrics for Elvis to record. I remembered one of my childhood favorites, La Paloma. I enlisted Hal Blair's aid and we began work on it.
I didn't have a copy of the music, so I worked it out from memory. This was probably a blessing in disguise, because it took on a unique quality, different from the song I had learned as a child. Hal and I spent most of a day in my office in Hollywood. I sat at the piano and he pulled up a chair next to me and we followed our usual procedure, both of us coming up with lyric phrases and trying them out as I worked on the arrangement and sang in Elvis' style. The lyric and the arrangement gradually evolved until we had a song we thought would fit Elvis and that we felt he might like. I set up a demo session at RCA on Sunset Blvd, just down the street from my office. I've forgotten who the engineer was, most likely either Al Schmidt (later on a Grammy winner) or Jim Malloy. I liked working with either of them. Both top of the line, plus the positive and encouraging attitudes so essential to counteracting the insecurity I invariably felt when presenting a new piece of work. I had recently helped my friend and colleague Bonnie Guitar with one of her projects so I asked her to play some guitar rhythm for me (besides her exceptional vocal artistry, Bonnie plays great rhythm guitar). I showed her what I had in mind for the guitar rhythm while I played the B3 organ). Then I overdubbed the vocal and, despite the small orchestra, we came out with what seemed to be a pretty effective expression of the song. I made a lead sheet and sent it, along with the demo, to Freddy. The fact that the arrangement on Elvis' recording follows my demo almost note for note - including my vocal phrasing - was a rewarding validation of the effectiveness of the demo as well as telling Hal and me that we hit the bull's eye with the song.
Recorded: 1961/03/21, first released on Blue Hawaii
Recorded: 1961/03/12, first released on Something For Everybody
Hal and I originally wrote this for the wedding scene in the Presley movie, Blue Hawaii. We were on a roll that year. The songs just seemed to pour out. We were living a few houses away from each other and were together almost every day, living and breathing songs.
Recorded: 1961/06/25, first released on Pot Luck
Anything That's Part Of You
Tender, affecting ballads such as this were Don Robertson's specialty, and Elvis rarely sounded as attuned to a lyric as he does here. His inimitable sense of performance was well in evidence. Issued on the B-side of Good Luck Charm, Anything That's Part Of You still managed to rise to No. 31 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
Recorded: 1961/10/15, first released on single
Available on the CD album Something For Everybody
I Met Her Today
I usually made my demos in Hollywood at the famous Gold Star Studios with the legendary Stan Ross manning the board. I Met Her Today was an exception. I played and sang it live for the Aberbachs (Hill & Range Songs) in their offices in the Brill Building at 1650 Broadway in New York City (where many music publishers were located) and they wanted me to make a demo right away, so I went to a little studio nearby (just voice and piano as I recall). After 1960, I made some of my demos in Nashville.
Chet Atkins once told me that my renditions were at their best when I played and sang at the same time - that I sounded different than when I overdubbed the vocals. I find it more demanding and harder to do, doing it at the same time, but if it sounds better I guess it's worth it. It worked both ways
The more I listened to Elvis, the more I tended to write the songs and sing the demos in his style. It was a fortunate coincidence that we both had about the same comfortable vocal range (his was greater), and we understood each other's phrasing. He also liked my accompaniments, whether just piano, or with small or large orchestras. At his house one time, he told me how much he liked the intro and fills on I Met Her Today and on Anything That's Part Of You and asked me to play them several times for him on his grand piano.
Recorded: 1961/10/15, first released on Elvis For Everyone
Available on the album CD Pot Luck
They Remind Me Too Much of You
One evening at Elvis' house in Bel Air he asked me to play his piano and we spent some time jamming, with Elvis and some of his friends singing. It was not long after that that I got called to play on his sessions for the soundtrack for It Happened At The World's Fair. We recorded for about twelve hours at Radio Recorders, completing the entire soundtrack in one day. There was a moment, when I had to fight for They Remind Me Too Much of You, when someone mentioned that it resembled Chapel In The Moonlight. It wasn't Elvis that noticed the similarity, it was someone in the control booth while we were rehearsing.
I was afraid they were going to throw the song out of the session, so I worked out new opening notes at the piano. Then I went over to Elvis where he was standing in front of his vocal mike and I sang him the new notes. He said, 'Fine. I think I can do that!' So that's the way he sang it on the next run through, and the powers that be in the booth said OK and we did a finished take.
Recorded: 1962/09/22, first released on single
Available on the CD album It Happened At The World's Fair
I'm Falling in Love Tonight
Recorded: 1962/09/22, first released on It Happened At The World's Fair
I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here
Recorded: 1963/01/22, first released on Fun In Acapulco
Recorded: 1963/01/22, first released on Fun In Acapulco
Love Me Tonight
Recorded: 1963/05/26, first released on Fun In Acapulco
What Now, What Next, Where To
I got this song title from a line in a Carl Sandburg book, The People, Yes. I wrote the music and Hal and I co-wrote the rest of the words. Then I made the demo with a great rhythm section at Harmony Recorders in Hollywood. That record was really fun to make. We found a nice little groove and it all came together rather effortlessly. I wish all recording sessions could be as natural and enjoyable as that one with that instinctive easy communication between the players that happens now and then.
My very close friend Sheb Wooley (Purple People Eater) had introduced me to Johnny Cash, who lived not far away from me here in Southern California. I thought this might be good for his style.
I called him, and he invited me to bring the demo up to his house in Ojai and play it for him. I took along my son, Donny, who was a gifted musician and a big Johnny Cash fan. Johnny listened to the demo but didn't really comment on it. We talked about his gun collection and other things.
I waited a few weeks but Johnny never showed any interest in the song, so eventually I sent it to the Aberbachs who then gave it to Elvis. I wonder if Johnny ever heard the Elvis recording and remembered the song. I saw him on several occasions after that, but the subject of that song never came up. Elvis obviously liked the arrangement as well as the song, as they copied my demo very closely.
Recorded: 1963/05/26, first released on Double Trouble
One Eyed one Horned Flying Purple People Eater -- In 1958 my son, Donnie, came home from school with a children's joke about 'what flies, has one eye & eats people?' You can sort of make it up as you go. I told the joke this way to my good friend, songwriter & actor Sheb Wooley: 'What flies, has one eye, one horn & eats people?' Answer: 'A flying one-eyed, one-horned people eater?' Sheb wrote a song using that idea adding his favorite color, purple, to the title line. He called me and suggested we write it together. I said Sheb was so much better at writing novelties and urged him to write it alone (which he did). Later, Sheb recorded one of my ballads for the flip side... a nice 'thank you' for giving him the idea. In a newspaper article, Bob Nafius wrote: 'It wasn't the first time Don Robertson has unconsciously handed away a musical goldmine'.
(referring to Don's creation of the so-called 'Floyd Cramer Style').
I Really Don't Want To Know
Recorded: 1970/07/07, first released on Elvis Country
Some Of The Artists That Have Recorded Don Robertson Songs:
Bill Anderson - Ann Margret - Eddy Arnold - John Berry - Brook Benton - Pat Boone - Don Bowman - Theresa Brewer - Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius - The Browns - Anita Bryant - The Burbank Philharmonic - Solomon Burke - Johnny Burnette - Glen Campbell - Joe 'fingers' Carr - Chubby Checker & Dee Dee Sharp - The Chordettes - Roy Clark - Clebanoff Strings - Jack Clement - Rosemary Clooney - Ben Colder - Perry Como - Cowboy Copas - Billy 'crash' Craddock - Floyd Cramer - J.D. Crowe - Vic Damone - Bobby Darin - John Davidson - Danny Davis - Skeeter Davis - Jimmy Dean - Lou Dinning - Dion - Ronnie Dove - Rusty Draper - Roy Drusky - Dave Dudley - Bob Dylan - Duane Eddy - Dave Edmunds - Tommy Edwards - The Everly Brothers - Bent Fabric - Narvel Felts - Freddy Fender - Eddie Fisher - John Fogerty - Red Foley - Tennessee Ernie Ford - Connie Francis - John Gary - Eydie Gorme - Earl Grant - Gogi Grant - Jack Greene - Lorne Greene - Bonnie Guitar - Jimmy Haskell - Hawkshaw Hawkins - Bill Haley - Goldie Hill - Al Hirt - Homer & Jethro - Ferlin Husky - The Isley Brothers - Wanda Jackson - Stonewall Jackson - Joni James - Sonny James - Puff Johnson - George Jones & Gene Pitney - Tom Jones - Pee Wee King - Gladys Knight - Leo Kottke - Frankie Laine - Jerry Lee Lewis - Living Guitars - Living Voices - Hank Locklin - Julie London - Norman Luboff Choir - Loretta Lynn - Charlie Mccoy - Mcguire Sisters - Gisele Mackenzie - Rose Maddox - Johnny Mann Singers - Dean Martin - Freddy Martin & Orch. - Al Martino - Martina Mcbride - Ronny Milsap - George Morgan - Jim Nabors - Johnny Nash - Ricky Nelson - Willie Nelson - 101 Strings - Patti Page - Dolly Parton - Les Paul & Mary Ford - Ray Peterson - Little Esther Phillips - Webb Pierce - Sandy Posey - Prairie Oyster - Elvis Presley - Ray Price - Charlie Pride - Boots Randolph - Della Reese - Jim Reeves - Riders In The Sky - Don Robertson - Johnny Rodriguez - Tommy Sands - Marilyn Sellars - Jean Shepard - Roberta Sherwood - Dinah Shore - Carl Smith - Connie Smith - Hank Snow - Sons Of The Pioneers - Kay Starr - Billy Swan - Sweethearts Of The Rodeo - Nino Tempo & April Stevens - Hank Thompson - The Three Suns - Mel Torme - John Travolta - Conway Twitty - Billy Vaughn - Bobby Vee - Bobby Vinton - Jerry Wallace - Jimmy Wakely - Billy Ward & The Dominoes - Fred Waring - Dinah Washington - Lawrence Welk - Kitty Wells - Dottie West - Slim Whitman - Wilburn Brothers - Andy Williams - Hank Williams Jr. - Joe Williams - Paul Williams - Nancy Wilson - Kai Winding - Sheb Wooley - Tammy Wynette - Glen Yarbrough - The Young Americans - Faron Young
Some Of The Artists Don Has Recorded With On Keyboards:
Elvis Presley - Johnny Cash - Nat 'King' Cole - Duane Eddy - Chet Atkins - Waylon Jennings - Jessi Colter - Bonnie Guitar - Charley Pride - Al Martino - Kay Starr - June Carter Cash - Jack Clement - John Prine - Billy Swan - Tamra Rosanes - Ann Margaret - Sheb Wooley
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
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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. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.
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