Interview with Bobby Wood
Source: Elvis Australia
November 17, 2023
A: I first met Elvis around 1955 or '56 at Sun Studios. I was with my family, we were Gospel singers, and we were doing a recording, as we were leaving Sam Phillips introduced me to Elvis.
Bobby Wood Talks about meeting Elvis
Q: You remember what year the Fairgrounds meeting was?
A: Gosh, it had to be, I'll say 65, 66.
Q: Tell us about Elvis at Sun.
A: Early on, I didn't know him at that point. Some friends of mine from Tupelo had showed me a picture of him and said, 'This is gonna be a real hot recording artist. This guy is really good. He's got something really different'. And I was looking at his picture underneath the desk in the studio and talking to Sam and I said, I was telling him that about him, and I didn't even pay any attention. He was sitting behind the desk and Sam said, 'Meet Elvis Presley'. And I got all red-faced and embarrassed and everything.
But I didn't really know who he was at that point, but I found out later.
Q: What do you remember of Elvis fairgrounds?
A: He was very cordial. As long as -- every time I was ever around him he was just a super nice guy.
Q: Do you remember some of the things he would do out there?
A: No, I didn't hang around him a lot. It was just, I met him when I first got to the fairgrounds and we stood and talked for a little while. About really nothing. Just shooting the bull.
Q: 1969 American Sound Studios that's where you really got to know Elvis, right?
A: Yes. American Sound Studios. He came there in 1969. And I'll never forget the first night he came in. I had kind of psyched myself out because we were a really hot rhythm section at that time and I said, 'Oh, you know, Elvis Presley, we're hot as he is right now, so it was no big deal'. I knew when he was in the back parking lot. It was like that much charisma. And he walked in the back door and I almost choked. And there was a little black kid that worked around the studio and he went and got us sandwiches and stuff. And I remember he was sitting on the base stool and when Elvis came in the back door, he stood up and put him hand over his heart and followed him completely around the studio as he walked in. It was like, 'Woah!'
Q: So what type of mood was Elvis in when he came to the studio?
A: Oh, just upbeat. He really looked great. He came in, in his blue leathers and white shirt and had his guys with him, that stayed with him. Just came over and shook hands with everybody. It was just like as friendly as you'd ever want to be. Real cordial.
Q: So did he tell you guys what he really wanted, or was it Chips?
Or did you guys just kind of meld together? How was it?'
A: Elvis really came there to get our sound because, like I say, the records that he had been listening to like the Boxtops and BJ Thomas and all those people, he really loved. And he actually came there to get that sound. And the first couple of days didn't go all that well because we were still doing his catalogue stuff.
And I don't think really he was enjoying it either. So we eventually got into doing some of the songs like Mark James and some of the writers.
Actually Mac Davis came in and played 'In The Ghetto' in person. And so I mean he really enjoyed himself after we got into some great songs. Because Elvis was no fool. I mean this guy, he knew and he was pretty smart.
Q: Going back to the song, what were Elvis reactions?
A: I almost cried. We were in the control room and there was a couch in front of the board. And Mac was playing his guitar and singing this song, sitting on the back of that couch. And Elvis and Chips was behind the control board. And Elvis just shook his head when Mac got through with that song.
Mac was shaking like a leaf. He was scared to death.
Q: Did he play any more songs for Elvis that time?
A: I don't remember if he played any more songs or not.
I just really recall that moment because it was a great moment.
Q: How long was it after Mac sang when Elvis recorded the song?
A: I don't know how long it was after that. It may have been the next day or maybe the next week. I'm not sure. That's been too long ago for me.
Q: What are your memories of when 'Suspicious Minds' came along?
A: We had already cut, 'Suspicious Minds' on Mark James, the writer.
I believe Chips may have played a tape for Elvis. I'm not sure how that went down. But I mean he loved the song when he heard it and wanted to do it.
Q: Elvis did a cover of 'If I'm a Fool'. Is that kind of a tribute to you do you think?
Q: In 1964, you had a hit. Can you tell us when Elvis covered it?
A: Yes, 'If I'm a Fool' in 1964 was a pretty big hit for me and so Elvis had know about that and his dad came in one night at the studio while we were recording Elvis. And he said, 'Dad, I'd like to have you meet somebody here'. And so he brought him over and I shook hands with him and then he introduced us and he said, 'Do you know who this guy is?' And he said, 'No, I'm not sure'. So Elvis said, 'What's your favorite record'. And he said, 'If I'm a Fool'. And he said, 'This is the guy that sang it'. And of course his father just said, 'Woah'. So Elvis went on and did it for his dad because that was one of his dad's favorite songs at the time.
Q: Tell us about the working relationship with Elvis and Chips Moman and all the guys.
What was the vibe there?
A: Oh, the working relationship between Elvis and Chips as far as I knew was great. I never heard any ruffles at all. It was like they worked together great. And actually I don't think Elvis was used to working the way we worked, because Chips was used to having the singer and the band get the song and arrangement together, everybody together. And he actually lost his voice, I believe it was either the first or second week he was here. He lost his voice. And I had to do the pilot tracks for some of the songs that we did. But he made the comment later, I believe George called Chips back and Elvis said that it was the greatest time that he could remember in a long time of his life. He never worked so hard and felt so good about stuff.
Q: So many fans love that period when Elvis was recording at American with you guys. Do you have any memories that stand out in your mind of incidents, or give me the background of what the studio was like.
A: Yeah, the American Studios was located in really a bad section of town, because people all around us were getting robbed and everything. It was not a great section of town. And I remember, we had had a rat infestation in the studio and I mean rats were falling out of the ceiling. It was just an old building and the county had come to get rid of the rats because we were overrun by them. And I never forgot that. It might have been the second time he came. I'm not sure if it was the first or second, there was a rat fell off the roof right in front of him and then he jumped about three feet. But he said, 'Good Lord'.
Q: Did Elvis do anything unusual in the studio to change the mood?
A: No, there was nothing different that I can think about. It was just an old funky place and that's the way it was. Most the studios in Memphis were pretty funky anyway. Hi was and Stax was.
Q: Did different performers come to visit Elvis?
A: Roy Hamilton came in. I'm not sure if it was the first time or the second time he was in. But, yeah, they did a song together because Hamilton was one of, Elvis thought he was great. He loved that man. They did a song together. And I can't even remember the song, the name of the song right now.
But he loved it. He was very enthused by that.
Q: Was there any particular song you guys had a tough time?
A: I can't remember any that--we worked up our arrangements from scratchy. So some songs worked and some didn't. It was like we tried a lot of different things, but that's just the way we worked. We'd do one song. If it didn't work, we'd go to another song.
Q: So did Chips bring a lot of the material in, or did you guys also suggest songs?
A: Chips has several writers on staff.
He had Dan Penn, Johnny Christopher, Mark James. Wayne Carson would come in from time to time and Chips liked to go back and cut old songs occasionally. Back then you usually had at least one old song on an album.
He usually had something under his hat, usually, that was a hit. At least one song anyway.
Q: Did Elvis' sense of humor crop up there at the sessions?
A: We had a good time usually. We laughed about everything. We had fun. But we worked hard too. We'd keep going until we got whatever it took to get it. If it was four o'clock in the morning, it didn't matter.
Q: You worked for a lot of performers. And you were with Garth Brooks from the beginning. You mentioned a story about his generosity. Would you like to tell us about that?
A: OK, I've worked with Garth Brooks since 89, from the beginning until the present day. Garth is a very generous person. I think we probably, maybe into the second album and he called us in one Christmas and gave us all a bonus. A pretty sizable bonus. And I said, 'Wow'. And I told him, I said, 'You know what? In 40 years, there's, of my career, there have only been two people that I can think of right now that's been this generous'. And I said, 'I wanna thank you very much'. In a little while he walked over and he said, 'Who was that other person?' So of course I told him, 'Elvis'.
Q: What memories really stick out in your mind about Elvis?
Is there something that really stays with you to this day?
A: The memories of Elvis is, he was always cordial, nice to everybody. He usually liked to have a good time with songs and when it came to work, Elvis worked as hard as anybody else. And when it come to creativity, he joined in on that too. And the thing I guess that sticks in my mind about Elvis was you couldn't fool him about feel. I mean this guy knew soul and he knew feel. And that's one great thing I remember about him. And his generosity too. We were reluctant to even brag on anything he was wearing because we knew he's gonna take it off and give it to us. So we just didn't get into those areas. But this guy was very special.
Q: Did you see Elvis again after the sessions?
A: Yeah, I went back to Stax in 73 to do another week with him.
Q: Did you work on the songs like 'Promised Land'?
A: Yeah. I worked on 'Promised Land' and I really don't remember a whole lot about the songs that we did. I think we did a Tony Joe White song. Might have been when we did 'I Got A Thing About You Baby'.
Q: That's right, 'I Got A Thing About You Baby'.
A: And maybe 'Moody Blue' was on that too, I'm not sure. But that week wasn't as memorable as the old 69.
Q: What do you think was the difference?
A: The difference between American and Stax was that there were 40 people in the studio and it was kind of back to--I don't know, I just didn't seem to--that his heart was in it as much as the other ones were. A couple of nights he didn't even show up. Or one night for sure. It was like there were just too many people in the studio and it seemed more like a party than it did a work environment. I'm not saying that on his part, but I'm saying it on my part because we were used to a more controlled working environment and getting tracks right and getting the vocals right and all that. And the doing the overdubs later. But it was just totally different than anything I'd been used to doing before.
Q: Where were you when you found out Elvis had passed away?
A: I was at a studio here in Nashville when Elvis passed away. We were doing an album on Joe Tex. And I'll never forget it. We were setting in the studio and getting ready to go into a song and somebody called. And I remember, they called us all in the control room and they said, 'Elvis Presley just passed away'. And Joe got so broke up we canceled the rest of the week. He couldn't sing anymore because Elvis was one of his heroes. And he said, 'Man, I can't go on'. So we just canceled the rest of the week.
Q: So would you say that working with Elvis was one of the highlights of your career?
A: Working with Elvis was definitely one of the highlights of my career. I'll never forget those days. Me and Elvis had several talks and we were sitting on the piano bench one night just talking about different things and talking about going to church and digging into the areas of God and the higher powers and stuff. We just had a good time. I was sitting there just talk just carrying on a man to man conversation for probably about fifteen minutes and after a while, I got to thinking, Good Lord, I'm sitting here next to the king, and I almost started hallucinating. I said, 'Wait a minute. This ain't supposed to happen'. But no, he was. He could talk on any level that you, anybody wanted to talk on. Just, I just, at that point, I really felt his heart and I knew that I was talking to really a good person.
Q: You're a really good person and thanks for sitting down and talking to me.
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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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