Interview with session guitar player Chip Young
April 8, 2018
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MN: How did you get involved with working with Elvis Presley?
Chip Young: Through Scotty Moore, Elvis' original guitar player down in Memphis. He told Elvis one day, 'We've got this kid here in Nashville we need to use on these records. He plays parts that nobody else plays'. Elvis said, 'Get him!' So the next session, they called me and asked if I could do it.
MN: Where was the session at?
Chip Young: RCA Studio B. I was blown away getting to work with Elvis. Then the next thing we did was a movie soundtrack out in L.A. We went to MGM or Universal, I've forgotten which one it was now. I remember I was driving the car with all the musicians with me. It's a movie lot, so all the buildings are really close together. I swerved around the corner and Rock Hudson stepped out of one of the doorways and jumped back in. I almost hit him. Scared me to death!
MN: What were some of the big songs you worked on with Elvis?
Chip Young: I played on 'Guitar Man' with Jerry Reed. Jerry wrote that. I played on everything from '65 until he died, except they cut six songs down in Memphis or something. I mixed that Moody Blue album out in Murfreesboro, right before I moved to Nashville.
MN: Is that where he flew into Murfreesboro and never got off the plane?
Chip Young: Yeah, he had his pilot fly him up here. He had a cold. I answered the phone. He said, 'Chip, is Felton [Jarvis] there?' I said, 'Yeah, hold on a second'. Felton Jarvis was the producer. RCA had to have a company man with each artist; all the record labels were the same way. They didn't want their money spent without somebody accounting for it.
MN: What happened with Elvis on the plane?
Chip Young: He told Felton, 'Man, I don't even feel like driving out there. I've got this really bad cold'. It was just as well they didn't come out there. I didn't want to get a cold! He turned around and flew back to Memphis.
MN: Did you do any recording at Graceland?
Chip Young: Oh yeah. Two different times I played in the Jungle Room down there.
MN: Where they'd bring a mobile truck in? Is that because he didn't want to leave the house?
MN: You all would come down when he felt like tracking?
Chip Young: And stay in a motel, yeah. About six o'clock we'd show up.
MN: At night?
Chip Young: Yeah. He'd make his way down. It might be seven o'clock before he got down there. When we recorded at RCA we were there by six o'clock. Six to nine o'clock is a session, and then 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. is another session. 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. is another session, and so on. There were a lot of times he wouldn't show up until nine o'clock at night. We'd already been paid for one session before he ever showed up.
MN: Then he'd want to go all night?
Chip Young: Until 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning. There's a picture of me, David Briggs, and Jerry Carrigan. It's the first session James Burton worked with us. It's pretty well-known; a picture of all us and Elvis. We all look like we can barely keep our eyes open. It's about 8 or 8:30 in the morning in RCA Studio B. We were tired puppies. We'd been going since 6 o'clock the night before. Fact was all of us had worked sessions the day before, and then all through the night. I worked all day the next day. I went asleep playing on a 6 p.m. session for somebody. All of a sudden I was asleep. We had great times; wonderful times.
MN: What was your favorite memory about Elvis?
Chip Young: Just what a good guy he was. He loved to kid around with everybody. He always thanked everybody for being a part of the records. 'Thank you for being here and helping me. I appreciate your input'. He was a wonderful guy. I think it was the first night James Burton worked with us. We had our guitars sitting up against a little baffle in front of the bass drum there at RCA Studio B. I had a gut string that Harold Bradley had bought in Spain and brought back; just a great sounding guitar. James and I had six or seven guitars leaning up against that baffle. This is '69 or '70 and Elvis was trim and into karate. He really looked good. One of the background singers came up and said, 'Hey, Elvis. If somebody drew a pistol on you, how would you get it away from them?' He said, 'Oh, that's easy. Hey, Red West, bring that pistol over here'. Red reaches in his pocket and pulls out a pistol. I said, 'God, is that pistol loaded?' Red said, 'I wouldn't bring an unloaded pistol in here'. I said, 'How about unloading it?' He opens it up and the bullets fall down on the carpet. Red's holding the pistol on Elvis, and I'm standing there watching it. I said, 'When he hits that pistol, it's going to go flying across the studio and right into those guitars'. Right about the time I said, 'Let me move' ... Pow, he hit his hand, and that gun went flying right into the back of my gut string guitar. The barrel went into the guitar and hung there. Of course, everybody in the studio died laughing. I said, 'That's not too funny. It's my guitar'. Elvis said, 'Chip, go buy you another guitar and bring me the bill'. I could have gone and gotten a Ramirez for two or three thousand dollars – it wouldn't have made a difference to him. I picked up the guitar, took the gun out, and gave it back to Red. I said, 'Actually Elvis, I think this guitar is probably worth more now than it ever has been'. I was right. I donated it to the Country Music Hall of Fame. They have it in a Plexiglas case. It shows the hole in the back and a little article about how it all happened.
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