The Making of 'From Elvis In Nashville'
January 15, 2021
'From Elvis in Nashville' finds Presley at his thrilling best - vamping, scatting, and even swearing, in thrall to the performance
For a few freewheeling days in June of 1970, Elvis Presley assembled some of Nashville's best session players to jam in RCA Studio B on Music Row. Elvis chose the songs himself, everything from Simon & Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and Bob Wills' 'Faded Love' to Willie Nelson's 'Funny How Time Slips Away' and Eddie Rabbitt's 'Patch It Up'. The sessions were marathon affairs, and naturally the musicians - and Elvis - would get hungry.
Charlie McCoy, the multi-tool player who first recorded with Elvis on the soundtrack to 1965's Harum Scarum, vividly recalls trays of cheeseburgers and fries laid out cafeteria-style in the studio's control room. McCoy and his colleagues - like drummer Jerry Carrigan and bassist Norbert Putnam - would get in line and fill their plates.
They learned quickly that some of the spread was off-limits.
The Making of 'From Elvis In Nashville'
'There was this big Dixie cup full of kosher dill spears', McCoy tells Rolling Stone. 'So Jerry Carrigan is walking down and he reaches in to grab one of these pickles, and from out of nowhere, this hand comes and grabs his wrist. It's one of the Memphis Mafia, and the guy says, 'Those are Elvis' pickles'.
McCoy laughs at the memory and the defensive, ever-present members of Elvis's entourage, colorful guys like Joe Esposito and Red West. 'You know, Elvis would have given him the whole cup, but those guys were so protective of him'.
There was one place the Memphis Mafia wouldn't dare set foot, however: inside the studio. 'When we were recording', McCoy says, 'these guys were nowhere to be seen'. That was sacred space, where Elvis was free to create and vibe off the musicians. The new box set From Elvis in Nashville takes fans where even Elvis' inner circle couldn't go. Over 74 tracks, the four-disc package puts you right in the studio with Elvis, guitarist James Burton, and members of the Music City studio pros casually known as the 'Nashville Cats', including Carrigan, Putnam, pianist David Briggs, and the harmonica ace McCoy.
Like previous box sets issued by RCA/Legacy Recordings - Prince From Another Planet, Elvis at Stax, and Way Down in the Jungle Room, among them - From Elvis in Nashville is a Presley fan's dream, a collection of rip-roaring performances that could convert even the most obstinate of Elvis deniers. At four hours and 25 minutes, it is an electrifying listening experience.
The June sessions at Studio B yielded three albums: Elvis: That's The Way It Is, Elvis Country (I'm 10,000 Years Old) and Love Letters from Elvis. While those albums had their moments, they also suffered from being overly polished. At first glance, That's the Way It Is appears to be the soundtrack to the thrilling 1970 concert film of the same name, but the LP is mostly made up of studio recordings, weighted down by added strings and horns. From Elvis in Nashville removes those distractions to focus on Elvis's voice and the chemistry of the band.
That remixing job fell to Matt Ross-Spang, the Memphis engineer behind albums by Jason Isbell and Margo Price, who dissected each track with the compilation's producer, Ernst Mikael Jorgensen. Ross-Spang says the process was about more than removing instruments.
'The overdubs all sounded amazing, but to take those away and just really hear what everyone's doing, it's so cool', he tells Rolling Stone, citing Elvis' version of the Hank Cochran weeper 'Make the World Go Away' as a favorite. 'Ernst is sitting there going, 'You got to think this is '70, '71, [Elvis'] marriage with Priscilla is…struggling'. And then you hear him sing that song and you're like, 'OK, I'm going to cry'. We talk not just about the kick drum and the tapes, but we talk about where [Elvis] was mentally at that time'.
Ballads like 'Make the World Go Away', 'How the Web Was Woven', and 'Twenty Days and Twenty Nights' capture this contemplative side of Elvis. He's singing with vulnerability, baring a pained soul.
But despite the immense power of the ballads, it's the rambunctious, country-soul jams that make this particular set so irresistible. Elvis is performing unburdened, and the band is on fire, tearing through 'Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands Off of It', 'I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water', and 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'. Elvis spontaneously swears throughout, overcome by the energy in the room. 'I said you're long, lean and lanky, sweet as she can be, motherfucker now!' he vamps in the 'Got My Mojo Working' medley. At the jam's end, someone shouts, 'Damn right!' and the boss laughs. 'It's that type of material that's not good or bad, it's just mediocre shit', Elvis says of the performance. He couldn't be more wrong.
'Patch It Up', which lost its bite on the That's the Way It Is album, is ferocious here, with Elvis scatting over the band's potent mix. It 'emerges as among the fiercest rockers in the Presley catalogue', the writer David Cantwell says in the liner notes to From Elvis in Nashville. 'Credit Putnam and Carrigan rolling and thundering the rhythm and Burton losing his mind on electric guitar'.
'We're not trying to change history', Ross-Spang says of the updated mixes, praising the original Seventies recordings by producer Felton Jarvis and engineer Al Pachucki. 'But it's amazing, with the abilities we have, to go back and showcase how invested Elvis was in the music and in the songs'.
Yet Elvis, who had just returned to the Las Vegas stage a year earlier in 1969, was also invested in putting on a show. With the Memphis Mafia lurking, he was never without an audience, and the energy in the studio was sometimes too strong to be contained. McCoy recalls how Elvis one time channeled it into a karate demonstration.
'Somebody asked him, 'If somebody came at you with a pistol, what would you do?' And Elvis said, 'Well, I'd disarm him', McCoy says. Elvis summoned Red West to bring his pistol. Guitarist Chip Young stood nearby.
'He said, 'Come at me, Red', and as he does, [Elvis] does some karate move and the pistol goes flying through the air and sticks in the back of Chip's acoustic guitar', McCoy says.
Elvis offered to buy him a new one, but Young declined: 'I'm the only guy in the world with a guitar with a hole made by Elvis'.
'It was all night', McCoy says of those wild, dusk-to-dawn sessions. 'Elvis would sleep all day and then he came in raring to go. I walked out of the studio with just enough time to go to breakfast and go to my next session'.
At the close of the 1960s, Elvis Presley, the atomic-powered singer of the 1950s, put his stamp on the rock revolution decade, reestablishing himself as a musical and cultural force to be reckoned with. His electrifying Elvis '68 Comeback special made television history and his long-awaited return to non-soundtrack recordings- captured at Chip Moman's American Sound Studio in Memphis, January-February 1969- yielded major chart hits including 'In The Ghetto', 'Don't Cry Daddy', 'Kentucky Rain', and 'Suspicious Minds' (Elvis' final #1 single) and well as a pair of acclaimed 1969 album releases, From Elvis In Memphis and the studio/concert hybrid From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis. From Elvis In Nashville serves as a mirror and companion to his earlier Memphis recordings, bringing fresh fire, exuberance, humor and emotional resonance to the Studio B sessions.
I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water | Official Audio
For his first recordings of the 1970s, Elvis revisited the blueprint that made his American Sound sessions so successful. Because he hated doing overdubs, he wanted to cut loose live in the studio with a band in sync with his sensibility. Freed from obligations to music publishers, Elvis was able to pick and record songs that were contemporary, relevant and meaningful to him, from covers- including his transcendent interpretation of 'Bridge Over Trouble Water' - to the epic material then powering his Las Vegas residencies and return to live performing. (In 1970 alone, Elvis performed two-month-long engagements at the International, playing two shows a night.)
If the American Sound recordings in Memphis opened the door for Elvis' return to the stage and top of the charts, his next recordings- the fabled 1970 Marathon Sessions- would lay the groundwork for another revolution in pop music. Under the direction of producer Felton Jarvis, Elvis joined forces with one of the most potent studio ensembles ever assembled to create an often underrated chapter in Presley's rich legacy. Working with the fabled 'Nashville Cats' for his first album of 1970, Elvis Presley connected to a circle of contemporary musicians that included Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, George Harrison and others.
Funny How Time Slips Away | Official Audio
In June 1970, Elvis- who'd upended country music radio in the 1950s when he introduced rock 'n' roll music to the mainstream--returned to RCA Studio B to create a new sound for a new decade. From 1958-1971, Elvis recorded more than 200 tracks at Studio B, beginning with five songs- including 'A Fool Such As I' - before shipping off to Germany with the US Army in September 1958; he recorded Elvis Is Back!, his first post-army album, at Studio B in March-April 1960. For his 1970 Nashville sessions, Elvis was able to handpick his own repertoire and, delve into the rich variety of American music in his marrow, combining elements of bluegrass, honky tonk, Western swing and the rockabilly he'd virtually invented with contemporary pop, ballads and epic showstoppers. Bringing a fresh and vital new approach to pop and country music, Elvis' performances on From Elvis In Nashville presaged and encompassed emerging trends from countrypolitan and Americana to outlaw country.
These sessions are widely recognized as among Elvis' best because of the undeniable chemistry between Elvis and his astonishing studio band comprised of multi-instrumentalist Charlie McCoy (whose resume includes Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde, John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline as well as work with Paul Simon, Tanya Tucker, Bob Seger, Willie Nelson and many more); bassist Norbert Putnam (Roy Orbison, Al Hirt, Henry Mancini, Dan Fogelberg, Linda Ronstadt, J. J. Cale, Tony Joe White, more); and pianist David Briggs (who's worked with Dean Martin, Joan Baez, Nancy Sinatra, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Tony Joe White, George Harrison, Todd Rundgren, Roy Orbison, The Monkees, J. J. Cale, Kris Kristofferson, Alice Cooper, among others). Known colloquially as the 'Nashville Cats', this finely-honed studio ensemble, like Elvis himself, connected the worlds of pop, rock and country music. For the June sessions, Elvis brought in his longtime on-stage guitarist James Burton; Eddie Hinton- who, like Putnam ad Briggs, was part of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section- played lead guitar on Elvis' September 22 session. Elvis plays acoustic guitar throughout the June sessions.
The five-day 'marathon' sessions—with work starting in the early evening and continuing until dawn- yielded a wide variety of material including a spirited rendition of Willie Nelson's 'Funny How Time Slips Away', the heartrending 'I've Lost You', a powerful take on Simon & Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', and a new version of 'Love Letters', which Presley first cut in 1966. A wild, single-take version of 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' was one of the highlights of the September 22 single day session.
The music Elvis created in his 1970 'marathon sessions' - presented here without layers of overdubbing heard on the original releases- stands among Presley's best and has proven immensely influential. It established musical directions he pursued the rest of his career, predicted his late-in-life pop- and-country radio successes, and modeled sounds for countless country stars to come. From Elvis In Nashville provides an intimate glimpse into the world of Elvis and the way he made music that lasts forever.
Buy the original albums from the FTD Collectors Label
01. Opening Jam (Mystery Train)
02. Twenty Days And Twenty Nights
03. I've Lost You
04. I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago
05. The Sound Of Your Cry
06. The Fool
07. A Hundred Years From Now
08. Little Cabin On The Hill
09. Cindy, Cindy
10. Bridge Over Troubled Water
11. How The Web Was Woven
12. Got My Mojo Working/ Keep Your Hands Off Of It
13. It's Your Baby, You Rock It
14. Stranger In The Crowd
15. I'll Never Know
16. Mary In The Morning
17. It Ain't No Big Thing (But It's Growing)
18. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me
19. Just Pretend
20. This Is Our Dance
22. Heart Of Rome
Disc 2 - Masters
01. When I'm Over You
02. I Really Don't Want To Know
03. Faded Love
04. Tomorrow Never Comes
05. The Next Step Is Love
06. Make The World Go Away
07. Funny How Time Slips Away
08. I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water
09. Love Letters
10. There Goes My Everything
11. If I Were You
12. Only Believe
14. Patch It Up
16. Where Did They Go, Lord
17. Whole Lot-ta Shakin' Goin' On
18. Rags To Riches
Disc 3 - Outtakes
01. Jam 2 (Tiger Man)
02. I've Lost You – take 1
03. The Next Step Is Love – takes 3-6
04. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me – rehearsal
05. Patch It Up – take 1
06. Twenty Days And Twenty Nights – takes 5,6 & 8
07. How The Web Was Woven – take 1
08. Mary In The Morning – takes 3-4
09. Just Pretend – takes 1-2
10. Stranger In The Crowd – takes 1-5
11. Bridge Over Troubled Water – rehearsal, take 1
12. Patch It Up – take 9
13. The Sound Of Your Cry – take 3
14. Where Did They Go, Lord – takes 2-3
15. Rags To Riches – take 2
Disc 4 - Outtakes
01. Jam 3 (I Didn't Make It On Playing Guitar)
02. Faded Love – rehearsal (country version)
03. The Fool – take 1
04. A Hundred Years From Now – take 1
05. Little Cabin On The Hill – take 1
06. Tomorrow Never Comes – takes 10-11
07. Snowbird – take 1
08. Faded Love – take 3
09. It's Your Baby, You Rock It – take 3
10. There Goes My Everything – take 1
11. Love Letters – take 1
12. If I Were You– take 5
13. Heart Of Rome – take 1
14. Cindy, Cindy – take 1
15. I'll Never Know – take 3
16. Sylvia – take 9
17. It Ain't No Big Thing (But It's Growing) – takes 1-2
18. Only Believe – take 3
19. Life – take 2
Buy the original albums from the FTD Collectors Label
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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.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.