Unheard Elvis Presley 'Way Down in the Jungle Room' sessions coming in August

By: Bob Mehr
Source: The Commercial Appeal
June 23, 2016

In early May, we reported some interesting Elvis Presley happenings afoot at the Phillips Recording Service. Although details were vague, officials from Sony/Legacy - the custodians of the Presley catalog - and longtime Elvis TCB band members were on hand at Phillips to work on tracks for an upcoming project. Though unconfirmed officially, the work was reportedly for a 40th anniversary package marking the King's 1976 home recording sessions at Graceland's Jungle Room.

This past week, Sony/Legacy finally did confirm that a two-disc collection titled 'Way Down in the Jungle Room' will come out Aug. 5, just in time for annual Elvis Week festivities. The double disc set rounds up the results of sessions Presley cut in the Jungle Room in winter and fall 1976, with a core of longtime TCB band members including guitarist James Burton and drummer Ronnie Tutt.

Elvis Presley MP3 Audio'The story of 'The Jungle Room' + 'She Thinks I Still Care' Take 2 (19:24)

'Elvis : Way Down In The Jungle Room' Sony Legacy 2 CD Release

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Material from the recording would be spread out over a pair of LPs at the time (1976's 'From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee' and 1977's 'Moody Blue'). While the first disc will include all those tracks, it's the previously unreleased outtakes and alternate versions that are of particular interest. Those tracks were mixed by Memphian and Grammy-winning engineer Matt Ross-Spang, the longtime Sun Studio ace, currently working out of Phillips Recording Service.

'I was recommended to (Sony's) Rob Santos', says Ross-Spang of his involvement with the project. 'He comes to Memphis quite a bit and knows the Phillips family. I mentioned that my favorite place to work was Phillips, and he's always wanted to do something there, so it came together pretty perfectly'.

Engineer Matt Ross-Spang (far right) with Jerry Phillips (left) and James Burton during mixing sessions for Elvis Presley's "Way Down in the Jungle Room" project at the Phillips Recording Service in May.
Engineer Matt Ross-Spang (far right) with Jerry Phillips (left) and James Burton during mixing sessions for Elvis Presley's 'Way Down in the Jungle Room'.

'We mixed 18 tracks from the Jungle Room sessions, and the really cool thing is James Burton, Norbert Putnam, David Briggs, Ronnie Tutt - all those guys who played with Elvis came to town and hung out while I mixed', says Ross-Spang. 'It's pretty interesting mixing with James Burton standing over your shoulder'.

Ross-Spang's work offers a sparer-sounding version of the Jungle Room material. 'Those songs were originally done on 16-track at the house, but afterward, (Elvis producer) Felton Jarvis took the tracks back to Nashville and added strings and horns and overdubs. Which was cool, but it's really great just to have the original kind of swamp-y tracks, real bare bones. I think that's where some of the material really shines'.

The sessions find Presley in rare form, feeling comfortable in his home environs and chatty with his band. 'It was neat to hear that side of him and to hear all those guys in a room together playing', says Ross-Spang. 'It was pretty wild to solo tracks and hear Elvis laugh and joke around with the boys. Or listening and getting chills hearing him do 'Danny Boy' or something. I've worked with a lot of people who thought they were Elvis, so it was really cool to work with the real thing'.

Ross-Spang says he tried kept the project pure from a technical standpoint. 'Obviously, with all my time at Sun, I'm a massive Elvis fan. I think oftentimes these (kinds of projects) go to people who maybe aren't the biggest fans, and maybe they want to make it too modern. I'm such a fan of the old stuff that I wanted to keep it in that tradition. We mixed all analog; I used original tape slaps and the Phillips echo chambers and plate reverbs. We kept it mixed how it would've been done back then'.

The sessions were particularly special for Knox and Halley, Jerry and Jud and other members of the Phillips family, who have been working diligently over the past couple of years to renovate and relaunch the family studio. 'There's three echo chambers at Phillips, and two of them we just rewired right before the session', Ross-Spang says. 'So the first thing to run through them was Elvis Presley. Elvis never recorded at Phillips, so it was a pretty magical thing to have him christening the chambers'.

'Way Down in the Jungle Room' is available for pre-order on CD, vinyl now at elvispresleyshop.com

'Elvis : Way Down In The Jungle Room' 2 CD Set.
'Elvis : Way Down In The Jungle Room' 2 CD Set.

The most complete and comprehensive collection of Presley's final studio recordings ever assembled in one anthology, 'Way Down In The Jungle Room' is an essential and welcome addition for every fan's library. In the mid-1970s, Elvis, the King of Rock 'n' Roll, became another kind of pioneer as one of the world's first major recording artists to create fully-realized professional level records in the intimacy of his own home studio.

With original recordings executive-produced by Elvis Presley with producer Felton Jarvis (who'd helmed most of Elvis' records from 1966-1977), 'Way Down In The Jungle Room' brings together, for the first time in one collection, master recordings and rare outtakes laid down during two mythic sessions (February 2-8, 1976 and October 28-30, 1976) in Graceland's den -- known as the Jungle Room -- which was converted into a professional caliber recording studio for the purpose of capturing these indelible performances. The outtakes have been newly mixed by Grammy Award-winning engineer Matt Ross-Spang at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis, Tennessee.

For these sessions, Elvis was backed by many members of his longtime touring band including: James Burton (guitar), Ronnie Tutt (drums), David Briggs (keyboards), Glenn D. Hardin (keyboards), Jerry Scheff (bass), Norbert Putnam (bass) and J.D. Sumner & the Stamps (vocals).

In 1976, when the tracks for 'Way Down In The Jungle Room' were cut, Elvis Presley had been an RCA Records recording artist for 20 years, inventing the sound and attitude that defined the very essence of rock 'n' roll. That same year, RCA released The Sun Sessions, the label's first official collection of the electrifying 1954-1955 Elvis recordings that launched his career while transforming the world.

Having entered his 40s, Elvis Presley was evolving as an artist and, rather than bask in the nostalgia of his 1950s watershed recordings, was looking for new ways to express himself musically. Needing to create new sounds for a new era, Elvis Presley--who'd been charting on Country and Adult Contemporary stations -- decided to convert the Hawaiian-themed Jungle Room (a relaxation den in his fabled Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee) into an informal home studio, where he could lay down tracks the way he wanted, outside the budget and scheduling pressures of the professional studios he'd worked in previously. With the help of RCA's mobile recording truck and longtime producer Felton Jarvis and engineer Mike Moran at the board, Elvis tackled a far-ranging mix of country and pop covers ('Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain', 'I'll Never Fall in Love Again', 'Danny Boy', 'Solitaire') and late-period classics of his catalog, such as 'Moody Blue' and 'Way Down'.

Ten of the Jungle Room master takes first emerged on From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee in the spring of 1976, including the Top 10 hit 'Hurt'. More tracks from these sessions were later paired with live material and released in July 1977 (a month before Elvis' death on August 16) on the 'Moody Blue' album. The title track would top the country charts that month; 'Way Down' would follow. These were the last studio albums released during Elvis' lifetime.

According to the album's producers, 'Way Down In The Jungle Room' has been resequenced to 'bring a fresh perspective to the material'. The material on Disc 2 - The Outtakes was mixed for this collection at the Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis and includes both outtakes and in-the-studio dialog, providing a 'fly-on-the-wall experience of what the sessions were like'. With the exception of track 13 ('She Thinks I Still Care'), the performances on Disc 2 have been sequenced in the order they were recorded.

Way Down In The Jungle Room may be pre-ordered now at ElvisPresleyShop.com

'Elvis : Way Down In The Jungle Room' 2 LP Record Set.
'Elvis : Way Down In The Jungle Room' 2 LP Record Set.

2 CD Set. Buy Elvis : Way Down In The Jungle Room 2 CD Set

LP Record. Buy Elvis : Elvis : Way Down In The Jungle Room 2 LP Vinyl Set

2 CD Set. Buy From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee FTD Classic Album 2 CD Special Edition

2 CD Set. Buy Moody Blue FTD Classic Alum 2 CD Special Edition

Elvis Presley : 'Way Down In The Jungle Room' 2 CD

Disc 1 - The Masters

1. Way Down (2:38)
2. She Thinks I Still Care (3:51)
3. Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall (3:17)
4. Pledging My Love (2:51)
5. For The Heart (3:22)
6. Love Coming Down (3:07)
7. He'll Have To Go (4:32)
8. Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain (3:41)
9. Hurt (2:07)
10. Never Again (2:51)
11. Danny Boy (3:56)
12. Solitaire (4:40)
13. Moody Blue (2:49)
14. It's Easy For You (3:27)
15. I'll Never Fall In Love Again (3:44)
16. The Last Farewell (4:02)

Disc 2 - The Outtakes

1. Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall - take 1 (5:15)
2. She Thinks I Still Care - take 10 (6:30)
3. The Last Farewell - take 2 (4:15)
4. Solitaire - take 7 (5:37)
5. I'll Never Fall In Love Again - take 5 (4:04)
6. Moody Blue - take1 (3:53)
7. For The Heart - take 1 (3:55)
8. Hurt - take 3 (2:30)
9. Danny Boy - take 9 (4:02)
10. Never Again - take 9 - 3:56
11. Love Coming Down - take 3 (3:17)
12. Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain - take 4 (4:59)
13. She Thinks I Still Care - (alternate version) take 2 (4:26)
14. It's Easy For You - take 1 - (5:24)
15. Way Down - take 2 - 3:50
16. Pledging My Love - take 3 (5:34)
17. For The Heart - take 4 (4:13)

LP Record. Also available Elvis Presley : 'Way Down In The Jungle Room' 2LP

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