Guest Blogger: Elvis Presley’s Recordings

BY JOHN JACKSON Vice President of A&R and Content Development at Legacy Recordings As a follow-up to the liner notes in the new box set, “Elvis Presley: The Album Collection,” I was asked to write a series of blog posts about Elvis’ recordings.  I wanted to highlight some specific songs from Elvis’ legendary career and relate how we see them now to how they were originally brought to the mass public’s attention. “That’s All Right” is a prime example of a confusing recording when looking through the lens of 2016.  Any of us Elvis aficionados rightly regard “That’s All Right” as Ground Zero – the original moment when rock ‘n’ roll first exploded out of the mouth of a nineteen-year-old truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi.  Some (myself included) regard it as literally the very first rock ‘n’ roll recording – the perfect, natural amalgam of blues, country and gospel that flowed unconsciously like lightning through this unknown talent.  First jammed between takes of more tame material, “That’s All Right,” recorded July 5, 1954, is, in retrospect, the spark that lit the proverbial fuse.  But that’s only in retrospect. Sure, Elvis’ singles recorded for the great Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis were regionally popular.  They may have sold thousands of copies in local shops and out of the trunk of Sam’s car (some estimates are as many as 20,000 of Sun 209), and the song may have been played on regional radio stations, but it was by no means a “hit” record.  It did give Elvis’ career momentum and the ability to record subsequent singles for Sun. That momentum increased for a little over a year, which led to RCA Records purchasing Elvis’ contract and all of the Sun material from Phillips in November 1955.  Once Elvis began cutting sides for RCA – with the intention of releasing his first LP (long player) album in 1956 – he had the national promotion and marketing reach that Sun could never dream of.  RCA would turn him from regional novelty act into the world’s most famous person, complete with a Hollywood movie deal, in just one short year.  The first RCA LP, “Elvis Presley,” was a mix of newly recorded songs and some previously unreleased recordings from the Sun sessions. Elvis was heading full-steam into the future, while “That’s All Right” (despite having been re-issued by RCA as a single) was old news and not really...
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‘Frankie and Johnny’ – Elvis Presley’s 20th Movie Turns 50

Everybody come aboard! “Frankie and Johnny” turns 50 this month. This colorful musical-comedy about riverboat performers, fortune-tellers and – of course – love, was released in March 1966. Elvis stars as Johnny alongside Donna Douglas (Frankie), Nancy Kovack (Nellie Bly), Harry Morgan (Cully) and Sue Ane Langdon (Mitzi). “Frankie and Johnny” was Elvis’ 20th movie, made just after “Harum Scarum” and before “Paradise, Hawaiian Style.” “Frankie and Johnny” grossed more than $2 million, and the soundtrack album spent 19 weeks on the chart. “Frankie and Johnny” is based on a folk song of the same name. Elvis’ version is just one of many versions of the traditional tune. All versions tell the tale of Frankie, who shoots Johnny when she finds out he’s romancing Nellie Bly, but in some versions, she’s also arrested and, in some, executed. The song’s lyrics blur the line between fiction and fact, but the lyrics are based on an actual murder case from 1899 in St. Louis, Missouri. In that case, a woman named Frankie shot her boyfriend, Johnny, when she caught him on a date with another woman. It was such a famous case that Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton recreated Frankie and Johnny’s story for one in a series of murals in 1934. The murals were placed at the state capitol, and a reproduction of this mural was on display during filming the movie. Luckily for Elvis fans, the movie is much more lighthearted, complete with a happy ending. In the film version, Johnny is a down-on-his-luck gambler who is told by a fortune-teller that a red-head will be his good luck charm. His girlfriend Frankie isn’t happy when Johnny starts to woo the red-headed Nellie Bly. Elvis had a few famous co-stars for this film. Donna Douglas has starred on many TV shows over the years, but audiences fell for her as Elly May on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Harry Morgan enjoyed a long, prolific career”, with roles in TV shows like “M*A*S*H,” “Dragnet” and “Gunsmoke.” The glamorous Nancy Kovack had roles on TV shows like “Bewitched” and “Star Trek,” and in films like “Jason and the Argonauts,” “Diary of a Madman” and “Enter Laughing.” And Elvis fans recognize Sue Ane Langdon – she also starred in Elvis’ film “Roustabout.” Robert Strauss, who starred as Blackie, played Sam in Elvis’ “Girls! Girls! Girls!” Frederick De Cordova directed “Frankie and Johnny,” as well...
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Elvis Presley’s First Album

“Well it’s a-one for the money…” So starts an album that changed history – Elvis Presley’s very first album. With its raw and exciting mix of country and blues, this was one of the first rock ‘n’ roll albums ever made, and it helped catapult the young 21-year-old singer to stardom. “Elvis Presley,” the album, turns 60 years old this month. On November 21, 1955, Elvis’ contract at Sun was purchased by RCA, and he was officially on a major label. RCA paid $35,000 – an unheard of amount at the time – for the soon-to-be-crowned King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.   He’d recorded many songs at Sun, but not all of them had been released by the time he signed with RCA. RCA re-released all five of his original Sun singles on their label in December 1955 after they bought his contract. He had his first RCA recording sessions in January 1956, and he’d cut what would become one of his biggest hits, “Heartbreak Hotel.” As “Heartbreak Hotel” climbed the charts, Elvis also made his national TV debut on the Dorsey Brothers’ “Stage Show,” with six appearances in the first three months of 1956. To capture some of this early Elvis energy, RCA put together Elvis’ eponymous first album, with a mix of Sun Studio cuts and some of the tunes he’d recorded in those first RCA studio sessions. RCA actually struggled to re-create that clean, crisp Sun sound, so those first few recording sessions took a bit of work on the label’s part. “I Love You Because,” “Just Because,” “I’ll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin’)” “Trying to Get to You” and “Blue Moon” were the Sun Studio cuts included on Elvis’ album. “Heartbreak Hotel,” though it was a hit, wasn’t included on the album and remained a single. “Elvis Presley,” which has gone both Gold and Platinum since its March 23, 1956, release, features one of the most iconic album covers of all time. The famous photo was taken while Elvis and his band were performing in Tampa, Florida, on July 31, 1955. Many other musicians have created their own versions of this cover, like The Clash’s 1979 album “London Calling,” which features “London Calling” in pink and green letters and Clash bassist Paul Simonon smashing his bass on stage at The Palladium in New York City.   Elvis’ album cover ranks No. 40 in Rolling...
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Elvis Presley’s Audubon Home

These days, everyone knows the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll lived in his own castle: Graceland. But when you’re somewhere between up-and-coming star and legendary rock star, where do you call home? The answer: 1034 Audubon Drive, Memphis, Tennessee.   Elvis and his parents, Gladys and Vernon, moved to Memphis when Elvis was 13, and for the next eight years, the family lived in several apartments and homes. But in early 1956, Elvis found success with a little tune you may have heard – “Heartbreak Hotel” – and he used the profits from that to purchase a home for his family in Memphis. This home was the first owned by the Presleys in Memphis. Elvis purchased the home from the Welsh Plywood Corporation for $29,500, on March 12, 1956. He paid a $500 down payment on March 3. The Audubon Drive home, built in 1954, has four bedrooms and two and a half baths. It didn’t have a fence at first, but as Elvis’ popularity grew, he added one. The fence even included some music notes, though those have since been removed. Elvis also had a pool installed.   Elvis’ neighbors on Audubon Drive truly had a rock star as a neighbor. He’d already made his first national television appearances. His first album arrived in stores about a week and a half after he purchased the house. He performed hundreds of concerts across the country. Audubon Drive was his home while he made his first movie, “Love Me Tender.” After he jammed out with his fellow Memphis musicians in the Million Dollar Quartet, he went home to – you guessed it – Audubon Drive. Elvis and his parents lived on Audubon Drive for about a year before they purchased Graceland, which he called home for the rest of his life. Today, 1034 Audubon Drive is privately owned. If you love learning about Elvis, his life and his music, come to Memphis and visit Graceland. Watch our first “Hidden Graceland” episode of our web series, Gates of Graceland to see a special mirror that Elvis brought with him from Audubon to...
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