Friday, August 19, 2016

Weekend Mix: All Hail The King

I frequently comment, "Nothing after Exile on Main St", or "Nothing after Who's Next", or "Nothing after Wish You Were Here", so it shouldn't be suprising I've always maintained "Nothing after the Army" in regards to Elvis.
And that was being generous, because I really meant "Practically nothing after SUN".

Upon his return from the Army there was a decade of terrible movies with soundtracks full of indifferently recorded shlock like "Do The Clam", "Harum Scarum", and "Spinout".
Then there was the brief moment of the "'68 Comeback", which showed he could still do it, if he wanted to.
And then it was just "Fat Elvis", whose stage show seemed as bloated as he'd become.

Here is a review by Bob Claypool for the Houston Post in late 1976:

"Elvis Presley has been breaking hearts for more than 20 years now, and, Saturday afternoon in the Summit----in a completely new  and unexpected way----he broke mine. The show was awful, a depressingly inchoherent amateurish mess served up by a bloated, stumbling and mumbling figure who didn't act like the King of anything, least of all Rock n Roll."

I can think of no other major artist whose catalog has been so ineptly, and hapahazardly managed.
Endlessly repackaged beyond recognition, it's really hard to get a handle on.
As far as I knew, all you really needed was "The Sun Sessions" and "Elvis Gold Records Vol 1".
I bought all four discs of "The Complete '50's Masters", even though most of the essentials are on the first two. I didn't think to bother with the '60's or '70's.

In the mid '90's, I read Peter Guralnick's awesome two volume biography, "Last Train To Memphis", and "Careless Love". I began to appreciate "Supiscious Minds" and "Burning Love", and became curious about the later sessions, as his new producer, Felton Jarvis heroically tried to salvage what was left of the King's career.

On August 6th, with a sense of obligation and morbid curiosity I downloaded "Way Down In The Jungle Room", a new collection of his very last sessions, in 1976.

I remember reading in "Careless Love", just how hard it had become to get Elvis into the studio.
He was whacked out on pills and knew he wasn't really up for it.
An improvised studio was set up in Graceland. Elvis kept the musicians waiting for days before coming downstairs.

I just re-read the chapter, and it's amazing anything was accomplished.

I didn't bother listening to any of it until Monday night. "Way Down", the opener, knocked me right out. In fact, nothing sucked. I got the idea for the Weekend mix. I pulled other songs from sessions after the '68 Comeback.

On Tuesday (August 16), out of curiosity, I looked up his death only to find it was that very day 39 years ago.
Sal posted something about Gungadin and his Bongos. I didn't see any mention on FaceBook, even though most of my friends are musicians. Elvis had truly left the building.

He didn't overdub. All the performances were recorded "live". And it's worth hearing if only for James Burton's guitar.

Two of my all-time favorite albums are Gram Parson's "GP", and "Grievous Angel". On them he used the core of Elvis band: James, Ronnie Tutt (drums), Glen D. Hardin (keyboads), and Emory Gordy(bass).
Elvis' "Never Been To Spain" was recorded at MSG, on June 10, 1972. In September the guys were working for Gram, in his quest for "Cosmic American Music".

I think He and Elvis represent the Yin and Yang of the same whole. I hear a killer band with two very different singers covering a lot of the same ground. I couldn't say which was the darker half.

I included a "live" track from MSG in homage to the fake "live" medley of "Cash On The Barrellhead/Hickory Wind" on "Grievous Angel".

Clearly Gram was influenced by Elvis, who I wish had taken a crack at "Ooh Las Vegas", and can only imagine what he would have done with "$1,000 Wedding". The last song here, "If That Isn't Love", reminds me of "Hickory Wind".

I doubt Elvis really knew who Gram was, although I can imagine him asking James, "How'd it go with that hippie boy?", to which James might have replied something like, "It was okay, but he's no King of Rock N Roll". He's said he didn't think much of it at the time, but to his surprise, no interviewer since doesn't ask about working with Gram.

In this collection, I avoided familiar hits, and the cluttered bombast of his live shows in order to hear how good "Fat Elvis" really was. I wanted it to sound like a killer double album. What you'd put on right after "GP/Grievous Angel", in order to extend the vibe.

His voice is always there and the band's killing it.

It's noticeable that his studio patter in the early '70's, as evidenced by "If I Were You", was ebullient, while there's an ugly cranky-ness at the core of the jokester on the last sessions. He was the original redneck opioid addict after all.

I think he still "had it" as a singer until the very end. He was a bonafide musician. He had both rhythm and pitch. Check out his piano accompaniment on "After Loving You" (1969). Rock solid.

He was the greatest and most sadly squandered talent I can think of. Except for maybe Gram Parsons.


All Hail the King

All Hail Too


Mr. Baez said...

Out of a sense of obligation I too downloaded "Way Down In The Jungle Room" and was glad that it had some merit to be thankful for. I saw Elvis in Los Angeles during what was to become his last tour. A truly strange experience, akin to a Jodorowsky film sequence. Looking forward to your weekend mix.


Noam Sane said...

Interesting post. Will look forward to checking out the zip.

Growing up in the 70s we had a neighborhood kid who was an Elvis fan and we ragged on him constantly. Then I grew up and discovered he was largely right, there's a lot of good stuff from pretty much every era, there are even some gems in the movie songs (not Do The Clam, obviously.)

Thank you. Thank you very much.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Up until and including Kid Creole is all pretty good.

whattawino said...

Damn, this sounds good...I mean really good! An eye/ear opener for me, to be sure. Tks, mister buzz.

Heather Taylor said...

I'm sorry but Elvis was a bad ass, from the Comeback up through the '70s. Yes, he was a mess and a squandered talent by the mid decade but so was Rod Stewart, arguably Elton and, yes, the Stones. That said, man, the Hot Band sure killed. Any doubts? Listen to Suspicious Minds live and that rumbling bass line kills every time. Thanks for this!


M_Sharp said...

Squandered talent is unfortunately true. Good mix, it ties in with much of his career- a few gems, a handful of covers that would have been better known if other people hadn’t done the original, better versions, and a few that are so bad it makes me wonder why they were even considered to be Elvis-worthy. 14 takes (and maybe more!) on “Three Corn Patches”???

Jan Molam said...

I thought the same way about Elvis - nothing after Sun - and most of us know that he was an excellent musician and hope for something to resurrect the belief in Elvis - one such thing are the STAX sessions, which include 3 or 4 killer songs, but it would not be Elvis if he did not include the same cheesy commercial stuff that was typical of 70ties Elvis. Still, from these few killer songs (and the thought WHAT IF Elvis had signed to STAX) you catch some of his greatness!

dogbreath said...

All hail indeed. I've been listening to a fair amount of Elvis recently (because so many people were talking about the anniversary of his death) so this tasty mix fits right in there. I'd largely ignored the King's output during this period as my ears were attuned to far louder, heavier, metaller (not really a word) sounds, but have rediscovered him in recent years. Many thanks for a sterling effort!