'Memphis Sessions'

- FTD CD review -

'The Power of Elvis' Soul'

by Piers Beagley, 2001

This FTD release is an extraordinary insight into Elvis rediscovering his musical roots.

Here is Beale Street Blues and Memphis Soul combined with some of the most meaningful lyrics that Elvis would ever record.

This recording session at Chips Moman's American Sound Studios in early 1969 was the most important of Elvis' career. They proved that after years in the wilderness he was still a dynamic and important force in pop culture.

RCA’s director Joan Deary commented on Chips Moman’s impact, "When I first heard the tapes from the American sessions I called Chet Atkins and asked, "Who did Elvis' recording of `In the Ghetto'?" Right off the bat he said, "Chips Moman". I thought the sound was so superior to what I had been hearing from Elvis in the past that I couldn't believe my ears! There's such a big difference between this and his old stuff. That whole Memphis recording collection was incredible, and yet Elvis never went back and recorded with Chips again. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was the influence of Hill and Range, which had always had a big piece of the publishing on other Presley records. They certainly lost their total control when Chips entered the picture."

Pianist Bobby Wood, "As a band we always came up with our own arrangements. I remember that we worked as we always did and we had a lot of fun recording with Elvis. I found out later that Elvis loved those sessions and worked harder than he had in years. I think he respected our talents as well as we did his. We worked a lot differently at American from what Elvis was used to. It usually took Chips and the other engineers a good long while to get "a sound." That was rough on the singers. They'd have to stand there and sing the same song over and over for an hour, before we'd even record a take. In fact on the third night Elvis lost his voice with bad laryngitis. We most always recorded horns, strings and backgrounds as an overdub. I think Joe Tex was the only one that wanted horns on the original session. At the time we didn't even think that this was part of Elvis' musical renaissance or anything. We were trying our best to record a hit, be it Elvis or Joe Tex or nobody. Though we pretty much knew it was a hit record when we recorded it."

A lot of these tracks have been previously available on Bootlegs but only in mono - Here Dennis Ferrante works his magic again, remixing these songs to beautiful stereo, often making them shine even more than the original Master versions! Power of My Love, Suspicious Minds, In the Ghetto they are all here -

I can't recommend this CD enough - If you want to know exactly why, and find some hidden gems here are a few highlights …


'After Loving You' Tk3 - "Can someone else take the lead, 'cos I couldn't play it to save my arse on this piano?" says Elvis. A classic start and a funny comment about a song Elvis often played at Graceland (Platinum). Immediately you can hear the beautifully clear Stereo mix and with far less echo than the original. Here Elvis' voice is deliciously upfront along with Gene Chrisman's tight drums. The interaction between Elvis and the band, which made these sessions so dynamic, really shows and this could have been the Master except for Elvis' laughter of delight. The Master take was next.

'Stranger in my Own Home Town' Tk1 - Raw blues, a rarity in Elvis repertoire, and a one take masterpiece! Listen again to the original and hear how the overdubs pushed Elvis vocal badly down into the mix. The Memphis Horns sounded fine but what were Strings doing on a dirty, low-down blues song? On the Master you could just hear Elvis say to the band "Blow your brains out" which never made sense buried amongst the violins. Here it sounds perfect as Elvis pushes the band for more. You also hear Elvis say "Play it again, play it again" urging the band on just as they are getting to the end of the track. This version also goes another half a minute past the original fade out - Fabulous.

'In The Ghetto' Tk11 - If you haven't heard this before you are in for a fabulous treat. My favourite version, possibly better than the original! The brilliant mix (thanks D. Ferrante) takes the story to new emotional level. So poignant, very beautiful. Do listen to this one on Headphones. Music doesn't get any better.

'Suspicious Minds' Tk6 - This has the added bonus of rehearsal material showing us how the band really worked together. This time the band is giving Elvis some advice with the song's timing as they take this tricky number towards the sublime Master.

Interestingly for collectors the 1987 RCA release ‘The Memphis Record’ features the final 'Suspicious Minds' Master with the backing-vocal & strings overdubs but without the added brass section nor with the extended fade-out. Unusually for an Elvis release, Chips Moman also recorded a dual-track for Elvis’ lead vocal thus increasing the emotional power of the lyric. A portion of Elvis singing along, while listening to his other vocal on headphones, can be heard on the ‘Elv1s 30 #1s’ DVD audio release.

'Any Day Now' Tk2 - Memphis in the 1960s was a major driving force in Soul music. Elvis' version of this Chuck Jackson classic shows him as a great interpreter of Soul songs. The original had the 'bathroom down the corridor' echo and was drowned in excessive overdubs. Listen to this version where Elvis sings "I'll be holding on for dear life…" (at 2.00). This version is full of pure soul, it's funky, and really connects. How sad that Elvis was wasting his time with those crappy film soundtracks while Stax Studios in Memphis were recording all those Soul classics. Think of the missed potential of Elvis singing Wilson Pickett's "In The Midnight Hour" or Otis Redding's "Try a little Tenderness"… the list is endless.


More great Memphis soulful stew with 'Only The Strong Survive' Tk22 and 'Wearing that Loved On Look' Tk3+10. The latter recorded while Elvis was coming down with laryngitis.

The roughness of his voice benefited the lyric and here we have a great outtake of Elvis' voice cracking. He laughs and quips "A little less conversation a little more action"! He would spend the weekend recovering in Graceland! .

'Do You Know who I Am' Tk1- A real highlight and it's hard to believe that this was the first take. The Master was a great ballad but here, without the overdubs, Elvis is alone with a very sparse arrangement. He sings almost a-cappella backed only by Bobby Emmons' organ. When he sings "Have you forgotten about me?" (at 1.20) it's just heart breaking.

'This is The Story' Tk2 - Although this is 'just' the undubbed Master (one of four on this CD) the new mix and lack of strings makes this another gem. Elvis' voice is exquisite - definitely a case of 'less is more'. The break in the song between the verses emphasises the emptiness of the man telling his sad tale.

Similarly 'And the Grass Don't pay no Mind' was a track where the original overdubs dragged the song towards sticky, lightweight, pop territory. Demonstrating Elvis' great feeling at the sessions - and his interaction with his first real producer - Elvis playfully sings at the start, ‘And you can hear Chips calling’, in place of ‘And you can hear God calling’.  He was indeed in good spirits! Once you've heard these versions you won't be playing the originals again!

'True Love Travels on a Gravel Road' Tk 6+7 - Once again Ernst gives us the chance to eavesdrop on the band at work and hear the camaraderie between the group. On earlier takes the band had trouble getting the tempo right. Here on Take 6 Elvis sings "That's a little too slow". He is also playing acoustic guitar, leisurely, (check the middle break!) and amazingly we hear guitarist Reggie Young criticising Elvis' playing! Elvis politely agrees. This shows the core reason as to why these session were so strong - Here is the whole band working together to create great music rather than being sycophantic to Elvis 'the King'. An excellent version showing Elvis' soulful voice to the full. (EIN Note - Listen carefully - Does someone actually say 'M.F' on a BMG release!!??)

'Kentucky Rain' TK9 - Never released on Bootleg before and it sits very nicely between Tk8 (60's Box Set) and the Master Tk10. This version has prominent drums and organ added to the lovely 'acoustic guitar and bass' mix of Take 8. The final Master has the usual echo and Strings added. Nice to compare the recordings as they progress. The powerful and pleading Elvis vocal, mixed up front, gives this version a real sparkle.

'Without Love' Tk3+4 - Elvis voice doesn't get more powerful than this. Sadly the original's overdubs managed to hide Elvis' magnificent vocal. Here it is astounding as both he and the band keep trying for more. The song's ending on this take is astonishing with Elvis pushing the final note even further than on the Master take! Elvis mumbles on the fade out "oh, God", probably because he knew he wasn't going to do any better and that Chips would be asking for yet another take!

'Hey Jude' Tk5/1. Never a great track. Hard to believe that RCA released the sloppy final version (which by then was outdated) on the 1972 LP ridiculously called "Elvis Now"! Here it does sound better since it is obviously a rehearsal and not meant for release. (Surely someone in the studio could have sat down and written the lyrics out for Elvis - another missed opportunity!) Worth comparing with Wilson Pickett's version from the same studios

Two fun songs end the CD and both are improved by the missing overdubs. 'From A Jack to a King', (thank God those ridiculous "La La La La" overdubs are gone) and 'I'm Movin' On' (sounding very different without the Country slide guitar) but I would loved to have seen "If I'm a Fool" saved for the last track.

'If I'm a Fool' Tk3 - The violins on the original pushed the song towards the syrupy 'C+W' territory but here it is a sad, lonely, heartbreaker. It has a beautifully understated blues feel with delightful piano work from Bobby Wood. This take is near perfect but finishes with the highlight of Chips saying "Sounds good Elvis" to which Elvis replies "Rotten". A fabulous track.


Verdict - Without doubt the best FTD CD yet (along with The Jungle Room Sessions). Personally I might have dropped 'Hey Jude' for more eavesdropping into the way the band worked in creating these Masterpieces but Ernst has produced a real treasure. Don't miss out on getting a copy, this will be hard one for FTD to beat.

Reviewed by Piers Beagley
Copyright EIN - 2001

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For more essential EIN reading about these great Memphis Sessions...

'American Studios - A Turning Point In History':

'From Elvis To Garth' Bobby Wood & The Memphis Boys;

EIN in-depth 40th Anniversary spotlight on 'In The Ghetto':

FTD #74321 89293-2 -Released 2001
 1: After Loving You (3)
 2: Stranger In My Own Home Town (undub. master)
 3: In The Ghetto (11)
 4: Suspicious Minds (rehearsal, take 6*)
 5: Any Day Now (2)
 6: Only The Strong Survive (22)
 7: Wearin' That Loved On Look (3, 10*)
 8: Do You Know Who I Am (1 )
 9: And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind (undub. master)
10: You'll Think Of Me (14)
11: Power Of My Love (6)
12: This Is The Story (undubbed take 2*) [Master take]
13: True Love Travels On A Gravel Road (6, 7)
14: Long Black Limousine (6)
15: Kentucky Rain (9)
16: Without Love (3, 4)
17: Hey Jude (splice 5/1)
18: If I'm A Fool (3)
19: From A Jack To A King (1, 2, 3)
20: I'm Movin' On (undubbed master)

Click here for other essential FTD releases-

Elvis - The Jungle Room Sessions

Elvis- The Nashville Marathon

Elvis Is Back!

Elvis Presley - The First LP

Elvis: On Tour The Rehearsals









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