'Ernst Jorgensen - The SUN project'
- Ernst Jorgensen talks with EIN about his SUN book, the future of FTD, and more..
Ernst Jorgensen’s long-awaited FTD SUN project is due for release in 2007. Containing hundreds of Elvis photos many never previously published, interviews and three CDs it will be FTD's biggest project ever.
However Elvis fans have recently have highlighted the possible clash of content between Ernst’s forthcoming FTD book and Joseph Pirzada’s ‘Memphis Recording Service’ packages released last year. Ernst kindly agreed to talk with EIN about this contentious issue, as well as the content of his SUN project, the future of FTD, illegal downloads, and more.
(Photo: Elvis October 1955, taken from 'Elvis- Day By Day')
Interview by EIN vice-president Piers Beagley.
EIN – There has been a fair bit of debate recently on the Elvis message-boards about the possible conflict between your upcoming SUN project and the recent Memphis Recording Service book by Joseph Pirzada. What are your thoughts?
Ernst Jorgensen – Well I would like to clear up all the second-guessing and accusations that have been happening. I was somewhat miffed when he put out his first volume and I had some words with Joseph (Pirzada) on this at the time. He seems to have somewhat a maverick attitude in that he will use photos that have been published and without asking for permission or paying for them. At least this is what happened with all the photos that I think I own. However you can agree or not agree with his decision to do this. The legal situation with photos and crediting their sources is of course a very complicated grey area.
If you look at ‘Rocking Across Texas’ all of the photos in there have been used in his book. I can assure you that he did not get permission for using my photos. He may have made a deal with Stanley Oberst that I don’t know about with some of those photos, but a lot of those photos are not Stanley’s, they are mine.
But when you get passed that fact, no I don’t have a problem with Pirzada’s books. They are very nice looking with great presentation. Personally there is little reason for me to be very impressed with the rarities of the photos as to me they are not rare, nor the factual information, nor audio. I can understand that everybody else maybe impressed, but of course I’m obviously working along the same lines with my project.
I still think that it is a beautiful presentation and I absolutely flipped when I saw that little piece of movie footage, not only for seeing Elvis in it but also all the other stars. That was a fantastic find. So if fans have bought Joseph’s book and enjoyed it, then that is good.
EIN – Do you think it might impact sales of your FTD SUN book and will there be a lot of duplication across both books?
Ernst – I don’t think that it will hurt the sales of my upcoming book. There will have to be some duplication because we both have to historically present important photos of Elvis from that period. However I also have 150, maybe 200 photos of Elvis that people will have never seen. It will be different to all previous works, including Pirzada’s and for that matter my own.
And we will also be one step closer to getting the right dates on these photos. Because there are often so many mistakes with dates, certainly in Joseph’s book, Joey Kent’s ‘Hayride’ book and also our ‘Rockin’ Across Texas’. For instance the photos attributed to Forrest City, November 1955 in Joseph’s book are not from there.
But we are still trying to chase dates and correct them. We will certainly make a few mistakes too… it’s very difficult but you can only do your best.
EIN – Of course everyone has to work to a timeline and at some point you have to stop the research and publish the book.
Ernst – (laughing) I’ve gotten to the point where I feel I’m going to lose a friend when I’m no longer working on this book.
EIN – How large is the book going to be? We hear rumours of 700 pages, bigger than ‘Writing For The King’ and a coffee-table sized book, or is this only your dream?
Ernst – That decision has not been made yet, but it won’t be 700 pages! Whether it will be the same size as the other FTD books is still to be decided. It’s about the cost factor. In most cases we need the books to make a little bit of profit to carry the overheads but in this case this project is a labour of love rather than for financial profit.
EIN – So if the format hasn’t been decided yet, is the book not going to be ready for an August release to hit the Elvis Week 2007 market?
Ernst – Really, BMG is about sales, whereas we are aiming for the close group of people who buy the Follow That Dream product. We are not putting it in the stores and sales-wise Elvis Week means little to us. BMG, of course, has to do all the commercial things, where we have no great desire to expand our audience as we only want to sell to fans who understand about what we are providing.
(Photo: Elvis October 1955, taken from 'Elvis- Day By Day')
EIN – But if this is ‘your child’ wouldn’t it be nice if even more people had a look at it, or even bought your child?
Ernst – (laughing) I’ll just be happy if you like it and all the other people I know. Especially all the people who have helped me with the project for more than ten years, I hope they will be proud of it. There have been hundreds who have helped me a little bit. People like Ger Rijff and Lee Cotton have also all helped me by diving into this era previously. There are so many people who have made this possible.
The core group is Kevan Budd with the audio and the research as well. Another key player is Luca Fabris, from Italy, who has been fantastic in digging things up, as well as Brian Petterson who works on the photos with me. I have been working with Brian on this project for more than ten years! Then there are also lots of individuals in certain towns and places - but going back to the mid-fifties sadly the most crucial witnesses are all dead. However the book’s ‘thank you’ list will be unbearably long!
I am pretty certain that we will release it this year, but whether it is May, August, or October/November I still don’t know. The final manuscript however is nearly complete.
EIN – How will the narrative work?
Ernst – It’s not so much a narrative as basically hundreds of quotes and interviews, facts and people’s stories. It’s a little more like ‘Day By Day’ that I wrote with Peter Guralnick rather than ‘Rockin’ Across Texas’. The book will be 58 chapters. The first six are the 6 months of 1954 and followed by next 52 being week by week through 1955. So it has the calendar as the thread but improves over ‘Day By Day’ with a lot more details. We’ve discovered a lot more unknown Elvis shows and corrected previous mistakes. The book is also about the photos - You will have never ever in your life seen so many Elvis pictures from that period in one place.
EIN – What about the music?
Ernst - The CDs with it will be an extra added bonus. No, we don’t have ‘Uncle Penn’, ‘Tennessee Saturday Night’ or ‘Rock Around The Clock’ as mentioned in the rumours that keep circulating. However we have a great selection on three CDs. The first will be The Masters, the second The Outtakes and then the third with everything else that we could get hold of. However I don’t think people should be buying this release just because of the CDs, but because of the photos, the information and the complete package.
(Right: Early Elvis, at The Eagle's Nest 1954)
EIN – I remember people getting picky about the music included with ‘Writing For The King’.
Ernst – I really wanted that book to come out because I wanted to hear what all these songwriters had to say. It is fascinating, and their stories are hardly featured anywhere except sometimes in Trevor’s super magazine ‘The Man & His Music. But before the book even came out sadly there were people posing under different names being very negative about the project. Because of this the Fan Clubs didn’t pre-order that many but then, as soon as it came out, every customer came back and re-ordered two weeks later which is crazy as ‘Writing For The King’ had an incredible number of pages and so it would have cost a lot more in freight.
EIN – Does FTD need to make a healthy profit overall to keep going?
Ernst - I’m sure RCA likes the cheque from us but we are happy if we break even, or make a profit. We can always use the profit to buy rare photos or something. And we are obviously required to pay Sony/BMG for use of the material that they own.
But I don’t understand fans complaining about our overall prices as when I look at Amazon I can see that we are giving fans better value for money than them buying a new CD by their new favourite artist. (laughing) I do however understand fans who say that we are releasing them too fast and that they can’t keep up! But that is the compromise between getting this material out for older fans who have been waiting for years to get it - or waiting until we are all in the old-folks homes!
EIN – How much on CD3 is going to surprise people?
Ernst – Not too much, but it is going to sound better than they have ever heard before. There’s obviously going to be the copy of ‘That’s All Right’ from Meridian 1955 which is kinda’ cool. There’s also a handful of other pieces that people have never heard before, plus Kevan has been working on the radio recordings like ‘Fool, Fool, Fool’ to get them sounding much better. And also on CD2 there will also be a few little bits and pieces including outtakes that people have never heard before. Nothing earth shattering but it will be very nice to listen to.
We’re still negotiating on one more particular track, not a rare song but another performance we would like to include. But unless the owner moves on from the high price that FTD cannot even consider, then we’re not getting anywhere.
EIN – Do you sometimes think that it is trickier for you releasing Elvis product because you have to work within the system?
Ernst – I am privileged having access to all this stuff because I work for the record company. But (laughing) if I didn’t, I would love to re-do ‘Elvis On Tour’! You know I worked in the record business for years before I started concentrating on Elvis. But what else would you want to own apart than the Presley recordings.. and it’s a privilege to have been able to work for a company for so many years. Not many do, and I see people going in and out of record companies every three or five years whereas Roger & I have been able to hang in there for 15 years! (laughing) It’s a great feeling.
EIN – Do collectors who want to keep their Elvis possessions for themselves drive you insane?
Ernst – Sometimes that is true. I am really pleased when fans and collectors want to share their finds with the world, whether it be for their own financial gain or not. The message boards often have statements that ‘RCA never wanted to buy it’ but I know of only one incident where we refused to buy something new that was offered to us. And it was a better copy of a scratchy acetate that we already had. We have never said that we won’t deal with people.
Of course a lot of people won’t sell stuff because somewhere along the chain something illegal would have happened. And some collectors have no intentions of sharing their stuff.
But there are not a lot of rarities out there that we know about. The ‘I’m A Roustabout’ find was a pure coincidence while I was researching this Elvis SUN project where I ended up talking to Winfield (Scott). We’re still looking for the outtakes of ‘Roustabout’ and ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’. Sadly if RCA could dump thousands of tapes including Elvis ones, then I am sure Paramount could have dumped their Elvis tapes.
EIN – How do sales vary between your products?
Ernst – There can be a big difference between sales of the regular CDs, say between ‘Jungle Room Sessions’ or ‘I Found My Thrill’. However when it comes to the deluxe packages whether it be ‘Harum Scarum’ or the first ‘Elvis Presley’ album, there is very little difference in sales. I think there is a very collectable element to these classic albums. Overall I think we’re all on solid ground.
EIN – Do you take much notice of the Elvis message boards?
Ernst – I probably check them out every third month - perhaps more if somebody tells me to look at something new and interesting. It is good to see Elvis fans who do try and learn more as they go along, and then come up with solid information that we can all share. I mean, I can’t be the expert on everything! So I’m really happy to see people who want to walk that extra mile. Sometimes I think it is a little bit senseless, when you look at it as an outsider and see how personal the debates can get. People can take too much time insulting each other and some of the rhetoric is a little bit tough to take at times.
EIN – What about the problem of people downloading FTDs?
Ernst – It is sad that on the message boards people have even noted places where you can download FTDs for free. When I checked before Christmas the downloads of one FTD was higher than our sales! This seems ridiculous as this will ruin FTD if people keep supporting this site. Of course some fans will have downloaded the CD because they couldn’t wait for it to arrive in their mailbox. However the person who is doing this is obviously out to damage Follow That Dream and we need to expose who he is. The consequence may be that eventually we can’t release any more FTDs. The Elvis world is also a strange culture of heroes and villains. But it’s the same with every subculture like Elvis, Dylan or whoever.
EIN – That would be a sad day if downloads or bootlegging destroys FTD.
Ernst – I can’t get obsessed about it, as of course the world will go on. There’s always change... I don’t know what the future is. After all, how many years do fans need FTDs to keep coming out? Some fans already don’t need any more as they have bought more Elvis than they can ever listen to. Some fans on the other-hand want to have everything that we can supply. I don’t necessarily think that we are close to the end. We are doing respectably and ‘Writing For The King’ was obviously the greatest risk we have taken so far until we release this SUN book.
EIN - Thanks for being so open, it has been a fascinating discussion.
Ernst - Thank you - and I hope other people will find this discussion as interesting as you suggest!