Welcome to the blog. I’m going to use this page to post occasional reviews, articles which were originally written for magazines, and a favourite hobby of mine ‘alternate albums’. The first of these is a new take on “Elvis At The Piano. Here are the sleeve-notes:
Someone will dig that, man…
Back in 1980 to mark what would have been the 25th anniversary of Elvis’ signing to RCA Records, the label issued an 8 album boxed set, consisting of mainly previously unissued material. The first side of record seven of the box set was titled “Elvis At The Piano”, and featured just four tracks. Three of these were different edits of songs recorded during Elvis’ May 1971 Nashville sessions, which were first issued on the 1973 album “Elvis”. To avoid confusion with the 1956 title of the same name, the album came to be known as “Fool”, due to this song being the lead single from the album.
Two of these songs “It’s Still Here” and “I Will Be True” were originally written and recorded by Ivory Joe Hunter. Elvis was a big fan of Ivory Joe, and had recorded a number of his songs including “I Need You So”, “My Wish Came True”, and “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” back in the fifties. Elvis had also tried out “I Will Be True” during informal recordings made in 1959, when he was stationed in Bad Nauheim, Germany during his army service. The traditional “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen”, which was also recorded during the May 1971 Nashville sessions, also dates back to the informal recordings from Bad Nauheim.
These three recordings were complemented by a previously unreleased song titled “Beyond The Reef”. This song was recorded at the May 1966 Nashville sessions which produced the Grammy Award winning gospel album “How Great Thou Art”, and featured Elvis, Red West, and Charlie Hodge on harmony vocals. Elvis had previously tried out the song during informal recording sessions at Red’s house, and was probably keen to hear how their harmonising sounded when professionally recorded.
Despite producer Felton Jarvis adding overdubs to the track in 1968, it was not given a commercial release, and remained in the can until 1980. It was then issued as a single in the U.K. coupled with “It’s Only Love” in order to promote the box set, giving Elvis yet another U.K. top ten hit.
Many fans enjoyed Elvis’ understated piano recordings, but four songs over one side of long playing vinyl did make for a rather brief overview of this lesser known aspect of the Presley career, so for this collection we have expanded the original track listing with a number of additional master and alternate recordings.
The first of these, “Playing For Keeps”, was recorded during the sessions for Elvis’ second album at Radio Recorders, Hollywood in September of 1956. Elvis warmed up for the session playing piano and singing gospels with The Jordanaires.
No keyboard player was hired for the session and Elvis was still at the piano when the session began with this Stan Kesler penned ballad. The song was not included on Elvis’ second album, but held over for single release instead, and was issued as the flip side to “Too Much” later in the year.
“Don’t Leave Me Now” had already been recorded by Elvis in February, 1957 and issued on the “Loving You” album, before it was slated for inclusion in Elvis’ next movie “Jailhouse Rock”. The sessions were held at Radio Recorders, Hollywood in May, 1957 and Elvis obviously felt that he could improve on his earlier recording, spending two to three hours on the remake, with Jerry Leiber more or less producing the session even though it was credited to M.G.M. A number of different versions of the song were cut to fit different parts of the movie, one of which featured Elvis on piano.
“You’ll Never Walk Alone” was recorded during a productive session at RCA Studio B, Nashville in September, 1967. The likes of “Guitar Man”, “Big Boss Man”, “High Heel Sneakers” and “You Don’t Know Me” were also recorded during this session, and it’s fair to say that the seeds of the great comeback of 1968 were already being sown here. On “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, Elvis channelled one of his favourite singers, Roy Hamilton, singing to his own piano accompaniment, as he would have done during countless informal singing sessions over the years, and working out a full band arrangement as the song progressed. The song was issued as a 1968 single, coupled with the modern gospel, “We Call On Him”.
Following the success of his NBC TV Special “Elvis”, which was aired to rave reviews in December of 1968, Elvis took the decision to record in Memphis for the first time since his last recording session for Sun Records back in 1955. With Chips Moman producing, and arguably the best studio band in the country at the time, Elvis was keen to build on the success of the TV Special and re-establish himself as a modern contemporary artist. History tells us that this mission was well and truly accomplished, but in addition to the great new hits that the session produced, a number of older songs that the singer needed to ‘get out of his system’ were also committed to tape.
Two of these songs, both of which were hits for Eddy Arnold, were recorded during January and February of 1969 at American Studios in Memphis, and are included here. “I’ll Hold You In My Heart” (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms)” was recorded in one just take, with Elvis totally lost in the music, adding touches of soul and blues to what was essentially a country song.
“After Loving You” was a song that Elvis’ had tried out during informal singing sessions at home, and may well have been recorded prior to 1969, had it not been for the movie soundtrack recordings taking precedence during the mid sixties.
Despite the fact that neither of these songs represented what Chips Moman really had in mind for these sessions, the quality of the performances meant that they were both included on the classic “From Elvis In Memphis” album which was issued in late 1969.
Elvis would occasionally play piano on stage during his fifties concerts, and this also became a feature of his later live performances. Towards the end of 1976, Elvis started to sing “Unchained Melody” whilst playing piano during his personal appearances, and this became a regular feature of his shows continuing into 1977.
Elvis’ producer Felton Jarvis recorded a number of live performances during the spring of 1977 with a view to completing Elvis’ then unfinished new album on the road. Elvis’ performance of the song from his April 24, 1977 show in Ann Arbor, Michigan was one of the songs Felton captured on tape, and it was then overdubbed for inclusion on what became Elvis’ final album “Moody Blue”.
The “Moody Blue” album was issued in the summer of 1977, and Elvis made reference to having just recorded the song whilst being filmed by the CBS cameras for the TV Special “Elvis In Concert”, during his June 21, 1977 performance in Rapid City, South Dakota. This recording was not included in the telecast, or the subsequent soundtrack album, but an overdubbed version was issued as a posthumous single during 1978, coupled with a previously unissued December 1975 Las Vegas recording of “Softly As I Leave You”.
At the close of Elvis’ 1971 recording of “It’s Still Here”, producer Felton Jarvis’ can be heard saying, “someone will dig that, man”, recognising the beauty in a performance that didn’t really have hit potential, but would be treasured by many Presley fans in the years to come. Enjoy “Elvis At The Piano”…We hope you dig it too.