Venus is back with the latest volume in its The King In Motion series, cleverly titling the volume, A Guitar Player Worth A Damn. The focus of the latest volume is Elvis On Tour offering fans a set comprising a composite book + DVD + 2CD set.
The book component comprises 205 pages (approximately B5 size - 175 x 240 cms). The front and back cover design is good, notably utilising a neat gloss on matte effect.
Back Cover photo
The narrative is well written without offering too much that is new. It is essentially descriptive, offering brief background details about the rehearsals, filming and about each song, chart details:
“Always On My Mind” was first released in November 1972 as the B-side of RCA single 47-0815 with “Separate Ways” as the top side. The song was listed for nine weeks in the “Hot Country Singles”: chart in Billboard starting on December 9th, making it to #13.
However, the text does have its moments, offering minutiae of, not necessarily obscure, but interesting, information and commentary:
.. Unlike the first cut, this country ballad master [For The Good Times] was on tape by take 4. That same evening, Elvis recorded his harmony vocal. On May 8th, cello, violin and viola were added to the master.
Perhaps coupled with the recently recorded Vegas versions of “It’s Over” and “You Gave Me A Mountain”, the currently only available as a single I’m Leavin” and still-unpublished “Love Me, Love The Life I Lead” would have made it possible to combine eleven songs into a very good “concept album”, which, guaranteed by the hits “Burning Love” and “Separate Ways”, would have done very well on the pop and country charts!
Great photo of Elvis and his father in the lift
However nearly all the book’s text is about Elvis’ ‘On Tour’ recording sessions from March and nothing to do with the actual concerts that are showcased in the book. A lot of the text placement makes little sense, for instance the section on Elvis’ stunning April 9th Hampton Roads evening show is broken up with a discussion about the March recording of ‘Where Do I Go From Here?’. Similarly the section on Elvis’ 10th April Richmond concert features text about the recording of ‘It’s A Matter Of Time’!
At one point one simple page of text about the rehearsal session is broken up into three separate paragraphs but spread across 18 pages of San Antonio concert photographs. This is not a stylish design.
Some full page photo highlights
One has to imagine that this bootleg package would attract similar buyers as 2017’s “Elvis On Tour: Deluxe Edition" from Amiga which in comparison had better production values featuring the recording sessions at the start and with the various concerts combined with contemporary reviews and other discussions.
The AMIGA set was Coffee-table deluxe size 130 pages, while this book is 187 pages (about On Tour) and B5 size. Also worth mentioning would be “Elvis Files 1971-73” which included 60 pages on these same concerts.
This Venus set however features even more photos from this concert series and I am sure photo-book collectors will be impressed. A real positive for instance being the 27 pages dedicated to Elvis’ fabulous April 9th Hampton Roads Evening Show - and there are plenty of photos here not featured in the Amiga set.
Generally the blend of full page, multi-page, part page, color and b&w images works effectively. There appear to be a number of, it not seen before, at least rare, images. There are close-ups, mid-shots and long-shots and a few images are dark and/or blurry, but overall the visual aspect is relatively pleasing but as discussed shortly, compromised by the lack of page borders.
Collectors might note that when images are repeated between this Venus book and the previous Amiga set they often appear better quality (colour / resolution) in the Amiga versions. Just one comparison example below where the colour and details of the Amiga set obviously stand out.
While we understand what the thinking was behind the slightly different images on pages 56 and 57, EIN is not convinced it works, especially as part of the page 57 image is lost due to it emanating from the spine of the book (I.e. sans border). Neither are we convinced that including the set title vertically along the outer edge of many pages was necessary.
With VENUS knowing that keen fans would have bought the Amiga book they do seem to have made an effort to include alternate photos in this new release. This is a real plus. However one oddity we couldn’t understand is that ‘Guitar Player’ completely misses out the April 17th Little Rock concert and there is no mention whatsoever about Elvis’ final performance on April 19 at Albuquerque.
There are in fact a few colour photos from April 19th, but they are not labelled and the text on the page talks about Elvis’ tour opening on April 5th in Buffalo!
It is surprising that Venus did not include a variety of archival material (press reviews, articles, etc), as this would have been a great value-add (this was a strength of the first two volumes in The King In Motion series, but also a weakness with volume 3) as well as placing the photo in correct context.
The back cover features a brilliant photo of Elvis as a passionate ‘Guitar Player Worth A Damn’ but the slightly double-chinned front cover image is not my favourite. One of EIN’s real favourite Elvis images with him as a ‘Guitar Player Worth A Damn’ (shown at end of this review) from Dayton April 7th is sadly missing from this book yet could have made a great front cover.
The page design is acceptable without being outstanding. The page borders (white space) are all over the place, some pages lack a border altogether and images or text right up to or close to the edge isn’t a good look. Wider edge borders would have provided a nicer feel to each page. The font size is slightly too big and together with the lack of adequate page borders makes pages look somewhat cheap and cramped. The font size would have worked much better down a point or two. EIN did like the music note and guitar image heralding each page number (nice touch). The hardcover casing works a treat and the pages are securely bound for repetitive viewings.
While this newly compiled selection of “On Tour” outtakes contains little that collectors won’t have previously purchased unlike the book it has been very nicely edited. Kudos to Kid Tannen noted as editor in the final credits.
A selection of rehearsals start the DVD – which runs over 90 minutes in total – and nowadays it’s all that more poignant seeing people like Lamar Fike and Joe Esposito hanging around with our man.
‘Always On My Mind’ becomes particularly touching as Elvis sings the rehearsal with Red West standing next to him.
I realised I haven’t watched these outtakes in years and the (somewhat) improved quality – they still of course have that “outtakes timecode” on them - makes watching this edition a joy.
Nice also to watch Emory Gordy on bass (he played on the RCA recording session as well as the rehearsals before Jerry Scheff returned for the actual concerts) and if Elvis wasn’t supposed to enjoy ‘Burning Love’ he certainly wasn’t showing it at the rehearsals.
The camaraderie looks infectious and if Elvis was struggling with the loss of Priscilla it was his friends and the band that were keeping him entertained and his mood positive.
Watching Elvis up-close to James Burton “chickin’-pickin” on guitar at the rehearsals and the gang gathered around the piano for the ‘I-John’ Gospel spontaneous jam are always great viewing.
Before the on-stage section there is a fine ‘Mystery Train’ montage of trains, planes & automobiles as well as interviews (Vernon, George Klein etc) running around 7 minutes which includes some cool footage I hadn’t seen before. While the Elvis caravan was a huge machine it still looks like an earlier, simpler, family time. Touring nowadays sure is a different beast.
After the great intro the DVD features a selection of twelve alternate on-stage performances – and in better quality than my previous outtake DVDs. These run around 35 minutes total.
While the performances look familiar, the Split-Screen edit works very well and tracks such as ‘Release Me’ & ‘Burning Love’ from Greensboro are a joy as are ‘For The Good Times’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’ from Hampton Roads.
Some songs such as ‘Bridge’ and ‘Funny How Time’ “this is an owl” from Greensboro are in brilliant quality (no timecode) but this is only because they come from the original MGM film albeit with the Split-Screen removed. The only annoyance about this compilation is that it left me wanting more! The Rehearsal / concerts section ends at around the 65 minute point.
After this there are plenty of Bonuses including 10 minutes of filmed ‘On Tour’ interview with Elvis as well as some bonus rehearsal footage.
The tragedy is that all this – and MORE – should be released officially.
Sadly I cannot ever see that happening.
CD 1 – Greensboro, April 14, 1972
This night Elvis played to one of the biggest crowds of the tour 16,000 fans and still working hard.
The Venus publicity notes this as a "Unreleased Alternate Mix" of this often bootlegged concert but it is still the same old MONO mix with a pile of reverb added to it.
Sure, Venus need to include a RCA recorded concert but to be honest the sound is a bit messy and I prefer my clearer versions.
Lots of highlights - ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’, the very first concert performance of 'Burning Love' - but nothing that collectors won't own already.
I'll wait until SONY / FTD release the stereo version before buying another one.
CD 2: The Hampton Roads Afternoon Show Audience recording - April 9, 1972
I have no issue with Audience Recordings when they reveal something unique about an Elvis performance - such as NYE 1976/77 or the 1975 "Request Box" shows but the truly essential audience recordings are few and far between.
With so many 'On Tour' concerts already released and in fine multitrack quality there was understandably very little that VENUS could really offer as new audio with this set.
However stating on the back cover that “Also included in this set is a CD of the never-before-released Hampton Roads afternoon show from April 9, 1972, digitally restored from the original tape” is poor form in my view as this is an AUDIENCE recording and should have been clearly identified as such.
There is nothing "Outta Space" about this sound unless you like listening to the audience members around you clapping along often louder that Elvis' band and sometimes out-of-time as well!
While it is not that bad an audience recording (ie there's not too much distortion) it is also not that good as the clapping (and chatting) is annoying and you often cannot hear the band or Elvis' between song banter.
On this tour Elvis' performances were always good and focussed with little variation in set-lists although this afternoon he did throw in a few extras. So apart from a quick listen to check out if there are any particular unique moments in his Hampton Roads afternoon performance (there aren't many) I cannot see why anyone would ever play this CD again rather than listen to the wonderful Evening show - or any other On Tour multi-track recording.
For historical purposes, in this Afternoon Show.
1. Elvis in the intro notes, "It’s nice to be back here we’re going to do about 450 songs or so that you’ll like"
2. Elvis and the band fluff the ending of 'Don't Be Cruel' and have to start the last few lines again. Afterwards Elvis says something like.. "Excuse us, we've only played that song 300 times before" but the rest is drowned out by the crowd applause.
3. ‘Jailhouse Rock’ a true rarity in 1972, is performed but is similar to all the other 70s throwaway versions running just 1 minute.
4. ‘One Night’, another rarity for this tour, is a much better treat and a real shame it wasn’t included in the Evening Show but again similar to other 1972 performances. Elvis does interrupt it at one point noting “I lost my guitar”.
5. ‘Help Me make It Through The Night’ another 72 rarity that he should have included in other ‘On Tour’ shows. This is a nice version albeit mucked up with the joke line, “All I’m taking is your wife”.
6. In the middle of 'Funny How Times' he sings, "Never know when I'll be back in town… except for tonight"
7. Right at the end Elvis has the lights turned up so he can see the audience but you cannot hear any of Elvis’ usual "Farewell" comments before CHFIL kicks in.
Of course an audience recording helps demonstrate just how excited they got by hearing Elvis' "Oldies" even if he threw them away but in the end the subtly of the ballads such as 'Until It's Time For You To Go' is ruined by the audience recording and similarly the bass-funk-power of the rockers such as 'Polk Salad' is also absent due to it being an audience recording.
In the end I see little need to play this again and feel disappointed with Venus’ publicity not being more honest.
Verdict: Overall, A Guitar Player Worth A Damn is arguably the weakest of the four volumes in Venus’ The King In Motion series. The standout element is the DVD with the CDs really offering nothing worth a repeat play. The book element had great potential, lots of wonderful new photos, but would have been more effective if greater thought had gone into its design. The narrative is generally prosaic and the visual element could have been easily enhanced had there been effective edge borders. If there is a fifth volume, EIN hopes that Venus will model its design and content on the excellent first two volumes in the series.
Photo right: One of EIN's favourite On Tour "Guitar Player" photos but sadly not included in this VENUS publication!
Review by Nigel Patterson / Piers Beagley
-Copyright EIN December 2019.
Do Not reprint or republish without permission.