Elvis Presley: Well, I'd like to say how happy we are to be out here. It's a real honor for us to get a chance to appear on the Louisiana Hayride show and we're gonna do a song for you. You got anything else to say, sir?
Frank Page: No, I'm ready.
Elvis: We're gonna do a song for you we've got out on Sun Records and it goes something like this....
With that and the first strum of Elvis’ guitar the fuse was lit for his rocket-powered ride to become the world’s number one Rock’n’Roll superstar!
In the past, Elvis’ few recorded Hayride performances have been spread among a pile of releases of varying quality and substance. Somewhat surprisingly Elvis’ very first almighty Hayride performance from October 16th 1954 being the most common (luckily because it was captured on tape in good quality).
Other songs however like the fabulously rare ‘Hearts of Stone’ and ‘I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine’ or an early ‘Money Honey’ (captured live one year before Elvis recorded it for RCA!) were basically unlistenable due to the terrible quality of the surviving acetate recordings.
Six of these rare live acetates were released on the BMG’s 1999 ‘Sunrise’ set but the poor quality basically made them a once-only listen.
The final key to a historical overview of Elvis’ Hayride performances was the discovery and auction of Elvis’ final Hayride performance from December 16th 1956. This was purchased by Ernst Jorgensen and included on the recent RCA Legacy 1956 deluxe box-set ‘Young Man with the Big Beat.’
Making use of the Public Domain laws MRS have compiled a sensational 76 minute CD featuring all of Elvis’ available Hayride performances. What’s more by using some astounding audio technology the previously un-listenable performances now sound ok, albeit not in high-quality.
This really demonstrates what twenty years of technological advancement and an amazing audio engineer can do (Audio restoration is credited to Studio D).
(Right:You looking for Trouble? - March 10th 1956)
MRS have produced some excellent mini-packages in the past including their ‘Tupelo Welcomes Home Elvis Presley’ and ‘Off Duty’ CD/book combos that have sold very well through Amazon and other on-line sellers.
They manage not only to produce something that will satisfy the true ‘Elvis collector’ but their releases also don’t disappoint the "general public" who may have bought too many sub-standard Public Domain releases in the past.
Presenting an upgraded CD of Elvis LIVE in the early fifties plus a 96-page book of great Elvis photos, along with informative text surely won’t disappoint anyone!
One again MRS has used the 6" hard-cover format book of 96 pages with a CD stylishly inset in the back cover (see below). The design is nicely laid-out with plenty of full-page Elvis photos, along with some illuminating text.
What a change you can see from the hesitant young Elvis on the first page back in 1954 (below left) to the superstar in leather gloves leaving the Hayride on December 16 just two years later - as shown on the book's final page!
From the 1954 Hayride rookie, to the 1956 Hayride Superstar ...
The informative text captures the excitement and adventure of these two years with the Louisiana Hayride, without whose help and exposure Elvis may not have achieved the rocket-launch to fame that his talent deserved. It is good to be reminded of some salient facts, for instance the fact that in his contract the Hayride was to be paid $400 for every (additional) performance missed, and the huge gap between Elvis’ last regular Hayride gig on March 31st 1956 (no audio survives) and his final hurrah on December 16th 1956.
The text and compilation is by Joseph Pirzada but he has had major input from other well-known names such as Joey Kent (of the Hayride Archives), Steve Barile, John Heath as well as Joe Tunzi as co-producer.
A lot of the key photos I have seen spread out through the earlier ‘Memphis Recording Service’ books but having the specific Hayride photos collected together – plus all the new 1956 images not in previous MRS books - is very impressive.
There are plenty of images here that seem new to me and putting the action shots to match the featured Hayride recordings really do help explain the Elvis phenomenon.
The book also features plenty of memorabilia like Elvis’ first hayride contract, newspaper adverts, clippings, posters and more.
One of the best things about the CD is that it frames Elvis’ performances with the somewhat naïve sounding Hayride jingles. How easy it is to forget that the Hayride was a simple "Country and Western" family entertainment show – Elvis’ first performance was basically to fill-in for an empty slot. Little did they know what they were going to get!
Look at the shots of Elvis performing and then look at the Hayride program image – no wonder he shocked the audience! What a great contrast! And this book and CD places it all nicely in context.
Some of my favourite photos are Elvis with Horace Logan April 30th 1955 (see below), the action shots from October 1st 1955 and the sleeveless T-shirt shots from March 1956 - "If you’re looking for trouble, just look right in my face." (shown above)
The "first-ever" colour photo of Elvis is featured from January 22nd 1955 and there are also some great colour candids from March 1956 that I haven’t seen before.
(Right: some of the March 1956 colour candids)
While Elvis’ final Hayride concert was first featured in the excellent ‘Young Man with the Big Beat’ the book only had three photos to represent this important concert. In comparison The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives features twenty-six fabulous photos from this final performance!
While a few pedantics have complained that the front and back covers here are faked colour shots, the original black and whites images of these are shown within the book, and the use of the Hayride banner and layout on the front cover is a lovely touch
A packed CD of twenty-nine tracks taking us from Elvis’ first Hayride performance on October 16 1954, through to his last on December 16th 1956 and all souding better than on previous releases.
The real treat for me is hearing Elvis’ songs within the Hayride setting starting with the fabulously tacky Hayride intro jingle, setting the scene before Elvis walks on stage.
The book explains this historical moment …
On Saturday afternoon October 16 1954 they rolled into the parking lot of the Municipal Auditorium and were greeted by Tillman Franks and Horace Logan. The three were told that they would be on the first segment of the show where all the fresh talent was broken in. Elvis occupied himself backstage meeting other singers until Horace announced it was time for them to go on. Horace would usually introduce the main attractions of the show, but because Elvis was an unknown, Frank Page did the honors.
They were scheduled to appear during the Lucky Strike Guest Time. During the spoken Lucky Strike ad, Scotty and Bill can be heard tuning their instruments. When the ad was over, announcer Frank Page introduced Elvis to the crowd:
"Just a few weeks ago", he said, "a young man from Memphis, Tennessee recorded a song on the Sun label and in just a matter of a few weeks that record has sky rocketed right up the charts. He's only 19 years old; he has a new distinctive style. Elvis Presley! Would you give him a nice hand?"
Elvis nervously walked onstage and after a few moments of friendly banter with Page, he launched into 'That's All Right' and 'Blue Moon of Kentucky'.
He seemed nervous at times and was showing some restraint in front of the crowd which consisted mainly of older married couples. His containment of kinetic force did slip out on occasion and he seemed to connect with the crowd. Their appreciation for what he was doing seemed to grow.
The crowd applauded generously as Elvis, Scotty and Bill retreated backstage.
As luck would have it, the 'Lucky Strike Guest Time' was recorded on audiotape by KWKH. It was then sent to the Lucky Strike Corporation as proof of the Hayride's fulfilment of their contractual commercial obligation. Since this show was recorded on audiotape rather than acetate, this historic performance remains the best preserved recording of Elvis on the Hayride.
History indeed and an amazing start – it is perhaps worth noting that the audience does indeed react with applause to Elvis’ out-there act even within his first performance. And it is interesting to observe the major increase in audience reaction as the months pass.
A great double-page spread of Elvis at the Hayride, October 1, 1955
The three January 15th 1955 acetate recorded songs follow and at last they are listenable! Floyd Cramer has also joined the band adding noticeable Honky-Tony piano to the three-piece band, along with steel guitarist Jimmy Day. ‘Hearts Of Stone’ is a real delight - it’s worth comparing how bad it sounded previously on the BMG ‘Sunrise’ release.
From the January 22nd acetates we get a great ‘Money Honey’– a very cool laid-back version compared to his well-know 1956 Las Vegas performance (more great piano work too but from Leon Post this time).
By now you can hear Elvis’ growing confidence in his performance, the crowd goes wild and ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ is played with real energy compared to his first version 4 months earlier. ‘I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine’ is another absolute gem with a delightfully full arrangement and thrown-in as an encore (check out Bill Black’s "more, more, more" backing vocal!)
‘That’s All Right’ similarly has a more complicated arrangement with slide-guitar from Sonny Trammel. One of the great versions.
Elvis only managed to perform ‘Tweedlee Dee’ at the April 30th Hayride concert - with the Hayride outro being played right as the song comes to an end.
As the book again explains..
The long drive from Lubbock to Gladewater on April 30th 1955 saw Elvis' dream machine, his pink Cadillac, break down on route to a remote Hayride broadcast show at a High School gym in Gladewater, Texas.
Horace Logan just managed to get Elvis in for the last curtain call in the final moments of the broadcast on stage. This gave the boys enough time for only one number and Elvis, clearly dejected, chose the song `Tweedlee Dee'.
From this performance, (luckily a recording survived) you can hear the crowd cheer as Horace Logan announces Elvis as he takes the stage.
July 16th has Elvis performing ‘I’m Left You’re Right She’s Gone’ and there is a lovely understatement in Horace Logan’s introduction as he announces that Elvis "May well have changed the complexion of Folk Music. He has sure put a beat in it!"
The August 20th 1955 performances are some of the best and in great audio quality too. By now the band has total confidence and everyone is having a ball even if live on the radio - "I’m sick, sober and sorry" jokes Elvis.
‘Baby Let’s Play House’ is fabulous with lots of hiccupping and laughter plus a great audio balance with Scotty’s Moore’s guitar and Bill Black’s bass rockin’ out! On ‘Maybellene’ "we only learnt it a couple of days ago" the band and for the final ‘That’s All Right’ the band plays around deliberately messing up the intro of the song and Bill Black joining in the on-stage fun and really slapping his double-bass – another sensational performance and listen to the crowd roar.
Lastly we get the final December 15, 1956 Hayride performance from the Hirsch Youth Center, Louisiana Fairgrounds, Shreveport. As noted before, this was on the recent RCA ‘YMWTBB’ set.
On this version however MRS have nicely fixed up the first part of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ with an edit from Elvis’ Tupelo concert - since it was missing from the original Hayride recording.
The audio has also been adjusted from the original BMG ‘YMWTBB’ release and runs at a slightly faster tempo here. Comparing the two side-by-side this MRS version does sound the correct speed to me, putting more of a rocking feel into ‘Paralysed’ and the other fast numbers.
Plus there are plenty of great Elvis action photos to go with it.
The highlight for collectors has to be the only live version of the classic ‘Paralyzed’ and it’s a cracker.
‘Don’t Be Cruel’ is also a perfect un-rushed version, the tempo slowed down and imitating the Billy Ward and the Dominoes version that Elvis would have heard earlier in 1956 in Las Vegas. Such a brilliant version and so different from the throwaway seventies attempts. Similarly ‘Love Me’ is beautifully performed and now features the Jordanaires as his permanent backing group.
‘I Was The One’ is also a very assured crowd pleaser getting the topical line for December "I’ll never know, I wish it would snow".
"The song from the movie, in which I got blasted!" jokes Elvis in his introduction, ‘Love Me Tender’ is a lovely early version and ‘When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again’ is another treat from this classic concert.
Elvis of course ends the year with an all-mighty ‘Hound Dog’ as his faithful fans scream their lungs out in love and appreciation. How amazing to compare this explosive fan adoration to track one of this CD when Elvis first walked out onto the Hayride stage.
The final ‘Elvis has left the building’ track is a lovely addition including "I told you absolutely straight up to this point that that he has left the building" – what a fabulous finish – why was this not on the recent RCA release?
Similarly the final Hayride jingle reminds you that the Hayride was still a family "country" affair and not a platform for launching rock’n’roll careers!
June Carter is fun to hear as she talks about Elvis on the Hayride, while Joe Tunzi has added overdubbed rhythm section and new guitar solo to ‘Maybellene’ to give it a fuller sound. While not the true original it sounds just fine on big speakers.
(Please note the images here are low-res scans and are of far better quality in the book)
Overall Verdict: At last we get all of these all-important live Louisiana Hayride performances on one great CD. While this could have been done by any label, we are lucky that MRS have done such terrific work combining the stunningly upgraded acetates along with Hayride jingles plus producing a fabulous and informative 96-page book to go with it, packed with great Elvis photos. Even if you have already bought the deluxe ‘YMWTBB’ release, and therefore own the final Hayride concert, this book and CD package is still a fine addition to your Elvis collection, selling for only £11.00 or under US$20 on Amazon. This really is another high-quality and value-for-money product from MRS – Highly Recommended.
To Listen to sound samples and to purchase for only £11.99 GBP or US$19.50 at Amazon UK, GO HERE
>>> The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956 (CD+100 Page Book)
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN December 2011
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