Last week EIN received a test pressing of 'The American Way Vol.5: Goin' Home To Memphis' the final instalment in this great series from the Southern Comfort label.
With almost every released take from Elvis' Memphis 1969 American Studio Sessions already featured in their previous 4 volumes, it was difficult to imagine how Southern Comfort could fill up their final disc – but it is absolutely packed to the brim.
Although this is not the absolute final product, please enjoy our special Sneak Preview.
As usual the Southern Comfort producers have promised a stylish 16-page booklet to go with the CD however apart from the known cover designs (above & below tracklist) our CD came wrapped in just one printed page below - A nice taster as you can see, scanned below.
The complete studio takes of 'Without Love' start the CD. There is a great lightness to the start of Take 1 with Bobby Wood’s piano and a simpler guitar line leading Elvis through the first verse, "all my dreams turned to ashes and gone" and then the rhythm sections sneaks up with Gene Crispman’s precise drumming and snare guiding the song. The audio quality here is majestic. Elvis is obviously enjoying the vibes and lets out a great "oh yeah".
As on previous American Way releases we also get plenty of studio discussion between takes. And having recently seen ‘The Memphis Boys’ in concert during Elvis Week, listening to their delicious playing is even more fascinating.
The lyric of ‘Without Love’ gives Elvis a chance to sing plenty of emotions into the recording - from loneliness, to pleading, to being a winner but ending up wasted in his emptiness. The final few lines being a serious test of Elvis’ exquisite vocals.
Of course the final ‘Without Love’ Master managed to reduce this notable passion within Elvis’ vocal by layering unnecessary syrupy strings and backing-vocals over the top. These also pushed down the power of Elvis’ vocal lead making these versions all the more important.
ROUGH MIX TAPE
The next section gives us the ‘Rough Mixes’ and what a surprise and lovely unexpected highlight they are.
It’s noteworthy that several of these tracks have never had official outtakes released, which make these versions even more fun.
‘Gentle On My Mind’ - Never one of my session favourites but this version is a cracker! This take features a lovely lead harmonica that guides the feel of this country-funk mix. There’s also a slow-walking Mike Leach bass line, which is very different from the later overdubbed one. Without the usual overdubs this almost comes across as a different song, even if Elvis’ vocal is the final version. The lovely long fade-out works too.
‘A Little Bit Of Green’ – There’s never been an officially released alternate of this track which is also a shame as without Charlie Hodge’s "vocal duet" this song also sounds very different. This mix has that fabulously rich bass feel (a real positive of these ‘American Way’ releases) and also features more of Bobby Wood’s piano. On the night Elvis’ voice was on the edge of getting laryngitis and without overdubs the feel of that emotional cracking to his vocal becomes even more exposed, which of course suits the sadness of the lyric so well.
‘Wearin’ That Loved On Look’ – This is a very interesting alternate mix since it features only half of the backing vocal arrangement - with the "call & response" vocal overdub missing. There’s a fabulous distorted chicken-pickin’ fuzz-guitar thrown in here that doesn’t appear on the final mix and the rhythm section also plays a different pattern. The gospel build up after the second chorus is sensational and sounds like we are rockin’ in church. This needed several repeat plays as soon as I heard it.
‘Suspicious Minds’ – You have to think ‘What not another version?!’ - But, Hell Yeah! A fascinating final version with Elvis’ double-tracked vocal – and backing-vocals - but without the horn and orchestra overdubs. Of course the earlier studio outtakes already released only have Elvis’ single vocal and not the backing vocals. So this is a very COOL version and should be an official release along with all the tracks here. If Ernst has this "rough mix" tape in stereo this needs to be a future release. I wonder why this has never turned up on one of the recent BMG box-sets?
‘I’ll Be There’ – Another song with no alternate releases. Again without the orchestral overdubs but this time this is totally fascinating for the major echo on Elvis’ lead vocal. In fact the echo does sound like an innovative recording fault rather than a deliberate effect. However this is another song that benefits from no orchestral overdub (simply reflected with Bobby Emmon’s on organ) and it is fascinating.
‘Hey Jude’ – Why on earth didn’t anybody give Elvis the lyrics for this classic? What a major cock-up by all concerned. Without overdubs this take sounds more like the ‘Memphis Sessions’ version. Unfortunately ‘Hey Jude’ will always sound better if considered a ‘rehearsal’ than a finished release. (How ridiculous that it was ever released on "Elvis Now" in 1972. What a great indicator that Elvis was behind the times! – Thanks Colonel!) The delight here is in the longer fade-out with Elvis singing "Jude, Jude, Mother-f***, Jude, Jude." Yes, Elvis knew it was never going to be released too! (Oops, it was!)
‘You’ll Think of Me’ – I’ve always loved this strange song. With no vocals or orchestra overdub, Bobby Emmons again fills in the background with more spaced-out organ. A nice touch for the late sixties sitar feel. Very spare, very neat.
‘Inherit The Wind’ – Another rough mix with no overdubbed orchestra, however with the backing vocals. This has more of a funky rich bass-mix and with added echo to Elvis’ vocal. Again the vibe is very different to the Master version and presents a good case for FTD to release every track from this crucial 1969 session with the backing-vocal mix but without the syrup orchestral overdubs. In 2007 these versions really do sound far more contemporary.
‘This Is The Story’ – Almost a-cappella with just Elvis’ vocal, simple organ and funk bass line. A song about emptiness and heartbreak, the "space between" presented in this mix is extraordinary. Listen to the moment @ 1.45 where there is a total gap before Mike Leech’s bass returns and you will understand where I’m coming from. At that moment there’s a true musical aching and emptiness that so matches the lyrics "It’s the story that’s breaking my heart." Bobby Emmons’ organ also fits the texture of the song so well. Magic. Official release please!
I am wondering whether this "Rough Mix" tape is where Ernst got his alternate mix of ‘I’m Movin’ On’ on the BMG ‘Suspicious Minds’ double CD from. If so, BMG must have all these rough mixes in stereo and if so why aren’t they all released?
Moving on from the 1969 sessions we get a quick idea of how important they were to Elvis with a few relevant songs from his live Opening Show Jan 26th, 1970.
It may seem strange that Sammy Shore and ‘All Shook Up’ is represented here however for the first time it makes you realise how quickly the transition was from Sammy Shore’s comedy act was to Elvis’ show! Damn it, I would have been out at the slots and missed the start of the concert! It also demonstrates that this is a brand new source for these recordings as we have never heard this strange transition before.
The key to these live tracks is of course to get the only live attempt of ‘True Love Travels On A Gravel Road’ in a perfect context. With its familiar false start it still is a great version. What real shame that Elvis never tried it live again. As usual the audience were mainly interested in hearing the ‘Greatest hits’.
GOIN’ HOME sessions
As stated, these early takes come from extremely rare collector’s acetates. Listening to them you certainly understand a) Why they were preserved for future private listening b) Why they never went onto the RCA vault tapes!
It was Jan 15th 1968 and with Lisa Marie’s birth only 2 weeks away, Elvis had more on his mind that MGM’s ‘Stay Away Joe’. In the end it took an incredible thirty takes to finish the song - and already, being after midnight, Elvis was up for some fun and silliness.
The track starts with Elvis saying, "The pills are wearing off" (before Take 3) but you can tell that he is only jesting. With ‘Too Much Money Business’ having been recorded earlier, these initial takes do sound just like a party.
Elvis jokes, "Put a little life into the Mother- f*****, man, (Don’t) play it like a dead-ass war dance!"
Producer Felton Jarvis is laughing though the intercom, "You silly bastard!" and everyone is having FUN. In fact everyone is drunk on having fun and can’t stop laughing!
After a few aborted attempts Elvis begins to sound serious saying, "OK. Let’s get on with it. Do it right this time, man. . . . . D.J (Fontana) quit farting around over there and let’s go!"
Slowly the band gets it together and they use an Indian tom-tom beat for the song, but Elvis isn’t sure.
"That sounds bad man! I ain’t shitting. Oh, hell man" he teases.
No, this isn’t going to be released by BMG!
Even when the band and Elvis start getting their act together at last, Elvis then changes the lyrics throwing everyone off course again.
"Where the days are hot and the nights are cold,
The desert sand - and your ass-hole!"
It’s a riot - and amazingly the band keeps on playing. It is an extraordinary few takes and gets me laughing every time. As Elvis jokes, "Somebody help me!"
It’s obvious that every take seems to start with a modicum of sincerity but within seconds Elvis and the session always fall apart again with laughter. Sure these acetates sound a little rough but what a period to capture on tape. Of course there is lots more fun & frivolity but you’ll have to discover that for yourself.
As Elvis comments, "Worst f**kin’ song I’ve heard in my life"
- but he still continued to 5 a.m. in the morning and thirty takes to get it right!
STEREO session takes
On Take 16 we move on to the last part of the session and from a new stereo tape source.
This is a treat in great audio quality, as well as a change of sentiment. Now they really are trying to get it finished.
Elvis says, "Play your ass off D.J."
There is a great sound to these versions but the arrangement is still very different to outtake #21 that we know from the ‘Collector’s Gold’ box–set. Still love that "Papa Ohh, Mow Mow" vibe that Elvis has after twenty nine mind-numbing takes!
On one of the final takes Elvis sings the infamous lyric and cute moment of,
"Feet are itching to get back home,
Had the fever. . .
… . .. . fu*k the fever man"
Not surprisingly Elvis’ mind at the time was not on the importance of this soundtrack session, while he also knew that he was about to come to the end of his grinding movie contracts. This would give him the chance to prove himself once again as a real force in popular music, re-evaluate himself via the NBC TV special and get back to recording the most important session of his later career – at American Sound Studios.
Isn’t this where we came in?
Verdict: The ‘American Studio’ sessions round out half this test pressing CD and include some fabulous and unknown rough mixes - and what more could you ask for than the amazing rarity of the 'Goin Home' sessions to fill the CD up to the brim? The past few days my house has been rockin’ with the rough mix funk while I haven’t been able to stop laughing over the party-mix bonus tracks. A fabulous way to end the series.
EIN Note - Our test pressing is NOT the end product and doesn’t feature all the final tracks. Like you I cannot wait to get my hands on the real Southern Comfort release. Order your copy now!