Elvis Detective: Jorgensen Preserves The King's Legacy
Alanna Nash, Billboard, September 2004
year was 1999. Ernst Mikael Jorgensen sat nervously
in the lobby of the Hotel Nikko in Beverly Hills, Calif.
A man who grew up reading detective novels in his native
Denmark, he was about to experience a cloak-and-dagger
caper of his own making. A middleman chosen by a jittery
seller would soon deliver 25 Elvis Presley tapes stolen
from RCA long ago, including the master for "Heartbreak
Hotel" and the outtakes for "It's Now or Never."
a bag stuffed with $10,000 in cash, Jorgensen was so edgy
that the night before he hadn't been able to eat. He didn't
dare leave his hotel room with that much money. He never
learned the name of the seller, but he got what he came
for -- no surprise to those who know the tall, mild-mannered
Dane as the Columbo of rock.
a record producer/compiler/researcher, has earned a reputation
not only for ferreting out Presley's lost recordings, but
also for cataloging the King's music and documenting elusive
concert dates. Today he rides his own private "Mystery Train"
as one of the premier redeemers of Presley's legacy as an
electrifying performer and seminal recording artist.
Jorgensen's work chronicling Presley's recording sessions
and artfully preserving and packaging his BMG catalog, the
image of the singer at the end of his life -- a sad self-caricature
-- might have lingered in the American consciousness. Instead,
Presley is largely remembered the way Jorgensen thinks of
him, as "probably the most important star of all time."
how the 53-year-old Jorgensen came to rescue Presley's creative
standing and put him back on the top of the charts decades
after his death is a story so unlikely it could be the subject
of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
all started in the early '60s with Jorgensen's sister, who
bought the singles "It's Now or Never," "(Marie's the Name)
His Latest Flame" and "Little Sister." The last is "the
one that really caught my attention," Jorgensen says. Jorgensen
didn't get his own record player until 1963, when he was
first albums he bought were by the Rolling Stones and Bob
Dylan. But he also began collecting early Elvis Presley
records. By 1967, however, when Presley sang "Old McDonald"
on the soundtrack to the movie "Double Trouble," Jorgensen
recalls in his Nordic accent, "I found it very hard to defend
my appreciation for Elvis' music."
ON THE PATH Then came "Big Boss Man," which rekindled
Jorgensen's passion and set his destiny. "I couldn't understand
how an artist could go from the absolute ridiculous to the
bluesy character of 'Big Boss Man.' Underneath all the movie
trash were, from time to time, wonderful recordings that
seemed to come from a different planet and even from a different
artist. But I was a fan of detective novels, and history
was my favorite class in school, so I thought, 'I want to
16-year-old ran smack into the dictate of Colonel Tom Parker,
Presley's longtime manager, of withholding information,
even about when the records were made or which musicians
played on them. Along with two friends, Johnny Mikkelsen
and Erik Rasmussen, Jorgensen began a fierce letter-writing
campaign to RCA, and later to musicians' unions and engineers.
learned how master serial numbers indicated when songs were
recorded and assembled as much minutia as possible about
Presley's recording sessions. "It was an obsession, the
detective work of it," he says. In time, Jorgensen and his
friends acquired the early paperwork of legendary RCA VP
of pop A&R Steve Sholes.
also began corresponding with Presley's producer, Felton
Jarvis; shortly after the singer's Stax sessions in 1973,
Jarvis shared with Jorgensen details of 10 new tracks that
wouldn't be released for another year.
three Danish researchers began self-publishing pamphlets
of the information they had compiled, and soon Jorgensen
attained a certain notoriety, as well as an inkling of his
future. Years later, the pamphlets would form the foundation
of his exhaustive 1998 book, "Elvis Presley: A Life in Music-The
Complete Recording Sessions," which is recognized as a definitive
planning to become a teacher, Jorgensen moonlighted as a
mailman to support his studies at the University of Copenhagen.
But he dreamed of a way to somehow get involved with Presley's
music. Dropping out of school in 1976, he took a job at
a rack-jobber, and his career in the recording industry
one point, he started his own label, It's Magic. But a job
as GM of PolyGram Denmark led to his appointment as managing
director of BMG Denmark in 1988, when he was 38. The job
Jorgensen had prepared for all his life -- overseeing the
Elvis Presley catalog -- dropped into his lap shortly after
he started working for BMG. The company had owned Presley's
recordings since acquiring RCA in 1986.
fact, BMG's administrative departments were using Jorgensen's
1984 recording-sessions compilation, "Reconsider Baby" (written
with Rasmussen and Mikkelsen), as their guide. Still, BMG
continued to treat Presley the Colonel's way -- that is,
with a carny attitude toward "the cheap way to get a buck,"
as Jorgensen puts it.
of its albums seemed thrown together, with uneven material,
lackluster themes ("Something for Everybody") and inferior
Jorgensen's view, there was no attempt to put out a quality
product that reflected the singer's artistry or the magnitude
of his contribution to American popular music.
one meeting," Jorgensen recalls, "I stood up and asked,
˜Why are we treating the Elvis catalog so poorly?' The guy
who had hired me, [late BMG International president] Rudi
Gassner, looked at me coldly and said, 'Well, if you're
so smart, why don't you do [something]?' And I said, 'Yep,