'Spring Tours 77'
Review by Piers Beagley
Spring Tours 77 April 1977 and Elvis, just four months before finally 'leaving the building', is still out on the road supporting the Colonel's gambling habit.
Since Elvis refused to go into the studio Felton Jarvis recorded portions of each concert, on a 4 track system, hoping to get some rare material to be included in Elvis' next LP.
Unfortunately Elvis just seemed content to run through the same old songs and here, for the first time, we have the highlights from those 12 Spring concerts. Everybody's opinion of this will differ depending on your expectations.
Beware, this is definitely not "Elvis' Live Greatest Hits" although the track list still looks the same. However it does show that Elvis was still sounding happy on stage and in fairly good form, despite the fact that his lifeblood was slipping away.
This 1977 material is what EPE & Ernst J have been trying to keep away from the public eye but, despite the damning reviews elsewhere, this is still a crucial period of Elvis' life that deserves to be released to the true Elvis fans who will understand the importance of these final few months. This is what the FTD series is all about and Ernst & Roger Semon have to be congratulated for releasing this material at last.
What we get is 23 songs mixed together to feel like a single concert and Ernst has chosen the best of what was available.
The photos on the sleeve certainly aren't the ones I would have selected and do give a bad impression of a tired, over-weight and over-worked Elvis, however the Ann Arbor review printed on the sleeve says the opposite. "At 42, Presley still cuts a stunning figure on stage,….".
We have heard several of these concerts bootlegged from soundboard recordings and along with the common technical problems, Elvis often seemed to be firing on only 3 cylinders. However when the mood grabbed him he could still put on a fine performance.
These versions don't stand up to the 1969-1972 shows of course but listen to this CD and you know that you would have loved to have been there for every unpredictable minute. Compared to the extremely sad FTD release of Tucson '76 this is a great improvement.
Kicking off with Elvis fooling with 'That's all right' Ernst sets the relaxed tone of these Spring shows. "God all-mighty, it's warped," says Elvis as he strums his guitar. It's his second tour of 1977 and he IS having fun. From March 26th in Norman, Oklahoma, this was the very first show that Felton recorded.
'Are you Lonesome Tonight' follows with less messing around than in the tragic 'Elvis In Concert' version but his voice quavers and it is obvious that he is still warming up. "If you don't mind I'd like to do Blue Christmas, I know it's a strange time of year but .." says Elvis as he strums his guitar. This is rare and delicious material and you only wish that you'd been there.
'Trying to get to you' is ok but Elvis kicks on with a very fine unrehearsed 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy' - Very dirty and bluesy. A real gem, which emphasizes the importance of this release. Elvis really gets into it and laughs with the enjoyment of it all.. "Yeah, Lord, Lord".
'Fever' is a very good 1977 recording, obviously not up to his 74 versions, but crank up the sound and you can really hear the audience swinging along.
After this Elvis only sounds vaguely interested in performing 'Heartbreak Hotel' which is ok but after 1000 live performances of this and his other 50's hits, how inspired could he be? We would have all loved to hear these classics live but Elvis must have been tired of performing them.
'It's Now or Never', 'Teddy Bear/Don't be cruel' etc get similar treatment. 'If You Love Me' (always a lightweight song) is the undubbed 'Master' that was featured on 'Moody Blue' and sounds just fine here.
Elvis' spontaneous nature is nicely demonstrated when he starts 'Blue Hawaii'. Elvis laughs and says "Watch the musicians panic.. well do something Tony, right or wrong it don't matter'. Sadly piano player Tony Brown doesn't know the song. If only Glen D. Hardin had been there that night.
However a funky 'Little Sister' saves everything with Elvis grooving along to James Burton's cutting guitar work. The CD continues to improve with Elvis singing, the very relevant to 1977, 'Help Me'.
'Help Me' was only performed once on these Spring Tours, Felton was extremely lucky that the tape was running (despite a little recorded static)…. "Lord let me see where I fit into your master plan. I never thought I needed help before" A touching highlight.
Elvis announces, "Let's do something else, something fast" before launching into a fun 'Blue Suede Shoes' that, along with the 'Jailhouse Rock' from Austin, TX, he really does seem to enjoy.
Ernst seems to have saved the best 8 songs for last or maybe Elvis has just warmed up (woken up?).
"Let's do Polk Salad or something dirty like that" says Elvis kicking the band into a very rare for 1977 'Polk Salad Annie'.
This 'Polk Salad' isn't a (truck) patch on the TTWII versions but it still rocks with Elvis in fine form. Crank up the volume and you'd wish you were there. The 'call & response' from the Sweet Inspirations works too. This puts the 'In Concert' shows to shame. CBS was in the wrong place at the wrong time. - Even better of course would have been the December 1976 shows, which would have left us with a final TV show to be proud of.
'Bridge Over Troubled Water' another rare song for '77 follows. At the start his voice isn't as strong as you would hope but this performance has a fragileness about it that the fantastic 1970 versions missed.
Looking back. . . "When you're weary, feeling small…." has a poignancy about it other reviewers seem to have missed. "I'm on your side when time gets rough, …. and friends just can't be found…" In 1977 where were Elvis' friends when he needed them? Felton was lucky that his tape was running across this song and the sound quality is fabulous.
'Big Boss Man' was a great song that Elvis kept in his shows and he seemed to enjoy himself at every concert with this one. At Duluth he kicked on with an extra chorus that obviously surprised the band - a nice touch. "That's all" he laughs.
'Fairytale' was always an interesting choice of song for Elvis (he listened to The Pointer Sisters!) and this version is fun and again an improvement on the 'In Concert' version. Elvis is in strong voice -"Sing the song baby"- and it has some nice work by the Sweet Inspirations again.
'Mystery Train/Tiger Man' has been a very rare bootlegged favourite (from Saginaw, the final show of the tour) - Elvis was never going to sing it again and it must have surprised the band too. Great to have it in such good quality and to hear Elvis having fun.
Finally three all-time classic songs take us out. Both 'Unchained Melody' and 'Little Darlin'' are the undubbed masters from Ann Arbor that were featured on Moody Blue but sound even better here. He says.. "If you don't mind I'd like to play the piano and do a song called Unchained Melody. I hope I can remember the chords" Ahh Elvis, we don't mind at all!!! Just beautiful, fragile - the magic of Elvis in 1977. A classic.
Hard to believe that Elvis followed this with the silly, funny fluff of 'Little Darlin', but he did.
"I'd like to do a song that Frank Sinatra recorded called My Way" says Elvis and we know that the end is indeed near. The same brilliant version that was released on 'Platinum' but in context here which makes it sound even better. A fabulous end to another excellent FTD CD that, despite what others have said, captures Elvis sounding fine in 1977.
The real joy of this CD is that it isn't taken from soundboard recordings but Felton Jarvis' multitrack tapes and so gives us a beautiful clear mix and in great stereo. A fantastic leap in quality compared to the 'It's Midnight' soundboard. Definitely worth experiencing on headphones to get that full 'concert' feel.
23 songs are packed into 60 minutes which is definitely value for money however with 15 minutes spare on the CD I felt that some classic 'bonus' performances could have been added using their soundboard versions.
For instance the CD could have been rounded off with 'Hurt', a 1977 'You Gave Me A Mountain' (Alexandria?), the beautiful 'And I Love You So' (Kalamazoo?) and finishing with the essential 'Can't Help Falling in Love' from Alexandria - "Wise men know when it's time to go". Just a thought!
Verdict: Of course Elvis' energy was running low by 1977, but this is a great improvement over the low-points of the previous year. This was a crucial period of Elvis' life that deserves to be released to true Elvis fans who will understand the importance of these final few months. Definitely a worthy addition to your collection - as long as you are buying it for the right reasons.
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN June 2002
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'Spring Tours 77' - FTD June 2002 release #BMG 74321 92855 2
1: That’s All Right (Norman, March 26)
2: Are You Lonesome Tonight (Norman, March 26)
3: Blue Christmas (Norman, March 26)
4: Trying To Get To You (Abilene, March 27)
5: Lawdy Miss Clawdy (Abilene, March 27)
6: Fever (Alexandria, March 30)
7: Heartbreak Hotel (Saginaw, April 25)
8: If You Love Me (Let Me Know) (Kalamazoo, April 26)
9: O Sole Mio/It’s Now Or Never (Kalamazoo, April 26)
10: Little Sister (Ann Arbor, April 24)
11: Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel (Ann Arbor, April 24)
12: Help Me (Ann Arbor, April 24)
13: Blue Suede Shoes (Norman, March 26)
14: Hound Dog (St. Paul, April 30)
15: Jailhouse Rock (Austin, March 28)
16: Polk Salad Annie (Milwaukee, April 27)
17: Bridge Over Troubled Water (Duluth, April 29)
18: Big Boss Man (Duluth, April 29)
19: Fairytale (Chicago, May 2)
20: Mystery Train/Tiger Man (Saginaw, May 3)
21: Unchained Melody (Ann Arbor, April 24)
22: Little Darlin' (Ann Arbor, April 24)
23: My Way (Saginaw, April 25)
FTD CD Credits: Compilation produced by Ernst Jorgensen & Roger Semon.
Click here for other emotional Elvis FTD reviews-
Elvis 'The Jungle Room Sessions'
Elvis live in Vegas 1973 'Closing Night'
Elvis: Has Left the Building
'Unchained Melody' Live Elvis FTD from February 1977
Go here for other relevant EIN articles:
Larry Geller's interview about Elvis' final years
EIN spotlight on 'Should Elvis In Concert 1977 be officially released on DVD'
EIN review of the Asian released DVD of 'Elvis In Concert'
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