'On Tour: The Rehearsals'
- FTD CD Review -
Released by FTD at the end of last year, and they certainly saved the best for last.
Elvis fans were clearly disappointed when the 30th anniversary special edition of 'Elvis On Tour' did not eventuate in 2002 but at last we now get an in-depth look at the March 1972 rehearsals, and what a delicious treat it is. Although these recordings have been bootlegged numerous times they have always been from the MGM camera tapes.
While we could always hear that Elvis and the band were hard at work, the film-crew talking, or the terrible mix that left Elvis inaudible, frequently ruined the songs. We have already had a taste of these sessions on the '6363 Sunset' FTD release but here the sound quality is even better.
March 27th-29th 1972 found Elvis in the new environment of RCA's Hollywood Studio recording some innovative single material including 'Burning Love', 'Always On My Mind' and 'Separate Ways'. The very next day the film crew for 'Elvis On Tour' also arrived to film his concert rehearsals. Elvis' April tour was going to be filmed for the new documentary and he was in a serious, professional mood.
The real surprise is that these rehearsals are SO focussed and with little joking around. Concert rehearsals frequently seem flat due to the lack of audience feedback but here Elvis gives it his all and this session often sounds like a genuine recording for 'Standing Room Only' the studio LP version!
The genuine treats here are to get songs like 'Never Been To Spain', 'Release Me', 'See See Rider' and the sensational 'Johnny B. Goode' as "studio versions" & without any orchestra backing or overdubs. Elvis often takes the songs at a slower pace than he would on stage which also gives a more relaxed, sincere feel to the songs, especially the ballads.
Although the cover design is one of FTD's weakest, with the photos looking as if they have been lifted from VHS footage rather than the film itself, the content sure makes up for any design shortcomings. While there is no information on the sleeve itself, thanks to Keith Flynn's excellent detective work we can see that a large number of these takes were the band's "first takes" at the rehearsals and the CD captures some fabulous performances. It is also worth noting that Emory Gordy, a new bass-player for Elvis, was sitting-in for Jerry Scheff at these sessions.
'Proud Mary' & 'Polk Salad Annie' a power-packed double start the CD & it's a treat to hear both of these songs as a studio recording with just Elvis & the TCB Band. Elvis is enthusiastic - "Take it Ronnie" - even though these are just rehearsals. While 'Polk' has to be Jerry Scheff's song, it still rocks with Emery Gordy on bass. (Jerry Scheff would return for the actual concerts the following week.)
You immediately notice that there is very little studio banter on this CD, which slightly disappoints since it is always fascinating to eavesdrop on Elvis at work. However the songs come so thick & fast that you are left with the impression that this could have been a proper studio LP recording. The CD also has the feel of being the third 'rehearsal' disc of a "general public release" 'On Tour' Special Edition 3CD box-set rather than a fan's FTD release.
'See See Rider' & 'A Big Hunk O' Love' get similar treatments to the versions on '6363 Sunset' but are definitely in context here and James Burton's guitar work is more cutting on these versions. It is worth noting that while Elvis did use 'A Big Hunk O' Love' live in concert from August 1971 and also rehearsed it here, it did not get recorded at any of the 'On Tour' or Madison Square Garden concerts, and would not get a live release until 'Aloha' in 1973!
'Johnny B Goode' is the absolute gem. A downright rocker, we are lucky to have this studio version at last and in this quality. Compared to the speedy 1969 'In Person' release, or even Aloha, this is Elvis at his best. This was the version used on the credits of the 'On Tour' film but that was brutal edited down to only 1½ minutes. Finally we get the full version which ends with a satisfying "Whoo, oohh" from Elvis. Brilliant - play it again!
'Young and Beautiful' that follows is the perfect contrast. With a fuller 1972 arrangement Elvis' voice also sounds far richer compared with the fragility of the 1957 original. It starts deliciously with Elvis humming a few lines before the band joins in and has a lovely spontaneous feel. It is a shame that he never included it in his On Tour concerts as it would have been a stunner.
'Love Me' and 'Hound Dog' are interesting for being studio versions & this time Elvis has no girls to kiss which means that neither is thrown-away. Both have more of a bluesy feel than the on-stage versions and James Burton's guitar does some wonderful chickin'-pickin'!
'Lawdy, Miss Clawdy' is yet another brilliant track. The sound mix is great and Elvis really digs into the blues-groove of the song. Glen D Hardin's piano is just perfect and Elvis himself points out the solo, forcing a flawless break into the song. At the start Elvis emphasises the blues-feel of the session by singing the classic line "Well I just woke up this morning"! Crank it up, play it loud. In fact both 'Lawdy, Miss Clawdy' & 'For The Good Times' are true examples of why this CD is so essential. Both of these tracks were previously on 'Elvis On Tour' bootlegs but sound so awful in comparison that it is hard to believe that they are the same versions. These are just exceptional.
'For The Good Times' is different to the previous tracks as a bit of echo has been added to Elvis' vocal and is so good that it could have been the 'Master' version. The original 'studio master' also had those unnecessary 1970's orchestral overdubs. While John Wilkinson's rhythm guitar is strangely absent on a number of tracks, here the mix of the band is exceptional with The Stamps backing-vocals also perfect in the audio mix. There is a lovely intimacy to this version that was obviously absent on the first official release on the Madison Square Garden LP. In fact all the ballads benefit from this intimate feel.
Similarly on 'Funny How Time Slips Away', Elvis seems to be singing just to his ex-girlfriend whereas in concert he would have to play to the whole crowd. Here Elvis even adds, "Lying like a fool" to the lyric "How's your new love? I hope that he's doing fine!" and it's a nice touch. There is also a great, smooth, country feel to this version, compared to the original, which once again featured superfluous orchestral overdubs.
'Help Me Make It Through the Night' & 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' are similarly smooth & intimate and different to the original studio releases. 'Through The Night' benefits from having no orchestral overdubs however 'The First Time Ever' doesn't quite work since it is played with a strange 4x4 military drum-beat that doesn't suit the lyrics - & Elvis' voice also slips off-key at times.
Although 'El Paso' is listed as a track, it is really just a typical Elvis 'one-liner'. While it is fun to hear, and helps capture the spontaneity of Elvis rehearsing, it can hardly be added to the list of the 744 songs that Elvis officially recorded.
'Release Me' is again taken at a captivating slow tempo and sounds very bluesy compared to the 1970 rehearsal on 'Platinum'. An excellent version, Elvis' richer 1972 voice also suits the song better. (Damn impossible to beat the intensity of the live Feb 1970 "Let's play it hard now" On-Stage version though!)
'Burning Love' is another rehearsal classic. Elvis had not been happy when he recorded the single version just 3 days before and, although the earlier rehearsal takes showed him still having troubles with the song, this version is excellent. Already released on the Time-life 'Rocker' CD this is a better, more substantial, mix. Elvis grabs the slower funk-rhythm of the song, enthusiastically adding some great falsetto parts. The ending is tremendous as they try to attempt a fade-out. Elvis even comments, "But how we gonna' fade it on stage?" Fabulous - crank it up loud, feel the funk.
'Always On My Mind' - rehearsal take 2 and also previously released. However on 'This Is Elvis' the song was edited short & overdubbed and compared to the 'Great Performances' release it is now in the perfect context. This version is so beautiful it is heartbreaking that Elvis never did sing it live since it would have been a stunner.
'Never Been To Spain' sounds so different without the orchestration that EIN has been asked several times which original Elvis LP this version was previously released on! (It has been playing on Elvis radio). Elvis is so focussed that it could have easily been released as an official studio master. Again the cooler blues-feel, and Elvis alone with the TCB band, makes it an essential addition to your collection.
'Separate Ways' is the version you get a taste of in the 'On Tour' movie and I have been waiting for this official release for a long, long time. Written by Red West specifically to fit Elvis' mood at the time (he was grieving the recent loss of Priscilla) Elvis' vocal has just the right feeling of solitude & confusion. Elvis' one-liner edited onto the start, "This time, Lord, you gave me a mountain" also cleverly adds to the atmosphere of the lyric.
All these songs, plus the gospel selection already released on 'Amazing Grace', seem to be the cream of the crop of the 'On Tour' rehearsals. They are so good that listening to them makes it hard to imagine what other rehearsals could be included on a general release 'On Tour' box-set to go with the 'Hampton Roads' concert.
Verdict - One of the best FTD releases ever, and hopefully a taste of the future 'Elvis On Tour' box-set. While the running time is under an hour the quality of the music is so exceptional, and the songs so tightly packed, that there can be no real complaints. And if you add the rehearsal tracks that I felt were so misplaced on '6363 Sunset' CD the session sounds even stronger. The more one listens to this CD the more faultless it sounds. An essential purchase.
Review by Piers Beagley
Copyright EIN - 2005
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