In 2002, just as 'Elvis 30#1s' CD was becoming Elvis Presley's biggest-selling CD of all-time, its producer David Bendeth was interviewed by EIN.
The audio surround-sound DVD of ‘Elv1s 30#1s’ was about to be released. The concept of hearing Elvis’ studio recordings in surround-sound actually takes your breath away and there were a lot of questions being asked about how the mono tracks could be processed to a suitable surround-sound format.
David Bendeth producer of the sensational ‘Elv1s 30#1 Hits’ CD very kindly agreed to talk at length with Piers Beagley, Vice-President of EIN.
EIN – The DVD audio market is relatively new & small so what drove you to follow up the ‘Elv1s 30#1s’ CD with this new surround sound version?
David Bendeth– The audio DVD market in the USA is very small but when I finished the ‘E.1s’ CD I had already been messing around with 5.1 surround sound for a while, so I suggested to BMG that we give it a try and they said "just do it". I wanted to try something really different and groundbreaking and I had this wacky idea I really wanted to try on the mono tracks. Elvis was, of course, very daring and risky with his earlier recordings so I thought we should do something with Elvis that was totally innovative and let’s take a risk ourselves. This is definitely way ahead of its time and I think in 10 years time people will look back on this as a really interesting benchmark.
EIN – First of all I’m interested in how you managed to process the mono tracks to sound good in 5.1. I remember those terrible sixties fake ‘stereo synthesised’ albums so I imagine this must have been a big challenge?
DB – Let me preface this by saying that all this was completely experimental and that it has never been done before, never even been tried before! I got the idea from sitting in the studio blasting out one of Elvis’ mono tracks and hearing bleed-through from the open door and the next door studio. There was a definite ambience there and it sounded as if Elvis was actually playing in the room.
EIN – So by doing this you have used the ambience of the rooms you created to actually make it sound like you are in a studio listening to the band play but without the instruments actually being left or right channel only?
DB – Of course you don’t actually have a guitar coming out of the left speaker and a bass guitar out of the right but what you do end up with is the most incredible sounding room & ambience that you have ever heard. So when you listen to ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ - and you know it was recorded originally in a church hallway so we didn’t need to add much echo because it was already there - it now seems that Elvis is standing right there in front of you singing.
EIN – Do you think that you had the same success with every mono track?
DB – I won’t lie to you and say that every track worked as well as each other. The whole key to it was how loud you put the Master track through the loud-speaker, the recreation of the room along with the microphone positions and then getting the mix of the 26 tracks just right so that they are sympathetic to the song. We had to work very carefully with each song, getting the sound just right, being careful of recorded reverb and the bleed betweens microphones. However when you now listen to something like ‘Teddy Bear’ you have the image of Elvis singing on stage while the band are smoking behind you. You are ‘right there’ in a 300-seater club and the moves being made to the mix bring the guitars out by that particular track being sympathetic to the frequencies of the guitar.
EIN – There was such an incredible jump in sound in the original ‘E.1s’ CD between the mono to the stereo 3-track recordings what did you manage to do with those?
DB – Obviously the multi-track stuff was a huge consideration but the challenge was really with the 3 track recordings which after all is the bulk of the album. This actually gets a little more complicated. We used a similar process but applied the 23 track surround-sound recording technique to the musician tracks only. We then used the 23 tracks to emphasise the instruments around the studio.
EIN – ‘Return to Sender’ on ‘E.1s’ was a track that some pernickety fans seemed to be disappointed with your remastering. However I imagine that the material from Radio Recorders and the movie soundtracks would be very difficult to work with.
DB - With that Master all the music is on the left track and there’s a terrible loud bass slap thing dominating parts of the tracks and getting loud all of a sudden. I don’t know why people complained as I thought the improvement in Elvis’ vocal and the background vocals was incredible. For the surround sound version we did the same thing with the backing music creating a 26-track master. We have created a much more of a spacious effect.
EIN - Is there any particular 3-track recording that you think stands out as working really well in surround-sound?
DB - Of the 3 tracks songs I am particularly proud of ‘Marie’s the Name’.
EIN – What about the later tracks and classics like ‘In The Ghetto’?
DB - With the 8,16 & 24 tracks we did what we normally do on any 5.1 DVD. For instance if you listen to ‘In the Ghetto’ you will hear strings by themselves on the right side rear, the horns on the left rear, bass guitar front right. . . all the backgrounds are wrapped around you from front to rear and on these multi-tracks you are going to hear vocals that you have never heard before. With ‘Suspicious Minds’ you will hear the horn section solo which will stop any of those audio ‘flanging’ complaints that some people made about the ‘E.1s’ version. With the horns and the orchestra separated and with the vocals and the band in the front it sounds fantastic.
EIN – The first track on the DVD is the ‘A Little Less Conversation’ remix. Obviously you want track one to jump out at you yet since most remixes are just break beats & samples mixed in 2-track stereo can you tell me what you managed to do with that?
DB – For ALLC we managed to get hold of a 42 track pro-tools copy. The first thing we did was put Elvis’ original Master tape of ALLC into the mix, since JXL’s original was just sampled off a CD. Then we remixed his song using all of his effects from the very beginning. When you hear all of the effects this time, they are all isolated and you will be able to kill the speakers and hear the guitars by themselves and organs by themselves, all the vocals, everything!
EIN – What about the second track ‘Way Down’? That was, of course, recorded in the Jungle Room and not under studio conditions?
DB – With ‘Way Down’ all of the guitars are isolated and there is also a third guitar track that hasn’t been heard before that was on the tape. You’ll now be able to isolate those to find out what part they played, as well as the piano which goes front left to right. Everything is clear-as-a-bell and even the drums are in the centre speaker by themselves so you can even isolate those. It will be just like you are actually in the ‘Jungle Room’. We also have been able to remove some of the bleed into Elvis’ microphone.
EIN – One of my favourite on ‘E.1s’ was ‘Burning Love’ where the song, at last, got the mix that it deserved so I really looking forward to hearing that in surround-sound.
DB – On ‘Burning Love’ you can hear all the 3 guitars by themselves and if you really care about what was going on in the studio you will be able to pull apart most tracks & instruments and really investigate exactly how they managed to make such great music. ‘Burning Love’ just kicks ass. It was a ton of fun to do.
EIN – What do you say to the frequent comments that BMG have released so many compilations of these songs and here they are again releasing the same product in a different format to make us buy it all over again?
DB – We are actually only printing 15,000 of these DVDs so how much money do they think we are going to make! If you don’t want to buy it, you don’t have to but the DVD is a real audio treat for those that have 5.1 systems. This is very unchartered territory and I think 20 years from now people will look back at this record and say ‘Wow’, and be really impressed with what we have done.
EIN – Can I ask you about the alternate takes that were on the ‘E.1s’ CD? What really happened with ‘The Wonder of You’ and this time I imagine that it must really glow in surround sound?
I did go searching for it but I believe that the tape with the overdubs does not exist. The only copy I could use was the version that we released. To get the original version I would have to have used a later generation Master which comparatively would have sounded like a piece of shit. People have got to stop complaining to me about this because it is not my fault. I also discussed this version with Glen D Hardin & James Burton from Elvis' band. However you are really going to like the 5.1 surround version of ‘The Wonder of You’ which has the audience around you and a brilliant sound. I also let everything go longer on the DVD so that there is stuff that you have never heard before because the songs don’t stop. I just let it go. I got 10, 20 seconds or more from some of the tracks.
EIN – What about the ‘A Fool Such As I’ outtake & the ‘Hound Dog’ pop?
DB – With ‘A Fool Such As I’ the Master tape was damaged and the right channel track was ruined. I tried very hard with it but in the end I had to go with the earlier take which technically sounded so much better. The people who complained of the ‘pop’ from the damaged ‘Hound Dog’ Master tape will also be pleased to know that we have fixed that up as well.
EIN – The ‘E.1s’ CD has gone multiple platinum here in Australia which is fantastic and a fabulous reason for all of us to celebrate.
DB - In the end the ‘E.1s’ CD has sold 8 million records and I am really proud of the team and we hopefully will win a Grammy for it. By the way look out for our Mix magazine that comes out this week. There are 10 pages explaining everything that we did with the ‘Elv1s 30#1s’ and a long interview with Ray Bardini, our audio engineer, & myself.
EIN – So has BMG asked you to do a follow up to ‘E.1s’ like a ‘Elvis- Top Tens remastered’? There are so many great singles that could be improved in the same way.
DB - To be honest they have talked to me about it but I have not embraced the idea. I feel that I have to move onto something new right now. That doesn’t mean that I might not go back to Elvis sometime but the reactions from a few hard-core fans & some critics have turned me off the idea at the moment. If everybody realised the amount of hard work that went into doing this Elvis record or if they had actually been in the studio with me at the time then they wouldn’t have said a word. It wasn’t easy & it was extremely frustrating work at times and we ended up working on some tracks for days.
EIN – What about the DVD extras? Did you work with Ernst Jorgensen on these or were they your idea?
DB - The extras were not added just to make people go out and buy this DVD. They are a bonus that I thought fans should get as a treat and the idea was mine. The ‘In The Ghetto’ vocal track is the complete solo version that was on the promo release that you reviewed. It really is Elvis’ Master vocal tape that he did as an overdub and just sounds awesome. I loved it so much I knew that fans needed to hear it too.
EIN – I have heard ‘Crying In The Chapel’ takes 1 & 2 where the Jordanaires get the words mixed up causing Elvis to laugh. Is that what you have put on this DVD?
DB – No, no. What we have is all the stuff that happened before take 2 and then the beginning of take 3. There is a whole bunch of funny stuff going on and nobody has released that. There are also the A:B tests so that you can hear the difference in what we actually achieved. They start off with the old track and then jump to the new version and then go back & forth between the two. They are pretty interesting to listen to. It works as a pretty good end to the package.
EIN – You have done a great job in helping to explain what we can expect and I hope that it is a good a success as it deserves to be.
DB – I think 5.1 is becoming so popular that people should know that General Motors will soon be putting DVD 5.1 in their cars and you will be able to listen to Elvis in surround sound as you’re driving down the street! This is a piece that is way-out ahead of its time.
EIN – I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this new audio DVD and I really want to thank you for taking so much time answering these questions.
David Bendeth was interviewed by Piers Beagley for EIN on 23/11/2002.
As a side-note below, regarding Elvis' LP mixes at the time, is a short story David Bendeth recently posted where Elvis actually comments on the audio quality of his own LPs back in the seventies.
David Bendeth - So I am sitting in the lounge at The Hit Factory speaking to James Burton. We are chewing the fat. He tells me this story about Jimmy Page and Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin.
Elvis is humble and says thanks. Elvis says, "Who are you? You guys look like you are in a band". Jimmy says, we are a band called Led Zeppelin and proceeds to give Elvis Led Zeppelin one, the album on vinyl. Led Zeppelin gets off the elevator still in a daze. Elvis and James go their rooms.
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