"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."

(George Klein)






Author of "Rough Guide to Elvis" talks to EIN

'The Rough Guide to Elvis' by Paul Simpson was first published in 2002 and immediately became one of the most fascinating & readable compendiums to everything Elvis.

Packed full of interesting information and thoughtful insights, it was a perfect pocket-sized companion to my train, plane & bus journeys since there was always something new to explore.

The updated 2004 version will be released in Australia in November.

Author Paul Simpson took time out to explain to EIN why a book about a guy who died 27 years ago actually needs to be updated!

EIN – Paul, it is indeed a pleasure to talk with you again. It is incredible that Elvis’ musical legacy still continues to grow 27 years after his death. What inspired this updated Rough Guide?

PS - Inspired may not be the word – but it was timed to precede the 70th anniversary of Elvis’s birth. And after the first edition, there were a few things which needed correcting and a slew of new releases to be sifted through.

EIN – What is specifically new in the updated Rough Guide, and does it feature more about the new DVDS as well as the FTD fan club releases?

PS - Without wanting to stop anyone buying it, I’ll be honest and say that it’s a modest retread, not a complete makeover! It does point people to the best of the new releases, including some of the gems on FTD. After the first book came out, I also realised that I hadn’t specifically focused on Gladys at any point which, given her importance in Elvis’s life, seemed a remarkable, if not downright stupid, omission, so this gave me a chance to put that right.

EIN – Since the first Rough Guide "Elvis 30 #1s" has become Elvis’ biggest selling album of all-time. Do you think this helped re-establish his credibility amongst the new generation?

PS - Yes, it made his genius instantly accessible and was probably the best single, to the point, compilation of his greatest work. The follow-up 2nd To None didn’t, somehow, seem as essential. It smacked of the bad old RCA of the 1970s, feeling more like an exercise in cheap exploitation than a release which really served a purpose. If they’d wanted to release something that showed off the less known side of his talent, I would have suggested including gems like Tomorrow Is A Long Time, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On, I’m Leaving… and sparing us the bonus of a snippet of the Roustabout theme.

EIN – So did you feel the same about the ‘Rubberneckin’ follow up to ‘A Little Less Conversation’ remix? It obviously put Elvis back onto the dance-floors, don’t you think that this concept should continue?

PS - Rubberneckin' obviously didn’t sell as well but then it wasn’t on a Nike advert, so maybe it was never going to. I preferred A Little Less Conversation – I think Elvis would have quite liked it (he was always trying to get his voice set back in the mix). However I did hear Rubberneckin on a lot of radio stations, and a lot of late-night shows, which wouldn’t have played Elvis normally so maybe it did its job. As for other variations on the theme, I don’t know. The first two worked quite well because they were a little obscure – I’m not sure a remix of Heartbreak Hotel would have clicked in the same way. I was more excited by the re-release of That’s All Right.

EIN – Since the first Elvis Rough Guide BMG have released multiple Elvis CDs for the public including box-sets ‘Today, Tomorrow and Forever’ and ‘Close Up’, as well as ‘Ultimate Gospel’ and the amazing ‘Elvis At Sun’. Does the new book discuss these releases and what were your favourites over the past 2 years?

PS - Yes, the book does discuss those – although, on Elvis At Sun, I find myself among the traditionalists who prefer Sunrise. My favourite release of the moment is probably So High, from an often overlooked part of the King’s career, when he was trying to get tings clicking again in the studio. Today Tomorrow and Forever is a tough one – does the world really need another version of The Love Machine?

EIN – So do you think that BMG/RCA is still oversaturating the market place with Elvis product?

PS - Not really. I’m praying for a definitive box set/compilation of the Memphis sessions and the 1968 special – you know, all the stuff that’s available separately in one place. The Memphis sessions in particular would benefit from this – it must be almost possible to release a complete record of those amazing sessions; after all, if Peter Guralnick has listened to 23 takes of In the Ghetto, why can’t the rest of us?

EIN – The sound of ‘Elvis At Sun’ was exceptional and seemed to defy logic seeing as the songs were 50 years old. I always found previous Sun compilations, including Sunrise, a little (audibly) unbalanced but this seemed the defining Elvis CD. Now we discover how much RCA messed with the originals. What’s your opinion - Did you get goosebumps listening to these new versions?

PS - I know what you mean, although for me Sunrise redressed some of that imbalance. I remain slightly sceptical about such technological revisionism although they do sound great. The big downer, for me, about Elvis At Sun is the paucity of tracks.

EIN – While ‘That’s All Right’ might not have been the first rock ‘n’ roll record (the 1951 ‘Rocket 88’ does it for me) there seems little doubt that Elvis was the first rock ‘n’ roll artist to break down the doors of boring middle-america. Do you think this ‘50th Anniversary of the Birth Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ was genuine this year or was it just a great marketing ploy?

PS - Like all great marketing ploys, the 50th anniversary was based on a genuine event. I know musicologists argue over the evolution of rock and roll but, to me, there is no scintilla of doubt that, without Elvis, rock would have not have been the force it became. Everyone – Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bob Dylan – have said as much but a few critics still like to ignore the fact.

EIN – What do you think was the first rock ‘n’ Roll record?

PS - Rocket 88 is as good a shout as any, but you only have to listen to the work of Joe Turner or even Louis Jordan to realise that rock and roll was as much evolution as revolution. Music history is written as if one man – normally Sam Phillips – invented rock ‘n’ roll but I think it was more of a collaborative effort. Like the scientists at Los Alamos who combined to invent the a-bomb, although, in rock and roll’s case, the collaboration was loose, and unofficial, and between artists, producers and writers in different parts of America.

EIN – The 5 channel Audio DVD of ‘Elvis’ 30#1s’ also came out after the first book. The American Studio’s tracks (In The Ghetto etc) were an audiophile’s dream – Do you think that all of Elvis’ 1969 material should be released in this format or was the original concept so strong that hearing them in mono should be enough?

PS - Yes to both questions. The original stuff is strong enough to command attention yet I would love to hear a five channel audio DVD version.

EIN – At last we have seen USA’s RIAA acknowledging Elvis Presley as the highest selling solo artist – in part due to EIN’s campaign - and kicking Garth Brooks back to where he belongs. How important do you think these statistics really are?

PS - The stats are important, up to a point. I’m sure even Garth Brooks must have wondered how he – instead of Elvis – became the biggest selling recording artist for a time. As a fan, I’m keen for Elvis’s unique genius to be underlined as often as possible – and the RIAA’s change of heart helped.

EIN – The marketing of The Beatles is opposite to Elvis’ with few & far releases thus guaranteeing larger sales and better ‘Gold Record’ statistics overall. In some ways BMG/RCA seem to be continuing Colonel Tom’s concept of flogging Elvis for every cent. Do you think this is the correct marketing for policy for the Greatest Entertainer that ever lived?

PS - I’ve not agreed with all of the releases – notably 2nd To None and even I get confused by all the country, gospel, love song compilations and permutations. I’m not sure what the correct marketing policy for Elvis would be – maybe one big event release a year – either on CD or DVD – and the current stream of stuff for collectors only seems about right. But I do think they could simplify the compilations: let’s have only one greatest hits package etc. What RCA/BMG could do is try to widen the number of Elvis songs which enter the general public’s consciousness. When I play stuff like I’m Leavin’ or Long Black Limousine to people who aren’t fans they’re astounded. Maybe RCA could release 3rd Time Lucky, full of gems like that.

EIN – While writing the original book you said that you were listening to Elvis’ ‘Rhythm & Country’ – what is the Elvis period that has caught your interest of late?

PS - I’m still besotted by Stax, one of his most underrated sessions. He was in fine voice most of the time in those sessions and, if the material had been just a bit better – and the arrangements more sympathetic, I think Good Times and Promised Land would have been even stronger. At the moment, I spend an inordinate amount of time listening to the double soundtrack release covering Change Of Habit, Trouble With Girls and Charro. Almost and Clean Up Your Own Backyard are a real treat to listen to.

EIN – Hearing the raw un-dubbed Elvis songs via these new FTD releases can completely change one’s opinion of an Elvis original. (This was particularly true of the Jungle Room Sessions). You mentioned this year’s ‘So High’ FTD (Nashville 1966-1968) with the raw Tomorrow is A Long Time, You’ll Never Walk Alone, & Too Much Monkey Business as being a favourite?

PS – ‘So High’ is simply fantastic. For me, You’ll Never Walk Alone is another overlooked gem – a very moving performance which even the Gerry and the Pacemakers fan next to me in the office likes!

EIN – What is your opinion on the new DVD’s of the Aloha and 68 Special? Is there a chapter devoted to them in the new book?

PS - I’ve watched Aloha but, in fact, I am saving the 68 Comeback DVD for a special treat. Unfortunately, production schedules being as they are, they became available as the second edition went to press so they’re mentioned. Maybe I’ll get round to a detailed synopsis in edition 3.

EIN – While I am not a particular fan of Elvis’ movie product, the expanded FTD Soundtrack releases have a fascinating appeal. Have you bought them all and what did you think of ‘Harum Holiday’ & the outtakes? (An obscure favourite of mine too!)

PS - I haven’t bought them all – but Silver Stereo is a favourite in the car. My son especially likes You’re The Boss. Harum Holiiday I only listen to occasionally because I find myself constantly humming the title track, especially the line about Romeo and Juliet.

EIN - Paradise Hawaiian Style is a ghastly Elvis film with a painful soundtrack, so Ernst’s Jorgensen’s possibly most creative work was making the FTD soundtrack very enjoyable. What did you think, and are you buying the new ‘Double Trouble’ CD?

PS - Paradise is the one movie I can barely bear to watch – thanks to Donna Butterworth. But I quite like the theme and Sand Castles is simply beautiful. I didn’t buy Paradise, but I probably will buy Double Trouble, because City By Night and Long Legged Girl are favourites of mine. Mind you, I’ll have to skip Old Macdonald!

EIN – What did you think of Alanna Nash’s fascinating book on Colonel Parker?

PS - I wasn’t as enthralled as I had expected. It was very good on Parker’s roots, but from 1955 onwards, it didn’t seem to offer anything radically different to what we already knew. There were plenty of telling details – Lamar telling Parker after Elvis’s death "Well you finally ran him into the ground" – and a firmer picture of Parker’s corporate shenanigans, but no great revelations. In parts, it felt slightly padded. But Nash is a great writer and I liked her oral history on Elvis, and her book of country music interviews.

EIN – What do you hope to see released in the future?

PS - Apart from Memphis and ’68 compilations, I pray that somewhere there’s a finished version of Dylan’s I Shall Be Released. That must be the most tantalising 48 seconds of Elvis in the studio – even from the two verses you can hear how remarkable that could have been. And a really good Elvis blues CD – with some of the stuff from the Reconsider Baby release a few years ago, topped up with other versions that have been issued since.

EIN – Have you seen the footage of Elvis’ last concert or even better New Year’s Eve 1977? And do you think that EPE should release the very sad "Elvis In Concert" as it seems inevitable that they will?

PS - I have seen the footage of those concerts and, at times, it’s like watching a death in the family. I think EPE probably should release Elvis In Concert – it’s up to the fans if they want to buy it. Personally I’d prefer to remember those concerts on CD where, ill as he is, he often sounds in surprisingly good form. The versions of It’s Now Or Never and Trying To Get To You on Elvis in Concert are fantastic.

EIN – Of all the people you have talked to in the Elvis world who has made the greatest impact on your opinion of Elvis and why?

PS - Jerry Schilling and Norbert Puttnam. Jerry because he was so generous with his time and so generous in his appreciation of an old friend. Researching the book wasn’t easy because there was a lot of heartache in Elvis’s life and, as a fan, I was worried that I might finish the book liking Elvis less. That didn’t happen and, in part, it was because of my inspiring conversation with Jerry. "Putt", as Elvis called him on Merry Christmas Baby, gave me the best insight into what an exhilarating, strange, and inspiring experience it was to be in the studio with Elvis.

EIN – What is Paul Simpson up to lately and how is that follow-up Elvis novel of yours going? PS - Editing a mag about the UEFA Champions League, called Champions, and writing a book on cult fiction. As for the Elvis novel, it’s stuck – I have about 10 of those A4 yellow legal pads in a cupboard with 80 per cent of it written out in longhand, but can’t finish it.

EIN – Paul Simpson’s newest rediscovered Elvis song and why?

PS – ‘Suppose’. It’s simple, heartfelt, and obviously meant a lot to Elvis. That and You’ll Never Walk Alone which never fails to cheer me up; if I’m in a bad mood. But then, for that matter, so does anything on the Amazing Grace gospel double CD release, especially the outtakes at the end.

EIN – Your son Jack must already be nine, is he over Elvis by now?

PS - Jack is just nine, and no, he’s not over Elvis. Through a persistent campaign, he has learned to appreciate Return To Sender, Devil In Disguise and Clean Up Your Own Backyard. We watched Viva Las Vegas together the other week – and he paid me back by nominating me to sing it on the karaoke at my sister’s birthday party!

EIN – Thanks so much for your time and we really look forward to the new edition of your Rough Guide and all your future articles for EIN.

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