"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."
"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."
"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."
(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)
"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"
Could it be The King?
(Source: Frisco Enterprise, 17 June 2005)
Could it be the King? Owners, experts debate voice on studio tapes, but until he
can answer the question of whether or not the reel-to-reel tapes he inherited from
his uncle contain some of Elvis Presley's earliest recordings, the world will simply
have to wait to know the truth.
"It's a mystery," the Frisco-based Rodman Excavation employee acknowledged.
Lawrence acquired the tapes not long after a family reunion. During the reunion,
he asked a cousin, Sue Wallace, what happened to some of the relics from
Fernwood Studio, the recording studio her father, his uncle Ronald "Slim" Wallace,
operated in the 1950s and 60s. She replied they still had the studio's name,
papers and some boxes.
"I said, 'What's in those boxes?' She said, 'Tapes.' I said, 'Studio tapes?' She said,
'Studio tapes,' " Lawrence recalled.
Wallace's answers piqued Lawrence's curiosity. After all, Memphis circa 1955 was
a hotbed for a myriad of musical sounds, from jazz, to blues, to country and
western, to gospel and some quirky hybrids stemming from any one of those
After more conversation, Lawrence learned the tapes in the remaining boxes had
not yet been played. That statement made his mind reel even further. So much
that the Plano resident sought permission from his cousin and her brother to
purchase the tapes, with plans to take the tapes home with him to Texas to see if
he could hear their contents. The two agreed to sell them.
Upon arrival home, Lawrence visited Rosewood Studio in Tyler, the very studio in
which country music prodigy LeAnne Rimes recorded her debut hit, "Blue."
Lawrence thought very little of the mellow male voice that dripped from the tapes
through the speakers. When he turned to look at the young engineer manning the
studio, he stared in surprise. The young man recognized the dulcet tones and
"He was so excited, his hair was standing up on the back of his arms," Lawrence
recalled. "I started to listen. Then I thought, 'Oh, my God. This could be the king.' "
Rock and roll history makes Lawrence's conclusion even more of a possibility.
Elvis historians say the star, who was born in Tupelo, Miss., graduated from
Memphis' Hume High School in 1953 and immediately began to search for a place
in the growing music industry. His style reflected the many sounds he heard
around him, from the pop and country music filling charts across the nation, the
gospel tunes he heard in church and the black jazz and rhythm and blues he
soaked in while walking Memphis' famous Beale Street. Historians say his first
known recordings, "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heart Breaks," were
compiled in Memphis' Sun Records in 1954.
Lawrence's family history supports his conclusion as well. Fernwood Studio, once
located on Fernwood St. in Memphis, was turning out recording after recording
from 1954 to 1966. But more than that, Wallace recalls sitting in the studio while
Presley crooned his soft melodies into the microphone and onto blank tape.
As teen-agers, Wallace and a young Elvis Presley were good friends.
"We would meet at an ice cream parlor, Ace Sundry, after school and listen to the
juke box and just mess around for a while before we went home. It was just a
hangout for us kids. He was just a part of the crowd," Wallace, who now resides in
Duluth, Georgia, said.
In their conversation one day, Presley, then a shy, polite, insecure teen-ager,
confessed to Wallace that he'd been singing all his life yet could find nobody to
listen to him. He doubted out loud that he would ever make a name for himself in
Wallace immediately thought about her father. Still, she hesitated. Her father
preferred to record only country and western. And recently, one of his finds,
Thomas Wayne, had hit the charts with his tune, "Tragedy."
Despite her father's musical taste, Wallace decided she wanted to help her friend.
One afternoon, she brought a reluctant yet eager Presley home with her.
"Daddy was used to me bringing musicians home. So we set up a session. Dad
listened to Elvis and said, 'I'll tell you what, I'll see what I can do.' He went inside
and picked up the phone and called his friend Sam Phillips."
Wallace's father suggested to Phillips that he listen to Elvis. Phillips called back a
few days later and said he had time that evening for the young singer. Presley
could hardly wait for the sun to set in the humid Memphis sky.
"He was just thrilled to death," Wallace, who established her own record label and
launched Isaac Hayes' career, recalled.
Phillips was intrigued by the talent the young, dark-haired, sleepy-eyed youth
before him displayed. So intrigued was he that he took Elvis under his wing.
Wallace heard the good news that night when the future rock and roll legend
called her to relay the details.
As Presley's music career picked up, Wallace saw less and less of him. But when
Presley came into town after traveling the road, still trying to make a name for
himself, he made time to visit Wallace and Fernwood Studios. He even recorded a
few licks at Fernwood. At times, his stays went on into the wee hours of the
morning, and Wallace's younger brother, Ronnie, would wake to find Elvis
sleeping soundly on the family couch.
"He would practice this one or that one, so that when the guys would come in to
play, he could practice with them. He was just in there messing around," she said.
The tapes he made stayed at Fernwood, even when Wallace's father adamantly
declared he would never use them.
"I was sitting there on the stool when he was singing those songs. He told Dad,
'Mr. Wallace, I wish you would keep them. It's my way of saying thank you. It I make
it, you could do something with them,' " Wallace recalled.
Those tapes remained in a box placed on the top shelf in a leaky shed for
decades, never even coming out when Elvis Presley achieved legendary status,
achieving a career that included 33 films, countless concerts, television specials,
over one hundred billion record sales and recognition as the singer who earned
the most consecutive No. 1 hits in history.
According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Presley has the more multi-platinum
and gold records than any other artist, earning 25 multi-platinum and 97 gold
ones. He also spent more time on Billboard's hot 100 than any other artist. His
fan-base and influence on the music world continued, even after his death on
Aug. 16, 1977.
Despite Wallace's memories, Herbert Joe, board-certified forensic audio examiner
and managing partner of Yonovitz and Joe, has reason to doubt the tracts on
Lawrence's tapes are indeed the King of Rock and Roll.
Upon request from Fox 4 News, which produced a story on Lawrence's find,
Yonovitz and Joe conducted a free forensic analysis of the tapes. To test the
tapes they used known Elvis Presley songs to create a database of vocal
"From that, we compared the vocal characteristics of the songs we were
presented," Joe said. "Then we compared the two and made a forensic
determination that each of the six songs were not sung by Elvis."
Joe noted the frequency of some of the same words in both the known and
unknown songs were different. Pitch also varied.
"There were other things, but we were kind of confined to what we could work
with," Joe said. "Obviously, it would have been better if we had had the same
songs to compare."
Even RCA Records denied the recordings represented some of Presley's earliest
"They listened to it, and they said they 'do not believe these are some of the
earliest recordings of Elvis Presley,'" Lawrence said, quoting the letter he received
from RCA, adding the renowned record label theorized the voice could indeed
belong to Thomas Wayne.
But still, both Lawrence and Wallace are convinced that the tracts they hear on
the tapes were recorded by Presley. Wallace believes her memories are proof
enough. And Lawrence, a musician in his own right, hears bits and pieces of the
style for which Presley was known, a style Presley would not yet have developed
at such a young age. Here and there in the five cuts on the tapes, certain words
and phrases belie their potential origin.
One song, in which the singer ponders the sentimental value behind a pressed
orchid, which, the singer performing the tune said reminds him "of the love we
shared in our high school days," features the word "days" played out long and
lonesome, just like Elvis. Some of the notes in the tunes are sung in the softer,
vibrato-heavy tones that made "Are You Lonesome Tonight" famous. And a take
of "Don't Be Cruel" has the singer singing, "Baby, it's just you I'm thinking of," with
the first word sounding more like a hiccup-ed "buh-aaybee," much in the way that
Presley himself would have sung it in his heyday.
The presence of old relics also suggest to Lawrence that the King of Rock and
Roll indeed sang the cuts on the Fernwood Studio tapes he now owns. With Slim
Wallace's belongings is a one-of-a-kind old black and white photo of a teen-age
Elvis Presley holding a guitar and posing with a local DJ. The DJ, Dewey Phillips,
was one of Slim Wallace's acquaintances. Lawrence also possesses some
photographs of Presley shot outside of Fernwood. He also has an album cover in
which Presley, then about 17 years old, stands with his band members.
Joe acknowledged that despite his forensic analysis, it's possible that the
recordings may indeed have originated from Presley. Comparing a singing voice
with a speaking voice is hardly a foolproof test. And as there are very few
guidelines that could help forensic scientists analyze a singing voice available,
Yonovitz and Joe had to use the guidelines in place for speaking voices.
Still, Herbert believes it highly unlikely that the voice on the tapes he heard is
indeed a young King of Rock and Roll. Even if forensics can't prove that theory
without a doubt, history can. Herbert pointed out that "Don't be Cruel" was
recorded in 1956, after Elvis had already signed on with Sun Records. In addition,
the recordings he heard included heavy bass, which were often deleted from early
1950s recordings, as very few personal record-playing systems could pick up a
bass's low tone. Herbert noted that even though those facts did not factor into his
final analysis, they must be considered.
But if the voice on the recordings isn't the legendary Elvis Presley, then who is it?
"If it's not him, then who the heck is it," Lawrence wonders. "That's the mystery."
That is the very mystery that Lawrence hopes to solve. The search for the truth
has inspired many creative ideas. For example, Lawrence is reliving the
experience in some songs he's penning. And in the name of finding the truth, he
hopes to one day set up an Internet-based reality show, in which he interviews
source after source, all experts in music, history and relating topics.
Lawrence believes his search for the identity of the voice in the recordings is his
destiny. After all, too many bizarre occurrences have cropped up since Lawrence
acquired the tapes. For example, he's amazed the tapes survived, even though
they were stored in unsealed boxes in a leaky shed. Other, better protected tapes
have withered in the same time frame.
"These were in a leaking shed in a topless box, and they're perfectly preserved,"
Lawrence said. "The leader tape between the songs would break, but they (the
Lawrence believes the truth is out there somewhere. And he's going to find it.
Until then, those tapes, their origin and the identity of the man singing them, will
remain a mystery.
"We've got something, and it's huge," Lawrence said. "Bigger than huge. But I
don't know what the word would be."