‘Rockin' Across Texas’ is twice the size of FTD’s previous books ‘Flashback’ or ‘That’s The Way It Was’ and, combined with 2 CDs of Elvis in concert, it is the biggest project by FTD so far. Divided into 3 distinct sections, this is more of a novel than a photo book which investigates Elvis’ travels through Texas.
The majority of the book, the first 200 pages, takes you on a fascinating and detailed journey into Elvis’ live performances from October 1954 through to October 1956. This is the core of the book and it cleverly combines Oberst’s well-researched investigations along with an astounding selection of rare and unpublished photos.
Unlike all too many photo books, the text is very illuminating and the anecdotes told by people present at the time all help embellish the history of Elvis’ early years. The Texan radio interviews are also featured.
The story starts with Elvis, Scotty & Bill playing to just a handful of customers in Nov 1954 at The Mint Club in Gladewater – and amazingly Oberst has found some photos for posterity – and continues to his jam-packed sold-out performances, as witnessed in Gladeville just one year later. The journey is a truly fascinating one as you witness the pressure on Elvis, including his transportation problems as they rush from one concert to another. The story of Elvis’ pink Cadillac burning up in June 1955 makes much better sense here and you can feel Elvis’ own burn-out after Colonel Parker comes on board pushing him with an ever increasing series of one night stands. There are also plenty of tales of Elvis’ newly found girlfriends along the way!
The 30 pages of Part two focuses on Elvis in the Army at Fort Hood . While this not as exciting as the touring section, it was certainly pivotal lifestyle change for Elvis and again it features a great selection of photographs and stories of how Elvis ended up living with Eddie Fadal in his ‘home away from home’.
Finally there is the predominantly colour section of 40 pages with photographs from nearly all of Elvis’ Texan performances during the 1970s. The pictures here are mainly from Sherif Hanna’s collection, with the only frustration of the book being the lack of stories to go with these finals years.
Unfortunately by then Elvis had become locked away from the general public and his security was very tight. It is a shame as the lack of text only makes you yearn for some more insights into these later torturous years, which found Elvis back once again doing a round of one-night stands.
The earlier ‘Elvis In Texas’ book had the minor faults of poor quality photos, poor binding and a few inaccuracies but now these have all been sorted out. The print quality is excellent, dates have been verified and new stories added.
Rather than a reprint of Stanley Oberst’s 2002 book, as suggested elsewhere, this is a gorgeous rewrite and upgrade featuring better design, improved text and even better photographs. While I did buy the first edition I have no qualms in recommending that anyone buys this upgraded version.
Of course there is the slight disappointment in both CDs being from the 70s when the majority of the book is about the sensational fifties. However we can’t expect FTD to release a brand-new fifties concert in this format since the price would make it out-of-reach of a lot of fans. To appreciate the earlier section just play Eagles Hall concert from Houston , Tx. March 19 1955 or Little Rock for the excitement of live 1956.
CD 1 - Amarillo, June 19 1974
Surprisingly it is the 1974 concert that is the least interesting. Although Elvis is obviously enjoying himself and cracks several jokes, on the whole he does sound uninspired. The sound is pretty dull and at times the band is very distant. There is no intensity that can be found on the excellent ‘Live In Memphis’ FTD from 3 months earlier, nor the later fascination of the August/September shows. Elvis of course tried to update his set-list in August but the routine of the set-list here seems to show.
However there are some funny moments and Elvis is in good humour. He introduces himself as “Alvis Paisley” and after some audience interaction he comments, “Just 2 songs and we’re laughing our silly heads off! I like it.”
Before ‘Trying To Get To You’ Elvis laughs about “Stripping my gears, left shoe, anything! Ask & you shall receive child!” which nicely tags into his new lyric “I’ve been streaking all the way, Trying to get to you”!
A good ‘Fever’ really gets the crowd going and ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ is also a surprise addition to the set-list that day. One highlight is ‘Why Me Lord’ where Elvis sings his heart out, “Woo yeah! I like that” he notes, before adding a worthy reprise.
‘Polk’ is unfortunately let down by the absence of Jerry Scheff and maybe the main reason for the choice of this show is Elvis’ introductions where he makes special emphasis of most of the band actually being from Texas . When he finally points out that ‘Voice’ are from Tennessee , Elvis does a delightful Texan drawl saying, “So you’re not from Texas ? Foreigners eh?!”
Other highlights are Elvis’ new single ‘Help Me’ and the new addition of ‘Big Boss Man’. In some ways 1974 found Elvis once again conquering America , with tickets in great demand, but yet again trapped in a series of continuous one-night stands. An astounding 156 concerts in one year. If only Elvis had given himself a break from the routine and spent some time in a recording studio instead.
As a new soundboard Amarillo 1974 is an interesting addition, but not a concert that you would play too often.
The CD ends with a newly discovered 1960 interview on board the train heading through Texas on the way to film GI blues in Hollywood . The comments are interesting, perhaps even more so for the unusual interview with The Colonel.
CD 2 - Fort Worth, July 3 1976
Two years later Elvis in Fort Worth July 3, 1976 is a far better concert. This is a very different feel from the low-energy Tucson 1976 FTD just one month earlier. The sound quality is exceptionally good for a soundboard and coming from reel-to-reel you can appreciate having Jerry Scheff back on bass. While the set-list offers no particular surprises (like the exceptional ‘Danny Boy’) Elvis is on good form. While this isn’t a powerhouse concert like the December Tour, and at times Elvis sounds short of breath, it does capture a surprisingly good mid-year performance.
This was an afternoon show and not surprisingly it does take Elvis a while to warm up. He even points out, “Good afternoon. I’m not used to being awake in daytime. I’m used to doing very silly things in the middle of the night!”
New pianist Tony Brown is nice and high in the mix and so the recording has a different sound from normal. This gives a delightful feel to the delicate ‘And I Love You So’ and even adds some new zip to the regular oldies.
The real highlight is the first bicentennial release of Elvis singing ‘ America the Beautiful’ and the audience response is astounding. Elvis is astonished, almost speechless, saying, “That really makes it all worthwhile, it really does. Wow!” This gives him extra inspiration to perform a funky ‘Polk Salad Annie’ with Elvis changing the lyric to “Down in the state of Texas ”. Cute!
At the end Elvis even makes a humourous aside about his ‘Polk’ workout splitting his pants at the New Year Pontiac concert! As always in 1976 the introductions are too long, however ‘Love Letters’ is an improvement on the sad & slow Tucson release. There is also a very funny moment when Elvis has obviously forgotten that he performed in Fort Worth just one month earlier as he tells the crowd, “Last month, really? I’ve got the memory of a deer!”
Elvis performs his show-stopper of the new single ‘Hurt’ and then repeats it to great effect. He then wraps up with a quick ‘Hound Dog’’ and some amusing crowd interaction before ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’ as he heads on home.
At the end he notes, “Anytime we’ve ever come here you have always been great to us as an audience and we really appreciate it. Whenever you want us back here in Fort Worth just let us know and we’ll put it in our schedule.”
Sadly he never would make it back.
Definitely the better CD of the two, the audio quality is great and Elvis is on fine form for 1976.
Verdict – There is plenty to explore here and fascinating tales to read. It is great to see FTD involved in a combined novel and CD, instead of just a photo & information book. This is a book that you can really get absorbed in and the design is very pleasing - a stunning upgrade on the previous 'Elvis In Texas.' While it is a shame that the 1974 CD couldn’t have been a new 1950’s concert with Texas interviews, the second 1976 CD certainly makes up for it and it is a great improvement on the earlier Tucson release. Another fine FTD product.
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