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The Originals – Elvis Presley Vol. 1

January 8th, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

On 8 January Elvis would have turned 80. Let that sink in. And when you bump into an 80-year-old man today…that could be Elvis now!

To mark Elvis’ birthday, here’s the first of two mixes of original versions of famous Elvis songs, this one covering Elvis’ output up to 1960. Four are actually not really originals: the last three are demos which were presented to Presley (and the Elvis recordings show just how great an interpreter of song he was). And Aura Lee was reworked as Love Me Tender; it was an old song first copyrighted in 1861. It was sung by Frances Farmer in the 1936 movie Come and Get It!, but wasn’t released on record.

Then there’s Hound Dog, featured twice: in Big Mama Thornton’s original recording of the song, and the version on which Elvis based his, by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, an Italo-American band he had seen during his discouraging concert engagement in Vegas in April/May 1956. Between Thornton and Presley the song had been brutalised in a series of covers which dismantled the original lyrics and added doggerel to it (such as the rabbit line) to become the nonsense we know today.

Freddie Bell & the Bellboys, on whose rendition of Hound Dog Elvis based his.

Freddie Bell & the Bellboys, on whose rendition of Hound Dog Elvis based his.

 

This collection of songs proves one thing: Elvis didn’t just, as the popular narrative has it, “steal” black music and made it big on its back. Elvis certainly was a big fan of the various strands of what we now call R&B, and no doubt was heavily influenced by it. But he also drew much from country music, as well as from gospel. Indeed, his first public performance was as a ten-year-old at a talent show in his hometown Tupelo, where he performed Old Shep, a hit from 1941 by Red Foley (he had first recorded it in 1935, about his German shepherd  Hoover, who had been poisoned by a neighbour). Elvis first stage performances were on the country circuit, especially on the Louisiana Hayride. And it was through country star Hank Snow that he met the ghastly “Colonel” Parker.

Elvis’ first hit was, of course, a cover of a blues tune, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s That’s All Right Mama. It’s the song that changed Rock & Roll forever. Young Elvis was in the Sun studios in Memphis, auditioning for the legendary Sam Phillips (in other accounts the story is set, more credibly, during the first recording session). Elvis, the story goes, was failing the audition, having crooned one ballad after another in Dean Martin mode. It was not the sound Phillips was looking for.

During a break (or at the end of the session), Elvis starting goofing around with his guitar, singing That’s All Right. Session musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black joined in. Sam Phillips later recalled: “The door to the control room was open, the mics were on, Scotty was in the process of packing up his guitar, I think Bill had already thrown his old bass down — he didn’t even have a cover for it — and the session was, to all intents and purposes, over. Then Elvis struck up on just his rhythm guitar, ‘That’s all right, mama..,’ and I mean he got my attention immediately. It could have been that it wouldn’t have sold ten copies, but that was what I was looking for!”

Elvis later also covered Crudup’s very similar My Baby Left Me. Crudup fought for the rest of his life to receive due royalties, making his living as a bootlegger and field labourer. In 1971 an agreement for $60,000 was agreed with Melrose Publishers, who proceeded to blankly refuse paying up. Crudup died penniless in 1974 at the age of 68.

Arthur Crudup, from whom Elvis covered two songs.

Arthur Crudup, from whom Elvis covered two songs.

 

Some say that Good Rockin’ Tonight was the proto Rock & Roll record. Of course, any claim of inaugurating Rock & Roll is impossible to validate because the genre was the result of a musical evolution (and it is still evolving). What can be said is that the song, and most certainly Wynonie Harris’ 1948 cover, was influential in that evolution. Good Rockin’ Tonight was Elvis’ second single. So it is faintly ironic that Presley’s version draws more from Brown’s 1947 jump blues original (deleting, however, the by then outdated litany of R&B figures) than from Harris’ R&B cover.

It was not the most popular of Elvis’ early tunes; his still mostly country audience was still unsure about the influence of what was then called “race music” on the future legend’s sound. In those embryonic days of Elvis’ stardom, his most popular song seemed to be the flip side of That’s Alright, Blue Moon Of Kentucky.

It is difficult to pinpoint at which point Elvis became a superstar, or with which hit. He was a local star as soon as his debut single hit the Memphis airwaves, and a regional star soon after. Arguably, his nascent stardom was built not so much on hit recordings than on his incendiary performances delivered on intensive tours. On these tours, he often shared a bill with his Sun label mates Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

It was on one such tour in November 1955, in Gladewater, Texas, that Cash gave Perkins the idea for Blues Suede Shoes (in return for Perkins inspiring the title for Cash’s future hit I Walk The Line), based on a catchphrase by one C.V. White, an African-American GI Cash had served with in West Germany. White, the story as told by one of Cash’s GI friends goes, was about to go out for the weekend when another soldier accidentally trod on White’s black army issue shoes, whereupon White exclaimed: “I don’t care what you do with my Fräulein or what you do with whatever, but don’t step on my blues suede shoes.” The joke, obviously, was that White was not actually wearing such shoes (which, in any case, where not in fashion), but regulation issue army shoes.

Soon after he heard that story, Perkins was at a dance when he saw a young man being visibly upset with his pretty date for stepping on his, you guessed it, blue suede shoes. Sufficiently inspired, he immediately wrote the lyrics on a paper potato sack, giving birth to one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s great classics.

Million Dollar Quartet: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Three of them play a role in the story of Blue Suede Shoes. Lewis later also covered it, and Cash played it on stage.

Million Dollar Quartet: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Three of them play a role in the story of Blue Suede Shoes. Lewis later also covered it, and Cash played it on stage.

 

It may have been the first true crossover record; it certainly was the first to chart simultaneously in the pop, country and R&B charts, in early 1956. As the song was rising in the charts, Perkins was laid low by a serious car crash on the way to performing his hit on the Ed Sullivan Show. While he was recuperating, he heard former Sun colleague Elvis announcing on the Milton Berle Show that his next single would be Blues Suede Shoes, which he proceeded to perform, as he would twice more before releasing the single. Although Perkins was unable to promote the song further, it went on to sell more than a million copies.

By arrangement, Elvis waited until Perkins’ version had peaked. Released so soon after Perkins’ hit, Elvis’ version reached no higher than #20 on the charts. Yet, public consciousness associates the song more closely with Elvis than with its author, possibly because he performed it several times on television, and riffed on the footwear in a few skits on these shows.

Perkins, whose career or health never really recovered from the car crash, was philosophical about Elvis scoring the more lasting hit, saying that Presley had the image and the looks, and he did not. He surely was less placid about not receiving writer’s royalties until a court found in his favour in 1977.

Arguably Elvis the Rock & Roller died in 1960 when, having returned from the army, he recorded crooners’ material such as It’s Now Or Never and Are You Lonesome Tonight. The latter was recorded at the behest of Tom Parker as it was a favourite of his wife, Mrs Marie Parker, in its 1940s version by country star Gene Austin. Written by Tin Pan Alley residents Lou Handman and Roy Turk in 1926, it was recorded by a swathe of artists in 1927. The first of these versions, by Ned Jakobs, was not released, so the honour of first released recording goes to one Charles Hart.

The song enjoyed a revival in the 1950s. It was the 1950 version by Blue Barron and his Orchestra which served as the basis for Elvis’ take on Are You Lonesome Tonight, with Al Jolson’s version of the same year inspiring the spoken part, which borrows from Shakespeare’s As You Like It (“All the world’s a stage” etc).

1. Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup – That’s All Right (1947)
2. Roy Brown – Good Rockin’ Tonight (1947)
3. Smiley Lewis – One Night Of Sin (1956)
4. Big Mama Thornton – Hound Dog (1953)
5. Freddie Bell & the Bellboys – Hound Dog (1956)
6. Carl Perkins – Blue Suede Shoes (1956)
7. Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup – My Baby Left Me (1950)
8. Little Junior & the Blue Flames – Mystery Train (1953)
9. Eddie Riff – Ain’t That Loving You Baby (1956)
10. Chuck Wills – I Feel So Bad (1954)
11. Shep Fields Rippling Rhythm – That’s When Your Heartaches Begin (1937)
12. Charles Hart – Are You Lonesome Tonight (1927)
13. Frances Farmer – Aura Lea (1936)
14. Flying Clouds Of Detroit – Peace In The Valley (1947)
15. Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys – Blue Moon Of Kentucky (1947)
16. Red Foley – Old Shep (1941)
17. Wiley Walker & Gene Sullivan – When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again (1941)
18. Hank Snow – Now And Then There’s A Fool Such As I (1952)
19. Willy & Ruth – Love Me (1954)
20. Bernard Hardison – Too Much (1956)
21. Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters – Such A Night (1954)
22. Glen Reeves – Heartbreak Hotel (1955)
23. Otis Blackwell – Teddy Bear (1956)
24. Otis Blackwell – All Shook Up (1956)

GET IT
PW as always

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  1. halfhearteddude
    January 8th, 2015 at 08:37 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. Bo
    January 8th, 2015 at 09:13 | #2

    As always very interesting.

  3. GarthJeff
    January 8th, 2015 at 09:44 | #3

    That’s All Right. MANY THANKS for keeping Elvis’ flame alive AMD. Just like Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Handel and the rest that we still remember TODAY…..it takes EFFORT. And, this is where Elvis ‘started’ on his road all those years ago:- ….. and his been singing his songs around here for week and weeks and weeks …..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxHmj7jQaIQ

  4. mikesensei
    January 8th, 2015 at 18:36 | #4

    This is fantastic. Listening now, loving hearing each song and how it contrasts with the way Elvis did it–ears and memories all going at once!

  5. January 9th, 2015 at 03:06 | #5

    love this mix – thanks you for sharing and putting this together. can’t wait for vol. 2!!!! happy new year AMD!

  6. Matt
    January 9th, 2015 at 05:40 | #6

    What a great way to start the new year! I only live about an hour from Kalamazoo. If the weather was any better, I’d drive down and tell Elvis himself what a nice job you did with this collection.

  7. Rhod
    January 9th, 2015 at 22:41 | #7

    Thank Amd

    Great versions some better some worse but I am enjoying them all

    Regards

    Rhod

  8. dogbreath
    January 12th, 2015 at 18:14 | #8

    Whilst being aware of some of the originals, the versions by Mr P tend to stick in the brain as being definitive (or maybe not). This is a very nice compilation – I’m loving it a lot – so many thanks for the download.

  9. CL
    May 1st, 2015 at 03:05 | #9

    Thanks a lot.

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