Pump up the volume: Elvis Week 2011 begins

Elvis Week officially kicks off today in Memphis. Of course, Elvis Week really occurs all over the world – wherever there is an Elvis fan. Most of us take a little extra time to remember and enjoy the music.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in Memphis, I envy you, but also hope you have a fantastic time. Elvis Presley Enterprises and others put on a variety of events, so it always looks like there is something for everybody.

Perusing the schedule, one thing that I’d definitely attend if I was there is Saturday’s screening of the 2000 documentary Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll, which was written and produced by none other than Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick. Guralnick, along with Knox Phillips (Sam’s oldest son), will speak after the film.

In honor of Elvis Week, the O.co (Overstock.com) entertainment blog yesterday featured a fun Elvis infographic. Check it out.

Have a great week, everyone. Remember to crank up the Elvis!

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August 12, 2011, Update: Check out MJ’s fantastic post about visiting Graceland during Elvis Week 2007 on her blog.

Update #2: And here’s another one. This one is from the Elvis Today Blog with Thomas’ memories of Elvis Week 2005. The funny thing is, this was written shortly after Elvis Week 2007 – referenced in MJ’s post above.

August 18, 2011, Final Update: To bring things full circle, here are a couple of great blog posts from Memphis resident Deena Dietrich about Elvis Week 2011.

Where Elvis never stood alone

I enjoy exploring all different areas of Elvis’ career. With Follow That Dream’s recent announcement that Amarillo ’77 will be among its June CD releases, I thought this would be a good time to take a look back at the 1977 recordings officially available to this point.

Not including the post-midnight tracks on FTD’s New Year’s Eve audience recording, there have been three key official releases of 1977 concert material in the years since the death of Elvis:

  • Unchained Melody (2007, FTD, covering February)
  • Spring Tours 77 (2002, FTD, covering March through May)
  • Elvis In Concert (1977, RCA, covering June; serves as soundtrack to TV special of same name)

All three of these releases have something to offer fans who are willing to listen.

Unchained Melody contains one of my favorite Elvis performances from any time, a stirring rendition of “Where No One Stands Alone,” with Elvis leading the way on piano. Recorded February 16 in Montgomery, Alabama, this marks the only known instance of Elvis performing this song live.

I actually prefer this nearly heart-wrenching version over his 1966 studio master of the song, recorded for How Great Thou Art. After hearing the raw emotions of this live version, the studio version sounds almost antiseptic – as if in 1966 Elvis had not really lived enough to fully convey the song compared to eleven years later.

Just a few days later, on February 21 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Elvis pulls out a blues number that he seemed to always have ready in his back pocket – “Reconsider Baby.”

Though Elvis formally recorded the song in 1960 for Elvis Is Back!, a 1956 version of the song from “The Million Dollar Quartet” jam at Sun Records made its debut on The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll in 1992. Live versions from 1961, 1969, and 1972 have also been released, all of which, like this 1977 track and its predecessor on New Year’s Eve, feature a committed Elvis. Lowell Fulson first recorded the song in 1954, around the same time that Elvis recorded “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” In Charlotte, “Reconsider Baby” is a good performance. Elvis never lost his feel for the blues.

At that same February 21, concert, Elvis also performs the only known live version of “Moody Blue” (outside of giving up after a false start in the same city the night before). This is another good performance. It is sometimes amazing how well Elvis could sing a song that he admittedly did not know. It is also a testament to the work of the TCB Band, that they could carry him when all he had was a lyric sheet. Lyric sheet or not, this is still a worthy listen.

At a Valentine’s Day show in St. Petersburg, Elvis takes over the piano momentarily from Tony Brown to show him how to play the intro to “Blueberry Hill.” What follows is a fantastic, though all too brief, take on the song – which Elvis first recorded in 1957.

A February 18 performance of “Release Me” in Columbia, South Carolina, is another highlight. For the briefest of moments, it sounds like it could be 1970 – but only a moment.

The highlight of Spring Tours 77 is beyond a doubt his March 26 performance of “Blue Christmas” in Norman, Oklahoma. The song takes on a different tone here than his bluesier 1968 live versions or his 1957 studio version. He sounds desperately sad, which is only underscored by our knowledge that he has already celebrated his final Christmas by this point. While I like the performance, this is not something I’ve added to my normal Christmas rotation. It’s just too sad.

The often-underrated Elvis In Concert contains a number of fine performances, including one of his best ever versions of “My Way” on June 21 in Rapid City. A brief snippet of “I Really Don’t Want To Know” from that same show also illustrates that he could still tap into his power. Even Omaha on June 19, sometimes described by others as one of his worst concerts, offers up a decent version of “How Great Thou Art” and an entertaining performance of “And I Love You So.”

My original intent in all of this was not to go through track-by-track highlights of 1977, but to point out that even one of Elvis’ lesser years can still hold magic. It is a mistake to focus only on certain aspects of Elvis’ career and to ignore the rest. While 1968-1971 may indeed be my personal favorite span, I would not want that to be the only Elvis I ever hear.

It is also unfair to use peak moments like 1968-1972 or 1954-1958 as the measuring sticks for everything else. Of course, everything is going to pale in comparison to those very special times in his life, but that does not mean that it lacks value. 1977 should not be ignored, not by Elvis Presley Enterprises, not by Sony & FTD, and most of all, not by us – his fans. I commend FTD for deciding to release Amarillo ’77.

So, pull out those 1977 recordings and give them a spin. He was on that stage for his fans, and he left these and other recordings as part of his legacy. They are an essential part of understanding the whole Elvis.

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The Amarillo ’77 concert took place on March 24, 1977. Below is the track listing:

01 That’s All Right
02 Are You Lonesome Tonight
03 Reconsider Baby (intro only)
04 Love Me
05 If You Love Me
06 You Gave Me a Mountain
07 Jailhouse Rock
08 O Sole Mio/It’s Now or Never
09 Little Sister
10 Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel
11 My Way
12 Band Introductions/Early Mornin’ Rain
13 What’d I Say/Johnny B. Goode
14 Band Introductions
15 School Days
16 Hurt
17 Hound Dog
18 Can’t Help Falling in Love
Bonus Tracks
19 And I Love You So
20 Fever
21 Love Me Tender
22 Blue Suede Shoes
23 Steamroller Blues
24 Help Me
25 Why Me, Lord
26 Bosom of Abraham
27 You Better Run
28 How Great Thou Art
29 Trying to Get to You

Elvis Presley Enterprises and fans help raise $85,000 in Super Bowl benefit

One of the stories I’ve enjoyed covering most here on The Mystery Train is Elvis Presley Enterprise’s Super Bowl watch party, held February 6 on the front lawn of Graceland. At $500 a ticket, the catered event benefited St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The day also featured Elvis-style football games on the lawn and a silent auction of sports and Elvis items. According to St. Jude, this ultimate Super Bowl party raised nearly $85,000.

As I mentioned Monday, Elvis’ rendition of “That’s All Right” could briefly be heard in the background during the Super Bowl TV broadcast while it played over stadium loudspeakers. I wondered at the time if those partying at Graceland picked up on this.

I decided to contact Elvis Presley Enterprises and find out. It turns out that the attendees did indeed hear Elvis during the game. “We also got emails from fans around the world who also heard the music clip being played,” said Alicia Dean, Media Assistant for EPE.

Dean also cleared up another one of my questions about the event. EPE’s original announcement stated that it was “only the second time an event has been held on the lawn, or anywhere on the property, since Elvis’ passing” (“Super Bowl Watch Party at Graceland to Benefit St. Jude” — Elvis.com). According to Dean, the first event was a party benefiting the TJ Martell Foundation on Ocotober 7, 1994, which was the day before the Elvis Aaron Presley: The Tribute concert at the Pyramid.

Elvis Aaron Presley: The Tribute was a live, pay-per-view television event featuring various music stars performing Elvis songs, including Faith Hill, Chris Isaak, Michael Hutchence, and Cher. It also resulted in the album It’s Now Or Never: The Tribute To Elvis, which contained a few of the songs from the show. Some footage of the concert also appeared in the December 1994 ABC TV special Elvis: The Tribute, hosted by John Stamos.

In life, Elvis always gave time and money to good causes, and EPE has done a terrific job of continuing that tradition over the years since his death. Many of Elvis’ fans have also continued in that spirit as well. As I’ve mentioned before, one organization worth checking out is the Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation, which is run by Lisa Marie Presley and the rest of the EPE management team and includes projects such as Presley Place.

Related Links

Elvis Presley plays in Super Bowl XLV

I hope the fine folks enjoying the Super Bowl watch party at Graceland yesterday were able to make this out. While watching the game on FOX-TV, I could faintly hear music they picked up from the stadium loudspeakers near the end of the first half.

That is nothing unusual, except this time it was a familiar voice singing “That’s All Right.” It didn’t last long, but it was awesome to hear Elvis playing in the Super Bowl! It was definitely a remix, probably the one from Viva Elvis: The Album. The Green Bay Packers went on to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers to become champions of the National Football League. Elvis Presley Enterprises’ Super Bowl watch party benefited the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

EPE sues Spankox over unauthorized Christmas Remixes album

I remember being slightly surprised last year that Elvis Presley Enterprises had authorized Christmas Remixes, containing dance remixes by DJ Spankox of 1957’s entire Elvis’ Christmas Album. Sure, I could point to the rubber duckies or the potato heads as other examples of severe lapses in judgment when it comes to protecting Elvis’ legacy, but a dance remix version of Elvis’ Christmas Album? Really?

Turns out that EPE may have been just as surprised as I was to hear about the release of the album. In a lawsuit for which they recently won a summary judgment, EPE alleges they gave no such authorization to Spankox (Spankox Sued By EPE – ElvisNews.com).

EPE previously worked with Spankox in an authorized fashion on Re:Versions (2008) and Re:Mixes (2010). Re:Versions had uneven results, though I did enjoy the new take on “Too Much.” The Re:Mixes follow-up was rather poor, with few real highlights – perhaps, only “Hound Dog” (but it is, after all, the power of Elvis’ performance shining through and not the remix itself that makes that one compelling).

Compared to the stellar remix efforts by others on 2010’s Viva Elvis: The Album, 2002’s “A Little Less Conversation,” and 2003’s “Rubberneckin,'” Spankox’s attempts seemed insignificant and worn out. I never bothered to seek out his Christmas Remixes album, and it turns out that I made the right choice. Allegedly attempting to pass off something like that as being an authorized product just isn’t cool.

February 7 Update: The official Elvis.com site has posted an item about winning the Spankox lawsuit.

Graceland hosting Super Bowl benefit for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

“The thing I keep up with most is professional football. I know all the players. I know all their numbers, who they play for. I’ve had people quiz me on it, just in games when we got nothing to do. And that’s a big thing with me right now. I watch all the games that I can. I get the films from the teams themselves if I can. But next to the entertainment thing, and music, that, I guess would be the biggest.”
–Elvis Presley, August 1962

The front lawn of Graceland will play host to a Super Bowl “watch party” benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (“Super Bowl Watch Party at Graceland to Benefit St. Jude” — Elvis.com).

“The party will mark only the second time an event has been held on the lawn, or anywhere on the property, since Elvis’ passing,” states the official Elvis site. The (American) football Super Bowl game will take place on February 6.

Besides watching the game, the catered event will also feature football games similar to those Elvis and friends once played at Graceland. (I wonder if they will include the use of firecrackers, as those of Elvis allegedly did? Probably not!) There will also be a silent auction of sports and Elvis related items. Tickets are $500.

Elvis was a strong supporter of St. Jude, which was founded by Danny Thomas. In 1964, Elvis donated the USS Potomac, a yacht once owned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to the organization.

NFL playoff games are taking place today between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers (NFC) and the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets (AFC) to determine who will play in this year’s Super Bowl. Does watching the Super Bowl on February 6 on Graceland’s front lawn sound a little cold? Don’t worry, that part will take place “in a heated tent decorated in a style similar to Elvis’ TV room,” according to Elvis.com.

Kudos to Elvis Presley Enterprises for this event and its other efforts to continue Elvis’ “generosity of spirit,” as Lisa Marie Presley once so eloquently called it.

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Additional source: Elvis: Word For Word by Jerry Osborne, Harmony Books, New York, 2000.

And now, a very special announcement….

Elvis Presley Enterprise’s big tourism push this year for Graceland is centered around the 55th anniversary of Elvis’ many accomplishments in 1956 (“2011 Graceland Tourism Campaign Commemorates 55th Anniversary of Groundbreaking Year” — Elvis.com).

“55th” seems to me like a rather arbitrarily chosen “major anniversary” year, though. Any excuse to keep the focus on 1956, right? The beauty of it is that EPE can pull all of this stuff back out in five years and change the text to say “60th anniversary.”

There have been some rumors lately, however, that Elvis Presley’s career actually extended beyond the years 1954 to 1958. In fact, I’ve looked into them and discovered the rumors to be true. In honor of these historical findings, I’ve decided to choose my own arbitrary Elvis year to focus on in 2011.

And now, a very special announcement….

The Mystery Train will honor the 44th anniversary of 1967 with special features on that Elvis year all throughout 2011.