REVIEW: Elvis Sings Guitar Man 2-CD set (2011 FTD edition)

Elvis Sings Guitar Man (2011 FTD, booklet cover)

Elvis Sings Guitar Man (2011 FTD, booklet cover)

I’ve reviewed the main album masters from Elvis Sings Guitar Man in the past, so today’s review will focus on the alternate and bonus tracks that complete this latest release from Follow That Dream Records.

I should note that I don’t  have the FTD albums So High or Long Lonely Highway, so some of these tracks are new to me that may not be new to you.

“Guitar Man” [September 1967]

  • Disc 1, Track 16, Takes 1, 2, 5: After reading about this session many times over the years, it was great finally to hear for myself guitarist and singer/songwriter Jerry Reed  (the real “Guitar Man”) chatting in the studio. This is the kind of stuff that makes FTD shine, hearing a classic recording slowly come together. Sound is incredible. You can imagine you are in the studio. Take 5 is just plain fun to hear (first released on A Life In Music).
  • Disc 2, Track 11, Takes 7, 9: The ELVIS TV special may have still been a year away, but it is obvious from this track that Elvis’ comeback was already underway. Finally, he was starting to live up to his potential again. Elvis sounds inspired by Reed’s presence in the studio. Take 9 was first released on So High.
  • Disc 2, Track 12, Take 10: “Sing the living stuffing out of it, Elvis” producer Felton Jarvis encourages him just prior to this take. Oddly enough, though, take 10 is actually somewhat more subdued compared to takes 5 and 9. A decent take, but not a standout like the others. From Long Lonely Highway, this is the first take to include the “What’d I Say” jam ending.
  • Disc 2, Track 13, Takes 11, 12 (unedited, undubbed master): A treat to have the master take in its raw form here, keeping in line with the previously mentioned takes. It’s hard to sit still listening to this.

“Tomorrow Is A Long Time” [May 1966]

Disc 1, Track 17, Takes 1, 2: I mentioned above that Elvis’ comeback was underway by the September 1967 timeframe of “Guitar Man.” The opening round of the comeback actually began with the May 1966 sessions that produced this song as well as the Grammy-winning How Great Thou Art album. Though a departure for him at the time, Elvis is well-suited to this Bob Dylan tune. Take 2, first released on So High, is as good as the master, which was the very next take. Again, the sound on this CD is beyond impressive.

“Big Boss Man” [September 1967]

  • Disc 1, Track 18, Take 2: Back to the September 1967 session now, this was the second song with Jerry Reed on guitar. First heard on From Nashville To Memphis, this is overall a weak take that quickly becomes tiresome. Elvis is still trying to find his way.
  • Disc 2, Track 14, Takes 1, 3, 4, 5: This track is all false starts, but the studio chatter makes it interesting at least.
  • Disc 2, Track 15, Takes 7, 9: Jerry Reed infuses a bit of guitar-driven country into Jimmy Reed’s blues standard as the group closes in on a master. This is another impressive number. Take 9 was first released on Today, Tomorrow & Forever.

“Love Letters” [May 1966]

  • Disc 1, Track 19, Take 2: I’m not a huge fan of this song, but I will say this may well be the best version I’ve heard to date. Elvis doesn’t sound bored with it yet. In the past, I’ve generally favored his 1970 re-recording of this tune over the 1966 version. This 1966 take was first released on the Today, Tomorrow & Forever set. I don’t remember it standing out to me at the time, though.
  • Disc 2, Track 3, Takes 3, 4, 5, 7: “Too slow” Elvis announces quite correctly as the piano begins the song at what would have been a dreadful, snail’s pace. Takes 4 and 5 are also too slow, causing Elvis to end them early and call for a replay of the demo. Take 7 obviously benefits from that replay as far as tempo, but I still like Take 2 better. I’m ready to fall asleep by the end. Takes 3, 4, and 7 were first released on Collectors Gold.
  • Disc 2, Track 4, Take 8: One take back from the master. Elvis sounds weaker. Again, hard to sit through the whole thing. [First release: So High.]

“Indescribably Blue” [June 1966]

Disc 2, Track 9, Vocal Overdub Take 1: I’m not smart enough to explain why “Indescribably Blue” is a million times better than “Love Letters,” but I know that it is. One of his finest performances. Vocal overdub take 1 first released on Today, Tomorrow & Forever.

“Fools Fall In Love” [May 1966]

Disc 1, Track 20, Takes 1, 4: I think its the arrangement more than anything else that ruins what otherwise might have been a decent version of this Drifters classic. Take 4, first released on Long Lonely Highway, manages to be even more annoying than the master by including what sounds like a “chirping” trumpet in the right channel. Elvis does not yet sound as comfortable as he does on the final version.

“High Heel Sneakers” [September 1967]

  • Disc 1, Track 21, Take 5: Take 5 is more than worthy, benefiting from an awesome mix. Sounding more like a jam than a formal studio cut, this track will definitely go into heavy rotation for me. [First release: So High.]
  • Disc 2, Track 21, Takes 1, 6: Elvis sounds so good on Take 1, it’s a shame that Felton calls a halt to it early on for being too slow. Take 6 also falls apart.
  • Disc 2, Track 22, Take 7 (unedited master): First heard on From Nashville To Memphis, Elvis sings a line of “Ode To Billy Joe” before what became the master take begins. This “unedited” version runs nearly two minutes longer than the original single. As many fans have said before me, if only Elvis had gotten around to doing an entire blues album.

“Down In The Alley” [May 1966]

  • Disc 1, Track 22, Take 1 [First release: From Nashville To Memphis]
  • Disc 2, Track 1, Takes 2, 3, 4
  • Disc 2, Track 2, Take 6 [First release: So High]

Though the groove is somewhat similar, I definitely prefer “High Heel Sneakers” over “Down In The Alley.” It’s hard not to crack a smile at lyrics like, “I’ll plant you now and dig you later, because you’re a fine sweet potato,” though. Speaking of lyrics, for years I misheard one line of this song as, “The clock is striking on Uncle Sam…” so I never quite understood what that part of the song was supposed to mean. He actually says, “The clock is striking a mournful sound…” The funny thing is, I still have a hard time not hearing it as the “Uncle Sam” version, even though I know it’s wrong. In any event, if you like this song, you’ll enjoy takes 1 and 6. Takes 2, 3, and 4 are all false starts.

“Come What May” [May 1966]

  • Disc 1, Track 23, Take 2 [First release: So High]
  • Disc 2, Track 6, Takes 3, 4 [Today, Tomorrow & Forever]
  • Disc 2, Track 7, Take 6 [Collectors Gold]
  • Disc 2, Track 8, Take 7 [From Nashville To Memphis]

While fun, “Come What May” seems out-of-place on this album (right up there with “Fools Rush In”). Maybe the imaginary album should have been 12 tracks and these two listed as additional bonus songs. The more I listen to it, I think my main problem with this song is the trumpet. If only there was a version without it, I might like it more. I have nothing against trumpets in general, by the way. In fact, I used to play trumpet in middle school band way back when.

“Just Call Me Lonesome” [September 1967]

  • Disc 2, Track 19, Takes 3, 4 [First release: So High]
  • Disc 2, Track 20, Takes 5, 6

For this song, I was hoping for at least one take without the steel guitar. No such luck.

“You Don’t Know Me” [September 1967]

Disc 2, Track 23, Take 2: This alternate is a little slower. Elvis’ voice sounds like velvet. This was a perfect song for him. First released on So High.

“Singing Tree” [September 1967]

  • Disc 1, Track 24, Take 1 [First release: So High]
  • Disc 2, Track 16, Takes 2, 4 [Take 4: Close Up]
  • Disc 2, Track 17, Take 8
  • Disc 2, Track 18, Takes 10, 13 [Take 13: Long Lonely Highway]

I have a soft spot for “Singing Tree,” so I was interested to hear his first attempts at it. Take 1 is slower, but otherwise unremarkable. Take 8 has some potential, but begins to feel repetitive after awhile. One problem with all of these takes is simply too much Jordanaires for my tastes. As I’ve noted in the past, I really need a Jordanaire-specific mute button when listening to Elvis. After 13 takes without an acceptable master, they gave up on the song and moved on to “Just Call Me Lonesome” (above).

Disc 2, Track 24, Takes 1, 2, 3 (remake): The following night, Elvis and the band took another stab at “Singing Tree.” I definitely like the “remake” arrangement better. However, the background vocalists are even more annoying on take 3, so I won’t be playing it too often. Elvis throws in a somewhat incongruous “take it home, baby” near the end of the song. Remake take 5 would become the released master.

“I’ll Remember You” [June 1966]

  • Disc 1, Track 25, Vocal Overdub Take 2: Having grown up on the Aloha From Hawaii live version, I never heard the studio version of “I’ll Remember You” until release of the From Nashville To Memphis set. Though it is a remarkable performance, vocal overdub take 2, first released on So High, does not really stand out in a significant way from the master.
  • Disc 2, Track 10, Vocal Overdub (unedited master): This is a case where I prefer the edited version of a song. For my tastes, this unedited master, first released on From Nashville To Memphis, just goes on too long. As on most tracks, sound quality here is outstanding. Listen to the percussion in the right channel – awesome!

Bonus Song: “Beyond The Reef” [May 1966]

  • Disc 2, Track 5, Takes 1, 2 [undubbed master]: This has an informal feel that I enjoy. “Beyond The Reef” also fits in well as a bonus song on this album. Undubbed master first released on From Nashville To Memphis.
  • Disc 1, Track 15, Take 2 [overdubbed master]: The undubbed version is superior to this version. “Beyond The Reef” went unreleased during Elvis’ lifetime. This overdubbed version made its debut on 1980’s Elvis Aron Presley boxed set.

Source for “first release” information was the excellent Elvis In Norway site.

* * *

Cover art for Elvis Sings Guitar Man is well-done and suits the 1967 time period. The booklet is informative, and I particularly enjoyed seeing the repertoire (material submitted by Elvis’ music companies; songs requested directly by Elvis; song list sent to arranger) for a cancelled August 1967 session originally scheduled for Los Angeles. As for sound quality, it is incredible. FTD seems to be getting better and better with every release. In particular, the Classic Album series has reinvigorated the label.

The absolute highlight of this release for me is hearing Elvis Presley and Jerry Reed in the studio together on “Guitar Man” and “Big Boss Man.” It was a collaboration that would sadly prove to be all too short.

Elvis Sings Guitar Man is a unique album, compiling music from scattered releases to better document an important timeframe in Elvis’ career. The opening salvos of the comeback had been fired, but few noticed because of the release strategy around his music at that time. Whether acknowledged or not, Elvis had taken the first steps down his path of musical redemption. Big changes were just around the corner.

* * *


01) Guitar Man 2:22
02) Tomorrow Is A Long Time 5:24
03) Big Boss Man 2:54
04) Love Letters 2:52
05) Indescribably Blue 2:50
06) Fools Fall In Love 2:08
07) Hi-Heel Sneakers 2:48
08) Down In The Alley 2:54
09) Come What May 2:03
10) Mine 2:39
11) Just Call Me Lonesome 2:08
12) You Don’t Know Me 2:32
13) Singing Tree 2:22
14) I’ll Remember You 2:48

Bonus Song
15) Beyond The Reef (overdubbed version)

First Takes
16) Guitar Man – takes 1,2,5 4:22
17) Tomorrow Is A Long Time – takes 1,2 6:15
18) Big Boss Man – take 2 3:35
19) Love Letters –take 2 2:53
20) Fools Fall In Love – takes 1,4 2:40
21) Hi-Heel Sneakers – take 5 4:58
22) Down In The Alley – take 1 3:13
23) Come What May – take 2 2:12
24) Singing Tree – take 1 3:11
25) I’ll Remember You – vocal overdub take 2 4:14


May 1966 Sessions
01) Down In The Alley – takes 2,3,4 2:18
02) Down In The Alley – take 6 2:51
03) Love Letters – takes 3,4,5,7 4:39
04) Love Letters – take 8 3:12
05) Beyond The Reef – takes 1,2 (undubbed master) 5:42
06) Come What May – takes 3,4 2:27
07) Come What May – take 6 2:07
08) Come What May – take 7 – 2:21

June 1966 Sessions
09) Indescribably – (vocal overdub) take 1 2:55
10) I’ll Remember You – (unedited master) vocal overdub 1 4:10

1967 Sessions
11) Guitar Man – takes 7,9 2:52
12) Guitar Man – take 10 2:55
13) Guitar Man – takes 11, 12 (unedited/undubbed master) 4:02
14) Big Boss Man – takes 1,3,4,5 3:19
15) Big Boss Man – takes 7, 9 3:48
16) Singing Tree – takes 2,4 3:28
17) Singing Tree – take 8 3:03
18) Singing Tree – takes 10,13 3:44
19) Just Call Me Lonesome – takes 3,4 2:55
20) Just Call Me Lonesome – takes 5,6 2:31
21) Hi-Heel Sneakers – takes 1,6 2:51
22) Hi-Heel Sneakers – take 7 – (unedited master) 4:57
23) You Don’t Know Me – take 2 2:57
24) Singing Tree – (remake) takes 1,2,3 3:21

Witness Elvis recording “Guitar Man” with Jerry Reed

From Thomas’ latest post over at the Elvis Today Blog:

As the door to the studio opens and Jerry Reed walks in, Elvis looks at him and says, ‘Lord, have mercy, what is that?’ Jerry, not having shaved in about a week and still wearing the clothes from his interrupted fishing trip, nervously approaches Elvis with a battered guitar case in his hand…”

Experience the full post over on Elvis Today Blog.