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  • Writer Login


    Elvis Presence

    by | 10 | Sep 29, 2009

    elvis1970

    This is a revised and expanded version of a story first posted on Like The Dew in 2009. 

     

    February, 1970. The early days of Elvis Presence. That was when true fans of Elvis Presley’s innate and unmatched talent started to settle and realize they’d settle for even less in the years ahead. Elvis still had the talent. The voice was still there. The swagger was still evident. He wasn’t making those silly movies anymore.  He could still amaze us with a terrific new recording, one or two a year. The classic example was “Suspicious Minds,” the hit played in jukeboxes across America in the Summer of ’69 along with “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones and “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Yes, Elvis still had the pipes and he could still put his unique stamp on a song. He was playing in front of live audiences again. The reemergence that began with his acclaimed December ’68 TV special picked up steam. Elvis Presley had slipped from the public’s eye for much of the ’60s and now he was back. But not completely back. Quite frequently, instead of Elvis Presley, we got Elvis Presence.

    In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Elvis Presence could be captivating. As Ringo Starr said, Elvis was “the man.” So with many, just seeing him walk on to the concert stage was satisfying enough. After all, “the man,” who inspired great cultural shifts in the ’50s remained a transcendent figure. We could bask in his presence. Yet, while in his presence, it was obvious, even before the drugs and health problems really took hold, that he was not as serious about his music anymore. That was particularly evident when listening to the live albums he recorded in Las Vegas and elsewhere on the concert trail. He seemed to race through his classic hits. His selection of covers was confounding. Some worked very well for him, as he appeared not only interested, but jazzed when it came to songs like “Release Me,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and “Proud Mary.” Yet others like “Polk Salad Annie” and “Steamroller Blues” were as much displays of machismo as they were anything musical. The selection and posturing got even worse in the remaining years of his life. “You Gave Me A Mountain,” “Welcome To My World” and “Let Me Be There” should not be included on any list of 250 best songs by Elvis Presley, but they remained in his repertoire.

    beatlesThe Beatles’ classic “Yesterday” was a splendid match for Presley’s talents. Its engaging and complex melody is quietly beautiful. The words do not conjure great drama but their reflective nature does provide a sense of loss and of being careless with matters of the heart. There’s a hurting feeling about the song.  On The Beatles’ original version, Paul McCartney (he wrote the song and is the only Beatle on the recording) reveals vulnerability. “Yesterday” is about a love gone wrong. McCartney’s vocal treatment affirms the feeling of the lover left behind. That lover knows things have fallen apart; understanding why will take time. Certainly, this thoughtful story-in-song could have been sung with bodhi and tenderness by Elvis Presley. Such an approach came easily to him. But with “Yesterday,” he fell short.

    “Yesterday” was included on Presley’s album, On Stage: February 1970, recorded live at The International Hotel, Las Vegas. The album has its highlights, with covers of recent hits by the likes of Joe South, Neil Diamond and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Other selections go back a decade or more. The 1959 hit by Ray Peterson, “The Wonder of You,” is covered and becomes a hit once again. While the song itself is a bit mushy,Presley still delivers a first-rate performance. In fact, much of the material included on this live album seemed to confirm that Presley was in full gear, just as he was before joining the Army in 1958. But he missed on what should have been his big moment.

    As his band begins “Yesterday,” it’s plain that Presley meant well. His singing is mindful and measured. The great voice and the great song blend beautifully. However, as he repeats the bridge, “why she had to go … ,” it appears he’s lost interest in the song. The background vocals swell. From there the performance is all about the build-up to a proper Vegas closing. Elvis Presley had left the building and Elvis Presence took his place.

    Before We Fall Apart At The Seams . . . While watching the documentary film, Elvis: That’s The Way It Is, at home a few years ago, my wife said she felt sorry for Elvis. It was interesting that Gena, hardly one to withhold empathy, made her comment during the concert segment of the film, which  featured dynamic performances by Presley. But knowing the Presley story quite well, she knew what lay ahead. Presley’s story, despite the great success he experienced, is among the saddest in the world of entertainment. Empathy was in order.

    Filmed in August, 1970, Elvis: That’s The Way It Is has a few moments in which we’re getting only Elvis Presence, but for the most part it captures Presley, bristling with spirit and excited to be working that great voice before live audiences. He’s suavely commanding as he puts his own stamp on “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” a Dusty Springfield hit four years prior. Take a look and take a listen: Elvis is in charge, working the band and singing with gusto. At the song’s opening, whereas Springfield made “When I said I needed you, you said you’d always stay” a bereft appeal, Presley took the same words and made them sound as a firm reminder. He was making his case.

    Earlier in the set, on “Patch It Up,” an infectious rocker with stock lyrics, Presley gave a little demonstration, as Otis Redding would put it, of why he was still regarded as the King of Rock and Roll. The music charges and pounds away, and Presley’s at the center of it all. There’s James Burton spinning off his clean but frisky guitar licks. The horns blast away, pushing Presley, and not only is he up to the fervent challenge, he’s exhilarated by it. It’s an electrifying performance. Ringo Starr was right. There’s much to lament about Presley’s life and career, but Elvis was “the man.”

    Roughly 17 years later, with Presley now gone for a decade, was James Burton on stage at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, still spinning out those inventive guitar licks, this time for Elvis Costello. Burton, whose playing brought so much light to the recordings of Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and others, was putting in another stellar performance that November evening in ’77. Costello closed the set with “Tokyo Storm Warning,” a relentless and booming song from his Blood and Chocolate album. It had not been a hit for Costello, peaking on the U.K. single charts at #87, but it was a terrific choice to wrap up an evening of great music. As with “Patch It Up,” the musicians on “Tokyo Storm Warning,” were going full-steam-ahead, and Costello, like Presley had been, was in command and enjoying a prime moment in his career. Those two guys named Elvis certainly participated in some thrilling moments with James Burton.

     

     

     

     

     

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    Jeff Cochran

    Jeff Cochran

    Jeff Cochran worked in advertising at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 27 years before accepting a buy-out in the Summer of 2008. In the seventies/early eighties, he handled advertising for Peaches Records and Tapes’ Southeastern and Midwestern stores. He also wrote record reviews for The Great Speckled Bird, a ground-breaking underground newspaper based in Atlanta.

     

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    • Reece

      I think you just nailed the King. Good analysis. Thank you.

    • You express what I felt about Elvis as his train ran out of coal. You also bring up the memory of McCartney singing “Yesterday” on the Ed Sullivan show back in 1965.

    • Scott

      Blasphemy!

    • IA

      Interesting article, though several points are debatable. The live albums released after 1970 by RCA were almost always documents of mediocre or worse concerts. Far better examples of Elvis’s live work have been released on bootleg and on RCA’s “Follow That Dream” sub-label. Dismissing Elvis’s performances of “Polk Salad Annie” and “Steamroller Blues,” two of Elvis’s best 70s numbers, as “displays of machismo” seems to me rather unsatisfactory--after all, one could just as easily use the phrase to describe “Hound Dog.” Lastly, the problem with Elvis’s version of “Yesterday” isn’t that he’s lost interest in the song. It’s that he treats this sodden middlebrow song with too much reverence. Approaching it as the standard it had become, Elvis does no more for the song than anyone else could. With less sacrosanct Beatles material Elvis turned in better performances, as in his loose rehearsal of “Lady Madonna” on the “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” box set.

    • Jeff Cochran

      Hello IA,

      Thanks for reading. Yes, these points compel debate and that makes it all the more interesting and fun.

      Good point on the rehearsal version of “Lady Madonna.” The song was a good fit for Presley. Fats Domino also did a fine job with it in the early ’70’s.

      “Hound Dog,” at least the original studio version, still sounds vibrant and exciting. The versions on those live RCA albums are tedious, however.

      I will look up those CDs on the “Follow That Dream” label. A friend mentioned them to me a couple of months ago and I appreciate you reminding me of them.

      The Southern Song Of The day series will continue to feature Presly recordings. A piece on a much forgotten single should post in the next few days. Come back to the site, check it out and let me know what you think.

    • frank

      yesterday must be one of the most over performed songs anyway. too bad he didnt choose some more interesting material.

    • rm

      Hmm. First of all, to judge Elvis’s ’68 to August ’70 work by the albums released as produced by Felton Jarvis {who Elvis gave way too much leeway: he’d work hard in rehearsals and recording sessions running everything himself, and then, for reasons unknown, allow Jarvis to hack his work up in post-production with “sweetening” that we thankfully have mostly forgotten due to the new release policies, choices of the absolutely wrong takes, wrong whole SHOWS to release as documents of his comeback . . . well, I’m sure Jarvis was a great guy, and it’s very sad about the kidney ailment that eventually defeated him {and Elvis must have considered this problem, without a doubt}, but as a “producer,” he should have just given Elvis his space, and then stepped back. Yes, the bit of Lady Madonna puts to rest all the innacuracies and urban legends about Elvis’s alleged antipathy to the Beatles’ {captured by “Bud” Krogh in his notes during Elvis’s “Caped Crusade” to D.C. and actually to the Oval Office to hustle a federal drug badge out of the Prez., who Elvis found out was preparing a full-on “War On Drugs” starting in ’71, with massive change in the drug laws: especially making it very difficult to get hard drugs by prescription -- or more difficult, I should say. See, on Dec. 21, 1970, Elvis knew the Beatles had already broken up, but I’m sure he also guessed that Dick didn’t! So, if you believe Krogh’s notes {and he’s told different stories about what was said, though Elvis said nothing specific, but new urban legends are circulating now that are false: he simply mentioned them as saying “anti-American stuff” in Krogh’s official notes in Krogh’s book {yes, he wrote a book, too “Elvis and ME [“Bud”]}, but heck so did Elvis! In a number of songs cut during the comeback period. Lamar Fike has said that he heard, from Elvis and the two guys, that the meeting started to go badly toward the end: we’ll never know, but we know that Elvis started to get desperate, and used “the Beatles” as something the Prez might actually know about in order to say that he was a “good American”: in other words, a “straight” instead of a “freak.” Which we know now was all nonsense. Elvis knew he’d NEVER fit in to the “America” of the buttoned down and buttoned up, but he wanted, felt he NEEDED this silly badge. Others there felt that the remark about the Beatles sort of unsettled Dick, made him nervous, becuse frankly he was at least smart enought to start to realize that he was being hustled, and so he said “Bud, can we get him something.” Which was done. And it turns out that the badge was never “real,” anyway! They made him some sort of “special consultant”: an honorary nothing title, and Elvis never communicated with those in power after early ’71, when he was trying to gain some appearance of “respectability” because of what he knew was coming. He had a few sources, and he knew and was scared. An addict will dis their own granny, as they say. But in the studio, we see Elvis as he really was: enjoying the stuff the Beatles were doing in the studio, laughing, and generally expressing his respect and enjoyment of their stuff: that they no longer did together.
      I wish he wouldn’t have gone for the sappy ballads {sorry, but Yesterday is just ballad that seemed tailor made for a nightclub treatment: and I do not believe it was about “love” but about the loss of a special time in one’s life. Most songs are “love” songs, but most songs are not really about that. It took Paul a long time to come up with words: the standing title was “scrambled eggs.”
      Elvis loved one song best of all: “I Saw Her Standing There.” And he should have done it!! Just blown the roof off with it. And also realized that while there’s only one Bob Dylan or Kristofferson, that songwriting was not rocket science, and there was no reason: even the suits at HillandRange, who really didn’t want Elvis to write at all {they rather deliberately left his name out of BMI, and if he knew, what better way to discourage a young performer: at Sun, he was doing incredibly creative things, including “My Baby’s Gone,” a total re-write of “I’m Left, You’re Right . . .” or whatever they called it. Elvis scrapped the melody totally, and Scotty picked up a riff from the Delmore Bros., and they were off. It was not “rock ‘n’ roll” or “rockabilly.” It was pure Delta blues. All Kesler contributed was “a leg up” and Elvis did the rest. He was a kid, and learning. The song was sent to radio, and then pulled. Could have been its bluesiness, or it could have been a publishing deal that Arnold Shaw was making with Phillips concerning that song. Doesn’t matter: what matters is that a young talent, a genius actually, was more or less “gagged” from the beginning. Once he got to RCA, he was under what they called “total control.” It’s in the contract. They’d put a pile of demo’s in front of him, and then, well: he had to choose one. Otherwise, a song-plugger would lose a commission. This, because Elvis had no plugger! His name was not even entered. And, in the contract, there’s an absolutely bizarre clause: Elvis would have to forfeit all rights, including performing, everything, if he “researched his own public domain” material. Well, that’s the end of THAT! That is now a young musician BECOMES a writer. Look at Dylan’s early output: without P.D. songs, he would have been a ship without a sail.
      Everybody talks about how Elvis got trashed in Hollywood, then by being stuck in a Vegas rut, and then by too many tour dates . . . but they never talk about the wicked stuff in that contract! We didn’t need another Dylan, or Lennon, or Holly, etc. But, it would have been nice if we had really HEARD from Elvis: what little we HAVE been able to hear, from FTD records, and other sources, shows us not so much what we lost, but what Elvis lost: the chance to really express his own self. It’s not like he didn’t try. It’s a longer story.
      That’s all.

    • Jeff,
      I don’t know how it’s possible that I missed this article entirely until now. However I feel the criticism here is missing a few essential elements. First it is important to know that during his Vegas residency at the Hilton Elvis had already completely fallen prey to the disease of addiction. Many who’ve battled this ailment refer to the word differently -- as a dis-ease. Taking that thought into account one might imagine that Elvis perhaps doesn’t lose interest in the song, but may have through general and overall discomfort, lost interest in performing completely.

      If you read one of the only two books endorsed by Elvis Presley Enterprises and the Elvis Presley Estate, “Me and a Guy Named Elvis”, written by one of his closest confidants Jerry Schilling, you’ll find that during his stay in Vegas, due to the powers who truly controlled the direction of his career he wasn’t happy to be there. And at every turn where he saw hope to regain an interest in what he did he was denied. Schilling speaks specifically of a night that Barbara Streisand came to the show and after, approached him about making a movie together. Not a cheesy Elvis movie, like he’d been locked into by contract previously, but a remake of “A Star is Born”. She wanted him to play Norman Maine, ultimately, the Colonel bullied Elvis into not accepting it. He interfered at every pass, everything from the opening titles to Elvis’ rate. And the role went to Kris Kristofferson, who won a Golden Globe for it.

      Schilling tells a story of Elvis being surrounded by the classic “yes” men, who did whatever he wanted, as long as it served their needs related to this one individual being the brand that resulted in their, very comfortable, livelihoods. Very few of they who truly cared about his health and well being were allowed to be present full time anymore. This was also during the time when his marriage to Priscilla was falling apart.

      To simply say that a man lost interest in the song, when he had “doctors” supplying him with an endless supply of drugs without his having to ask, a manager who cared more about controlling a brand than helping to nurture a man and artist, a marriage that was falling apart, and continuing to play the same venue night in and night out when his heart really lay in touring; is not only unfair, it is unrealistic.

      I am not Elvis Presley, so I cannot speak for him. But I have been touring with bands for almost ten years. Once the road is in your blood, it does not leave. I know many people who’ve tried to walk away from it, and failed. It’s a rush, a natural high, exhilarating, eye opening, terrifying, and wonderful. I know what it feels like to be a part of something that is the most important thing in town for a day, everyday. And let’s face it, no matter how old he got, when Elvis was in town, he was the most important thing happening.

      He met President Richard Nixon by handwriting a letter on a plane to Washington from Los Angeles in the middle of the night, and then driving to the front gates of the White House and hand delivering the note to the guards out front. Within four hours of that encounter he was in the oval office telling the President his men had wives at home and they ought not go home empty handed from the visit. He went to the nation’s capital and requested an audience with the leader of the free world….at the gates, and got it. He was the most important thing happening in that town, that day.

      There is also the issue of this. I’m 26 years old. Elvis died 6 years, 52 days, 13 hours, and 16 minutes before I came into this world. John Lennon died 2 years, 8 months, 1 day, 18 hours, and 31 minutes before my life began. I never got to see the Beatles live, I never got to see Elvis live. Though, through the wonders of having parents with fantastic taste in music, I got to know the music of both very early in life. The byproduct of which being that I really, really, really love the Beatles. And my fandom of them, doesn’t even live in the same stratosphere of how much I love Elvis. I own a copy of the performance of Yesterday you’re referring to here, and I love it. I believe that not only does he do the song justice, but I believe that for someone battling his demons at that time the song tells a story of the beginning of the end. He may very well have noticed that he was no longer in control…of anything. As for “Welcome to My World”, his voice on the recordings from Vegas on that song sounds unwavering, and uninjured by the toll that long term drug abuse-of any form-takes on the vocal chords. It, to me is one of his most soothing recordings.

      I highly recommend Schilling’s book, it’s eloquent, honest, and loving. It is by and large about Elvis the man, and is also one of the only two books that Lisa Marie has ever read about her father. She read Schilling’s and she read her mother’s, she didn’t want to poison her memory of the man she knew by reading accounts of people who were untruthful. Works for me.

      Finally, I always enjoy your articles, and think you paint very clear pictures that I’m certain must recall memories for the they who were there, but also create a narrative for those of us who weren’t.

    • rm

      Hello again,
      Nice to hear from a even younger generation. You will realize sooner than you would think just HOW young 35 is or can be. And that is when he slipped off the rails. His marriage just wasn’t working and he did not understand why. Jusr didn’t. And the atmosphere bac then when I was a child, must have been terrifying to older young people. I was just old enough to remember the Jimi-Janis hysyeria and other events of that year. The administration got busy and got laws rushed through. I learned this much later. Elvis and other people at the time knew it then. He did something wild. I guess he felt under attack in a way. And did MORE dope. Soon he would be doomed.
      I blame NixonAgnew a lot for scaring people like his dad. Only made things worse.
      Thanks for listening.

    • Michael Jarrett

      As silly as it may sound, I tried to reach Elvis in 74 after he’d personally chosen and recorded two songs I’d written back in 71. I was living in Palm Springs at that time and drove to his house while he and his crew were there.. putting a short note in his mailbox telling him who I was and, that the folks he was hanging with weren’t really looking out for his best interest; especially where drugs were concerned. I felt a kinship to him because the songs I’d written that he’d recorded in 71 applied heavily to both our lives at that time ..

      It was hurtful to me and his fans to see him going down hill with his destructive choices and I felt at the time he could use a ‘real friend’. What a naive young man I was back then thinking I could have a positive effect in E’s life just because he’d recorded my two songs .. ? I’m sure he never saw the letter and whoever collected the mail probably put it directly in the “round file” (waste paper basket)

      In regards to the Colonel, it’s well known he had for the most part, control over E’s life.

      Having worked myself with players in the TCB band I can tell you that, the Colonel had absolutely no regard for any of them, to the point where he wouldn’t even acknowledge them with a “hello” .. a total controlling jerkwad, they said.

      In 71, Elvis had asked Joe Esposito to bring me up to his suite after his show at the Hilton that night when my song, “I’m Leavin” was his latest record; so we could meet and get acquainted. Upon reaching the suite, Joe was told by Sonny West that the Colonel said, NO VISITORS!! It was told to us that Elvis was ill and had a high temp. If he was ill, one would have never known; given the performance he gave that night. So, it was total BS and the Colonel just made up that excuse .. a big disappointment for me to be sure .. so close, but yet so far.

      I’ve been a performer for 56 years now, and can tell you first hand that, no one can be on their game for every show and it was no different for Elvis .. what I saw that evening in 71 at the Hilton was, Elvis doing Elvis and apparently enjoying it to the max .. what more could he do at that point in a life that was coming apart at the seams .. so yes, it was “Elvis Presence” perhaps, but, it was Elvis! Just to see this beautiful man up there on stage was enough for me and the rest of the folks that were going crazy during the show.

      Just some thoughts ..

      Thanks for the memories Jeff, I always enjoy and look forward to your pieces. Keep up the good stories..

      Mj

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