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,” as opposed to the “Tupelo Mississippi Flash,” 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.
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 such 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 guitarist James Burton.