The start of the new decade found Elvis in the midst of reaping the
benefits of his spectacular December '68 TV Special and dynamic studio
sessions at American Studios in Memphis. He'd also returned to the concert
stage with a more mature but still exciting stage show, featuring great
musicians like James Burton on lead guitar, Glen D. Hardin tickling the
ivories and Ronnie Tutt pounding drums.
For the Elvis fan, the "import" releases in the past year of several rhythm
band-only rehearsals prior to his August'70 Vegas gig has been both a
revelation and reason to celebrate. For those who want to know about
Presley's musicianship, goofy humour and ability to lead and interact with
a band, it's all here. And now, thanks to the people who run Fort Baxter
(anyone there named Doberman?), the best of these July practices is
available: July 24, 1970 at RCA Studios in Hollywood, CA.
Unlike the July 16 or 29th rehearsals held on MGM's sound stage in Culver
City, this was obviously a much more serious undertaking by Presley and his
core band. The RCA studio is the same one the 1960 "G.I. Blues" soundtrack
was recorded at, and would later yield "Burning Love" in '72 and the entire
'Elvis Today' album in 1975. Long-time engineer Al Pachucki handled this
session, which might explain why the stereo mix is superb (perhaps
Pachucki's MGM counterparts didn't understand what needles going into the
red on recording equipment meant, or didn't care; in any case, this is the
only July rehearsal that sounds awesome).
The songs here are performed as if they are doing "the set"; it's easy to
imagine that, whereas the other daytime rehearsals were for the documentary
cameras, this evening at RCA (without anyone filming it) was for Elvis to
take home and listen to. His singing, for the most part, is much more
focused; this is Presley the artist, deciding what will and won't work in
The first volume of the night's work comprises 15 tunes, done in an order
not dissimilar to what his show would be like in August. The disc begins
with a bang with Ronnie Tutt's snare hitting the intro to "That's All
Right" in much the same way one can hear it in the "That's The Way It Is"
film. Elvis fills in the backing vocals of the call and response chorus
himself. "I've Lost You" reveals El's on-the-spot arranging ("the moment
love grows cold ... a little heavier"), while the reprise of "Don't Cry
Daddy" (first heard on Captain Marvel Jr's 'Good Times Never Seemed So
Good' last year as a bonus track) displays Presley's somewhat
less-impressive, on-the-spot lyric-changing ability ("together we'll put
you on a bomber ... ").
When not fooling around, one notices the grace with which Elvis delivers
"You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" (note the "there's no welcome look in
your eyes" lyric, not done in concert) or "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
There's an appealing, weary edge to his voice; "I've Lost You" gains from
this cracking quality, and the absence of strings and a dozen other
vocalists only enhances its strangely attractive, melancholy chorus. The
nicest surprise of Volume One is a super-cool, understated version of "Just
Pretend"; this gospel-informed ballad, one of the best from his June'70
Nashville recording session, gets more of a bluesy treatment here and is a
fine way to end the rehearsal.
Actually, it ends with a bathroom break request from drummer Tutt, which
Elvis charmingly denotes with a bastardized line from Joe South's "Don't It
Make You Wanna Go Home." When they got back from break, even more
interesting things happened. But that's a story for Volume Two!
Sound rate **** 1/2