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Elvis rocks Little Rock

Bilko CD 1589 (Released 1989)

Heartbreak hotel
Long tall Sally
I was the one
Money honey
I got a woman
Blue suede shoes
Hound dog (fast version)
Hound dog (slow version)
The Little Rock Intervieuw
(Recorded live, Little Rock, May 16, 1956)

This isn't just a cool, rare album, this is the sound of walls coming down, the changing of the guard, the beginning of a new age.

Of all the available live 1950's Elvis performances, this must be considered the best. The only other complete shows available are from his Tupelo benefit gigs of September 25, 1956 (see "Elvis - A Golden Celebration"), and as great as they are, the sound is shrill and harsh. The quality on this disc is amazing, considering it probably consists of a single microphone pointed at the PA system. Elvis' vocals and stage comments are clear as a bell, Scotty Moore's guitar roars, the Jordanaires harmonize and the rhythm section rocks! This escape, uh, release cannot be underestimated. Anyone who digs Elvis Presley, early rock and roll, American pop culture or US history must have this.

This "late show" was taped May 16, 1956 by a local Arkansas dj at the Robinson Memorial Auditorium in Little Rock, Arkansas, following a backstage chat with Elvis (this interview also survived and is included as well). We are all fortunate that he was able to record this (guess the Colonel was out front selling Elvis balloons). Can anybody tell me how this lay undiscovered for THIRTY-THREE years? The entire seven song set is, for the most part, complete ("I Was The One" is missing its ending) and it's in your face music. Elvis is in incredible form -- this is unlike anything ever seen or heard before -- the crowd goes insane from the get-go and Elvis rides the frenzy like the pro he was (with almost one year and 10 months of live appearances under his belt).

Elvis subtly acknowledges the racist accusations regarding the rock'n'roll "fad", introducing a dynamic "Long Tall Sally" ("this next song here is real hot around the nation and some parts of Africa"), he changes song lyrics, eeriely, just like he would in the seventies ("I Was The One": " ... who learned a lesson when she broke my leg ...", "Blue Suede Shoes": "You can burn my wife, steal my car ... "), he indulges in pre-song interplay with bassist Bill Black on "I Got A Woman" (much like he would with James Burton's guitar later on) and just has a ball. Someone asks for Roy Orbison's "Ooby Dooby", released on Sun Records, to which Elvis replies they don't know, but wish they did.

Unlike the Las Vegas show from about a week before (as heard on "Elvis Aron Presley"), there is no tentativeness; this is the first and maybe greatest rock and roll band strutting their talents. You can hear Bill Black's whoops and hollers all over the place (think about the April Milton Berle tv spot), Elvis laughing all the way. Scotty Moore defines rock and roll lead guitar with blistering solos -- "Money Honey" is metallic! On "I Got A Woman" Scotty's lead is aggressive beyond belief -- the audience goes bananas! The set closes with "Hound Dog", still almost two months shy of a definitive studio treatment. Here the band is closely following the Freddie & the Bellboys arrangement, which they picked up during their Vegas visit. Elvis' vocal is surprisingly husky, much closer to Big Mama Thornton's original than anything else, especially obvious on the slow blues reprise of the tune. He slays the audience.

The bonus pre-show interview again shows the polite and honest young man who seemed such a contradiction to the "wild" on stage singer. He mentions that Kim Novak is his favorite actress (remember, he wouldn't meet Ann-Margaret for seven years) and states quite definitively where his "unique" style came from: "I was a pretty close follower of religious quartets, that's where I got the idea from".

This disc is now available on many other issues, although the Bilko original has the nicest cover, a send up of "Life" magazine. But you must have this material. It is undeniably essential Elvis.

Reviewed byJohnny Savage, USA

Sound rating *** 1/2