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The Man Who Intoduced The Colonel To Elvis

Fri Jun 20, 2003 12:23 am

The following is from Billboard and sheds a new (to me) light on the accepted early days of Elvis and the Colonel.

Aberbach Recalls Presley Dealings With Fondness


Dateline: New York

The resurgent interest in all things Elvis Presley coinciding with the 25th anniversary of his death held special significance for Julian J. Aberbach, who founded the estimable Hill and Range music publishing company, subsequently called the Aberbach Group of Music Publishing Companies.

Now age 93, the publishing legend vividly recalls how in 1956 he contracted with Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, who also owned the label's Knox and HiLo music publishing companies, to transfer all of the songs that Presley recorded for Sun to the Aberbach Group.

The same year, Aberbach engineered the transfer of Sun's contract to RCA Records for $40,000, as well as the contract making Colonel Tom Parker Presley's manager, giving him 25% of all Presley's income for the duration of his contract between Presley and RCA.

But Aberbach also organized two music publishing companies, Elvis Presley Music and Gladys Music (named after Presley's mother), with Presley owning half of both companies and Aberbach and his late brother and partner, Jean Aberbach, splitting the other half.

"I gave Elvis a check for $2,500, an advance against royalties of his stock ownership, and he promptly went to the Cadillac dealer and got a pink one—his first," says Aberbach, a native of Austria who served in the U.S. army during World War II and who launched Hill and Range with his brother in 1943 with an emphasis on country music.

The Aberbachs then enlisted their cousin Freddy Bienstock, then a Chappell & Co. song plugger (and its future chairman prior to its acquisition by Warner Communications). "Within two years [of Presley's signing to RCA], Elvis had a standing order of 1 million records per release," says Aberbach, who lauds Parker's and RCA's promotional efforts. "But it was the songs that made Elvis the King, and we now had to organize a steady flow of songs. With Freddy's help, we got approximately 15 of the most talented songwriter teams to write for him—and Freddy presented the songs to Elvis, who made the ultimate choice."

The rest, of course, is history—which might not have transpired had Aberbach not convinced RCA country music recording manager Steve Sholes to come up with the $40,000 needed to sign Presley.

Aberbach already had a relationship with Sholes, having signed future Country Music Hall of Famer Hank Snow to an exclusive songwriter's contract out of the Aberbach Group's Los Angeles office, then getting Sholes to record him in the U.S.—as Canadian Snow was already an RCA artist at home. Snow then cut "I'm Movin' On," which brought him overnight country music stardom domestically in 1950.

In 1955, Snow told Aberbach of a young singer whom he had recently picked up for his road show. "He was a young man who worked without a cowboy outfit, with black pants and a white shirt, and once onstage, the girls would not let him off," Aberbach recounts. "I asked for his name, and Hank told me it was Elvis Presley."

Aberbach flew to Shreveport, La., where Presley was starring on the landmark Louisiana Hayride, "but I found out there was no way I could do any business with him because he had the contract with Sun—and Knox and HiLo furnished all the songs for his sessions. But Bob Neal—a Memphis disc jockey who managed Elvis' personal appearances—explained to me that Elvis, although popular, was strictly a regional artist who needed better bookings. I knew that Colonel Tom Parker was no longer managing Eddie Arnold, and Bob had no objection to me explaining the situation to Parker."

Aberbach persuaded Parker to meet the Presleys. "Simultaneously, I started talking to Steve Sholes, who would be my most important contact if a deal could be arranged," Aberbach continues. "Steve knew everything about Elvis and that his Sun contract was on the market for $40,000—at the time a very large sum. It was an open secret that [Atlantic Records founder] Ahmet Ertegun was very much interested but did not have the money, and that [Columbia A&R head] Mitch Miller was also interested but felt that $40,000 was way too much for a local artist."

Aberbach's only hope for his own deal was for Sholes to get the money from RCA to make the deal with Sun.

"Being married with a family, he wasn't inclined to take any big chances," Aberbach notes of Sholes. "He knew very well that if he would ask for $40,000 and not be successful with Elvis, it could cost him his job. On the other hand, he knew full well that if he should be successful with Elvis, he could realize his dream of being recording manager in charge of all the RCA recording divisions."

It took Aberbach one year to get Sholes to make the move. Looking back now, Aberbach—who still retains his 25% share of the Presley publishing companies (his brother's share remains with his widow, while Lisa Marie Presley owns her father's 50%)—notes that when Presley died, his estate was a mess.

"Colonel Parker wanted to sell us Elvis' share in the two music publishing companies for $1,500,000," Aberbach says. "At that point I talked to Priscilla, who had the great idea not to sell Graceland but to make a museum out of it, and I told her never to sell the music publishing companies, as they would constitute an annuity for the family for a very long time."

Presley's widow wisely followed Aberbach's advice.

From Billboard October 5 2002

Fri Jun 20, 2003 8:27 am


Fri Jun 20, 2003 9:43 am

He's a part of the first Guralnick bio. But this article does seem to imply his input on things Elvis lasted into the 1980s, which I doubt.

Fri Jun 20, 2003 10:15 am

Good article except for the comment about the songs making Elvis. It was Elvis' performances that made him both on records. Hill and Range did an ok job of bringing ins songs for Elvis but not a great one. Three of Elvis' biggest songs from his first year-"Heartbreak Hotel", "Hound Dog" and "Love Me Tender"- had no connection to Hill and Range's stable of writers. "Heartbreak" was a song that had been written by some friends and Elvis (with amazing foresight) brought the song to his first RCA session. "Hound Dog" of course was a three-year old R&B song. It established Elvis' relationship with Leiber and Stoller. Something Hill and Range or even L&S might never have pursued on their own. "Love Me Tender" was written by a movie studio musician.

H&R though did contribute Otis Blackwell so they are entitled to brag a bit.