"What a funky, funky studio."- Elvis Presley, entering American Sound Studios on Monday, January 13, 1969
A few years back I picked up a wonderful book on the musicians who made up the house band at American Sound Studio in Memphis. These creative, talented gentlemen recorded more than 100 chart hits between 1967 and 1972, supporting artists like Joe Tex
, B.J. Thomas
, Bobby Womack
, Dusty Springfield
, the Box Top
s and Neil Diamond
. Christened Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios
, author Roben Jones
's study remains a superb read for anyone partial to their work, and of course especially for all Elvis fans who absolutely adore the music he created back in 1969. Today, most acknowledge these are the final, truly great sessions of Presley's career, produced by American Sound owner, Lincoln "Chips" Moman
.With Chips Moman - American Sound, Monday, January 13, 1969Photographer: Dan Penn, using his Polaroid camera
Revisiting the book for the tasty Elvis bits, I was again reminded of how Chips' forthright production style and broad vision, coupled with Presley's zeal and sheer talent, delivered some of the greatest numbers of his career, from "Suspicious Minds" to "Kentucky Rain," "In The Ghetto," "Don't Cry Daddy," "You'll Think of Me," "Stranger In My Own Home Town," "Any Day Now," "Long Black Limousine," "Only The Strong Survive," and so many more.With Roy Hamilton - American Sound Studios, Monday, January 13, 1969Photographer: Dan Penn, using his Polaroid camera
A compelling aspect of these Memphis recordings that Roben draws attention to are the recurring themes of pain, death, sorrow, and loneliness, and how they elicit some of Elvis' most emotional vocals ever. Certainly, the unexpected loss of his mother in 1958 is deeply felt in at least three stunning numbers. The regret over the abandonment of his artistry, starting during his army exile and growing far worse upon his release, when he attached his star to cheap Hollywood musicals, colors several other songs. Taking the author's idea further, Presley had recently watched people who'd touched his life pass away, from cousin Bobby Smith
to Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips
, actor Nick Adams
, and RCA executive Steve Sholes
. For example, Sholes was the one who signed him to the label when he was just a twenty year-old indie sensation. And of course he'd become a father only eleven months earlier. All of these events, on some level, went into the remarkable, caring studio recordings of 1969, and certainly influenced a good deal of the material selected for recording in January and February.Billboard ad, circa April 1969
Below is an all-too-brief, poor-quality clip of home movie footage taken by bass player, writer and producer Tommy Cogbill
on the first evening at American Sound. Look for for R&B singer Roy Hamilton
, who was recording during the day, and house drummer Gene Chrisman
. Where is the original Super8 footage today? And how much was filmed? Someone must know.
Below is a peek at Jones' wonderful research into these Presley sessions, in a terrific chapter called "From a Jack to a King." In particular, her prose not only reinforces that it was a crazy, magical time but also confirms Presley friend Marty Lacker
convinced the singer to shun a scheduled Nashville date and try Memphis instead. We learn the core musicians like Cogbill, Reggie Young
, Bobby Emmons
, Mike Leech
and even arranger Glen Spreen
were blasé when learning of the booking, then thrilled to meet Elvis when he made his entrance, resplendent in a exceptional blue leather jacket, on the first night. On the other hand, most of the Presley entourage tagging along failed to impress any of them. The "Memphis Boys" also make no bones about who was in charge despite the presence of RCA executives, a subject that has strangely been a source of recent debate on this forum.With Bobby Wood, Mike Leech, Tommy Cogbill, Gene Chrisman, Bobby Emmons, Reggie Young - American Sound, Monday, January 13, 1969Photographer: (possibly) Marty Lacker, using Dan Penn's Polaroid camera.
Reggie Young … knew Felton [Jarvis] to be a cheerful type … "I just sensed that whatever Elvis wanted, Felton would see that he got it," Reggie observed. "He didn't want any waves at all."
"From a distance he [Jarvis] hit me as just the typical staff producer of a big record company, he was just there to do his job," said Bobby Emmons. "He was a reinforcement," said Glen Spreen.
"I remember Felton sitting there and carrying on insane conversations with people who did not matter, and that inhibits your creativity," Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns noted sourly.
"Moman had more, what would it be, constructive criticism," mused Reggie Young. "He'd say, 'You were a little flat there.' I don't believe Felton would ever have said that … I remember Moman told [Elvis] he could resing a certain phrase because his pitch was off."
"If the take was good then Felton would say 'That's great, Elvis. Come on in and listen,' "If the take was not acceptable then Felton would say 'That's good, Elvis. Come on in and listen,' observed Glen Spreen.
"[Felton] about freaked when Chips told Elvis that he was a little pitchy. He seemed afraid to say anything to Elvis that might bring him down. That was not the way we worked" … said Bobby Wood.
Pick up a copy, it's just as good all the way through, not just the parts on Elvis:http://upress-test.hpc.msstate.edu/books/1429http://www.amazon.com/Memphis-Boys-Story-American-Studios/dp/1604734019
Prior to the book, Chips gave a 2001 interview to Allen
, a Georgia music blogger, where he recalled Elvis' desire to take these gifted men on the road with him that year, something they had never agreed to with any act but were ready to make an exception for Presley. But it was an idea that must have made Presley management just about swallow their cigar. Moman details the low bid given him and the American house band, clearly meant to brush them off instead of fulfilling Presley's wishes. What a shame.
Plus, Chips makes clear he and Elvis got along just fine:
You guys were supposed to be the touring band behind Elvis when he did his Las Vegas tour?
People talked about it but that never came about because we couldn't afford the cut in pay! None of us could go for what they paid.It was interesting on those [American] sessions that Elvis wasn't used to people telling him that he could do better. He was used to having the whole thing done and he just sings over it.
Well, he and I didn't have any problem recording. More of the problems came from the entourage around him. Whenever I got ready to talk to him about how he was singing a song or something I would turn all the monitors off and I would walk out into the room and go into the booth with him personally and just stand there and talk with him. And it was no problem. I think it would have been a problem had you been on a talkback trying to tell him things or help him because it would be an embarrassment to him with that entourage around you know. So it was handled a little bit differently than I did other sessions but not very much different.GeorgiaMusicA blog about Georgia music and all things Georgiahttp://www.georgiamusic.info/2008/11/lagrange-native-chips-moman-talks-about.html
Below is a super-cool, full-page ad that Chips
placed in Billboard
in May 1971. The studio was still going strong, and the Thomas Street Band
(love that name) right there with him. A second studio was getting up to speed on the east side of town, and Tommy Cogbill
had set up a new subsidiary label, Trump Records, along with Chip's new Entrance Records. Note, too, that Elvis friend Marty Lacker
was still part of the management team, listed as a VP and general manager. Billboard - May 22, 1971
If only Presley had done a session at American Sound back then, perhaps the next few years would have been different. As it is, the American Sound experience would wrap up within a year's time, for a number of reasons. Nothing lasts forever.
For those who really haven't fully heard what happened with Chips, Elvis and this damn fine band, in 2012 and 2013 the Follow That Dream collector's label released what may be warmly referred to as "the Memphis American Trilogy," three gorgeous collections of everything of value that Presley taped, and then some, in deluxe, "classic album" editions. Sporting stunning audio, insightful notes and many carefully-considered outtakes, these double CD sets are now the gold standard for this landmark moment in Elvis' career, and highly recommended.December 2012http://home.online.no/~ov-egela/backinmemphisftd.htmlApril 2013http://home.online.no/~ov-egela/fromelvisinmemphisftd.htmlNovember 2013http://home.online.no/~ov-egela/fromelvisatamericansoundstudios.html
In fact, I listened to all three of them today, about seven and a half hours of Elvis Presley at the pinnacle of his return to relevance as a serious artist. It felt good, man. Real good. Besides having every Memphis master in impeccable quality, the unissued stereo outtakes are filled with surprises, good humor, energy, camaraderie, and alternate performances so fine they could easily have been pressed on vinyl back in 1969. And through it all you hear the voice of Chips Moman, directing the team, from the quarterback (Elvis) to the front line (Reggie Young, Mike Leech, Tommy Cogbill, Bobby Wood, Gene Chrisman). Moman sometimes halts seemingly pristine rundowns without a word, and no one complains. Everyone knows he has a plan, a vision, to deliver the finest hit recordings possible. There are plenty of examples heard throughout the "Memphis American Trilogy" which makes everything so compelling for a serious fan. Just pop in CD2 of the fabulous Back In Memphis
FTD, and listen to between-take repartee from both producer and singer:
Chips: Take it from the top. And Bobby, uh, don't, don't play real busy like that on the piano, I don't think that's gonna work out.
- after a stunning rehearsal of "A Little Bit of Green"
Chips: You have one more in you?
- after a superb, passionate take 7 of "Suspicious Minds," which followed a kick-ass take 6 ... in fact, take 8 turned out better than both, and became the #1 single release ... this is how you make a CLASSIC recording
BONUS MOMAN TRACKS(1)
Elvis sings: Listen easy ... (band pauses) … you can hear Chips calling.
Chips: Still rolling.
- before the elegant master take 6 of "And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind"
Enjoy this excellent piece on Chips from the Memphis Commercial Appeal
. It recounts his beginnings, why he left Memphis in the early 1970s, and projects he was involved in after that.Chips Moman: the missing man of Memphis music
Bob Mehr, Memphis Commercial Appeal
- Sunday, July 13, 2008http://www.commercialappeal.com/entertainment/unsung-chips-moman(2)
This blog posting shines a bright light on an early single B-side Moman wrote, played guitar on and produced for the Triumphs
. It's called "Raw Dough," and reveals a lot about how Chips helped found the Stax label (and don't pass up parts two and three):the "B" side: The Triumphs - Raw Dough (Volt 100)http://redkelly.blogspot.com/2008/01/triumphs-raw-dough-volt-100.html(3)
Chips and his crew were finally honored in Memphis for their achievement this past August:Hitmaker Chips Moman, 'Memphis Boys' recognized with historical marker
Bob Mehr, Memphis Commercial Appeal
- Wednesday, August 13, 2014http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/local-news/hitmaker-chips-moman-memphis-boys-recognized-with-historical-marker_33805703Photo: Andrew ParsonsThank you always, Lincoln Wayne "Chips" Moman.
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Last edited by drjohncarpenter on Fri Jan 06, 2017 5:16 am, edited 8 times in total.