CANCELLED: THE REQUEST BOX
This double CD set is the second release by the Southern Comfort / Audionics team and features audience recordings of two complete shows, along with other performances from this short August season in 1975. In all, there were five shows performed over three nights, before the engagement was cancelled without notice, due to Elvis’ immediate hospitalization from an indeterminate cause.
This particular season was unusual, as concert-goers were invited to submit requests in advance which would be drawn out of a ‘request box’ during the actual shows. This resulted in rare live performances of songs like Loving You, Crying In The Chapel and Young And Beautiful, which together with a differently ordered set-list, made these shows refreshingly different from his usual routine.
It is issued with a sixteen page booklet which predominantly features two extensive essays. The first is written by a fan who travelled to Las Vegas with the ‘Official Fan Club Of Great Britain’ especially for this August engagement, but ended up visiting the Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, which was where Elvis was taken after the season was cancelled. Although he didn’t manage to see Elvis, the fan club were later offered souvenir menus, foam hats and ‘Elvis Now’ pens by Col. Parker as consolation for their abortive trip.
The second offers a retrospective look at Elvis’ career during the 1970’s and suggests that the concept of a ‘request box’ was introduced during his Asheville shows in July. It goes on to say that ‘en route’ to Vegas, his plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Dallas as he was having breathing difficulties. It seems his stamina was extraordinarily low and following cancellation of this engagement, the missed shows were rescheduled for his first ever December Las Vegas appearance.
The sound quality of every show featured here is better than all earlier releases of this material. In each case the recordings are clearer, with levels boosted to provide more punch and noise reduction applied to minimise the hiss. The result is a subtle but definite improvement, offering the best representation of these shows to date, which in turn makes them far more enjoyable to listen to.
Disc One: 20th August Dinner Show.
This show was previously released under the title, ‘Elvis By Request’ in very clear sound for an audience recording. It was recorded in stereo and starts during the opening preamble, leading to See See Rider with Elvis sounding fresh and energetic. After this he sings, “Well, well….well what?” before launching into I Got a Woman, which ends with an extended five verse Amen chorus where he encourages those present to sing along.
After welcoming the audience he asks, “Whose is the yellow hound dog out here? When he discovers it belongs to a little boy, he says, “Bring him back man and let me give him a scarf and I’ll do Hound Dog ok?” Glen Hardin starts by repeatedly playing the opening chord to establish the key, which leads to a good humoured ‘throwaway’ version.
He then advises the audience that his show will include requests for songs submitted earlier, starting with It’s Now Or Never.” However before he starts singing, he asks Charlie Hodge for some water, adding, “’Remind me to drink water Charlie, ‘cos I got hoarse just now and I sound like J.D. out here.” This results in a good performance, although he hams it up by adopting a deep croaking voice in the build-up to the final chorus, before a great vocal reach on the ending.
After announcing Are You Lonesome Tonight as the next song, he asks for a stool to be brought out for him before deciding to sing And I Love You So instead. This proves to be a great version with effective orchestration and superb backing from Kathy Westmoreland. It’s followed by a spirited performance of Blue Suede Shoes with occasional missed lyrics.
After this he says, “Let’s go back to the request box for a second….Green Green Grass Of Home….someone keeps putting that in.” This results in another excellent performance where he ad-libs ‘fell out’ instead of ‘stepped out of the train and follows with a tender and genuinely moving recitation. He then calls out, “Fairytale…how’s that thing go?” This has him ad-libbing ‘I’ve been hurting for so long’ and turns out to be another strong vocal performance which he extends by shouting out to the band to ‘carry on’ for another chorus.
Softly As I Need You is next, which includes a spoken introduction to give a context to the poignant lyric. However he can’t resist joking during the sombre story saying, “She laid down beside the chair…and he was dead,” resulting in widespread laughter and applause. After recovering his poise, a compelling and emotional version ensues, which ends with him remarking, “Boy, that’s a tough song y’know.”
At this point, he introduces the members of his group saying, “We’ve still got a lot of the show left to go yet…at least another five minutes.” This is followed by the band solos, where Elvis leaves the stage and returns after Jerry Scheff’s solo with the comment, “Thank you Jerry…don’t ask where I went.” It proves to be a good humoured occasion with no edit after John Wilkinson’s introduction as on the earlier release of this show.
A great version of T-r-o-u-b-l-e is sung next, followed by Why Me Lord, which features numerous attempts to upstage J.D. Sumner with various joking asides. Afterwards he says, “We have a lot of requests up here to do Until It’s Time For You To Go.” This results in another fine performance and includes the ad-lib, ‘I’m just a man, take my scarf.’ Towards the end he asks, “What did I stand up for?” indicating he was sitting down for this performance.
Burning Love follows this and proves to be a great version with an extended play-out lasting almost a minute. After this the audience call out repeatedly with suggestions for the next song, which include several requests for Heartbreak Hotel. Elvis eventually replies saying, “Yes, just a minute…let me get my breath back,” adding “Have you seen my breath over here?...It went back that way.”
In the event, it all proves too much for him and he calls out, “Take it home,” as the cue for Can’t Help Falling In Love, which tellingly has no vocal reach on the ending. The recording ends during the closing vamp, which runs longer here than on the earlier release of this show. In retrospect, it still seems surprising that this was the penultimate show before the engagement was cancelled, as he sounds to be in an excellent mood, inspired and in great form.
19th August Midnight Show.
All the tracks included here were previously issued as the first half of ‘The Request Box Shows’ CD, which also featured the Righteous Brothers introduction from later in the show. The complete show was later issued under the title, ‘Fast Movin,’ which was taken from a different source where the sound was a bit overloaded and ran slightly slow. Although the sound balance on this recording is much better, some of the dialogue is still easier to make out on the Fast Movin CD.
Once again, this recording misses the 2001 introduction and begins during the opening vamp before Elvis enters the stage for See See Rider. Afterwards, he greets the audience saying, “You’ll never guess where I was when the intro came on…you’re talkin’ about some fast movin’....I’m in the bathroom!” He then proceeds to recount his recent attendance at a football game, where a lady approached the friend he was with and expressed surprise that he was in the bathroom, with the comment, ‘I didn’t think he did that.’
After the laughter has subsided, he launches straight into Blue Suede Shoes, which is quickly followed by an impromptu Young And Beautiful, where he has problems remembering the words. His band are also unfamiliar with the song and when they end it rather hesitantly, he remarks, “Listen to ‘em, they don’t know the song either.” Afterwards there is an amusing moment when a female fan shouts out, ‘What are you doing after the show?’ adding, ‘I’ve got about ten people lined up.’
At this point Charlie is asked to bring out a stool so he can sing Are You Lonesome Tonight, which goes on to feature his old joke, ‘Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair.’ The spoken recitation starts out seriously enough, but soon falls apart due to several joking asides with Elvis commenting, “I’ll be relieved when it’s over.” Afterwards he thanks Charlie for the song, adding, “Always sing that song for you Charlie.”
He continues with a good version of If You Love Me Let Me Know, before introducing the audience to the concept of the ‘request box. A request for Softly As I Leave You is then announced, to the evident delight of a female fan close to the tape recorder, who appears to swoon at this news. This results in an emotional and dramatic performance, which is immediately followed by a great version of It’s Now Or Never.
Polk Salad Annie is performed next, where his enthusiasm is evident from his shouts of encouragement throughout. Soon afterwards the recording fades out, before resuming for My Boy which was another request, performed later in the show. This has a great orchestrated arrangement, which results in a compelling and powerful performance, with Elvis ad-libbing, “This is no happy song, but God knows how I’ve tried.”
Unfortunately there is no room on the CD to include more selections from this show, which is a shame as there are other interesting moments later on. These include a performance of Hound Dog containing a burst of Are You Sincere and Can’t Help Falling In Love, which has an unusual false start where he asks his band to slow it down adding, “It’s not a rock ‘n roll song.” Nevertheless, most of the highlights are included here in the best quality to date.
Disc Two: 19th August Dinner Show
This recording was previously issued under the title, ‘Loving You,’ but the sound here is clearer with no sign of the tape speed problems evident on the earlier release. As before, it starts with the full 2001 introduction, with Elvis sounding a bit short of breath during See See Rider. Afterwards there is some amusing banter during which he gives away a chain from his jumpsuit that broke off in his exertions on the opening song.
I Got A Woman follows, with an extended Amen chorus where J.D.’s vocal slide is allowed to trail off without comment before he finishes the song. He then spends several minutes attending to his ringside fans and goes on to explain that tonight’s songs will be determined at random from the suggestions included in a ‘request box.’
Blue Suede Shoes is the first selection, which although short, is sung with focus and commitment. If You Love Me Let Me Know follows this, before a request is drawn for It’s Now Or Never, resulting in another great version. He then suggests My Boy as the next song, which also receives a good performance, where he laughs and ad-libs, “I’ll stay here and watch it snow.”
Love Me is performed next, with intermittent laughter and clapping throughout. Afterwards there is a pause before he says, “Let’s see...Loving You,” which is greeted with enthusiastic applause. His unfamiliarity with the song has him ad-libbing, “I will never know…all the rest of the words so I’ll make it up” and “That’s another…line I know,” before he la la’s an improvised ending. It’s a real treat and a true highlight of this show.
The next request takes him by surprise as he exclaims, “God almighty, it says Suspicious Minds.” It features the ad-libs, “Oh dry the sweat / tears from your eyes” and “I hope I get the ending right this time,” but despite these distractions proves to be a good performance. After this, he introduces his father to the audience, which is new to this release, as the sound on the earlier title faded out half way through Suspicious Minds and missed this part.
During the band introductions he jokingly sings a line from Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away after learning that the Sweet Inspirations have been with him for six years and introduces John Wilkinson saying, “I’ve known John for a long time now but I’ve never figured this boy out.” Johnnie B. Goode and the band solos are next, which include a blistering rendition of Hail Hail Rock And Roll during the orchestra solo spot. Elvis evidently enjoyed their performance as he repeatedly calls out to them to keep it going. When they don’t hear him he asks them to play it again.
Finally Neil Sedaka is introduced before he continues with T-r-o-u-b-l-e as his latest record. This receives an enthusiastic workout and is followed by Why Me Lord which has fewer joking asides than usual. This is followed by a powerful performance of How Great Thou Art, resulting in an extended ovation and an exuberant version of Let Me Be There.
At this point, someone in the audience shouts out a request for Crying In The Chapel which he acknowledges saying, “A lot of these songs we haven’t rehearsed whatsoever, so I’ll wing it.” His efforts are rewarded with a further burst of applause, which has him ad-libbing, “We’ll try and we’ll try, whatever the words are…” as he struggles to remember them. Ad-libs aside, it’s a delightful performance. After this, he closes the show with Can’t Help Falling In Love and the recording ends during the closing vamp.
20th August Closing Show
This show was previously released in its entirety under the title ‘Top Acts Vol 2’. Only the opening song from this show is included here, which is unusual as it consists of an extended version of See See Rider with a couple of verses of That’s Alright thrown in for good measure. It has Elvis ad-libbing, “What am I going to do? You don’t know…nor do I” as he ploughs on regardless and includes two guitar solos from James Burton before he brings it to a close.
Once again, this track represents an improvement on the earlier release, as it now runs at the correct speed with far less hiss. Moreover, it appears to be the most interesting feature of this closing show, which despite having the Carpenters in attendance includes no other rare or unusual performances. In fact it seems a rushed affair compared to the other shows featured here, bearing out that by this point his health had deteriorated further. Sadly he was hospitalised the next day.
This is a fantastic, much needed upgrade of some truly different and inspired shows. There is no doubt that this season was one of the most interesting he ever gave for its rare performances and random set-lists, which in my opinion makes this an essential release for everyone who appreciates live shows. Only one thing left to say…get it while you can!
SOUND RATING **½
Reviewed by Mike Sanders (UK)