One of the many halls in the NY RCA Vault Erik Rasmussen and Roger Semon digging in the NY RCA Vaults
Click on the picture to enlarge
All photos Ger Rijff

HOW I SPENT FOUR DAYS IN THE RCA VAULTS AND LIVED!

By GER RIJFF

"Good news travels fast" sang that mean of Louisiana mutherhumper, The Killer on one of his Elektra albums of a decade ago. I know that as an opener for an Elvis article this line is questionable, but "Have you heard the news, there's good rockin' tonight" has been done to death and, knowing the Editor's taste in music, I'm sure I can get away with it! The good news is, of course, that we - Roger Semon (BMG UK), Ernst Jorgensen (BMG Denmark), Erik Rasmussen (one of the co-authors of 'Recording Sessions') and Yours Truly - visited the RCA vaults in New York last November. By now you've probably read something about this already but I'm sure you won't mind a little more info on the tracks we unearthed in the Big Apple. Sometime last September, Ernst rang and told me plans were underway to visit the vaults with the hope of locating material needed for 'Essential Elvis Vol.3'.

From L. to R. Ernst, Roger, Erik, and Dick Baxter (RCA Engineer who worked with Elvis in the 70's with projects such as Aloha This tape was in a bad shape that it runned off from the reel And much more tapes

For some time I had been making plans to visit photographer AI Wertheimer in New York - so, if the two projects could be combined, then I was in for sure. Several weeks passed and Ernst had set the date for the third week in November. I rang Wertheimer and he told me I was welcome to meet up with him that same week. On Friday afternoon, November 17th, Ernst, Erik and I met up in one of the RCA offices situated on the Avenue of the Americas in New York (Roger would join us a couple of days later). I was introduced as the guy who would be taking pictures of this historic exploration. With a Nikon around my neck and acting my usual cool self, I followed the Danes into the vaults. They had been down there before that morning and nothing of real importance had been discovered.

Ernst Jorgensen holding an ORIGINAL SUN Studio tape with Blue Moon outtakes Keep Digging...

After all, thirty + takes (!!) of 'Do Not Disturb' wasn't the real meat we were after. Three takes of 'Do The Clam' failed to bring a smile to our faces too. But things soon changed when boxes were found with 'Rejects' and 'Working parts' written on them. These boxes contained outtakes to such Elvis classics as 'Down In The Alley', 'Tomorrow Is A Long Time' and 'Indescribably Blue', as well as several rejects from the 'How Great Thou Art' session, including the basic recording of 'Beyond The Reef' without overdubs. (With or without overdubs, in my opinion it's still a forgettable tune due to Charlie Hodge's voice trying to drown out Elvis'!) But things were cookin' now and, if I remember correctly, I was the only one taking the time to grab some of the giant American-style sandwiches brought in by one of the recording engineers. Both Erik and Ernst were far too busy digging through the tapes to even think about such a thing as food. Being the fan I am I did what our hero would've done and grabbed yet another pastrami and pickle sandwich, washing it down with coffee and a coke whilst humming 'What A Wonderful Life'. (Funnily enough, outtakes to this song and all the others from 'Follow That Dream' were found that afternoon.)

I soon joined in the fun of digging through hundreds of dusty tape boxes and in only a couple of hours we'd unearthed a mind-boggling number of outtakes. Amongst what we found were: 'Fountain Of Love' (nine takes), 'Just For Old Time Sake' (four takes), 'Surrender' (nine takes) and 'Kiss Me Quick' (eleven takes). These were soon followed by the complete (or nearly complete) outtakes to 'Memphis, Tennessee' and 'Ask Me', from both the May 1963 and January 1964 sessions, then 'Suspicion', 'Never Ending' (without echo and far more beautiful than the released take) and two of my personal '60s favourites, 'Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello' and 'One Broken Heart For Sale' (with extra verse - as heard in the film - giving it a 2.25 running time). After several hours of searching we went upstairs to play parts of the tapes and Ernst decided which takes should be transferred to digital to be sent to Europe later. In the studio we were assisted by two engineers, Dick Baxter and Chick Crumpecker.

Dick Baxter holding a bad shaped tape

Dick worked with Elvis in the early '70s doing the recording work for the 'Aloha From Hawaii' and Stax projects. Chick's relationship with Elvis goes back as far as 1955. While working as an RCA talent scout he watched The Hillbilly Cat performing as part of The Hank Snow Jamboree in May of that year. And it was Chick who reported back to Steve Sholes - RCA's A&R man at the time - about this kid stealing the show with his unusual performance. He met up with Elvis again in November at the country music disc jockey convention in Nashville to talk future business. That same month Elvis signed with RCA and Sholes took all the credit for making the deal. Chick had played a part in getting things rolling but in the end it was Steve Sholes who took all the credit. Chick remembers him as a guy with an ego the size of his pants. Sholes weighed 260 pounds at the time... I'm hoping to do an in-depth interview with Chick and Dick in the near future as both have some great stories to tell.

Ger Rijff and Wertheimer after signing the contract Ger Rijff studies the photocontact sheets in Wertheimer N.Y. office

Days two and three (Saturday and Sunday) I spent with AI Wertheimer, going through his collection of 4,000 Elvis photographs and picking the ones needed for my next book scheduled for this fall. The biggest kick came when we discovered the colour material AI made of Elvis in Rich mond, Virginia in 1956 both on and off stage. These incredible shots had been stored away in boxes since 1956 and AI was just as surprised to see them as I was as he couldn't even remember taking them! Monday we were back in the vaults and Roger Semon - who'd arrived over the weekend - joined in our search for 'gold'! And gold we struck during the next couple of days when more outtakes were found. These included beautiful versions of material recorded in the late '60s such as 'Singing Tree', 'Goin' Home', a ballad version of 'Stay Away' and a longer, more loose take of 'Big Boss Man'. And, for all you Vegas addicts, the complete opening show from July 31st 1969!

Original Radio Recorders Tape from 1957 Another Original Radio Recorders Tape from 1957

Finally we also located several outtakes to the 'King Creole' material needed to complete the 'Essential Elvis Vol.3' project. A lot was found during this short expedition but at the same time a lot of material failed to surface - Sun recordings included. But there's still hope. A second trip to the States is planned and this time the tape vaults at RCA in Indianapolis will be explored for unreleased recordings. There's a very good chance both '50s and '70s outtakes are stored there. For the time being, though, enough gems have been found to make 1990 one really exciting year. It's not up to me to be handing out details of forthcoming RCA projects - Roger and Ernst will tell all when they feel the time is right. Both guys are up to their necks in work (and it's not only Elvis at RCA/BMG, remember!) so I ask you please do not ring them up asking for more info on what you've just read. And don't phone the guys at 'Elvis - The Man And His Music' either, they have enough on their plates! For the moment we have the prospect of 'Essential Elvis Vol.3', which should be available shortly . This is only the beginning of a long line of exciting European releases scheduled for 1990/91.

(With special thanks to Don Wardell for allowing us to dig through the vaults, Bruce "the vaultkeeper" for assisting us downstairs and Dick and Chick for their help and great stories upstairs.)

(published in TMAHM 1990)