Joe Russo's Elvis....Straight Up !


'' It's All in the Mix ''


In my last column, I sang the praises of The FTD ( Follow That Dream ) Collector's label. To be sure, it is an Elvis music collectors' " dream " come true. How many of us can recall the days of vinyl "bootlegs" with titles like A DOG'S LIFE, NEW YEARS ROCKIN' EVE, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS and THE LAST FAREWELL?

In those days, I recall the fans ranting that bootleggers were having to take matters into their own hands, releasing the type of rare material collectors truly longed for, and doing " what RCA should do " , rabidly paying pretty big bucks for dubious pressings of outtakes or concert recordings. Joan Deary's LEGENDARY PERFORMER series ( and later,the monumental ELVIS ARON PRESLEY 8-disc set ) was a step in the right direction,but the fans wanted more,more,more-not a few tracks trickling out every few years.

I have already scolded the nay-sayers that begrudge the FTD label. Any Elvis fan who cannot see the value of the label is, quite frankly, not a terribly serious fan, in my opinion.

Having praised the label's philosophy, it's very existence, in fact, I also mentioned I had a few minor criticisms. There really are only two. The first issue is the duplication of tracks among the labels' own releases. For instance, tracks on SUNSET BLVD being re-used again on ON TOUR REHEARSALS, and other similar duplications. Having to re-purchase something to get something new has ALWAYS been an RCA tactic that bugged me...and so it still does.

That is a minor offense however, and it can be argued that, for the sake of continuity and completion, tracks are sometimes replicated. See, I told you I had very little to gripe about!

The other minor yet important criticism I have is with some of the MIXES featured on several of the FTD releases. Overall, a vast majority of the work is simply excellent. I have noticed though, on releases like some of the Stax and " Jungle Room " tracks on the recent MADE IN MEMPHIS disc, that some mixes are very harsh or " cluttered " and for lack of a better term ( it IS hard to describe SOUND! ).

"Excellence is in the details"

Now, what is a proper vs. improper mix is is open for debate. What sounds good to one person, might not to another. I am aware it is a very subjective argument. I have been a peforming musician for 16 years, I have been collecting records since I was four. I have written, recorded and mixed music along side men who have platinum albums and who are in the rock and roll hall of fame. I have been an Elvis fan since 1972 and have probably clocked in YEARS worth of listening ( studying ) his music, if you were to add up all the hours.

To my ear, the most important element in any Elvis record is...ELVIS. He is the main reason we purchase his music...correct? There are dozens of tremendous musicians and other artists' contributions within every record he ever recorded to be sure, but suffice it to say that we buy Elvis albums mainly to hear Elvis' voice.

Having said that, a sucessful mix in my opinion, is one that spotlights Elvis' vocal while still maintaining the full sound of the records' production. However, I have noticed in many instances that lead guitar, piano, rhythm guitar, or one instrument or another are often mixed up too high, in effect " stepping " on Elvis' voice and diminishing the integrity ( and impact ) of the vocal performance.

To the average listener, this might not be verty noticeable, but to a trained ear, or someone familiar with the record-making process, the effect is quite distracting and sometimes I feel the mixes have marred an otherwise outstanding take.

I feel one reason for this might be that many non-master takes featured on these posthumous releases are generally undubbed alternate takes, meaning much of the " sweetening " does not exist-just the basic rhythm section and ( sometimes ) background voices. The person mixing the tapes might, in an attempt to make an " unfinished " recording appear to be more polished, be tempted to " play up " certain instruments in an attempt to create a more " full " sound. What this does ( assuming it has been done ) is that making Glenn Hardin's piano LOUDER , for example, only serves to compete with Elvis' vocal and in a number of instances,it spoils the atmosphere or mood of the performance.

Many times I feel the background voices are mixed too high as well, sometimes as loud or even LOUDER than Elvis' lead vocal. Mixing a record is an extreamly delicate and important part of making any recorded performance sound good as a finished master. It can make or break the sucess of a record. Much like cooking a famous recipe, using too much ( or too little ) of any one ingredient can spoil the taste of the entire dish.

Of course, studio time equals money, and the longer one spends perfecting mixes in the studio, the more costly the project becomes. Since I'm sure the FTD engineers are working within strict parameters and financial constraints. I'm sure they are doing their best.

My intent of this critique is simply to suggest that extra placing Elvis' vocal more up front, without jeapordizing the overall integrity of the instrumental backing/vocals, might be considered in the future.

Keep in mind, I have purchased every FTD release, and will contine to do so, and that I applaude Ernst and all the fine work he and the others are doing to organize, restore and release the recordings of Elvis Presley.



" If I Can Dream "

Have you ever fantasized " what if Elvis "? WHAT IF Elvis had recorded this or that song, or performed this or that favorite track live onstage?

Below is a fantasy " WHAT IF " concert setlist--I have imagined many over the years,but here is just one....


Opening-2001 theme

See See Rider

Polk Salad Annie

Wearin' That Loved On Look

Young And Beautiful


Lovin' Arms

Any Day Now

Power Of My Love

Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain

Hard Headed Woman

I Want You I Need You I Love You

Are You Sincere

Put The Blame On Me

I Got A Feelin' In My Body

The Sound Of Your Cry

You've Lost That Lovin Feelin'

Don't Be Cruel ( 50's tempo )

I Can Help

Pledging My Love

Talk About the Good Times

If I Can Dream

I'll Be Back

Closing vamp


A new DVD to check out is THE TCB GANG from Nextshow Entertainment. It was taped in Vegas/2004 and reunites key members of the TCB organization in a relaxed, candid setting where the viewer becomes a " fly on the wall " while this group of Elvis friends tell stories and share their personal memories of working and playing with the king. It features Joe Esposito, Dick Grob,Jerry Shilling, Sam Thompson, Charles Stone, Loanne Parker ( widow of Col.Parker ) and the late Al " Elvis has left the building " Dvorin. Ironicly, Dvorin was killed several days after the taping of this program in an auto accident. It is nicely staged and is worth seeking out.

"till next time...



Your comments, questions and Rare-Elvis tips are welcome, please e-mail me at or if you would like an Elvis-related product reviewed