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

Elvis 30th Fever - Catching On Fast

So....where were we? It's been awhile since my last column here at "Elvis-Straight Up". Reason being-I have been busy working on a very special ELVIS project , details of which will be posted here within the coming months...so please stay tuned! 

I've been hearing that January in Memphis was kinda slow. Everyone must be saving their bullets for August and the great 30th Anniversary. There will be no shortage of Elvis-related surprises this summer. As Elvis sang, " when it rains, it really pours ".  

For those of you unfamiliar with the MEMPHIS RECORDING SERVICE book and disc sets produced by UK's Joseph Pirzada...be unfamiliar no longer. The first volume, The Beginning Of The Birth Of Rock n' Roll 1953-1954 impressed everyone when it was released in 2005. The newest, volume 2, covers the pivotal year 1955, effectively spanning Elvis's career in minute detail from his earliest beginnings through to his signing with RCA.The sets are of supremely high quality in both content and production. Both volumes include a DVD AUDIO disc with music, images and video, a replica Sun 45 single pressing of THATS ALL RIGHT (vol. 1) and MYSTERY TRAIN (vol.2), pressed from Sun's original mother stamper ,and a magnificent glossy book loaded with well researched text (co-authored by John Heath), tons of ultra-rare photos, vintage documents and other related memorabilia. Volume 2 has over 350 pages and weighs in at several pounds! I can't say enough about these sets other than they are absolutely essential and raise the bar of excellence in the world of Elvis publishing. A real dream come true, for 50's fanatics especially. ( please visit: www.memphisrecordingservice.com for ordering info! ) 

Well, Ken Sharp's FTD book & CD set, WRITING FOR THE KING is out and weighs in at a hernia-inducing 400 glossy-stock pages! As I predicted, I think it's a monumental work and an invaluable source of insight into the making of Elvis's music. I was also correct when I predicted the set would likely be met with groans by more than several Elvis "fans" who find the book too thin on photos and too heavy on the printed word. In my opinion, there are plenty of alternate sources for photos, but relatively little has been written elsewhere on the subject of Elvis's songs. The live disc is good and I found some of the original songwriter's demos fascinating. Winfield Scott's rejected submission of " Clambake "  is exuberant and infectious, and (the late) Dennis Linde's " Burning Love " demo sounds like a long-lost CREEDENCE classic! I submitted 30 photo images for the project in exchange for a promised "comp" copy of the book. I never got one, but I won't let that sway my opinion. This is an excellent set and I hope more fans will grow to appreciate it's worth and importance. 

Another bullseye from FTD is the immaculate HIS HAND IN MINE  " classic album " two-disc set ( with booklet ). An absolutely sublime sounding collection of masters and outtakes. If FTD survives long enough to devote a package like this to each of the remaining albums in the Elvis catalog, we can all die happy! 

Another landmark RCA/BMG release is the newly revised and expanded version of the legendary MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET session. When I raved and raved to certain fellow Elvis buffs about the AMAZINGLY improved sound quality of newly discovered tape source used for this edition, my enthusiasm was met mostly with yawns. " No, REALLY..it's that good! ", I decreed. But when they finally got around to locating a copy ( not easy to find ) and  giving it a dedicated listen, I was barraged with phonecalls echoing my five-star sentiments. See, dummies, I told you so! This column isn't called STRAIGHT UP for nothing! Seriously, this is a fascinating document of early Sun-era history. CASH, LEWIS, PERKINS and PRESLEY together!. And it now sounds like it was recorded yesterday. An essential, historical release. 

I hear an INSIDE ROUSTABOUT (EU) , INSIDE DOUBLE TROUBLE (Belgium) and a book dedicated solely to the film TICKLE ME (JAT)  are on the horizon. Can an INSIDE CLAMBAKE book be far behind? ( " There's no job too immense when you've got confidence" ! ) 

AN AMERICAN WAY (Volume 1) kicks off a new  (shhh!) "import" CD series from the Memphis 1969 studio sessions. People are complaining these tracks are in mono. Who cares!? The sound is perfect, the songs are great, the performances are incredible. One of the best (shhh!) "import" CDs  ever to come down the pike. Listen to these takes of IN THE GHETTO, SUSPICIOUS MINDS, KENTUCKY RAIN, MAMA LIKED THE ROSES and RUBBERNECKIN' and reaffirm for yourself why we are still talking about the unparalelled greatness of Elvis Presley! 

Hey, there's a "pop-up" book out of GRACELAND...for those of you who would like a pop-up book of Graceland. 

Another new book, ELVIS AT 21, a photo/memoir by lensmith Alfred Wertheimer has " escaped ". Another colossal, high quality hernia-inducer. Wetheimers'  photos have been " done to death " for  50 years ( take a look at the cover shot for the " millionth and the last time " ) , BUT.. finally we get some cool, unseen images from one of the most iconic series of 50's-era Elvis photographs ever taken. An undeniably historic photo document that will never cease to attract interest in our boy for generations to come. The publishers spared no expense in the royal quality of the production, so... thumbs up! 

ELVIS STARRING IN OKLAHOMA is the latest photobook from JAT Publishing. Mr.Tunzi is always a reliable source for Elvis junkies to get their required fix of rare photo material. This time it's Elvis in concert, frame-by-frame, from July,1975. Flip quickly through the pages front to back like a deck of cards and create a " flip movie ". You should be able to watch about 4 black and white seconds of Elvis in action! Try It!  Comes with a neat-o 2007 pocket calendar ,similar to the vintage RCA kind. Coming Soon:Volume 2 of his long awaited " Cool Clips " dvd series...promises to be something real special! ( www.jatpublishing.com

THE ESSENTIAL ELVIS is the umpteenth CD compilation of Elvis classics from RCA/BMG in the last two years. "Why", do you ask? Because they SELL! I heard this one was currently #72 on the charts! Amazing! 

The 3-DVD set of Elvis's complete appearances on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW is yet another landmark video release! We can now boast definitive versions of " The '68 Comeback ", Aloha From Hawaii and Ed Sullivan. A supurb job. The shows have never looked or sounded as good-ever! In my opinion, READY TEDDY and PEACE IN THE VALLEY rate as two of his best "Sullivan Show" numbers, but they're all historic. Includeds the long lost "medley" performance that was excised for use in a Sullivan retrospective years and years ago and never turned up again...until now. Let's hope THE DORSEY SHOWS, STEVE ALLEN and MILTON BERLE will someday get the same video makeover! 

Major disspointment--The planned Warner Brothers special edition DVD of the 1981 theatrical documentary THIS IS ELVIS has evidently been cancelled! Thanks, guys! Get our hopes up like they did with the THAT'S THE WAY IT IS special edition DVD extras that were never included. The vintage clips in this "new" version of TIE were to be completely reconstructed using the original film and video elements, and the tacky impersonater voiceover and modern pseudo-documentary footage was going to be removed. It sounds like it would have been a great release, but they decided not to spend the money on restoration afterall. I wish these various companies would do us a favor next time...and hold of on announcing something they don't fully intend to follow through with ! Fair enough? 

That's all until next time! 

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Joe Russo

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Thanks for listening--any fellow Elvis fans with comments or rare-Elvis tips, please e-mail me at epshots@yahoo.com

Joe Russo 2006