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

'' Elvis "Weak" 2007... or ...Goin' South In The Elvis World ''

 

Forgive me readers for I have sinned..It has been almost 6  months since my last column... 

There are several reasons for that. One is that ELVIS-STRAIGHT UP, a book I wrote for Joe Esposito was finalized and published this summer. When the book was first released in July, some people complained to me personally that they waited and waited for their books to arrive in the mail. I apologize to the customers who were inconvenienced by this, but those difficulties were quickly resolved, and you can confidently order your copy by visiting www.elvisstraightup.com or it can be ordered through Amazon.com . I also compiled and designed another project called OUR MEMORIES OF ELVIS, full of great unseen photos ,and since May, I have been busy researching THE TRUTH ABOUT ELVIS PRESLEY AND DR.NICK (www.elvisdoctor.com), a book I am proud to be authoring with Dr.George Nichopoulos and his son, Dean. Forget the thirty years of tabloid rumors and what little Geraldo Rivera told you. This will be the TRUE story. Dr.Nick has been the most maligned and misunderstood person within Elvis' inner circle for decades... now the real truth will be explained. Those without an open mind can read Gail Brewer-Giorgio books and pretend to themselves that Elvis is still alive. Another reason for my long hiatus is that I have been so disillusioned by alot of the depressing nonsense that has become part of the Elvis World as of late, that frankly, I didn't feel like discussing Elvis fandom for awhile. 

One thing that bugs me, perhaps it disturbs you as well...are the legendary stories of the elitist ELVIS collectors out there in the world, with deeeep pockets, that can afford to buy,buy,buy,buy,buy everything in sight...but then keep it under lock and key for decades. It's a shame because then the material in question dissapears from public view and, for all intents and puposes, "dissapears", seemingly forever. The value of this material will diminish as the years go by and the "original" Elvis fans continue to pass away, or become incapable of appreciating it. Now is the time to issue this material, if that is the intention for having collected it in the first place. I have heard so many stories and rumors over the years of  what these fans hold in their personal collections, or the depths that they have gone trying to out-buy one another. Some have allegedly back-stabbed other collectors' deals, or have promised things for years that have never materialized,etc.etc. I understand wanting to "protect your investment" to a degree, but the Elvis fan who has something rare and makes it available to other fans has my vote. What's YOUR opinion? 

Similarly ... this past August in Memphis was a confused mess. Instead of a fun, unified, fan-friendly celebration, it resembled a mad, disogranized, gestappo-run three-ring circus where all one could do was either sweat or waste your money. Did you have the opportunity to see the $300+ EPE-endorsed Elvis disembodied singing head? Where will it end?  Soft drinks that were sold across from Graceland sold for $1.50 each last year...this year they cost $3.00  Do you see a trend? Things were so spread out and uncoordinated that even though I was in Memphis for ten long days, I went through my entire trip without running into many of the other Elvis friends and aquaintences I knew were also in town. Usually, we come into contact quite naturally. The hotel I have guested in for seven consecutive years quoted me $78 per night when I made my reservation, then charged my credit card $149 per night, even after they agreed to ammend the incorrect charges. This wonderful hotel also screwed a British fan club by pulling a similar stunt on them, and also shafted a well established Elvis convention that was held there for over a decade. Want more? A friend of mine developed a serious, life-threatening attack just days into Elvis week  and had to be rushed to the hospital. An aquaintence I knew from an old New Jersey Elvis fan club died of heat stroke. I should make up T-shirts: " I Survived Memphis 2007" . How many more years of this mayhem can the average Elvis fan withstand? Time will tell. 

But all was not grim. I and some close friends did manage to make the best of it. We created our own scene with some great Elvis music and rare videos. But I will beg for mercy this summer if August 2008 goes down the same way. 

Enough about August 2007. 

30th Anniversary-era releases...FTD has been a hit and miss thing since my last column. RAISED ON ROCK and I SING ALL KINDS easily rate among my favorite FTD releases thus far. The material is excellent (  I tend to disagree with reviewers like Gordon Minto of ELVIS-THE MAN AND HIS MUSIC (UK), a magazine I  love, who basicly feel these July STAX sessions were "uninspired" ), the choice of outtakes is excellent and the off-color studio chatter on RAISED ON ROCK is a real treat, and an insight into Elvis' personality and sense of humor. The mixes on ROR in particular are supurb. GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS and POT LUCK however, suffer quite a bit  from BES: "Buried Elvis Syndrome". The backgrounds are too loud (they are called background voices because they should be placed in the background of the mix and not as loud as Elvis!) pianos are too loud, bells are too loud,etc. For the master takes, I prefer the versions that appeared years ago on the DOUBLE FEATURES sets, as they feature more balanced mixes and serve Elvis' vocals better. Compare them side by side and maybe you'll agree. Still, I wouldn't miss an FTD release and strongly support the labels efforts. I've never skipped a single title and never will, but I wish the engineers who work on these precious releases would note some of my observations and consider them the next time they fire up those unreleased session tapes. I know I'm not the only one who notices these lopsided mixes and longs for an adjustment. 

All of Elvis' movies ( except the documentary ELVIS ON TOUR...why? ) are now all officially available on DVD. Thankfully, the classic JAILHOUSE ROCK finally received the remaster treatment it so desperately needed. Previously, it looked like "ca-ca", so anything would have been an improvement. Didn't this film, easily one of Elvis' best and certainly one of the greatest musicals ever made, deserve a special 50th Anniversary 2-disc special edition ? A nice addition would have been bonus material featuring all the outtakes that are known to exist. Allegedly, three hours of JAILHOUSE ROCK outtakes are held in the vault of a "private collector". So does this mean millions of fans all over the world can never see them? I hope these can someday become available to the public. It reminds me of that line in STAR TREK II where a dying Spock, who sacrifices his life to save the Enterprise crew, says to Kirk; "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few".  

CHARRO! on widescreen DVD is a spectacular sight to behold (everyone can now discard about 4-6 blurry, ratty unauthorized versions they have cluttering their shelves). GIRL HAPPY and KISSIN' COUSINS  have their "missing" songs restored (can you believe they were ever removed in the first place?) All in all, the highlight of this summers' glorious "30th Anniversary" ELVIS releases were these DVD movie releases. Of course, we weren't without disgrace...ELVIS THAT'S THE WAY IT IS-SPECIAL EDITION gave us some outtakes, yes, but in deplorable, sub-bootleg quality. Why, you ask?  Evidently because the master reel (compiled just several years ago) was LOST!  Good grief, what other blunders must Elvis' career suffer? The "real" bootleg market actually offers superior looking and sounding volumes of THAT's THE WAY IT IS outtakes material for our enjoyment--in better quality than MGM themselves have issued-- go figure. 

Another thorn in the kings' crown...VIVA LAS VEGAS!  (clever title) was a network special here in the U.S that brought us little if anything we haven't heard or seen a million times before...except maybe rap artists doing unlistenable, unintelligible Elvis covers that made me want to mute the sound on my television (or worse, kick it off it's pedestal). Does this really further Elvis' legacy to anyone?  I guess the "powers that be" feel this kind of shit makes Elvis "contemporary". Elvis never kow-tow'ed to current trends...remember? Who will recall these "monarchs of melody" 30 years after they pass away? Personally, I wouldn't give you "fifty cent". Ratings were reported as "luke warm" in the trades. Many speculated that the title VIVA LAS VEGAS gave fans the impression it was just a rerun of the Elvis-Ann Margret feature film of the same name. Brilliant. 

I apologize if I seem a bit angry in this column...it's not how I want to feel about what's happening in the Elvis World,...but I can only describe, honestly and "straight up", what I personally observe, experience, and hear from fellow fans like yourselves. And what I've reported here has been the "water cooler conversation" over the last six months (at least on the east coast of the United States). Maybe I've missed something?  If anyone has any knowledge of anything great happening in the Elvis World (other than obvious stuff, like the latest FTD release)...please let me know. I need to hear it! I truly would  like to avoid columns like this in the future... 

SHARE ELVIS (please!)

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 2008