There are no ribald lyric changes, no mid-song snickers or blown notes.
This is an artist at work. The feeling on each performance is deeply personal.
I often think back to what critic and historian Greil Marcus wrote in his 1980 review of RCA's Elvis Aron Presley box set, where they were featured on a side called "Elvis At The Piano":
Obscure performances of old-fashioned sentimental songs, played and sung with grace and commitment. "I Will Be True" is a masterpiece. Here, something is revealed; these tunes are meditations on peace of mind, because, for Elvis, peace of mind was never more than an idea.
All three are quiet tributes to a beloved singer and songwriter, Ivory Joe Hunter.
Ivory Joe Hunter - 1970 publicity photo
"I Will Be True" was a 1952 MGM single B-side that later ended up on Ivory Joe's long-awaited LP debut in 1957. His lovely cover of "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" was a highlight of a very sentimental album released in 1958.
Both performances impressed Elvis so much that he taped them on a reel-to-reel while stationed in Germany the following year.
Ivory Joe Hunter I Get That Lonesome Feeling (MGM E 3488, January 26, 1957)
Ivory Joe Hunter Sings The Old And The New (Atlantic 8015, March 24, 1958)
However ... "It's Still Here" is intriguing, as there's no known recording of it prior to Elvis.
Ivory Joe did cut a version in Nashville not long before he passed away in November 1974, but since it post-dates the Presley recording and release, that makes Elvis' the original.
Sheet music for "It's Still Here" shows it belonging to one of Elvis' publishing firms, Gladys Music, and copyrighted 1973. These two facts strongly suggest it had not been recorded by anyone before Presley.
Sheet music for "It's Still Here" - copyright 1973
But there's more.
Prior to moving to Memphis in March 1973, Ivory Joe had a comeback album in the works in early 1970. It would be released as The Return Of Ivory Joe Hunter on the Epic label.
Memphis scribe James Kingsley interviewed him by phone about this so-called comeback and, among other things, Hunter spoke of songs he planned to send to Presley for use in his upcoming RCA sessions!
“But you can bet I’m gonna find my boy Elvis a good tune, yes, sir."
Spotlight On Music—
Ivory Joe Says He's Back
By JAMES KINGSLEY
Ivory Joe Hunter sits in his home at Monroe, La., and rolls out songs like a housewife making biscuits.
He has written somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 songs including such hits as "Since I Met You Baby," “My Wish Came True,” “I Need You So,” “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” and “I Almost Lost My Mind.”
Last week he was going through some of his songs trying to find two or three that Elvis Presley could record in his next session scheduled in about four weeks, place undecided, possibly Memphis.
“I’m just sitting here in my bedroom with the tape recorder on the bed and the television humming," Ivory Joe said as he began a telephone chat. “But you can bet I’m gonna find my boy Elvis a good tune, yes, sir."
“NOW, ELVIS he’s something else. He recorded some of my songs and they all sold over a million for him. He’s money in the bank when they put out a record on him.” Elvis recorded “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby,” “I Need You So,” and “My Wish Came True,” from Ivory Joe’s output.
“That Pat Boone is something else, I never really thought he could sing,” laughed Ivory Joe. “But then he recorded ‘I Almost Lost My Mind’ and it sold over four million singles. Now if anyone says anything against Pat you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re gonna’ get punched In the mouth."
Two weeks ago, Ivory Joe came to Memphis and recorded an album at Sun produced by his manager and booking agent, Bettye Berger, president of Continental Artists.
“WE REALLY got some good material,” said Ivory Joe. “We kicked the hell out of Ol’ Man River with an up-tempo beat. I think it will be the first single when she leases the album."
The album’s dozen tunes also include "Coming Down with the Blues," “Empty Arms,” “Everybody Gets that Groovy Feelin’," “Heartbreak and Misery,” and his standards — “My Wish Came True” and “Since I Met You Baby.”
Ivory Joe has lived In Louisiana since 1952. His parents died when he was 7. He and nine brothers and sisters were raised by their oldest sister Georgia Hunter.
“She was real religious and wouldn’t let me sing my type of music in the house,” recalled Ivory Joe. “I used to go out behind a barn.” This was in Kirbyville Texas.
“I was about 13 or 14 and these boys had a gig at a honky tonk. Of course we told my sister that I would be playing spiritual music. It was only a little piece from our house and when she heard us cut into some blues music it was something else.
“GEORGIA CAME into that honky tonk with a broom and cleaned out the place. We never played there again.”
Miss Berger said, “Several weeks ago he walked into my office and told me he needed help and wanted to put his career in my hands. I have four major record companies bidding on the album.”
Ivory Joe said, “I never got out of the recording business. I’ve just not had companies that would push my songs in the past few years or maybe I was just out of step.
“But you can say one thing and be certain of it. Ivory Joe is back, and he’s back to stay in a big way."
Memphis Commercial Appeal - Sunday, April 5, 1970
Did Ivory Joe get some songs to Elvis in time for his next RCA session? Could one of them have been "It's Still Here"? So sad to hear that Memphis (American Sound) was still in play as late as April 1970. What could have been.
Then, later that same year, Ivory Joe had a multi-date club appearance in Memphis.
Night Life ---
Ivory Joe Hunter Coming To Nite Lighters
By JOHN KNOTT
Ivory Joe Hunter who has had his share of million-seller records over the years will play four days this week at Billy Hill's Nite Lighters Club at Jefferson and Second.
He will give three shows a night, Wednesday through Saturday, at 10, midnight and 2 a.m.
Some of his gold records are “Since I Met You Baby," his most famous which sold about one million, “Empty Arms” and "I Need You So” which a chap named Elvis sold a million or two of. Ivory Joe has a new album which he made in Memphis coming out the first of the year.
The Triads, a three-piece folk-soul group which has been popular with Nite Lighters patrons, will start playing at 7 the nights Hunter appears.
Memphis Commercial Appeal - Sunday, November 29, 1970
Could Elvis, or perhaps someone like friend and disc jockey George Klein, have gone to one of these performances, and ended up being given material such as ... "It's Still Here"?
Some may remember when Ivory Joe was invited to Graceland in the summer of 1957, and he gifted his young fan a ballad called "My Wish Came True."
Maybe someday we'll learn just a little bit more about how it all came to be.
Ivory Joe's death was certainly one Elvis must have noticed as he approached his 40th birthday.
Death Mutes Music Of Ivory Joe Hunter
Ivory Joe Hunter, who wrote and recorded the hit song "Since I Met You, Baby," died at 1:55 p.m. Friday at NHE-Memphis Nursing Home.
The 63-year-old composer-pianist had been undergoing treatment for lung cancer since December. He was brought to Memphis from Monroe La., where he had been receiving treatment.
He wrote between 2,000 and 3,000 songs, including "My Wish Came True," “I Need You So," "Ain’t That Lovin' You Baby" and “I Almost Lost My Mind."
He was born in Kirbyville, Texas and began his recording career in Oakland, Calif., in 1937 after playing in honky-tonks in Texas.
He recorded "Since I Met You Baby" in 1956 for Atlantic Records. It was Hunter's and the company's first million seller.
"I Almost Lost My Mind" earned him a gold record award In 1956.
It was the second time the song had brought him fame. In 1950 he was named the best blues artist and the song was acclaimed record of the year.
"But he wasn't just a rhythm and blues man," manager Bettye Berger said. "Growing up in the backwoods of Texas he was close to country. But when he started recording, blacks couldn't do country, so they called it blues."
His final album will be released soon on the Paramount label, but a name has not been selected. It will include two religious songs — the first he ever recorded.
A benefit and tribute show was held for Mr. Hunter Oct 1 at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. Among entertainers who performed on his behalf were Isaac Hayes, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Sonny James and Melba Montgomery.
In place of flowers contributions are requested to be sent to the Cancer Society or the Cerebral Palsy Council.
S. W. Qualls Funeral Home has charge.
He leaves two sisters, Mrs. Jewell Duroune and Mrs Ethel Mae Spike both of Reno, Nev., and a brother Benny Hunter of Oakland, Calif.
Memphis Commercial Appeal - Sunday, November 10, 1974