Tag Archives: rock n roll

Elvis songs before Elvis – the origins of six iconic Presley classics

From Hound Dog to Always On My Mind the original versions of six classic Elvis songs

Hound Dog

Written by songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller when they were both still in their teens, ‘Hound Dog’ was created specifically for blues singer Big Mama Thornton. It was recorded in 1952 and released in 1953. Rather than being seen as just a rough early prototype of a tune Elvis would later make famous, Thornton’s version of Hound Dog is rightly regarded as iconic in its own right, helping lay the foundations of black R&B in rock music. The song has cemented Thornton’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history, even if she never made more than a few hundred dollars from it. Presley’s version was released three years later in 1956.

 

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

We go right back with this one. ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ was written by Vaudeville songwriters Roy Turk and Lou Handman in 1926. Numerous versions were recorded in the late 1920s but the first was by Charles Hart, in 1927. In 1950, the Blue Barron Orchestra recorded a version and the song became a staple of crooners of the era. In his final months of national service with the US Army, Elvis began considering new material for his return to a recording career. Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, suggested ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ – the song being a favourite of Parker’s wife. Presley’s version was released in November 1960.

 

Suspicious Minds

‘Suspicious Minds’ was first written and recorded in 1968 by Mark James. Here we hear it taking shape as a soulful pop ballad. While the arrangements on the James version are virtually identical to those on the Elvis version recorded a year later. the magic is somewhat lacking. After spending much of the 60s churning out B movies, ‘Suspicious Minds’ was one of the songs recorded by Elvis in the Memphis recording sessions following the success of his televised 68 Comeback Special. Recorded in January 1969 it was released in August 1969 and became Elvis’s first number one in several years.

 

The Wonder of You

Written by Thomas Baker Knight Jr. ‘The Wonder of You’ was first recorded by film actor/singer Vince Edwards in 1958 but never released. A year later a version was released by Ray Peterson who had a Top 30 hit with it in both the US and the UK. It would be 1970, however, before Presley took Peterson’s sugary, sentimental teen ballad and transformed it into the bold, dramatic and unforgettable version that we know today. Presley recorded a live version of the song in Las Vegas in February 1970 and it is this  live version of the song that was released as a single in April 1970.

 

An American Trilogy

‘An American Trilogy’ is actually thee songs. The “Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton” bit is from ‘Dixie’ which became an anthem of the confederacy in the Civil War. The “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” bit is from a song called ‘Battle Hymn for the Republic’ which was the marching anthem of the opposing federal anti-slavery Union Army. And the “Oh, hush little baby don’t you cry” bit is from ‘All My Trials’ said to have emerged out of African American spirituals. Country musician and composer Mickey Newbury had the idea of bringing the three together, representing three strands in America’s troubled history, for his 1971 album and a subsequent single. Presley introduced ‘An American Trilogy’ to his concert set-list in January 1972. A live recording was made the following month which was released as a single but although it became a staple of Presley’s live shows, paradoxically, the single didn’t do as well in the US charts as Newbury’s original.

 

Always On My Mind

A love song expressing deep regret to a departing lover ‘Always On My Mind’ was written by Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher and Mark James. Mark James, of course, we already know as the writer and original singer of ‘Suspicious Minds’. ‘Always On My Mind’ was first recorded by BJ Thomas in 1970 but the first version to be released was by Gwen McCrae in 1972. Presley recorded his version shortly after separating from his wife, Priscilla, and it was released in November 1972. Here we can hear both the BJ Thomas and the Gwen McCrae versions.

 

 

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The death of Elvis is relayed to a caravan in Morecambe. August 1977

Visit to the birthplace of British rock ‘n’ roll – the 2i’s coffee bar, Soho

London has been getting better at celebrating its rock ‘n’ roll history in recent years. More blue plaques are going up, you’ve got attractions like the Hendrix flat and generally more and more effort is being made to mark some of London’s historic musical legacy. One place you might want to take a look at if you’re in central London is Poppies Fish & Chips restaurant on Old Compton Street in Soho. True, the fish and chips are indeed very tasty but of interest to rock fans is the fact this premises at 59 Old Compton Street was once the legendary 2i’s coffee bar.

2is outside

The 2i’s name came from the cafe’s original owners, Freddie and Sammy Irani, who ran the venue until 1955. They then leased it out to two wrestling promoters, Paul Lincoln and Ray Hunter, who opened it as a coffee bar in April 1956.

2is old

 

In his book ‘Roots, Radicals and Rockers – How Skiffle Changed The World’ Billy Bragg writes of the day that the Vipers skiffle group turned up at the 2i’s in need of refreshment after taking part in the Soho Fair parade on 14th July 1956.

“The proprietor of the 2i’s was happy to have the band playing in his cafe. He’s been trying to draw customers in by employing singer Max Bard… but that wasn’t bringing in the teenagers. These guys seemed to have that young sound, so as they finished up their coffees and headed back out into the rowdy rush of the Fair, he invited them to come back and play any time. They promised to return the following week.”

There’s a nice little Pathé news clip here of the 2i’s in action.

Live music performances took place in the coffee bar’s basement which had room for around twenty people and the Vipers became the resident band there. However, during a break in one of the Vipers sets a young guy named Tommy Hicks took to the stage to sing some rock ‘n’ roll. Hick was soon talent-spotted, renamed Tommy Steele and had his first single out ‘Rock With The Cavemen’.

2is display

Numerous future recording stars would go on to perform and be discovered at the 2i’s. These include Cliff Richard and the Shadows, Vince Eager, Adam Faith, Carlo Little, Joe Brown, Clem Cattini, Eden Kane, Tony Sheridan, Albert Lee, Johnny Kidd, Ritchie Blackmore and Big Jim Sullivan.

“When Hank and I came to London at the age of 16 we went to the 2 I’s coffee bar to be discovered, as did Cliff as did lots of other people,” recalled the Shadows’ Bruce Welch in a documentary.

2is plaque

The 2i’s closed towards the end of the 60s, becoming a series of cafe bars and restaurants. A plaque was installed in September 2006 but it was only with the opening of Poppies Fish & Chips restaurant in 2016 that they really went to town in celebrating the venue’s historic legacy. There’s old photos on the walls, part of the old painted plasterwork has been uncovered and there’s a neon sign at the top of the stairs to the basement recreating the coffee bar’s famous logo.

And the basement? Now it’s just the gents and ladies toilets and a narrow corridor with some memorabilia on display but you can pop down there and think about all of those who performed down here and helped shape the course of British rock history.

2is neon

 

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The Hendrix Flat, London

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Book review: ‘Roots, Radicals & Rockers – How Skiffle Changed the World’ by Billy Bragg

 

The death of Elvis is relayed to a caravan in Morecambe. August 1977

A caravan site in Morecambe, Lancashire. My older stepsister returns with the morning paper and attempts to relay the day’s main news to my mum.

“Elvis dead.”

“Elvis’s dad? What about Elvis’s dad?”

“No. Elvis is dead.”

“Elvis’s dad’s dead?”

No. Elvis is dead.”

At this point my mum bursts into tears. It had always been her ambition to see him, she tells us. And now she would never get the chance.13615008_10154293790751449_4858489364011888766_n

Looking back, the death of Elvis was a bit like a prototype Diana moment for 1970s Britain. And for this 11 year-old it certainly didn’t seem very cool. And throughout my teenage years thoughts of Elvis tended to revolve around cheeseburgers and white jumpsuits and awful films and general excess.

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But slowly that began to change. As my voyage of discovery with rock music careered back through the 70s and then the 60s and then the 50s it was impossible to ignore the presence of Elvis and it was impossible the brilliance of songs like Jailhouse Rock and Hound Dog and That’s All Right Mama.

Gradually, Elvis started becoming cool for me. Indeed, when I began switching from vinyl to CDs in the early 90s one of the first discs that I bought was Elvis’s greatest hits. And not long afterwards that was joined by a compilation of Elvis’s early Sun recordings where you can sense the palpable excitement as Elvis and his fellow musicians bring together white country influences and black rhythm and blues influences to create something truly special.

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Indeed, everything about the tiny Sun Records studio in Memphis held a growing fascination for me. My mum, of course, never got to see Elvis. But she did still harbour a lifelong ambition to visit his Graceland home. And I was just as keen to set foot in Sun studio. So last year we arranged a trip to Memphis together and both got to fulfil our ambitions and pay our respective homages.

Thank you Elvis. January 8th 1935 – August 16th 1977.

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Visit to the legendary Sun Studio, Memphis

In the history of rock ‘n’ roll there can’t be many more important places on the planet than this modestly-sized building on the outskirts of Memphis. 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee is the home of Sun Studio, where Sam Phillips established his Memphis Recording Service back in 1950 with the aim of giving a recording outlet to black blues musicians like Howlin’ Wolf and BB King; where Ike Turner and others recorded what is now commonly held up to be the first rock ‘n’ roll record: ‘Rocket 88’ in 1951; where a young Elvis Presley walked in to cut a one-off disc, supposedly for his mother; where Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash all recorded their early singles; and the place which indisputably can proudly claim to be the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll.

Sam Phillips moved the Sun operation to a larger nearby facility in 1959, which somehow never quite managed to repeat the pioneering and magical success of the original, and by the 1970s 706 Union Avenue was being used as a hairdressers. In 1987, though, the building, along with the next- door diner, was reopened as a studio and tourist attraction and is now listed as a historic national landmark.

Sun studio run daily tours and a free shuttle bus service can ferry you between downtown Memphis, Elvis Presley’s Graceland and Sun Studio. The old diner is now a gift shop-cum-cafe and the tour first takes you upstairs to a compact but magical display of period artefacts; including studio equipment, instruments and other historic memorabilia. A tour guide talks you through the history and plays snatches of music, including that very first Elvis recording: ‘My Happiness’.

And then it’s down to the actual studio, first passing the reception area, once staffed by Sam Phillips’ assistant, Marion Keisker: a pivotal figure in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, and the one who first spotted Elvis’s talent. But like too many women in the music business, one who’s name often doesn’t not get the recognition it deserves.

reception

The studio, itself, has been recreated using authentic equipment and instruments from the era and, in spite of it’s post-Sun uses as a hairdressing salon and everything else, the original studio soundproofing that Phillips and Keisker applied by hand is still there to this day.

sudio tour

The tour guide ends the tour by bringing out an original studio microphone from the control room, one that Elvis and Jerry Lee and Johnny had all sung into at the start of their careers. He tells us it was donated by Sam Phillips on condition that it wasn’t just locked away in a glass case but that visitors could pose and have their photographs taken with it. You can’t get a better photo-opportunity than that and it’s a great end to a magical tour of a historic site.

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Related posts:

Visit to the birthplace of British rock ‘n’ roll – the 2i’s coffee bar, Soho

Visit to the Hendrix Flat, 23 Brook Street, London

Elvis songs before Elvis – the origins of six iconic Presley classics

Jerry Lee Lewis at London Palladium

Live review: Jerry Lee Lewis at The London Palladium 6/9/15

When his first British tour, and seemingly his entire career, ended in scandal and chaos over revelations about his 13- year-old bride back in 1958, few would have predicted that not only would Jerry Lee Lewis be one of the last 50s American rock n roll stars alive and still performing, but that he’d be marking his 80th birthday with a sell-out performance at the London Palladium. But, against the odds, it is Jerry Lee Lewis that can claim to be last man standing.

Following a cheesy introduction from former radio DJ, Mike Read, and a warm standing ovation from the Palladium audience, Lewis slowly makes his way to the centre-stage grand piano looking every one of his 80 years. But as soon as he starts to play that piano his fingers are as nimble and his playing as electrifying as when he made his US TV debut almost sixty years ago, a clip of which we are shown in a short film before Lewis comes on.

He’s not going to jump up and down and play the piano with his feet tonight, but he still plays as if his life depends it on it. As well as rock n rollers like Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen and, of course, Whole Lotta Skakin’ Goin’ on and Great Balls of Fire, we get some of the beautifully expressive slower numbers from his country phase, like She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye and Over the Rainbow.

One of the temptations for big name performers of advancing years is to fill the stage with so many extra musicians and backing vocalists that the stage can end up looking as crowded as the auditorium. Lewis avoids this with the same simple the lead guitar/rhythm guitar/bass/drums set-up backing him that he’s had for most of his career. And it’s testimony to his presence as a vocalist/ pianist and of the superb musicianship of his backing band that this is precisely all that’s needed.

It’s a triumph of a performance. And while it was never going to be possible to see most of his contemporaries, I can at least say I got to see Jerry Lee Lewis live in London. One of the last of the original rock’n’roll greats.

Setlist:
Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee
Down the Line
She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye
Before the Night Is Over
No Headstone on My Grave
See See Rider
Sweet Little Sixteen
You Win Again
Why You Been Gone So Long
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
Over the Rainbow
Mexicali Rose
Great Balls of Fire

http://jerryleelewis.com/

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