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Thread: In The Studio With Elvis

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    In The Studio With Elvis

    Here is an original article that was printed in the British music paper "Disc" from 1971.

    IN THE STUDIO WITH ELVIS

    EXCLUSIVE EYE WITNESS REPORT OF A PRESLEY SESSION, BY CHRIS ARNOLD OF BUTTERSCOTCH

    Elvis singing ?Silent Night? and ?Winter Wonderland? on his next album? Not as unlikely as it sounds. Elvis has just recorded his first Christmas Album in 10 years and those were a couple of the tracks. This news comes from Chris Arnold ? one of the few ?outsiders? to get into Presley recording session.

    Arnold is a member of Butterscotch and the song writing team of Arnold-Martin-Morrow, who?ve had three songs recorded by Presley, including the title track of his ?Let?s Be Friends? album.

    Chris was in America in May, and was invited to Nashville to be in the studios the night Presley started to work on the Christmas Album. He told Disc: ?It was a whole week of recording, starting on the Sunday evening, and I was invited along for the night.?

    The first person I met there was Colonel Parker. He?d come along to Nashville just to see that everything was okay for the sessions. He still checks out everything before Elvis arrives. The session was due to start about 7.30 pm in the Nashville RCA studios. We arrived a little early. Nearly all the musicians were there ? everybody except Presley. But one musician, the drummer, hadn?t arrived either and there was considerable consternation because people just don?t NOT turn up at an Elvis session. All the musicians were local and proved to be fantastic. When we arrived they were just putting down rhythm tracks.

    This was to be a Christmas Album, and down there in Nashville it was the middle of May and about 85 degrees ? and very un-Christmas like. But obviously Elvis had thought about this and had arranged for a great big decorated Christmas tree to be brought into the studio. There were also presents for all Elvis? close associates and musicians. They received gold bracelets engraved ?Elvis 1971.?

    Presley came in with a small retinue of people just after 7.30. Already the small studio was crowded with RCA people and a few hangers on. Also there was Felton Jarvis, Elvis? producer ? who actually doesn?t do much producing. If anyone does it, Elvis does it himself. What Felton does is the final mixing.

    Elvis walked in with these four ?roadies?-come-?bodyguards? and this for me was quite a moment, my first live sight of him. He was wearing the style of dress which one sees him wearing in pictures and on album sleeves quite a lot these days ? fairly wide-shouldered-jacket with a high collar, with big V opening down the front ? all in black with gold trimmings ? and black trousers, black boots and dark glasses with EP on the bridge.

    He?s tall, about 6 foot 2 inches, but he seems even bigger because he has a kind of presence about him which dominates the whole room. But even so, the musicians just treat him as another Nashville boy; another Tennessee musician like themselves. Okay, so he?s made it big, but they still feel very much on the same level as him, and that was one of the nicest things about the session; the very easy relationship between everyone. They all call him El or E. He didn?t seem at all put out at seeing a strange face there; I gather it?s quite special for an outsider to get in. He was very charming and friendly. He got down to business right away. He walked straight into the studio, had a chat with the musicians and the session started.

    The demos were played to Elvis ? who?d obviously heard them before ? and the musicians, who had not. They learned the songs from the demos and I?ve never seen musicians pick up anything so quickly. By halfway through it was like they knew exactly what the song was going to do and how they were going to do it. They automatically knew what key Presley would do it in. Then they started recording. Elvis was in the middle of the studio with a hand mike and the musicians were in a semicircle around him. It was like a live session; everything was done at once ? to put his voice on at the same time as the musicians were playing.

    Another thing that impressed me was the tireless devotion to getting it absolutely right. They would go over and over the song, getting a better feel. Each time it built up a little more. The guitarist would put in an extra little riff, or there would be an extra fill from the piano, and Elvis would acknowledge it every time anyone did something like that. He would wave or grin or wink to show he liked it, or scratch his head if he wasn?t too sure.

    The songs were very Christmassy ? like ?Winter Wonderland? and ?Come All Ye Faithful?. Obviously many people like this type of album from Presley, but he wasn?t completely at home on it ? he was putting his heart into the singing but after a couple of numbers everybody was sort of chaffing at the bit, and wanting to get into something really go-ey. And after ?Winter Wonderland?, once they had a decent take, Presley turned to the bass player and said ?Okay, let?s go one time now? and he broke into ?I Gotta Woman?. Everyone picked it up immediately and jammed, and Elvis dropped right back into his 1958 rock-n-roll voice, it was fantastic.

    Everyone really enjoyed that, and then they got back to the business of Christmas songs and did another couple. Then lead guitarist James Burton played a little sort of figure, and Elvis turned round and said ?Hey, what?s that?? James said ?Don?t Think Twice It?s Alright?. Elvis wasn?t too sure he knew the number but they decided to try it and starting getting into a rhythm. Elvis wasn?t sure of the words. He knew one verse and a couple of lines here and there, but it didn?t matter because he made it up as he went along. They took the song at a rhythm and pace that I didn?t believe it could be taken at and still be intelligibly ? but there it was, incredibly exciting.

    While all this was going on the engineers had been snipping out the master tape of the previous Christmas song, and Felton said ?For God?s sake get the master tape cut out and switch on the machine ? we?ve just got to get this.? After they?d been playing for two minutes the machine switched on, and they continued for another 10 minutes. It was the same verse every time followed by an instrumental break. Finally they stopped because they were exhausted, and when they played it back everyone was so excited that it was decided to put the track on the next album.

    At midnight there was a break. Food was brought into the control room ? in gargantuan proportions. Everybody dived into hamburgers, hot dogs, waffles and beers and Coke ? except Elvis. He stayed in the studio, with a glass of water, quietly sitting and reading through the lyrics of the next song. Obviously Elvis takes care of himself. That?s one reason why he still looks so good.

    After the half-hour break things fell back into the old pattern. Two Christmas songs were followed by another off-the-cuff song, ?That?s Alright Mama?, and again El dropped into the 1950s voice. It was terrific. At this point Mrs. Presley phoned up from Los Angeles ? to say there?d been a power blackout and she couldn?t find the flashlight. Did Elvis know where it was? I thought that a charming piece of domesticity.

    The session went on until 4 am, but we had to leave before then. I don?t normally buy Christmas albums but I must get a copy of this one. And I must get a copy of the album with ?Don?t Think Twice It?s Alright? ? that?s an incredible track. You just won?t believe it when you hear it.

    Rita

  2. #2
    PeacockLady Diane's Avatar
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    That was one great article you posted there Rita, thank you so much!

    Diane

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    Thanks Diane, that's really appreciated. I'll have to dig into the archives to find some more articles from the past.

    Rita

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    TCB Mafia Raised on Rock's Avatar
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    Great! love this kind of stuff. Thanks for posting it!

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    TCB Mafia KPM's Avatar
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    Wonderful read.

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