Preview: Elvis Country: Legacy Edition - Elvis Presley

Artist: Elvis Presley
Title: Elvis Country: Legacy Edition
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Label: RCA/Legacy
Format(s): CD, DD

RCA/Legacy continues their series of releases of music from important phases of Elvis Presley's career with Elvis Country: Legacy Edition. The two-CD set will be available January 3.

Elvis Country, originally released in 1971, sees the singer return to his Nashville roots, covering some of country's greatest songs. Writer Stuart Colman calls the original Elvis Country "a pivotal release, in that it served to maintain the momentum generated by the '68 Comeback Special, the breakthrough in Las Vegas and Elvis Presley's long overdue return to touring." Colman, a veteran British rock musician since the '60s, is also a prolific album notes writer and compilation producer, with a special interest in roots rock, rockabilly, and early R&B.

Upon Elvis Country's original release, future Presley historian and biographer Peter Guralnick wrote in Rolling Stone, "[he] has come out with a record which gives us some of the very finest and most affecting music since he first recorded for Sun almost 17 years ago." The idea of inserting excerpts of I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago (a track that did not appear on the original album but does appear on this Legacy Edition as a bonus track) in between the album tracks gave the LP a conceptual feel that had never been encountered before. And the songs, from the high-energy rock of I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water and Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On (which gives Jerry Lee Lewis a run for the money), to the big ballads that were becoming an Elvis trademark (Eddy Arnold's I Really Don't Want To Know and Willie Nelson's Funny How Time Slips Away among them) were some of Elvis' greatest performances ever.

The songs chosen for Love Letters From Elvis from the June 1970 sessions included an inspired coupling of Muddy Waters' rollicking Got My Mojo Working with Keep Your Hands Off Of It ("a peculiar combination of hypertension and soul," as popularly characterized by Guralnick). It was offset by the ballads that were chosen as singles, Rags To Riches (the Tony Bennett hit of 1953), the inspirational Only Believe, and Life. The latter was one of three cuts from up-and-coming songwriter Shirl Milete covered at the June sessions, along with When I'm Over You and It's Your Baby, You Rock It.

Elvis Country was a breath of fresh air for most of his millions of fans, and signaled a renaissance of his creative energies. Prior to Elvis Country, his last album of original studio material (non-movie soundtrack material) was in 1969, when he recorded in Memphis at American Studios with producer Chips Moman. The result of those January and February hometown sessions was the landmark LP From Elvis In Memphis, and a year-long string of 'comeback' hit singles that reestablished Elvis: In the Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, Don't Cry Daddy and Kentucky Rain.

Three factors contributed to the totally reinvigorated image of Elvis Presley in the new decade of the 1970s: 1) the impact of the '68 Comeback Special (i.e. the NBC broadcast of December 1968 that featured Elvis dressed in black leather); 2) the string of Memphis-recorded hits that began in the spring of 1969 (chronicled on From Elvis In Memphis: Legacy Edition, issued in 2009); and 3) Elvis' return to public performing which began in Las Vegas that summer and continued into January-February 1970 (as chronicled on On Stage: Legacy Edition, issued in 2010).

Those three factors overlapped the release of Change Of Habit in November 1969, the final (31st) Hollywood movie in Elvis' lifetime. In fact, prior to the Elvis Country studio sessions of June and September 1970, and the International Hotel recordings in Las Vegas before that, the last time Elvis had set foot in any recording studio was in March 1969 to cut a handful of tracks at Decca Universal for Change Of Habit. After 1969, Elvis would no longer be saddled with movies he did not believe in, and movie soundtrack songs he believed in even less.

Into 1970, Elvis was performing two shows a night at the International Hotel during January-February, and then checked into the Houston Astrodome for a weekend (six shows) that netted a record-breaking gross with over 250,000 people in attendance. After a well-deserved break, he finally arrived in RCA's Studio B in Nashville the first week of June 1970.

The last time he had recorded there was in January 1968 when he cut some tracks for that year's movie, Stay Away, Joe. It marked his final studio sessions with his own long-time bandmates (guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana) and the original Nashville 'A-team' that had served him so well: guitarists Chip Young and Jerry Reed, pianist Floyd Cramer, bassist Bob Moore, drummer Buddy Harman, Pete Drake on steel guitar, Charlie McCoy on harmonica, and of course the Jordanaires.

By the time he returned two and a half years later, for the five nights of sessions (Thursday, June 4th through Monday, June 8th) that are discussed here, producer Felton Jarvis had assembled a whole new 'A-team' (with Young and McCoy the only hold-overs). The new band had the feel of the Memphis hitmakers of 1969, mainly because their core members were part of the original Muscle Shoals sound which put that town on the map: bassist Norbert Putnam, pianist David Briggs, and drummer Jerry Carrigan. Add in masterful guitarist James Burton – who had become indispensable to Elvis after the two recent Las Vegas residencies – and the scene was set.

There were inevitable contrasts to the tightly structured Memphis sessions, but it ended there. In Nashville, once the song-pluggers put in their suggestions, the rest was up to Elvis, who never ceased to surprise all who were present He laid down first and second takes with ease, and then turned around and initiated impromptu studio jams that kept the musicians firing on all cylinders.

It all came to a head on the fourth night. After a couple of warm-ups (including Eddy Arnold's I Really Don't Want To Know), they thought back to the country tunes they'd already recorded, and the idea of a country album began to take shape. In short order, Elvis laid down Bob Wills' western-swing standard Faded Love and Ernest Tubb's Tomorrow Never Comes. After cutting Hank Cochran's barroom weeper Make The World Go Away (via Eddy Arnold), Elvis and crew moved on to Willie's Funny How Time Slips Away and then I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water, familiar to rock and roll fans of Johnny Rivers, but originally a big country hit for Stonewall Jackson.

The whole crew reconvened for one night in September, a productive session that yielded Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On and ultimately the opening track on the Elvis Country LP, a cover of Snowbird. Anne Murray's debut hit from that summer '70 was written by Gene MacLellan, composer of Put Your Hand In the Hand, another Canadian hit that Elvis covered. (The other two tracks from the session showed up later in '71 as the single, Where Did They Go, Lord b/w Rags To Riches).

Barely five months separated the releases of Elvis Country and Love Letters From Elvis in 1970, and the two albums have always been regarded together in the Elvis canon. In mid-1971, Elvis returned to Studio B for a solid week of recording in May, and three follow-up nights in June, resulting in some 40-plus masters. Much of them were heard later that year on Elvis Sings the Wonderful World Of Christmas, and the following year on his gospel LP, He Touched Me. Ironically, Elvis never recorded again in Nashville's RCA Studio B.

In every way,  Elvis Country: Legacy Edition tracks a seismic change in his recording career. It came at a moment which turned out to be a true turning point for him. "Elvis seemed inspired, singing with a passion and soulfulness that recalled Memphis," wrote Jorgensen in his essential research guide, Elvis Presley: A Life In Music (St. Martin's Press, 1998). "The band fell in with equal feeling, their confidence and expressiveness growing along with his. Both singer and band were performing out of genre, improvising their own rhythms and phrasing on the spot, challenging each other." To paraphrase Jorgensen, "they had something to be proud of."

Track List:

Disc 1: Elvis Country
  • Original Album
    • Snowbird
    • Tomorrow Never Comes
    • Little Cabin On The Hill
    • Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On
    • Funny How Time Slips Away
    • I Really Don't Want To Know
    • There Goes My Everything
    • It's Your Baby, You Rock It
    • The Fool
    • Faded Love
    • I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water
    • Make The World Go Away
  • Bonus Tracks
    • I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago
    • A Hundred Years From Now (studio jam)
    • Where Did They Go, Lord (single, Hot 100 #33)
Disc 2: Love Letters From Elvis
  • Original Album
    • Love Letters
    • When I'm Over You
    • If I Were You
    • Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands Off Of It
    • Heart Of Rome
    • Only Believe
    • This Is Our Dance
    • Cindy, Cindy
    • I'll Never Know
    • It Ain't No Big Thing (But It's Growing)
    • Life
  • Bonus Tracks
    • The Sound Of Your Cry
    • Sylvia
    • Rags To Riches (single, Hot 100 #33)

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