In January-February 1969, after 13 years of recording studio albums and movie soundtracks in Nashville and Hollywood, the time was right for Elvis Presley (1935-1977) to set foot once again in a Memphis studio. Those sessions at Chip Moman’s American Studios yielded a year-long string of ‘comeback’ hit singles: “In the Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Don’t Cry Daddy” and “Kentucky Rain.”
FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS: LEGACY EDITION collects that entire American Studios output, and then some. The specially-designed 40th anniversary double-CD package will be available at all physical and digital retail outlets starting July 28th through RCA/Legacy, a division of SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT.
The extensive 2,400-word liner notes essay for FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS: LEGACY EDITION was written by the homegrown Memphis team of Robert Gordon (whose books include It Came From Memphis and The Elvis Treasures, and whose documentary films include Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story and Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement’s Home Movies) and his wife Tara McAdams, author of The Elvis Handbook among other works.
Individually, disc one of FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS: LEGACY EDITION includes the 12 songs of 1969’s original From Elvis In Memphis LP. Among these are “In the Ghetto” (written by Mac Davis, the song that jump-started his career the next year as a Columbia Records artist), and powerful covers of Gamble & Huff’s “Only The Strong Survive” (via Jerry Butler), Johnny Tillotson’s “It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’,” Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” (famously covered by the Rolling Stones back in ’65), John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind,” and Burt Bacharach’s “Any Day Now” (via Chuck Jackson).
The 12 songs are augmented by four bonus tracks, songs that showed up on various LPs over the next couple of years “Who Am I?”, “If I’m A Fool (For Loving You),” and covers of Bobby Darin’s “I’ll Be There” and the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”
Disc two of FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS: LEGACY EDITION includes the 10 songs that comprised LP two of the double-LP From Memphis To Vegas – From Vegas To Memphis (more on this album below). Among these are Percy Mayfield’s “Stranger In My Own Home Town,” Neil Diamond’s “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind” (ironically, it was Neil Diamond who yielded his studio time at American to accommodate Elvis), Bobby Russell’s “Do You Know Who I Am?,” Ned Miller’s “From A Jack To A King,” and Mort Shuman’s “You’ll Think Of Me.”
These 10 songs are augmented by another 10 bonus tracks, grouped as The Original Mono Single Masters. Four are (mono) reprises of songs that appeared on the aforementioned LPs: “In The Ghetto,” “Any Day Now,” “The Fair’s Moving On,” and “You’ll Think Of Me.” The other six were all originally non-LP single sides at the time of their first release: “Suspicious Minds” (the Grammy Hall Of Fame and Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee, written by Mark James); “Don’t Cry Daddy” (Mac Davis) b/w “Rubberneckin'”; Eddie Rabbitt’s “Kentucky Rain” b/w Shirl Milete’s “My Little Friend”; and finally, guitarist Johnny Christopher’s “Mama Liked The Roses.”
Elvis Presley’s multi-faceted performing career underwent a heroic rebirth in 1968 and 1969, ignited by three factors: his NBC-TV “comeback” special of December 1968 (taped in June, his first live show before an audience in over seven years); his landmark sessions at Chip Moman’s American Studios in January-February 1969 (Elvis’ first official recording in his hometown of Memphis since leaving Sun Records in November 1955); and his triumphant return to Las Vegas (the International Hotel) in August 1969, which led to his return to touring for the rest of his life.
The back-story originates with the NBC-TV broadcast of “The ’68 Comeback Special.” A colossal success by every standard, the TV special (and those indelible black leather images) invigorated Elvis and everyone around him, including the two most formidable figures in his career at the time, Colonel Tom Parker (his manager) and Felton Jarvis of RCA Records (his A&R man and staff producer).
Several members of Elvis’ entourage had long-standing connections with producer and songwriter Chips Moman. As busy as Memphis and the surrounding area’s studios were – Stax Records, Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records, and in Alabama, Rick Hall’s FAME Studios and the new Muscle Shoals Sound – it was Chips’ American Studios on Thomas Street that had all but eclipsed the competition, a steady rise in business that began in 1965. Like those other studios, American had its core rhythm section of world-class players: guitarist Reggie Young, bassists Tommy Cogbill and Mike Leech, Bobby Emmons on organ, Bobby Wood on piano, drummer Gene Chrisman, plus the Memphis Horns led by Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love, and a dazzling array of background vocalists. Holding it together was Chips Moman, a songwriter (“Dark End Of the Street,” Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman Do Right Man”) and experienced producer since his earliest days at Stax Records.
According to Peter Guralnick, American reportedly charted 120 hits between November 1967 and January 1971, landing 28 records on the Billboard charts in one memorable week. There were early national hits with local acts Sam the Sham (“Wooly Bully”), Sandy Posey (“Born a Woman”), the Box Tops (“The Letter”), Merrilee Rush (“Angel Of the Morning”), the Gentrys (“Keep On Dancin'”), and many others. Atlantic Records became a major client, as producer Jerry Wexler steered Aretha Franklin (“Think”), Wilson Pickett (“I’m a Midnight Mover”), Dusty Springfield (Dusty In Memphis), Cissy Houston and the Sweet Inspirations (“Sweet Inspiration”), Herbie Mann (Memphis Underground), and many other label acts to Chips’ American Studios.
A lifelong Memphis resident (since age 13) whose story – and the story of the birth of rock and roll itself – is inextricably linked for all time, Elvis Presley arrived at American Studios at the perfect moment: January 13, 1969. It was just six weeks after the NBC-TV broadcast of December 3rd, and a month after the release of the TV Special soundtrack LP, a platinum seller whose climactic closing number, “If I Can Dream,” was turning into Elvis’ first hit single since 1966.
With the exception of the impromptu “Million Dollar Quartet” session of December 1956 at Sun Studios with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash (officially unreleased until 1990), it was the first time Elvis was recording in his hometown in over 13 years. The first results of the American Studio sessions came quickly; “In the Ghetto” was issued as a non-LP single in May 1969, and was welcomed as a platinum-selling hit.
In June 1969, From Elvis In Memphis presented 12 of the 32 master recordings that Elvis completed at American Studios, climaxing with “In the Ghetto.” The album became his first gold-selling studio (non-movie soundtrack) LP since 1961. In August, “Suspicious Minds” (b/w “You’ll Think Of Me”) was released as a new non-LP single. “Suspicious Minds” not only hit the million-selling mark, but became Elvis first #1 hit since 1962 (“Good Luck Charm”) and the last #1 of his career.
Also in August, buoyed by his comeback chain of events, Elvis kicked off a four-week run at the brand new International Hotel in Las Vegas, following Barbra Streisand’s run in the 2,000-seat showroom. Live recording over the course of six nights was produced by Felton Jarvis, and five months later in November, the double-LP From Memphis To Vegas – From Vegas To Memphis was released.
The first LP gathered 13 songs recorded live at the hotel; the second LP brought out another 10 of the American Studio tracks. The concurrent November single release, however, was not drawn from the album tracks. Instead, it came from the American sessions, as “Don’t Cry Daddy” chalked up another million-selling Top 10 hit. Two months later in January 1970, “Kentucky Rain” extended the string, a Top 20 gold-selling hit.
A couple of as-yet unreleased American tracks – Bobby Darin’s “I’ll Be There,” “If I’m A Fool (For Loving You)” – surfaced on Let’s Be Friends, a Camden budget LP released April 1970. In November, RCA spun off the studio half of the double-album as a single LP, Back In Memphis. In March 1971, another as-yet unreleased American track – “Who Am I” – surfaced on Elvis’ Christmas Album, also a Camden budget LP. And in February 1972, one more as-yet unreleased American track – the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” – popped up in the middle of Elvis Now. It was the last time that the non-LP American sides were heard from until the 1993 box set, From Nashville to Memphis: The Essential 60’s Masters.
Elvis Presley scored a major conquest with the music he recorded at American Studios that winter of 1969, a triumphant return to his hitmaking ways in the company of another Mid-South visionary, Chips Moman. “But fires must be fed, or else they go out,” Gordon and McAdams warn. Still, “After revisiting the spirit of home, Elvis had a victory he could reflect upon, a confirmation that he was capable of more, a knowledge of the fire burning inside us all that we call hope.”