Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The thirteenth (and last) top Elvis book (in my list anyway)
Elvis Presley, A Life In Music: The Complete Recording Sessions, by Ernst Jorgensen

Danish-born Ernst Jorgensen wrote his first version of this book way back in the 1970s. At the time, he was just a fan, of Elvis but The Doors, too. Then he got into the music business and, in time, became an executive at BMG, RCA’s parent company. By the late 1980s, he was running Arista Denmark. 

In 1991, BMG, weary of US RCA’s loss-making sluggishness, sent its European executives over to revive its American operations. Jorgensen was appointed to run the Elvis reissue programme, which till then had been haphazard and incoherent. That was a result of market research, Jorgensen later explained. RCA’s diligent and accurate surveys found that ‘the typical Elvis consumer was a woman between the ages of 35 and 55, who was married to a blue-collar worker, and who was unwilling to spend more than $8 on an Elvis album. This research was taken as gospel at the time I arrived.’ 

Expecting to work on the Elvis catalogue for two or three years, he is still on it and still based in Denmark. He started by setting the RCA market surveys to one side and putting together a box set, The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Complete 50s Masters. Budgeted to sell 20,000, it eventually did 400,000. Jorgensen did his job with taste and drive, compiling a series of box sets (Essential 60s Masters etc) and greatest hits compilations such as Elvis: 30 #1 Hits (2002). For the true believers, he created the Follow That Dream label which puts out soundboard recordings, outtakes and originally unissued soundtracks. By late 2013, there were more than 120 albums on the label, some of which were previously available as bootlegs and some of which were entirely new material.

Behind all these records, both the RCA compilations and the Follow That Dream specials, lay the scholarly rigour that Jorgensen brought to this book. It details every Elvis session, from his first amateur recording at Sun in 1953 to his final taped show at Rushmore Civic Centre, Rapid City on 21 June, 1977. Not only is it almost unimaginably detailed and accurate, it’s a book that reads well, too. Right through it runs the question that Jorgensen says he posed himself at every turn: ‘How do you explain that Elvis’ recording of Old MacDonald came out at the same time as his recording of Big Boss Man? How do you get these two to be part of the same artistic development?’

In 2010, Jorgensen put out the 711-track, 30 CD collection, The Complete Elvis Presley Masters. ‘The Mt Everest of my life,’ said Jorgensen. A limited edition of 1000, priced at $749, it sold out immediately. ‘The most wonderful thing that has ever happened in my professional life,’ said Jorgensen. The second edition is not numbered.

Nothing is forever,
though, of course. In 2012, another unreleased Elvis track surfaced, his version of the Clovers’ Little Mama, recorded at the Louisiana Hayride on March 5, 1955. Jorgensen put that out on a Follow That Dream compilation, A Boy From Tupelo: The Complete 1953-55 Recordings. Though that 3-CD plus book collection is now sold out, you can find Little Mama — and other newly uncovered tracks on the Greatest Live Hits Of The 50s album put out by the English grey-market label, Memphis Recording Services.

Now Buy the ebook/order the paperback direct from the publisher's Rocket 88 site. (You flip the drop-down menu to find the ebook, just £1.99. There is also a free ebook thing.) Or you can go to Amazon, read the review ('outstanding' etc) then buy the ebook.

Next . . . something else