Wednesday evening was a long time coming for the Memphis Boys, the band solely responsible for resurrecting Elvis Presley's stagnant recording career in the summer of 1969 with incendiary jewels including "In the Ghetto," "Suspicious Minds," "Don't Cry Daddy," and "Kentucky Rain."
Mere hours after basking in the limelight of a hometown ceremony bestowing historical marker status on the location where American Studios once stood before being unceremoniously torn down in 1989, pianist Bobby Wood, organist Bobby Emmons, drummer Gene Chrisman [the night's most valuable player], and guitarist Reggie Young returned to Graceland for their first concert at Elvis' beloved home since Elvis Week 2012.
The rare hit-packed performance was attended by fiercely independent producer Chips Moman, who proudly encouraged his musical comrades from the front row. Incidentally, two other notable musicians, renowned Muscle Shoals bassist David Hood and ace saxophone player Jim Horn [e.g. the Beatles, John Denver, Eric Clapton], were onstage, generally preferring to stay in the shadows.
The exhilarating, sold out concert was fronted by Terry Mike Jeffrey (also supplying acoustic guitar), Scat Springs, and Jennifer Chi, who took vocal turns throughout the evening depending upon the musical genre. Springs' propensity for squeezing every ounce of emotion from a soul lyric likely won him new followers.
The Memphis Boys are capable of tackling soul, rock, pop, country, gospel, and jazz with nary a drop of perspiration, having supported such diverse artists as B.J. Thomas, Neil Diamond, The Box Tops, Billy Swan, Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett, James & Bobby Purify, Bobby Womack, Dobie Gray, Crystal Gayle, Dusty Springfield, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson.
All were represented in the nearly two-hour show—including intermission. The King of Rock 'N' Roll frequently covered many of the afore-mentioned artists, so Elvis Week fans didn't mind if the Memphis Boys casually threw in Thomas' "I Just Can't Help Believing," Swan's "I Can Help," Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," or Nelson's devastatingly effective "Always on My Mind."
It was not uncommon to spot the musicians sneaking smiles of unmitigated joy at one another as the crowd showed their appreciation in spades. Wood boldly jumped up and down during the introductory verse of Elvis' "Any Day Now," causing Emmons to playfully reciprocate. Impromptu dancing and audience singalongs were widely rampant.
"Suspicious Minds" songwriter Mark James was name-checked early in the evening by Sirius-XM deejay Argo, the master of ceremonies who provided insightful commentary between most songs. During the "Suspicious Minds" finale—the ultimate show closer aside from the Beatles' "Hey Jude"—James was invited onstage by Jeffrey. James gamely took over lead vocal duties on the final chorus and shattered fans' perceptions with his soulful interpretation. Without question, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is long overdue for the Memphis Boys.
Setlist: The Memphis Boys in Concert, August 13, 2014, Graceland
- "Mystery Train" [Instrumental; Elvis Presley]
- "Wearin' That Loved On Look" [Elvis Presley]
- "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show" [Neil Diamond]
- "Holly Holy" [Neil Diamond]
- "Sweet Caroline" [Neil Diamond; also covered by Elvis Presley]
- "Cry Like a Baby" [The Box Tops feat. Alex Chilton]
- "Always On My Mind" [co-written by Mark James; recorded by Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson]
- "I Can Help" [Billy Swan; also covered by Elvis Presley]
- "I Gotcha" [Joe Tex]
- "I'm a Midnight Mover" [Wilson Pickett]
- "I'm in Love" [Bobby Womack]
- "Shake a Tail Feather" [James & Bobby Purify]
- "Rubberneckin' [Elvis Presley]
- "Son of a Preacher Man" [Dusty Springfield]
- "I Just Can't Help Believing" [B.J. Thomas; also covered by Elvis Presley]
- "Hooked on a Feeling" [written by Mark James for B.J. Thomas]
- "Luckenbach, Texas" [abbreviated version; written by Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons for Waylon Jennings]
- "Talking in Your Sleep" [abbreviated version; co-written by Bobby Wood for Crystal Gayle]
- "Drift Away" [Dobie Gray]
- "Any Day Now" [Elvis Presley and Ronnie Milsap]
- "Kentucky Rain" [written by Eddie Rabbitt for Elvis Presley]
- "In the Ghetto" [Elvis Presley]
- "Suspicious Minds" [written by Mark James for Elvis Presley]
DON'T GO ANYWHERE YET! The Master of Telecaster, James Burton, is a charter member of L.A. studio wizards the Wrecking Crew and has supported a who's who list of preeminent movers and shakers in a nearly 60-year career – notably Elvis Presley, John Denver, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Merle Haggard, and recently Brad Paisley. Burton joined Rick Nelson in late 1957 for the classic "Stood Up" b/w "Waitin' in School" driving rockabilly single, actually rooming with the Nelson family and ultimately forging an 11-year friendship with the handsome singer. To read a revealing in-depth feature with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer commemorating his fascinating journey with Nelson ["Six String Brothers: James Burton Champions the Timeless Allure of Rick Nelson"], simply click on the highlighted link.
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Exclusive Interview: Rick Nelson was on the verge of a comeback when his plane tragically caught fire en route to a 1985 New Year's Eve gig. A rockabilly-themed album was nearing completion, and the singer had found a new record label in Nashville – Curb Records. Unfortunately, the project was promptly placed in the dustbin whilst various figureheads argued over rights and whether Nelson's vocals were satisfactory. The "Garden Party" songwriter's manager, Greg McDonald, recently made a surprise appearance on satellite radio and gave a very encouraging lowdown on the current status of the project and whether it might see the light of day in time for the 30th anniversary of Nelson's passing.
Exclusive Interview No. 2: Jordanaire Ray Walker counted Elvis Presley as a close friend for two decades. In fact, the genial bassist's debut recording session with the King of Rock and Roll yielded a million selling record – "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I." He recently relived the experience of sitting front row center during an Elvis recording session. Later when the "Alabama Wild Man" himself, Jerry Reed, unexpectedly showed up to add some patented gut-string guitar to a few country rock numbers, the session got especially rambunctious. Visit the following article, "Jordanaire Ray Walker Recalls Studio Nights With Elvis Presley and Jerry Reed," for the complete lowdown.
Exclusive Interview No. 3: Blind pianist Ronnie Milsap, who ruled country radio during the late '70s and '80s with soul-influenced jewels ranging from "Any Day Now" to "Stranger in My House", had a bona fide boyhood idol in the King of Rock 'n' Roll. In "More Thunder on the Piano...", Milsap offers juicy anecdotes about playing keyboards and singing harmony with Elvis on "Kentucky Rain" in the ghetto-ridden section of Memphis, playing two highly coveted New Year's Eve parties attended by a gun-loving, flashlight-toting Elvis, how he learned about the icon's shocking death, and the dilapidated World War II-era plane that nearly cost him his life while en route to a record convention appearance.
Exclusive Interview No. 4: Easy listening song interpreter B.J. Thomas won a well-deserved Grammy for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" after it appeared on the soundtrack of the legendary "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." In "Just a Regular Guy With a Burning Desire to Sing...", the effortless "Hooked on a Feeling" singer exclusively recalls amazing stories about arriving in Memphis in the late '60s and singing for Elvis Presley, appearing on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and having buckets of rain inexplicably thrown on his head, opening for the notoriously temperamental James Brown, his conflict with the Contemporary Christian industry, and his most popular album in 30 years, the duets-laden "Living Room Sessions", recorded in Nashville.
Further Reading: Elvis Presley and Johnny Carson were two kings in their respective fields who admired each other's work immensely. However, Elvis swore off watching "The Tonight Show" on the evening of his 40th birthday after Carson supposedly uttered a "fat and forty" joke in his nightly monologue. Subsequent retellings of the episode by members of Elvis' Memphis Mafia have painted Carson in a negative light. But did the King of Late Night actually say those words nearly 40 years ago? A recent viewing of the original clip and accompanying "Tonight Show" transcript presents stone cold evidence that will lay the claim to rest. Investigate "What Johnny Carson Really Said About Elvis..." for the complete lowdown.
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