Elvis Presley’s Elvis Country: “He was on a different planet!”

Presley's top session men remember the creation of one of his finest works

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There was little evidence of how good that work would be when the sessions began. Elvis’ publishers Freddy Bienstock and Lamar Fike started off by pitching the sort of tame material he’d been singing before Memphis. “There’s every reason to believe the country album wasn’t planned,” explains Ernst Mikael Jorgensen, who has heard every tape from the sessions. “I think Felton thought he was going to go in there to record an album of pop songs. They started with two British power ballads – ‘I’ve Lost You’ and ‘Twenty Days And Twenty Nights’. But then Elvis jumps into ‘I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago’, in one take.”

Originally a gospel tune, the boisterous version of “I Was Born…” would weave in and out of Elvis Country, an impromptu theme threading the record together. “After Elvis has finished more demanding, big ballads, including 11 takes of ‘The Sound Of Your Cry’, it’s past midnight,” Jorgensen continues. “And they start to play ‘Faded Love’ in a country version, and then they jump into ‘100 Years From Now’ and ‘Little Cabin On The Hill’ – bluegrass songs like he did at Sun, not serious, with Elvis on his own acoustic guitar, very spirited. And Felton panics. This is developing in a way that he never anticipated, and fast, so at the end of the reel he has to turn the tape over and record on the back, there’s no time to get a new one. They did nine songs that first night.”

For a typical session, Burton remembers, “Elvis would only wanna sing a song three, four times at most. And after that, he’d move onto something else. He was the greatest at taking the song and redoing it, putting his thing to it, his arrangement. His voice was so powerful, and we had all the freedom in the world to play what we wanted to play. I loved it when Norbert would break out the stand-up bass…”


“Elvis would let you go,” continues Putnam. “He never said, ‘I’d like you to play like this.’ He would take the song and start getting in the mood to do it, then the light would come on and we’d play to that emotion. And he loved it, didn’t he? I’d say, ‘King’ or sometimes we called him El. ‘El, what do you think of the bass part?’”

“I had all the freedom I needed,” adds Burton. “We’d rehearse a song, and after one time, we knew who was going to play the intro, who was going to play the turn-around, and we all picked out the little frills for each one of us…”


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