Elvis Presley | The G.I. Blues Recording Sessions | 1960
Elvis Presley | On the Train and arriving in Los Angeles California, April 20, 1960 to film G.I. Blues
Elvis Presley (And Charlie Hodge) : On the train to California : April 20, 1960.
Elvis on his way to Los Angeles Union station, late on April 20th, 1960. Charlie Hodge can be seen in the reflection sat next to Elvis. Charlie Hodge : 'Going out on the train to California, it was amazing to me. Every little whistle stop where trains no longer stopped, there was mobs of people all the way across the United States of America, they would be waving when the train went by, because they knew Elvis was on there'.
Elvis Presley (And Charlie Hodge) : On the train to California : April 20, 1960
Question : Has Rock N' Roll died out?
Elvis: 'A lot people say it is has'.
'I'll tell ya, It has changed some, the music itself has changed, it's progressed quite a bit I think'.
Question : It's better?'
Elvis: 'I think it's getting better all the time, you know, because the arrangements are getting better, they're adding more intsruments, and, you know so forth, it's getting better, but in 1956 when I first started out, I was hearing the same thing, that Rock N Roll was dead, that it was dying out, I'm not saying that it won't die out, because it maybe dead tomorrow, completely, I don't know'.
April 20, 1960 : El;vis Presley : Los Angeles Airport California.
April 20, 1960 : El;vis Presley : Los Angeles Airport California.
As his cab is mobbed by teenagers, returning veteran Elvis Presley (rear seat) plays it cool as he arrives in Los Angeles to start work on a movie at Paramount Studios. Despite his attempts to get from the station to his private car via the cab route, he was recognized and quickly surrounded by adoring fans.
Charlie Hodge : 'When we got to Los Angeles, they put us in about five or six different cars, and each car went in a different direction, and they didn't know which one Elvis was in, so they didn't know which one to follow,then we of course, went through the hotel there in Beverly Hills, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel'.
April 20, 1960 : Los Angeles Airport California : Elvis Presley proved he has the same old magic yesterday as screaming teenagers surrounded his taxi as it left Union Station. The faithful had waited four hours for their hero.
Ray Campi : When eventually I got over to Elvis' rehearsal stage I wondered if I could even get in. I quickly sprinted to the stage; the red light was off. I pushed in the thick door with a number painted on it ... The 'Virginian' (James Drury) and his guitar-picking friend were nowhere in sight!
When looking back on the music and film career of a superstar like Elvis Presley, it comes to mind that little of his success could have ever been achieved without help, and on that Paramount lot that was one thing Elvis had going for him. He had help from scores of people from Hal Wallis and The Colonel on down. There was music arranger Charles O'Curran and a score of sound technicians, and of course, his own personal entourage, not to forget the band musicians. When I entered the sound stage at around 10 a.m., I witnessed many people doing many things. Players like Scotty Moore were positioning their instruments and amplifiers. Others were gathered around D.J. Fontana who was getting his drum legs lined up just right. Charlie O'Curran was pulling a stack of song sheets from his briefcase and setting them on the piano. He had been hired by the film company to direct and conduct the music rehearsals of all the songs that were to be recorded in Hollywood for RCA later that very night. Learning the songs had to be done first, of course, as the exact song lyrics were needed on tape so that when filming began Elvis could lip-sync along with the song playbacks.
Hoyt Hawkins (cropped) Neal Mattews, Ray Walker, Gordon Stoker provide backing vocals and Elvis Presley.
Gordon was a friend of a girl who lived in our apartment building called Billie Medlin.
Billie knew Gordon in Dallas, and I knew talking to him would help to 'break the ice' for me.
There were stools placed around the area where the musicians were going to work, so I picked one up and sat down to observe the historic events of that day.
Gordon Stoker : We did most of the movie soundtracks and we were extras in a lot of the movies,crowd scenes and stuff.We enjoyed that and we were getting paid by the studio,we weren't on Elvis' payroll. It was his idea for us to be in the movies.He felt like we were his family.He asked the studios to give us parts in the movies and they did. We were in 'G.I. Blues', 'Loving You' and 'King Creole'.
Ray Campi : Soon a man came over to my corner with an acoustic bass in his hands. It was obvious with only one glance that he was not Bill Black, but a union studio musician and that Bill's success in his solo recording career had put him out of the 'Elvis scene' forever. I talked with him for a while, as he was sort of an outsider like myself, but soon realized that a young man in black slacks, wearing two-tone shoes and a colorful shirt was sitting on the stool beside me not two feet away. He was just as intrigued as I was by all of the movement going on by everyone and we two appeared to be the only ones in the room that had little to do. It was at that moment that I introduced myself to Elvis Presley for the second time in my life.
We talked about 'Mr. Tanner', Bobby Reed and Killeen where we first met. He was extremely cordial to me and I displayed a low-key approach toward meeting him again. Within a few minutes Charlie O'Curran came over from his piano which was on the opposite side of the sound stage and showed Elvis copies of the songs they were going to rehearse that day. He picked up one copy, said, 'We'll start with this one', and walked back to the piano on the far side of the room and pounded out a few chords of music.
Charles O'Curran, Hoyt Hawkins with Tambourine, Dudley Brooks on piano, Ray Walker, Gordon Stoker and Elvis.
Ray Siegel Bass player : 'The nice part about Elvis was that he was always such a fine gentleman'.
'I was always so amazed, and I was always happy to tell people how nice he was on all of the recording sessions. He would walk in and shake hands with everybody in the orchestra. 'How are you guys?' 'How are you? Chief?, he called me, and we had such a good rapport'.
'It was always a good feeling and everybody was in such good spirits whenever we were recording'.
Ray Campi : Once the instrument levels and tunings were set, Charlie went on with his chord run-throughs for all to hear and to follow on the music sheets before them. When the musicians felt at ease with the tune, Elvis got up and started to sing in a mike along with the players a few times. I'm not positive if these rehearsals were recorded on tape, but I think they were as there were engineers who stayed in the booth the entire time and mikes were placed around the stage in various places. But, if recordings were made, I don't recall for sure. I don't think anyone called out the 'take' numbers, and I don't think the tape was turned off for any reason. I assumed the tape was kept running and the contents used for reference at a later date.
I stayed at that rehearsal until about 5 p.m., when I had to leave for my job at the Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills. During that day I sat next to Elvis the entire time, and talked to him briefly between his singing chores. Others would come up and talk with him as well. Charles O'Curran was a very efficient bandleader, little time was wasted and about six or seven songs were rehearsed with Elvis being able to sing all of them through without hesitancy.That night at the theatre I told my envious co-workers about my experience and decided that I would try to return to the Paramount lot the next day, and as many days following as I could.
Wednesday 27th April 1960
Ray Campi : Late Wednesday morning I excitedly drove to the Paramount lot but had no idea how I'd get past the studio gate. James Drury had 'flown the coop' the day before, so how could I manage to get in?Perhaps in old films or in movie magazines you've seen the famous Paramount Studio gate, with lots of people rushing in and out. I made up my mind I'd be one of those people, still remembering that these gate police have very important jobs; mainly to keep nerds like me out! There was a way, though, to get in quite easily, and that was to enter through the gate at 10 minutes past 12:00 or at 10 minutes to 1:00.
Those were the times when workers left and returned from lunch. During this period many office workers, stage hands, actors, extras and producers and their staff walked through the main gate, going to lunch at the restaurants on Bronson and Melrose Avenues. These people were never challenged by the guards, and I made my second appearance on the Paramount lot with an envelope in my hand, walking briskly with my eyes pointed intently, straight ahead. Before I knew it I was back on Elvis' rehearsal stage.
What went on that second day was much like the previous one; the same people were present, working in the same way. I was impressed by the quality of the songs in G.I. Blues.
I thought all of them were well-written and uniquely arranged. I talked with Elvis again and stayed there for a while, then decided to 'look around' the lot. I entered another stage where some extras were already in costume, were made-up and were being screen-tested for small parts in the movie.
Director Norman Taurog would ask them to walk on the set of a cafeteria and say a few lines as a camera filmed them. There was one girl in a German costume who later appeared as a waitress in the picture.
Thursday 28th April 1960
Ray Campi : The next day, Thursday, I pulled my same 'fast walking' / 'important business' act and got past the guard again at lunch break. I made it to the studio and was soon perched on what was becoming 'my favorite stool.'The rehearsals were fun! I was getting to be with Elvis and hear him sing 'in person', more than any fan who had to buy a ticket to a concert. Was I a fan? I guess so, but a low-key one. Bear in mind that I'd started playing music a few years before Elvis, had had live radio shows with my Ramblers while still a teenager in high school, and had recorded in a 'real' studio as early as 1951.
There was no doubt that Presley was great! He completely changed the music business and opened doors for youthful entertainers and for country-fied rock 'n' rollers such as myself. Yet I didn't care to become a 'groupie.' Maybe I was too independent, or perhaps concerned more with my own music. I chose not to be running after him. I never asked for an autograph or for a photo to be taken. Would I act that way if I had the chance today? HELL, NO! For the above-mentioned reasons I acted a little shy with Presley and his troupe, though this was not to my best advantage - as I found out the next day.
During the course of Elvis' song rehearsals on that Thursday in April of 1960, I noticed that a boy of about ten had taken a seat on the stool next to mine - usually occupied by Elvis. This boy had a close relationship with the singer and talked with him a lot. The boy and myself began to talk and soon I'd told him I was from Austin, Texas, had met Elvis in Texas and that I played and sang rockabilly music.
'You should be in the picture!' he enthusiastically exclaimed. 'That's not a bad idea', I answered. Anything was better than my job of tearing theatre tickets, I thought. 'I can help you', the kid went on. 'My dad is Norman Taurog and is the director. I'll take you to meet him.' I was in shock. During the past few days Mr. Taurog had never appeared on the sound stage as he was busy testing actors for supporting roles on another stage. The kid acted like he had discovered something important and that by finding me, he was doing his dad a favor.
Presley, Martin & Lewis?
My pulse quickened as we exited the sound stage and soon we were ascending a flight of stairs to an office where I was to meet one of the best and most famous directors of musical films in the world.
Mr. Taurog was very warm and polite, and asked my drama background, did I have an agent, photos, experience, etc.? He then called the Paramount casting director and set up an appointment for me the next morning, which was Friday. I was to meet him at 9 a.m. (I knew then that my chances of being in the film were over. If a film director wants you in his picture, he does not ask permission from the casting director; he informs him what part you'll be playing.) I thanked Mr. Taurog and his son and left the studio as it was late afternoon and the theatre was awaiting me. I drove quickly to Beverly Hills with a million thoughts racing through my mind.
Photo at top Right : Jerry Lewis, Norman Taurog, Johnny Taurog and Dean Martin.
Elvis Presley : The G.I. Blues Recording Sessions.
Friday April 29th 1960
Ray Campi : At 9:00 sharp the next morning on Friday, April 29th, I was ushered into the office of Paramount's casting director. The middle-aged, cherub-faced man looked briefly at my photos, asked a few pertinent questions and thanked me for coming. Within a few minutes, maybe five, I was led to the door with the familiar, 'We'll be in touch'. I headed back to what I thought would be safe ground, the rehearsal stage I had grown used to Elvis and the group were getting ready to go back to rehearsing, so I picked out a spot to sit down.
After an hour or two the bottom fell out of my world.
Something like this happened to me on that fateful Friday. One of the technicians on the stage came to me and asked my name. I told him. 'Are you part of Elvis' group of friends?' he asked. I said, 'No', although I'd met him before. I was asked to leave. Later I learned that Elvis and the musicians thought that since I was there so many days in a row, I was a studio employee. Remember, Jim Drury did not introduce me personally to Elvis as his friend; he'd already left when I arrived. I possibly could have explained that I'd met Elvis in Texas in '58, that we had 'mutual friends' or something silly like 'Gabe Tucker sent me here', but I didn't. I did not want to say I'd had a meeting with the director or with Colonel Parker. If I had then I'm sure no one would have cared how long I'd observed the goings on.I had a great time. It was a fun experience for four days, so I couldn't really grumble. I packed up my pride and walked off the Paramount lot feeling like I was a richer man - which I was. By the way, I'm still waiting to hear from that casting director!
Charles O' Curran,Scotty Moore, Hoyt Hawkins, Dudley Brooks on piano (slightly masked) Neal Matthews, Gordon Stoker and Elvis.
'Scotty and Tiny became close friends working on the tracks sessions. Tiny could read music and Scotty used the nashville number system,so Tiny helped transfer the scores over before the actual recording sessions'.
Tiny Timbrell : 'A lot of times there were different things to play,and we switched back and forth. It was a matter of what we called 'doubling' in the studio. We wanted to make as much money as we could,so we traded back and forth. He'd play electric on some things and I'd play electric and so on...'
Dudley Brooks : 'You see,all my work with Elvis, you know ... his group didn't read any music. All the numbers that we did were rehearsed by me, but I had to tell them what, you know. I had to work it out with them. That was my main job with Elvis - learning all the songs and getting them ready for recording.
Not only that, we would record first all the numbers, and then I would write them down later, I'd write all the numbers down that we recorded, after we did the recordings, so that I could give it to the musical director,so that he could know what was going on musically, so it was a kind of backwards procedure there, but everything that we recorded, which made me a lot of extra money, I wrote all these things down after we recorded it. I had written down lead sheets for them, Guitar parts mostly, thats what we needed. Guitar parts and a bass part, and a part for the drummer and myself-a piano part. I did that.
** November 1959 meeting with Hill & Range,Paramount had four tunes selected, two of which were two by Leiber & Stoller ,'Tulsa's Blues' and 'Dog Face'.The writers had not contributed these titles specifically for use in the picture as 'Dog Face' was an unreleased leftover from a 'Coasters' session. Colonel Parker wrote a letter to Jean Aberbach 'It is unfair to make different deals for the same service'. and eventually both numbers were not included in the musical. Elvis made a phone call to Priscilla and commented that he had just had a meeting with Colonel Parker and informed him that half the songs in the picture should be cut. Priscilla asked what did the Colonel say? 'Hell,what could he say? I'm locked into this thing'.
April 20, 1960 : Elvis On the Train and arriving in Los Angeles California, to film G.I. Blues
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Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.