All Things Elvis: Scotty Moore and pals dish up a ‘Mighty Handful’

By Gillian Gaar

Fans who attended the “Last Man Standing” show at the Peabody Hotel during 2007’s Elvis Week in Memphis were the first to get the opportunity to purchase The Mighty Handful Volume 1.

The collection features classics like “I’ve Got My Mojo Working,” “You Can’t Judge A Book,” and “I Put A Spell On You,” performed by an equally classic lineup: Billy Swan (vocals), Bucky Barrett (guitar), Bob Moore (bass), Steve Shepherd (keyboards), Boots Randolph (sax), Buddy Spicher (fiddle), and Fred Satterfield (drums). All of it was produced by Elvis’ first guitarist and a legend in his own right: Scotty Moore.

Moore is typically modest about his hand in the proceedings.

“I guess you could call me the producer — I’d say ‘Rolling!’” he chuckles. “That’d be about it. I just put the guys in there and turned ’em loose! Billy picked a song, and then everybody would do their own thing.”

The sessions came about when Pete Pritchard, a British bass player who’s played in Scotty’s band when he’s toured England, happened to be visiting, and the two friends got the idea to do a little recording. Billy and Boots were asked to join in. Two tracks from the session appear on The Mighty Handful as bonus cuts: “There’s Always Me,” an instrumental with a strong sax solo by Boots, and “Reconsider Baby,” which features Scotty on guitar (though the album credits mistakenly say Scotty appears on “There’s Always Me”).

“It wasn’t intended for release or anything,” says Moore. “It was just a get-together thing while Pete was over here. But everything went off so good, we got to talking about it, and I said, ‘Let’s just call the other guys and do an album!’”

So other friends were duly rounded up.

“These are all guys that, I won’t say retired musicians, but everybody’s over 50!” says Moore. “They’re no spring chickens! Ain’t nobody hired for money or anything; they just enjoy playing. That’s the whole idea to begin with.”

The song selection was done by Swan.

“We just had the idea of doing the old blues stuff and maybe do it a little up tempo. And they just nailed it just together so great. It was just so good I thought other people might like it. And after we’d done that one, I said, ‘Shoot, we’ll do another one!’ So we all got together and did another one. I believe the second one might be better than the first one, really!”

So a Volume 2 is awaiting release; it also happens to be the last recording featuring the work of Boots Randolph, who died July 3, 2007.

There’s a relaxed feel to the recording that has as much to do with the “lo-fi” setting as it does with the musicians’ skills; it was recorded in Moore’s home studio.

“Ohh… technology is ruining music,” he declares. “I hate to say it, but it’s true. I mean, I can set up all the recording equipment that you can buy today, the new technology, and fit it all right here on the dinner table, and stick somebody in another room singing or whatever and do the record. And that’s just not the way they do them anymore. You lose all the camaraderie between guys — they play off each other, and you don’t get that now [when everyone records separately]. I think technology has done more harm than anything else. I really do. It’s gone too fast. I mean, I’m all for improving, everything can be improved, but it’s happening so fast.”

And technological developments have affected music distribution, too, of course. Moore shopped Volume 1 around.

“One company we went to said, ‘Oh, we love it; we’d like to have it, but if you take your group and get on the road, we’ll take it and put it out,’” Moore says. “So, in other words you get paid from your personals [personal appearances] more now than any place else.”

In the end, the group put out the release themselves. You can find it at CDbaby.com and iTunes, as well as Moore’s own site, scottymoore.net. When the CD was sold at the Elvis Week shows, it came in a limited edition of 1,000 with an insert featuring autographs of all the musicians; you can order remaining copies of this edition at Moore’s Web site.

Those of you who saw Scotty during Elvis Week may have seen him at the event for the last time, in part because the old Elvis tunes don’t come out like they used to.
“I wish I could play, but I can’t,” Scotty says. “I’m doin’ pretty good, I guess, except for my age and my hands — hangin’ on with the rest of ’em.”
Then, there’s the size of the crowds.

“I couldn’t even get out of my hotel room last time down there,” Moore says of the frenzy. “That’s what I would have liked to have done, be out in the lobby or something where we could just meet and greet people. That’s part of the whole thing, as far as I’m concerned.”

But this doesn’t mean you won’t see Moore out and about. He was a non-performing guest at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp event, for example. And there’s sure to be other recording projects in the future — such as the release of The Mighty Handful Volume 2. Both Moore and the group also have their own MySpace pages: myspace.com/scotmo and myspace.com/themightyhandful.

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The latest Follow That Dream releases focus on the “That’s The Way It Is” era. The Way It Was CD was first released as part of the FTD book package of the same name, which featured detailed information about the rehearsals and shows that were filmed and recorded in July and August 1970. The book is no longer available, but if you missed it, you can at least get the CD on its own.

And the original That’s The Way It Is album gets the deluxe FTD treatment, expanded to two discs. How does it differ from RCA’s TTWII: Special Edition three-CD box released in 2000? Both do have the 12 tracks that appeared on the original vinyl album. But as the producer of both sets, Ernst Jorgensen, points out, the Special Edition box was very much a celebration of the live recordings (featuring an entire concert and rehearsal).

Conversely, the FTD release focuses on the June 1970 recording sessions, which actually provided most of the tracks for the album. So you hear Elvis working through multiple takes of songs like “Twenty Days and Twenty Nights,” “Stranger in the Crowd,” and “Patch It Up,” among others. Ernst reveals that more material recorded at the June session is being scheduled for release via FTD, with Love Letters From Elvis due in July; Elvis Country will follow at a later date. Info: 888-358-4776; shopelvis.com.

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Elvis’ three albums of sacred recordings have been reissued by RCA/Sony BMG: His Hand In Mine, How Great Thou Art and He Touched Me. All albums have bonus tracks, but none that are previously unreleased.

There’s nothing here that didn’t appear on Peace In The Valley: The Complete Gospel Recordings, a three-CD set released in 2000, though the new releases present the songs in their original running order and feature the original artwork.

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