All Things Elvis: Newest Elvis reissues pack plenty of extras

By  Gillian Gaar

July 31, 2009, marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ triumphant return to live performance at the International Hotel in Las Vegas (now the Las Vegas Hilton). The event will be commemorated during this year’s Elvis Week, Aug. 8-16, with a special concert Aug. 14 at the Cannon Center in Memphis, Tenn., featuring many of the performers who shared the stage with Elvis back in 1969, including Millie Kirkham, The Sweet Inspirations, The Imperials and James Burton and Glen D. Hardin from the TCB Band, among others. Terry Mike Jeffrey and Andy Childs will provide additional vocals, and other participants will be announced; check elvis.com for updates.

Whether or not you attend, you’ll certainly want to pick up Follow That Dream’s new revamping of Elvis In Person At The International Hotel. The album was first released in the two-album set From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis in November 1969; a year later, the set was split into separate albums, Elvis In Person … and Back In Memphis (which featured studio recordings from Elvis’ legendary sessions at American Sound Studio in January and February 1969). Elvis In Person … is one of the best of Elvis’ live recordings; it positively crackles with energy. This latest version is a two-disc set, featuring the original album, a handful of interesting rare live performances of songs like “This Is The Story,” “Inherit The Wind” and “Reconsider Baby,” and, on the second disc, the entire dinner show from Aug. 22 (previously unreleased). It’s a wonderful set that truly conveys the excitement of that inaugural engagement.

The mood is quite different on another recent Follow That Dream release, I’ll Remember You, largely drawn from the Feb. 3, 1973, midnight show in Vegas (two more tracks are from the Feb. 2 and Feb. 3 dinner shows). Despite the presence of uptempo tracks like “See See Rider” and “Blue Suede Shoes,” the overall feel is very laid-back — no doubt due at least in part to the fact that Elvis was ill during much of this particular engagement, which resulted in a number of shows being canceled. Still, his delivery of the title track (from the Feb. 3 dinner show) is beautifully delicate, and it’s always nice to have another live show.

Finally, the soundtrack from Elvis’ most successful film and soundtrack during his lifetime, Blue Hawaii, has been given the full FTD treatment. The 1997 reissue of the album on CD had eight bonus tracks; this edition has an amazing 42. In addition to the original album, the two-CD set has movie versions of four songs, and first takes of nearly every song on the original album. The album’s best known song is “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” and you can hear the track evolve over 12 takes. While working on the “music box” version, Elvis can’t keep from laughing on a few takes.

Other highlights are Elvis’ versions of the standards “Aloha Oe” (three takes), and the film’s title track (six takes), a number that always gets me in the mood for a Mai Tai whenever I hear it, as well as three takes of the soundtrack’s liveliest song, “Rock-A-Hula Baby.” A great collection if you’re a fan of this film. Info: shopelvis.com, (877) 687-4277.

Jerry Hopkins wrote the first serious biography of Elvis, simply titled “Elvis” and first published in 1971. He went on to write “Elvis: The Final Years” and “Elvis In Hawaii” (Hopkins was lucky enough to live in Hawaii for a time), and he now has two more books out with Elvis/Hawaiian connections. “The Showman Of The Pacific” is the memoir of Hawaiian DJ/promoter Tom Moffatt (who co-wrote the book with Hopkins), who has great stories to share about Elvis’ shows in Hawaii, as well as stories about the numerous other stars he worked with throughout his career. The book also features plenty of photos and other memorabilia, including a great shot of Elvis on stage at the Honolulu Stadium in 1957.

More recently, Jerry put together the oral history “Don Ho: My Music, My Life,” with the legendary Hawaiian entertainer, best known for his hit “Tiny Bubbles,” who died in 2007; it’s another lavishly illustrated book.

Don Ho was an Elvis fan himself, as he told me when I interviewed him in November 2001 after a show at the Waikiki Beachcomber. “Elvis to me was incredibly gifted,” he said. “He had a natural, beautiful voice. Nobody will ever come to match his voice, like nobody will match Frank Sinatra’s voice. Nobody’s come close to Elvis.” Don had also gone to school with Ed Parker, later one of Elvis’ karate instructors, and said, “Ed made sure that Elvis knew who I was! He would tell Elvis, ‘That guy Don Ho — he was my classmate. He taught me how to play the ukulele.’ ”

Elvis later surprised Don by introducing himself while Don was actually in the middle of a performance in Vegas at the International. “He was all dressed up in his whites and everything,” Don recalled, “and he came onstage, just walked onstage! It was just like he was saying to me, ‘Finally, we meet!’ And we were just carrying on a conversation, he and I, quietly, and gave each other a hug and a kiss.” I asked Don why he didn’t perform any Elvis songs himself during his own show. “You cannot do justice to Elvis,” he told me. “Nobody can do it like Elvis. Elvis will live longer than anybody.”

Both “Showman of the Pacific” and “Don Ho” are from Watermark Publishing. Info: bookshawaii.net, (866) 900-BOOK.

In a final Hawaiian note, if you visit the island of Oahu, there are now two reasons to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center. One: it served as one of the film locations for “Paradise, Hawaiian Style,” and two: a new gift shop has been opened to capitalize on that connection, the Aloha Elvis store. The store is stocked with all kinds of Elvis goodies, emphasizing a Hawaiian theme (remember that Elvis made three movies in the islands, as well as his landmark Aloha From Hawaii concert); you can buy an “Aloha shirt” like the one Elvis wore in Blue Hawaii, for example. All PCC shops are open to the public whether or not you visit PCC itself — but as one of Hawaii’s top attractions, it’s well worth doing so. Info: polynesia.com.

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