Box set review of Elvis Presley’s ‘A Boy From Tupelo’

Elvis Presley
A Boy From Tupelo: The Complete 1953-55 Recordings
Follow That Dream

By Gillian Gaar

Owning this box set can be good for your health. Seriously. The book in the set weighs 10 pounds, meaning that while you listen to the music, you could also get in a little weight training.

ABoyFromTupelo_FIThis three-CD set (and 10-pound book), documents Elvis’ Sun Records period as never before, bringing together almost every known master, outtake and live performance recording that exists from 1953 to 1955. (A live version of “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” turned up on YouTube after the book’s release.) Most of the material has been released before, but never in this quality. The 1954 acetate of “It Wouldn’t Be The Same Without You,” for example, has far more clarity than the version that appears on the 1999 release “Sunrise.” Sources for each of the tracks are scrupulously documented and include original acetates, original Sun tapes, RCA reference tapes, 45 RPM vinyl singles and 78 RPM shellac records. You even get to compare how Elvis’ first single, “That’s All Right”/“Blue Moon of Kentucky” sounded on a Sun record vs. an RCA record. (In our opinion, RCA fleshed out the sound, but the Sun version has more warmth.)

One quibble is that all this information is only listed in the book; it would have been nice to have put it on the jacket holding the CDs as well, so you’re not always referring back to the book. Another quibble is that the book itself has no index.

The new material appears on the second and third discs, which feature Sun outtakes and live material, respectively. No outtake is too short; there are 10 and 20-second fragments of studio chat, for example. There are new versions of “Harbor Lights,” “When It Rains, It Pours” (later renamed “When It Rains, It Really Pours”), and rehearsal takes of “How Do You Think I Feel.” Live material is drawn from “Louisiana Hayride” appearances (including five previously unreleased) and shows in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, plus early interviews, including one with Mae Boren Axton, who co-wrote Elvis’ first big hit, “Heartbreak Hotel.”

The book is a day-by-day account of 1954 and 1955, featuring hundreds of quotes; you’ll find something for every live appearance by people who were actually there, which gives you a real sense of what the shows were like. There are hundreds of photos and illustrations; an ad for the Ampex tape recorder Sam Phillips used at Sun Studio, contemporaneous newspaper articles (including Elvis’ first newspaper interview), ticket stubs, publicity photos and other ephemera. ”I never realized I’d find so many previously unreleased photos and so many people willing to share their stories,” Ernst Jorgensen told Goldmine. He wisely doesn’t try to resolve discrepancies in the different accounts, instead pointing out when conflicting information exists.

It’s a wonderful set. The only problem is that due to production costs, only a limited number of copies were produced. At time of writing, the set is no longer available on Elvis Presley Enterprises’ website, though it may be available at fan club websites (auction sites are also starting to carry copies). Hopefully a scaled-down set with the CDs will be released, and the book’s information incorporated into, say, an updated edition of Jorgensen’s “Elvis Presley: A Life in Music.”

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