The most exciting of the new FTD releases has to be Writing For The King, a combo book-CD package, like last year?s splendid Rockin? Across Texas. The book portion is by Goldmine contributor Ken Sharp, and the premise is a remarkably simple one; Ken interviewed the songwriters of Elvis Presley songs from ?I?m Left, You?re Right, She?s Gone? to ?Way Down,? and many more in between (a handful of interviews are taken from other sources).
?It was my idea for the book,? Sharp said. ?Besides being a freelance music writer, I'm also a songwriter ? with two CDs out and a third in the works ? and a lifelong Elvis fan. So my primary interest in the music and creative process has always been paramount.?
Ernst Jorgensen, who co-produces the FTD releases, further added, ?Doing books in such small prints runs is a risky business, so we can only do a very limited number of these. We are sometimes approached by people who have very large photo collections or great stories, but I fell for Ken's angle of the songwriters, as this has only been done very randomly. With the setup Elvis had in publishing, these writers were crucial, and their stories are a fascinating look behind the scenes. How often has their story been told??
There are plenty of familiar names, such as Mae Boren Axton (who co-wrote ?Heartbreak Hotel?), Otis Blackwell (who wrote ?All Shook Up? and ?Don?t Be Cruel,? among others), and, of course, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (?Hound Dog,? ?Jailhouse Rock,? and many others). But it?s especially fascinating to read the comments from the authors of less-acclaimed songs like ?Do the Clam? and ?Yoga Is As Yoga Does? (even co-writer Gerald Nelson has to concede of the latter, ?It was terrible?we all knew it was bad?). It?s the kind of book you can flip open anywhere and learn something new, such as that Dolores Fuller, star of such Ed Wood cult classics as Glen Or Glenda?, was also an Elvis songwriter ? who knew? Or that John Marascalco first offered ?Rip It Up? to Elvis via Sam Phillips, who turned it down, so Marascalco ended up taking it to Little Richard, who recorded it, after which it was then covered ? by Elvis. There?s also a very informative interview with Freddy Bienstock, a songplugger with Hill & Range, Elvis? publishing company.
Equally illuminating is the accompanying CD featuring 26 original demos for the songs. ?I worked very hard on tracking down most of the demos,? said Sharp. ?I think it?s a fascinating listen and window into Elvis the musical artist. Fans can hear how Elvis modified and reinvented many of the songs or stayed fairly close to the demos. All in all, knowing this brings us even closer to the real Elvis. Ernst tracked down some of the key demos as well, including a very historic find, the demo for ?Heartbreak Hotel? as sung by Glenn Reeves. This is Elvis?s own personal demo, which was found by EPE and licensed for the project. He also acquired the demo for ?Teddy Bear? and Leiber & Stoller?s demo for ?Trouble? among others.? A second CD features unreleased songs from various Las Vegas dates.
All in all, a terrific package that?s highly recommended. Info: 1-888-TCB-ELVIS (822-3584), www.shopelvis.com.
And speaking of Mr. Sharp, he was lucky enough to interview Alfred Wertheimer, who?s recently put out a new book of his Elvis photographs shot during 1956, Elvis At 21: New York to Memphis (Insight Editions). Ken?s interview will appear in an upcoming issue of Goldmine, and I want to put in an additional plug for a book that I consider one of the few essential photo books of Elvis you should have in your collection. It?s available in two editions, so if you can?t spring for the $395 limited edition, you can pick up