ELVIS PRESLEY RECORDING SECRETS
by British TV personality BUNNY LEWIS in an interview with Mike HellicarWHEN Elvis Presley steps into a recording studio, he takes immediate and complete control of all the musicians and technical staff - relying on his own ability to act as musical director, a-and-r manager and artist! And the chances are that Elvis is the only one who knows the numbers he is going to record; the musicians don't hear them until the session!
These, and other Presley recording secrets, were revealed to me by TV personality, agent and manager Bunny Lewis, who spent six hours in a small Hollywood studio watching Elvis at work - recording numbers for his new film, "Girls, Girls, Girls."
"Elvis was working on a three-day session, sweating it out from noon to midnight," reported Bunny. "He had brought some of his boys from Nashville, including the vocalising Jordanaires, who are quite fantastic.
"At no time did I see them look at any orchestrations, nor were they given any instructions. The session was completely controlled by Elvis, who didn't hesitate to take advice from all and sundry, but made it clear that he knew the sound he wanted and went after it until he got it.
"It was amazing that they should all work as a team without any music written down on paper.
"Apparently the set-up is that Elvis learns the words of the songs he plans to record. Then a demonstration disc is made. This is played about six times to the musicians in the studio. From it they pick up their musical interpretations. They were a truly professional crowd."
Bunny was told that if Elvis and the musicians couldn't come up with a suitable impromptu arrangement within about half an hour, the number was often scrapped. On some occasions the lyric would be re-written to Elvis' satisfaction and they would have another stab at it.
"During all this time, Elvis never lost his temper or raised his voice," said Bunny. "He seemed to get frustrated with himself quite frequently. I was terribly impressed with his dedication."
During breaks in the session, Elvis chatted to Bunny - mainly about the recordings they were doing. "I found him very quiet, very polite, very intense," said Bunny. "And I found a topic on which he will talk for hours is cars. After all, if a chap's got fourteen, he must be interested in them."
Another point to prove that Elvis is very much the boss on a session is the fact that nobody passes a "take" except Elvis. During the six hours Bunny was in the studio, he did not see Elvis eat, although soft drinks were being carried in for him most of the time.
"What a terrific looking fellow he is" enthused Bunny. "He stands about six feet tall, has broad shoulders and narrow hips. With his Greek god profile, he is a very commanding personality.
"Even by watching him at the microphone, I was able to see his outstanding talent.
"I think it is a pity he has not been to Britain to give people the opportunity of seeing him.
"I am fully convinced that record buyers here would realise what a lot of bad rock is being foisted on to them once they saw Elvis in person. He stands above comparison, a giant of pop music."
Bunny also discovered that Elvis does his utmost to listen to as many discs as he can. "He is very interested in records. He has heard of a lot of British artists and knows a good deal about the recording set-up. I suppose he has to keep on his toes night and day - there are so many singers going all out to topple him from his perch."
He also paid tribute to the musicians accompanying Elvis. "Nothing is too much trouble for them. They are paid a lot of money, but they earn it. Elvis was working with complete confidence in them and they are part of the reason he turns out so many good records.
"Another is because of the tremendous musical feel he has."
Incidentally, Elvis was impeccably dressed, reports Bunny. He was wearing an open-necked sports shirt, tight trousers and Texan boots. He has lost 20 lbs in weight and looks more of a pin-up boy than ever.
This was one of the highlights of Bunny's six-week trip to the States from which he returned just a few days ago. He visited many other cities, including Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and the show-place of the world - Las Vegas.
He was full of enthusiasm for Sammy Davis, whom he saw at the Las Vegas Sands Hotel. He recalled that during Davis' act one night, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin strolled in - having flown over from Palm Springs in Frank's private plane on the spur of the moment.
"I didn't see what went on, but they were the talk of the town afterwards," said Bunny. "Seems they had gone on to join other performers. Apparently a lot of drink was poured into Martin's hat, and then he put it on his head - what a waste!"
Bunny also discovered that on Sundays there's a third show in the Sands Hotel, round about 2 am, to give performers appearing in the glittering town a chance to see each other. In a room full of stars, Bunny was able to pick out Freddie Bel(of the Bell Boys, who toured here with Tommy Steele in 1957), Arlene Dahl, Andy Williams and Dinah Shore nearby.
The artist he saw in cabaret included Williams ("sings beautifully, but as a performer is luke warm"), Arlene Dahl ("very nice-looking, and has a good act"), Brook Benton ("great"), Della Reese ("I have never heard an act with so much bash and impact"), Buddy Greco, Dinah Shore, the Bell group and Mitzi Gaynor ("I went overboard").
He spotted Juliet Prowes at one venue, sitting close to her manager. "Her engagement to Sinatra was treated in the States as one big joke," said Bunny. "It was never taken seriously at all and I must say she looked far from being a rejected woman when I saw her."
In other cities, Bunny found an increasing demand for cocktail lounge entertainment. "I could have placed the Mudlarks immediately if they'd been with me," he said. "The Americans are going all out for this type of act."
In New York he saw Jackie Wilson ("rather disappointing"), Rosemary Clooney ("excellent"), the McGuire Sisters ("good"), Peggy Lee ("so much better than her act at the Pigalle, where things seemed to go wrong for her") and Ray Charles ("terrific").
Bunny also found America agog with excitement over Anthony Newley. "He has a tremendous reputation in the States. This could be due to the unmerciful plugging he gets from Sammy Davis," he said.
"Sammy mentions Tony at every possible opportunity and there are few people who haven't heard of him within the show business set-up in America."
Other home products talked about there include Peter Sellers, Lionel Bart, Frankie Vaughan and Shirley Bassey, with a great deal of interest being shown in Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball, whose trad discs have caught on like wildfire.
New Musical Express (1962)