March 26, 2013

ELVIS: Aloha From Hawaii


Legacy Edition Commemorates the 40th Anniversary of Landmark Concerts

By Harvey Kubernik


n March, RCA Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music Entertainment released Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite: Legacy Edition, a re-mastered edition soundtrack from world’s first full-length concert satellite broadcast of January 1973.

A second CD is also included, a remixed and re-mastered rehearsal show edition of the early “dress rehearsal” show. In addition, this Presley retail configuration now has 5 bonus songs recorded at 3:00 a.m. in behind-closed doors session. The release of this package is another pivotal moment in a storied life.

In January of 1973, I was invited to see the original TV broadcast at the RCA Records studios in Hollywood along with English Disco club proprietor Rodney Bingenheimer, entertainment reporter Justin Pierce from The Hollywood Press and photographer Ellen Berman.

Rodney attended all Elvis 1969-1972 Las Vegas openings and we both went to the November 1970 Presley concert at the Inglewood Forum and the November 1972 Elvis show at the Long Beach Arena.

The late, great Grelun Landon, who then headed press and artist information for the RCA label, arranged a college seminar viewing with assorted Presley entourage members, RCA executives, and music reviewers. We were given soft drinks and all the tuna sandwiches we could eat. Grelun even had Tab for Rodney.

Landon, a Colonel Parker confidant, subsequently asked me to come back to his office in the near future so I could pick up tickets for an upcoming April 1973 Presley appearance at the Anaheim Convention Center and then share an elevator ride with Colonel Parker.

“No solo performer other than Elvis Presley could have headlined such an undertaking.”

In our last conversation I told Grelun I would write about our Presley-themed incident one day. I wish he was around this century to have read the extensive liner notes I penned for the Elvis Presley ’68 Comeback Special box set Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite: Legacy Edition marks the first time that both shows performed by Elvis, as released separately in 1973 (the original double-LP Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite) and 1988 (the CD The Alternate Aloha), have been coupled together in one package. At the same time, the show that The Alternate Aloha was based on has been completely remixed from the original multi-track tapes.

Disc 1: The “broadcast” [second] show recorded January 14, 1973 (originally issued February 1973, as Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite, RCA 6089)

Disc 2: The “dress rehearsal” [first] show recorded January 12, 1973 (originally issued June 1988, as The Alternate Aloha, RCA 6985)

The original recordings on disc one were engineered by Dick Baxter and Al Pachucki, while Larry Schnapf served as director of audio.

This new Legacy Edition was produced by Rob Santos and Ernst Mikael Jørgensen, who along with Roger Semon, have been the directors of RCA’s Presley catalog for over two decades.

The second disc’s 22 tracks were mixed by Steve Rosenthal and Rob Santos at the Magic Shop, New York, N.Y. Assistant Engineer: Ted Young. Mastered by Vic Anesini at Battery Studios, New York, N.Y.

Accompanying the two-CD set is a booklet with rare photos and a new liner notes essay written by BBC presenter, producer and musician Stuart Colman.

Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite had 6,000 fans in attendance for both shows at the H.I.C. (now known as the Blaisdell Arena). Presley’s fondness for Hawaii had first been demonstrated in March 1961, when he raised $62,000 with a concert at the Bloch Arena, toward the funding of the USS Arizona Memorial.

Aloha_LE_coverThe musicians backing Presley are: Guitar: James Burton; Guitar: John Wilkinson; Guitar & Vocals: Charlie Hodge; Bass: Jerry Scheff; Drums: Ronnie Tutt; Piano and Glen Hardin. Vocal support came from J.D. Sumner & The Stamps, The Sweet Inspirations, and Kathy Westmoreland, all collectively augmented by The Joe Guercio Orchestra.

The concert that was broadcast was a second show, which started at 12:30 a.m. in Hawaii on Sunday morning, January 14, 1973. Elvis delivered 24 songs that pulled from every phase of his career.

It was a painstaking process to develop material that did not duplicate much of his Live At Madison Square Garden concerts of June 1972 (as heard on RCA/Legacy’s most recent Prince From Another Planet commemorative 2-CD+DVD package, released November 2012). Nor did Elvis want to duplicate much of his then-current M-G-M theatrical release, Elvis On Tour, filmed in March-April 1972, the Golden Globe award-winning film that turned out to be the final motion picture of his lifetime.

Following the 12:30 show, at about 3:00 a.m., the ensemble regrouped (without an audience) to cut five additional songs exclusively for the U.S. broadcast, four of which originated on Elvis’ old Blue Hawaii movie soundtrack of 1961: “Blue Hawaii,” “Ku-U-I-Po,” “No More,” and “Hawaiian Wedding Song.” The fifth was Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain,” emblematic of the contemporary folk-rock singer-songwriter boom to which Elvis was surprisingly well attuned in the ‘70s.
Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite was broadcast to more than 40 nations, and broke viewing records in Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Hong Kong and Australia. Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite, the double-LP containing all 24 songs from the broadcast, was rush released to arrive in stores the first week of February, 1973. It sold a half-million units in its first four weeks.

The single from the concert, Elvis’ version of James Taylor’s “Steamroller Blues,” debuted in April and reached the Top 20, selling in excess of 400,000 copies, #10 in Cashbox and #17 in Billboard.

In the U.S., the broadcast was in fact postponed so as not to conflict with MGM’s Elvis On Tour. When Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite was finally aired in the U.S. on April 4th, the Nielsen ratings had the show in 33.8% of homes and reaching 51% of those watching television. The double-LP immediately sped up the charts, taking the #1 spot in Billboard’s May 5th issue, knocking Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon out of the top spot. It remained on the chart for 52 weeks, and was certified 5-times platinum by the RIAA. The album was Elvis’ first #1 since the Roustabout movie soundtrack from January 1965.

It was not generally known at the time that the Friday evening (January 12th) dress rehearsal had also been recorded as a backup. Fifteen years later, in June 1988 (more than a decade after Elvis’ death), the show was finally issued on CD as The Alternate Aloha.

Stuart Coleman’s liner notes detail the back-story behind this Presley appearance. “$25 million in the making and one billion in the watching, the global telecast of Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii was and forever will be a pinnacle in television and music history. No solo performer other than Elvis Presley could have headlined such an undertaking, and for that matter no entertainment enterprise other than RCA could have pulled it off. Now that might seem a bold claim, but outside of Elvis himself and the managerial smarts of Colonel Parker it was the technical leadership of the “Victor Talking Machine Company” that enabled the finished article to be presented in such a hi-tech manner.

Aloha From Hawaii wasn’t the first global satellite broadcast; that was rudimentary arts magazine known as Our World. But it was the first of its kind to be transmitted in color and the first to be recorded for release in Quadraphonic Sound. It might be hard to comprehend now, but ‘in person’ location recordings were still in their infancy when the extravaganza began to take shape.”

In 1972 Presley gave a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. Next was a further renaissance in his career with the Dennis Linde-written hit single “Burning Love.” This was followed by Elvis On Tour, a road documentary. Then Colonel Parker touted his plans regarding a global satellite broadcast event that would “allow the whole world the chance to see a Presley concert.”

In early 1973, Elvis Presley was performing at one of the highest peaks of his career, and this new expanded soundtrack proves it.

Aloha Co-producer Ernst Mikael Jørgensen suggests in his essential research guide, Elvis Presley: A Life In Music (St. Martin’s Press, 1998): “The immense pressure of being beamed live to one billion people didn’t seem to faze Elvis a great deal; showing little evidence of nerves, he was highly focused, and he executed a flawless set that sparkled with all the flash of his image. The unparalleled media attention and size of the audience, not to mention the worldwide number one album that followed, were perhaps the most effective statement ever engineered of one artist’s worldwide power.”

The repertoire on this 2013 Aloha product contains “See See Rider,” “Burning Love,” a rendition of George Harrison’s “Something,” a stellar reading of “You Gave Me A Mountain” made famous by Marty Robbins, a couple of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller tunes, “Love Me” and “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” display Elvis in top vocal form. Also revealing are his live takes on “Fever,” “What Now My Love,” my dad’s song! “Suspicious Minds” and “I’ll Remember You.”

In Stuart Colman’s liner notes, he writes, “It didn’t take long for the plaudits to roll in. Viewing figures from the Far East broke all records, and the media reaction to Elvis having made television and entertainment history was one of respect and admiration. The Quadraphonic double-album of the show was released the first weekend in February, and it dominated the charts, reaching #1 on both the pop and country charts in the United States. Due to demand and the possibility of a long shelf life, the albums were eventually released in standard two-track stereo. One of the key factors to the success of the venture was the little-trumpeted fact that Elvis had done the show for charity. There was no admission charge, just voluntary contributions for cancer research in the name of a Hawaiian singer/songwriter named Kui Lee who died in 1966.”

Danish record executive, producer, author and Presley catalog guru Ernst Jorgensen has been a seminal force in the revival and inspection of Presley’s body of audio work for a decade. He has overseen and co-produced Presley boxed sets, including The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll From Nashville to Memphis, Walk a Mile in My Shoes, and Platinum: A Life in Music, all nominated for the Grammy Award while exceeding sales of over a million copies.

Harvey Kubernik Interviews Ernst Jorgensen

HK: In preparing this expanded re-release of the original landmark event, what sort of reactions and initial observations came to you?
EJ: The main issue here was completeness – to gather in one package both shows and also include the 5 extra songs Elvis recorded exclusively for the US broadcast.

Can you tell me anything about the original engineers? Were they RCA staff engineers or chosen by Elvis?
This was recorded by RCA staff engineers and because of Elvis’ producer Felton Jarvis’ illness, RCA’s A&R person Joan Deary oversaw the recording project.

In reviewing concert tapes of Elvis post ’68 Comeback Special, what strikes you most about his live shows and band that we hear on this 1973 endeavor?
Normally Elvis would chat a lot on his shows, especially in Las Vegas, but this is a very tight show, with as many songs as you could squeeze into the time frame of the show. Elvis at his most determined and professional might be the best way to describe this.

Can you add anything about the sort of concert repertoire captured on this new re-release? How did Elvis usually select his set list?
Since Elvis had just recently released a live album (from Madison Square Garden) it was important to include new repertoire — especially for the record release. Some of these had already been incorporated in the repertoire back in August (but not recorded) and some were added during rehearsals. The list of songs for the rehearsals is quite extensive, and with an eye to unreleased songs, it was also a question of flow in the program that Elvis was very aware of.

Is there anything you can offer in terms of the restoration process as far as assembling tapes and the full concept you have edited and compiled?
We wanted to have the original album in the mix it was originally released in. As for the rehearsal show, we were less enthusiastic about the earlier release, and decided to re-mix the show

Elvis has always had a special relationship with Hawaii. Did you feel that as well?
We certainly know he did — he went there often for both filming of his movies and later for his holidays. Whether it has any consequence for the actual is less likely.

Can you offer some observations about Elvis doing this revolutionary TV broadcast as opposed to his live shows. Did the technical preparation or collaboration take on a bigger undertaking as it was a new technical forum for broadcast. Elvis and the band rose to the occasion.
I think the most important issue here was to be able to show the world — not just the U.S. — what an Elvis Presley show was like. Ultimately to sell a lot of records. It was always of the utmost importance for Elvis’ manager, Colonel Parker, to do something for Elvis that maintained that his artist was on another level than any other performer. The Colonel also knew that Elvis delivered his best if he was challenged.

Can you compare and contrast the Elvis New York City Madison Square Garden 1972 live recording with this 1973 live recording in Hawaii? As far as quality, performances, tape results, and the growth of Elvis still as a stage performer.
There are only seven months between the two events, so I think it’s hard to talk about growth — both represent challenges to Elvis (he didn’t think New York would like him), so Aloha is possibly only a step up in the circumstances of the show — the magnitude of a worldwide live broadcast — that he could deliver a flawless performance under that kind of pressure.

One question about CD and vinyl. How has the Elvis catalogue benefited from the CD formats as much of his early work was out on 45s and album vinyl. The master tapes from his recording career seem to be in perfect shape and easy to transfer.
We have worked on the ambition that we can always get the sound closer to what the original intent was by using the right equipment, analyze flaws coming from digital transfers — and we believe we have gotten better at — the goal is to hear the same on the CD as you hear on the original master tapes. Sounds easy, but it isn’t. Tapes were recorded on different equipment, with various technical issues, but in general the tapes are brilliant.

Can you provide some reflections about the Elvis’s early and mid-‘70s live and studio catalogue? I think in general the reporting and documentation overlooked some real gems and great band playing.

I saw five or six Presley shows in California during 1970-1976, and with the exception of the last one his voice sounded great. I did write a story in ’76 for Melody Maker suggesting Elvis retire from the world of touring owing to obvious health issues I witnessed on stage. But this ‘73 concert collection presents an entertainer and not just the rocker most everyone, especially reviewers, still wanted him to remain.
I think all journalists and many fans basically wanted to still see Elvis as a rock ‘n’ roll artist, where Elvis himself strived for a bigger musical stance including ALL the music he loved — in many ways I think in his own mind, he may have felt that the summer of 1970 — the making of That’s The Way It Is, was his own crowning achievement: The repertoire, band, the freedom to perform exactly what he wanted to.

Why do Elvis and particularly his musical recordings still endear and endure?
Elvis’ life story is fascinating – it’s in some ways a tragedy, and yet it’s full of glorious moments of achievement. At the bottom of it all is however that he was a brilliant singer.

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Los Angeles native Harvey Kubernik has been an active music journalist for 40 years and the author of 5 books, including “This Is Rebel Music” (2002) and “Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music In Film and On Your Screen” (2004) published by the University of New Mexico Press.

In 2009 Kubernik wrote the critically acclaimed “Canyon of Dreams The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon” published by Sterling, a division of Barnes and Noble. In summer 2012, the title was available in paperback edition.

He is also the joint author of “That Lucky Old Sun,” done in collaboration with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Sir Peter Blake, designer of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” cover.

With his brother Kenneth, Harvey co-authored the highly regarded “A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival.”


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