Mad About Music: My Life in Records Mad About Music: My Life in Records

Part 4: Rock ‘n Roll

So one day in 1957, when I was thirteen years old, Mom, Dad, my brother Simon (who was three years younger than me), and my baby brother Seth went on a day trip to Westport, Connecticut to visit the Eastmans: Phil, Marilou, and their two kids Tony and Allen. Tony was fourteen at the time and his younger brother Allen was Simon's age.

My folks knew the Eastmans going back to California days when Phil had worked with my Father at UPA. Phil and Marilou were a bit older than my folks. In fact they had met at the Walt Disney studio in the late 1930s where both of them were then working, Phil in the story department and Marilou in ink and paint.

Both were also involved in left wing politics, and their association with Disney ended abruptly in 1942 at the time of the famous Disney strike. Disney blamed the strike on communist agitators, which certainly was an over simplification of things, but there was at least a grain of truth in that. By the time Tony was born that same year, Phil had moved over to the animation story department at Warner Brothers. So Tony, like me, was another animation brat. He was literally born into the animation business, and by the time I met him there seemed to be little doubt that he was going to end up in that business. Like my father, he was an authentic child prodigy, and also like my father it was already clear that he was some kind of "can do" genius. Outside of the fact that Tony was still in high school, he would have been eminently fit to go into the animation business right then and there.

That first day we met he showed me flipbooks going back four or five years -- hundreds of them, boxes of them --  that put my feeble efforts to shame. Really, he had already outgrown flipbooks and had started doing animation on regulation animation paper. He had color cel set-ups of his various characters, like Philbert Flea and Rocky Rat, and animation model sheets going back to the Disney days, pinned up all over the walls of his room. I was fascinated and blown away. He was also affable, outgoing, and clearly wanted to be my friend in spite of the fact that he seemed to be superior to me in every way! Well, I was floored! But I liked Tony and we became best friends, really, from that day forward.

The Eastmans, like my parents, were also jazz fans and record collectors. Tony and Allen always called their parents by their first names. There was none of this Mom and Dad stuff which I guess was a manifestation of their "modernism." Phil and Marilou's record collection covered the same territory that my parent's collecting did, and then some. It isn't that they necessarily had more records, but their tastes seemed to be more wide-ranging, beyond the moldy fig standard. Part of that may have been that Phil was older (born in 1909), and, like Tony, didn't throw much out, so he had a good deal of the jazz and pop stuff that he had collected as a kid in the 1920s. Tony was also a record collector. What he essentially collected was 45 rpm rock 'n roll sides.

I had been watching the emergence of rock 'n roll myself ever since I'd seen Bill Haley and his Comets singing "Rock Around the Clock" on The Milton Berle Show in 1955. Walking around in the world in those days you couldn't miss it, but I wasn't a fan and I certainly didn't have any rock 'n roll records. Tony, on the other hand, was and still is a dedicated fan of the genre. The Eastmans didn't leave Los Angeles for the East Coast until 1955 and Tony told me that one of the very last things he'd done before leaving was to buy a copy of the Haley hit record of "Rock Around the Clock". It was the start of his record collecting and I don't doubt that he has that very disk in his massive record collection to this day. I was fascinated by all of this even if my understanding of it all was still pretty limited. Tony didn't buy every damn thing on the Top Forty but his collection of 45s was already mounting up. "Come Go with Me" by The Dell Viking, "At The Hop", "Born Too Late", Little Richard, Fats Domino, and, of course, Elvis Presley.

I wasn't an Elvis fan yet, but I had been following his meteoric rise to fame particularly on TV. While staying over at a friend's house in early '56 I saw one of his first TV appearances on The Stage Show which was hosted by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. We'd flicked on the TV and there was Elvis with Scotty and Bill Black,  singing his classic rendition of "Baby Let's Play House".

I wasn't really ready for it, but my friend and I watched mesmerized just the same. Like it or not, it was different! My parents didn't like Elvis. Most parents didn't. Although a month or so later when the Presley craze was in full cry, my brother Simon and I were in a pizza parlor with my mother when Elvis' smash hit "Heartbreak Hotel" came on the jukebox. She'd been hearing about Elvis but hadn't heard him sing. "That's Elvis Presley?" she said. We nodded. "God, it sounds a lot like blues." Well it wasn't quite praise, but we could also tell she was taken a bit by surprise.

However, my parents soon seemed pretty united in not liking Elvis and rock 'n roll. But my father's pattern of interest in all music, including music he didn't like, also continued. So as often as not he was there with Simon and me watching Elvis' continued appearances on live TV as 1956 wore on. Elvis started showing up on all the big shows: Milton Berle, Steve Allen, and, of course, inevitably, The Ed Sullivan Show. It was a definite rite of passage in those days. You hadn't really arrived until you were on Ed Sullivan. It was like big time vaudeville on coast-to-coast live TV. Elvis made multiple appearances there in 1956 and my father was watching with us during a particularly well remembered Elvis appearance. In fact he was the first to pick up on what was different about this particular Elvis appearance. Elvis was known for his sexy hip shaking moves as he sang and there was a lot of controversy on that point. What my father laughingly pointed out to me and Simon was that during this appearance, Elvis was being shown from the waist up only. He was right and everyone was talking about it later on.

Elvis wasn't the only big rock and roll to show up on Ed Sullivan. Especially stunning was the black r & b crossover Bo Diddley. His appearance singing his hit record was truly two-and-a-half minutes of shockingly amazing live TV! For a lot of Americans it was like the whole damn African jungle had landed in the middle of Ed Sullivan's stage!

If Elvis hadn't convinced people that times were changing, Bo Diddley had to! The only time I heard my Father say anything remotely positive about Elvis was one night when we saw another rock and roller, Jimmy Bowen, on Sullivan singing his Top Forty hit, "I'm Stickin' With You". "Bee Bop, I lova you baby, Beebop, I don't mean maybe." It was a very wooden performance and my old man gleefully jumped all over it. He roared, "This guy's got nothing! At least Presley's a showman!"

My dad's career had taken another big step forward by this time. CBS had recently purchased Terrytoons, a huge animated cartoon factory that had been operating in New Rochelle, New York since 1930, from its founder, Paul Terry, for six million dollars. Terry was 70 years old and ready to pack it in. CBS was looking for somebody a bit more cutting edge and contemporary to run the place and they offered my father the job. It was an amazing place, full of old timers, many of whom had been in cartoons since the 1920s.

Meanwhile, under the influence of Tony, my interest in rock and roll became more proactive. I was buying 45s, too. Some of it coincided with Tony, but I was getting some favorites of my own, too. I'd started listening to Alan Freed's radio show on WINS. Freed definitely seemed a clear cut above a lot of dj's. Rock 'n roll had made him famous. He was even making movies and I suppose there was something sort of sleazy about him. But you could tell he was some kind of smart and you could also tell that he genuinely liked this new music. I can remember lying in my bed at night with a little portable radio shoved in my ear as Alan Freed shouted, "And here he is, Mr. Excitement, Jackie Wilson!"

Freed sold me on that guy. My first actual rock 'n roll buys were Jackie Wilson records on the brownish-maroon Brunswick label. I also started picking up Ray Charles sides on the red Atlantic label. Elvis and Jackie Wilson were just fine with me, but very soon my number one fave was "The Genius! The High Priest! Ray Charles!" What made him particularly fascinating to me was his range. He knew a lot about music and sang and played all kinds, including rock 'n roll and r&b (often very gospel tinged). He could also croon when he felt like it. He traveled with a big band that even had a modern jazz lick to it. I figured, here was somebody I could find some common ground with my old man on. Not so. He dismissed Ray Charles for being too all over the place. He tried to pull me back over to the real stuff. He went through the blues section of his records and pulled out a field record that Alan Lomax had made of a Mississippi blues singer named McKinley Morganfield in 1940. It was impressive: rough, rhythmic, great bottleneck guitar style. I started looking more closely through my old man's blues sides. "Milk Cow Blues" by Kokomo Arnold; outstanding! Then I found a '40s Bluebird side, "Worried Life Blues", by Big Maceo. Surprise, surprise! The Ray Charles record of the same song was more than just a record of the same tune, it was a direct homage to Big Maceo, or a steal depending how you wanted to look at it.

Another record in my father's collection that I came to absolutely adore was "That's All Right Mama" by Big Boy Crudup. Interestingly enough, it was even an early 45 rpm record pressed in transparent orange vinyl. It was a Victor record and one of the earliest 45s probably from '49 or '50. Apparently Victor color coded their early 45s, and orange designated them as r & b sides. What was an r & b side doing in my father's collection? Well, Big Boy went back a few and you could still find plenty of his earlier sides on 40s Victor Bluebirds. But I never did find one I liked so much as "That's All Right". That record jumped and I just loved it! I played it to death. Literally. One day a big chunk of it just fell out. I guess that orange vinyl wasn't all that stable. It broke my heart.

It was also around this time that I discovered a fascinating thin paperback called Who's Who in Rock 'n Roll. It was already a few years old when I got it and what a little goldmine it was! It was intelligently written, and one thing it did very well was fortify the connection that rock 'n roll had to the music that came before it. Impressively, the book was dedicated to Bessie Smith, a person most of the readers of this book had probably never before heard of. Yes, Bessie could rock when she felt like it. If you don't believe me, give "Put It Right There" a listen some time. What is more, I even found some other familiar names out of my father's blues records listed here as rockers -- Joe Turner, for instance. It listed all kinds of performers both familiar and obscure r & bs like Ruth Brown, Bull Moose Jackson, Louis Jordan, and Clyde McPhatter; all the chart busting white acts like Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins; all the big doo wops, black and white. It also contained several really interesting articles about the rise of rock 'n roll. There was also a fascinating article about Alan Freed and a ton of interesting stuff I didn't know before about Elvis. For instance it stated that Elvis's first record, issued in 1954, was none other than "That's All Right Mama"! Oh my God! That was one record I just had to hear! I finally caught up with it on a Victor repressing of the original Sun Records side. It wasn't as good as Big Boy Crudup, but it wasn't bad either. Not his best Sun side or his worst. It's not as earth-shakingly amazing as "Baby Let's Play House" or "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine", but it had something. And it wasn't just a lift from black r & b. Those original sides Elvis made for Sam Phillips at Sun with Scotty Moore's good guitar and Bill Black's string bass were truly historic. They have all kinds of influences going on, but they are not mere imitations of anything. They are truly their own thing and sound as fresh and great today as they ever did. When I hear those now... well, it makes me kind of sick thinking about what might have been with Elvis, and what soon became all too clear, was not in the cards. It is a classic textbook case of a guy who was a pathetic victim of his own success.


59 Responses to Part 4: Rock ‘n Roll

  1. Tom Stein says:

    Thanks for the article and the Bo Diddley clip from ’55, he played real Rock and Roll, along with Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry. Elvis made some great recordings for Sun, but after that his songs were from Squaresville. Bo Diddley later toured with his sister on bass guitar, she was nicknamed “The Duchess”.

    By the way, whatever happened to Tony Eastman? You guys made that short film Dial M for Monster back in 1960, something I wouldn’t mind seeing posted on your website.

  2. Rob Clough says:

    Arthur Crudup sounds like he was a big influence on Jimmy Reed (“Bright Lights, Big City”, “Shame Shame Shame”, “Big Boss Man”) as well. That’s both in terms of the pitch of his voice and his slightly slurred phrasing. Jimmy would slow it down a little more and slur his phrasing a lot more. Reed, of course, was one of the three biggest influences on the Rolling Stones (along with Chuck Berry & Bo Diddley); you can really hear it even today in the way Jagger sings and plays harmonica.

    Bo Diddley is one of the greatest-ever rock ‘n rollers, even if the prime of his career was relatively short. “Bo Diddley”, “I’m A Man”, “Road Runner”, and “Who Do You Love” all rank among the greatest rock songs ever, with that awesome beat and muddy sound. Part of his success had to do with his original ensemble, because as Bo himself said, “I ain’t no guitar player. I’m an entertainer.” When I saw him play in the 90s and beyond, those shows were pretty bad because Bo was barely interested in playing his old songs, and his new songs (such as they were) were awful.

  3. Kim Deitch says:

    This seems to be a better Bo diddley clip than the actual Ed Sullivan clip. It is from the same [1955] period.

    Tony Eastman is currently writing a biography of his Father, Phil Eastman, who wrote some famous and celebrated kid’s books. Tony supplied me with the scans of the front and back cover of Who’s Who in Rock and Roll, [and also that fine color picture of Mary Hartline over on our facebook wall.] We worked together again on a few TV spots in recent years.

  4. Kim Deitch says:

    Yeah, now that you mention it, that is true. I used to collect those Veejay Reeds. I caught Bo Didley at the Cafe A Go Go in the 60’s It was a good show primarily because of a perky female singer that he was featuring at that time. I just missed seeing him at the Murray the K/Clay Cole Rock and Roll show in 1960 at the Brooklyn Paramount. He’ broken his leg onstage the day before.

  5. patrick ford says:

    The Sun records were probably the last things by Presley I ever heard. As such they are coloured by everything else I’d previously heard by Presley. If I’d heard the Sun records first they would sound completely different to me, but because I knew the later material already, things in his vocal style which I might have come across as authentic as T-Bone Burnett were undermined by my knowledge of a hokey quality I recognized. Maybe the one thing I ever saw Presley do which impressed me, was when he (seemingly on the spur of the moment) decided he was going to play rhythm guitar on his “comeback” TV special. I’m trying to remember. Didn’t he even take Scotty Moore’s electric guitar, and hand Moore the acoustic he’d been playing with? His vocals just don’t get me, they never sound sincere.

  6. patrick ford says:

    Ouch! Make that T-Bone WALKER.

  7. Kim Deitch says:

    Boy I can’t agree with you on that. I think that the Elvis comeback special was vastly over rated. The sun sessions [with a few exceptions] and the year 1956 was Elvis’ golden age. His actual singing may have improved later, but the material did not. Some Elvis surprises I intend to feature in future posts are Million Dollar Quartet material and later, what I’d rate as one of his best blues sides, Santa Claus is Back in Town.

    Beyond that I will say that I sure don’t think Elvis, remarkable as he was at his best, was the be all end all of anything. I think the main thing I hope to get across with this series is the effect that many diverse forms of musical experience had on me as my musical tastes evolved over time. However, I’d be less than fair NOT to give Rock and Roll its due in the grand scheme of things.

  8. patrick ford says:

    Kim. It isn’t that I’m a fan of the comeback special, it just impressed me that he took the initiative to dictate the tempo by playing electric rhythm.

    I agree the Sun recordings are easily his best work, it’s just that I see them through the haze of the later stuff.

    All the Sun records I’ve heard from the 50’s are impressive. Sam Phillips must have something to do with that great sound.

  9. Kim Deitch says:

    Yeah. you can tell that Sam Philips was very aware of blazing an anthropological musical trail in music. He knew where it came from and was excited to be involved with where it was going.

  10. Peter Kaprelian says:

    Hi Kim! As I understand it Elvis Presley was this 19 year-old greasy dirty BLONDE truck-driver who walked into Sam Philips’ studio to cut a record for his mother , just him and a guitar. the song he wanted to record I believe was “That’s all right mama”. I guess this was a service Philips provided to pay some bills + scout for talent without having to leave his office. Philips heard him play and immediately enlisted Scotty Moore’s guitar and another guy who’s name escapes me on stand-up bass to mess around on some songs with Elvis. I read about this stuff from the liner notes of a deluxe cd that I wish to god I still had, it was called Elvis Presley: The Sun Sessions, it came out in ’89 or so.It had his version of “Blue Moon” , really moody and atmospheric. Unique! And another- “Blue Moon Over Kentucky” F&#in great!”I Forgot To Remember To Forget”..”There’s Good Rockin’ Tonight” and less successful covers like “The Harbor Lights” And all the stuff that became “Elvisisms” seemed to be just bububububbling to the surface under the pressurized influence of Sam Philips and this band he concocted.There were outtakes on this CD too, at one point after an especially flowery phrasing of Elvis’, Sam Philip’s voice heard saying “Keep it simple Elvis., keep it simple. Don’t make it all complicated”. At another point Elvis is messing: “I can only do Carl Perkins,” laughs,”I can only do Perkins”. I mean it sounds like they’re having a blast on this thing. I’m really enjoying this series, Mr. Deitch!

  11. Kim Deitch says:

    Thanks for the encouraging words Peter. I have the LP version of that Sun sessions collection. The record Elvis paid three or four bucks to make was, My Happiness on one side and That’s When Your Heart Aches begin on the other. I think you can hear, My Happiness on you tube. It is an interesting but not really quite professional performance. So far as I know, the flip side, That’s When your Heart Aches begin, has never been released. at least I’ve never heard it. Next episode of this series, [ out in two weeks] will feature Elvis singing That’s When Your heart Aches Begin, from the Million dollar Quartet material from December ’56, which is superior in every way to the Record of that song by Elvis that was finally recorded and released in 1957.

  12. Tony Eastman says:

    It was fun to read all that you have written about our growing up together as animation brats. I have a couple of comments.

    I have elevated my mother Mary’s job to ‘color models’ because that was her highest position at Disney and was what she was doing with the strike began.

    As for my flip books, I had done maybe 40 or 50 of them – mostly starring a no name snake… pretty easy to draw quickly.

    I wanted to shoot my flip books onto film… but instead, my dad suggested that I do new 12 field size artwork to shoot (he probably figured it would lead me into thinking more long form about story, which it did. This led to the purchase of a 16 mm, 50 foot magazine load, Bell & Howell camera – running time per load: a little over a minute!

    I asked my Dad if he minded me calling him ‘Phil’. He said no and that was that. What I don’t recall is why I wanted to in the first place!

    My parents, mostly my mother, were into progressive jazz… not so much Charlie Parker Bebop as the smoother West coast Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker. My father was more the Moldy Fig. None the less, he joined my Mom in going to hear Mulligan and Baker live.

    ‘Rock Around the Clock’ was actually the first record I purchased when arriving on the East coast in ’54, and yes, it was the first 45 I bought and I still have it!

    Didn’t have ‘Born Too Late’ (The Poni-Tails) but I did have ‘Susie Q’ by Dale Hawkins, to counter the ownership of a few popish cuts like ‘The Green Door’ by Jim Lowe and ‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’ by Patience and Prudence. You know who we both liked who is basically forgotten today? – Eddie Cochran! As you mentioned, ‘Come Go With Me’ by the Del Vikings was a big hit and a favorite of mine. The vocal group contained both African American and white performers, unusual for that time.

    I went to college in Pittsburgh and discovered that the original pressings of both ‘Come Go With Me’ and ‘Whispering Bells’, their other big hit, were issued first on the local Fee Bee label, later on the more common Dot label. Even though I searched, it took a long time to find copies for myself. This got my collector juices going! I discovered bluesy songs like ‘Fanny Mae’ by Buster Brown, ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’ by Jimmy Reed and ‘Sugar Bee’ by Cleveland Crochet being played on the radio in Pittsburgh but not in New York!

    ‘That’s All Right’ was from 1949 and is the first R&B 45 record – #50-0000! Listed in an old Price Guide at $400.00.

    In answer to Tom Stein – what happened to me was that after a productive career in animation I moved into writing and illustrating Children’s books. I have three titles out in the Random House Beginner Books series. These books feature my father’s characters from his ‘Big Dog… Little Dog, a bedtime story’ that was reissued as a Beginner Book. My books continue the adventures of Fred and Ted – ‘Fred and Ted Go Camping’, ‘Fred and Ted Like To Fly’ and ‘Fred and Ted’s Road Trip’. For the books I use my actual first name – Peter. (I am Peter Anthony Eastman).

    Bo Diddley was on Checker (although his first L.P. was on Chess), Jimmy Reed was on VeeJay. I missed seeing Bo Diddley live in high school in Westport, Ct (of all places). He had a big fan base here. I have a picture of myself and a college friend with Bo Diddley from 1966.

  13. patrick ford says:

    Kim, Have you got any original Sun records from the 50’s. I’ve got two by Johnny Cash which are beat, full of pops and hiss, but still track perfectly and the presence of the sound is amazing, blows away any reissue I’ve ever heard. Maybe it’s because they are about an eighth of an inch think, and almost as rigid as a shellac 78. They not only are thick, they sound thick.

  14. Kim Deitch says:

    I used to have Elvis on 78 on Sun Doing Milk Cow Blues Boogie. Not his best with You’re a Hearbreaker on the other side. [also nothing special] My big Elvis 78 coup was an English Victor pressing of Santa Claus is Back in Town which didn’t even come out as a single over here. I gave ’em both to Tony Eastman figuring his rock archive was a better home for them. The Elvis side I haven’t heard for years that I loved was his cover of Lawdy Miss Clawdy. It comes in on a barrelhouse piano and goes out the same way. You know what? If I can find it on youtube, I’ll post it on my facebook wall.

  15. patrick ford says:

    Kim, It’s too late to go digging, but you will recall your story which in part features a “Monster Movie” you and Tony made as kids. Is the film still around? Could it be uploaded to you-tube?

  16. Kim Deitch says:

    Yes, It is still around. But I really can’t go putting it on you tube. Whatever were to be done with it eventually would have to be a joint decision between Tony Eastman and myself. Should you ever find yourself in my neighborhood, [New York city] stop over and I will run it for you.

  17. Kim Deitch says:

    Tony Thanks. That’s a fascinating post. I was not aware or had forgotten your folks like The Gerry Mulligan Quartet, but I am planning to have a link to the 1952 Mulligan quartet side, Line for Lyons in the next post two weeks from now. I have the 78 of that somewhere and played the ten inch album it was on to death after my old man left it behind when he went to Prague. I’m guessing someone gave it to him.

    You know, I thought twice about putting, Born too Late, down as one of your sides and yeah, whatever happened to Patience and Prudence? And Suzy Q. I haven’t thought of that one in years. A good one.

  18. Kim Deitch says:

    Wanna hear it? I just posted Suzy Q over on my facebook wall.

  19. R. Fiore says:

    Patience and Prudence were the children of a songwriter and studio musician (one of Frank Sinatra’s piano players for a time) who had a couple of hits right off the bat, including the otherworldly “Gonna Get Along Without Ya Now,” cut some more records for a couple of years to see if they might have another, and went back to a normal life when it became apparent they weren’t. They were just little kids, their parents were reasonably protective, and their voices were so thin that they were always double tracked, which cut down their potential for live performances. I just happened to be listening to a CD reissue of their recorded oeuvre as this was being posted.

  20. Kim Deitch says:

    Interesting. God knows it has been years since I heard. Patience and Prudence. If I can find it on You tube, I will also post that one over on my wall. God knows Suzy Q turned out to be a good tip.

  21. Steve Asetta says:

    Hi Kim-

    What impressed me about the comeback special was the fact he could still rock it with a small group.
    In fact at one point someone keeps time on a guitar case and it’s early “unplugged”

    Being too young to appreciate his music in his prime,by the time I became aware of him it was his fat suit period and the poor guy was a joke.Seeing this special as late as 78 for the first time gave me a better appreciation of what he was instead of those ridiculous (for the most part) movies.

    I agree the Sun records are the best…Poor Elvis.R.I.P.

  22. Steve Asetta says:

    “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” was released…a fave with a “recitation” section a la Jolson who he admired..

  23. Mary Fleener says:

    Oh Man! I remember when Bo Diddley was on the Sullivan show. My brother and I were all excited and my parents just SAT THERE with frowns on their faces. For days afterwards we tried to play his guitar riffs on my Dad’s ukelele, until one day he shouted at us, “Stop playig that n***** music!!”

  24. Kim Deitch says:

    You know there’s a Jolson record of Are You Lonesome Tonight with a recitation too. Must have been one of the last things he ever did. Both Jackie wilson and Jerry Lee are also on record as being fans of his.

  25. Kim Deitch says:

    The comeback special was comparatively good; compared to anything he’s done in a long time. But I felt like his basic pipes were starting to go. The best offering of that session that lives in memory, for me, was One Night With You, another great Elvis song

  26. Kim Deitch says:

    Yeah. Well, Bo Diddley DOES seem even more radical than Elvis. I did’t use the Sullivan kinescope because I couldn’t find a complete version of it on youtube. This one seems to have come from some black dance party type show. Same year. Maybe Jocko’s Rocket Ship? I think your Father’s reaction was exactly WHY Sam Philips was looking so hard for a white man who could sing like that.

  27. Jonathan Green says:

    I’m really enjoying this series and badgering some friends to read it. I like the diversity and passion of your interests. Keep at it!

  28. Kim Deitch says:

    Thanks Jonathan. If it is diversity you like, there will be plenty of that coming. Musically speaking, Rock and roll is just a stop along the way. Also, I think it is the story of how I learned how to live as well; that is to say, found myself to use a rather hoary cliche.

  29. Tony Solomun says:

    Very Insightful and a vivid recollection of the era,I’m learning something new about music each time,thanks for sharing , Kim,all the best,

  30. Kim Deitch says:

    Tony. I’m glad to hear you are enjoying it. Next post will begin to branch out more. Line for Lyons by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, more interesting Elvis , odd folk music, and soon the strange and mysterious story of Connie Converse.

    New musical posts will also continue to show up related to all this on our Facebook wall. Later on today, Charlie Parker with strings.

  31. “…well, it makes me kind of sick thinking about what might have been with Elvis, and what soon became all too clear, was not in the cards. It is a classic textbook case of a guy who was a pathetic victim of his own success.”

    I had a kind of a sick twinge myself last night when I saw a trailer for “The Sheik of Araby”: What if, by cruel twist of fate, John Lennon had gone the way of Elvis, being packaged in to a never-ending series of Hollywood teen-market flicks- what would some of them have been like?
    How about horror? John playing a supermarket butcher who sliced up babies and sold the choice bits to his customers, in shrink-wrapped packages? Ringo: “It’s not a pretty sight.”
    Truth being stranger than imagination, the Fabs did record just such a “butcher” routine in 1965, and it was cut from one of their Christmas records. It’s out there, if you can find it, and it is a wicked slice of Lennon and the group’s more macabre side. Listening to this routine shines some light on the much-misunderstood “Butcher Cover” “Yesterday and Today” LP.

  32. Kim Deitch says:

    I’ve seen pictures. and worse yet I was watching the preview of Elvis in Harum Scarum too. What can you say? I think what it comes down to is , they just didn’t know what they had or what to do with him. There is a lesson in there. Just exactly how succesful is succesful anyway? What is it? I think we can learn from things like this. Should anyway. Damn well should try to. Damn well can if you REALLY put your mind to it.

  33. patrick ford says:

    Elvis seems like the Frazetta of pop-singers to me. People will say Frazetta wasted his talent ghosting Li’l Abner, but what they really mean is he should have been drawing Flash Gordon.

    I have a hard time seeing Elvis as a Buddy Holly type who took a wrong turn artistically.

  34. Kim Deitch says:

    I think his musical tastes were more interesting and diverse than just rock and roll and, ‘the blues”. That was a part of it. But Elvis also liked Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Mario Lanza, and Grace Moore; God only knows what else. He was a creature of music. I actually think from the standpoint of actual skill, Elvis came out of the army technically a better singer. Even if the material he was then recording was watered down and , generally, weaker, cheesier. he was also trying to spread his wings a little and I think he held onto a semblance of musical validity longer in the studio than he did on the Hollywood set. It’s Now Or Never [O Sole Mio] Are you Lonesome Tonight. That one goes way back in Popular American music. [Take a look at , The History of, Are You Lonesome Tonight on you tube, if it is still up there. If I can find it, I will post it on our facebook wall.] Although even there, at first I think he was trying to reach out. King Creole. Flaming Star. maybe not a great film but a western with real roots into the western film infrasructure that was still, in 1960, a part of the true roots of American film; part of its soul if you will. I rather think that Elvis was aware of some of this when he made that film.

  35. Elvis is an endlessly fascinating figure to me. One thing to always bear in mind when discussing him is the hold his manager Col. Tom Parker had over him. Parker was an illegal immigrant, and thus could not travel travel outside the borders of the US without being found out. When Elvis went to Germany for the Army, it was one of the few times Parker lost his control over him. When he returned to the US, the switch to Hollywood was one of Parker’s attempts to keep Elvis under tabs.

    Elvis wanted to be a respected actor, and in his first role he really threw himself into, until he discovered that they just wanted him to look pretty and sing. Much of the movie-era music is kitschy at best, but he still had beautiful musical moments, and as Kim says, his voice was never smoother.

    Kim is also right to say that Elvis’ musical inspirations were many and wide-ranging. Dean Martin was his favorite singer.

    Once Elvis got another taste of freedom, during the ’68 Comeback Special, he was able to create a idiosyncratic and very personal “Cosmic American Music” (in Gram Parsons’ term), that combined in equal measure Rock n Roll, Country, R&B, Gospel, and even Opera. To some, the 70’s were Elvis’ weakest era musically, but I’m of the opinion that it wasn’t until that point that Elvis was performing exactly the music he wanted, the way he wanted to do it. The 50’s stuff is great, but I’m sure that even early on Elvis knew he wanted to do more.

  36. Sorry for the typos!

  37. Kim Deitch says:

    Never mind the typos John. that was both fascinating and Illuminating.

  38. Alexandre Buchet says:

    You know, my by far favorite Elvis song dates from his ‘decline years’: ‘Suspicious minds’. A song that also strangely benefits from its over-orchestration; it’s like the ‘Bolero’ of pop songs.

    Great cover of it by ‘Fine Young Cannibals’ in the ’80s.

  39. Alexandre– yes, “Suspicious Minds” was a single from the period immediately after the ’68 Comeback Special… my personal favorite Elvis era. His 1969 LP “From Elvis In Memphis” is in my estimation his crowning achievement.

  40. patrick ford says:

    John’s comments are very much in keeping with Elvis as I see him. The Sun records aren’t really reflective of the “real Elvis.” Elvis’ later music isn’t indicative of a man being pulled around by a nose ring. As Kim pointed out Elvis was a fan of Dean Martin, and Elvis was probably closer in musical ambitions to the “Rat Pack” than the “Fab Four.”

    It’s why when I hear the Sun Records I hear them informed by all the material that came after them.

    While I have a respect for Dean Martin his music isn’t all that interesting to me, he’s not in a class with say, Tony Bennett.

  41. Kim Deitch says:

    Well, okay. I have heard it in passing, but never really focused in on it. I’ll post it over on our wall for casual evaluation. Perhaps you are on to something.

  42. Kim Deitch says:

    John. Again. I have heard of this album but am not really familiar with its makeup. It is new material? a compilation or some mix of both?

  43. Kim Deitch says:

    Well, I’ll tell you. He is, perhaps an acquired taste. As a kid growing up all I could see was Jerry; couldn’t wait for Dean to finished hia tired old song to get back to the funny stuff. but over time that changed. I think he could have been really great; had the makings but was another too successful guy who drowned in his own success. I was watching a black and white Dean a Jerry movies on TV one day. I forget which one, and a the very start, Dean comes out and sings, I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine! I just about fell out of my chair. Wasn’t as good as the Elvis record but it wasn’t at all bad either. I also have a CD with an air check of Dean singing , The Dark Town Strutters Ball in 1949 on the Milton Berle Show. Man it’s great! And at one point he goes into some of those patented Elvis low notes. It got me thinking about Dean more.

  44. patrick ford says:

    In my opinion, it’s not fair to knock a performer for their approach. There is a place for all kinds of different stuff, just like there is a place for chicken fat. When I listen to Dean Martin or Elvis what I hear is schmaltz, which is a legitimate style of performing.

  45. Kim– The album contains all new recordings that Elvis made with Chips Moman at his famous American Sound Studio in Memphis. The songs range from old Country chestnuts to contemporary R&B and Soul, and set the course that Elvis would take in his remaining years of combining various American musical idioms.

    For instance, his cover of Hank Snow’s country classic “I’m Movin’ On” begins with the standard acoustic guitar and steel before adding funky drums, backup singers and full-on horns.

  46. Kim Deitch says:

    Okay. I posted and seriously listened to Suspicious Minds by Elvis. Interesting and no mistake. It kind of has that Phil Specter, wall of sound thing going on. I also recognized the Sweet Inspirations in there, who were an interesting followup to the Jordanaires. I used to get singles by them in their own right, on Atlantic; was surprised and interested when Elvis Glommed them up. Like I said , I’m glad you made me seriously listen to it. I had heard it walking through the world, of course, but never really sat still for it before. It certainly is ambitious and the most produced Elvis side I can think of off hand, but not without merit. I could probably get into it.

  47. Kim Deitch says:

    It’s in there; a fair comment and an interesting observation.

  48. Kim Deitch says:

    Thanks John. clearly, that album is something I need to catch up with. So many interesting wrinkles to all of this! Both you and Patrick ford make an interesting case for the later Elvis.

  49. patrick ford says:

    Kim, The local (Sarasota Herald) newspaper highlighted this NYT article today.
    I’d assume your dad knew Steinweiss and his work.

  50. kim deitch says:

    I DID see that. And yes, that’s a good question. I don’t really know if he knew the guy. My old man’s big album cover idol and a man who influenced him in a big way was Jim Flora. A great guy too. He was very kid friendly. There were any number of 78 record albums in our house back in L A with Jim Flora covers.

  51. patrick ford says:

    Looking at Wiki:
    “Beginning work in the art department under Alex Steinweiss, inventor of the illustrated album cover, Flora illustrated ads, new release bulletins, and retail and trade literature. In 1943, when Steinweiss entered the navy, Flora was promoted to Art Director.”

  52. kim deitch says:

    So. there is an actual connection between them. Interesting.

  53. ant says:

    Hah! I just read “Fear of a Black Ten-Inch” today! A bit more context to the story, I reckon! (Just got my e-Bayed copy of “Life of the Party” a few days ago, really great stuff Ms. Fleener. Only disappointment was that your comic adaption of Beefheart’s “Golden Birdies” wasn’t included!

  54. Tony,
    I hope you check back on this site. My mother is your mother’s cousin. Your grandfather was my great-uncle Lynn and his sister (my grand mother) was your great-aunt Ruth. I’ve been going through the family history and transferring photos to digital and would love to share them with you and your family. My mother really would like to know if Mary Lou is still with us?

    Hope you see this,
    Mary Ellen (Overman) Marcy

  55. kim deitch says:

    Mary Lou Eastman is indeed still alive. She is 96 years old.

  56. Bob Levin says:

    For those interested in Dean Martin, I highly recommend Nick Tosches’s “DINO: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams.” Martin Scorsese’s been trying to make a film out of it for years.

  57. kim deitch says:

    I want to read that. Dean is under rated as a singer. I’d love to hear some of his early sides. I have a CD where he sings The Darktown Strutter’s Ball from a TV aircheck of a 1949 Milton Berle show. Just great. And he hits a lot of Elvis-esque low notes.

  58. Jotham Stavely says:

    Thanks for this series Kim, it’s great!
    I became an Elvis fan during my late teens in the 80’s after getting a cassette of mostly the early RCA stuff which I quickly followed up by getting the CD of the complete Sun Sessions. I have appreciated all parts of his career but have been partial to the earlier R&B stuff more than anything. I have read most of the major biographies, etc and agree with what seems to be the general consensus on his career arc as has been covered in the comments above.
    However, I just wanted to share that within the last couple of years after becoming more focused on the music of the 1920’s-1940’s I got really into Big Crosby. I listened to all his stuff through the early 40’s and read the bio by the guy who writes for the Village Voice (can’t recall the title right now). Ever since then I can only see Elvis’ career through the filter of Bing’s. In most every way he was following the template for a modern pop singer set by Bing. Moving from being identified with the new ‘black’ music (Jazz for Bing, Rock n Roll for Elvis) into safer pop tunes, the move to Hollywood. Elvis covered a lot of Bing’s songs, in fact his ‘Blue Hawaii’ is the same note-for-note. A big difference I think was that Bing had more education (having dropped out of law school to play drums for a Jazz band) and took a different degree of control of his career. As was mentioned above, Elvis didn’t really decide to do things his way until near the end. While Bing got control of the drinking that seemed to affect his career early on Elvis never got off that pill train once he got on.

  59. kim deitch says:

    Yeah I do think education is part of it. I am going to cover Bing in the next post. I’m a big fan. It is interesting to note, although I’m not sure what it proves, that Elvis was a Crosby fan, but Bing couldn’t see Elvis at all. Elvis seems to be a distinct line of generational demarcation!

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