Thursday, August 16, 2012

Elvis: Baby What You Want Me To Do

Think quickly – where were you 35 years ago this afternoon? Any clue? I was sitting on the old 6th Street Bridge between Chesapeake, Ohio and Huntington, WV. I had just paid my dime to cross the Ohio River to get back into West Virginia and I heard the news over WKEE – Elvis had died.

As soon as I could, I got to the radio station where I worked the 5 PM to Midnight shift (WEMM) which at that time was located on Hal Greer Boulevard in Huntington. I ran back to the wire machine and grabbed the copy from United Press International signifying Elvis had passed. The afternoon jock hadn’t seen it or heard the news and he took the wire copy and read the news after his record.

I have that wire copy and all subsequent ones from that evening that signaled the end of an era – a death of a king – The King of Rock ‘N Roll. This news was significant as Elvis was to appear in Huntington a few days later – that show would never occur and the promoters scrambled on getting tickets returned so that customers could be reimbursed. Believing (and rightfully so) that the tickets would be collectors’ items, concert goers were hesitant to release their tickets, but still wanted a refund.

A compromise was struck with the promoter issuing commemorative tickets in place of the actual stock. I’m not sure I would have released my tickets had I purchased some. I would have probably counted the refund as a tradeoff for collectables. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned on attending the show.

To commemorate the 35th anniversary of Elvis’ death and to fulfill my commitment with a TV Thursday cut, I bring you Elvis’ version of Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to do.” This particular cut appeared on the 1968 Elvis “Comeback Special” that aired on NBC on December 3, 1968. The show’s segment when this song was recorded had Elvis situated in the round surrounded by his friends and adoring fans. He did four hour-long sets with two recorded in the round. These were edited into the subsequent hour TV special.

Elvis hadn’t performed live since 1961 and his fan base had skewed older. To give the illusion that Elvis was still viable to a much younger audience, Colonel Tom Parker situated younger women closest to the stage. The tactic worked and the enthusiastic audience helped in the show’s success.

On this track, Elvis is playing Scotty Moore’s 1963 Gibson Super 400 CES. The Super 400 was Gibson’s most expensive guitar. Its name came from its price tag when an acoustic version of the guitar debuted in 1934 – it was $400. A 1934 dollar is equivalent to $17.00 in today’s market and therefore a Super 400 cost $6,800 in today’s money. The price tag at Musician’s Friend for one is over double that amount - $14,499.00. Monetary inflation has nothing on guitar inflation. The CES stands for “cutaway electric Spanish” (as in Spanish guitar).

A Super 400 CES in a different body style

Joining Elvis on stage were the following musicians:

Scotty Moore on acoustic guitar

D.J. Fontana playing drums on a guitar case

Alan Fortas providing percussion by slapping the back of an acoustic guitar and vocals

Charlie Hodge on acoustic guitar and vocals

Lance LeGault on tambourine.

Some have suggested that Elvis’ “Comeback Special” indirectly influenced MTV’s Unplugged series a generation later. Could be. RIP Elvis wherever you are.

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