The complete early Presley

By Tom Von Malder | Aug 02, 2017
Photo by: RCA/Legacy Recordings The new Elvis Presley box set is broken out.

Owls Head — Elvis Presley: A Boy from Tupelo: The Complete 1953-1955 Recordings (RCA/Legacy, 3 CDs, 3:41:27). This newest Presley box set includes every known Sun Records master and outtake, as well as live performances, radio recordings and Presley's self-financed first acetates. Basically, it is every recording known to exist from the first three years of his career, including a newly-discovered, previously-unreleased recording of "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" from the Louisiana Hayride, Oct. 29, 1955 in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Generally, I would say the set is mostly for completists, as disc two consists of 26 studio sessions in which Presley and band work out the songs. There are multiple takes of the same songs. However, the third disc of live recordings captures some of the early female excitement Presley generated and the 120-page softcover book is a treasure, filled with  many rare photos and memorabilia, as it follows Presley week by week, from July 4-10, 1954, starting less than 24 hours before his first professional recording session,  through Dec. 25-31, 1955, when he left Sun records to record for RCA.

The set starts off with Presley's four Memphis Recording Service acetates -- "My Happiness," "That's When Your Heartaches Begin," "I'll Never Stand in Your Way" and "It Wouldn't Be the Same (Without You)" -- recorded for his mother, before he signed with Sun Records. Of the four, "My Happiness" is the best, as they present an unadorned Presley. Next come his 19 Sun masters, highlighted by "That's All Right," "I'll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin')," "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine," "Just Because" and "Good Rockin' Tonight." The first disc also includes four RCA masters.

The Presley recordings start off with him as a crooner, but soon they turn to rock. It is amusing that several times during introductions to the live recordings, speakers stumble a bit in trying to describe Presley's sound, often still trying to pigeonhole it as a type of country music. Of course, it was a combination of blues, pop and hillbilly country swing. Also of interest is the 5:31 radio interview by Bob Neal of the three band members as a promotion for an upcoming show, with Neal twice referring to Johnny Cash, who also would be on the bill, as a young and upcoming singer that people probably do not know much about. Some of the live music is recorded very well, while other performances are sonically subpar or uneven. Still, there is no denying the excitement Presley generated. Behind these recordings are more than 1,500 hours of restoration work and nearly 200 hours of additional studio time devoted to the remastering of the material.

Legacy Recordings also has released "A Boy from Tupelo: The Sun Masters," a single-disc, 12-inch vinyl package, with songs recorded with producer Sam Phillips, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black during his first year as a professional recording artist. Grade: box set A-

The Beach Boys: 1967 Sunshine Tomorrow (Capitol, 2 CDs, 2:38:31). This is another mini-set for completists as much of it consists of unreleased studio sessions, backing tracks and alternate versions that, frankly, are not that interesting. Disc one contains the first stereo release of the "Wild Honey" album (except for a mono "Mama Says"), which I never was a big fan of; 14 tracks of "Wild Honey" sessions; five live versions; and highlights from the "Mama Says" session. Disc two has 10 session tracks from the "Smiley Smile" recordings; a 14-song concert recorded in Hawaii in September; five tracks recorded in Hawaii in August (notable as the first time Brian Wilson had performed live with the group since 1964); and five live recordings from Washington, D.C. and Boston.

While 1967 -- my, my, 50 years ago already -- brought us the summer of love, the Beach Boys pretty much sat it out. After giving the world the marvelous "Pet Sounds" in May 1966, Brian's efforts to create the band's "Smile" follow-up were thwarted. The project was abandoned until Brian released a solo version in 2004 and the compilation, "The Smile Sessions," in 2011. Despite helping organize the Monterey Pop Festival, the Beach Boys decided not to perform. Capitol Records, unhappy with the two attempts to record a live album in Hawaii, then released "Smiley Smile" in mid-September 1967. The idea then was it would be a simplified preview of the forthcoming "Smile" album. It yielded the fine single, "Heroes and Villains," but mostly consisted of lo-fi recordings made in Brian's home studio, as was the bulk of "Wild Honey."

"Wild Honey" is notable for a more R&B approach, including their own "Darlin'" and a cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her." Of 11 songs, nine were by Brian and Mike Love and another by four band members. "Country Air" represents the simplicity the band was going for, but "Aren't You Glad" features dense production, including horns. The beat takes over more on the rocker "Here Comes the Night" and "How She Boogalooed It."

Of the 65 tracks, all but 11 are newly released. Among these are interesting vocalizing on the intro to "Cool Cool Water," alternate vocals on the Wonder cover and generally good live material, although the sound is sometimes thin. The live stuff includes covers of The Boxtops' "The Letter," The Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends" (more a re-creation), Clint Ballard's "Game of Love" and the Shermans' "Graduation Day." They also debut their then-new single, "Gettin' Hungry." Good are rehearsal versions of "Hawaii" and "Heroes and Villains." The release comes with a nice 28-page booklet, with vintage photos, an essay by Howie Edelson that includes new band interviews, and notes that identify the lead singer on each track. Grade: B

The year approach to new music collections seems to be catching on, as there will be a box set out in October that will cover England's The Jam debut recording year of 1977. The 5-CD set, "1977 40th Anniversary," will include their first two albums, "In the City" and "This Is the Modern World," as well as unreleased demos of the first album,  live recordings, a DVD of TV performances and promotional videos, and a 144-page book.

Negron: Generations (Negron Music CD, 45:31). That's Negron as in Chuck Negron, one of the three lead singers in the classic band, Three Dog Night (formed in 1967, by the way), along with Danny Hutton and Cory Wells. Negron must like the triple harmony approach because his new album is a joint effort with his singing daughters, Charlie and Annabelle. The sisters share lead vocals on a cover of The Ronnettes' "Be My Baby/Do I Love You." Negron wrote four of the seven songs and co-wrote a fourth.

The unexpected bonus treat is three unreleased tracks, recorded by Three Dog Night in the mid-1970s, prior to their first breakup in 1976. "The Letter" (not The Boxtops' song), "Save Our Ship" and "This Is Your Captain Calling" feature all three original vocalists. "The Letter" is filled with pretty strings, while standout "Save Our Ship" has the classic Three Dog Night sound, as does the heavier "This Is Your Captain Calling," with its bright chiming sounds.

"I hope that the world can be reminded through this new record about the power of harmony and passion in music," said Negron in a press release. "The early years of Three Dog Night yielded much success, but it was because the three of us matched each other near-perfectly and had a stellar band to back us up. To have my daughters involved in this project was a dream come true for me. I’ve always wanted to bring them into the music and they really ran with it."

Of the Negron originals, "I Live Alone" (but "never on my own") is mid-tempo, while "Open My Heart" is slower, but with a rock guitar break and an arrangement that expands very nicely. "I'm Sorry" features a string quartet and highlighted violin, while "So Rude" is an upbeat call for brotherhood ("make time to be kind/to give more than you take") on which his daughters sound very good. The song he co-wrote, "I'm on Fire," is another mid-tempo number, with a late gospelish vocal section. It asks to be set free from bad choices.

The other cover is the solid "Heal Me" by Bonnie Swayze and Tony Stampley. It is a reflective look at time and mentions former pain. It also is a plea to God, but warns his maker not to cut Himself on the singer's broken heart

Negron currently is touring for the fourth year on the Happy Together tour, joining the Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie, as well as the Association, the Box Tops, the Cowsills and the Archies starring Ron Dante. Negron will perform Sunday, Aug. 6, at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston. Grade: A-

Outlaws: Legacy Live (Steamhammer/SPV, 2 CDs, 1:57:20). This live set was recorded in 2015 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of the band's first album. Now you have a chance to catch the band live 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, at the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland.

Released last November, the double-disc set covers 20 of the band's classic numbers, including "There Goes Another Love Song," "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky," "Green Grass and High Tides" (with a lengthy triple-guitar part) and "Freeborn Man," as well as more recent material such as "It's About Pride" (telling the band's story), "Hidin' Out In Tennessee" and the ballad, "So Long." Other highlights are "Grey Ghost" (with more standout guitar work) and the Civil War story-song, "Cold Harbor." The show's introduction features storm sounds and strains of "(Ghost) Riders."

The lineup includes original members Henry Paul on guitar and vocals, Steve Grisham on lead guitar and vocals, and Monte Yoho on drums, who helped form the band in Tampa in 1972. They were one of the first acts signed by Clive Davis (at the urging of Ronnie Van Zant) to his then-fledgling Arista Records. Paul left after the group's third album to form The Henry Paul Band for Atlantic Records, and later the multi-platinum country trio, Blackhawk. During the next 20-plus years, the Outlaws experienced rampant personnel changes. There also have been the deaths of co-founding members Frank O'Keefe and Billy Jones in 1995, and songwriter/vocalist/lead guitarist Hughie Thomasson in 2007.

On this recording, the band features several of Southern Rock's most respected veterans: co-lead guitarist and longtime Outlaw Chris Anderson, who has worked with Dickey Betts, Lucinda Williams, Hank Williams Jr. and Skynyrd; keyboardist/vocalist Dave Robbins,  a co-founding member of Blackhawk and songwriter for Restless Heart, Kenny Rogers and Eric Clapton; and bassist/vocalist Randy Threet, who has performed with Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood and Blackhawk. Grade: A

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