Dec 202010

One of my long-unfulfilled rock performance dreams is to have a gig in which my band sets up and “performs” in rehearsal mode: that is, facing each other, playing for each other, having the right to stop songs in midstream, adjust part of an arrangement, and criticize each other. We would completely block out the crowd and just do our thing, the way our thing is meant to be done.

Every once in a while I stumble across a video of an artist rehearsing for a gig or studio recording. I LOVE THIS STUFF! As a music lover, I’m as interested in experiencing what goes on behind closed doors as I am listening to or making music myself, also behind closed doors. Don’t get me wrong, the thrill of playing out or seeing a band out in the wild can be tremendous, but there are less opportunities for catching knowing glances, intimate gestures, and tossed-off asides and fills.

Today I kick off what I hope will be an occasional series on just such rehearsal tapes. Come with me, to a 1970 Elvis Presley and band rehearsal of “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” as part of his Las Vegas International Hotel stint. Dig the wide-collared, printed and striped shirts that have me salavating each time I watch this! Dig Elvis working “blue” around the 37-second mark! Dig the rhythm guitarist’s supreme concentration following that ad lib! Dig the knowing glance of the guy playing the Telecaster following a little guitar slide, at the 1:01 mark! Just dig it in ways no concert film will allow you to dig musicians in action!


  6 Responses to “Practice Makes Perfect: Elvis Christmas Edition”

  1. BigSteve

    Isn’t this from the movie This Is Elvis? I know there was a segment of that movie where they’re rehearsing for a Las Vegas show. The guy with the Telecaster is James Burton.

  2. This would be from Elvis: That’s The Way It Is. Elvis was coming off the ’68 Special and was still pretty fired up to be playing live again. The band was one of the fienst anywhere (now commonly called “The TCB Band”). That would be Mr. James Burton on the Tele (Ricky Nelson, Gram Parsons, and Elvis Costello). John Wilkinson is your rhythm man (I think he was a folkie who put out a few records on RCA around this time. Jerry Scheff was a the bassist, and I think he made of played some of the real bass parts on L.A. Woman by the Doors.

    When Scotty Moore (original EP guitarist from the Sun days) bowed out of taking the Comeback Special to Vegas (and later the “road), EP got James Burton to put together this band. Needless to say, they were one of the most sought after studio units during that time. They even played on some Michael Nesmith sessions.

    I know this is probably way more that you wanted to know, but this film is one of my all time favorite rock-type films, not only for the rehearsal footage, but for the concert itself. I offer this evidence up for anyone who feels that Vegas was the worst thing to happen to Elvis. He was strong here. Much stronger than the (boring) Aloha special from three years later that’s so famous (and more well-known). Of course the original That’s The Way It Is was more jumbled and featured more fans crying and talking about Elvis. The film was recut and rereleased as a special edition in 2001 featuring more rehearsal/performance by the same team who restored Orson Welles’s Touch Of Evil. The live performance of “Suspicious Minds” from this version of the film is worth anybody’s time.

    And to keep things on subject: I remember the sheer delight I felt when The Beatles Anthologies came out complete with studio outtakes and real working “Beatles chatter.” I would have gladly traded in any of those included-for-historical-relevence live tracks from Shea and ed Sullivan for more studio stuff.


  3. misterioso

    I’m a big fan of E: That’s the Way It Is, as well, and I agree that he was in pretty fantastic form & the band is obviously top notch. Love the rehearsal footage. Not so crazy about some of the live arrangements, though, and the tendency to get overwhelmed by schlocky ballads is an issue for me. However, some great stuff. Polk Salad Annie!

  4. BigSteve

    That The Way It Is, that’s the title I was thinking of. And you neglected to mention drummer Ron Tutt. That was a great band.

  5. I need to revisit this movie, if I ever saw it in the first place.

  6. Just be sure to revisit the 2001 redux version. More E and less squealy fans. The original has it’s charms and the redux is not without its own flaws, but the redux is better overall. I think the newest edition of this includes BOTH versions.

    One of my biggest complaints is that in the new version, E is making a big deal about remembering the lyrics to “I Just Can’t Help Believing.” We see him rehearsing it. When we get to the actual concert portion of the film, the song is nowhere! “I wish I could remember the verses to this song you’re not gonna hear me do…” Major oversight by the re-editors, in my opinion. Still, “Suspicious Minds,” “One Night,” “Patch It Up,” and the aforementioned “Polk Salad” make this one of my very favorite E concert films.

    Hard-workin’ Ronnie Tutt was the force behind that band. He was a hoss amongst hosses.


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