One of my favorite CD releases on the Follow That Dream collectors label for Elvis Presley fans is 2011’s Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis, which captures a March 18, 1974, concert that Elvis performed at the Richmond Coliseum in Virginia.
The confusing album title reflects that Elvis closed out his tour two days after the Richmond concert with a show in Memphis at the Mid-South Coliseum, portions of which became the 1974 album Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis. Elvis earned his third and final Grammy Award for his stellar performance of “How Great Thou Art” in Memphis on the original 1974 album.
The link between the two shows continues, for Sony announced last week that it will reissue the Richmond concert on the second disc of a Legacy Edition of Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis. While the FTD collectors label has very limited distribution, this new 2-CD release on the main Sony label hits mainstream retail stores on March 18, the 40th anniversary of the Richmond concert. Amazon and other outlets are accepting pre-orders now.
The Elvis Presley Show crisscrossed back and forth from Virginia to Tennessee on that leg of his tour. Tickets for his March 12 appearance at the Richmond Coliseum sold out so quickly that the tour was re-routed to accommodate a second show there on March 18. Elvis performed four shows in Memphis on March 16 and 17, hit Richmond, Virginia, again on March 18, and then returned to Tennessee for concerts in Murfreesboro and Memphis on March 19 and 20, respectively.
For space considerations on the original LP, RCA edited several songs out of the March 20 Memphis concert for the 1-record release in July 1974. The album also featured overdubbed audience reactions that detracted from the sound quality. FTD restored the missing tracks and removed the unnecessary overdubs in a 2004 Classic Albums CD release of the concert, including a new mix. The same label also issued the expanded show in vinyl format as a 2-record set last year.
It turned out that RCA chose well in 1974 which performances to use on the original record, though. The performance quality of many of the excised songs was underwhelming, with the exception of a fine rendition of “Steamroller Blues,” first released on Platinum: A Life In Music over two decades later. The energetic Memphis version was superior to his live recording of the song in Hawaii that served as a single in 1973.
This new Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis Legacy Edition will also include the previously omitted songs, but whether a new or an existing mix will be featured is unclear.
In fact, Sony’s press release for this album is riddled with errors, an issue far too common these days in the marketing of Elvis music releases, so it is difficult to trust any of its statements. For that reason, I am not even including Sony’s alleged track listing at this point. Suffice it for now to say that Disc 1 will contain the Memphis show, while Disc 2 will contain the Richmond show and some low-fidelity bonus tracks recorded on a personal cassette player of Elvis rehearsing a few months later for yet another Las Vegas stint.
RCA professionally recorded the March 20 Memphis concert for the album project. It is a 16-track recording (audio elements recorded on separate channels) that can be tweaked for optimum sound quality. Though I enjoyed the 2004 FTD mix over the original 1974 version, another new mix could be revealing. The Memphis show is presented in stereo.
Though the background story remains mysterious, the March 18 Richmond concert was supposedly captured as a 16-track recording, too. If so, it remains missing from the Sony vaults – lost, stolen, or erased.
The Richmond concert audio source on both the 2011 and 2014 releases is a tape copy of a mono mix-down of the 16-track recording, with artificial reverb applied. In other words, no further changes can be made to the Richmond mix or reverb since the 16-track original is unavailable. The Richmond concert is not likely to sound very different from Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis on this reissue, if at all.
While Elvis’s sound engineers often made informal reference tapes of his shows from the soundboard mixing console, the Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis liner notes in 2011 only speculated about why RCA apparently recorded the Richmond concert in multitrack.
However, the 2014 Sony press release refers to the Richmond show as a “test run concert” for the subsequent Memphis recording. Some have theorized that the test copy is in mono due to Elvis’s preference for that format over stereo, though his previous live albums had been stereo releases. Perhaps the accompanying Legacy Edition booklet will reveal new information.
In the years leading up to 1974, many of Elvis’s concerts were superior to this particular show in Richmond, so why do I have a soft-spot for it? Simply because it is the first concert officially released of Elvis performing in my hometown. As with the Memphis show, the fun concert features Elvis in a fantastic mood interacting with fans. Music highlights in Richmond include “Steamroller Blues,” “Polk Salad Annie,” and “Suspicious Minds.”
Over the course of 21 years, Elvis performed 15 concerts in Richmond. The 14th of these shows was captured on Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis and, from what I have read, this was Elvis’s last great concert in Richmond. He performed here one final time in 1976, but, by that point, his rising prescription drug addiction and abuse had diminished the power of his shows. Therefore, I consider the March 18, 1974, appearance to be Elvis’s true “last hurrah” in Richmond.
I was only two when Elvis died in 1977, so I never had the opportunity to see him in person. If I was about 30 years older, though, I would like to think I would have been there for at least his Richmond shows. Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis allows me to experience a small part of that dream.
I was so thrilled in 2011 when news broke about the impending FTD release of the Richmond show that I impulsively emailed one of my blog posts on the topic to various local news media before going to work one morning. I figured if any mainstream media outlets in the world would be interested in Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis, it should be those in Richmond.
What I did not consider was what would happen if one of them decided actually to run with the story. By lunchtime, a television news reporter from CBS affiliate WTVR Channel 6 had contacted me, and we went over the basics on the phone. He even asked about Red Hot In Richmond, a bootleg release of an April 1972 Elvis concert that he ran across as part of his research.
By this point, based on my email, the news team had already filmed spots at the Richmond Coliseum and a nearby record store. The reporter wanted to add me to the mix in time to get his story on television later that day. I am a rather shy person, so I was not interested in that idea. I also could not have a camera crew show up where I work, so I turned him down.
For whatever reason, CBS 6 News did not run the story that night, perhaps because it seemed incomplete without a fan’s perspective. The reporter checked back with me the next day to see if I would do an interview after all. I felt bad for suggesting the story and then leaving him without a way to finish it, so I went over to the station on my lunch break and did the interview against my better judgment.
In the time since I had talked to him on the phone, the reporter had found some scenes from the 1972 documentary Elvis On Tour. I had mentioned the Richmond connection on that movie, telling him that MGM shot some of the red jumpsuit footage at the Richmond Coliseum two years before Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis. He incorporated that Elvis On Tour footage into his news story, so I was glad to see acknowledgment of a local connection with the Golden Globe winner.
It was a surreal experience having a TV camera trained on me while being asked to explain Elvis’s ongoing popularity and other questions like that. I did not enjoy being on television, and I have since taken some good-natured ribbing about it from friends and co-workers, particularly since the well-meaning reporter managed to say my last name wrong. There went my one chance at fortune and glory.
So uncomfortable did I find the experience that I never even mentioned my brief TV appearance here on my own blog until today, nearly three years later.
The reporter was great to deal with, though, and very enthusiastic throughout the proceedings. Overall, I was happy with how his story turned out and felt it presented Elvis in a positive light.
That being said, I have no plans to contact any local media this time around in advance of Sony’s reissue of the Richmond concert. I have learned my lesson.
My 15 seconds of local fame still come up every now and then. Oddly, I have had at least two people ask me, “Weren’t you on TV a few years ago imitating Elvis?”
“No, I was on TV dressed in normal clothes talking about a concert that the real Elvis did at the Richmond Coliseum,” I reply.
The story did not even mention imitators. Unfortunately, the general public does not distinguish lousy imitators from the real Elvis. Thanks to the vast majority of those imitator clowns, it can be tough to be known as an Elvis fan.
I am looking forward to the reissues of both the Richmond and Memphis concerts. Despite my personal enthusiasm as an Elvis fan and Richmonder, I find myself wondering whether these two concerts are appropriate choices for mainstream release in 2014.
I fear that the repetitive nature of these shows compared to other recent Sony releases will use up some of the goodwill shown by music critics in reviews of Elvis At Stax, Prince From Another Planet, and certain other titles released in the last few years.
Will mainstream critics and listeners understand Elvis’s sense of humor? For instance, will some misinterpret his joke in Richmond about it being a pleasure to be back in Hampton Roads as an out-of-it singer not knowing which town he was playing?
By following up 2012’s As Recorded At Madison Square Garden reissue with 2013’s Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite reissue and now 2014’s Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis reissue, is Sony simply committing the same release blunders in the 2010s that RCA made in the 1970s? Has locking into an “anniversary” theme for release choices doomed them to repeat history’s mistakes going forward?
Keep in mind that the 40th anniversary of Having Fun With Elvis On Stage is later this year as well.
January 17, 2014, Update: This article is now also available at Elvis Australia.