Elvis Presley: Elvis at Stax

Posted August 16, 2013 by in Pop



3.5/ 5


Genre: , ,
Release Date:
Number Of Discs:
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Genre: Rock, pop, country, R&B
Producer: Felton Jarvis
Label: RCA Legacy
Original Release Year: 1974, 1975
Release Date: 6 August 2013
Spin This: "Find Out What's Happening, "I Got a Feeling In My Body," "It's Midnight," "If You Don't Come Back"


Elvis gets funky, soulful: just the way we like 'em.


There's a strong propensity to "pop" Elvis up, evidenced on the pop and country sides. Good performances, but this is 'Elvis at Stax' we're talking about. Some of the tunes fill like Southern soul leftovers.

Often shoved to the back of the Elvis songbook conversation, the Stax sessions gets a much-needed reboot

by J Matthew Cobb
Full Article

Often shoved to the back of the Elvis songbook conversation, the Stax sessions gets a much-needed reboot

Of all the often overlooked chapters inside the enormous career of Elvis the Pelvis, there seems to be a hazy misunderstanding of his trip to Stax. Of course these sessions were done near the tail end of his life, which to many Elvis collectors is enough to make this seminal chapter interesting, but much of his latter content exposes a fraught, uninspired entertainer working through the Rolodex of under-appreciated compositions in need of the perfect vessel. After reaching another successful plateau with Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite, Presley, now facing a major downfall in his personal life including drug use and poor health, decided to take control of his own enterprise. Selling his catalog to RCA and opening his own publishing company was first in line to re-brand the new Elvis; next up was his reinvention, which led to a number of recording sessions done in his hometown. He focused intently on the golden sacrifices being made at Stax Records – only a few blocks from the Presley mansion. Good Times, perceived by the label as the best of those sessions, was released first in March 1974. After a Memphis, Tenn. live recording hit the press, the rest of the sessions (or what we imagined as the last) made up 1975’s Promised Land. With the aim and goal to be everything to everybody, the Stax sessions were aimed at bringing the King closer to his rock roots, while playing with the very best of James Brown funk and Southern soul. It also allowed him to play more with his southern gospel affirmations and his love for a sweet country western tune.  Both albums were hugely ignored on the first round and were dismissed by many as being the laughingstock of his latter career.

With Elvis at Stax, we now have an exhibit that properly sews together those sessions in a lite-documentary form. The first two discs give you a consensus of how the sessions went; some lit with the rock star’s hubris and off-stage humor. And although music heads will be slightly irritated with all the ramblings from a tired hound dog (see “Okay that’s enough, not too many keys – shit I get confused,” Elvis says on the opening of “You Asked Me To” [Take 3A]), those moments give you a special director’s cut of just how electric these sessions were. In the room sat some of Elvis’s best musicians. Some of those sessions were outlined with members of the M.G.’s, who were then on their last leg as being Stax’s top brass since Booker T. Jones left the group to pursue production duties outside of the Stax brand. The Memphis Boys – the house band for American Sounds Studio who is more often overlooked in the narrative of Memphis music, but deserving of the respect – also joined in on the jams.

The King of Rock ‘n Roll is most interesting when cranking out funk-fused R&B , particularly as he cooks up his Southern stew inside the confines of Stax Records – the campgrounds of Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers and Booker T. & the MGs. Several takes of the Aretha funk of “I Got a Feelin’ In My Body” are offered on the first disc, which stands out as the grand prize for Elvis collectors and for those hungry for more of Elvis soul.  Takes 4 and 5 of the Chuck Berry jam, “Promised Land,” can be heard also. Both are so similar, just hearing the drum intro on Take 5 is worthy of its play alone. Of course, the final – heard on disc three – is edited down to a three minute length and cleaned up with a bit of a pop gloss. And that’s what gives this collection a bit of a lightweight approval. The final versions, heard on the July and December 1973 masters – are so polished with the RCA paintbrush that it tends to rob some of the soul out of the atmosphere. It’s still refreshing to hear him sing sweet country ballads like “Take Good Care of Her,” “Love Song of the Year,” “She Wears My Ring” and “There’s a Honky Tonk Angel (Who Will Take Me Back In),” and to be serenaded by the gospel chorus line of J.D. Sumner and the Stamps. These are the kind of lovelorn and melancholic tunes that invaded much of his latter career. Still, you expected Elvis to take total advantage of the Stax assembly line and the pathos that surrounded it. He plays with it, particularly on the “bow chicka wow wow” mid-grade jam “If You Don’t Come Back,” the gospel-fried “Find Out What’s Happening” (reminiscent of Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say”), the R&B-chiseled “Just a Little Bit,” the Allman Bros. rock of “Raised on Rock” and the Southern-spiced slow jam “It’s Midnight,” but there should have been more of that. The collection is a half & half exercise, pulling on Presley’s coattails of warm pop-and-country pastries and a light drizzle of funk and r&b here and there. He does them all well, but the album title can seem to be a bit disingenuous. All of these events transpired at Stax; it doesn’t mean it felt like it. All in all, Elvis at Stax is the finest collection assembled that appropriately documents this amazing opportunity for Presley to show off all he was known for, enclosed with expansive liner notes, exclusive memorabilia and spot-on personnel data.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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