Chapter 21

Foolin’ Felton

A good friend of Paul’s was a fellow who worked with Felton Jarvis, Elvis’ producer. Paul knew him as a collector first; he later became a big fan of our bootlegs. It was from he that Paul learned RCA had acquired a few songs from Elvis’ Louisiana Hayride appearances. He and Felton had a copy; there was also a copy in RCA’s Los Angeles headquarters. Where else would it be but in the office of our old friend Joan Deary? Try as he might, Paul could not convince his friend to give up a copy of the tapes; he couldn’t even tell Paul what the songs were. It would be too obvious where it came from; that was too big a risk to take. It seemed as if RCA had something we didn’t and it would stay that way. Actually, they had lots of things we did not have, not yet. But we were catching up fast. The difference with the Louisiana Hayride songs was that RCA actually had plans to release this material. How nice it would be to beat them to the punch; how impossible that seemed.

Hello, Fourth Estate! A number of fledgling monthlies devoted to record collecting appeared out of nowhere and vanished just as quickly during the late 1970’s. One was headquartered in Covina, the town where Glen and Linda lived, and Glen knew a fellow who was a feature writer for the paper. He was a fellow collector, fresh out of journalism school, and this was his first job. He was also an Elvis fan and Glen had given him copies of all our LPs. Somehow he wangled an interview with Joan Deary to talk about the Louisiana Hayride tapes. By now, the Elvis world was abuzz with the news. No one knew exactly what the songs were; stories abounded, but none had credence. However, this was big news, and word of the existence of these tapes had leaked out. Rumors about just what they contained flew, the one thing that kept cropping up was that there was a hit song by another artist that Elvis covered and never recorded for any of his albums.

It was a simple matter convincing Glen’s friend to let me tag along on the interview; the complex issue was: how was I going to get a copy of the tape? I had some ideas, made a couple inquiries at stereo and electronics dealers, and it was not at all complicated. I rented a unit that would capture and broadcast a conversation on a specific FM frequency to a receiver tuned to that precise signal. Attach a tape recorder and the deed is done. I hollowed out a hardback book, placed the sending unit inside, and ran the tiny aerial under the cover along the spine. We tested the range and it worked perfectly.

We arrived at Joan’s office and I explained my presence by saying, “I’ve heard quite a bit about these Hayride tapes. I sure hope we get a chance to hear them after the interview.” Joan said we could listen to them; she then answered a few prepared questions about how RCA acquired the songs. I had brought along a large leather briefcase, one in the old style that opened from the top. It was a Christmas present from Vicki last year, especially chosen because it held albums comfortably. The briefcase was the attention–getter; it was obviously big enough to have a recorder inside. The book, seemingly innocuous, sat on my lap. After all the questions were asked and answered, Joan stood and opened a door to an adjoining room. She specifically said to me, “Please leave your briefcase in the office.” She had me pegged; she suspected I would try to record the Hayride material when she played it. I put on my best “you caught me” look and tried to act a bit disappointed at the same time. I don’t know how well I succeeded, but she paid no attention to the book I held by my side. I experienced an adrenaline rush as we entered the other room. If Joan only knew. We came to the crest and she had fallen prey to the scheme. Crestfallen is a delightful word.

In the next room was a complete stereo system: turntable, cassette deck, reel–to–reel deck, tuner, amplifier, and speakers. The equipment could have been used to listen to the 1961 Hawaii concert if Joan had any curiosity or initiative. Joan opened a cabinet, took a cassette off the shelf, and put it into the deck. The clarity was astounding. I had imagined a 1954 radio broadcast would sound a bit primitive. Not so. After a brief introduction, Elvis launched into “That’s All Right, Mama.” He sounded so young, so fresh, full of life, just like a kid with the world by the tail and loving every minute of it. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was next, and then came the one I’d been waiting for. I vaguely remembered “Tweedle Dee” by LaVern Baker, a minor hit in 1953. It was that song, but it was Elvis. And, when it was Elvis, it was like no one had ever sung it like this before. I knew he turned the music world upside down, I remember the first few times I heard “Heartbreak Hotel” when I was twelve and how awed I was, but this was two years before that and he had it all even then. The lad was born to sing; he did it like no one before or since, and you just had to sit up and take notice.

I was so overwhelmed by what I was hearing that I almost stopped wondering how well the sound was being picked up and broadcast to Robert, sitting down on the street in my station wagon with the receiver and a portable cassette player by his side. As the last two songs ended, “I Was the One” and “Love Me Tender” from a December 16, 1956 Hayride return engagement, I wanted to run out the door and down to the car to see how well our tape turned out.

We both thanked Joan and I remember saying to her, “That was a real treat; I can’t thank you enough for letting us hear that. I hope it will be out on record soon.” It sure would be. This was what we needed to fill up “The Rockin’ Rebel Vol. II.” I couldn’t wait to get down to the car and see if and how well our mission succeeded.

I could tell from Robert’s smile that he had heard everything; now it was a matter of sound quality. Would it be good enough? I listened a couple times and I just wasn’t sure. Actually, I was a bit disappointed. The book muffled the sound more than I thought it would. Maybe I should have cut holes in the bottom of the book; too late for that now. Paul would be the judge; I sent him the tape Express Mail that very same day.

Paul wasn’t any happier than I was. Just to hear these songs was exciting, but we wanted to be able to let thousands of fans hear them also. We wanted them to hear what I heard. Maybe it was thinking along those lines that gave Paul the idea. The next time he talked to Felton’s assistant Paul had a confession to make.

It was a couple days before Paul finally got through to Nashville, Felton Jarvis’ headquarters. As Paul later told me, the conversation was just the usual chatter between friends for a few minutes and then Paul said, “Old buddy, I have something to tell you. I haven’t been completely honest with you about the Hayride tapes.” Paul went on to explain: “I’ve felt guilty bugging you about those Hayride tapes. I sure don’t want you to risk your job or anything like that. All the same, what I’ve really wanted is to improve the quality of those songs for my own collection. You see, I’ve had the Hayride tapes for some time. I think the fellow I got them from is the one who sold them to RCA. That was months after I traded for them. The trouble is, he wasn’t completely honest with me. I heard them over the phone, worked out a trade, and he sent me the tape. However, the quality of the tape he sent me is not as good as what I heard on the telephone. I think he deliberately messed up the recording because he was working on a deal with RCA. Here, let me play you the tape I have; you’ll see what I mean.”

The hook was set; now to see if the fish would bite. Paul played the tape I had sent and said, “You see what I mean?” The answer was music, sweet music. “Gee Paul. I never thought you had the tapes. You should have told me. The deal with RCA is done, and since you already have the songs I’ll send you a copy of what we have. That way you’ll be able to hear it as it should be heard.”

Two days later Paul got a perfect quality copy of the Hayride tapes. I had it the next day and we went to work on the album. As a perfect complement, the other side of this LP was from an Elvis appearance at a little club, The Eagle’s Nest, in 1955. This material had seen limited release on a couple obscure bootlegs; whoever made them had disappeared years ago. Our fans would be delighted to have all that material from the early stage of Elvis’ career on one album.

“The Rockin’ Rebel Vol. II” was a huge success. Our customers raved about the photo booklet; the quality of the prints and the fact they were from 1955, a time when photos of Elvis were not plentiful, just further cemented the belief that Vic Colonna was capable of anything. We continued to send out mailings to names purchased from Brookville and Candlelight and our catalog sales were steady. I was continually ordering another two, three, or five thousand copies of our previous albums. Fans that ordered albums sent in additional orders for other catalogue items; the reverse was also true. Our overseas mailing list kept on growing thanks to word of mouth; dealers worldwide were placing repeat orders for all of our albums. Vic had a worldwide fan base; nothing like Elvis, but then there is nothing like Elvis. Just ask any Elvis fan.

I sent Paul a few copies of the album Express Mail. I had done this before, and there were two options: Delivery was guaranteed by ten the next morning if the item was sent Post Office to Post Office; delivery was guaranteed by three the next afternoon if the item was sent to an address. The Post Office was so proud of their new offer, putting them in a position to compete with FedEx and UPS, they offered a money–back guarantee if delivery was not made on time. Paul had things to do that next day, including an early morning stop at the Post Office. Thus, I opted for the morning delivery; it didn’t get there on time. Great, we’d get our money back. I had a thought: could they actually get anything to the Ruxton, MD Post Office by ten the next morning? Express mail was accepted until five in the afternoon. That was eight at night on the east coast. The Post Office had fourteen hours to get my package from Glendale to LAX, get it on a plane to Dulles in Washington, D.C., the nearest airport to Ruxton, and then get it unloaded, sorted out, and delivered to Ruxton. I doubted it and decided to find out. I sent Paul a box of fifty records, Post Office to Post Office, that weighed in at thirty pounds. The Express Mail charge was almost forty-seven dollars. Paul went to pick it up the next morning; it didn’t arrive until after noon. Over the next month I sent Paul almost 100 boxes of albums via Express Mail. Not a single one arrived on time.

Paul dutifully saved the receipts. I took them all, the time delivered officially noted by the Ruxton P.O., over to Glendale’s main branch. I didn’t want any heart failure at my local outlet. You would have thought the money was coming out of the clerk’s pocket. He sputtered, fumed, muttered, spit, and turned fire–engine red. He tried to tell me I couldn’t get a refund for all these packages. Nice try. They guaranteed delivery; nothing was specified about not honoring the guarantee for more than one delivery. Each one was a completely separate incident; each one was a failure they had to make good on. It took almost three hours before I walked out of the Post Office with a check for over $4,600. Oh yeah, they no longer guaranteed Express Mail delivery from Glendale to Ruxton after that.

It was 1979, we’d been at this for over three years, we had two albums that were in partial stages of completion and would be released soon, and it was time to go all out to find more material. We had material for a second volume of “68 Comeback material and we also had the alternate Aloha broadcast. The Aloha show was iffy. There was little difference between the afternoon show and the show that was broadcast. Still, Elvis fans had a right to hear everything.

I had a lead, not much of one, but I pursued things doggedly. So did Paul. He was busy trying to track down some elusive items himself. More than once that Million Dollar Quartet session seemed ready to surface, only to have our hopes dashed. We knew there were outtakes from the movies “That’s the Way It Is” and “Elvis on Tour” and chased leads on those that never amounted to anything. We thought we had them once; I gave a friend $3,500 after he assured me that he had found someone with footage that was not in the films. Alas, the person who had won his trust and confidence was nothing more than a con man. The money was handed over and reels of garbage were all we got in return. It was our money, but I felt sorry for my friend. He wanted so badly to succeed; it just was not to be.

Paul chased down every lead on the first Milton Berle show and Elvis’ appearance on Frank Sinatra’s “Welcome Home Elvis” special that aired shortly after Elvis was discharged from the Army. Time and again he thought he had them, only to be disappointed. Paul did manage to come through with an improved quality medley from the third Ed Sullivan appearance. We would remaster the LP, just as we had done with the Dorsey album, to give the fans what they deserved.

We went to work on the “Viva Las Vegas” and “The Burbank Sessions Vol. 2” LPs, and they came out one after another. The second album of Burbank shows was another double album, our third, and it was every bit as professional as its predecessor. The Viva LP, thanks to those marvelous photos, let us get creative. We had five photos of Elvis and Ann–Margret facing forward and one of them from behind, looking back over their shoulders. The “forward five” went on the front, in a playing–card design (ten to ace of hearts) with a green background meant to simulate a gaming table. There were poker chips scattered on the cover with song titles inside. The rear–facing photo took up the back cover, inside a Joker card. We got raves on that one from fans everywhere.

Nineteen seventy-nine was off to a rollicking start. If we could keep going like this… That depended on our continuing to find unreleased material; no mean feat. While waiting for those albums to roll out of the pressing plant I decided it was time to start beating the bushes. “Cary” had given me a clue; there had to be more of the session material from Radio Recorders out there. Could I possibly track it down? Time to find out. The saying, “One man’s trash is another’s treasure.” is certainly true. Amazing what gets thrown away; would you believe Elvis outtakes?

to chapter 22