Coast to coast success
Paul had talked with songwriter Bill Giant, of the team Giant, Baum, and Kaye, before. It was rumored that Elvis recorded one of their songs, “Plantation Rock,” for the movie “Girls, Girls, Girls” but the song was later cut. The writers would neither confirm nor deny at first; Paul’s gregariousness eventually won them over when he was invited to come up to New Jersey and see Bill Giant about a rare promo 45. Paul already had the record in his collection, but an additional one would be nice trading material. The conversation eventually turned to “Plantation Rock” and Bill Giant said he had an acetate. What we wanted was a tape of the song, but it was doubtful that would happen. These folks were legitimate songwriters, had been in the business for a long time, and were part of the corporate world that we were at loggerheads with. Bootlegs just might be something that turned them off; Paul took along three copies of each of our albums, just in case.
As Paul later told me, Bill was amazed at the quality of our albums; the same reaction came from Mr. Baum who stopped by the house that day. Sure, they knew about bootlegs, but none they had seen came close to ours. “These are better than RCA’s catalogue.” was the consensus. Although dependent on the major labels and the recording industry for their livelihood, they had no love for any of it. “We’ve been screwed so many times we lost count. We get a royalty check every three months; we used to complain but finally we just gave up. One time it would be for a few thousand dollars; the next would be ten times that. We’d get royalties for songs we never wrote and see not a penny for some of our biggest successes. We just cash the checks and don’t bother to look at the accounting any more; it never made sense and never will. Over the years we’ve been paid for songs written by The Beach Boys, The Everly Brothers, and Chuck Berry, just to name a few. We’ve always wondered if they got paid for our songs.”
“Plantation Rock” was ours; Paul knew it was just a matter of price. After more general talk, mostly complaints about how they had fared over the years, they said they would sell Paul their acetate. “We’re lucky to have that. We thought it would be in the movie. That cost us thousands right there; they never even told us the song was cut. Only because it was Elvis did we bother to get a copy for ourselves. We wanted to listen to it before the movie was released. RCA must have a tape of it, but if we hadn’t left that session with a copy of our own we’d never be able to convince anyone that Elvis recorded our song.” Alas, it was also said that Elvis “probably” recorded another of their songs that also never got released. They weren’t there for the session and had no way to know for sure.
Paul drove home that evening $3,000 poorer; they knew what they had and what it was worth. He played the song for me over the phone and we both thought it wasn’t anything spectacular. Just another uptempo ditty typical of movie filler, but it was unreleased. That, combined with the movie outtakes we had, gave us another album. Just a day or two later, D.L. came through. A songwriter/arranger that Paul had been courting for quite some time and up to now unproductive; he sent Paul an acetate of “I’m Leavin’ It Up to You” taken from a Las Vegas rehearsal. We had another unreleased song, another album. For more than a year D.L. had us hoping for “Mona Lisa” or “Portrait of My Love,” two songs that he had arranged for Elvis. We were ready to write D.L. off when he finally delivered.
We had enough quality outtakes with plenty of diversity to fill three LPs. The presses would be rolling again real soon. Paul had some great photos that would make wonderful covers. Elvis fans were going to get a treat for the holidays. Three simultaneous releases would be tough, both financially and logistically. I had to make sure I got everything exactly right the first time; if these LPs were to be ready for Christmas the was no room for any misstep. With the FBI possibly breathing down our necks, we wanted to get all we had available out to Elvis fans before things came to a screeching halt.
I’d taken precautions over the last few months: I always took a very roundabout way to any of our storage areas, never the same way twice. Robert and I were the only ones that knew where all three were. Glen Midcap never picked up replacement inventory; that was Robert’s job. I was the only one who went to pick up records at the pressing plant, although Robert and Glen had come along to help load and unload in the past. I thought it best that only I handle that chore for the immediate future. I had talked to both Robert and Glen and told them all about the FBI’s visit. “The Bulb” gave me some good advice. He said, “Tell your employees that you don’t want them to lie for you. If they are approached by the FBI all they have to say is, ‘I’ll be more than happy to speak with you but I would like to have an attorney present. That is all they say, nothing more. Not another word. If they are pestered, which they will be, al they have to do is keep repeating that phrase and be polite. The FBI will realize they can’t get anywhere and go away.” It just so happened that the advice worked. The FBI did contact Robert; he said what he had been told to say (I had him rehearse it), and they never bothered him again. Glen told me he had not been contacted, but assured me if he was that he would do the same thing.
This all happened so quickly that I almost didn’t go to the beach to pursue the lead I got from the Radio Recorders engineers I had just tracked down in San Fernando Valley. We had enough outtakes; we sure couldn’t afford to buy another batch. I just couldn’t let it slide; busy as we would be in a day or two, I drove down to Redondo Beach with fingers crossed. I didn’t have a phone number, just a name. If no one was at home I was prepared to wait for hours. My thinking was, “If this guy has a batch of tapes, perhaps I can just buy one or two. There must be a couple tapes with songs that will make these three albums that much better. I can get the rest after Christmas.”
My worrying was for naught; he was home. But, he only had two tapes. That was the first thing he said when he started digging through a pile of tapes in the back of a closet. “I just took these two because they were the oldest ones there. I liked Elvis better in the fifties.” Did he say “fifties?” It could only be one of four movies; I never imagined the outtakes went that far back. They did, of course, but I thought the tapes that got thrown away were from sixties films. “Please, let it be “Jailhouse Rock” or “Loving You” was my first thought. We had taken care of “King Creole,” and “Love Me Tender” only had a few songs. What a find this could be. Then I realized we had put out the soundtracks from “Jailhouse Rock” and “Loving You” because the film versions of the songs were different arrangements from those on the records released by RCA. This could just be material we had already released; I wondered if it was a wasted drive.
“Here they are. Each tape just has the one song; they spent lots of time trying to get it right.” I hoped my disappointment didn’t show. As he backed out of the closet I was thinking, “Only one song! What a total bust this trip turned out to be.” He handed me the by–now–familiar boxes and the first thing that caught my eye was the date: February 14, 1957. Just below that was written, “Loving You” (fast version) takes 1-21. I don’t know if my hands started shaking, they might have. The other box said, “Loving You” (slow version) takes 1-14. Valentine’s Day! How fitting. I tried to keep the excitement out of my voice as I asked, “Were there any more tapes from the fifties?”
“These were the only two I could find. Here, let me play one for you.” What luck! I wouldn’t have to wait until tomorrow to listen to the tape at MCA Whitney. Larry would make cassettes to send to Paul, as he had done with all the other outtakes, but this guy actually had a professional tape recorder, usually only found in studios, that would play these ten–inch reels recorded at 15 ips. I sat on the couch while he threaded the tape; wondering just what I would hear, but sure that a vital question had been answered: Elvis had, indeed, recorded the fast version of “Loving You” in its entirety. With twenty-one takes, it couldn’t mean anything else. We would finally get to hear the complete uptempo song, not just the first verse that played over the opening credits and then dissolved into an instrumental. “If they had the whole song, what dumbbell decided to use only the first verse?” was what went through my mind. A day later, Paul and I just plain marveled at this bit of idiocy.
I listened to the entire tape with the fast versions of the song; it was nothing like I expected. Most other outtakes varied only slightly from the released version; the ones that were completely different were multiple takes of the song sung at a different tempo. “King Creole” and “King of the Whole Wide World” fit that category. Equally appealing were takes where Elvis flubbed the lyrics or went off–key. His comments were always priceless. “A Dog’s Life” and “If You Think I Don’t Need You,” where he just plain cracked up were my favorites up until now. Everything took second billing to what I was now hearing.
This was more than a normal recording session; this was all experimental. It was obvious from the start that neither Elvis nor the musicians had any idea what they planned to do. Other than record the song at a much quicker tempo, there was no particular arrangement or script to follow. They tried it at a few different speeds, gave it different endings, changed keys. There were complete takes and partial ones; they just kept playing with the song. Along about take fifteen it began to come together. After take eighteen, with Elvis now cutting loose and giving the song his distinctive style, I heard in the background just as the final note sounded, “That’s a rock and roll song now.” It was. It took a while, but Elvis, once he got a feeling of how he wanted to do it, took over and the musicians followed along. Why this was never released made no sense. The song would have been a big hit; as big a hit as the ballad we were all familiar with, probably bigger. The company that threw away all those early studio sessions from Elvis’ first few albums stayed true to form. They didn’t have a clue what the fans wanted and didn’t care. Enough of that, it was time for Paul and I to do our thing. Paul had the tapes two days later and we discussed what to do.
New Jersey, Nevada, and California coughed up all this unreleased material in less than a month. Was fate, luck, or relentless pursuit the reason for our success? Take your pick; we sometimes wondered. We would now issue four albums at once; that much was certain. For a week we batted around whether to give all the “Loving You” outtakes their own album, or to just pick out the best cuts. The decision was made to use a few of the more interesting takes and issue “The Rockin’ Rebel Vol. III.” This was in keeping with our practice of not mixing material from different time periods on the same album. We had just enough other fifties material to make a welcome addition to this series. Equally appealing to us was the “Volume III” aspect. No bootlegger had ever done that before. This was another first for Vic Colonna, by now a bit of a folk hero in the eyes of many Elvis fans. We would get some opinions from the Elvis World to see if they wanted an entire album composed of just one song done at two different tempos. For now it was back to figuring out what each album would contain, coordinating everything so they would all be ready at once, and make this a Christmas our loyal customers would remember.