Inspiring Elvis: The Music Behind the King of Rock and Roll

Over the past years, I have seen it claimed quite often, sometimes with a tinge of resentment by black speakers, that Elvis Presley co-opted the work and style of many black artists, most often without acknowledgement, and profited handsomely from such appropriation. This collection—some 25 tracks laid down by a variety of black artists, the majority being limited to one track apiece—lends credence to such assertions since the title avers they “inspired” Presley.

Of the 25 titles on this CD, I found only a half dozen were actually covered by Presley: “Down by the Riverside”; “Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho”; “That’s All Right Mama”; “Good Rockin’ Tonight”; “Hound Dog”;and“Shake Rattle &Roll.” Of these, perhaps the last two are among the ones that quickly come to mind when we think of Presley recordings.However, Presley was influenced by all kinds of Southern music—Gospel, Boogie, Country and, especially, the Blues—genres which are amply represented here.

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John Petters, who compiled the CD’s contents, wrote the liner notes, beginning these with a useful overview of the American music scene that led to rock ’n’ roll. He opens with a reference to the movie Elvis, which “tells the story of Presley’s fascination with the African American music of Beale Street, Memphis,” and then outlines the other genres mentioned above. Following this, he goes on to provide information on each of the tunes and their performers in the rest of the 6-page booklet. I think it would have been useful, however, to have had some analysis of the extent and manner of Presley’s being influenced by these artists and performances included here, but if one listens closely enough and is familiar with Presley’s style, such absence may be moot.

The CD has an eye-popping 22 artists represented on it, only three of them having two tracks each. Few if any of the performers will not be known to all who are reading this review. Although aficionados may have most of these tracks already in their collections by the artists, it may be useful to have them here all in one place. Those who have a sparse collection will find it is enhanced by this CD. It goes without saying that devotees of Elvis Presley will find it most congenial.

All traditional jazz lovers should find the album enjoyable. While only one track features a jazz band, “Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho” by Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band, blues are common enough in traditional jazz, and one could say the same for gospel songs. One of the latter (although not the version included on this album), “Down by the Riverside,” was recorded by gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe with the Chris Barber Jazz Band back in 1957, and of course many other gospels have appeared in the tune lists of traditional jazz bands from the ’20s to the present.

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This CD will be a worthwhile acquisition by Elvis lovers; by those who love the blues, gospel, boogie, and rock; and by traditional jazz fans alike. It is available on the Upbeat Recordings web site as well as on-line from Amazon.

Inspiring Elvis: The Music Behind the King of Rock and Roll
Various Artists
Upbeat URCD338

Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie; Mess Around; It’s All Right Baby; Gospel Train; Jesus’ Gonna Make My Dyin’ Bed; Go Down Moses; My Journey to the Sky; Down by the Riverside; Oh My Lord; God’s Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares; Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho; The Crucifixion; Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child; If You See My Rooster (Please Run Him Home); Evil Gal Blues; Let the Good Times Roll; That’s All Right Mama; Good Rockin’ Tonight; T-Bone Shuffle; Chicken Shack Boogie; Hound Dog; Bear Cat; Rice, Red Beans and Turnip Greens; The Monkey Song (Jungle King); Shake Rattle & Roll.

Personnel for each track is given in the liner notes the jewel case inlay. Included are Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Kid Ory, Mahalia Jackson, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, and Big Joe Turner, to name a few.

Born in Dundee, Scotland, Bert Thompson came to the U.S. in 1956. After a two-year stint playing drums with the 101 st Airborne Division Band and making a number of parachute drops, he returned to civilian life in San Francisco, matriculating at San Francisco State University where he earned a B.A. and an M.A. He went on to matriculate at University of Oregon, where he earned a D.A. and a Ph.D., all of his degrees in English. Now retired, he is a professor emeritus of English at City College of San Francisco. He is also a retired traditional jazz drummer, having played with a number of San Francisco Bay Area bands, including And That’s Jazz, Professor Plum’s Jazz, the Jelly Roll Jazz Band, Mission Gold Jazz Band, and the Zenith New Orleans Parade band; he also played with some further afield, including Gremoli (Long Beach, CA) and the Phoenix Jazzers (Vancouver, B.C.) Today he reviews traditional jazz CDs and writes occasional articles for several publications.

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