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

Inspiring Elvis: The Music Behind the King of Rock and RollAlthough I never thought that I would have the name of Elvis Presley in any of my Syncopated Times reviews, the recent compilation Inspiring Elvis from Upbeat will be of interest. Its 25 selections have been chosen as examples of the type of music that inspired Presley in his early days.

It is an interesting concept although chances are that Presley did not actually hear all of these performances. The emphasis is on early 1950s r&b, blues numbers and spirituals. While some (such as Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right Mama”) are obvious, choices others include some real stretches (Fats Waller on organ playing “Go Down Moses”). Pinetop Smith’s “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” from 1929 leads off the set and is sometimes cited as the first rock and roll recording although I have never really understood that connection. In addition to Smith’s boogie-woogie piano playing, he outlines dance steps for listeners. I would think that an uptempo recording by Harry “The Hipster” Gibson from the mid-1940s would be a stronger influence, at least on Jerry Lee Lewis.

Red Wood Coast

Among the other artists represented are Ray Charles (“Mess Around”), Big Joe Turner (including “Shake, Rattle and Roll”), gospel from the Golden Gate Quartet, Josh White, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, Kid Ory (Helen Andrews singing “Joshua Fit De Battle Of Jericho”), and Ethel Waters plus more secular recordings by Memphis Minnie, Dinah Washington (“Evil Gal Blues”), Louis Jordan (“Let The Good Times Roll”), Wynonie Harris, T-Bone Walker, Amos Milburn, Rufus Thomas, the Temple Toppers (with Little Richard), and, surprisingly, Hot Lips Page.

Missing from this set are representative early country and Western Swing recordings or Bill Haley. But acquiring Inspiring Elvis is a good excuse to hear a variety of odds and ends, some of which are fairly rare.

Inspiring Elvis
Upbeat URCD 338

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Scott Yanow

Since 1975 Scott Yanow has been a regular reviewer of albums in many jazz styles. He has written for many jazz and arts magazines, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, Down Beat, Cadence, CODA, and the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, and was the jazz editor for Record Review. He has written an in-depth biography on Dizzy Gillespie for He has authored 11 books on jazz, over 900 liner notes for CDs and over 20,000 reviews of jazz recordings.

Yanow was a contributor to and co-editor of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. He continues to write for Downbeat, Jazziz, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the Jazz Rag, the New York City Jazz Record and other publications.

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