Friends Record 'Lost' Song, A Rocker Meant For A King

By Bill EllisJan 8, 2002
Friends Record 'Lost' Song, A Rocker Meant For A King
We found a good article on "A Fire Down Below" from Jerry Scheff By Bill Ellis from the Commercial Appeal (January 05 2002). As we celebrate another birthday for Elvis Presley - who would have been 67 on Tuesday - a "lost" song has come to light, one that many fans speculated about until recently. Fire Down Below was among the last songs recorded by the King's TCB band at Graceland in 1976. Presley never committed a vocal to it on tape though the backing track version can be found on "The Jungle Room Sessions" from BMG's collector/fan club label Follow That Dream (BMG, or Bertelsmann Music Group, is the parent company to Presley label RCA). Now the song, written by TCB bassist Jerry Scheff (and not the Bob Seger tune), can be heard as intended courtesy of a new performance by those Taking Care of Business veterans - Scheff, guitarist James Burton, drummer Ronnie Tutt, pianist Glen D. Hardin and vocalists the Sweet Inspirations - with singer and famed Presley interpreter Terry Mike Jeffrey. (Recorded largely at Michael McDonald's studio in Nashville, Burton's sizzling guitar part was done in Memphis at Ardent). Made last year and available only on the Web, the EP "Fire Down Below!" features the original and updated versions of the song plus two other Scheff originals, a swamp rock number called Living in Paradise and another song written for Presley (though rejected at the time by producer Felton Jarvis), the ballad That's When the Real Love Begins. Scheff played and recorded with Presley from 1969 to his death Aug. 16, 1977. The EP is on Scheff's independent label Dog Toys Music and can be purchased at http://www.scheff.com (those wanting more info on Scheff or the TCB band also can contact James Scileppi at blurbmedia@aol.com). Beyond the initial curiosity at hearing an unfinished song slated for Elvis - and one that would have been his hardest-driving since the 1972 classic Burning Love - Fire Down Below works as testament to the TCB band's singular talents. Even without Presley's stamp on things, the old magic remains. But anyone who caught the band in recent years on their "Elvis - The Concert" tours knows there's nothing virtual about these pros. "We always played well together so it wasn't too hard at all," says Scheff, 60, by phone from his Simi Valley, Calif., home. "It's too bad I didn't have it done when we started the 'Elvis - The Concert' things." While the song's arrangement is squarely in the Presley pocket, one obvious difference is the singing. It's not Elvis redux but guest Jeffrey having a go in his own rock and roll voice. "Jerry had been wanting for some time to find somebody that he felt would sing that song but not treat it like an Elvis impersonator with all the caricature vocals, you know," says Paducah, Ky.-based Jeffrey, 47, who'll perform 8:30 p.m. today and 11 a.m. Sunday at Elvis Presley's Memphis, 126 Beale. "The fact that I do Elvis music but I don't do the impersonator bit was appealing to him. Even going into that session, he asked me originally to sing it like I thought Elvis might have sung it. Then almost as an afterthought, he said, 'Let's don't do that. Let's treat it like you would do it right now, today.' So that's what we ended up doing. "Scheff had thought at one point about getting a female voice like Bonnie Raitt to sing the tune. "I sat on that song for years because who do you get to sing a song that you wrote for Elvis?" he says. Jeffrey made the cut after Scheff worked with him on the 20th anniversary Mid-South Coliseum tribute, "Elvis in Concert '97" (the prototype for the "Elvis - The Concert" tours). The result is a performance steeped in Elvis history without the expected mimicry, i.e., it holds up simply as a good song. Says Jeffrey: "It's such a shame that Elvis didn't do it because at that point in his career he was mostly singing sad love songs, and he could have used that as a boost. That's a Burning Love kind of song. It would have yanked him out of the doldrums a little bit." Scheff recounts the idea for the song on his EP. While flying aboard the Lisa Marie in 1976, the bassist asked Presley why he didn't sing any new rock songs, to which the aging legend replied he couldn't find any good ones. Scheff decided to remedy that by writing a rocker fit for a King. Months later, after a romantic evening with his wife in Malibu, the song - and its companion That's When the Real Love Begins - came to Scheff under a moonlight writing session by the beach. In February and October of 1976, RCA had brought a recording truck to Graceland as a way to shake Elvis out of his growing ambivalence about being in a studio. On what would be the final session date, Oct. 30, the band worked the song up with their leader and took a break. Instead of putting down his vocals, however, Elvis spent the rest of the night in a playful, if erratic pre-Halloween mood, riding newly delivered Harley-Davidson motorcycles up and down the driveway and, at one point, "brandishing a Thompson submachine gun," according to the Peter Guralnick / Ernst Jorgensen book Elvis Day By Day. The session came to a halt, "We all split up, and he went up to his bedroom," recalls Scheff on the EP. "Nobody could have known at the time - and I may be wrong - but as far as I know, that was the last time Elvis was ever before a microphone recording new songs. "I was playing a game of pool when (friend/guitarist) Charlie Hodge came over and said Elvis wanted to see me in his bedroom. I went up, and Elvis was sitting on his bed, looking real tired. He said he didn't feel very good. He said, 'Jerry, I can't go on tonight. We have the song worked up. You boys put a track down. I promise I'll put on my vocal later.' "He never did" Too bad. Even a scheduled January session came to naught when Elvis backed out at the last moment. As Jorgensen writes in the definitive recording sessions chronology, Elvis Presley: A Life in Music, "For a while (Jarvis) traveled around with the master track of There's a Fire Down Below, hoping somehow to trick Elvis into doing a vocal cut." Though the subsequent release of Fire Down Below is clearly a labor of love for Scheff, the bassist doesn't live in an Elvis-memory haze. He doesn't have to. In fact, he's been one of the busiest session players in rock. Among hundreds of recordings, Scheff - whose bass-playing son Jason Scheff replaced Peter Cetera in the group Chicago in the '80s - has worked with the Doors (that's him playing bass on L.A. Woman), Johnny Cash, Crowded House, Richard Thompson, John Denver, Peter Case, Bob Dylan and that other Elvis, Costello. Yet Presley remains the most special. "I've worked with some really good people, but when Elvis sang, the song went out of his brain, through his heart, came out his mouth and boom! He lived the lyrics as he sang them. "He was my favorite singer and person that I worked with. As far as the business end of things, we had to deal with Col. Parker. (But) on an artistic level, Elvis was the best - the best singer, the best communicator, the best everything."
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