Another ElvisNews Email Interview, this time with Paul Evans, author of several Elvis songs who recently released a CD with his original work.
EN: Paul, can you share a little about yourself with us?
Sure. I was born into a musical family. My father played the flute, my mother the piano. My sister taught me to play the guitar and instilled a love of folk music in me. (Family legend has my father selling his flute to pay for my first guitar.) I was an engineering student at Columbia University, took a year off to try my hand at the music business, and had my first hit as a writer during that year. The song was "When" by the Kalin Twins. It topped the charts in 1958 and kept me in the business. (I probably would have gone back to college if I didn't have any success that year).
I met my wife when a friend of hers who knew me played "The Next Step Is Love" on a juke box for her and told her that she should meet the writer. "You probably won't fall in love - but you'll sure have a lot of fun".
Surprise! She had fun AND she fell in love!
EN: Can you tell us something about Paul Evans, the songwriter / artists?
I used to run and perform in my high school variety shows. So I probably entered the music business as a singer first, writer second. However, my first success was, as I've mentioned, as a writer of the Kalin Twins' "When". (The record was a lucky break. The Kalin Twins got into the wrong pile of demo recordings up at the Decca offices in New York. They were asked to go through a pile of demos that had been accepted for them by their producer at Decca, but luckily for me, the Twins mistakenly got into the "Rejected" pile on his desk and found "When" there. Their producer, Jack Pleis, was too embarrassed to tell them that he'd rejected the song. But to his credit, Jack came up with a wonderful arrangement for the song - a big contributing factor to the record's success.
To make a living, I used to sing on demos for writers who couldn't sing. (I think I was paid $12.00 per demo at that time). Lee Pockriss and Bob Hilliard hired me to sing on their song, "Seven Little Girls (Sitting in the Back Seat)". They brought the recording over to Carlton Records, hoping to have the song recorded by Merv Griffin. However, Joe Carlton had just formed a new label, Guaranteed Records, and wanted my demo version - as is - for the new label. It hit the charts big-time and kick-started my career as a singer.
After my first run of hits in 1959-1960, I began a career in the New York studios, sing and writing for movies, jingles, and television (With time-out for another Pop hit, "Hello, This Is Joannie" in 1979. A Billboard Country Chart item and number 6 on the English Pop charts). I performed on several of Dick Clark's Saturday night shows and even did some background singing on several of the network "Soaps" and on the David Letterman Show.
The music business has been very, very good to me! :-)
EN: Can you tell the story behind the various songs you wrote which Elvis recorded?
Basically, one day I woke up to the fact that the door to Elvis' publishers, Hill and Range, was open. When the New York community heard that an Elvis session was coming up, we all went to work.
My first Elvis recording was "I Gotta Know". Elvis had recorded the song but it hadn't been released. Hill and Range called me into their offices and told me that they wanted to record the song with a "new kid". Since that would mean that the Elvis record would never come out as a single, I begged them NOT to record "I Gotta Know" with this "new kid". This new recording artist turned out to be Fabian, and there was a good chance that my song would have been on his "Turn Me Loose" session. My co-writer, Matt Williams, was furious with me for turning the record down, but when Elvis' recording was finally released and we received our first royalty statement - based on a million and a half sales - Matt was no longer furious :-)
All of my four Elvis songs were written with different co-writers. They were not written out of personal experiences, they were written with the attitude, "Elvis Presley is coming up for a session. The competition from Nashville and New York writers will be very fierce. We must write the BEST song we can come up with".
I am proud of the material my co-writers and I came up with. Particularly "I Gotta Know" and "Something Blue", which I occasionally perform in my club act. I also loved the last of my songs that he recorded of mine, "The Next Step Is Love". I was flattered that the Elvis' version incorporated many of my arrangement ideas - including the lick played by the piccolo Trumpet that we used on the demo. (Readers can check out the original demo on my CD, "Happy Go Lucky Me - the Paul Evans Songbook".)
EN: What did you like and what did you dislike on the way Elvis recorded your songs?
I was always pleased that the final recordings would utilize many of the features that I included on my demos. For instance, the phrase, "Shoo-be doo-be dah dah", sung by the Jordinaires on "I Gotta Know". The piccolo Trumpet on "The Next Step Is Love" and the piano runs on "Something Blue". (I recently heard one of the the out-takes of "Something Blue" which used a portion of the "Wedding March" to open the record - a la my demo. It's enlightening to play the demos on my CD and then play the Elvis recordings. The similarities are very obvious.)
There was NOTHING about the Elvis recordings that I disliked - except that they never did get to number 1.
Wait. Let me take that back. On "Something Blue", Elvis swallows the word, "I'm". The lyric reads, "That's why I'm something blue". Elvis sounds like he's singing, "That's why something blue". I can imagine that it would have been difficult to "correct" the King - but I wish that someone had tried. ;-(
EN: Which Elvis song should be written by you?
I guess I could say "any of them". I became a fan of his when I first heard him on Sun Records. But man oh man, those early RCA hits: "Heartbreak Hotel" through "Don't Be Cruel". Wish they were all mine!
EN: How was it making a deal with Colonel Parker on the songs?
I never had to deal with the Colonel. I dealt with Freddy Bienstock at Hill and Range Music. He was the man who listened to my material and told me which ones to demo so he could show them to Elvis and the Colonel. And I must say that although I've heard people mumble about their treatment at Freddie's hands, I never had a problem there. Freddie was always four square with me and always kept his word.
There was a paper circulating that most writers in New York signed - giving a third of the writing credits to Elvis. I wouldn't sign it. One day, Hill and Range's lawyer cornered me and threatened that if I didn't sign the paper I'd never get another Presley recording. I walked into Freddie Bienstock's office with the lawyer trailing behind - yelling at me. I reminded Freddie that he had promised I wouldn't have to give away any of my writing credits. Freddie instructed the attorney, "This man doesn't have to sign any give-backs". I don't know why Freddie promised me that I was immune from the give-back, but I do remember that he was a man of his word.
There's a complete story about the "politics of writing for Elvis" up on my Web site.
EN: Are you an Elvis-fan yourself?
How could I not be? After all, Elvis started the Rockabilly success story and the Rockabilly artists inspired me to get into the business.
What, in general, is your favorite Elvis stuff?
I'm not sure what you mean by "stuff", but all the re-releases and all the new configuration of Elvis CDs has been very, very good to me. It means a seemingly never-ending re-release of my Elvis tracks.
EN: Name your favorite Elvis song, movie and album, and why is it your favorite?
Well, with the exception of my own material, I suppose I'd say, "Don't Be Cruel", "