It was at the International Hotel in Las Vegas where – after eight years of non-stop movie making that left no room for live performance tours – Elvis and his manager Colonel Tom Parker finally staged his triumphant return to public concerts in 1969. As if making up for lost time, Elvis unleashed a torrent of pent-up energy at the International, picking up where his black-leather NBC-TV “comeback” special of December 1968 left off.
The International Hotel premiere took place over the course of four memorable weeks in July-August 1969; Elvis returned to the International for another four weeks in January-February 1970. A handful of the 12 songs from the 1969 shows were released in November that year as Elvis In Person at the International Hotel, better known as disc one of the double-LP From Memphis To Vegas – From Vegas to Memphis. The next year, ten songs from the ’70 shows were released in June as the album On Stage (inexplicably including two songs from the previous year).
Now four decades later, those two albums – with multiple bonus tracks on each – have been coupled together for the first time. ON STAGE: LEGACY EDITION pays tribute to Elvis in one of the most outstanding performance periods in his career.
The specially-designed double-CD package, encased in the distinctive Legacy Edition mylar slipcase, will be available at all physical and digital retail outlets starting March 23rd through RCA/Legacy, a division of SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT.
ON STAGE: LEGACY EDITION is the latest entry in a full slate of Elvis Presley catalog titles that will be released on RCA/Legacy throughout the year. On December 8th, RCA/Legacy officially kicked off the birthday year with ELVIS 75: GOOD ROCKIN’ TONIGHT, the first four-CD deluxe box set to ever provide the definitive overview of his entire recording career. The 100 songs – a broad collection of hit singles, deep album tracks, live performances, and rarities – range from the first demo acetate that Elvis made at the Memphis Recording Service of Sun Records in 1953 (“My Happiness”), to a sampling of Sun Records sides produced by Sam Phillips in 1954-55 (“That’s All Right,” “Blue Moon Of Kentucky,” “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” and more), through 21 and a half years of RCA tracks, from 1956 to 1977. On January 5th, ELVIS 75 was released, a single CD collection of 25 tracks from 1954 to 1972, culled from the box set.
ON STAGE: LEGACY EDITION contains a full-color booklet with numerous photos and a new 3,000-word liner notes essay by Ken Sharp that provides the essential backstory. Sharp’s recent book, Elvis: Vegas ’69 (Follow That Dream Books, 2009), draws on exclusive interviews with the people who were there, including Elvis’ TCB bandmates, the Sweet Inspirations, the Imperials, celebrities in attendance, International Hotel personnel including hotel president Alex Shoofey, international media, and many others.
“It was his first live show in eight years and it was a big challenge coming back,” master guitarist and TCB bandleader James Burton told Sharp. “He’d been doing movies for so long and was very insecure about how his fans would accept him. Elvis came up to me right before the show and said, ‘James, I’m so nervous, I don’t know if I can do this.’ I said, ‘Elvis, when you walk out there and the curtain goes up, after the first two or three songs it’ll be like sitting at home in your living room.’”
The 1969 shows (represented on disc two) found Elvis asserting his dominion over the formative songs of his career, including ’50s hits “Blue Suede Shoes,” “All Shook Up,” “Hound Dog,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” a medley of “Jailhouse Rock/Don’t Be Cruel,” and a medley of “Mystery Train” with Rufus Thomas’ “Tiger Man.” Early ’60s hits include “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” There were covers of early rock and blues standards from Chuck Berry (“Johnny B. Goode”), Willie Dixon (“My Babe”), Jimmy Reed (“Baby, What You Want Me To Do”), Lowell Fulsom (“Reconsider Baby”), and Ray Charles (“I Got A Woman,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You”). Contemporary material was limited to “In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds” (both from the Memphis sessions earlier that year), Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” (a year before Elvis recorded it in 1970), and a surprising cover of the Bee Gees’ “Words” from 1968.
Six months later, the repertoire of the 1970 shows (represented on disc one) was entirely different – except for Elvis’ red hot version of the blues staple, “See See Rider” (the opening number) and Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” now the material was all from the contemporary song book. This included two songs from the ’69 Memphis sessions, “Don’t Cry Daddy” and “Kentucky Rain.” The emphasis was on ballads, including updates of the Everly Brothers’ 1960 hit, “Let It Be Me,” and Ray Peterson’s 1959 “The Wonder Of You” (which Elvis chose to issue as a rare live single, and it rose to the Top 10; included here is a bonus afternoon rehearsal version of the song).
“Eschewing the rockier edge of the ’69 shows,” Sharp writes, “Elvis broadened his artistic swath, lending evocative interpretations of contemporary material like ‘Sweet Caroline’ by Neil Diamond, ‘Proud Mary’ by CCR and Joe South’s ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes.’” Elvis also applied his personal stamp to Engelbert Humperdink’s “Release Me” and Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie.” As mentioned, two songs were brought over from the International Hotel recordings of the year before, Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Four decades later, the impact of these live tracks confirms the fact that Elvis was as much a part of the current pop music scene as any performer of his time.
ON STAGE: LEGACY EDITION is one element of dozens surrounding the 75th birthday anniversary year. The celebration kicked off with four days of fanfare centered at Graceland from January 7-10th.. In addition to the annual birthday proclamation ceremony on the front lawn of Graceland, events included exhibits, parties, dances, and panel discussions. Also, a Friday night tribute at the FedEx Forum by NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, wearing blue suede shoes for the occasion; a Saturday night pops concert by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, with guest TCB Band members Ronnie Tutt, James Burton and Glen D. Hardin; and a Sunday morning gospel concert by Elvis’ Imperials at Graceland Plaza.
ON STAGE: LEGACY EDITION by ELVIS PRESLEY
(RCA/Legacy 88697 63213 2)
Disc One – Selections: 1. See See Rider • 2. Release Me • 3. Sweet Caroline • 4. Runaway • 5. The Wonder Of You • 6. Polk Salad Annie • 7. Yesterday • 8. Proud Mary • 9. Walk A Mile In My Shoes • 10. Let It Be Me • Bonus songs: 11. Don’t Cry Daddy • 12. Kentucky Rain • 13. Long Tall Sally • 14. The Wonder Of You (Hot 100 #9). (Tracks 1-10 originally issued June 1970, as On Stage, RCA 4362.)
• All tracks 1-13 recorded at dinner shows and midnight shows at the International Hotel, Las Vegas, February 16-19, 1970, except tracks 4 and 7, recorded August 25, 1969.