Daughter Holly Feist and I arrived early for my radio interview on “First Coast Connect.” I was there to talk about my book, Graceland Express, and a gracious young staff member conducted us to WJCT’s green room. We expected to have a long wait, but we were no more settled than a tall man, his graying hair pulled back in a ponytail, walked past, then stopped and asked if we had a few minutes to spare. We were a bit puzzled until we realized that the man was David Luckin, the host of WJCT’s “Electric Lounge,” an eclectic program that features music of various genres. “You’re going to be talking about Elvis and I’ve got something I want you to hear,” he said.
We followed David to his studio, passing through a corridor where Elvis’s photograph was prominently displayed along with those of other performers. Once inside we were in audio paradise. Every possible inch of space in the tiny room was filled with recordings. Shelves were stacked floor to ceiling with albums of every description, and it was soon evident that David knew exactly where each one was located.
Elvis’s recordings were prominently displayed and David gave us a mini-lecture about Elvis’s musical career. “There are only six albums on which Elvis did his very best work,” David explained. “Those were done at the times when he was at his peak as a performer.” He also expressed anger that Elvis’s tremendous potential as a performer was never fully realized and he feels, as many do, that Elvis’s career was badly mismanaged. “Elvis proved in King Creole that he could act, but instead they put him in cheap, Hawaiian beach movies and capitalized on the soundtrack albums and personal appearances. Elvis would have had a tremendous impact on European audiences, but the Colonel (Colonel Tom Parker, who managed most of Elvis’s career) would not allow Elvis to perform outside the country, except for three Canadian appearances. Rumors abound that some incident in Colonel Parker’s shady past made him reluctant to apply for a passport, therefore, no foreign tours for Elvis.
The most exciting part of the visit to David’s studio was when he played for us the “first take” of Elvis’s recording of “Fever.” (First takes are in-studio rehearsals for the final recording. In some instances the recording studio preserves them and they can be purchased by people interested in listening to the evolution of a particular performance.) “Elvis usually did forty or fifty takes on anything he recorded,” David told us. “Sometimes too many, as occasionally the earlier takes were the better ones.”
Having said that, he hit a few keys on his computer and suddenly we were listening to Elvis in a way we’d never heard him before. The studio’s acoustics gave so perfect a rendition of the music that it was like having Elvis right there in the room. But the amazing thing was that this “first take” sounded so perfect that it was hard to imagine it could possibly be improved upon. Every note came out perfect, every intonation of the lyrics was exactly right. Listening to that remarkable performance, I realized as I never had before what people meant when they told me that the very first time they heard Elvis sing they became Elvis fans for life.