Lacker first met Elvis at Humes High when they were both in school. In 1960, Elvis invited him out to Hollywood for the Kid Galahad shoot, and Marty stayed to become on of the infamous Memphis Mafia gang. In 1964, Lacker became foreman of the group, Presley's personal secretary and check writer. He lived for a time at Graceland in a garage apartment with wife and daughter. In 1966, Lacker took a position with Pepper Records. Before long he was doing production work with Chips Moman at American Sound Studios, where Red West, Elvis's childhood friend was doing session work. Lacker later recalled ..." I was very impressed. They were all white guys, but to hear them play you'd swear they were black."
Chips Moman founded American Sound Studios in 1965, after finding himself devoid of any real controlling interest in the Stax studio he had helped to create. He was determined to never be cheated again. He gathered a dedicated band of immense quality: Bobby Wood, John Hughey, Tommy Cogbill, Mike Leech, Reggie Young, Gene Chrisman, Ed Kollis, and Bobby Emmons. Collectively, they would place 125 records on the charts over a span of five years. American Studios was literally located in the Memphis ghetto. After King's assassination, Memphis was a tense place to be, especially in the black neighborhoods. So Moman kept dogs around and occasionally put a guard on the roof armed with a shotgun to watch over the parking lot. Lacker knew American's sound was right for Elvis. It was more commercial than their rival, soul oriented Stax. Chips' technique was also state of the art. He would cut a rough vocal track with the rhythm section, setting the structure and tone of the song. Later he would sweeten the track by adding horns or strings. The artist would then be called back in to lay down the main vocal tracks.
Whenever Lacker mentioned how great working with Chips would be, Elvis would say, "Well, I'll think about it," or "One of these days soon we'll try it." While Moman would gaud Lacker asking, "When are you going to tell Elvis to let me produce a record?" Finally Lacker got the opportunity while sitting the Jungleroom seething, as he listened to Elvis and Felton finalize the dates for Nashville. He began to unconsciously shake his head back and forth (his head was big, bald and round and as a result his nickname was Moon). He fought back his frustration. Elvis snapped at him, "What the hell's the matter with you?" Lacker got the opening he needed to lay it on the line: What about Chips? His band is on fire, turning out hits with big stars - hell, Dusty Springfield came all the way from Britain to work with him just to get that Memphis sound. Why don't you just try Chips and American?
"Well, maybe someday I will." replied Elvis. When everybody got up to go in the dining room, I just sat there cursing.. I didn't want to hear them talk about the Nashville session...Well it wasn't two minutes before Felton came out and said "Elvis wants to see you. He wants to talk to you about cutting in Memphis." Well, I was out of that chair in a flash.
Lacker only had four days to set it up. Elvis was on a tight schedule. He still had to shoot one last picture, Change of Habit with Mary Tyler Moore and was busy preparing a live act. Then there was the problem of studio time. Elvis wanted to begin on Monday, but Neil Diamond had been scheduled in that slot. And Elvis worked at night, through the early hours of the morning. Lacker called Chips at his home to let him know that Elvis was willing to give American a go. He let him know the constraints, emphasizing that it had to be a closed session, no guests, no publicity. And he reminded him of the scheduling conflict that would have to be resolved. Diamond was a pretty big star himself. Chip's exact words were, "Fuck Neil Diamond. Neil Diamond will just have to be postponed. Tell Elvis he's on."
Colonel Parker had lost control of his number one asset during an evening dinner at Graceland. His greatest fear was being realized. Elvis had actually made a major decision without seeking either his advice or permission. The question for Parker became how to keep the situation from spinning totally out of his sphere of influence. Jarvis was too close to Elvis to be counted on to keep a real eye on things. Besides, he had abdicating his position to Chips. He might be able to play a part in post-production, but Chips' take charge, no bullshit attitude ruled out any serious input in the studio. Parker could only send Diskin and RCA vice-president Harry Jenkins to the sessions to make sure everyone on the gravy train was having his interests considered.
Fike was selling one song, Kentucky Rain by Eddie Rabbitt and Dick Heard, that he had a really good feeling about. Elvis wasn't too impressed, but Fike was persistent. It was a smart call and Fike would very pleased with himself when Kentucky Rain was released in 1970, it stayed nine weeks in the top 100, reaching #16.
Chips began to prepare for Elvis. He pulled songs from his own library he knew Elvis could sink his teeth into. Some he had cut with other artists, some hadn't worked out just right. Suspicious Minds was one. Chips had recorded it with the song's writer Mark James in 1968 for Scepter, but the record never made the charts. Chips thought he had a good chance with Elvis whose voice and intensity were perfect for the song. When the time came to cut the tracks, Chip used same arrangement as with James (played by the same band), believing that only Elvis was the missing ingredient to a hit record. He was right. It was the last time Elvis would have a number one record on the Hot 100. Lacker briefed Chips on how Elvis was used to working, on the right things to say and do. Chips wouldn't need to tell Presley when he was off key or when he made a mistake. And musically he should never meddle. Elvis knew what was right for him, he had been doing this a long time. But Chips ignored Lacker's advice. He wasn't about to curb his talent just to spare Elvis's ego. The studio was his to control, the band his to direct, and well, Chips figured that when somebody hired him to do a job they were trusting him to go ahead and do it.
In 1994, Chips remembered: Hindsight's has twenty-twenty vision - but I didn't really think anything so special about getting the chance to record Elvis - not when it happened. Oh, it was okay, but to tell you the truth, we were so busy producing records in Memphis back then (and a lot of ‘em were hits ‘cause we were hot at the time with Neil Diamond and a lot of other stars) that we had to actually work a double shift and cut Roy Hamilton during the day and Elvis at night in order to do those albums. He [Elvis] only had so much open time on his schedule. Now don't get me wrong. I had always liked Elvis. I always loved his music, especially the early years of his career, but I just went in to work on it like any other project - no big deal. You see, most everybody in Memphis kind of took Elvis for granted - didn't pay any attention to how big a star he really was. Remember, he was a hometown boy. He's bigger now in Memphis than he ever was in his best days when he was alive.
The sessions began as scheduled that Monday evening. To Chips and the band it was business as usual. If anything, they were suspicious of all the hype. They were also proud. Elvis was coming to them, to get their help, their sound. They were used to working with big stars and with big egos and Elvis was known to have one of the biggest. But they were also used to producing good material and Elvis hadn't been doing that for quite some time. Presley was going to have to prove himself.
"What a funky, funky place," Elvis muttered when he entered, possibly to calm his nerves. He was trailed by his regular bunch of guys: Fike, Lacker, Joe Eposito, Sonny and Red West, George Klein, and of course Jarvis. Tom Diskin from Parker's office was there to keep watch, so was Freddy Bienstock, representing H & R, and RCA's Harry Jenkins. Three or four of the boys were well trained to pull out cigarette lighters out whenever Elvis stuck a thin cigar in his mouth. The band cringed.
Chips thought it an aggravation to have all those people around. Elvis was used to playing with the guys, trying to say something cute, keep them laughing. It could get pretty hectic. But for whatever reason, Elvis needed his friends around. They made him feel comfortable. That first night, after a hesitant beginning (everyone needed to get comfortable with one another and Elvis seemed to have opening night jitters) it came as a relief to the musicians, that Elvis meant business. He responded positively to Chips' direction, and listened attentively even when Chips interrupted him in mid song, admonishing Elvis to "try it again." It was the same attentiveness and focus Presley had paid to Binder and the 68 TV Special
Chips only recorded three songs that evening Long Black Limousine by Bobby George and Vern Stovall, This Is the Story by Arnold, Morrow and Martin, and Wearin' that Loved On Look by Dallas Frazier and Al Owens, which Lamar had brought in. Even so, the session didn't break up till four the next morning and everyone seemed satisfied. On the ride back to Graceland, Elvis turned to the guys in the back and told them what seemed obvious. "Man, that felt really great. I can't tell you how good I feel... I really just want to see if I can have a number one record one more time."
For the first three days, the sessions went according to plan. Elvis wanted to record some songs that Chips really had no interest in (Yesterday for example) and he would back away until Elvis got them out of his system. Then the cold which had been bothering Presley for weeks came back with a vengeance. Elvis stayed at Graceland for a few days to recuperate while Chips cut background and laid down some rhythm tracks for a few new songs. Chips had a song by Mac Davis that he knew would be a hit, In the Ghetto . Elvis liked Davis and his songs, A Little Less Conversation but he wasn't sure about this one. It was a message ballad about the cycle of poverty in the ghetto. It was not typical of what Elvis recorded and it went against the Colonel's no politics rule.
In a press conference in 1972, Elvis made this philosophy clear when asked what he thought of war protesters and whether he would refuse to be drafted: "Honey, I'd just soon to keep my own personal views to myself. ‘Cause I'm just an entertainer and I'd rather not say." George Klein really didn't think it was a good song for Elvis and told him so, but Chips was insistent. Elvis said he'd think about it. Klein, whose radio connections were significant, immediately got on the phone and secured The Grass Won't Pay No Mind from Neil Diamond. Klein also had second thoughts about In the Ghetto when he told Elvis he thought the song would be a hit, Presley grinned, "No shit, I'm cutting it tonight. "Back in the studio, Elvis began work on Suspicious Minds and In the Ghetto It was obvious that these were going to be big records. Diskin and Bienstock began to get antsy. They caught Chips alone in the hall and started working on him, trying to get a piece of the songs he owned.
Finally Chips had had enough: Gentlemen, I thought we were here to cut some hit records. Now if that's not the case, let me tell you what you can do. You can take your fucking tapes, and you and your whole group can get the hell out of here. Don't ask me for something that belongs to me. I'm not going to give it to you.
Diskin was furious and sought out Elvis to plead his case. But Presley had already made up his mind. He wasn't going to let the home office or H & R or RCA for that matter, ruin his session. He politely told Diskin to let him and Felton and Chips handle things. Presley then did something which surprised even Chips. He asked the producer how they could eliminate the hassles, and Chips told him to just get everyone out of there. And that was it.
Diskin grabbed the hotline to the Colonel's office and, frustrated and perplexed, spelled out the circumstances. Elvis was going his own way. He didn't want them around. They had absolutely no control. Colonel Parker bristled. There was nothing he could do except tell Diskin to leave immediately. That would teach Elvis a lesson: "Come back here right now, and let him fall on his ass."
Many critics and fans alike have often claimed that if only Elvis had taken more control of his career, had trusted his own instincts, made the movies and recorded the music he really wanted, if he had just gotten rid of the Colonel his career would have been much better off. It's hard to argue with the Colonel's success, but it may be said with certainty that in this instance, without being tied by the Presley machine, Elvis rose to and met every challenge. When Elvis walked into American Sound Studio that January evening, he hadn't had a top five record since 1965. He would never get as high on the charts again as he did with Chips Moman.
Elvis himself believed that he had recorded some of his best material. He did so with focus and effort, and by asserting a kind of independence which was unusual for him. But it was an independence tempered by a willingness to work with and be guided by a producer he had never met, in a studio he knew by name. Desperate for a number one hit Elvis took chances he would never take again.
In fact seven of the 24 songs here are from Finding The Way Home offers you complete takes with off-color banter, producer Chips Moman's studio comments and Elvis being challenged. The 21 songs on the classic From Elvis In Memphis and From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis (two LPs) . Over the years, these songs have been compiled as The Memphis Record and acknowledged by music critics to be a renaissance in performance and quality material. Yet RCA has never offered a comprehensive release of the multiple takes showing how Elvis struggled to sing these songs.
Chip Moman's musicians were talented hit makers. Elvis had to prove to them as much as to himself that he hadn't lost it. Yet the songs, with their unorthodox tempo changes and difficult melodies, were a struggle to master. The more takes he took, the harder he tried. The band played on, hardly ever fumbling a note or missing a beat. The Jerry Butler song Only The Strong Survive is offered here with 13 false starts and takes. Elvis had a hard time figuring what to do during the instrumental break that he ad-libbed some obscenities.
Suspicious Minds was another difficult song to sing. The incomplete takes appear here for the first time. The line "would I still see suspicion in your eyes" has Elvis stumbling. At one point, he sings in frustration, "would I still see, see see, **** you, rider". There are seven takes here. Take 8 was the master. Elvis did 20 takes of In The Ghetto only seven are including the almost perfect take one. Clearly, everyone knew how important this song was going to be which explains the many different backing variations and keys that Elvis had to sing. Each take is a joy to listen, whether complete or not. The Roger Miller song From A Jack To A King was recorded to please his father. Of the five takes four are incomplete with only one complete version and that is ended with this Elvis comment, "It's all right, except for the words".
It took Elvis six hours to get the right take of Kentucky Rain four takes and some false starts. The sessions are evidence Elvis put in maximum effort and was willing, despite his reputation and fame, to start from scratch with a new producer and players and to subject himself to Chips Moman's songs. It was a clean break from his Hollywood sessions. In his later years on stage, these songs were never sung again. Perhaps, he found them too difficult to attempt or they were memories of another time and another man. The songs on this bootleg were taken from first generation masters of the rough studio mono mixes. They are undubbed mixes with Elvis' vocals as they were recorded. Sound quality is exceptional.
This is Marty Lacker and I read with interest your story about Elvis' Memphis American Studios sessions and my role in getting them done. I would appreciate you correcting a mistake that is commonly made as to what I said to Chips when I called him to set the sessions up.
I DID NOT TELL CHIPS HOW TO TALK TO ELVIS NOR THE THINGS HE SHOULD SAY TO HIM OR NOT SAY TO HIM INCLUDING WHEN HE WAS OFF KEY.
It would be foolish of me and defeating my purpose of wanting Elvis to record with Chips for me to do that. I was not about to ask Chips to change the way he did things, that would be stupid of me because I wanted Chips to be Chips and produce the way he always did.
Secondly, if I had told Chips how to talk to Elvis, his answer to me would have been, "Go Fuck Yourself." Chips was an independent person and he was not interested in changing for anyone.
Please make those changes because it's important that Elvis' history be truthful and like it was... Thank you very much, Marty