I must say, I’m feeling very festive. On the same day that Harrods opened its Christmas department, I learnt that Sony BMG is planning a Yuletide, er, treat for Elvis Presley fans: an album called Christmas Duets. The record features Presley ‘duetting’ with modern female country stars such as Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride and LeAnn Rimes. Priscilla Presley explains in the press release that “the most advanced and sophisticated audio technology available” has been used to create “exciting new versions of his Christmas songs”.
The image that popped immediately into my head was a smug record-label ‘ideas’ man leaning back in his brown-leather recliner and singing a little jingle: “I’m so good at music.”
Phew, time travelling really takes it out of a guy. How’s that for a dramatic lead-in to a whinge about the joys of jetlag? Approximately 30 hours have passed since Tara and I arrived back in the UK after a 12-day gallivant on t’other side of t’Atlantic.
Our jaunt began with a week in Tennessee, a return trip (we first visited in 2004) that we decided to make with my parents, who wanted to visit Graceland, the home of Mr Elvis A Presley. The site hasn’t changed much in four years, despite being under new management. The mansion and its grounds, plus a handful of museums across the road, are worthy and moving tributes to the man, his music and his life; the gift shops (both official and unofficial) are, for the most part, giant mountains of tat.
“Play it, James” – three words that will be instantly recognisable to Elvis Presley fans. You’ll hear Elvis use them to introduce the lead guitar break in The Wonder Of You, a No 1 single in 1970. Recorded live in Las Vegas in February of the same year, the song stands as a public reminder of the high regard in which Elvis held guitarist James Burton, who’d joined his band the previous year. The players he assembled – guitarists Burton and John Wilkinson, bassist Jerry Scheff, drummer Ronnie Tutt and keyboardist Glen D Hardin (who replaced Larry Muhoberac in 1970) – were eventually christened the TCB Band. The initials stood for ‘taking care of business’, a slogan that Elvis adopted and, in the form of a gold logo, pretty much trademarked.
Burton, the unofficial band leader, already had an impressive CV. He launched his career aged just 14, backing the likes of George Jones and Johnny Horton on classic US radio show the Louisiana Hayride. He went on to join Ricky Nelson’s band and record with a string of legendary artists, including Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Buffalo Springfield and The Everly Brothers.