27 June 2010

This Date In Rock History: 27 June

On this date in 1968, Elvis Presley made an appearance before a live audience for the first time since 1961. Taped at the NBC Studios in Burbank, California, the segments were part of a special aired on 3 December that was to become known as Elvis' "Comeback Special."

The King had gradually faded from public view (and acclaim) since his return from Army duty in 1960. Manager Colonel Tom Parker had affixed Elvis in a rut of bland after bland movies, with tepid soundtracks accompanying same. The modern music world had seemingly passed him by; Elvis wasn't even performing newer songs by leading songwriters of the day.

The first live segment before the crowd - which was arranged so that younger people (particularly girls) were closest to the stage - was a trip back in time. Seated on a circular riser, Elvis - clad in black leather and looking better than ever at age 34 - was joined by original Sun Records cohorts Scotty Moore and D. J. Fontana (bassist Bill Black had died in 1965). The whole segment is worth checking out (or revisiting), but attention should definitely be paid to their reprise of "That's All Right, Mama," the Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup penned tune that marked Elvis' first single back in 1954. Moore's patented rockabilly electric guitar and Fontana's drumming on a guitar case (!) clearly set an initially nervous Elvis free; The King delivers a thrilling vocal that reminds the audience why he is one of the cornerstones of rock 'n roll.

The Comeback Special served as a catalyst to the second major phase of Elvis' career. At least for a short time, he would become a true player on the music scene once again: Elvis In Memphis would solidify the return to his roots in R&B, with the single "Suspicious Minds" giving The King his first US number one since 1965.

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