Setting the record straight on Elvis Presley and Glen Campbell’s recording summit
In an alternate world, had Glen Campbell not connected so forcefully with the record buying public with the back to back “Gentle on My Mind” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” singles during the flower power-exhibiting summer of 1967, he very well could have been destined to be Elvis Presley’s lead guitarist in the TCB Band.
Seeking recruitments for his stage ensemble in July 1969, Presley’s top two choices were Campbell and Telecaster maestro James Burton. The latter got the job, since Rick Nelson had disbanded his original team of backing cats a year earlier. Burton played on all of the original teen idol’s hits dating back to 1957.
However, nearly every time a mainstream news outlet examines Presley’s and Campbell’s relationship, a glaring error emerges: Campbell supposedly played lead guitar on the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s “Viva Las Vegas.”
According to Presley music archivist-Sony Music Entertainment reissue producer Ernst Jorgensen, who has the session contracts, masters, and penned the supreme Presley sessions book — Elvis Presley: A Life In Music — Campbell played guitar on only one Presley studio recording — a frenetic, albeit slightly watered down R&B cover of Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say” for the Viva Las Vegas soundtrack.
Recorded on August 30, 1963 during a hastily arranged final soundtrack session at Radio Recorders in Hollywood when Campbell was a member of the illustrious Wrecking Crew backing musicians and not yet a successful solo artist, “What’d I Say” was released as a single with “Viva Las Vegas” relegated to the B-side and stalled just shy of the Top 20 at No. 21. Guitarists Billy Strange and Alton Hendrickson were also present on the session, so it’s difficult to determine exactly what part Campbell is supplying.
That’s noted session guitar ace Billy Strange supplying the cool riffs on “Viva Las Vegas,” not Campbell as claimed by numerous “official” accounts and even the artist’s own publicity materials supplied to journalists. Independent Presley session experts Joseph Tunzi and Keith Flynn confirm Jorgensen’s findings.
Obviously, Presley admired his Southern brother’s musical catalog. Presley’s rendition of “Gentle on My Mind,” an album cut recorded in January 1969 for the return-to-form From Elvis in Memphis, is utterly outstanding and arguably the best cover of Campbell’s definitive single.
Another close contender is Dean Martin’s lovely version , recorded seven months before Presley waxed his take to vinyl. Dino — or perhaps more accurately Reprise Records — fortuitously released it as an A-side. The John Hartford-penned composition ultimately rose to an astonishing No. 2 on the UK pop charts and became the major Presley influence’s final hit.
There are also various live recordings where Presley introduces the “Rhinestone Cowboy” balladeer sitting in the audience of the Las Vegas International Hotel, plus you can find the extremely cool images of the duo posing together on December 5, 1970 at Memphis mafia-radio deejay George Klein’s wedding — where Presley sports long hair, black velvet jacket, cigar dangling from his mouth, TCB sunglasses, and an out of place, elongated black police flashlight!
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