Straight shooter Roben Jones rights an unjustly neglected Memphis music saga

Red and black are a provocative combination in this promotional June 1968 photo shoot for the Elvis NBC special.
Red and black are a provocative combination in this promotional June 1968 photo shoot for the Elvis NBC special.
Fathers, restrain your daughters! Red and black are a provocative combination in this promotional June 1968 photo shoot for the 60-minute “Elvis” NBC television special. Stupidly intended as a Christmas program, executive producer Bob Finkel, director Steve Binder, and even Elvis Presley himself overruled bullheaded manager Tom Parker and the network. The best segments are from the largely unplugged, sit-down jam on a cramped, boxing-style stage which reunited Elvis with guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana. Elvis’s career was pulled from oblivion, and the “‘68 Comeback Special” remains the most compelling video evidence for converting a friend into a certified Elvis fan. In January 1969, a month after the special was broadcast, Chips Moman and the Memphis Boys were locked and loaded to resuscitate Elvis’s obsolescent singles output. Photography possibly by Frank Carroll / Elvis Photo Shoot Sessions / NBCUniversal

The Roben Jones Interview, Part Two

Image for post
Image for post
Chips Moman looks to the stars in this April 24, 2000, shot taken outside Christie’s Auction House in South Kensington, London. Fifteen guitars from the collection of the American Sound Studio co-founder were auctioned, including this sunburst 1956 Gibson Super 400 CES that originally belonged to Elvis Presley’s six-string compadre Scotty Moore. Seen in the “Jailhouse Rock” and “King Creole” films, Moore traded the Super 400 to Moman in 1963. Fittingly, during Elvis’s acclaimed recording sessions at American in 1969 — Moore’s last gig with the King of Rock ’n’ Roll was the “‘68 Comeback Special” — American house band guitarist Reggie Young employed the instrument prolifically on the 32 songs cut there such as “Suspicious Minds.” The Super 400 sold for $98,652 to dyed-in-the-wool Elvis fan Heather Mozart. Photography by Andrew Parsons / i-Images
Image for post
Image for post
With seven Top 40 pop singles under his belt mere months after graduating from Memphis’s Central High School in 1969, barefoot Box Tops leader Alex Chilton purchased his “first nice guitar,” a “stripped” Fender Telecaster, and honed his six-string skills studying records unleashed by Booker T. & the M.G.’s guitarist Steve Cropper. Two years later Chilton co-founded rock quartet Big Star with fellow Memphis songwriter Chris Bell. “#1 Record” [1972] and “Radio City” [1974], minimally distributed by Stax, are masterpieces. If you like the Beatles, odds are you will fall for Big Star’s hooky middle eights. Image Credit: The Commercial Appeal Archives
Image for post
Image for post
An autographed candid of pianist Bobby Wood, bassist Mike Leech, bassist-producer Tommy Cogbill, drummer Gene Chrisman, Elvis Presley, organist Bobby Emmons, guitarist Reggie Young, sound engineer-harmonica player Ed Kollis, and songwriter Dan Penn joining together on January 13, 1969, inside the funky American Sound Studio during the historic sessions that yielded Presley’s “In the Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Don’t Cry, Daddy,” and “Kentucky Rain.” Elvis took a liking to Cogbill’s 1959 Fender Precision Bass which Leech later acquired and auctioned. Photography possibly by Marty Lacker using Dan Penn’s Polaroid camera / Phoenix: The Elvis Forum user ElvisAliSellers
Image for post
Image for post
Memphis Boys pianist Bobby Wood, songwriter Mark James [e.g. “Suspicious Minds,” “Always on My Mind,” and “Moody Blue”], drummer Gene Chrisman, and guitarist Reggie Young collide backstage at Graceland during Elvis Week on August 14, 2014, the day after the sold out Memphis Boys Salute concert. James was on hand to receive a Beale Street Brass Note bestowed during a surprise appearance at the Official Elvis Insiders Event. Photography by Jim McCarter
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
“Fly Me to the Moon” was Bobby Womack’s inaugural album, released on the obscure Minit Records in January 1969. Arranged, produced, and performed by Chips Moman and the Memphis Boys with Womack supplying vocals, guitar, and 7 of its 12 compositions, “Fly Me to the Moon” sold respectably — No. 174 POP, No. 34 R&B. “California Dreamin’” b/w “Baby! You Oughta Think It Over” was the second of ultimately three A-sides lifted from the LP, becoming Womack’s best-performing single up to that point at No. 43 POP, No. 20 R&B. The black and white single cover was issued in the Netherlands, while the A-side was penned by Mamas and Papas architect John Phillips. Left Image Credit: Amazon / Universal Music Group; Right Image Credit: 45Cat user Leonard / Universal Music Group
Image for post
Image for post
Standing are organist Bobby Emmons, Classics IV guitarist-songwriter- subsequent Atlanta Rhythm Section alum J.R. Cobb, bassist Mike Leech, and pianist Bobby Wood. Kneeling are rock ’n’ roll deejay-Elvis Presley confidant George Klein, drummer Gene Chrisman, and Fender Telecaster picker Reggie Young during the “Class of ‘55” sessions, circa September 1985 at American Sound Studio in Memphis. Producer Chips Moman was then in the process of converting a former fire station in Downtown Memphis to 3 Alarm Studio on 200 Linden Avenue. The original 827 Thomas Street location was available for public tours and rarely used except in this instance. Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, and special guests John Fogerty, Rick Nelson, and the Judds received considerable press for the 10-track “Class of ‘55,” also cut at Sam Phillips’ iconic Sun Studios. Alas, the album was a commercial disappointment upon its May 26, 1986, release [No. 87 POP, No. 15 C&W]. Photography by Gary Earhart
Image for post
Image for post
Memphis Mafia foreman Marty Lacker enjoys a delicious breakfast menu at IHOP, aka the International House of Pancakes, 10 minutes south of Graceland in Southaven, Mississippi, on June 6, 2016, with friend Leah Michelle. The co-best man at Elvis Presley’s wedding would pass away unexpectedly at age 80 eight months later. Falling while doing laundry, Lacker was hospitalized with internal bruising and eventual kidney failure. To the very end Lacker patiently engaged with fans on ElvisInfoNet, Facebook, and via email. Image Credit: The Leah Michelle Collection
Image for post
Image for post
On Elvis Presley’s first day recording at American Sound Studio on January 13, 1969, unofficial photographer Dan Penn was thankfully present. Penn composed and / or produced for the Box Tops, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Dionne Warwick, Solomon Burke, and Ronnie Milsap, often with writing partner-organist Spooner Oldham. Photography possibly by Marty Lacker using Dan Penn’s Polaroid camera / Elvis Presley Enterprises
Image for post
Image for post
Razed in 1989 as part of the City of Memphis’s urban renewal project, Chips Moman and Don Crews’ American Sound Studio is seen in black and white sometime in the Yuppie Decade when daily Elvis Presley tours were offered for a price. Image Credit: The Commercial Appeal Archives
Image for post
Image for post
Roy Hamilton, Elvis Presley, Barbara Little, and her husband George Klein convene on January 13, 1969, inside American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. According to AllMusic, Hamilton possessed a “booming baritone” whose “gospel-flavored pop” made him a mainstay of 1950s AM radio with “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry [Over You],” “Hurt,” “Unchained Melody,” and “Pledging My Love.” Presley profoundly admired Hamilton and covered all of the aforementioned tunes. Photography possibly by Marty Lacker using Dan Penn’s Polaroid camera / Elvis Presley Enterprises

Don’t go anywhere yet! “A Beautiful Mess with ‘Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios’ Wordsmith Roben Jones” is the finale installment of the interview. Tap the link below.

Image for post
Image for post
American Sound Studio personnel Reggie Young [guitar], drummer Gene Chrisman, organist Bobby Emmons, and pianist Bobby Wood gather with “Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios” ink slinger Roben Jones on August 13, 2012, moments after the presentation for their Beale Street Blues Note. The informal ceremony, with producer / studio co-owner Chips Moman in attendance, occurred at Alfred’s on Beale Street during Elvis Week in Memphis, Tennessee. Moman received his Blues Note in 2010. Photography by Jeremy Roberts
Image for post
Image for post
Image Credit: Courtesy of Roben Jones

Written by

Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store