...for having the vision and fortitude to record Elvis on "From Elvis In Memphis" the way Elvis should have been recorded.
(yeah I'm gonna veer off of "Dirty Movies" a minute to talk about sheer geniousness)
Chips Moman was the legendary producer at American Studios in Memphis, Tennessee who was turning out hits in the late 1960s for artists such as Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Dusty Springfield and Herbie Mann. From 1969 to 1971, he was responsible for 120 hits. Originally he was the "board man" at Stax Records in Memphis during the early 1960s but after he recorded "Green Onions" for Booker T and the MGs, a falling out ensued between he and one of the Stax owners about royalties to that song. Chips successfully sued Stax, received three grand in doing so, and had enough money to set up his own studio across town.
American Studios was born and Chips Moman had complete control. What he'd always wanted. At one point in the late 1960s, Moman's success was such that during one particular week, over a quarter of Billboard's Hot 100 hits were generated at American.
Let's go back in time a bit from there. Elvis Presley rose to fame through the simple production approach that Sam Phillips had pioneered for Presley. Sam Phillips' approach to recording Presley was to provide him with scant, music accompaniment (granted Scotty and Bill were smoking in their guitar and bass chores) and let Elvis' talents be captured raw and unfettered. No other approach would have sent Elvis skyrocketing such as this.
So when Presley, tired and worn from the 33 B-movie career of his 60s phase, met success head on with his "1968 Comeback Special
", somebody, SOMEBODY (maybe Elvis himself) in Presley's camp had the wherewithall to put him in touch with Chips Moman in Memphis. Maybe Presley looked around the musical landscape of the late 1960s and realized that so much of the great, Soul music being created was coming from American Studios and a one, Chips Moman. I have to speculate that the connection wasn't made by Colonel Parker, as he could care less about the artistic merits of his boys recordings, he just wanted the dollars to flow.
So here we are 1968. Elvis has just single-handedly resurrected his career through the televised "Comback Special" and he's looking to continue that live performance success with a homerun of an album (his first serious attempt at studio recording in over 10 years).
So Presley walked into American Studios just one month after his "Comeback Special" was televised in 1969 and he was looking for artistic value, an incredible team of session musicians, and a producer who could see the bigger picture.
Keep in mind that Chips Moman had complete artistic control in his own studio. That was the deal breaker for any artist that recorded there. And with Col. Tom Parker's heavy-handedness approach to "his boy the King", the stage was set for legendary battles, arguments, and debates.
In his book, "Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley
", Peter Guralnick tells of the Col. Parker norm of having the producers who recorded his King and the writers who wrote the songs that Presley recorded, split their royalties 50-50 with Elvis (of which Col. Tom would then take 50% of Elvis' take).
The point of my entry here isn't to describe the battles. Rather, after driving home tonight listening to "Elvis From Memphis
" on my iPod, I just had to record my thoughts about what I feel is sheer, recording studio brilliance.
See, Elvis Presley is a man who requires no fluff and no fold. His talent is such that it melted the vinyl that he was recorded on. The late 60s were the time of Phil Spector and his "wall of sound"; production values that dripped of glossy, over-produced vocals and instrumentation. Spector's approach was a sure fire way of removing any personality and originality from studio recordings. In fact, I would suggest that it was Spector who begat today's labels and their need for "radio mixdowns".
So with gloss value at an alltime high in the late 1960s because of Spector, how insightful and visionary it was for Chips Moman to record Presley's "Memphis" album, the one that gave us "Suspicious Minds", "Any Day Now", and "Kentucky Rain" with such scant musical arrangement? Chips Moman's geniousness was that he knew that at the end of the day, you don't have to fuck with Elvis' tracks much. And that they shouldn't be fucked with. Go back and listen to those tracks and recognize what you're hearing.
You're hearing a thrumping, active bass line (ala Bill Black), female backing vocals (a fresh replacement for the do-wop Jordanaires), and very little else. There wasn't a guitar style that was in vogue like the rockabilly stirrings of Scotty Moore (save Steve Cropper but even then...)and I would suggest that Chips recognized this and countered it with rich, full and yet simple accompaniment of a cello and light strings.
What Chips Moman recognized and executed were sessions that threw Presley into the forefront of the tracks with simple, and yet soulful, tracking arrangements.
To me, that's sheer brilliance. To recognize Presley's recording heritage of Sun Records, continue it at American and update it for a 1969 listening audience, was the right approach fit for a King.
Presley only recorded one more album with Chips, (that begat Jerry Reed's "Guitar Man" among other stellar tracks) before Col Tom was pushing for Chips to share Producer royalties while requiring Chips' songwriters to just "give" Presley half of their writing royalties. Like he should have done, Chips delivered to Col Tom a big, fuck you, and bid adieu to one of the greatest studio recording tenures in all of album recording history.
But that's allright. Chips gave us two albums of brilliance.
And it was from those sessions, that Elvis experienced his last Top 10 hits. Never again was he to record with such brilliance, artistic fervor, and domination that Chips Moman allowed him to do.
Presley's career in the 1970s would be a retread of old and a nostalgia act, created for the masses who longed for something from long ago; masses who longed for brilliance, artistic fervor, and domination from a true King of Rock and Roll.
Chips Moman gave Elvis the ultimate studio session Swan Song. And it couldn't have been created by any other producer.
So my hat's definitely off to Chips Moman. Some people in this world never seem to get the credit that they are due.