A Witness To Concert Recordings

by The Crazy Canuck

Many articles about Elvis' concerts have been written in the past, moreover many fans wish to hear certain songs performed live or else want a particular show on CD in perfect sound quality, consequently their specific needs are directly related to everything they read through the years, and the outing of " Opening Night ' 74 " on the Fort Baxter label is a good example of those needs. We all know very well that RCA / BMG own live performances by Elvis in the OFFICIAL RECORDING CATEGORY, but we also know they have others in the SOUNDBOARD RECORDING CATEGORY, taken directly from Felton Jarvis ' mixing board. For the record, Joan Deary has stated that she catalogued more than two hundred concerts, of which the words are reproduced in the excellent booklet " Off And Back On The Mystery Track " on page 72. The other side of the market has offered us to this day several excellent releases taken directly from the MASTERTAPES in perfect sound quality, but a fact remains, nobody really knows how many live recordings were made during the concert years, nevertheless I wish to try to highlight the manner in which Elvis ' shows were recorded " from the soundboard " as a witness to such recordings.

For we now move back nineteen years ago when my friends and I were very fortunate to attend thirty-four Elvis concerts from July 25th, 1976 through June 26th, 1977, however we didn' t witness such recordings in every building as some cities like Syracuse, N.Y. and Rochester, N.Y. would not permit a view of the sound engineers equipment, nevertheless such was not the case for thirty of them.

The story begins on October 21st, 1976 at the Kalamazoo, Mi. Wings Stadium where I was seated first row on the side of the stage ( opposite side to back-up singers ) right behind the mixing board. Before Elvis made his appearance on stage that night I noticed a huge " open trunk " beside the sound engineers, this trunk in a standing position contained a big REEL TO REEL PORTABLE RECORDER with two sixteen inches reels ( approximate size ) . While J.D. Sumner and the Stamps and The Sweet Inspirations were entertaining the crowd the reel to reel tape recorder was in a stand-by position, but when the first notes of the 2001 theme hit the Wings Stadium then you could clearly see that the tapes were rolling, which went on until Elvis left the building some sixty-five minutes later. Moreover after they recorded the Kalamazoo concert we were able to notice that they did not use ALL THE TAPE on the main reel, indeed we could easily presume that more than one concert might be recorded on a full reel at that time. The same set-up was in use the two following nights in Champaign,Illinois and Cleveland, Ohio and further can be extended to the great New Years Eve' s concert in Pittsburgh, Pa. on December 31st, 1976.

The above words are of interest I hear you say, but back in 1976 / 1977 we weren't really certain what was the purpose of such recordings, in fact we thought RCA used more sophisticated equipment for live recording. On February 13th, 1977 in West Palm Beach, Fla. we went around the pool to relax and benefit from the Sunshine State weather, however while talking about different things with my friend ,Ronnie Tutt and Jerry Scheff who were right beside us began to play an audio-tape, and surprise surprise we were hearing the February 12th, 1977 Hollywood show my friends and I attended the night before with perfect sound quality, although after the beginning of " I Got A Woman " Ronnie stopped playing it as many fans started to gather around them. These recordings went on for all the February tour, then continued in April, May and June of the same year until the very last concert in Indianapolis. Some publications reported several tours that were recorded from the soundboard, indeed the excellent " Elvis Sessions " book by Joseph A. Tunzi gave an incomplete listing of concerts recorded in the Spring of 1977 on page 267, while the booklet " Off And Back On The Mystery Track " by Edwin Meijers listed some February ' 77 dates on page 278, with the Fort Baxter label intending to release two CDs from the period discussed in this article, one being the Hampton Roads, Va. August 1st, 1976 concert featuring the song " Return To Sender " and the other incorporating performances rendered on February 16th and 21st , 1977, including the famed Charlotte,N.C. live outing of " Moody Blue ".

Given the above words , one must ask a simple question, did Felton Jarvis recorded every concerts from July 31st, 1969 through to June 26th, 1977 ? The answer isn' t very simple and I for one cannot give you a definite YES or NO to " such an uneasy question " ! we know however for a fact that a great number of concerts during these years in Las Vegas or on tour were recorded, of which the Fort Baxter label has gaven us several on CD and even RCA has provided us with the " Live In Dallas " set as recorded from the soundboard during the June 1975 tour along with two songs from the December 13th, 1975 show, the latter being released in its complete format under the title " Just Pretend ". Now if we consult the famed August 11th, 1972 tape legend as reproduced on page 8 of issue 13 of the " Man And His Music " publication and later in the " Off And Back On The Mystery Track " booklet reference page 76, quite a few number of KEY DETAILS are on offer here, in that first it is apparent that two shows were recorded on the same tape,incidentally Fort Baxter will issue in early March the complete midnight performance of the aforementioned August concert, second the tape used is two track and further that such recordings were " transferred to 15 ips and cassette ". Such words therefore clearly imply that they were not made at this tape speed and thus 7 1/2 ips must have been used, a point that is confirmed by the 7 1/2 notation on theFebruary 23rd, 1970 tape legend as equally reproduced. Now given this point and if one assumes that later live recordings " from the soundboard " were still being made at the 7 1/2 ips tape speed, then we can start to get to the bottom of the tape length used, in that and to the best of my knowledge inorder to record ONE show in one direction, such would require 3600 feet of tape for a show of up to one and half hours duration, however if you record in both directions then you double the length of recording time and thus at this stage and without any back-up to verify the following perhaps we can now ASSUME that the way in which the 1976-1977 shows I attended were recorded in, as witnessed by myself, was courtesy of :

Tape length = 3600 feet Tape speed = 7 1/2 ips Tape width = 1/4 "

There is however a twist to these words, in that if Felton did not place Elvis ' vocal on a separate track, he could and indeed did record two shows on the same tape in mono i.e. show 1- track 1, and show 2- track 2.

Obviously one must question the fact that the ways how Elvis concerts were recorded from the soundboard , could indeed must have changed during the years, in that there are other points to consider re. various tape box legends on one reel or two reels while others have two shows on one reel only, does it mean that some shows have been transferred from the " MASTER REEL " to another tape ? Did they use different recording equipment along those years ? Indeed the book " Elvis Sessions " on page 267 mentions the use of a "portable 4 track recorder ", is it because Felton already planned to use some live tracks on the next album, or was this just the next stage in the development of the soundboard tapes ?

In short, the manner in which Elvis ' shows were recorded " from the soundboard " is a rather complicated issue and one that has never been truly questioned before, but may I hope this article will open the discussion on this key subject, inparticular with regard to whether or not the BMG vaults hold all of these recordings, of which I very much doubt that said vaults hold every such recording that was made, and while there is no doubt that the BMG vaults hold a vast degree of such recordings, the sad fact remains that as BMG will never reveal the true extend of the shows they have, we as fans thus cannot compile a list of the shows and hence the key rare live performances that were either not recorded OR were recorded, but whose tapes are now in " outside parties ", that is unless you personally know different, or were yet another witness to concert recordings of the legendary performer !

Note:That article was written several years ago,therefore explaining why other soundboard recordings aren't mentioned or any references to "Elvis Sessions-II" by Joe Tunzi.