Interview with Roy C. Bennett

For Elvis CD Collectors: The way we understand it is that after being made aware of the BMG France release of "Elvis Chante Mort Shuman & Doc Pomus", a release that came about through the efforts of the "Elvis My Happiness" association, Sid Tepper contacted them (My Happiness), letting them know that he would really like for a similar project of his songs written with you to take form. How did you learn of this project?

Roy C. Bennett: First, about the origin of the project. When Sid Tepper asked me to write a T & B bio for the CD set and email it to a Mr. Arnie Ganem, I was curious and asked Mr. Ganem, who is a prominent Collector from Miami and owner of the Elvis Collectibles and Memorabilia store "Moon over Miami," what part he played, if any, in the creation of the project. This was his reply, verbatim:

"Hi, Roy:
For the last few years, one of my goals has been to have BMG release the Elvis Sings Tepper & Bennett CD. One reason is because I believe as a collector and as a fan, this tribute to you and Sid was long overdue! After all, you both wrote many great songs for Elvis, and all this is a part of the great Elvis Legacy. The other reason is, being a personal friend of Sid, I knew that with all the accomplishments that you and Sid have had, this would be the icing on the cake, when it comes to the Elvis years.

After trying and making suggestions for a few years, plus talking to some people at BMG it was not developing. Finally, last summer after the release of Elvis Sings Pomus & Shuman in France, I spoke to Patrick Renassia from France. While in Memphis last year, I proposed the idea and told him that I was willing to work with him on this project, since I was a personal friend of Sid's. I told him that I had spoken with Sid and he was willing to help in every way he could.

Roy, the truth is, that this was my idea from the start, and I am fairly certain that this CD would not have happened, if not for me persisting and also without the great effort of Patrick. When I actually received the CD, and held it in my hands, it felt great that all my efforts had finally paid off!

Best regards, Arnie."

When did I first learn about this project? Regrettably, only when it was practically finished. I would have been happy to contribute more. For example, I have 64 demos of songs that were made for Elvis's movies, 31 of which were accepted. Some of these might have been used in the CD set in addition to Wife Number 99 - important Elvis memorabilia, I believe.

By the way, these demos could make a very interesting CD. Suggested titles: Elvis: The Records behind his Records or Elvis: Eeny Meeny Miney Mo (You Can Stay and You Can Go)!

For Elvis CD Collectors: Not trying to be too indiscreet but can you tell us how much, on average, you may receive per year for a song through royalties?

Roy C. Bennett: It is very difficult to estimate the approximate royalties generated by a song. First of all, it depends on the particular song - some sell and are performed more than others. Also, the popularity of a song varies from year to year.

For Elvis CD Collectors: We know that every song you wrote with Sid Tepper for Elvis was .commissioned for movies, with a specific subject for a specific spot in the movie; it is obvious that "Western Union" (resubmitted to Elvis in May '63 and recorded in a non movie studio session on May 23, 1963) was written for the spot that went to "Return To Sender" in G!G!G! (1962) and E. Jorgensen tells us in his book "A Life In Music" that "Mine" (resubmitted to Elvis in Sept. '67 and recorded in a non movie studio session on Sept. 10, 1967) had been around for a while, having lost to "This Is My Heaven" in "Paradise Hawaiian Style" (1965).

Now, in October 1961, Freddy Bienstock submitted two of your songs ("For The Millionth And The Last Time" and "Just For Old Times Sake") that were recorded during two separate non movie studio sessions ("For The Millionth..." recorded on Oct. 15, 1961 and "Just For Old..." on March 18, 1962). You don't have any songs in the movie "Wild In The Country" (soundtrack recorded in Nov. 1960); are we right in saying that both songs were indeed written & submitted for "Wild..." but not chosen, as it looks like "For The Millionth..." has the same theme as does "Forget Me Never" (a song that IS in the movie) and that "Just For Old..." has the same theme as does "In My Way" (also a song that IS in the movie)?

Roy C. Bennett: (Let me say here that many of the questions in this interview refer to events that took place over 45 years ago, and that the answers, if I once had them, have long been forgotten.)
I believe that Western Union was written after Return to Sender, not for a movie but for a possible Presley single. The other songs you mention may have been written for the movies.

For Elvis CD Collectors: In the same vein, you don't have any songs in "Kid Galahad" and "Easy Come, Easy Go"; do you remember receiving a script for those movies and writing/submitting songs?

Roy C. Bennett: We may have received scripts and written songs for these movies.

For Elvis CD Collectors: There is one song that seems to initially NOT have been written for a movie. E. Jorgensen says in his book "A Life In Music" that in 1967, Elvis had requested that a song be written based on the old melody "Greensleeves" and that you came up with a song called "Evergreen", which was submitted to Elvis for his Sept. 10/11, 1967 non movie studio session but not recorded. Then, it seems that you were asked to write new words to "Evergreen", as after the soundtrack recordings for the movie "Stay Away, Joe" (done on Oct. 1, 1967), Col. Parker & MGM both agreed that an additional song should be recorded and that this song would be played over the opening credits, and that is how you came up with "Stay Away", which was recorded during a non movie session in Jan. '68 but the song did indeed appear in the movie during the opening credits (with an up tempo arrangement, even though you had originally written it in a slow/medium tempo). Is all that accurate?

Roy C. Bennett: I don't remember having written a song titled Evergreen. It's my impression that Sid and I were the ones who chose the melody of Greensleeves, but I defer to any records that show differently. You may have noted that several of our songs for Elvis are based on public domain tunes: Puppet on a String, I Love Only One Girl, Five Sleepyheads.
I recall that the up-tempo of Stay Away came as a pleasant surprise.

For Elvis CD Collectors: How was your career as songwriters before writing for Elvis and did the facts that you wrote all those songs for Elvis, make your career easier to get other singers to choose songs from your catalogue ?

Roy C. Bennett: We were already established and successful songwriters before our Elvis period, having had several Hit Parade songs including Red Roses for a Blue Lady, The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane, and Say Something Sweet to Your Sweetheart. Cliff Richard recorded 12 of our songs including the monster worldwide hit The Young Ones. He also recorded Travelin' Light, When the Girl in Your Arms, and Outsider.

Among the well-known artists who recorded our songs were Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, The Beatles, the Ames Brothers (seven songs), Andy Williams, Bert Kaempfert, Wayne Newton, Marty Robbins, Eddy Arnold, Slim Whitman, Jo Stafford, Dinah Shore, Tony Martin, Duke Ellington, the Mills Brothers, Sarah Vaughan, Guy Lombardo, Eartha Kitt, and Vaughn Monroe. Other English artists included Sir Peter Pears, Anne Shelton, Alma Cogan, and Edmundo Ros. Whether the artists who recorded during the Elvis era were impressed by our success with him is something we'll never know. But we do know that they liked and recorded the songs.

For Elvis CD Collectors: Your first cut with Elvis was "Lonesome Cowboy." That was such a great, dramatic song for him early in his career, was this written specifically for him and the scene in Loving You or was it written for someone else and pitched to him?

Roy C. Bennett: I have a theory about Lonesome Cowboy. The song was written for the movie, but I believe it was chosen for that particular spot in the movie as an example of a song that Elvis should not sing. If you remember the movie, when he sings Lonesome Cowboy the audience is very lukewarm. Then he sings an up-tempo song and the audience goes wild. Interesting theory?

Qustion: Many fans consider Elvis' movie songs to be among his worst. However, there are several very wonderful movie songs with yours being among the best. How were you able to write such strong material for such mediocre scenes, etc.? Did you treat it like just your job or did you really set out to write good songs despite the circumstances?

Roy C. Bennett: It has always been a disappointment to me as a songwriter that some fans regarded his movie songs as mediocre or just plain bad. Of course there were songs of varying quality, no more nor less than songs that were written for artists other than Elvis. It should be recognized that these songs were written for specific spots in the movies and the topics were therefore limited to particular situations and locales.

For example, for Fun in Acapulco, where one of the characters is a female bullfighter, we wrote The Bullfighter Was a Lady; for Girls, Girls, Girls, where Elvis is working on a shrimp boat, Song of the Shrimp fit the scene; in the movies Blue Hawaii and Paradise, Hawaiian Style, our songs had a Hawaiian flavor: Drums of the Islands, Hawaiian Sunset, Island of Love, Ito Eats, and Beach Boy Blues; and of course the song G. I. Blues dealt with American occupation forces in Germany.

We believed that the scenes were fun and it was a challenge to write for them.

Incidentally, If you analyze our songs, you'll find that most of them are ballads or novelties. In my opinion, our ballads for Elvis's movies are among the best songs we ever wrote - songs such as Puppet on a String, Hawaiian Sunset, All That I Am, Am I Ready, Island of Love, Angel, Beginner's Luck, and others. Also, we were two of the few (maybe the only?) songwriters who consciously tried to inject humor into Elvis's songs, for example: The Bullfighter Was a Lady, The Song of the Shrimp, Petunia, The Lady Loves Me, The Walls Have Ears, Beach Boy Blues, Ito Eats, and Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce.

By the way, our song It's a Wonderful World from Roustabout was the only Presley song to be considered for an Oscar nomination.

For Elvis CD Collectors: You had almost half of the Blue Hawaii soundtrack. That record sold well even by today's standards. What was it like when you found out Elvis had recorded that many of your songs (5) for one picture?

Roy C. Bennett: Wow!

For Elvis CD Collectors: Elvis came out of the army almost bigger than when he went in. When and how did you find out you had the title cut to his first post army movie and the soundtrack (G.I. Blues)?

Roy C. Bennett: After each movie was in the can, Freddy Bienstock, our publisher, would call in the writers and tell them how they made out. Having the title song of a movie was the supreme achievement for writers, and it gave us a great sense of accomplishment and pride in our work to know that our song had been chosen over those by all the other fine writers.

For Elvis CD Collectors: A lot has been written about the fact that Elvis had a percentage of publishing on nearly every song he recorded from 1956/ through the mid?70's. How did you feel about this arrangement and did you feel you were being cheated or had to lower your standards at all by giving that part away? Did you write for one of his companies or simply assign a percentage to him on the songs he recordid?

Roy C. Bennett: We thought it was unfair, of course. All the writers felt that the Colonel and Elvis were making money hand over fist on our songs and that it was smalltime of them to take advantage of us. The prevailing attitude, however, was that it was better to earn 2/3 of something than 100% of nothing. I always felt that this was the Colonel's idea, not Elvis's.

For Elvis CD Collectors: Were you ever present during a studio session with Elvis? If no: did you meet Elvis, if so what stood out to you about him, what did you like, how did he impress you? If yes: please share a memory you have from that session.

Roy C. Bennett: We never met Elvis in person or attended any of his recording sessions. We worked in New York on the scripts that were sent to us from California. There were other writers who went to California and became friendly with Elvis, and they were among our most successful competitors. Obviously, being right there and privy to the latest information about the song requirements gave them a great advantage over the rest of us.

For Elvis CD Collectors: Of the songs Elvis did (Elvis' versions) which is your favorite, if you have one?

Roy C. Bennett: My favorite Elvis recording is New Orleans.

For Elvis CD Collectors: Which song you've written (for any artist) are you most proud of Which song of the ones Elvis did?

Roy C. Bennett: Red Roses for a Blue Lady is my favorite song. For 53 years it has been a worldwide hit. Of Elvis's songs, Puppet on a String is my favorite.

For Elvis CD Collectors: Mr. Bennett , what was the hardest movie scene you had to write for ?

Roy C. Bennett: Again, it's hard to remember after more than 45 years. But, frankly, I don't think we had special difficulty with any scene. For one movie, I recall that we wrote five Elvis songs in one afternoon.

For Elvis CD Collectors: Most songwriters have a certain idea of what they would like their songs to sound like when writing them. And then artists will do their interpretations. Was Elvis "loyal" to your songs, or did he often do songs very differently than what you had in mind when writing them? Any examples?

Roy C. Bennett: You may find it interesting that for our demos we deliberately hired singers who were not Presley imitators. We felt that Elvis had the ability to judge a song without having to listen to a phony Elvis. Perhaps we were right - he recorded 42 of them! In general, Elvis sang our songs the way we envisioned them, closely following our demos. But there were exceptions. For example, in the song Drums of the Islands the lyric contains the word "wander" in several places, but Elvis always sings it as "wonder." Also, he sometimes changed notes in our melodies, with results that were not to our satisfaction. But I liked one change he made: in the song Angel (Follow That Dream) he changed our one note on the syllable "An-" to two notes, scooping up from one to the other: "A - An."

The "For Elvis CD Collector" team would like to thank Mr. Roy C. Bennett very much for giving us the opportunity of making this little "internet interview". This is sincerely appreciated and we are certain all the visitors on our website will appreciate as well. Elvis Presley cared for his fans and had class, Sir, you certainly fit into the same category.

The two lucky winners who send us the best questions and will receive the double CD set "Elvis Sings Sid Tepper And Roy C. Bennett" are:

Claude BraŁn from Ste-Foy, Canada
Scott Parker from Nashville,TN