Elvis Presley’s Piano Man: Floyd Cramer

You know an Elvis song as soon as you hear his voice. Many of Elvis’ diehard fans have learned his backup musicians’ distinctive style, too, and can easily pick out anyone who’s on drums, guitar, piano or bass. Here on the Graceland Blog, we’ve covered a lot of the musicians and producers who helped Elvis craft his musical magic, like The Jordanaires, Sam Phillips and the Blue Moon Boys, Scotty Moore and Bill Black. This week, we’re spotlighting Floyd Cramer, who played on numerous Elvis hits in the 1950s and 60s. Floyd Cramer, a Louisiana native who grew up in Arkansas, taught himself to play piano. He got his first job in showbiz at the Louisiana Hayride, the Grand Ole Opry competitor which featured Elvis. Elvis made his Hayride debut in October 1954 and became a regular later that year. He ended his Hayride contract in 1956 as his fame grew. Floyd played with Elvis as early as the spring of 1955, when Elvis’ live show was recorded in Texas as a remote broadcast for the Hayride. Floyd moved to Nashville in 1956, where he quickly became one of the busiest session musicians in the business. In addition to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Floyd also recorded with Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Brenda Lee, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold and the Everly Brothers. Floyd mastered the “slip note” style of playing the piano, and he, among with many other session players, helped form the famous “Nashville sound.” Floyd played at Elvis’ first RCA session on January 10-11, 1956, where Elvis, Floyd, Scotty Moore (guitar), Chet Atkins (guitar), Bill Black (bass), DJ Fontana (drums) and Gordon Stoker, Ben Speer and Brock Speer (vocals) cut hits like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “I Got a Woman” and “Money Honey.” Floyd also recorded with Elvis in Nashville in 1958, helping create hits like “A Big Hunk O’ Love,” “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such As I” and “I Got Stung.” After Elvis returned home from his service in the Army in 1960, he continued to record with Floyd on and off, when Floyd wasn’t working with other artists. You can hear Floyd on a number of Elvis’ 1960s hits, like “A Mess of Blues,” “Fever,” “It’s Now or Never,” “Surrender,” “His Hand in Mine,” “Crying in the Chapel,” “Little Sister,” and many more. You can also hear Floyd’s work on several of Elvis’ movie...
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Elvis Presley’s #1 Hits – Love Songs

There’s no better time than now to enjoy Elvis’ love songs. After all, it’s February, and Valentine’s Day is only days away. Here on the Graceland Blog, we have an Elvis’ #1 hits series that digs deep into the king’s biggest hits, who wrote them, who played on them and more. Check out part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4. Now, for part 5, we’re taking a look at a handful of Elvis love songs as an early celebration of Valentine’s Day. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll recorded countless love songs, so we just chose a few for this edition. But be sure to tell us your favorite Elvis love song in the comments! Let’s get to know these lovely love songs a bit better! “Can’t Help Falling in Love” Like a river flows Surely to the sea Darling, so it goes Some things are meant to be Elvis’ beautiful performance of this song makes it the legendary classic that it is. But did you know this song actually has quite a history all its own? “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is based on an 18th century French classic called “Plaisir d’Amor,” originally penned by Giovanni Martini. The song, as recorded by Elvis, was written by George Weiss, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, and it’s fairly faithful to the original version. Elvis recorded “Can’t Help Falling in Love” on March 23, 1961 at Radio Recorders in Hollywood for the “Blue Hawaii” soundtrack. Musicians on this session include Scotty Moore and Hank Garland on guitar; Bob Moore on bass; DJ Fontana, Hal Blaine and Bernie Mettinson on drums; Floyd Cramer on piano; Dudley Brooks on piano and celeste; Boots Randolph on saxophone; George Fields on harmonica; Alvino Ray on steel guitar; and Fred Tavares and Bernie Lewis on ukulele. The Jordanaires provided back-up vocals, along with a group called The Surfers, made up of Patrick Sylvia, Bernard Ching, Clayton Naluai and Alan Naluai. During Elvis’ touring years, from 1969-1977, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was Elvis’ signature closing song at his concerts. “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” with “Rock-a-Hula Baby” on the flip side, was released in November 1961. This fan favorite hit No. 2 in its 14-week run on the Billboard pop singles chart. It stayed on the British pop singles chart for four weeks, and it topped the charts. This is one of Elvis’ most covered...
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Movie Make-up Magic – Elvis Presley and the Westmore Family

“There isn’t a woman in the world that cannot be made to be more beautiful.” – Ern Westmore It’s hard to imagine an even more handsome version of Elvis Presley, but the Westmore family made that happen. For many of Elvis’ 31 films, his movie makeup was done by, or supervised by, the famous Westmore family of make-up artists. The Westmores have worked on countless classic movies and television shows and worked with legendary actors and actresses to create legendary looks. Whether making a glamorous leading lady look the part, or turning a handsome actor into a scary movie monster, the Westmores created true makeup movie magic. The Westmore family’s makeup journey began with George Westmore, a British wigmaker. He moved to the United States and began working at Metro Studios in Hollywood in 1917. At the time, many actors did their own makeup, so there were no makeup departments or artists. George experimented and established guidelines and techniques that are still in place today. George’s six sons continued in their fathers’ footsteps and broke ground along the way. Each of them went on to manage makeup departments at the major movie studios. Monte, the oldest, was Rudolph Valentino’s makeup artist. Following Valentino’s death, Monte worked for Selznick International and supervised all of the makeup work for “Gone with the Wind.” Ernest Westmore worked with Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox and legendary makeup artist Max Factor, and won the first-ever award given to a makeup artist for his work on the western “Cimarron.” Perc spent 26 years as head of the Makeup, Wig and Hairdressing Department at Warner Brothers. Perc and his twin, Ern, worked with Max Factor until they opened the House of Westmore Salon in 1934. A few of Perc’s most famous movie makeup transformations include Bette Davis’ bold, whitefaced look in “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” and Charles Laughton’s scary look in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The three youngest Westmore sons, Frank, Bud and Wally, worked with Elvis. Wally was over the makeup department at Paramount for 43 years and worked on films such as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Sabrina” and “Rear Window.” Bud was in charge of the makeup at Universal and was especially talented at monster make-up. He also designed the makeup for the first Barbie doll in 1959. Frank, the youngest Westmore brother, freelanced and worked on films such as “The Ten...
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Covered by Elvis Presley, Part 2

Elvis Presley was a lot of things – a singer, the world’s greatest entertainer, an actor, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll – but he was also a music fan. Elvis loved all different kinds of music, from gospel to blues to rock ‘n’ roll to country. You could tell if Elvis loved a song you’d written and released because he’d cover it himself. While Elvis sang plenty of songs written just for him, he also made a habit of covering songs he liked throughout his career. If he really liked your tune, you might hear it in concert or on an album. In this series on the Graceland Blog, we’re discussing some of the tunes that Elvis covered and made his own. Check out the first part of this series here. Get to know a few of these songs a bit better – find out who wrote them, when Elvis covered them and more. “Polk Salad Annie” Louisiana native Tony Joe White wrote and performed the song in 1968. Elvis jumped on the tune quickly: He introduced the swamp rock jam to his live shows in 1969, and it quickly became a concert staple. You can find his live versions of “Polk Salad Annie” on albums like “On Stage,” “Elvis: As Recorded at Madison Square Garden,” and the “That’s The Way It Is” soundtrack. A number of artists have sang the story of “Polk Salad Annie,” including Tom Jones and Los Lonely Boys. “Solitaire” This lovely, but sorrowful, song was first recorded in 1972 by Neil Sedaka, who co-wrote this song with Phil Cody. The Carpenters covered it a few years later in 1975 – which may be the best-known version of the song – and Elvis recorded it in February 1976. Elvis recorded the song in the famous Jungle Room at Graceland. The track can be heard on the “From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee” album, as well as in the 2016 release, “Way Down in the Jungle Room,” a compilation of Elvis’ Jungle Room sessions. Other artists who have tackled the song include Sheryl Crow, Johnny Mathis, The Searchers and Andy Williams. The lyrics are sometimes changed in a few of these versions, too. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” This moving love song was written by folk singer/songwriter Ewan MacColl for singer Peggy Seeger (who he later married). Elvis, inspired by the Peter, Paul and Mary...
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The Concert Seen Around the World: ‘Aloha from Hawaii’

Forty-five years ago, this month, Elvis made history in Hawaii. Elvis’ iconic special, “Aloha from Hawaii,” aired on January 14, 1973, and it was the first entertainment special by a solo artist to be broadcast live around the world. 1972 and 1973 were great years to be Elvis fans. In 1972, Elvis released the documentary “Elvis on Tour,” giving fans a good long look at his concerts and the work that went into producing them. In fact, the “Aloha from Hawaii” concert was supposed to take place in November 1972, but MGM, who produced the documentary, feared it was too close to the movie’s opening. “Aloha” was pushed to January 1973. The November 1972 concerts happened, anyway, but they weren’t filmed. Two press conferences were held to promote “Aloha.” The first was on September 4, 1972, in Las Vegas, followed by a second on at Hawaiian Hilton Village in November 1972. Elvis arrived in Hawaii on January 9, 1973, to begin rehearsals. Naturally, such a big production needed a few back-up plans and extra precautions. Elvis had two of the exact same jumpsuits made for the show, including one to wear in the dress rehearsal on January 12. In fact, that dress rehearsal was also filmed, just in case there were issues with the satellite broadcast and the rehearsal show needed to be broadcast instead. Elvis took the stage just after midnight, Hawaii time, on January 14. Naturally, Elvis wanted to use the concert to give back. There was no set ticket price for the concert; instead, donations were given. The more the donation, the better the seat. Elvis actually purchased a ticket for himself and his entourage at $100 each (which, with inflation, would be over $575 in today’s money). He asked that donations and merchandise sales go to the Kui Lee Cancer Fund, which had been established following the songwriter’s death in 1966. Lee wrote hits like “Ain’t No Big Thing,” “The Days of My Youth” and “I’ll Remember You,” which Elvis covered in many of his concerts, including in the “Aloha” special. The goal was to raise $25,000, but – of course – that goal was surpassed. A total of $75,000 was raised for the fund. Elvis’ “Aloha from Hawaii” aired in more than 40 countries across Asia and Europe. The special didn’t air in the United States on January 14, though. There was another major...
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