Elvis' American Sound

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Welcome to the official blog of Elvis Presley’s Graceland! You can take Elvis-inspired quizzes, get first-looks on events here at Graceland and how-to guides on everything you need to know about Elvis and his home. Like Elvis, we come with a little southern charm

Elvis' American Sound

Editor's note: We are saddened to learn that Reggie Young, The Memphis Boys' guitarist who played on Elvis' American Sound sessions, died this week. Learn more about him.

January 1969. Elvis was back in the spotlight following the smashing success of the ’68 Special, which aired in December. He was ready to record new music – something he normally did in Nashville or Hollywood. This time, however, Elvis decided to try a studio about 10 miles north of Graceland. It would be the first time he recorded in Memphis since his Sun Studio days.

American Studio was founded by producers Chips Moman and Don Crews in 1964. Located at 827 Thomas Street, the studio produced more than 120 hits in its roughly 8-year existence. American Sound had a house band, The Memphis Boys, made up of Gene Chrisman (drums), Tommy Cogbill and Mike Leech (bass), Reggie Young (guitars), and keyboardists Bobby Emmons and Bobby Wood. These guys played on a slew of hits for a variety of artists. 

Just a few of the hits recorded at American Sound include “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond; “The Letter” by the Box Tops; the Academy Award-winning “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” by B.J. Thomas; and Dusty Springfield’s Grammy Award-winning album, “Dusty in Memphis.” 

Elvis and producer Felton Jarvis discussed recording in Hollywood and Nashville, but it was one of Elvis’ entourage, Marty Lacker, who suggested American Sound. Several of Elvis’ friends like Marty, George Klein and Red West had worked with Chips Moman, so Elvis decided to give the studio a try. 

Elvis recorded at American Sound from January 13-16 and 20-23, and again on February 17-22. He recorded with The Memphis Boys, plus The Memphis Horns and background vocalists such as Millie Kirkham and the Holladay Sisters (Ginger and Mary Holladay and Susan Pilkinton). 

Chips had to rearrange the studio’s recording schedule to accommodate Elvis, who liked to record at night. Elvis was thrilled to hear that one of his favorite singers, Roy Hamilton, was recording at the same studio in the daytime. Elvis came in early one night to meet with Roy, and, in classic Elvis generosity, he gave Roy one of the songs he’d planned to record, “Angelica.” That song turned out to be Roy Hamilton’s last single. That summer, he suffered a stroke and died at the age of 40. 

Elvis suffered a bout of laryngitis during the first round of recording sessions, but that didn’t slow him down much. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll recorded some soulful, bluesy tracks at American Sound. At American Sound, in both January and February 1969, he recorded:

  • “Long Black Limousine”
  • “This is the Story”
  • “Wearin’ That Loved On Look”
  • “You’ll Think of Me”
  • "A Little Bit of Green”
  • “I’m Movin’ On”
  • “Gentle On My Mind”
  • “Don’t’ Cry Daddy”
  • “Inherit the Wind”
  • “Mama Liked the Roses”
  • “My Little Friend”
  • "In the Ghetto”
  • “Rubberneckin’”
  • “Hey Jude”
  • “From a Jack to a King”
  • “Without Love”
  • "I’ll Hold You in My Heart”
  • “I’ll Be There”
  • “Suspicious Minds”
  • “It’s My Way/This Time/I Can’t Stop Loving You”
  • “True Love Travels on a Gravel Road”
  • “Stranger in My Own Home Town”
  • "And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind”
  • “Power of My Love”
  • “After Loving You"
  • “Do You Know Who I Am”
  • “Kentucky Rain”
  • “Only the Strong Survive”
  • “It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’”
  • “Any Day Now”
  • “If I’m a Fool (For Loving You)”
  • “The Fair is Moving On”
  • “Who Am I?”

Elvis had a great time recording at American Sound, and at several times during sessions, he and the band experimented with a few songs. “Hey Jude” was one experiment, as was “From a Jack to a King.” The country song was one of his father’s favorite songs, and Vernon Presley had stopped by the studio one night – so thatinspired Elvis to sing the tune. 

Chips Moman had to reschedule one of Neil Diamond’s recording sessions to fit in Elvis’ sessions, and Neil agreed to the schedule change – so long as Elvis recorded one of his own songs. Elvis sang Neil Diamond’s “And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind” at American Sound. 

“Rubberneckin’” was recorded in Memphis but would be a part of Elvis’ career in Hollywood – it was used in his final feature film, “Change of Habit.”

The biggest hit to come out of the American Sound sessions was, of course, “Suspicious Minds.” Several guys in Elvis’ entourage suggested he sing it, so he did, on January 22. The track, written by Mark James, became Elvis’ 18th and final No. 1 single in the U.S. It’s ranked at 91 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Elvis’ American Sound sessions. Join us this August as we celebrate these sessions at Elvis Week! We'll have news on that shortly, and remember – if you want to learn anything about Elvis’ career, just visit Graceland!

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