|Observations On The Interview With Erich van Tourneau
By Steven B. Roberts
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Recently, Robin Leach interviewed Erich van Tourneau , the producer and musician
who is responsible for the musical holocaust “Viva Elvis”.
(See: "His Voice Is The Heart Of The Project")
It is my intention to make some observations about this interview to show that Erich is
not only lying, but also knows little about Elvis Presley or the culture/musical
landscape that produced him. My comments are in bold and bracketed.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past
decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum
Cirque du Soleil’s Viva Elvis at MGM City Center’s Aria, Elvis Presley Enterprises
and Legacy Recordings released Viva Elvis: the Album to commemorate the 75th
birthday year of Elvis Presley. The album, a celebration of Elvis and his music
featuring his voice in a new context, was produced and arranged by Erich van
Tourneau, Viva Elvis’ music director and arranger at Aria.
The album includes re-imagined versions of “Blue Suede Shoes,” “That’s Alright,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Love Me Tender,” “King Creole,” “Bossa
Nova,” “Burning Love,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Suspicious Minds,” as well as interludes based on “Memories” and “You’ll Never Walk
Alone (Piano Interlude).”
Erich, who performs on bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano and keyboards on the new album, told me that he spent 3,000 hours listening to 914
albums with Elvis songs and that more than 17,000 samples of Elvis songs were used to make the 12 “new” tracks.
[ Upon immediate listen to "Viva Elvis", one thing stands out very clearly. This album was thrown together quickly. Reportedly, over 40 tracks were recorded,
but the album was neatly trimmed down to 12 tracks. It is extremely doubtful that Erich spent 3000 hours listening to Elvis Presley, as the end result ( the
album ) would have been a far different record. It is more likely, Erich spent a large amount of time listening to contemporary - or new - music, with an
occasional Elvis disc to see how to spin this release. I'm also puzzled at how he was able to listen to 914 albums when there are only about 75 or so? Even
with a massive collection of bootlegs and the entire FTD catalog , how could he still listen to 914 albums? Was he listening to the multiple re-hash releases
that Sony/BMG cranks out on a yearly basis as well? Even with all of those, I find the number 914 to be unbelievable. ]
“His voice is the heart of this project,” Erich told me. “I was taking vocals he recorded 66 years ago back in 1954 and painting new colors on them to make it
relevant in today’s music.
[Relevant? A term all too often used to try and validate inferior new music with superior old music. Simply ride the coat tales of the music greats, and it might
get you somewhere. How can anybody with a brain think Elvis Presley is not relevant? That he is forgotten? That his original recordings are not good
enough? Another question is simply : "Why?" Why does Elvis need to be relevant with today's music? Elvis isn't going anywhere, nor has there been any
indication that he is going to be disappearing. Elvis has always 'been there' and he'll always 'be here'. To make this statement, Erich needs to back it up,
and it had better be good.]
It was the most interesting project of my life and at the same time the most complicated.”
[And it will probably be his last. Erich signed his own "Career Death Certificate" by making this project in the manor he did so.]
“A lot of his best material goes back to the ’50s when he was a dangerous rebel who created a musical revolution. It was the ultimate technical technique to
bring him back to life today.
[ The first statement, is correct. But as far as "bringing him back to life today" , what indication in those alleged 914 albums gave the indication that Elvis
would sound like this now? Also, haven't Ernst and Roger been spending the last 22 years trying to make Elvis's masters sound fresh and strong while
retaining their original sound and impact? ]
It was like changing an old black and white movie into HD super sound.
[ Black and White movies are not artistic statements, or not worthy? And why turn them into HD super sound? Don't you mean HD Super "Picture Quality"
and "Sound" ?]
Remember when he recorded ‘That’s Alright,’ it was in mono — not even stereo!
[ The first 70 years of the 20th Century was predominantly mono. A blatant display of ignorance about our musical past, and the history of the recording
“I used a state-of-the-art program, which in some way makes audio-engineering history, where we took the heavenly choir of the Jordanaires,
[ I noticed the Jordenaires to be predominantly missing throughout the album. Erased. Gone. Nowhere to be found except buried deep in the mix for only
changed the key and transposed the vocals to get the perfect note of the chords. You couldn’t have Elvis more modern if you ever tried to beat what we did.
It’s as if Elvis is here in the room with us because we wanted him living in 2010.
[ There is a serious ego emerging here, with no humble mentions. Here, Erich begins to make it very clear that this is 'his' album. Not an Elvis album.]
“We even have his first live recording when he was just 19 years old and showed his distinctive style. It was recorded at the Louisiana Hay Ride. These are
[ No. They are not lost recordings. They have been widely available since the early 1980s. There ARE lost recordings, but none were used on this project.]
– little pieces of magic that we’d sample from each one during editing to get the best Elvis voice possible. We worked with the original masters from SUN
Studios, which is really The Holy Grail.”
[ No, you didn't work with the original masters from Sun Studios, because Sony/BMG only owns the tape given to them by Sam Phillips which contained dubs
of the 78rpm releases, and a few out-takes. The master tapes reside with a private collector in Europe. Erich worked with 'second generation' masters. Not
the real masters.]
Erich explained that today’s new record in a sense becomes Viva Elvis’ soundtrack.
[ Since few of us have ever seen the show itself, this came as a severe shock! The public was told this WAS the soundtrack to Viva Elvis. So this isn't what
the show sounds like? If not, what was the point in making it?]
“With so many variations, it’ll take another couple of weeks before those modifications are worked into the show at Aria. It’s a case of where the egg came
before the chicken because we did our project first, and now the show will change to match it. That’s a first in theater history.
“Sometimes I stripped out Elvis’ original musicians from back then to use our own musicians here at the Vegas show. But I’d still use a guitar track from back
then and mix with our own musicians.
[ Generally, throughout the album, Erich completely erased Elvis's musicians from the recordings. It is very evident, that it is mostly Erich performing the
instrumental backgrounds. Almost NONE of Elvis's musicians are on the record. If there grounds for any legal action, I suggest they take it against all parties
responsible for this atrocity]
Cirque du Soleil’s Viva Elvis, Cirque’s seventh spectacular on The Strip, fuses dance, acrobatics and live music in the tribute to the life and music of the late
King of Rock and Roll and had its world premiere in February in a specially designed 1,800-seat theater at Aria.
[ Cirque has recently acquired Michael Jackson also. There seems to be a goal here to become the World's largest Rock And Roll Circus, almost a bizarre
variation of Disneyland in some respects]
“I gave my life to this project. I have no regrets, and I am very reverential toward Elvis. I gave a new lease of life to the original superstar. Every track has the
same energy he had back in 1954 but in a 2010 technological way.”
[ Ending with the ego in full force. ]
Interview by Robin Leach
Commentary by Steven B. Roberts