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|THE UNFINISHED DUET
June 19, 2016 - Elvis Express Radio
|During one of the RCA sessions in 1971, Elvis was listening to demos of songs to possibly pick to record for that evening’s session. All the musicians, backup singers and Memphis
Mafia were sitting around listening along with him. I was curious about the material he was listening to because it was so different from the songs he had recorded on the “From Elvis
in Memphis” album, which had put him back at number one on the Billboard charts. After about the sixth song that we heard, none of which Elvis seemed to like, I got up my nerve to
go over and ask him why he didn’t consider recording more songs like he had recorded in Memphis. I did not understand the politics of the publishing world and was naïve about
how all that worked. He and Charlie Hodge, musician and confidant, were sitting together and they kind of brushed off my innocent question by making a joke and laughing.
Later in the day, dinner was brought in and Charlie asked me to come in the control room to eat with everyone. The only empty seat was next to Elvis, whose back was turned.
Charlie took my elbow and led me over to the chair and, like a gentleman, pulled it out for me to sit down. In front of me was a typical carry-out of a hamburger with fries and a Coke.
After I sat down, Elvis turned around and asked me what kind of music I liked. I stuttered, “G-g-g-good music?” He laughed and said, “Can you elaborate on that?” I was so nervous I
grabbed a french fry and tried to stall saying, “I'm starving!” He said, “Do you like Roberta Flack?” Thank goodness I did and he began telling me about hearing her and Peabo
Bryson singing a duet in Vegas. The song was “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” He said he was thinking of recording something similar. I had no idea he meant with me!
Throughout that lunch we talked of many things, from he music we liked to his concern about his eye that was causing him pain and we even discussed different philosophical
concepts he had been reading about. Elvis was interesting to talk with and now I am so grateful to have gotten to see a more personal side of him.
Later during the evening session when Felton Jarvis, producer, asked me if I would sing a duet with Elvis I was shocked. When he told me the song title, “The First Time Ever I Saw
Your Face” I put it all together and realized that dinner with Elvis had been my audition.
Al Patchowki, the engineer, set up the mic in the studio. We only used one mic and I was a lot shorter than Elvis, so Al also put a box next to Elvis for me to stand on so I could reach
it. We never rehearsed at all. The recording light went on and we started singing. I was making up the harmony as we sang. I don’t remember ever stopping to listen to any takes of
the song to hear how we sounded. We just kept doing one after the other.
“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is a very romantic song. Elvis, being the actor that he was, began acting out the emotion of the song. We sang the lyrics “the first time ever I
kissed your mouth” and Elvis placed his arm around my shoulders and hugged me in close to him. Well, I was 19 and recently engaged and felt like this was betraying my fiancé, so
when he pulled me in near to him, I turned and ducked under his arm to avoid the hug and had to get off the box. Undeterred, I then quickly jumped back up on the box in time to
sing the next line, never missing a beat. Elvis reacted by giving me that crooked smile of his. But, then when we sang “like the trembling heart of a captured bird” he hugged me
again. I turned and ducked under his arm again stepping off the box, but jumped back up for the next line which was “that was there at my command my love.” Well, the irony was
just too much and we both started laughing and couldn’t stop.
All week during these recording sessions Elvis had been suffering from a congestion which was thought to be a head cold. Because his voice was giving out, we decided to stop
early, never completing the final take of the duet.
The other sessions we had booked with him that week were postponed because he had to be hospitalized to take care of glaucoma, which was causing him eye pain.
Fate had another twist in store with regards to my unfinished duet with Elvis. After Elvis was feeling better, Felton called to re-book the session because he wanted to re-do the
duet. In the meantime, Allen Reynolds, who produced albums for Crystal Gayle and later Garth Brooks, was looking to produce a new female artist and had asked me to demo a few
songs with the possibility of turning them into an album. The studio time was already booked at Jack Clement’s studio for my session and I was very excited about the possibility of
being a recording artist with my own record deal.
Felton had re-booked Elvis in RCA Studio B at the same time that my session with Allen was booked. I told Felton I could not do the session with Elvis and explained why. He was
upset with me, but I held firm to my dream of becoming an artist.
The duet recording took place about two years after my first session with Elvis, which resulted inn the his songs “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds.” Because of that success, I
had been working steadily while enrolled at Memphis State. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I had chosen to go to that session. Did I really turn down singing a
duet with Elvis? What was I thinking?
Lost and forgotten for years, in 2010 during Elvis Week, I mysteriously received a copy of my unfinished duet with Elvis. It is on a bootleg album that has circulated in Europe.
|Elvis with Ginger Holladay at American Sound in 1969
|Special thanks to Keith Nicholson for sending in the 'Unfinished Duet' by Ginger Holladay, and to Keith Flynn for his excellent work on Elvis' recording sessions.