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For a few weeks earlier this year, the halls of Sam C. Phillips Recording Service on Madison Avenue reverberated with the unmistakable sounds of Elvis Presley.
Inside Phillips’ Studio B, Grammy-winning Memphis engineer Matt Ross-Spang worked, mixing a mass of live concerts from Presley’s historic late-'60s comeback performances in
Las Vegas.

“It is Elvis, so you try not to think about the weight of that, the gravity of that assignment,” says Ross-Spang, sitting behind his studio console at Phillips. “But then people would pop
into the studio… and Phillips has these wonderful echo chambers and acoustically, it’s amazing. If you walk in the front door, it almost sounds like Elvis was here recording.”

The result of Ross-Spang’s efforts are being released by Sony/Legacy in a new box set called
“Elvis Live 1969”, a massive multi-disc collection documenting Presley’s August
1969 live comeback at Las Vegas’ International Hotel — which represented his first concerts in eight years.

The box set includes 11 shows in total, four being released in full for the first time ever. The package also includes a 52-page booklet with rare photos, memorabilia and an oral
history by author Ken Sharp. In addition, there is also a new separate vinyl release, a 2-LP set titled
“Live at the International Hotel, Las Vegas, NV August 26, 1969,”
documenting one of Presley’s midnight shows, also mixed by Ross-Spang.

Ross-Spang is uniquely suited to serve Elvis. He first established himself as the house engineer at Sun Studio, then found success (and a pair of Grammy awards) working with
Americana producer Dave Cobb, as well as producing a variety of successful artists on his own (including Margo Price).

More recently, Ross-Spang has built a home base inside Phillips — the custom-built studio complex that Sun founder and Elvis benefactor Sam Phillips established in the late-'50s.
Ross-Spang's first job for the Elvis estate and Sony/Legacy came in 2015.

“I worked on
‘Way Down in the Jungle Room’ — some late-'70s recordings done at the Jungle Room [at Graceland],” says Ross-Spang. “Those were studio outtakes and
unreleased takes. Then we did some live recordings from 1972, and studio recordings of those rehearsals [for the soundtrack to the HBO documentary
'The Searcher']. And now,
this wonderful box set of Elvis at the International Hotel. They’ve all been amazing to work on. Everything Elvis is special.”

“Live 1969” proved to be Ross-Spang’s biggest Elvis undertaking in terms of sheer volume. And, he notes, the comeback performances — major productions featuring the debut
of Presley’s TCB Band and his retinue of backing singers and symphonic players  — have a special quality to them.

“It was the biggest [show] Elvis could do,” says Ross-Spang. “And you get to hear, for lack for a better word, his goofiness, his humor, and [hear] him build his confidence back up
as a performer.”

From both an aesthetic and technical perspective, Ross-Spang sought to capture the true in-the-moment essence of the concerts.

“The only thing I wanted to do was make sure you really heard Elvis through everything,” he says. “I mixed it kind of old school. The great thing about Sony/Legacy is they want to
do it right — using an analog console, doing it with analog gear. I did use some digital stuff for tape restoration. But main thing was just getting in there and riding the faders like
they used to, to make sure you can hear Elvis’ [voice] and then defining the band around that.”

Typically, Ross-Spang would spend three to four intense days mixing each show.

“I tried to work fast. I always feel like the first impression is the best impression. I didn’t want to overthink it, because there was a rawness to it that I wanted to keep,” he says.  

"On a lot of my favorite records, things jump out. The guitar solo might be a hair too loud, or a tambourine comes in a little too hot. But that’s what pulls you in. I didn't want to make
it like more modern records where everything is in its perfect little place. It’s a live concert. They’re playing things a little faster than they would on the record, so things need to be

One of the unique highlights of the set for Ross-Spang was in the musicians who backed Presley. Although Glen D. Hardin would famously become a fixture in Elvis’ TCB Band,
these 1969 shows featured another keyboardist, a Memphian named Larry Muhoberac.

“He brought an extra funkiness,” says Ross-Spang. “He played Wurlitzer and piano and played it a little bit differently and brought a real funkiness to the songs.”

Another element was a freewheeling setlists and audible joy that Presley brought to the shows, whether reworking his '50s classics ("Mystery Train," "Jailhouse Rock"), playing his
new hits ("Suspicious Minds," "In the Ghetto") or interpreting songs by everyone from Jimmy Reed and Ray Charles, to the Beatles and the Bee Gees.

“They really spread out on some of the songs,” says Ross-Spang. “You could tell Elvis wanted to have fun with it.”

Despite the somewhat daunting volume of material — more than 14 hours of audio — “Live 1969” reveals a bigger story.  

“To the non-Elvis fan — if there is such a thing — it might seem a crazy amount of stuff,” says Ross-Spang. “But what’s cool is hearing them refine the show as they go along, and
Elvis refining how he tells his story. To me it’s almost like a documentarian thing of witnessing him make it the best show possible. The [box set], as a whole, is incredible.”

'Elvis in Vegas'
Elvis Presley’s “Live 1969” box set is available Aug. 9 from Sony/Legacy

As part of Elvis Week, at 10 a.m. Aug. 17, The Graceland Soundstage will host an "Elvis in Vegas" panel featuring stories and memories from those who shared the stage Prelsey.
Guests include TCB Band members James Burton, Ronnie Tutt and Glen Hardin, Elvis historian Ernst Jorgensen and John Jackson of Sony/Legacy Recordings, Estelle Brown of
The Sweet Inspirations, plus original members of The Imperials Terry Blackwood and Jim Murray.
Tickets are $25 and are available online at Graceland.com

Originating Source - Bob Mehr for the Memphis Commercial Appeal

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With Grammy-Award Winning Memphis Engineer Matt Ross-Spang