With the latest advancements in digital and sound technology, it will become the norm for analog to be transferred into digital. Cassettes will be burned onto compact discs and all of the hiss of vinyl will be removed for a clearer, more pristine sound. Such is the case with “ancient” records and old radio recordings, a prime example being the early work of Elvis Presley. Prior to hitting his pelvic stride on Ed Sullivan, Elvis Aaron Presley made a name for himself on a series of radio shows, including KWKH’s The Louisiana Hayride. From 1954 to 1956, Presley performed early hits that would catapult him to stardom. Now, having been released two decades ago as Elvis: The First Live Recordings and The Hillbilly Cat, the recordings have been retouched and re-mastered into this single collection. And while the obvious tinkering with the sound might be a double-edged sword, the performances themselves are clearly testaments of what was to come.
After making an all-night drive to Shreveport, Louisiana, host Horace Logan introduced Presley before he kicked off with “Baby, Let’s Play House”. “I’m sick, sober and sorry,” Presley says during the introduction. Unfortunately though, it’s not his first performance but a song taped from 1955. Instantly noticeable is how the quality ebbs and flows from slightly muddled to being quite clear. Part of this is by giving the bass and acoustic guitar more prominence in the mix. Played by bass Paul Nowinski and Jon Paris, the sound stays true to the song. It also shows that Presley was receiving a large amount of teenage girl shrieks. Another brief commercial describing the “better taste of fine tobacco”, “That’s All Right (Mama)” is nailed on the head. After just being signed to Sun Records, the song showcases the rhythm section and Scotty Moore’s guitar parts. Near the song’s conclusion, you can imagine him shaking to the delight of the studio audience.
Equally interesting is how Logan introduces Presley before some songs. Prior to “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, Logan says, “They’ve been looking for something new in the folk music field for a long time and I think you’ve got it.” Presley sounds a bit more reserved as does the overall mix of the track. The audience reaction isn’t diminished, but it sounds a bit premeditated in certain spots. But Presley rises above it all with a tender yet stellar performance. Perhaps the grittiest sounding track is the slightly muffled “Good Rockin’ Tonight”. While purists won’t complain about leaving it in its original state, the recording is far down in the mix, making some of Presley’s mid-song enthusiasm barely audible.
Although at just under a half-hour, a good portion of the album is given to advertisements as well as brief passages such as the “Louisiana Hayride Theme”. The song that Presley doesn’t do justice to is “Tweedle Dee”, which seems more of a bland and unimaginative track. Moore again picks up the slack with a credible guitar solo, but it’s too little and a bit too late. The highlight of the album is “I Got A Woman”, a rockabilly-tinged track that seems to pick up in its pacing, with Presley letting loose to the crowd’s approval. A cover of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” is run through quite quickly, with his supporting musicians trying to start a rave-up. Another performance of “That’s All Right (Mama)” has a false start before giving a guitar instrumental to start the song.
On the whole, the album stays true to the original recording, but uses the latest technology to get a crisper, cleaner sound. Unfortunately, though, it’s an album more of historical significance than of stellar and consistent quality. After ending with a rousing rendition of “Hound Dog”, which has several false finishes, host Frank Page says “Elvis has left the building.” If only he had patented the phrase.