November 1st in Memphis Music History
And the headline read “ELVIS RETURNS TO MEMPHIS!” After being discharged from the Army, Elvis recorded in Nashville and California, but focused on being a movie star - with accompanying soundtrack hits like “Can't Help Falling in Love" and "Return to Sender." His last Billboard #1 (Hot 100) was 1962’s “Good Luck Charm.” After all the hoopla, he once said he wouldn’t record another song he didn’t believe in. After his TV special, nicknamed the “68 Comeback Special”, Memphis producer Chips Moman was determined to get Elvis back to Memphis and record new music in his new American Studio. He even delayed another artist’s project we all know and love to get the record done.
The song was written by Mark James and recorded by him at American in 1968. Moman wanted this talented songwriter for the studio. James had written BJ Thomas’ hit “Hooked on a Feeling” and later co-wrote “Always On My Mind” which of course was recorded by Elvis 10 years before the version we all know - by Willie Nelson. James wrote this song while he and his wife were having problems with her suspicions about him and a childhood sweetheart.
As usual in Memphis music, the band was an all-star cast. Calling themselves the Memphis Boys, or the 827 Thomas Street Band (the address of American), members of American’s house band played on hits from Joe Tex, Merrilee Rush, The Box Tops, and Neil Diamond. Guitarist Reggie Young played with Bill Black’s Combo (“Smokie parts 1 and 2”) and The Highwaymen (Cash, Jennings, Kristofferson, and Nelson). Keyboardist Bobby Emmons recorded with a varied group including Wilson Pickett, Garth Brooks, Townes Van Zandt, and later co-wrote Waylon Jennings’ “Luckenbach Texas” (with Chips Moman). Bassist Mike Leech also played with The Highwaymen and worked on BJ Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away.” Backup singer Donna Jean Thatcher is on Percy Sledge smash “When a Man Loves a Woman” and sang with the Grateful Dead. Drummer Gene Chrisman played on Nelson’s version of “Always On My Mind” and Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.” And of course one of the trumpets belonged to the late, great Wayne Jackson who first gained fame at Stax and played on pretty much everything else - 52 #1’s, 83 gold and platinum-selling albums, 116 Top Tens and 15 Grammies.
The formula absolutely worked. It was Elvis first Hot 100 Number 1 in seven years, and his last before he died in 1977 (though he did later top Gospel). The sessions were also responsible for Gold album “From Elvis in Memphis”, which included “Long Black Limousine” and Platinum hit “In the Ghetto”.
Recorded in January, released in August, and hitting Number One on this day in 1969 - “Suspicious Minds”!
Oh, and the sessions delayed by Moman to get Elvis? Artist Neil Diamond and one “Monster” hit - “Sweet Caroline!