The DEC4 Podcast Companion: Interim Newsletter (Elvis in St Paul, Minnesota, April 1977)

The DEC4 Podcast companion newsletter will be back in November, as we preview episodes in preparation for early 2022, once again on Elvis, and a deep dive with our contributor Gary Wells (soulrideblog.com) into another milestone of his career.

And a big thank you to everyone around the world who supported our first effort on Elvis That’s The Way It is, and who very kindly shared the link on social media. We really do appreciate such great support. You can catch up with those episodes here, or on a range of platforms including Anchor, Spotify and Apple/iTunes.

In between podcast newsletters, we’ll be presenting an occasional series on specific Elvis concerts of the 1970s, those not commercially released but captured (in audio) and bootlegged by audience members or from the engineer’s soundboard. Contrary to popular myth, Elvis was still performing strongly right up to the very end. Although there were many great reviews in city and regional press, this final period of his life and career was represented unfairly in some commentary which went on to be embraced uncritically in subsequent biographies, becoming something of a definitive record. The show we’re featuring here is a case in point.

Elvis’ career at this late stage was not without blemish. Were there off nights? Of course, but you only have to explore some of the bootleg recordings of other major touring acts of the time to realise the business of live music could be quite erratic in terms of sound quality and, on occasions, the general coherence of the talent on stage. To take The Band as an example, unedited live recordings reveal that they, at times, seemed to spend almost as much time tinkering and tuning their instruments as they did singing and playing. The audiences didn’t mind. The Beach Boys could be gloriously shambolic on stage, their 1978 Australian tour a fascinating example. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Live in Europe album is a remarkable piece of rock and roll history, as much for some of John Fogerty’s slightly bizarre between-song commentary. Did it show the trio (minus Tom Fogerty) in their best form? Probably not, but it’s still a great album. Rock and roll was an uncertain science.

Did Elvis go to work affected by his pharmaceutical intake? Yes, even his most blindly loyal fans could see it. But he was far from alone, then and since. Were there times he struggled with weight in middle age? Yes, like most people. Elvis was, and is, held to a different standard. Drummer Larrie Londin, who played with Elvis on stage in early 1976 and then again at the end of his final tour in June 1977, summed him up succinctly. “I never saw him use drugs and I never saw him being mean to people. He had problems, everybody does...he was a real good guy and he was always nice to me.”

In this edition, we focus on Elvis’ performance at the 17 000 seat St Paul Civic Centre, Minnesota, on April 30th 1977. It was the 10th performance in a 13-day tour which also included two nights at the 20 000 seat Chicago Stadium. Just months before his death, Elvis remained a consistently reliable draw even in big city arenas.

The show was reviewed, in manner of speaking, in the St Paul Pioneer Press, but it’s not clear if the reviewer was even at the show at all, or had essentially made it all up based on what appears in hindsight to be highly questionable second-hand information. There is no specific mention of the music, good or bad, and a distinct absence of any real insights into the performance.

The reviewer, Charley Hallman, was a long serving sportswriter for the St Paul Pioneer Press, as well as co-founder of Twin/Tone Records. It’s clear from his 2015 obituary that he was a hardworking and very highly regarded journalist. But in this case, his review is outrageously inaccurate, and a definitive example of how the narrative of Elvis’ career during this period has been unfairly skewed.

Hallman’s account of Elvis’ visit to St Paul seemed to rely heavily on Ray Crump, equipment manager for the Minnesota Twins baseball team, and conceivably an easy contact owing to Hallman’s work on the newspaper’s sports desk. Crump was described as Elvis’ friend and claimed to have spent much of the day with Elvis leading up to the concert. Mr Crump certainly gave the impression of having inside information about the tour generally, and about Elvis’ recent weight loss due to a programme of what he described as ‘jogging and heavy exercise’. Mr Crump told Charley Hallman that Elvis had ‘picked up a cold’ while jogging around Lake Nokomis that afternoon, and offered his own opinion on the evening’s performance.

“…That was probably the worst concert Elvis has done in a year…Not that many of us noticed, but he has been averaging an hour and a half in most of his shows on this tour…”

Hallman took all this at face-value, writing that Elvis cut short his performance owing to his cold, which apparently ‘stunned’ the audience to the point that there was ‘no applause’ at the end. Fortunately, thanks to the audience recording, we can make up our own minds.

The audio shows a solid performance which seemed to be very well received by a typically responsive and happy audience. At the end, there was the usual level of cheering and applause. There were always gasps of disappointment when the instrumental opening to Can’t Help Falling in Love signalled the looming end of the show. It also doesn’t appear that the show was abbreviated to any extent, if at all, the setlist and length consistent with Elvis’ practice at that time, which was around one hour to 70 minutes. (The recording appears complete save for an edit during the band introductions).

Elvis was in good voice and humour in spite of not feeling well. During the band introductions, he joked good-naturedly about his embarrassment at having a runny nose in front of thousands of people. There were a couple of surprises with the standard setlist mixed up a little; Elvis threw in a strong version of Polk Salad Annie and a nice impromptu The Wonder of You near the end. James Burton (lead guitar), Jerry Scheff (bass) and Bobby Ogdin (clavinet) also managed to inject some refreshing variety into the tired and lengthy routine of band introductions and featured solos. All in all, in the context of the time, it sounded like a well-executed, thoroughly enjoyable show.

Ray Crump, who described his hobby as ‘meeting entertainers’, went on to run a museum of baseball memorabilia and souvenir store, and featured in a piece on the Fox Sports website in 2014;

“…As visitors walk around to the other side of the modest museum, they’re instantly bombarded by Crump’s personal Wall of Fame. The wood-panelled wall is filled with row after row after row of a smiling Crump alongside some of the biggest celebrities and entertainers of the past 50 years: Jimmy Buffett, Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, and, yes, the Beatles.…Crump’s encounter with the Beatles came about when the Fab Four played their only concert in Minnesota at Metropolitan Stadium in 1965…Instead of hanging out in a hotel surrounded by ravenous fans, the Beatles spent their time before the show in one of the Met’s clubhouses…Keeping them company was none other than Crump, who posed for photos with each member as they shot the breeze for nearly eight hours…”

There was a telling cautionary note from Mr Crump’s son;

“…My dad’s the kind of guy that you can’t discount everything he says, but you also can’t believe everything, either…”

Read the complete Fox article here.

We’ll be back with our next episode and newsletter in November. Thanks for reading, and you can always get in touch with us by leaving your comments here, at the DEC4 Webpage or on Facebook.

Concert stats and background thanks to elvisconcerts.com

Thanks to Gainesville for writing and performing our original theme music.

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