McGinnis: Protecting a legacyWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
No one in the 32 years since the King’s death has done more to continually breathe interest into Elvis Presley’s body of work than Ernst Jorgensen. Have you bought an Elvis CD in the past decade and a half? Most likely, Jorgensen’s name is on it as co-producer. Have you read a book about Presley? There’s a good chance Jorgensen wrote or co-wrote it. Perhaps no producer has so closely associated his work with one artist since George Martin and the Beatles. And Jorgensen has done it all well after Presley’s death in 1977.
It rose from a childhood interest that blossomed into an adult investigation, Jorgensen said in a phone interview. “When I was a kid, we all want heroes. Whoever it is, somebody, at the time, could be your favorite, and mine was Elvis,” he said. “And we’re talking about the mid-60s. And there was obviously this wealth of wonderful recordings from the 50s and early 60s, anything from ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ to ‘Hound Dog’ to ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’”
Then came Presley’s film career, Jorgensen said, and the King seemed to be usurped from his throne. “The soundtracks weren’t quite as hip as the Rolling Stones and Beatles records my classmates bought,” he said with a chuckle. “I was having to wonder, how could a man who created all these wonderful recordings in the 50s and the early 60s suddenly come out with an album that had ‘There’s No Room to Rumba in a Sports Car’ on it? … That got me interested in analyzing it all, finding out the story behind it.”
That analysis has led to a career as almost an Elvis detective, tracking down countless pieces of heretofore unknown information and restoring older recordings to their former glory for the digital age. Jorgenson’s latest work is “On Stage: Legacy Edition,” a two-disc set compiling two live albums (“In Person” and “On Stage”) from 1969 and 1970. It was released March 23.
Jorgensen said these albums not only work as remarkable companions to each other, but demonstrate that, contrary to belief, the King still had his finger on the pulse of popular music.
“The ‘69 album was basically Elvis taking the very successful TV special he had done at the end of ‘68 and put it on a big stage. It was Elvis doing Elvis. It was rock ‘n roll, R&B and just a few new songs,” he said. “But in ‘On Stage,’ he does something which is still very energetic, but he goes out there and shows the world that he is totally aware of what’s going on, who the good songwriters are, where music has moved to.”
“On Stage” features Presley performing tracks from then-contemporary and contrasting artists like Neil Diamond and John Fogerty, and his performance of Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” is a highlight. Jorgensen noted the range demonstrated by these two albums, released so close to one another.
“Where one is almost going back to his youth —the ‘In Person’ album — ‘On Stage’ is the opposite. It shows that Elvis is totally contemporary. Not only by his own hits, ‘In the Ghetto’ and ‘Suspicious Minds,’ but also by acknowledging whose the hit writers of the day.”
For Jorgensen, working on all of these albums is beyond a labor of love, it is an effort to preserve the magic of Presley’s original recordings for new generations. And the eternal evolution of music technology makes his work all the more potent.
Jorgensen’s plate is far from empty with the release of the new album. Having already completed books profiling Presley’s life, career and a complete chronicle of his recording sessions, he is working on a piece which would follow Presley’s travels before he was famous.
“It’s like, what do I do for a living? I do all these Elvis records. And what do I do in my spare time? I do books,” Jorgensen said.
And while Jorgensen feels a great deal of pride at the contributions he has made to the Elvis legacy, he said that there is also a great deal of pressure to always improve upon his work. “It also leaves you with that, with that thought that you always have to try to do better than you did before. Because these people are sitting there, waiting for something that is worth spending their money on … People have expectations, and with praise comes expectations to do even better. And we try to do that all the time.”
E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.
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Tags: Elvis Presley