Elvis: A Musical Inventory 1939-55

Author: Richard Boussiron

Publisher: Music Mentor Books

ISBN: 0-9519888-7-5 (Paperback, 264 pp.)


"Boy, my boy!" as Elvis might well have said.

Okay, "Elvis: A Musical Inventory 1939-55" is not going to please those Elvis fans whose interests lie purely in listening to his music or watching his films, but for those who like to go deeper into the man and his history, it's a real gem. "Boy, my boy!" indeed.

The book attempts to catalogue the songs that Elvis might well have heard and possibly sang during his childhood and early career. It is the result of numerous inputs: interviews with one of Elvis's teachers, with ministers, colleagues and fellow musicians for a start, but also with the actual notes that Marion Keisker made during Elvis's time at Sun.

The teacher, ministers and work colleagues provide a credible list of titles with which Elvis was very likely to have been familiar, and some that he is known to have sung at school, in church, or just here and there, sometimes even in very early radio performances, would you believe dating back to 1944.

Admittedly, the early references form a very much smaller part of the book than those of the 1954 to 1955 period, but they are truly fascinating insights into the music that Elvis heard, knew and used himself. Later entries include information about numerous tracks that Elvis tried out and that were perhaps never recorded or were recorded, but have subsequently been lost (perish the thought!).

Each entry follows the same basic format, including the following elements, as appropriate: Title of show (where applicable); Location; Date; Personnel and instruments; Title and composer(s); Historical information; Original; Possible Elvis sources; Subsequent recordings by Elvis.

Of course, not all of this information can be provided for each entry and some is speculative (especially so for "Possible Elvis sources" relating to Elvis recordings -- who knows exactly what Elvis heard, liked and influenced him?). Still, what there is seems to have been well researched and makes the whole utterly interesting. I particularly like the entries for numbers that Elvis never recorded, strangely enough, for these help fill in his musical background in a much more personal fashion that a list of studio recordings ever can.

Mind you, there is plenty of wonderful detail about the Sun sessions themselves, most of which you'll not have read before and certainly not in such a handy and accessible format.

So where does all of this information come from? Well, between 1968 and 1975, two American record collectors researched various aspects of Elvis's work independently. One of them, Sam Barnes, investigated the Sun sessions and had access to Marion Keisker's personal records. The other, Graham Matson, collected material about Elvis's early live performances and jam sessions. Author of "Elvis: A Musical Inventory 1939 - 55," Frenchman Richard Boussiron, joined forces with these two in 1983, but both Marion and Graham died shortly after, only to be followed in 1990 by Sam. Boussiron continued their work, however, and the result is this excellent addition to any Elvis library.

There is, however, a sad ending, for Boussiron himself died in May 2004, shortly before his book went to press.

But what a legacy! Just look at the contents and be amazed.

Seven "Sections" provide song details: 1 Tupelo 1939-48; 2 WELO (radio) Appearances 194-48; 3 Memphis 1948-54; 4 The Sun Sessions 1953-55; 5 Personal Appearances 1954-55; 6 Informal Jams 1954-55; 7 Radio, TV & Film 1954-55.

These Sections are followed by six Appendixes, providing supplementary information: Flatbed Truck & Honky Tonk Performances 1955 (locations, dates and personnel -- no titles included); The Sun Sessions At A Glance (quick list of all songs that Elvis recorded at Sun, released or not, cross-referenced to main sections); The Sun Tapes (an explanation of the confusing RCA numbering system used for the tracks provided to RCA by Sun, and a detailed log of those tapes); Complete Show Playlists (including locations, dates, and approximate duration of Elvis's performance for shows whose songs are listed in Section 5); Amateur Films & Recordings (made in 1954 and 1955!); Elvis's Record Collection (showing the pre-1956 releases found in Elvis's collection at the time of his death -- use it to build your own "Elvis collection"!).

The book is completed with a list of sources, a list of works consulted, and three useful indexes: People's Names, Songs & Album Titles; Films & Shows.

By its very nature, a pioneering work of this kind is bound to contain errors, and "Elvis: A Musical Inventory 1939-55" is no exception -- the entry for "You're A Heartbreaker" indicates that Ray Anthony made the original version, for example (his was a different number with the same name). But this is a first of its kind, so its function is more that of catalyst than gospel. The fan who is interested in this aspect of Elvis's life and career will find "Elvis: A Musical Inventory 1939-55" both an excellent basis and a stimulation for further research and such research might well result in even more and better information in the future. For now, however, let's be grateful for the efforts of these sadly departed Elvis fans for this already magnificent contribution..

Yes indeed -- "Boy, my boy!"


David Neale

copyright July 2004

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