Thursday, August 17, 2017

Connections in Photographs

We can talk about the connections, but with photography and archived video it comes to life. It's Nice to Go Traveling was a 1960 TV special on ABC starring Frank Sinatra and featuring Elvis in his first televised appearance since coming home from military service in Germany. It was Frank Sinatra's fourth and final television special for sponsor TimexThe special also featured Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Nancy Sinatra, who later starred with Elvis in his 1968 film SpeedwayElvis performed "Fame and Fortune" and "Stuck on You," his first post-army single. He also performed a duet with Sinatra, with Elvis doing Sinatra's classic "Witchcraft," while Frank performed "Love Me Tender."

Sinatra, though vocal about the evolution of the "Standard," was no fool. He knew that his role as song stylist (and Elvis' as well), was rooted in a waning past. The era of the auteur, the singer-songwriter was upon us. Sinatra would remain in the limelight in what could appear as a father-like role, but saving his biggest hits for last (you know, little numbers like "My Way," "Something Stupid" (with Nancy) and, oh yeah, that doobie-doo number that was the biggest hit of 1966 (with, by the way, Glen Campbell on guitar - Campbell, as a member of the Wrecking Crew, was a connections top contender). 
Sinatra, Patty Boyd and Harrison
Sinatra met George Harrison in 1967, several years before recording "Something," itself becoming, alongside "Yesterday," a Standard. Sinatra would famously refer to the track as his favorite Lennon/McCartney song.

The fascination and relationship between The Beatles and Elvis was another connection that would ebb and web throughout the 60s. As the King had taken over for the Chairman of the Board, The Fab Four would take it from Elvis.

While the connections are there, they weren't necessarily symbiotic. While Elvis was a Fab Four catalyst alongside Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, a cocky young McCartney once said, "Yeah, well of course, since when I was 16, I've loved his records. We used to do a lot of his songs until we started doing our own, but I don't like the new stuff half as much – we told him that last night." Presley had all but given up making music in the mid-60s and had become something of a recluse, shunning personal appearances and spending most of his time making films. Most of what he did release was critically panned. From 1964 through to 1968, he only had one top-10 hit.

The Beatles and Elvis would meet in perhaps the greatest of L.A.'s rock tête-à-têtes occurred on a still summer night in 1965, high up in the rarefied climes of Bel Air. There, in a splendid home on Perugia Way, Elvis met the Beatles, or more precisely, the Beatles met Elvis. When the group traveled to the U.S. in 1964, they frequently cited Elvis as a major influence. The Beatles were in Los Angeles for a week, staying in a rented Benedict Canyon house (the famous LSD house) while they played two famous nights at the Hollywood Bowl. Elvis had just returned from location, shooting his latest movie, Paradise, Hawaiian Style.

Brian Epstein initiated contact with Colonel Parker, and the decision was made that on August 27, the Beatles would come to Elvis' home for an informal get-together. Intensive security arrangements were worked out, and it was agreed that no press would be involved and no pictures would be taken or recordings made of whatever happened (oops, that didn't work).

Elvis would meet Dylan in 1970 at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. Speculation runs rampant about their relationship, when, essentially there was none, with one exception, of course, Dylan's "Went to See the Gypsy." Dylan, of course would have a much more intimate relationship with Johnny Cash. Dylan was at Columbia Studios in Nashville finishing the album that would become Nashville Skyline. Near the end, he was joined by Cash, whom he had first met at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. 

The two were big fans of each other's work. 
"I had a portable record player that I'd take along on the road," Cash wrote in Cash: The Autobiography. "And I'd put on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan backstage, then go out and do my show, then listen again as soon as I came off. After a while at that, I wrote Bob a letter telling him how much of a fan I was. He wrote back almost immediately, saying he'd been following my music since 'I Walk the Line,' and so we began a correspondence."

"In plain terms, Johnny was and is the North Star; you could guide your ship by him — the greatest of the greats then and now," Dylan wrote upon Cash’s passing in 2003.

Cash was another who relished his contemporaries. Both Dylan and Joni Mitchell played on The Johnny Cash Show's inaugural episode ( a summer replacement for The Hollywood Palace). Dylan was making his first public performance since a Woody Guthrie benefit in January 1968. Dressed in a simple black suit and white shirt, he performed "I Threw It All Away" and "Living the Blues." Cash and Dylan also played "Girl From the North Country," which they’d recently recorded for Dylan’s country-flavored LP, Nashville Skyline. "Dylan was nervous because he was out of his real element," Bill Walker, the show's musical director, told Ultimate Classic Rock. "Dylan was nervous because he’d never worked with other Nashville musicians, other than the couple of people he had playing with him. But then Johnny had a great way of massaging people's feelings. He could talk with them and they’d be just fine." 

Taped on May 1, 1969 at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium (the Grand Old Opry), Cash, Dylan and Mitchell performed a collection of songs that would be used throughout the first season. The June 7 premiere also featured Cash singing "Folsom Prison Blues” and Dylan’s "It Ain't Me Babe" as a duet with June Carter Cash. Mitchell sang her hit "Both Sides Now." Joni, of course, is a myriad of connections of her own accord. Joni, alongside the grand dame of Laurel Canyon, Mama Cass, would entertain at her home on Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon. Of course, Jim Morrison was over on "Love Street," and Frank Zappa had his Log Cabin. Dylan would maintain his enclave in the Catskills of New York alongside The Band at the "Big Pink." The connections never end.