A Tribute To The King By Scotty Moore & Friends Review
You can never be entirely sure where you stand with a tribute concert, nor as to how heartfelt the gesture is. Take, for example, three recent stars of the charts and newspaper headlines and the tribute gigs that would honour them - a James Blunt tribute would see each gently romantic number performed by every middle-management type who'd ever attempted a seduction at the office Christmas party. Were there to be one for Babyshambles, for example, brave would be the audience in attendance to watch a stage full of particularly noxious tramps passing their caps through the audience or begging someone to cash their wrinkled and well-thumbed giros. Franz Ferdinand...no, wait, they are a tribute act to the post-punk sound of '79.
When even an acknowledged rock god like Jim Morrison only attracts an artist of the calibre of Ian Astbury, you have to wonder if the tribute gig is an entirely honourable idea. The organisers of this concert are to be congratulated then on sticking with the idea, although as Bill Wyman looks to be involved, it may be that life outside of The Rolling Stones has left him with a great deal of time that needs filled. Wyman is here with his Rhythm Kings and despite looking a little bored - to be fair, it's a look that he's honed since the early days of The Rolling Stones - provides a good foundation on which Elvis' old guitarist, Scotty Moore, offers up the genuine sound of Memphis on a beautiful Gibson semi-acoustic.
Moore was the guitarist who was by Elvis' side during the recording of That's All Right in July 1954 and he was there again in 1968 during the Comeback Special. It's a clip from that show that opens this DVD, being one where Elvis joshes with his old friend and it introduces Scotty Moore as exactly what he is - a decent, humble man who found himself at the centre of a storm during the early years of rock'n'roll. Even here, where he's undoubtedly the star guest, he rarely shows off, if not keeping to the shadows, at least making sure that his contributions flatter the song rather than seeking the glory that might have followed the sight of his name outside the door of Abbey Road studios.
And what songs they are - Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock, All Shook Up, Blue Suede Shoes and, a personal favourite, Mystery Train. Each song has a special guest wander into the studio, itself bedecked in the style of The Other Place in Twin Peaks, with some making more than one return visit. Scotty Moore, Bill Wyman and other members of the Rhythm Kings are there throughout and they're occasionally joined by Ron Wood but there are also contributions from Mark Knopfler (Blue Moon of Kentucky and Baby, Let's Play House), Dave Gilmour (Don't) and Eric Clapton (That's All Right, Money Honey and Mystery Train), who, by some coincidence, hasn't made more than one good record since the year of Elvis' Comeback Special, when Cream released Wheels On Fire, that being the psychedelic hymn of Let It Grow.
Understandably, the songs focus on Elvis' early years, even those that came early in his movie career like Jailhouse Rock but before the more rotten entries in the Elvis canon like Clambake and Harum Scarum. And you can certainly see the point of the concert - being as important a figure as Scotty Moore, it's doubtless time that some kind of honour was paid to him - but there's such devotion to an easygoing rock'n'roll sound that none of the performers, Dave Gilmour excepted, really bring their own personality to the gig. Indeed, so easygoing are Eric Clapton's three songs that he does them sitting down. Admittedly, most of the concert is performed by musicians of a pensionable age but Clapton's favoured look of pullover, comfy chair and a worn expression that wouldn't be out of place on someone who has only just recovered from shingles suggests that the mug of Horlicks and tartan slippers are just out of sight. Even Scotty Moore looks less than interested in the song, coming alive for his solo but doubtless thinking that had it been Clapton recording That's All Right in 1954 then it could have all been so different, with their release of it being met by yawning, and not screaming, teenagers.
Worse is the sight of a pair of television screens in front of the band, up which scroll the lyrics. Now, these are rock'n'roll standards and not even lyrically complicated songs - had they to cope with the lengthy spoken introduction to Isaac Hayes' version of By The Time I Get To Phoenix, I could understand - which suggests that many of these artists maybe didn't prepare as best they could. But special mention must go to Bill Wyman, who has selected a bass without a headstock on it as his chosen instrument. Clearly, the days of Je Suis Un Rock Star are long behind him and as much as you could tell that David Bowie was hiding from the creative bailiffs when he chose a similar instrument for Tin Machine, so Bill makes do but doesn't do a vast amount more.
And yet it comes back to the songs, which are simply great throughout, just really superb. The Rhythm Kings are good but Scotty Moore is superb, with fluid, funky playing on each and every one of the twenty-six tracks here, all of which zip by in less than eighty minutes. Dave Gilmour's Don't is probably the best thing here but Martin Taylor's instrumental Blue Moon comes close and no, they're not the equal of the Elvis versions but they're clearly enough to give the audience there a memorable night out, recorded here for a decent DVD. I might well have begun this review being snippy about tribute gigs but to see the smile on Moore's face as he ends this concert is enough to say that there is the odd one that's certainly worth it, this being one of them.
Shot in high-definition says the cover of this DVD and whilst it doubtless makes for a sharper image, it still arrives on DVD with a softness about it, which is unfortunately commonplace on straight-to-DVD music releases. Colours are, however, good and look to be accurate - the bright red of Mike Sanchez's suit provides a handy reference point - and there's very little bleed between the reds and the blacks of the various pieces of equipment.
The soundtrack is, though, excellent with the stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS options all being well worth listening to. My personal preference is for the stereo track but, to be fair, it does sound thinner than the two surround tracks, which are fuller and more impressive sounding but I've yet to really hear one that I prefer to plain old stereo. Indeed, the surround mix is superb with Moore's guitar being placed right in the middle of the room. Finally, there are subtitles but only in the opening clip and in the closing interview with Jerry Schilling with none of the lyrics appearing on the subtitle track.
An Interview w/ Scotty Moore (30m35s): In a very good interview, Moore reveals himself to be an unpretentious man largely unchanged by the experience of what must have been an insane time during the mid-fifties. In between talking about his choice of guitar and about his life around Elvis' close circle of friends, Scotty goes into detail on his meeting Elvis, their recording of those early rock'n'roll classics and how the '68 Comeback Special came about.
An Interview w/ Jerry Schilling (21m21s): I'd always thought that Schilling was a latecomer to the Memphis Mafia but as he explains how he met Elvis in a football game in 1952 when he was aged 10, he was there at the very beginning. Schilling is at his most enthusiastic when he talks about hearing That's All Right on a local radio station but he's also very complementary about Scotty Moore's work in the early days as well as on the '68 Comeback Special and interesting when he talks about the various disappointments in Elvis' life, such as never touring abroad.
Behind The Scenes (24m16): Showing that there was a certain ranking order in the gig, the Rhythm Kings begin this on their own before being joined by Scotty Moore and waiting, as it appears, days before the likes of Clapton, Gilmour and Knopfler appear only hours before the start of the concert. Along the way, there's much footage of the studio being prepared for the gig before a final rehearsal and the opening of the doors to let in the audience.
Friends of Scotty (9m51s): In case you're concerned that these are literally his friends, being various elderly gentlemen from Memphis, these friends are those we see here on this DVD, Bill Wyman, Mike Sanchez, Albert Lee and the like. Interviewed backstage and asked three questions, "When did you hear Elvis and Scotty's music for the first time?", "What crossed your mind as you were playing with Scotty Moore?" and "Your message to Scotty on this very special day?", these vary from being heartfelt thoughts on their first experiences of rock'n'roll to being, in answer to the final question, lots of "Keep on rocking!"
The Abbey Road studios look to be a complementary setting for this gig, with the audience and the band being much closer together than they might otherwise have been in an arena, thereby giving Scotty Moore a taste, once again, of what it would have been like in those early days. Similarly, though, Abbey Road is a place where there's much rock history already through The Beatles and Pink Floyd, amongst others, and it's almost as if they're paying respect to where it all came from in their hosting of this concert. This DVD is a good record of that gig and although it's not the best Scotty Moore performance on disc - that remains the '68 Comeback Special - this isn't bad although I suspect it will be more of interest to collectors of Clapton, Gilmour or Knopfler's work than those few souls keeping up with Moore.