Elvis and Me

A disclaimer: I never met Elvis Presley, nor did I have anything at all to do with him personally. However, I did have a tenuous connection. This is that story….

While I was a sophomore in high school, for a period during the spring, every other Wednesday afternoon, I would skip out of school with my bass and with my friend Andy who played drums. We would take the Long Island Railroad from the station at Lawrence, Long Island to midtown Manhattan. Our destination was an office building, several blocks from Penn Station which was owned by Andy’s father. Andy had two brothers, one of whom, a few years younger, was in my high school class, and the other, a bit older in his twenties, was a song writer trying to make it big as Rock’n’Roll was taking over the music industry.

Andy and I would get off the train and go together to the building owned by their father where Eddie, the older brother, had a very unusual office. Once you entered the building, a non-descript office building a few blocks north of Penn Station, you would then be buzzed through a brass door at the back of the lobby. Once inside, you would have entered a room decorated as if it were a Middle-Eastern Sheik’s paradise. Curtains and mirrors covered the walls and ceilings, there was incense in the still air, the lights were turned down giving the room an orange glow, mattresses and oriental carpets covered half of the floor. Waiting for us were Eddie, who wrote the lyrics, (Eddie used the name Russell Moody as his professional pseudonym) and Bert Carroll,(click here for a link to a 2009 video of Bert) the actual musician, his songwriting partner. Every few weeks they would have come up with a few new songs. We were there to record demos which the songwriters would then try to sell to established singers in the hope that they would record them. (In those days, there were writers and there were singers – singer/songwriters were rare…until Bob Dylan… Writers would try to sell their songs for singers to record. Often, if a song was popular, or deemed to be a potential hit, more than one singer would record it, each with a different arrangement and producer.) We often would be treated to a delicious pastrami sandwich. Our pay was $15.00 for the evening’s work. If one of the demos actually got released as a single record, we were told that we would be paid the equivalent of union scale for the 3 hour session, which in those days came to about $52.00.

After we ate, Bert, who was an excellent pianist, would play through the songs on the spinet in the room so we would know, more or less, what had to be done once we got to the recording studio. That also gave Eddie and Bert a final opportunity to change a lyric or a chord progression. The recording studio was a few blocks away, and once we were there we would be joined by a few other musicians, some guitarists, singers, or a saxophone player, younger professionals, but certainly quite a few years older than I. At the studio, I would mainly play the string bass, (Those were the days before the electric bass, or bass guitar was widely used) but, on occasion, when needed, I would also overdub a choral part or a percussion instrument like the claves or tambourine. As all recording sessions are, it was intense and, at times, edgy, but, for the most part, the atmosphere was relaxed, and, for me, it was exhilarating and it was fun.

As far as I can remember, only one of our recordings got released as a single. It was called, rather pretentiously, “La Mer” and it was the same melody as Bobby Darin’s big hit, which came out a few weeks after our record, “Beyond the Sea”, except ours was presented as a slow instrumental/choral ballad, without any lyrics – we were humming the melody in the background. I was delighted to hear it and myself on the radio for the first time a few months after we had made the recording.

Only one song that Eddie and Bert wrote did make it big. (This is the Presley connection!) I had the pleasure of playing bass on the original demo that Elvis Presley heard, liked, recorded, and eventually sold over 2 million copies. It was called, “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck.” It referred to a boy asking a girl to “go steady” and, by wearing the ring on a chain around her neck (not actually, as the title of the song might imply, with the neck in the middle of the ring), would show the other boys that she was not available. Anyway, there are a lot of Elvis fans who liked the song and remember it to this day and, for me, it serves as a reminder of the days when my life as a musician was beginning to emerge.