Why Elvis Presley Changed Recording Location to American Sound in Memphis for ‘68 Comeback Special

by Atlanta Northcutt

We all know that Nashville is Music City and Hollywood is the entertainment capital, so why would Elvis Presley decide to record in a remote, small southern town? Well, thanks to the advice of some good buddies, the King found the perfect spot to lay down some perfect tracks.

In January of 1969, the King of Rock n’ Roll was back at it again. The success of the previous year’s ’68 Special skyrocketed him to the top of the charts once again, and now it was time to get back to making some hip-shaking music. Nashville and Hollywood were his go-to scenes when it came to recording his hits. This time was different, but it paid off in the end.

Located about 10 miles from his Graceland home, Elvis gave Memphis a shot and returned to where it all started.

Elvis Presley recorded in Memphis’ Sun Studio at the beginning of his career. This time, he would take a chance on American Sound thanks to the advice from some good friends.

Elvis Presley Thrives at Memphis Studio

Producer Felton Jarvis spoke with Presley about recording in his typical locations of Hollywood or Nashville. However, Marty Lacker who was one of Elvis’ friends, mentioned doing the King’s new recordings at American Sound. A handful of Elvis’ friends, including Marty, had worked with one of the owners of the studio. Elvis Presley, who was known to take risks, decided he’d check it out.

Two sessions were done with each taking place over a three-day period in January of 1969. Elvis rocked out at the impressive American Sound. The King was obviously happy with the magic being created at that small Memphis location because he returned again to lay down some more tracks for five days in February of that year. The Memphis Boys, who were the talented house band, joined him on many songs. He also had a little help from The Memphis Horns and several background vocalists.

Elvis Has Entered The Building

Since it is Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n’ Roll, one of the owners, Chips Moman, rearranged the recording schedule in order to fit Presley’s specific schedule. A fun fact is that Elvis favored recording at night so the studio made it work that the nighttime hours would be the golden hours of creating classic hits.

Roy Hamilton, who was one of Elvis’ favorite singers, was recording at the same studio in the daytime. One afternoon while Roy Hamilton was recording, Elvis came into the studio while the sun was still up just to meet a performer he looked up to. As a gift for being such an inspiration to the King, Elvis gave Hamilton one of the songs he was planning to record. The song “Angelica” would be the last recording that Roy Hamilton would ever release since the 40-year-old passed away that summer from a stroke.

The King of Rock ‘n Roll Lives Up To His Title

During the beginning of the recording sessions, Presley came down with laryngitis, which is devastating for someone who makes money on their well-known and classic sound. But, in true Elvis style, he pushed through the pain and strained vocals in order to record some tracks. These sounded perfectly soulful, raspy, bluesy, and rich, which his case of laryngitis may have played a part in. He probably did some serious damage to his vocal cords by pushing himself too hard, but what else would you expect from the King of Rock n’ Roll?

Elvis Presley seemed to enjoy recording at American Sound. The studio was close to his home, the house band and talent were impressive, the producers were accommodating, and he had a good time recording somewhere new without all of the hustle and bustle of Nashville or L.A. He was able to experiment with a variety of songs and the band was happy to join him.

When Elvis is in the building, you reschedule other artists regardless of who they are. That is exactly what Chips Moman did with Neil Diamond. The artist agreed, but with one condition. He asked Elvis to record one of his own songs. Presley was happy to perform Diamond’s “And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind”.

Elvis Presley Shakes, Rattles, and Rolls

Elvis Presley’s final feature film entitled Change of Habit featured an American Sound recording called “Rubberneckin’.”

Just a few of the other songs to be recorded at American Sound in Memphis are “After Loving You”, “Hey Jude”, “Long Black Limousine”, “I’ll Be There”, and “If I’m a Fool (For Lovin’ You)”.

Although all of the songs are good, one stood out to become iconic. “Suspicious Minds” was the most popular and biggest success to come from the American Sound recording sessions. Many of Elvis’ friends kept asking him to sing it. He finally gave in on January 22, 1969, and it exploded onto the music scene. “Suspicious Minds” is Elvis Presley’s 18th and final No. 1 single in America. Rolling Stone has ranked it as No. 91 on its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Elvis shook, rattled, and rolled at American Sound in the early months of 1969. Presley took the chance to return to Memphis and try out a recording studio. In doing so, the King of Rock n’ Roll created many new recordings that were and continue to be unique, rare, and pure magic.