View Full Version : Elvis' style mimicked his gospel roots..

01-09-2002, 10:41 PM
and a review of...

His Hand In Mine

January 11, 2002

"One of Elvis' idols when he was young was Jake Hess of the Statesmen Quartet," singer Johnny Rivers told Elvis Presley biographer Jerry Hopkins. "He was playing some of their records one day, and he said, 'Now you know where I got my style.'"
Presley wasn't just being humble. The inspiration for much of Presley's vocal style -- the earnest energy; the dramatic, whisper-to-a-scream dynamics; and especially his ballad phrasing -- can be traced directly to the Statesmen's lead singer, a performer who thrilled a teenage Presley at Memphis' famed "all-night sings" in the early '50s. Anyone who has ever heard Hess will recognize his influence upon Elvis immediately. Presley made this connection explicit on his first full-length gospel album, the 1960 classic His Hand in Mine.

Presley begins His Hand in Mine with its title track, a song perhaps best associated with the Blackwood Brothers -- not coincidentally the favorite southern gospel quartet of his mother Gladys, who'd died two years before. Still, Presley sings the song like Hess -- delivering each phrase with generous vibrato, pristine enunciation, and emotional gulps -- even as he makes it his own, rendering much of this devotional number in his burbling bottom register already familiar to fans of "Love Me Tender" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight." Similarly, Presley delivers the effervescent "I Believe in the Man in the Sky" and the reverent "In My Father's House" in arrangements virtually indistinguishable from the Statesmen's recordings.

The Jordanaires, a gospel quartet themselves before becoming Nashville session regulars, provide harmonies to Presley throughout. Occasionally, they even grab the spotlight. The bone-rattling bass lead on one verse of "In My Father's House," for instance, is courtesy of Jordanaire Ray Walker. For the moving-on-up celebration of "I'm Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs" (written by former Jordanaire Cully Holt) and on a rousing version of the gospel standard "Working on a Building," Presley lets his voice drop into the blend, or engages in call-and-response leads with Jordanaire Gordon Stoker, and the results sound like an honest-to-God gospel quintet, rather than a star with backing vocalists.

The original album contained a dozen examples of Presley's gospel roots, from hymns like "Known Only to Him" to jubilee hand-clappers such as "Swing Down Sweet Chariot." The CD version augments that lineup with three more gospel cuts from throughout Presley's career, though "Crying in the Chapel," recorded during the His Hand in Mine sessions, is oddly not among them. Still, it would be ungrateful to complain too strenuously when the music's this inspired. With each trembling note, Presley makes plain just how much he believes in these songs -- never more poignantly than on his version of the Trumpeteers' classic "Milky White Way." "I'm going to tell my mother howdy ," he sings sincerely, "when I get home."

David Cantwell
CDNOW Contributing Writer