Country star Travis Tritt and “American Idol” contestants Justin Guarini and Tamyra Gray were among those present at last night’s (Sept. 24) New York launch party for the new Elvis Presley hits compilation “Elvis 30 #1 Hits” (RCA/BMG). Also on hand was the King’s former wife, Priscilla Presley, his former drummer, DJ Fontana, and Broadway star Heather Headley.
Before each musician joined a house band to perform an Elvis song, Priscilla spoke briefly to the crowd at the Hard Rock Cafe, marveling at how the icon’s popularity today seems to have eclipsed the interest in Elvis at the time of his death in 1977. The singer, she said, would often ask, “What am I gonna do onstage with a guitar” after his 40th birthday.
Sharply dressed in a dark suit and turquoise shirt that matched his drumsticks, Fontana joined the house band for gritty versions of “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Tritt followed, performing a spirited take on “Burning Love.”
After Headley — who will make her recorded debut Oct. 8 with “This Is Who I Am” on RCA — performed an impassioned version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Guarini and Gray followed with their covers of Elvis’ “She’s Not You” and “Don’t,” respectively.
While the “American Idol” contestants received the loudest applause, the night’s highlight arguably arrived when mix engineers David Bendeth of RCA and Ray Bardani played the before and after versions of a few songs on the new album. While the difference was enormous — the new versions were brighter, fuller, and louder — it was their recent discovery of a snippet of Elvis dialogue that evoked a wave of laughs and applause.
Bendeth and Bardani unveiled an outtake on which Elvis was singing backing vocals while listening to a tape of his lead vocals. As he listened to himself truly belt out a particular line, he says under his breath, “Sing it, man,” in his unmistakable “Thank-ya-very much” Southern drawl.
Released yesterday, “Elvis 30 #1 Hits” compiles some of the King’s best known songs, including “All Shook Up,” “Hard Headed Woman,” and “It’s Now or Never.” The collection also includes the recent remix of “A Little Less Conversation” by Elvis vs. JXL.