King Of America (2005) liner notes

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Liner notes


King Of America

Elvis Costello

The two interviewees wore large sunglasses. The tall one wore a Western-style jacket with lapels completely covered in rhinestones. The sullen one in white, floral brocade jacket wore a bolo tie and was perspiring in the California sunshine. They looked furtive and shifty. The CNN title card identified them as "Henry and Howard Coward."

They spun a completely improbable and possibly libellous tale of how their management had persuaded them to fake their own deaths, retire to "The Island," and then stage the "Ultimate Comeback." Only some of these ludicrous falsehoods made it onto the satellite broadcast.

Onstage, they were known to falsely claim authorship of most of the very famous songs that they performed and clearly didn't write. They were now peddling their "Second Comeback Tour" after the money from the first one had run out.

The press corps, who were killing time while waiting for President Reagan to emerge from his holiday hideaway and give them a reason to exist, jumped at the chance to amuse themselves when The Coward Brothers had stumbled into their poolside barbecue for a drink.

Later that evening, the Cowards drove back to Los Angeles and stopped into a crowded Beverly Hills bar, finding themselves next to Less Than Zero author, Bret Easton Ellis. There was an uneasy moment. It's hard to know how far to push these things.

This masquerade was really an excuse for performing songs ranging from their theme tune, the George Jones classic "Ragged But Right," through Bobby Charles' "Tennessee Blues" and Los Lobos' "Matter Of Time" to a medley of "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" and "If You're Going To San F…" You probably get the picture…

As their ghostwriters, T-Bone and I composed "The People's Limousine" during a long and occasionally surreal journey through Italy.

In early '85 The Coward Brothers' first and only single was recorded in Los Angeles with David Miner on bass and Ron Tutt on drums. The B-side was a Leon Payne song made famous by Hank Williams, "They'll Never Take Her Love Away From Me," on which the Cowards were joined by D. Miner and Stephen Bruton on mandolin.

A proposed guest appearance on the A-side by Bonnie Raitt never came to pass after the singer and guitarist was taken out to supper by the Brothers and all forgot to return to the studio.

During the same visit, I went into Sunset Sound Studios to record solo versions of all the then-completed songs for my next record. T-Bone and engineer Larry Hirsch were extremely patient as a collision with a bottle of whiskey gradually undid the session.

Despite the ragged nature of the demos, T-Bone and I were able to plan the album sessions while on The Coward Brothers' final comeback tour of Australia and Japan, on which we were the "special guests." We passed the in-flight hours writing out the song titles and then putting the musicians' names against them that might best serve each tune.

From the spring of 1984 to the spring of 1985, I had undertaken three separate "solo" tours to pay off my legal bills, armed only with a couple of guitars and some clumsy fingers at the piano. On each occasion I shared the bill with T-Bone.

Our travels together gave me plenty of time for writing and performing new tunes. Most of these songs were supposed to be performed with the same accompaniment, despite the fact that I am credited throughout this record as "Little Hands of Concrete." This is a name given to me by Nick Lowe after I smashed another set of string off my guitar during a frantic take early in my career.

This is not the time for me to speak specifically about some the personal events behind this album. These are pretty plainspoken songs. "Indoor Fireworks" is a lament to the end of love. "Poisoned Rose" and "I'll Wear It Proudly" are songs about the danger and uncertainty of desire. They point to the tone of the succeeding album, Blood & Chocolate. There was a sense of new dedication in "Jack Of All Parades."

Several songs employ a narrative form to make the private details seem less self-regarding. "American Without Tears" compares my own experience to my grandfather's travels to New York in the 1920s. Other songs focus on macabre tales and some of the grotesques that I had encountered on my own American travels. "Our Little Angel," "Glitter Gulch," and "Brilliant Mistake" continue the theme of exile and a simultaneous attraction and repulsion to an ideal. That is why the album is called King Of America. It is inherently contradictory.

During my visits to Hollywood, I found myself sitting around hotel rooms late at night with other songwriters, drinking and swapping stories and songs. This was entirely new to someone who had started out in the rather more insular and competitive London scene. I would meet a lot of interesting characters in T-Bone's company over the next few years, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Dixon, Harry Dean Stanton, Kris Kristofferson, and Lucinda Williams.

I recall throwing the hotel room curtains open to the descending panoramic view of the streets departing from the spine of La Cienega Boulevard, as Victoria Williams sang a lovely song about the lights looking just like someone always thought they should. Pete Case was there also. T-Bone played "Shake Yourself Loose" and then Bob Neuwirth arrived and put everyone away with his great song "Annabelle Lee." T-Bone ended up recording these last two titles with some of the same musicians who appeared on King Of America, in an even more unadorned style.

By the time we entered Hollywood's Ocean Way Studios, we had booked several line-ups to tackle the songs. The first consisted of Ron Tutt on drums, Jerry Scheff on bass, and James Burton on guitar. This trio had been a major part of Elvis Presley's "T.C.B." band, although I was actually more familiar with Ron and James' recordings with Gram Parsons. It turned out that Jerry, whose musical background included the Navy and modern jazz, had also featured on records ranging from The 5th Dimension's "Up, Up, And Away" to The Doors' "L.A. Woman."

James Burton is one of the few guitar players who is almost always called "legendary." This is because he is amazing, and his credits stretch from Dale Hawkins' "Suzie Q," through his years with Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley to a fantastic range of session and stage appearances, Jerry Lee Lewis, Emmylou Harris, and Randy Newman being only three of my favourites from the hundreds of artists he has played with.

These sessions were cut as "live" as possible. T-Bone and engineer Larry Hirsch had miked me so that my vocal and guitar performance were central to the sound picture. With the exception of some trickery on "Jack Of All Parades," there were few effects employed other than reverb. The distortion of the piano on "Sleep Of The Just" was achieved by running the mikes through a Leslie cabinet.

After balances were achieved the musicians gathered around to learn the changes. My task was made much easier as the players were referring to charts transcribed from my demos by T-Bone's associate producer David Miner. Where I intended to straighten out the wayward bars of the solo renditions only remained to be determined.

The first song recorded was "Our Little Angel." It took about four attempts to get the finished take. The original intention was to concentrate this ensemble's efforts on any country-styled ballads, but instead I called "The Big Light," a fast, grim comedy that was written in the awful wake of a drunken solo acoustic demo session earlier that year. I had imagined that the accompaniment should be something like The Tennessee Two (and indeed Johnny Cash would later cut it in that very style). However, James kicked off a series of guitar figures reminiscent of the "T.C.B." treatment of "Mystery Train," Jerry and Ron fell in behind, and we were away. Take One! Elated by this, we went ion to cut "American Without Tears."

This song was based on a chance meeting with a couple of former G.I. brides during a tour of Florida. They had volunteered their stories while I was drinking at an adjacent table. The names and locations were changed, but it stayed pretty true to their tale of exile and escape. It is as close as this record comes to having a theme.

With the exception of later adding Jo-El Sonnier's French accordion part to "American Without Tears," three of our most valuable tracks were totally finished in the first few hours of recording.

The next day was not quite so successful, but we had a lot of fun racing through "Glitter Gulch," the tale of a game-show swindle, which features James on guitar and dobro, and we cut the ballad "Shoes Without Heels." We even attempted versions of "Lovable" and "Indoor Fireworks" before concluding that these were better left for another day.

Recording with members of Elvis Presley's band might have seemed daunting or even provocative. However, none of this could quite prepare me for the threatening prospect of our next session.

When T-Bone had pencilled these names next to studio dates somewhere over the Pacific it had seemed like a brilliant idea. It had never been my intention to hire off-the-peg "legends" for the hell of it. The first two players through the door were unknown to me. They were pianist Tom Canning and keyboard player Mitchell Froom, who was to play Hammond B-3 on the session.

It was the rhythm section that was daunting. On drums: Earl Palmer who, among many other things, had starred on most of the great Little Richard sides. On bass: Ray Brown, whose recording credits could, and probably do, fill a book… Dizzy Gillespie… Charlie Parker… Duke Ellington… and most memorably, Oscar Peterson.

While the introductions were under way, T-Bone was musing as to why nobody seemed to be able to achieve the spontaneity that we had heard on a Louis Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald side playing on the in-flight music around the time we were planning this very session. Being the diplomat, Earl informed us, "Of course, you know, Ray was Ella's first husband…" and added after a beat Ray added, "I think I might have played on that session."

"Oh yeah," I was thinking, "and now we're going to play this stupid little song I've written."

Actually, I think they both might have thought I was out of my mind when I said that I didn't give a damn if this record was a hit, so long as it sounded right. This was clearly not the sort of talk they were accustomed to. Still, with Tom and Mitchell quietly taking care of their parts, we eventually got a take of "Poisoned Rose." I just had to get my nervous voice under control and catch a first verse where my performance sat right with Ray's solitary bass accompaniment. Cue the celebration and crack open the Glenlivet!

It was then that T-Bone called "Eisenhower Blues," an obscure J.B. Lenoir side that I had just learned. There was no real reason to cut it except that it gave everyone a chance to relax and play a bit (I think T-Bone just wanted to hear Ray Brown let loose on a tune like this and sat in on electric guitar). We did one long double take and cross-faded the highlights together. It certainly gives the album a kick in amongst all these ballads.

The session ended with suitably blurred photos being snapped. They seem to have got lost. Even if Ray and Earl thought I was some kind of crazy, limey millionaire who went ‘round hiring my jazz and R&B heroes on a whim, I wish I could find that damn photograph.

Unfortunately the "Poisoned Rose" celebrations went on far too long, and I arrived for the next day's session in pretty poor shape. Now if this is probably starting to sound like one man's slide to alcoholic oblivion, then I think that the results contradict the evidence. Arranged around me in a semicircle were James Burton on acoustic guitar, Jerry Scheff on string bass, and Mitchell Froom on organ. Only shaking slightly, I took up my position and after one complete take we had "Indoor Fireworks."

Naturally, we always went on to record several further attempts just in case there was any temptation to take the easy way out. It was probably best that we cut it quickly as this kind of romantic obituary is not something you would want to labour over.

Over the next few days, a new band emerged with Mitchell Froom on keyboards, Jerry Scheff on bass, and Jim Keltner on drums. Jim had played on so many great recordings by John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison, as part of the "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" troupe with Joe Cocker and Leon Russell, and all the way back to his days in Gary Lewis & The Playboys. I really loved his playing on Ry Cooder's records, and yet I had been strangely resistant to T-Bone's suggestion that Jim play on the sessions.

Somehow I had got it into my head that we might end up with an overly familiar L.A. approach to the rhythm. It took about five minutes to realise that Jim actually was one of the most wonderfully unpredictable and magical players with whom one could share a studio or stage. Over the next ten years, he would provide the most important drumming contributions to my records next to those of Pete Thomas.

This line-up cut the slight but swinging, "Loveable," which features a wonderful one-take harmony vocal from Los Lobos' David Hidalgo, and two songs that I regarded as crucial to the album, "I'll Wear It Proudly" and "Sleep Of The Just." In some ways they were the heart of the record. Just a few highlights are Mitchell's mysterious introduction to "Sleep Of The Just," Scheff's swinging bass line on "Lovable," and Keltner's kick-drum fills on the bridge of that cut and the fade of "I'll Wear It Proudly," where Mitchell plays the organ melody that I had sung to him. He would make good use of it, turning a variation of that theme into a hook on his production of the big Crowded House hit, "Don't Dream It's Over."

This is just the kind of detail that was almost impossible to isolate on my recording with The Attractions, although that doesn't mean that you cannot hear such fine playing. It is just that you would have to listen a little harder due to the claustrophobic nature of our sound. Anyway, where were The Attractions during all of this?

I had originally intended to feature The Attractions on half of this album so that the contrast of accompaniments would be heard to best effect. The news of this plan was not exactly received with wild celebrations, and I suppose I became pretty high-handed about my recording plans. On all sides the old cliché about "familiarity" probably had some substance.

Anyway, by the time The Attractions arrived in Hollywood there was more than half an album's worth of material in the can. This meant that our sessions had a doomed air of suspicion and resentment. After spending so much time together on the road T-Bone and I had a rapport based on rumour that unwittingly drove a wedge between the band and myself. In these circumstances I suppose it is hardly surprising that The Attractions delivered some of their worst performances.

I had little patience for our failure to get to grips with the one song I had been certain would suit the band's sound and was fast becoming the session's theme song: "Brilliant Mistake." Apart from the lyric providing the album's title, I had always seen this song as the record's opening track. Despite any other departures, I wanted to lead off with an Attractions recording. This was not to be.

I can't recall the exact sequence of events. I know we cut rather lacklustre versions of "Blue Chair" and "Next Time Round," both of which would have to wait until the Blood & Chocolate sessions to be more fully realised. Then we cut to a throwaway number that we could have played in our sleep and about which the title was probably the best thing: "Baby's Got A Brand New Hairdo."

This steadied everyone's nerves, but we weren't exactly having fun. It was at this moment that we cut "Suit Of Lights," a dense lyric written from the jaundices performer's perspective about mob instinct and how one man's amusement is another man's job of work. The song was written after watching my father, Ross, sing of experience and tenderness to an uncomprehending rabble of karaoke-trained dullards.

Our pent-up frustrations went into making this one of the most passionate Attractions recordings. Alas nothing else seemed to fall into place, and the recording schedule had to move on. This left my sullen and estranged band hanging around our hotel harbouring a grudge or honing an embittered anecdote.

The most absurd slander naturally originated from the least committed member of the band and has been repeated in print often enough to bear being refuted here, namely that I was in the grip of some unlikely collision between and identity crisis and megalomania.

I had already shot the photo session for the album sleeve with the great Terence Donavon. I sported an embroidered jean jacket (far from my usual black attire of the time) and an elaborate jewelled replica of the crown of the Kings and Queens of England. The photographs had turned out wonderfully and would have been an obvious visual joke to all but the humourless paranoid.

In the days before computer visuals, it was necessary to assess a number of large contrasting prints before settling on the final cover image. When this working process was glimpsed by chance, it sparked the accusation that I was decorating my hotel room with the crowned heads of my own ego.

If our most persistent chronicler had been capable of any self-awareness, then it might have been acknowledged that I not only wrote all the songs but also took responsibility for such matters as sleeve design and all the publicity activities that didn't actually require performance. This is what it took to keep our ship afloat, while everyone else was on holiday or in the bar.

Aside from such pettiness, I had found myself in the darker implications of adulthood and stilled being billed as some kind of "vengeful geek" just didn't make it anymore. It was the exact opposite of an "identity crisis." Unfortunately, in a fit of bravado, I had briefly changed my name by deed poll to "Elvis Costello." This meant that it appeared on my passport, and I could brandish it at smartarse customs officials or obnoxious journalists who accused of being a novelty act. It took me a while to realise that these were unworthy battles. I now decided to re-claim my family name and began using all of my given names in the writing credits.

King Of America might have been credited to "Declan Patrick Aloysius Mac Manus," but anxious management and the record company people prevailed on me to retain something of my popular identity in attributing the album to "The Costello Show." There was nothing so mysterious or troubled about all of this confusion. Hell, I had unsuccessfully attempted to make a video clip for a song on my previous album without my glasses, only to realise that some noses are best diminished by a pair of spectacles.

Into the tense atmosphere created by the disappointing Attractions sessions came the rhythm section that was intended to be T-Bone's production trump card. Certainly Mickey Curry and T-Bone Wolk did not get to work in the relaxed atmosphere of the earlier sessions.

The essential difference between English and American musicians could be very crudely defined in these terms: American musicians will always ask, "How do we end?" English Musicians only ask, "How do we begin?" There are, of course, virtues in both approaches. T-Bone and Mickey probably lie somewhere between these extremes. I knew them as the fine R&B rhythm section with Hall & Oates, but they were also fans of the English approach and were frankly bewildered by my decision to use them ahead of The Attractions until they witnessed how strained that relationship had become.

Our recording of "Blue Chair" stayed in the running order for some time after the session, but as the final sequencing drew nearer I started to doubt the track, feeling it seemed too brash and too eager to please without really doing so. So, the backing track was shelved until I re-worked it with the addition of an intricate vocal arrangement for a "stand-alone" Demon Records single following the release of Blood & Chocolate.

This line-up, which also included Mitchell Froom on Hammond organ, also cut "Jack Of All Parades." Without the pressure to deliver a "hit sound" the band worked very well, with fine touches such as T-Bone's volume-control bass interlude before the coda. Steve Nieve added piano to this track, as we searched for the right combination of musicians to capture the last few elusive titles.

Premier among these was "Brilliant Mistake." When we finally hit it, the rhythm section was Mickey Curry playing with brushes (something he was hardly ever asked to do) and Jerry Scheff on string bass. Mitchell Froom took care of the organ and harpsichord while our other bass-player, T-Bone Wolk, played the Fender Telecaster and later added the accordion part.

The King Of America sessions were spread over a period of just under three months due to my reluctance to spend any extended period in California. The actual "record dates" were quite few in number. Very few of the attempts at re-mixing and embellishing the sounds met with success. Most of the tracks were mixed at the end of the session. These became the definitive balances as surely as if they had been cut to wax.

There were two further dates for this album. The first was a solo session at which I attempted Eric Bogle's "My Youngest Son" and Richard Thompson's "End Of The Rainbow." However, the track which made the album was my own "Little Palaces," which was as close to a folksong form as I had ever used. I dubbed on a scratchy mandolin part that was set off to better effect after Jerry Scheff suggested adding his string bass to the instrumental sections.

My final trip to Hollywood was made with the intention of adding "I Hope You're Happy Now" to the album. Having previously failed in an attempt to cut it as a single with The Attractions and stumbled through it on my drunken demo session, I was determined to capture it with the Keltner/Scheff/Froom line-up that had provided the heart of the record.

Almost before we had the instrumental balances my voice started to vanish. We struggled through a few tentative takes, but it was useless. Rather than scrap the session we cut a slow, violent version of The Animals/Nina Simone song: "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." The next day we borrowed Michael Blair from Tom Waits' band to add a marimba part, and the record was complete. This may seem ironic as I attacked the song with a vocal capacity that Tom might have rejected as being too hoarse.

My U.S. record company, Columbia, showed their customary imagination in releasing the safe "cover" song as a single ahead of any of the more unusual and heartfelt balladry I had composed. "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" made little impression, and my mounting debt to the company seemed to make them unwilling to risk any further effort on my behalf.

However, I nearly pulled off a plan to play entirely new arrangements of these songs "live" on MTV with a different band, in a different U.S. city, every day for one week. Although the musicians' responses — Los Lobos, ZZ Top, The Heartbreakers, and John Mellencamp's band among them — were very positive, the money to pull this off was never found, and the idea went unrealised.

Nothing was ever done with "We Don't Even Try Anymore," a song written at this time with X's John Doe, who was then performing as part of The Knitters. My collaboration with David Weiss, "Shadows And Jimmy," was also composed during these sessions. It was featured on the Was (Not Was) album What Up, Dog, but for me the most enduring part of our meeting was a conversation in which I accidentally stumbled on the expression "Brilliant Mistake" while describing my ever-changing impressions of America.

The U.K. release of the record coincided with a terminal conflict with our distributor, RCA, that cost us any sustained promotion. No serious attempt to locate and address the audience for King Of America was made until the first re-issue edition appeared in 1995.

Notes on CD2

The process of making any record is one of transformation from the first private inkling of song to the final mix of a recording intended for public release. Sometimes things get lost along the way.

For this record, I began with a tight group of emotionally stricken songs that witnessed the slamming shut of a series of doors in my life just as I tumbled through another. Although the final album included a lot of things that I could not have imagined before my first trip to Hollywood, it probably became a little less concentrated and intense than I had first imagined.

CD2 begins with eight performances that hint at what might have been achieved. Unfortunately or otherwise, several of them are from the raw and sizzled session in early '85. My cassette of this session was rather grimly labelled "EC as JR," meaning "Jimmy Reed," who apparently used to drink until he fell off his chair. At that time, I was drinking a lot of whisky, which was a poison that I could never drink.

Consequently, there was one just passable take of the piano song, "Having It All." I have held it back from release in the past, always imagining that I might re-record it. The song hints at both "Scarlet Ribbons" and Cole Porter's "True Love" and was one of two contributions to the musical motion picture Absolute Beginners. It was intended for Patsy Kensit to sing in the scene at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Those were the days.

There follows a version of an otherwise unrecorded song called, "Suffering Face," which was briefly considered for the final album in this performance before being lyrically dismantled to make the Blood & Chocolate album track "Crimes Of Paris," which I can assure you was not a comment on the above movie scene.

Before I descended into increasingly incoherent, multiple takes of "Poisoned Rose" and "Indoor Fireworks," I did manage the more concentrated versions included here and a sombre and almost regretful reading of "I Hope You're Happy Now."

Another song rescued from the recent past was "Deportee." This ballad re-write of a song first included on Goodbye Cruel World had been featured during many of my recent solo shows. It seems clear to me now that its inclusion might have made the personal implications of both "American Without Tears" and "Brilliant Mistake" much more obvious to the listener. The song picks up the idea of America as a place where dreams and ideals are as easily misplaced as they are realised. Songs such as "New Amsterdam" and "Kid About It" had spoken in passing about this possibility:

"The transparent people who live on the other side
Living a life that is almost like suicide"


"Singing ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool' and turning into Americans"

Now "Our Little Angel" referred to "the place where I make my best mistakes" and "Deportee" closes with the final verse about disappointment and personal detachment:

"When I came here tonight my pockets were overflowing
They took my return ticket without me even knowing
Now I pray to the saints and all the martyrs
For the secret life of Frank Sinatra
But none of these things have come to pass
In America the law is a piece of ass"

The version of "I'll Wear It Proudly" is from another demo session recorded at Red Bus Studio in London (which also included the inferior versions of "Next Time Around" and "Sleep Of The Just"). I have no memory of recording this early demo draft of "Jack Of All Parades," which still includes lines that ended up in "Suit Of Lights." I know that it was cut in Hollywood, as the song was not complete until the sessions were underway.

The A and B-sides of The Coward Brothers' solitary single release are followed by two full band outtakes from the King Of America sessions. "King Of Confidence" only narrowly avoided being included on the album before being replaced in the sequence by "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." It might have been a better inclusion, even if the bridge does owe quite a lot to George Jones' "The Last Town I Painted."

"Shoes Without Heels" was cut towards the end of the T.C.B. Band sessions and sounds as if we might have been running out of luck by then. Nevertheless, for a song written in ten minutes on the back of a hotel cocktail napkin, it has a couple of good lines and a fine James Burton guitar coda.

The solo recording of "Little Palaces" was preceded by a sombre performance of Richard Thompson's "End Of The Rainbow," which had been in my recent repertoire, not necessarily to the delight of audiences across the world. An earlier version of this song, recorded for a rehabilitation benefit record, had been utterly ruined by unauthorised overdubs.

The lyrical focus of these titles was certainly no America or the emotional regrets and the self-inflicted exile of the other songs. The cold, grim Victorian characters of "End Of The Rainbow" could have come from any recent day of British news. A division in the country culminated in the year-long miners' strike and all the attendant strife and misery for the families, while the Thatcher government seemed willing to sacrifice whole sections of a society that they denied even existed.

The Attractions and I had played a benefit concert for the National Union of Miners on the very night the strike collapsed. It was unrealistically defiant and hopeful evening, which included a great performance from a renowned choir of Welsh miners. I pressed Merle Haggard's "No Reason To Quit" into some attempt at timely meaning. We also debuted a hurriedly written song of provocation that was being planned as a benefit single at the time of the strike's collapse.

Obviously, the opening line of "Betrayal" was bound to have impact under the circumstances, days when the country was the prostrate host to the last of Ronald Reagan's Cold War manoeuvres:

"When England was the whore of the world
Margaret was her madam"

However, from that opening, the song was underwritten and diluted by a detour into personal matters. By the time it was attempted during the Attractions' session for King Of America, it had lost both its meaning and its fire. The material and intent would have to wait three years to re-appear in "Tramp The Dirt Down" on the album Spike.

Following an unlikely and uneasy rapprochement with the Attractions and the recording of Blood & Chocolate, I took to the road playing music from both that album and King Of America. The tour took the form of multiple nights in each city, featuring "The Spectacular Spinning Songbook" evening, a solo set and shows with both the Attractions and the band assembled from the players on these sessions. This line-up was billed as "Elvis Costello and His Confederates," just in case anyone imagined that we were the grey uniformed counterpart to Gary Puckett & The Union Gap.

On this initial tour, the band featured the rhythm section Jerry Scheff and Jim Keltner, Mitchell Froom on keyboards, and the electric guitar of James Burton. By the time we reached the Broadway Theatre, New York City, we were augmented by two musicians from Tom Waits; band, Michael Blair on vibraphone and percussion and Ralph Carney on saxophones.

The King Of America songs were always central to the set, but we opened and closed the show with the Dave Bartholomew number "That's How You Got Killed Before." The repertoire also included Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham's "It Tears Me Up" and a version of Mose Allison's "Your Mind Is On Vacation" that lead to Sonny Boy Williamson's "Your Funeral And My Trial" with a rare outing from the singer on amplified harp.

We got a chance to hear a little more of James Burton's hot electric guitar on both "The Big Light" and the Waylon Jennings hit "The Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line," and there was an encore rendition of Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways," featuring another special guest, T-Bone Wolk, on accordion. Brother Henry Burnett also joined the band on rhythm guitar for the finale. The Coward Brothers were always lurking in the wings, waiting for their moment in the spotlight.

I continued to tour Europe, Japan, and Australia with a changing Confederate line-up, featuring first Benmont Tech and later, Austin Delone on keyboards. Jerry Scheff and Jim Keltner both made vital contributions to my Warner Bros. albums Spike and Mighty Like A Rose, and we were re-united with James Burton for the Kojak Variety sessions in 1990. James also contributed a dazzling solo on the Mighty Like A Rose track "Hurry Down Doomsday," a composition for which Jim Keltner and I collaborated. Jerry went on to play in the Rude Five rhythm section with Pete Thomas.

Jim Keltner and I last worked together on my album with Burt Bacharach, Painted From Memory, and also played on "My Mood Swings," a rock and roll song written for the Cohen Brothers' movie The Big Lebowski.

T-Bone Wolk contributed some fine bass parts to both Spike and co-produced both Mighty Like A Rose and my first session with Burt Bacharach for the song "God Give Me Strength."

Mitchell Froom went on to play on Spike and co-produced both Mighty Like A Rose and my first recordings with the Attractions after these sessions for the album Brutal Youth.

T-Bone Burnett produced the complex sessions at multiple locations for the album Spike. We continue to work together whenever the opportunity arises. I contributed a bridge to his co-composition with Bob Neuwirth, "It's Too Late." Henry produced "My Mood Swings" and his work in motion pictures led to our co-writing "The Scarlet Tide" for Alison Krauss to sing in the movie Cold Mountain. The song received an Oscar nomination in 2004.

I last saw Ray Brown hauling his double bass across the lobby of the Benson Hotel, Portland, Oregon, on his way to a gig in May 2002. I hadn't seen him since a couple years after these sessions, when he had startled an audience of jazz buffs at "Ronnie Scott's" club in London by a giving a shout out to me from the bandstand.

We talked for a few minutes about a mutual friend, a former protégé of his, who since became my wife. We then went off to our respective shows. Two months later Ray passed away in his sleep after a game of golf. The next time I was at the Benson, in the autumn of the same year, I found a piano in my room and began writing the songs for the album North.

My favourite experience of working with some of the cast of this record came in 1987 at the taping of Roy Orbison's Black And White Night at the Coconut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles. T-Bone Burnett put together an impressive ensemble to faithfully re-create the almost symphonic arrangements of Roy's songs.

This little orchestra included a string section, guest musicians Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen, and a vocal group comprised of J.D. Souther, Steven Soles, Jennifer Warnes, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and k.d. lang. The rhythm section was the T.C.B. Band, including pianist Glen D. Hardin.

My role was that of utility player, covering parts on harmonica and using my elbows on the Vox Continental organ, as I'd seen John Lennon do on the film of the Shea Stadium concert. I played all of the acoustic guitar parts from sheet music. Roy's sole new number of the evening was my song "The Comedians," but I had the responsibility of kicking off the correct tempo for such classic numbers as "Running Scared" and "It's Over." I barely had time to consider that I was playing rhythm guitar in what had been Elvis Presley's band.

The filming ran from 7.00pm to 1.00am, but the results justified the long hours. After just a few hours' sleep the town was shaken awake by a major earthquake. The temperature rose to well over 100 degrees in the following days as the aftershocks continued. It didn't bother me too much. It would have been a decent way to go out.

— Elvis Costello, January 2005


King Of America liner notes (2005)

EC's liner notes for the 2005 Rhino / Edsel reissue of King Of America.


2005 King Of America liner notes 02 03.jpg
Liner notes pages 2 and 3. Photo by Greg Feick.


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