A recently unearthed recording written for the rocumentary, “This Is Elvis,” in 1981, features the voices of the
Myrna Smith (of the Sweet Inspirations) and Carl Wilson (of The Beach Boys). Smith recorded and collaborated on both of Wilson’s solo albums. Myrna and Carl also collaborated on what could have been the title track for the documentary (of the same name), “This Is Elvis.”
I was able to talk with Chris Cameron, the collector who uncovered the lost recording, and Jerry Schilling who was there during the time of the recording, but until now, had completely forgotten about the song.
What can you tell us about the previously unreleased “This Is Elvis”?
Chris Cameron: I have long been a collector of music memorabilia and earlier this year had the opportunity to obtain a number of items from the estate of Myrna Smith, founding member of the Sweet Inspirations. Of all of the items purchased, the most special and mysterious was a 2” master tape simply identified as, “This Is Elvis” and bearing the names, Jerry Schilling, Carl Wilson and “Myrna.” I brought the Scotch 3M tape box to the legendary Hit Factory / Criteria Sound in Miami; dubbed “Atlantic South” in the 1960’s and home to where The Eagles, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, and The Bee Gees recorded some of their most famous albums.
After having the tape “baked” (which temporarily helped to restore it so that it could be safely copied) and transferred to high speed CD, my Engineer Sam Allison played the disc back for me in Criteria’s main Studio A.
I held my breath when I asked Sam if you could hear a man’s voice on the recording. After confirming you could, with a smile Sam pressed play. I was absolutely blown away to hear Carl’s voice, “Are you rolling Bill?” I felt transported back to the studio that day in 1981. Carl’s lush guitar work and Myrna’s deeply personal lyrics about her dear friend brought them both back to life for me.
Looking for historical information about the song, and to confirm beyond a doubt that it was in fact Carl singing and playing with Myrna, I contacted Jonah and Justyn Wilson through the Carl Wilson Foundation. Within a few days I was thrilled to hear back from Billy Hinsche! I was again taken by surprise when Billy not only confirmed that it was Carl on the recording but told me that the family was unaware this recording even existed. Billy and I discussed what we should do with this historic reel and felt strongly that this was Myrna and Carl’s music and should be for their fans. I happily offered the tape back to the Wilson family with all proceeds earned to benefit the foundation.
With Billy’s encouragement, I then brought the master to my good friend and former bandmate Dave Ingham (from Boston’s O Positive fame) and we went to work mixing the song. We gave Billy a few different versions with more and less effects while staying as true to the artists’ original recording as possible. It was amazing to discover a second background vocal of Myrna’s underneath her lead track which was inaudible in the initial rough mix. Carl’s chair can be heard creaking in the background and was unable to be filtered out which just seems to add to the live nature of this historic piece. Billy later confirmed that it was Jerry Schilling’s voice heard at the end of the third and final take announcing from the sound booth, “that was it!”
Difficult to describe, it was truly profound to have the opportunity to produce a Carl Wilson and Myna Smith session. As Billy wrote, “Justyn Wilson was particularly moved at hearing the sound of his father's voice.” It doesn’t get any better than that!
Jerry Schilling: The reason for the recording of “This Is Elvis,” is: I was the consultant back then for a feature documentary called, “This Is Elvis,” with David Wolper, Andrew Solt and Malcolm Leo in 1981. I was pretty involved in the whole film.
Carl and Myrna were up at Caribou Ranch working on his first solo album. Carl was just doing a solo album like Dennis did. He was still performing as a Beach Boy at that time. It was a year and a half later when he left for a year. Myrna Smith-Schilling was my wife at the time; she did 90+% of all the lyrics of Carl Wilson (the first album).
I went up to Caribou just to check out how everything was going. I mentioned to them – because I was doing the film at the same time – I’m looking for a theme song for this project that is titled, “This Is Elvis.” If you guys have any ideas and want to do a demo, we might could use it. Myrna wrote the lyrics, Carl wrote the music, and the two of them just recorded a demo of it. Warner Brothers’ publicity department felt the title track should be an Elvis song. I totally forgot about it, because it was 30 some years ago.
Then, a few months ago, Billy Hinsche called me and said, “Jerry, do you know about this song that Carl and Myrna did called, ‘This Is Elvis’?” I said, “No.” I had completely forgotten about it. He said, “Well, I have a copy, and it’s your voice at the end of it saying, ‘That’s the one’.” I said, “Send it to me Billy.” Once I heard it I remembered the whole story.
The song is on the order of “Heaven,” and it tells who Elvis was…the lyrics and the music. It’s simple, it’s sweet, and it’s deep. It’s emotional to talk about it, because all three of these people – who were so close to me in my life – are all gone. But boy, this is a great piece of all of their music left behind honoring Elvis, and done by Carl and Myrna.
I was in Los Angeles, getting ready to fly out to New York with the Beach Boys when I got the news that Elvis had passed away, so I went to Memphis and I was a pallbearer. As you could imagine it was insane! Thousands of people! After that Tom Hulett called me and said, “Jerry, don’t worry about anything, I’ll have my staff take care of the guys until you get back.” After the funeral, Carl and Annie asked me to come over to their hotel. I went over, put my luggage down, sat down, and Carl said, “How are you doing?” And it dawned on me at that moment that I would never see Elvis again, and I went to pieces. It was Carl and Annie that really helped me through that. When Elvis passed away, Carl was quoted as saying, “Elvis had a voice of an angel,” which is amazing because Carl had the voice of an angel.
Carl had a great love of Elvis, and after he passed, Carl went back to Memphis and spent time with Vernon. Vernon wasn’t seeing anybody, and Carl asked me to ask Mr. Presley if he could come by and say hello. I called Vernon and said, “Mr. Presley, I have a dear friend, and he would like to come by and say hello,” and he said, “If you want me to, yes.” Carl ended up spending a day at their home.
After Elvis, Carl was my closest friend.
©2015 David Beard / All rights reserved
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