Wertheimer On RCA, PARTS 1 & 2
By Bob Pakes
The words Alfred Wertheimer and Elvis Presley have become synonymous with each other. Nowadays when we look at a 1956 photo of Elvis, more often than we realise, we are actually looking through the lens of Alfred Wertheimer. Of course, Wertheimer was not the only photographer who brought us iconic images of the young Elvis. But he has certainly set the standard with his amazing work.
Elvis was on the verge of becoming a cultural icon when RCA Victor asked a 26 year old Alfred Wertheimer to fill their empty files with pictures of this kid from Tupelo. Alfred had never heard of Elvis before but he took the job and travelled to New York where Elvis was to appear on The Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show (in March 1956). This is where Wertheimer met Elvis for the first time. Wertheimer described Elvis as “a quiet guy who permitted closeness” while he described himself as “a quiet fly on Elvis’ wall”. Two quiet guys who got along just fine.
In this article we will take a look at the classic RCA RECORD COVERS THAT FEATURED A WERTHEIMER PHOTO. We will start our chronological travels with Alfred Wertheimer on the date of his first assignment for RCA Victor: March 17, 1956.
(Wertheimer’s reflection can be seen in the award Elvis received for his first RCA Victor gold record)
Wertheimer On RCA, PART 1
Here we have the first Wertheimer photo that was used by RCA, and what an iconic shot this is! Elvis, with both feet off the ground, launching himself into stardom.
Elvis Presley (1956)
Note that on the uncropped photo, Scotty and Bill are fully in the frame and we can also see their faces. Yet, on the EP cover they have become shadow-like figures partly cut from the image. All focus was on Elvis, of course.
For the back-cover of this EP, another Wertheimer photo from the same day was used. This photo will come up in PART 2 of this article.
This (cropped) photo was used on a wide variety of very cool EP releases from around the globe. Most countries simply copied the USA artwork (in one way or another), but there were some interesting exceptions.
Elvis Presley, vol. 2 (1956)
RCA Spain’s art department went an extra mile to emphasise the explosive style of Elvis Presley by painting in what appear to be fireworks or shooting stars.
RCA Japan used the exact same cover as in the USA. However, this is a totally different EP with the combination of songs (including one track by Janis Martin) being unique to this release.
Rockin’ With Elvis, Volume II (1956)
RCA Belgium treated the fans to a two-volume release entitled Rockin’ With Elvis, both EP’s bearing the same coverphoto but the first in blue colours and the second in yellow.
This nowadays extremely rare EP set is the only release that shows all four musicians (including DJ Fontana).
ITALY EPA 30-091
Rip It Up (1957)
The most interesting thing about the South-African release is that this is actually their version of the Love Me Tender EP. It was re-released in 1962 with a new cat. number (EPC 052) and a purple instead of red frontcover.
In Italy, the USA artwork was chosen for an EP entitled Rip It Up, but as can be seen to the right there was no room for Scotty and Bill on this cover.
CHILE CML-3009 (10 inch LP)
Elvis Presley Y Su Conjunto (1956)
BRAZIL BKL-60 (LP)
Elvis Presley (1956)
The Chilean cover is actually a very nice drawing (though it would have been even nicer if the drawing had resembled Elvis!) and while Scotty and Bill are not in the picture, their instruments are there, which is a nice touch.
The Real Elvis (1956)
Only two months after EPA-830, RCA released EPA-940, and also this EP sported a Wertheimer photo from the same Dorsey Brothers Show.
In between the release of these EP’s, the single Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel (coming up later in ths article) was presented to the public, and once again a classic Wertheimer photo graced the cover.
Good Rockin’ Elvis (1957)
Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel (1962)
RCA Japan used a straight copy of the USA artwork for one of their Elvis EP’s, but as was the case with many Japanese pressings, different songs were used and a new title was given to the EP. A few years later the cover showed up once again for their Hound Dog re-release.
This Wertheimer photo (from the same Dorsey show) was used on a handful releases from around the world.
El Rock And Roll De Elvis Presley (1958)
Heartbreak Hotel (1956)
All Shook Up / That’s When Your Heartaches Begin (1957)
The Italian sleeve design was a standard cover for Italian 45’s and used for a whole bunch of the Elvis releases.
For the fourth and last Wertheimer-Dorsey cover, we have to travel to Spain. The style of artwork used for Elvis’ first Spanish single was common in those years, and it is clear the Spanish artist let himself be inspired by this photo.
Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel (1957)
Wertheimer On RCA, PART 2
The second time Wertheimer met with Elvis was on June 29 in New York City. Wertheimer would accompany Elvis on his travels (to Richmond, back to NY, and then to Memphis) for the next 6 days.
Before the comedy rehearsals for the upcoming Steve Allen Show started, Elvis sang gospels behind the piano. This is when the pic to the right was taken. Elvis cut Any Way You Want Me 3 days later.
Any Way You Want Me (1956)
The same artwork was also used for (one of) Chile’s Loving You EP’s (CME-130).
Something For Everybody (1961)
Five years after Wertheimer had shot it, RCA Japan preferred this photo over the commonly used one.
As part of a hectic schedule, Elvis did two shows in Richmond on June 30, before his group (including Wertheimer) headed back to New York in order to prepare for the infamous Steve Allen Show.
The photo to the right was taken during rehearsals and ended up on the cover of Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel. This single, rushed into the stores within 14 days of Elvis cutting the songs and Wertheimer shooting the photo, became Elvis’ biggest hit record.
Wertheimer was not the only photographer present during rehearsals and some of the photos that are circulating have been falsely credited to him. To the right in the photo, we can actually spot another photographer.
When first released on July 13th, Hound Dog was the leading song. But since both titles enjoyed a tremendous run on the charts, RCA decided to update the sleeve and make Don’t Be Cruel the leading tune.
BELOW: Two official letters from RCA to Colonel Parker.
The first letter mentions the cover change. The second deals with the commercial success of the single.
Elvis fans were not amused by what Steve Allen had done to their hero. The next day they gathered outside the RCA Studio (were Elvis was recording) armed with “We want the real Elvis!” signs. A month later RCA released The Real Elvis.
Next to the RCA record releases that showed a photo by Wertheimer, his work was also used for other purposes, such as magazine advertisements, record catalogues, and the sheet music for Hound Dog we see below to the right.
On this day a legendary recording session took place. The photos taken by Wertheimer have played a huge part in building this piece of rock ‘n roll history.
Not one single outtake from this session still exists today. But Wertheimer was there when Elvis went through 31 takes of Hound Dog, 28 takes of Don’t Be Cruel and 12 takes of Any Way You Want Me.
The mindblowing photos from this day (in color and b&w) show us exactly how Elvis At 21 worked: he was in control. A perfectionist. A rocker. An icon.
The photo to the right was used for the backcover of The Real Elvis.
The Real Elvis (1956)
Two songs by each of the five artists on this nowadays rare compilation album series (in the 10″ format) from Italy.
Kissin’ Cousins (1964)
This Wertheimer photo was used by RCA Argentina as the cover for four of their 45’s during the 1960’s. The borders of the three other titles were brown, green and grey.
(Please see Chris Giles’ comment below for more info)
Here we have another classic photo from the same session, taken while Elvis was listening to a playback of Hound Dog.
Love Me Tender / Anyway You Want Me (1957)
Any Way You Want Me (EPA-965) from September 1956, was the 3rd EP to sport a Wertheimer cover. It was also the last record that brought Wertheimer and Elvis together during Elvis’ lifetime. The fans had to wait until Rocker (in 1984) for another Wertheimer Elvis cover. In 1996 the photo to the right was used for the cover of the Heartbreak Hotel single that was released to promote the magnificent (and Wertheimer loaded!) ELVIS 56 LP.
In 1957, four Japanese 45’s were released with this photo on the cover. These covers came in two color variations.
Other titles released in this series:
SS-1001 Love Me / When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold
SS-1007 Don’t Be Cruel / I’ll Never Let You Go
Stay tuned for more WERTHEIMER ON RCA
SOON ON ECHOES!
All photographs presented in this article are copyrighted by ALFRED WERTHEIMER
Wertheimer’s work has been published in a number of amazing books, including a few publications by Ger Rijff. Wertheimer has set the standard for photographing Elvis, and Rijff has set the standard for presenting these photographs in the best possible way.
Please check out THIS interview with Wertheimer, especially because of the interaction with 3rd person Norman Reedus (photographer/actor, known for The Walking Dead). Wertheimer goes into meeting Elvis and becomming his ‘shadow’, and he talks in detail about how certain iconic Elvis photos were brought to life.