Lincoln Wayne "Chips" Moman

The death of famed Memphis producer Lincoln Wayne “Chips” Moman, sent me scurrying off to listen to some Elvis records. Moman was a producer, songwriter, engineer and the man who capped Elvis’ short career revival that followed the 1968 Comeback Special. While he produced “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” for Willie Nelson, produced the later Box Tops recordings and wrote or co-wrote a pack of great tunes including “Luckenbach, Texas” (Waylon Jennings), “The Dark End of the Street” (James Carr) and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” (Aretha Franklin), it’s the sessions he ran in 1969 with Elvis Presley at his American Sound Studios in Memphis that remain his most famous achievement.

They’re arguably the best recordings Elvis ever made—after the early Sun records. They also mark the only time in Elvis’ recording career that he stood up and defied his manager Tom Parker. Finally, they represent the last time Elvis had a hit single. “In the Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Daddy Don’t Cry” and “Kentucky Rain” all hits, come from the Memphis sessions as does “Stranger in My Own Home Town” and “Any Day Now” which should have been hits.

Everything recorded there was loose and funky and quite unlike the by then increasingly hard-to-listen-to movie soundtracks. Studio cats like electric guitarist Reggie Young, organist Bobby Emmons, bassists Tommy Cogbill and Mike Leech and drummer Gene Christman played with inspiration and verve. And Glen Spreen’s horn and string arrangements were the icing on these landmark recordings. And the sound, while too gutbucket for some, ideally suits the material and has grown more detailed and vivid thanks to a 1999 remastering

Like much of Elvis’ recording catalog, the fruits of the Memphis sessions were scattered across a number of LPs and later, CDs. Most of the results of the Moman/American Sound sessions were originally released on a pair of LPs, From Elvis in Memphis and Back in Memphis. The biggest hit, “Suspicious Minds” was only released as a single at first and is not on either LP. It first appeared on the awkwardly-titled live record, From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis. It can also be found on the double LP set, 1969: Year in Review, which has the bulk of the recordings made during the Moman sessions and the 2 disc CD collection, Suspicious Minds, The Memphis 1969 Anthology which contains a full disc of 24 alternate takes.

Unlike the cutesy, humdrum movie soundtracks, the music recorded by Moman and Elvis in Memphis had some connection to what was actually going on musically in 1969. The reason why is that the material cut in those sessions did not all belong to Hill & Range publishing. From the mid-1950s 'til well into the '70s, Elvis only recorded tracks from the Hill & Range catalog because he and Tom Parker got a cut of the publishing rights. Trouble was that by 1969 all the gems from that catalog had been combed out and recorded and only the dregs were left. Happily, Elvis made the decision, without Parker’s input, to cut tracks from outside the Hill & Range deal. With “Suspicious Minds,” for example, which had been written by singer/songwriter Mark James, Elvis and Parker, despite attempts to be cut in, received nothing in publishing royalties. And yet because the material was fresh, the albums sold. “Suspicious Minds” became Elvis 18th and last number one single and his career, if only briefly, became relevant again.

It leaves you to wonder what might have happened had Elvis had the courage to follow his artistic instincts rather than settle for a life of buying things, abusing painkillers and allowing money to make him indolent. But in 1969, the King spent a minute being ascendant once again, thanks to the material, being in excellent voice, and Chips Moman and his crew of studio musicians.

Another true musical legend has passed.The toll of 2016 marches on.

Jackblues's picture

Mr. Baird thank you for this article. Chips Moman was one of the few
that actually directed Elvis during a recording session. Elvis listened and brought everything he had at those sessions. Those resulting albums are a must have for any music enthusiast.

The one argument I'd have with the article would be that it wasn't
accurate to say that the material produced from those sessions was
Elvis' last run at the charts. Just one example would be "Burning
Love" released in 1972 which hit number one on Cashbox, and number
two on Billboard. And it's also discounting Elvis' move to the Country
Charts. Which he had numerous hits until and after his death.


Bill Leebens's picture

Chips' American Sound studios did do the best Elvis records post-Sam Phillips, but Chips and company produced far more than that.

The Box Tops' "The Letter", all the Sam the Sham songs, Neil Diamond's only listenable records, Dusty Springfield, many, many great artists did fabulous work there.

Years after Chips moved on, I was able to go through American, just before the building was supposed to be bulldozed. I was broke as usual, or I could have purchased Neumann mikes used by the King, and all the monitoring system. It still makes my stomach hurt.

partain's picture

Chips and I grew up in LaGrange Ga at slightly different times , I never heard of him until 10 years ago , or so. This was a monumental fail on my part , I thought I was the go-to guy on musical issues ( excepting , sadly , actually making it ).
I did not know he had died . RIP, Chips.

Elvis4Ever's picture

Arguably the best since the Sun recordings? Sorry, that is laughable, and could only be suggested by someone who may have read some general entries about Elvis but has little idea about his actual musical achievements. "In the Ghetto"? "Don't Cry Daddy"? Please, pleaze! This isn't Elvis. Have you listened to Paralyzed, Love Me, I Was the One, Playing for Keeps, King Creole, Trouble, One Night, Money Honey, not to mention his massive hits like Don't Be Cruel, All Shook Up, Jailhouse Rock, and countless others after the Sun Sessions?.I have listened to Elvis for close to 60 years, saw him in concert in 69 and believe me, Elvis in 69, the year of From Elvis to Memphis is a washed out, overproduced, propped up imitation of the real thing.

This was clear even when watching the 68 Comeback Special. Yes, he looked good, but his voice couldn't remotely match the original versions of a range of songs he performed. Not only my opinion. I conducted the last in-depth interview with Sam Phillips at his home in Memphis before he died. He agreed completely. "No question about it, " he said about my assessment of the decline of his vocals and forced mannerisms. Get real. This is a footnote to Elvis' standing as the King of Rock an Roll, hardly worth anyone's time who wants to get deeply into his unique contribution to American music.