Since it was recently announced Elvis Costello was playing a North American tour with The Police this summer, I'd thought it would be a great time to go over Elvis' early career.
Elvis Costello was born Declan Patrick MacManus on the 25th of August, 1954, at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington in London, England. At sixteen, the only child of trumpeter, vocalist and bandleader Ronald "Ross" MacManus and record store manager Lillian MacManus, moved to Liverpool with his mom and finished high school there, completing his A Levels in English.
While Elvis was still a child, Ross was a featured vocalist with the Joe Loss Orchestra and would bring home acetate recordings to practice the latest pop tunes. From Rolling Stone article, Fathers & Sons: The Costellos:
Elvis: "Originally my dad was a bop player; the dance band that he (later) sang with was based on the Glenn Miller model, that swinging beat. They included the tunes from the hit parade in the set in the dance hall, and they did a radio broadcast every Friday - not just the ballads but the rocking stuff. I've got a recording of this orchestra playing Pink Floyd's "See Emily Play." Can you imagine? So we never had that generational divide. I had my dad literally coming home and learning the hit-parade tunes every week; there's a record called Ross MacManus Sings Frank Sinatra."
Ross: "We had a radio program in which we did all the hits live. So I might be Jim Reeves, or I might be Roy Orbison, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Elvis was listening to all this. The famous story about him is that his very first words were, "Skin, Mommy." He wanted "I've Got You Under My Skin," by Sinatra. That and Peggy Lee singing the "Siamese Cat Song." I think he was determined to succeed and knew he would succeed. He had perfect faith in himself. Dec used to go out and do shows when he was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. He developed bit by bit under his own steam."
In 1964, Ross wrote and recorded a bluebeat/ska song called "Patsy Girl" (HMV, POP 1279, credited to Ross McManus) which failed upon it's UK release, but later entered the Top 5 in Germany in July, 1966.
What causes this tune to be particularity ironic was Elvis' quote about The Police's lead singer: "Somebody should clip Sting around the head and tell him to stop using that ridiculous Jamaican accent."
Ross McManus & The Joe Loss Blue Beats: Patsy Girl - 2.26MB
Here's a short interview with Elvis on his father's music career:
Elvis Costello: Elvis On Father - 1.79MB
In 1970, Elvis started performing his own compositions in London folk clubs. Two years later, he played with the band Rusty and in 1974, joined Flip City, a band that made it's mark playing the burgeoning UK Pub Rock scene. It was then that he married his first wife, Mary Burgoyne, who had chose the group's name from an expression comedians Cheech and Chong used on a Joni Mitchell cover of the old Annie Ross tune, Twisted. Here's a great website that has mp3s, pics, set lists and a biography of the band - Flip City: The True Story.
Flip City: Imagination (Is A Powerful Deceiver) - 5.43MB
Flip City folded in 1975 and Elvis went back to playing solo gigs billed as DP Costello (Costello being the maiden name of his paternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Costello). Having to provide for his young family, Costello took a job as a computer operator for the Elizabeth Arden factory in Wales Farm Road, Acton where he used his free time to write songs and map out his music career. In his bedroom, he recorded a bare-bones demo tape, featuring just vocals and acoustic guitar, which he shopped around to various record companies with little success. He also forwarded his tape to Charlie Gillett, who featured recordings of new artists on his BBC radio show. Gillett thought highly of the songs and considered producing an album himself if funding could be obtained.
The Bedroom Demos
Elvis: "Despite the presence of familiar titles and lyrics which re-appear in later compositions, this group of songs are in a radically different style to those on My Aim Is True. With hindsight, I must confess that I am uneasy with my blatant imitation of certain American singers and songwriters. However, to be truthful I learned a great deal from trying (and failing) to copy such artists as Randy Newman, Hoagy Carmichael, Lowell George, John Prine and The Band. Even though some of these names became unfashionable in 1976 and I abandoned this particular borrowed style in favor of the more direct sound of My Aim Is True, I hope the listener will be amused one way or another by these steps in my apprenticeship."
Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance - 3.71MB
Elvis Costello: Cheap Reward - 3.68MB
Elvis Costello: Jump Up - 3.40MB
Elvis Costello: Wave A White Flag - 3.04MB
Elvis Costello: Blame It On Cain - 5.72MB
Elvis Costello: Poison Moon - 3.03MB
During 1976, Stiff Records placed an ad in the UK music press asking for demo tapes. Elvis dropped off his at the Stiff office, as soon as staff producer Nick Lowe heard it, Costello was signed. It took seven years, but now Elvis was an overnight sensation.
Later - a wicked live show from Costello's peak period. In my opinion, his greatest one ever. Stay tuned...