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Dec. 14: OK, the only thing country about this nearly 50-year-old record is its sittin’-around-the-parlor sound. What’s not country are its origins (a pop song from the late ’40s, recorded by the Golden Gate Quartet, a key black gospel vocal group) … its singer (Elvis may have started out as the Hillbilly Cat, but he’d moved far from his country roots) … its medium (on only an album, although the album in question is arguably the best single collection of songs Elvis Presley ever made) … its promotion (that album, Elvis Is Back!, was intended not for the screaming teens of the pre-Army Presley, but their pop-leaning older sisters and their parents).

But there is that sound, provided by Elvis’ voice and prominent acoustic guitar, by gentle Floyd Cramer piano, and by the background stylings of the Jordanaires. Oh, and by the guy who’s singing close harmony with Elvis throughout. That’s Charlie Hodge, who would have been 75 years old today. It’s his first of several appearances on record with his Army buddy Elvis.

Any thought that Hodge was just part of the entourage — “the guy who hands me my scarves,” Elvis used to say during on-stage intros in the 1970s — is wrong. The one-time gospel singer had influences that mirrored Presley’s, and he helped the star get through a couple of key periods of musical struggle: his late-’50s Army hitch, when Elvis wondered if he’d have a career to return to, and his mid-’60s doldrums, when making formulaic movies and their insipid soundtracks sapped the creativity and the desire of the once and future King. Hodge introduced Elvis to this number, and it was committed to tape around dawn on April 4, 1960, near the end of a marathon session aimed at completing that all-important album.

All that was said to say all this: Happy birthday to the late Charlie Hodge, a faithful muse to Elvis Presley and the man responsible for at least one of the future Country Music Hall of Famer‘s more country-sounding efforts.

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