'Elvis' movie: Nashville producer Dave Cobb on recreating 'the history of rock and roll'

·3 min read

For Baz Luhrmann's massive new biopic "Elvis," Nashville producer Dave Cobb was tasked with recreating some of The King's most legendary songs from scratch.

The goal was to have moviegoers feel as if they were in the audience or the recording studio when Presley brought classics like "Hound Dog" and "Trouble" to life.

Sound like a tall order? If only it were that simple.

"This wasn't just doing Elvis," Cobb tells The Tennessean. "This was doing the history of rock and roll, and gospel music, and folk and blues and church music. And it's all coming together to form who Elvis was, and how he got his voice."

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Music producer Dave Cobb became producer in residence of RCA Studio A in April 2016, the same studio built by the legendary Chet Atkins, Owen Bradley and Harold Bradley.  Cobb already has experience inside Studio A, where he produced Chris Stapleton’s CMA-winning album “Traveller,” which has been a surprising commercial success.
Music producer Dave Cobb became producer in residence of RCA Studio A in April 2016, the same studio built by the legendary Chet Atkins, Owen Bradley and Harold Bradley. Cobb already has experience inside Studio A, where he produced Chris Stapleton’s CMA-winning album “Traveller,” which has been a surprising commercial success.

Luckily, this may have been the role Cobb was born to play.

The go-to producer for Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, and Jason Isbell broke big in the film world with his work on 2018's "A Star Is Born." Soon after its success, he met with Luhrmann in Los Angeles and immediately hit it off.

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The director told Cobb how "Elvis" wouldn't just shine a spotlight on Presley, but feature the many rock and roll originators that inspired him. They'd be recreating their songs, too, and Cobb was tasked with helping find the right voices.

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Austin Butler in a scene from "Elvis." (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP) ORG XMIT: NYET104
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Austin Butler in a scene from "Elvis." (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP) ORG XMIT: NYET104

"There's Little Richard. There's Ruth Brown. There's Arthur Crudup. There's Sister Rosetta Tharpe," Cobb explains "...I got really excited and started making calls to people I thought were really talented."

In the fall of 2019, Luhrmann, his team, and "Elvis" star Austin Butler joined Cobb and his talented friends in Nashville at RCA Studio A. Call it fate that Cobb runs the historic studio where Presley once recorded (though he spent far more time in Studio B).

The recording sessions went so well, that they turned into casting sessions.

Americana phenom Yola had been brought into record Tharpe's "Strange Things Happening Every Day," and Luhrmann was so taken with her feisty performance, that he cast her as Tharpe in the film.

It was a similar story with Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Shannon Sanders. He was first recruited to conduct the choir in the studio and ended up playing a tent revival priest in a formative scene for the young Presley.

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Nashville soul vocalist Shonka Dukureh is already proving to be one of the film's breakout stars. She was singled out from the studio choir to portray Big Mama Thornton in the film and is featured on a collaborative track with Doja Cat for the contemporary soundtrack. Dukureh even joined the pop/rap superstar to perform the song at Coachella this past April.

Shonka Dukureh as Big Mama Thornton in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “Elvis."
Shonka Dukureh as Big Mama Thornton in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “Elvis."

And then, of course, there's Butler, who's already floored the public with his version of The King (see the raw footage Luhrmann shared on social media of the 30-year-old singing "That's All Right, Mama" live). Cobb was thoroughly convinced during Butler's time in Music City.

"Nailing Elvis is next to impossible. He did such an amazing, brilliant job."

Cobb is also quick to praise the rest of the "Elvis" music team: Composers Elliott Wheeler and Jamieson Shaw, and music supervisor/producer Anton Monsted, who collaborated — sometimes across continents — to bring this American epic to life.

"It was such a beautiful thing to see people that had not met just immediately connect, bond, and interact," he says. "I think you hear that joy in the music."

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: 'Elvis' movie: Nashville producer Dave Cobb on recreating rock history