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Company sells slicesof 1950s Elvis recording

Two-inch snips of tape sold for $495
/ Source: The Associated Press

A New Jersey company is offering Elvis Presley fans a chance to buy what it says is a slice of history.

And it really means a slice — 2-inch snips of a tape reel featuring some of the King’s earliest recordings.

“This is a piece of the history,” said Tony Bongiovi, an engineer and record producer involved with trying to authenticate the reel. “Here’s a chance to get something that nobody has.”

At a news conference at a recording studio in Manhattan on Tuesday, Michael Esposito, president of Bloomfield, N.J.-based Master Tape Collection, showed reporters and guests the reel of tape, which was purchased at an auction in Tennessee in 1992. He cut off a 2-inch section, meant to be put in a plaque and presented to Presley’s estate.

On the reel are recordings of the first songs a then-unknown Presley put together in a studio in the early 1950s. They’re known as the “Sun Sessions,” a series of songs released by Sun records before Presley moved to a major label.

The reel is in bad condition and could barely be played. Copies have been made of what was recorded on it. Bongiovi said he doubted the original could be heard again without falling apart.

“Within the next 10 years, no matter what kind of technology is available, this tape will never, ever be able to be played,” he said.

Tested for authenticityFaced with that deterioration, Esposito decided to offer it to Presley fans. Those who are willing to pay $495 can get a 2-inch cutting of the tape preserved in a plaque. The tape had not been unspooled to determine how many cuttings could be made.

Elvis Presley Enterprises has given a license to the project.

Esposito said cuttings would be made only in response to the demand from fans and each piece would be notarized and registered.

The songs have all been released, and RCA Records, which controls all Presley recordings, says it has the existing original tapes of those sessions and won’t comment further. But Esposito says his reel is a master, perhaps one of nine that were supposed to have been destroyed in the late 1950s.

After his company, which looks for master tapes from artists to reissue their music, got the reel and realized what it could be, it tried to have it authenticated by Sam Phillips, the producer of the Sun sessions. But Phillips died without looking at it, and the task fell to Bongiovi.

Bongiovi tested the tape for 20 hours and said he was convinced of its authenticity after comparisons with the existing versions of the songs. He played a piece of the released version of “That’s All Right” for reporters, then the same song from the reel, which doesn’t have all sound effects that the released version has. He said that showed the reel has the original recording, which was then augmented for public release.

He also played an excerpt of a conversation in which Presley, Phillips and others in the studio discuss a track.