Ben Weisman (November 16, 1921 – May 20, 2007) was an eccentric American composer significant for having written more songs recorded by Elvis Presley (fifty seven) than any other songwriter in history. The "Mad Professor" as Weisman was nicknamed by Elvis, worked with the King from 1956 ("First in Line") to 1971 ("Change of Habit"). Their early association (1957–62) produced many of the most powerful rockers and poignant ballads in Presley's repertoire, including "Got a Lot o' Livin' to Do", "Follow That Dream", "Rock-A-Hula Baby", "Crawfish", "As Long As I Have You", "Pocketful of Rainbows" and "Fame And Fortune".
In recent years, covers and remixes of Weisman classics have been worldwide hits once again. "Rubberneckin' (Stop, Look and Listen)'" remixed by Paul Oakenfold was a #1 Dance Chart smash in 20 countries and was featured in the films "The Game Plan" and "Fred Clause." Weisman's "Got A Lot 'O Livin' To Do" is featured in Cirque du Soleil's "Viva Elvis" live show and upcoming 3-D motion picture.
Weisman's compositions continue to be re-interpreted with vigor and imagination by such iconic contemporary artists as Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, The Cramps, Nick Cave, Junior Brown, the Yellow Magic Orchestra, k.d. lang, The Pogues, Johnny Thunders and The Blackeyed Susans.
Since Weisman's outward appearance was atypical for a "rock 'n' roll guy", Elvis' nickname for him was "the mad professor." All within ear shot also understood that Elvis was playing off the fact that Weisman was a "mad professor" of music and composition. Weisman's recorded compositions number nearly 400 songs and his published songs exceed 1000 titles. Weisman's songs have sold over 100 million album units.
These songs have been recorded by many musical legends including, the Beatles, Dean Martin, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Vaughan, Ernest Tubb, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Conway Twitty, Dusty Springfield, Woody Herman, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Carl Perkins, Herman and the Hermits, The Carpenters, Billy Eckstein, The Statler Brothers, Reba McEntire, Hank Snow, The Moonglows, Cass Elliot, Vic Damone, Lionel Hampton, and Dionne Warwick.
At Weisman's last social gathering with "The King", Elvis proudly announced to the crowd that he had recorded more of Ben's songs than those of any other songwriter.
Weisman quote, "Elvis invited me to come to one of those wild parties, you know, the last evening of the season in crazy Vegas. I went upstairs and Elvis grabbed me, stood me up in front of the crowd and announced, "I want you all to meet Ben Weisman. The man who has written more songs for me than any other writer - 57! I want to hear it for this man".
" There was a big applause, then he took me over to the piano. It was just me and him. Elvis wasn't looking too good. His eyes were puffy and he'd gotten very, very heavy. He said to me, 'Ben, there's a song I love called "Softly As I Leave You".'" Indeed, I knew it well, one of those ballads that just about everyone had a crack at in the sixties."
"After he sang his heart out Elvis said, 'This is not a song about a man who's leaving his girlfriend. It's a song about a man who is going to die.'
I didn't know what to say, but I knew there was trouble coming. As Elvis held my arm, I could feel his hand shaking. It made me feel as though mine was shaking, too. And that was the last time I saw him."
After Presley's death Weisman composed the symphonic tribute, "The Elvis Concerto," to honor the musical partner whom he shared so many artistic achievements that were also commercial successes. After performing a worldwide tour of the concerto, Weisman, with Elvis gone, retired from public life and wrote very little music thereafter.
'I approached writing for Elvis differently than I did for any other artist. Elvis challenged my imagination. The songs had to have a combination of blues, country, rock and pop, sometimes gospel or swamp boogie, you name it. I lived my creative life walking in his musical shoes. And what shoes they were! Elvis had so much spirit. Beyond compare really. Elvis was a transformer, a rebel, like a meteorite, someone who only comes along once every few hundred years. He had that level of magnetism. Astonishing to be a part of it! And to write for him, to try and express what I knew his was going through as a man, throughout that whole journey. I feel very lucky.'
Ben Weisman, "the mad professor," died in 2007 in Los Angeles, California, surrounded by friends and family.
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