Elvis Presley played a Native American rodeo rider in the Western comedy “Stay Away, Joe,” which was filmed in Cottonwood and Sedona in 1967.
Joanna Dodder Nellans
The Daily Courier
A documentary film that's now in the works will take viewers on a cross-country search for a long-lost recording that Elvis Presley created just for the people of the Verde Valley.
The film also will explore the story behind the LP's creation.
Elvis enjoyed the hospitality of the Verde Valley while filming "Stay Away, Joe" in 1967 so much that he wanted to thank locals in a special way. The western comedy features Elvis as a Navajo rodeo bull rider.
In a gesture never made before and never repeated for the rest of his life, Elvis recorded an album for the singular purpose of thanking the folks of Cottonwood and Sedona for their kindnesses to him, his friends, and the film's cast and crew.
Just one copy was pressed. It was broadcast only once, on the local KVIO radio station. And then the LP vanished. The principals involved in the recording have passed away, leaving more questions than answers.
Karin Kwiatkowski and her daughter Abby are producing and directing the documentary, and they're looking to the public to help find the answers.
"To our surprise, it turns out that there's quite an Elvis underground in northern Arizona," Karin Kwiatkowski said.
They launched a Facebook page called "Elvis in Cottonwood" where people can record their memories of meeting or seeing Elvis in Yavapai County. They're also hoping to find people who shot photos or home movies.
The moviemakers are using an IndieGoGo crowd funding campaign to raise money for the documentary. It's called "Elvis: One of the Greatest Records Never Sold." It will be expensive to buy the rights to use Elvis images for the movie, the Kwiatkowskis explained.
"We're including a tour of locations from 'Stay Away, Joe' led by a local historian as a perk for donations," Karin Kwiatkowski said. "We're also in discussion with the owners of a local establishment for an Elvis night featuring a contest for Elvis impersonators and screenings of 'Stay Away, Joe.'"
One of their confirmed documentary interviews will be with 'Mr. Music' Jerry Osborne, who lived in Prescott in the 1970s.
"Unbelievable though it seems, this 12-inch album was made for a one-time broadcast by only one radio station: KVIO in Cottonwood, Arizona," Osborne told the Kwiatkowskis.
Osborne said the Prescott Daily Courier's Claudette Simpson wrote a great piece about him on June 16, 1978 about an Elvis tribute album he produced after Elvis's death the previous year. It was a "picture album" featuring a color image of Elvis pressed into the vinyl - the first color image pressed into an LP anywhere in the world. Billboard did a cover story about the album after the Prescott Daily Courier article.
While the songs on the lost 'Stay Away, Joe' LP were not unique, and Elvis recorded a different 'Stay Away, Joe' album featuring songs from the movie, the lost LP included unique thank-you messages from Elvis and Colonel Parker that were read by DJ Joe Adams of KVIO in Cottonwood.
The LP vanished and wasn't even catalogued until 1999, and it was catalogued incorrectly. Hard to believe for a legend who sold one billion albums.
The Kwiatkowskis previously created 'The Stopwatch Gang' about an infamous gang of robbers who hid out in Oak Creek Canyon north of Sedona.
Both ideas from the local documentaries came from Karin's brother, Mark Rownd of Sedona.
"My brother is amazing at unearthing stories no one has ever heard of and then telling us, 'Hey, you should make a film about this!'" Karin Kwiatkowski said.