Monthly Archives: January 2008

The Evolution of Elvis Tribute — Part 2

Back at Elvis Week 2002, the best entertainment values in town were the two Elvis Midnight Blues Jams at the Daisy Theater on Beale Street.  These were totally misnamed, because there was no blues music performed at either show.  It didn’t matter.  They were so much fun, anyway. 

For three nights in a row that year, Publisher Darwin Lamm put on prime-time concerts with big name entertainment at the Peabody Hotel.  If that wasn’t enough for you, you could walk a couple of blocks down to the Daisy Theater and catch his budget late show for very little.  $15, I think.  The first two nights were the blues jams, and the last night was an Elvis Gospel fest.  I skipped the Gospel show.  Instead, I helped close down BB King’s club, dancing with Arleen from Canada and Kathy from Japan until 2AM.

The Daisy may have been a nice, quaint little theater in its heyday, but in 2002, it was a dive.  There were probably only forty people in the seats, not near enough to drink up all the beer they had for sale in those coolers at the head of the center aisle.  In retrospect, this was the perfect venue for the shows that Darwin put on.  He didn’t take in much revenue, and he didn’t pay much for the acts. 

The one exception may have been the live band.  Those guys were good and probably didn’t come cheap.  The MC was an Italian guy from New York who also did a Blues Brothers bit with another singer.  Joe Esposito and Charlie Hodge came up on stage and talked to Darwin and did some good-natured kidding with each other.  A long-haired hippy-looking guy named Julio sang five Elvis songs, backed by only his own acoustic guitar.  He was surprisingly good.

There was also a fabulous group of ladies called The Gracelanders who did dance routines to two Elvis songs.  They wore white jumpsuits, black Elvis wigs, and the signature sunglasses.  But the best part was that these were all big women, some probably pushing 200 pounds.  They were so energetic and having so much fun, that they won over the audience and got huge applause.  Do you remember the tutu-wearing hippos that danced in Disney’s Fantasia?  That’s what popped into my mind as I watched them.

Of course, a midnight Elvis show needs tribute artists, and there were lots of them at the Daisy those three nights.  One bit I remember was two ETAs on the stage at the same time.  One was Ryan Pelton, dressed as the 50s Elvis, and the other was Shawn Klush, who wore a white jumpsuit.  I don’t remember what they sang, but I do remember thinking, “These two guys are pretty good.”

Fast-forward 5-1/2 years to the present.   The Elvis Birthday Tour 2008 has recently completed seven concerts in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky.  The venues held as many as 3500 people, and tickets cost $36 and $50.  Significant revenue, and significant payouts to the performers, I am sure.  Well, it turns out that two of the three headliner ETAs were Ryan Pelton and Shawn Klush.  Shawn was still doing the 70’s Elvis in jumpsuits, but Ryan was now 60s movies/Comeback Special Elvis.  A younger performer, Donny Edwards, invoked the King’s rock-a-billy and early Rock & Roll days.

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RYAN PELTON

My friend Jim Lane attended one of the Elvis Birthday Tour 2008 shows, and he wrote me a detailed review of it.  Last week we looked at his impressions of Donny Edwards and Ryan Pelton.  Let’s look at the final act  — Shawn Klush.

Jim wrote, “The set began with a film of Shawn Klush, looking like a dead ringer of Elvis, boarding a helicopter at Graceland.”  This, of course, was previously used as a lead-in to Elvis 35th Anniversary Concert last August 16 in Memphis.  If Shawn was smart enough to negotiate rights from EPE to reuse this video that they financed, he gets kudos as a businessman, as well as an entertainer.  What a superb addition to an Elvis tribute show.

My friend continued, “Then, with music from “2001:  A Space Odyssey” filling the auditorium, Shawn came down the aisle and leaped on the stage.”  Now, that is a grand entrance.  I don’t think Elvis ever entered like that, but it certainly is a nice touch.

“He was in fine voice and wowed the crowd.”  Shawn has been like that every time I’ve seen him.  “His manager furnished him with an endless supply of scarves presented with a kiss to the many women who rushed the stage.”  I promise you, every woman who came back from the stage was absolutely thrilled.  “He ended, not surprisingly, with “An American Trilogy.  By the end of the song, with the image of the American flag behind the performers, most people were standing, many with moist eyes.”  So, I ask you, how good of a job is Shawn doing to recreate the Elvis experience, if he can bring the fans to tears?

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SHAWN KLUSH

Jim had a final thought on the entire show: “All three were more than derivitive and had unique personalities.  While honoring the past, they exuded an aura of youthful exuberance.  On one level, it’s somewhat hard to believe that fans would get so excited over tribute artists.”

No, it’s not, Jim.  Not for the really good ones.

©  2008   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.elvisblog.net

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The Evolution of Elvis Tribute — Part 1

One of my favorite events at the Collingwood (Ontario) Elvis Festival is the Street Party.  It’s free, it lasts over eight hours, and you can bring your own food and beverage of choice.  There’s a big stage, a monster sound system, and a great eight-piece band that seems to know every song Elvis ever recorded.  Over 100 performers each sing one Elvis song, so you get to see both the good and the bad in Elvis Tribute Artists (ETAs).  However, on the last night of the festival, they have the finals competitions, and in the professional category you see nothing but the really good ones.

During Elvis Week 2007, the finals of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest moved the bar even higher.  As a result, I think we have reached a new era for traveling Elvis Tribute Artist shows.  Jim Lane, a friend of mine, recently attended the Elvis Birthday Tour 2008, and he sent me an article he wrote about it.  I’d like to share excerpts of it here, and comment on a few things.

Jim started out, “Merrillville, Indiana, was the place to be on Saturday, January 5 for approximately 3,000 fans attending the Elvis Birthday Tour 2008, third stop on a seven-city tour.”  Merrillville sounds like a sleepy little town lucky to have 3,000 residents total, but it is in the greater Chicago area, and lots of folks live nearby.  Notice the name of the show:  Elvis Birthday Tour 2008.  The usual catch words for ETA shows were missing.  No “Salute to Elvis,” or “Tribute to Elvis,” or “Memories of Elvis.”  The shows were all of these things, of course, but the marketing pitch was different.  I’m willing to bet we will see Elvis Birthday Tours in 2009, 2010, and beyond.

The attendance count of 3,000 is notable as well.  Tickets went for $36 and $50, so folks had to be confident of a first-class show before deciding to plunk down that kind of money.  Jim’s next sentence shows why that was such an easy choice:  “Backed by the Fabulous Ambassador Band and with special guests drummer DJ Fontana and the soulful harmony group the Sweet Inspirations, the evening’s entertainment features three of the best Elvis Tribute Artists in the business, Donny Edwards, Ryan Pelton, and Shawn Klush.” 

It wasn’t just Jim’s opinion that these are three of the best ETAs.  A growing number of Elvis fans around the country have learned of the accomplishments of these three.  Donny Edwards is the 2006 and 2007 “Tribute to the King” Grand Champion.  Ryan Pelton is a former “Images of Elvis” winner.  Shawn Klush was the recent winner of both the “Worlds Greatest Elvis “ competition in Britain and the “Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist” contest at Elvis Week 2007.  Big names pulling big crowds in seven cities.  Other stops included Skokie, IL (1/3), Aurora, IL (1/4), Cleveland (1/6), Indianapolis (1/11), Cincinnati (1/12), and Louisville (1/13).

I think it is also significant that the show included DJ Fontana and The Sweet Inspirations.  Elvis’ original drummer and his 70s vocal backing group wouldn’t add their talents to anything but outstanding tribute shows.

Back to my friend’s observations: “Starting with a widescreen collage of boyhood photos and performance shots of the original ‘King of Rock & Roll,’ the three hour live show was a chronological retrospective of Presley’s amazing body of work.”  Three hours – wow — the folks sure got their money’s worth.  The wide-screen collage is not original, but it is still a nice touch that everyone enjoys.

Jim continues in his review, “Donny Edwards came out singing many of Elvis’ early hits and immediately bonded with the audience.”  This is always my favorite part of the Elvis tribute shows.  When an ETA does a good job of reproducing Elvis’ body moves, he’s a winner in my book.

“Next Ryan Pelton appeared on stage dressed in an Army uniform with a duffel bag over his shoulder.  After doing hits that were released while Elvis was in the Army, he went out in the audience and, while singing ‘Teddy Bear,’ threw stuffed teddy bears into the crowd.”  Now, that’s a nice touch, and I’ll bet everybody who caught one was absolutely thrilled.  After a brief interlude, he returned on stage in a white swimsuit and Hawaiian shirt open in front.”  There have been lots of ETA concerts I haven’t seen, so maybe this has been done before, but either way, it is a fine addition to the program.  If you are going to sing songs from Elvis’ movies, why not dress the part?  Elvis did a lot of beach movies, so this is perfect.

Jim continues, “Then Donnie returned dressed in a prison suit to sing ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and a few more numbers.”  This has been done before by many ETAs, and it is always well received.  A show without it would now seem to have a major void. 

“With the familiar Elvis logo from the ’68 Comeback Special in the background, Ryan reappeared in the famous black leather outfit and performed songs from that show.  All in all, the first set was sensational, with many women, both young and middle-aged, rushing the stage to pass notes or flowers to the performers and receive a kiss in return.”  I’ve seen this phenomenon, and it amazes me every time.  These guys may not be Elvis, but they’re sure getting big-time adoration.  It’s so cool that much of it is from ‘young girls’ who never saw the real thing.  Donny and Ryan are such good performers that they are creating their own fan base.

Next week – Shawn Klush.

©  2008   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.elvisblog.net

KINGS DAY

Each year, as we approach the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, I wonder if I should write a blog article about the time I proposed a new holiday named Kings Day.  I don’t want anyone to think I’m insensitive to racial issues, but I do like to look for the humor in things and write about it.  So, here goes.

 

I live in a wonderful little city in South Carolina.  Actually, I live in an unincorporated part of the surrounding county, out where you can own a house on a couple of acres without breaking the bank.  Back in 2003, this county was one of the very few in the country that had not yet recognized the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Day.  For years, a few stubborn folks on our County Council blocked it from being recognized as a national holiday in the county.

 

Naturally, this was prime fodder for the morning radio talk show I listened to each weekday.  Those in favor of the proposal were vocal and adamant.  Lots of county employees called in and said they deserved the same extra holiday that all the other government employees got.  Some of the excuses from those against the proposal were rather lame, and the discussions often got pretty stupid.  That’s when I got the idea for “Kings Day.”

 

Here’s the background.  The two greatest presidents in our country’s history are George Washington and Abe Lincoln.  Do they each have their own national holiday?  No.  They have to share the third Monday of February as Presidents Day.  Lincoln was born on February 12, and Washington was born on February 22.  Here are two men of the highest stature who have to share a holiday arbitrarily set for the third Monday to give a three-day weekend to lots of folks.

 

Well, if it’s OK for Washington and Lincoln to share, I didn’t think it would any big deal to suggest that Dr. Martin Luther King share his holiday.  Elvis’ birthday is January 8, just a week before Dr. King’s.  So, I sent an e-mail to that talk radio show and proposed a compromise to settle the impasse.  The message ended with: “I humbly suggest that Greenville County Council should declare the second Monday as Kings Day, to commemorate the January 15 birthday of Martin Luther King and the January 8 birthday of Elvis Presley, the ‘King of Rock & Roll.’”

 

When I sent the e-mail, I thought, “Well, that ought to stir things up.”  It certainly did.  Although it sparked a little reasoned debate, there certainly was much more uncontrolled ranting.

 

A few months later, we had elections for County Council, and four new members were voted in.  At the new Council’s first meeting, they had another vote on the holiday, and nobody brought up my Elvis idea.  However, by a 8-to-3 vote, they finally recognized Martin Luther King Day in the county.

 

Kings Day still seems like a good idea to me.  If Washington and Lincoln have to share a holiday, why can’t ‘The King’ and Dr. King share one?  Elvis has been named one of the 100 outstanding Americans of the 20th century, and he’s been honored on a US postage stamp, so this is no slap at MLK.

 

Think about it.  Isn’t it about time we got a day off to celebrate the birthday of ‘The King?’

 

©  2008   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.elvisblog.net

ELVISWORLD 2007 — THE YEAR IN REVIEW

Elvisworld was a busy place again in 2007, the 30th Anniversary year.  Let’s take a look at the most significant events and the new offerings of Elvis DVDs, CDs, books and other products.

 

We Lost Another Elvis Buddy:  Musician Boots Randolph played sax on twenty-one Elvis recording sessions in the 60s.  He was also an Elvis Week fan favorite who performed at many of Darwin Lamm’s  “Good Rockin’ Tonight” concerts.  Boots passed away on July 3 at age 80.

 

Also leaving us in 2007 was Roy McComb.  He and his wife Janelle were long time friends of Elvis and his family.  Composer Ben Weisman, who wrote “Follow That Dream” and over 50 other songs Elvis recorded, passed away at age 85.  Milo High, former pilot of Elvis’ “Hound Dog II,” JetStar plane, also left us in 2007.

 

Significant Events:  In January, EPE started up Elvis Presley Central, an official channel for Elvis videos on YouTube.  Unfortunately, it is a year later, and only four videos have been posted.  You know EPE has lots more stuff, so lets see it.  In February, Graceland Harley-Davidson opened in the heart of the Elvis After Dark Plaza.  The Jungle Room in Graceland provided the background for one of twenty beauties in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. 

 

On March 1, the fabulous exhibit “Elvis Jumpsuits: All Access” opened, featuring 56 of Elvis’ jumpsuits.  Later in the month, Graceland unveiled a special creation by Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light:  “Graceland, 50th Anniversary.”  The event was part of two-days of receptions, tours, and, of course, big-ticket sales.  Also in March, PBS affiliates aired the DVD Elvis Lives – The 25th Anniversary Concert Event.  If you missed the broadcast, get the DVD.  It, and the whole show, are technical marvels.

 

In April, EPE introduced a new ad campaign to lure people to Graceland.  “Discover Your Inner Elvis” was a slick piece of video trickery in which a soccer mom morphs into a singer wearing the American Eagle jumpsuit and does Elvis moves on stage.  Rolling Stone magazine issued a 40th Anniversary issue containing their selections for “40 Songs That Change the World,” and “That’s All Right” made the list.  However, weeks later, they listed their readers’ 40 choices, and the song was not on the list.  I’m sure their readership base is too young to have a full appreciation of the huge significance of “That’s All Right.”

 

On July 26th, cable channel TV Land and the city of Honolulu, Hawaii honored Elvis during the 30th anniversary year with a life-sized bronze sculpture commemorating the King’s 1973 “Aloha from Hawaii.”

 

Elvis Week 2007 (August 11-19) was the biggest ever, and it was filled with new events like Elvis Music and Movies on the lawn at Graceland, The Elvis Expo, and The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, as well as returning events like The Elvis Insiders Conference, the Candlelight Vigil, and Elvis: The 30th Anniversary concert, that sold out FedExForum.

 

On September 18, ABC TV aired “Elvis: Viva Las Vegas.”  The two-hour TV event in High Definition was touted as examining how the King of Rock-and-Roll reinvented Las Vegas — and how it reinvented him.  However, most fans felt it had too little Elvis and too much of other folks talking about him or singing his songs.

 

CDs:  2007 was a huge year for new Elvis CDs.  The Follow That Dream (FTD) family of releases for serious collectors grew by eight.  Look at this list:

            Live in LA – 1974 concert

            An American Trilogy – 1972 Las Vegas concerts

            50 Million Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong  Classic album reissue

            Raised on Rock — Classic album reissue

            I Sing All Kinds – The Nashville 1971 sessions

            Easy Come, Easy Go – Movie soundtrack reissue

            Pot Luck – Classic album reissue

            Girls, Girls, Girls – Movie soundtrack reissue

            Wild In The Country – Movie soundtrack reissue

As usual, the soundtrack and studio albums have alternate takes, first takes, out- takes, and studio chatter.

 

There were several interesting Sony/BMG releases in 2007.  “Elvis at the Movies” contained 40 songs from Elvis’ 31 movies.  This sure seems like the kind of stuff that FTD specializes in, so I guess they just let Sony/BMG beat them to the concept.   “ELVIS: Viva Las Vegas” features music from the ABC TV special that aired on September 18.  It includes 15 live performances from Elvis’ prime Las Vegas years.  “The Essential Elvis Presley” is a 40-song two CD set, another in the long line of repackaged Elvis hits.

 

DVDs:  There were plenty of new Elvis DVDs for us to buy in 2007, although most were spiffed-up versions of old favorites.  Warner Home Video released “Deluxe Editions” of Viva Las Vegas, Jailhouse Rock, and a “2-Disc Special Edition” of Elvis: That’s The Way It Is, all with lots of bonus features.  Warner also released This is Elvis on DVD for the first time (what took so long?).

 

Warner and Paramount each issued DVD sets of old Elvis movies in collectible cases.  Warner called theirs Elvis: The Hollywood Collection, and it contained six films never before on DVD: Charro, Girl Happy, Kissin’ Cousins, Stay Away Joe, Tickle Me, and Live A Little, Love A Little.  Paramount packaged eight classic Elvis titles in a blue suede case.  The Lights! Action! Elvis! Collection contains King Creole, G.I. Blues, Blue Hawaii, Roustabout, Girls! Girls! Girls!, Fun In Acapulco, Paradise, Hawaiian Style, and Easy Come, Easy Go.

 

Books:  2007 didn’t see the release of the usual number of top-drawer books about Elvis.  Most notable was “The Gospel Side of Elvis” by Joe Moscheo, long-time member of Elvis’ backing group The Imperials.

 

New Products: In April, EPE announced that a new line of Elvis shoes would hit the market.  Produced by PSDI USA, there are four styles of casual shoes in male and female models.  Marie Osmond unveiled her baby Elvis doll “The King,” complete with a little jumpsuit.  Talking Presidents Inc. released the first two of a line of “talking” Elvis action figures. Standing 12 inches tall, the figurines have fully pose-able bodies and they “talk” in Elvis’ own voice. They are displayed in collectible gift boxes with pictures of Elvis that clearly show how the figurines don’t look much like Elvis, at all.

 

Press Pass offered the latest in their line of Elvis trading cards.  Elvis: The Music is built around a base of 81 cards, and each pack offers the chance to get one or more of a dizzying array of bonus cards.  And finally, EPE announced a line of sixteen items containing images of Dale Earnhardt Jr. with his #8 and “Elvis 30” in the paint schemes.  These were produced in limited quantities and may have good collectible value someday, because Earnhardt has lost the number 8 for his racecar and “Elvis 30” will be replaced with some new theme this year.

 

 

So, all in all, 2007 was a huge year for Elvisworld.  2008 promises to be quieter, but whatever happens, Elvisblog will do its best to comment on all as it happens.

 

©  2008   Philip R Arnold   All Rights reserved   www.elvisblog.net