Category Archives: TRIBUTE ARTISTS

Elvis Week’s Best Kept Secret — 2015

Elvis '56

Last year, ElvisBlog shined a little light on a wonderful Elvis Week event that didn’t seem to be getting much promotional push. It was the Fan Reception at the Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center. Click here to read about that event and here to see what they have going on this year.

If you are going to Elvis Week 2015, there’s a good chance you’ll be there on the 14th. It’s a Friday night – party time. So, what are you going to do?

Elvis Week Main Stage

Well, you could take in the Elvis in Vegas Tribute Concert at the Graceland Main Stage Pavilion. It stars Terry Mike Jeffrey. I’ve seen him at three Elvis Week shows over the years, and he is great. But, if you’re interested, you better hurry up. All the VIP seating is sold out, but as of now there are still $45 seats available.

 

Beale St. Memphis

But perhaps you would like to head down to Beale Street. Lots of bars, shops, and restaurants.

And right in the middle of everything on Beale Street is the New Daisy Theater.

New Daisy Theater at Night

I took in the Midnight Blues Concert at the Daisy back at Elvis Week 2002. When I walked in, I said, “This place is a dive,” but when I walked out, I said, “I love this place.” Old, funky, intimate, it was such a fun venue for a concert. Well, this 1941 theater is still alive and well today, a down-and-dirty honky tonk of the first order.

 

Inside the New Daisy Theater

The New Daisy Theater has been under new ownership since last year, and they have sunk some money into the place. Here you can see that theater seats have been replaced by platforms to accommodate table seating.

 

Lighting System at the New Daisy Theater

Even more important, they put in new sound and light systems. Of course, there is an open bar. Are you starting to get the idea the Daisy might be a terrific place for an Elvis Week concert? Especially on Friday night. May I suggest:

World Premier -- Elvis'56

If your interest in Elvis is primarily the 70s jumpsuit period, this show isn’t for you. But if you like the young, raw and wild performer of the early years, Elvis ’56 is perfect for you. And ElvisFestival.com has picked the right tribute artist to headline the show.

Cody Slaughter Rocking Out

Cody Ray Slaughter has an impressive resumé. Although he is one of the youngest top-drawer Elvis Tribute Artists, he has been perfecting his act since he was thirteen. When Cody was just seventeen, he was the featured entertainer for a year at The Tennessee Shindig in Pigeon Forge, TN. In 2008, Cody won the People’s Choice Award at Elvis Week.

Three years later at Elvis Week, EPE named him the winner of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist competition.

Cody Slaughter Winning 2011 Ultimate Elvis Competition

In October 2011, Cody took on the roll of Elvis Presley in the road tour of the hit theatrical production The Million Dollar Quartet. It was here that Cody developed his acting chops to go with his uncanny ability to sing like Elvis. All of these talents will be on display in Elvis ’56. It’s a show, not just a concert, that tells the story of Elvis’ rise in 1956 from Hillbilly Cat to the King of Rock and Roll.

Million Dollar Quartet

As the poster above states, Cody will be backed by a period appropriate three-piece band called the Hillbilly Katz. You get a little bonus here, because the drummer is David Fontana, DJ’s son. I checked DJ’s touring schedule to see if he would be in town and might drop by to sit in and drum with David. Unfortunately, DJ won’t be at Elvis Week this year. What a shame.

 

Samantha Arrowood Chamblis

If you remember Elvis’ concerts in the 50s, they all opened with a comedian. So, Elvis ’56 will feature Samantha Arrowood Chambliss. She does a comedic song and dance routine reminiscent of the Louisiana Hayride days. She and David Fontana will share the MC duties.
If you are thinking this all sounds like a show you’d like to take in, here’s the seating arrangement and prices.

Daisy Seating and Ticket Prices for Elvis 56

These six-people tables come at three different price levels depending on location. I can assure you that you will feel close to the action even in the $49 gold area (including the rows of chairs in front of the bar). I never sat in the balcony, but I bet it’s a very satisfactory experience up there, too. Click here to go to the website for availability and purchasing of tickets.

Cody Slaughter

If I were going to Elvis Week this year, I would definitely get down to the New Daisy Theater and take in Cody Slaughter’s performance in Elvis ’56. His website say his fans have crowned him the new “Prince of Rock and Roll”. What a fine way to highlight your trip to Memphis to honor the “King of Rock and Roll.”

 

 

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ElvisFestival.com also has a whole week of interesting shows lined up at the New Daisy Theater. For five hours each afternoon, Monday the 10th and Wednesday the 12th, you can see the Images of the King competitions. For six hours on Friday, you can watch the finals plus a showcase of past champions. Other afternoon shows are Ben Portsmouth: Acoustic Elvis on Tuesday, and Jukebox LIVE: A tribute to Rock and Roll History on Thursday. If you remember how blistering hot it has been at past Elvis Weeks, a nice long show in air-conditioned comfort might be a good idea.

Sunday and Monday nights have concerts featuring outstanding ETAs Shawn Klush, Cody Slaughter, Dean Z, Ben Portsmouth, and Jay Dupuis. And Wednesday night, Elvis Meets the Beatles sounds like a really fun show. For ticket information, click here.

ElvisFestivals

Bruno Mars — Little Elvis

Did you catch the Super Bowl halftime show featuring Bruno Mars? You probably noticed his hairdo was strongly reminiscent of the early Elvis look. But, there’s an even bigger connection. Bruno Mars started out as an Elvis Tribute Artist at the tender age of four.

4 Year-Old Bruno Mars Doing Elvis

 

Black-and-White-Shot-of-Bruno-Doing-Elvi

Bruno Mars was born Peter Gene Hernandez on October 8, 1985, in Honolulu. His mother was a singer and dancer, and his father performed Little Richard music. Mars’ uncle was an Elvis impersonator, and encouraged three-year-old Bruno to perform on stage as well.

4 Year-old Bruno Mars

Mars also performed songs by artists such as Michael Jackson, The Isley Brothers, and The Temptations. At age four, Mars began performing five days a week with his family’s band, The Love Notes, and became well known on the island for his impersonation of Elvis.

Bruno Mars - age 4 doing Elvis

In 1990, Mars was featured in MidWeek, a weekly tabloid shopper and advertisement periodical in Honolulu, and it dubbed him “Little Elvis.”

 Bruno Mars Doing Elvis in Viva Elvis

The previous three pictures came from a 1990 UK documentary called Viva Elvis, hosted by Jonathan Ross.

 Bruno Doing Elvis in Honeymoon In Vegas

Bruno Mars’ fame as Little Elvis led to him having a performance cameo in the 1992 film Honeymoon in Vegas, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicholas Cage (who ten years later would marry Lisa Marie Presley).

Bruno-Elvis Honeymoon in Vegas 2

All of the above facts come from Wikipedia, so hopefully it’s all accurate. Wikipedia also says the time Bruno Mars spent impersonating Elvis had a major impact on his musical evolution and performing technique.

 Bruno-Elvis Honeymoon in Vegas

I think we can all agree that Bruno Mars’ time spent doing Elvis also really paid off.

 Bruno Mars - Super Cutipie Elvis

Maybe he’ll put on a jumpsuit someday and do his Elvis thing again.

 

© 2013 Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister All Rights Reserved www.ElvisBlog.net

 

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The Evolution of Elvis Tribute — Part 4

If you’ve been an Elvis fan for a long time like me, you’ve noticed EPE’s change in attitude toward Elvis Tribute Artists.  For the first two decades after his death, Graceland distanced itself from the hordes of men who performed as Elvis impersonators.  Actually, they went farther than that.  Ever protective of his ‘image,’ EPE filed a lawsuit against the Legends In Concert in 1983 to prevent the show’s “Elvis” from looking like, dressing like, or moving like the real Elvis.

Legends in Concert

We can assume it became impossible to sue all the hundreds (thousands?) of tribute artists, causing Graceland to accept a begrudging coexistence with them.  Early in the 2000s, Todd Morgan, EPE’s director of media and creative development said, “We represent the real thing.  The impersonator thing for the public and the press… has often been a negative.  When you think impersonator, you think of parody.  We could never find a comfort level in embracing it.”

Then in 2006, Morgan said something much different.  “Over the past year we have had a lot of discussion about the Elvis tribute artist phenomenon and what to do about it.”  (Cynics would say “what to do about it” is code for “how to make money off it”)  “We realized it was never going to go away.  It has gotten bigger, the entertainment has gotten better. So, we thought maybe if we get involved in some way, maybe we can bring attention to the most talented tribute artists.”

And their answer was… The Ultimate Elvis Artist Tribute Contest.

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If you’ve been to any of the past six Elvis Weeks, you know this is now a huge, big-ticket event.  Every competitor has previously won top prize at an Elvis tribute contest around the US and several foreign countries.  These guys are great entertainers and professional showmen.  There is certainly none of the parody or damage to the Elvis ‘image’ that EPE once worried about.

ETA winners

ETA winners 2

I have been to several competitions, and I love the good Elvis Tribute Artists.  From Shawn Klush in 2007 to Ben Portsmouth in 2012, these guys are great.

EPE has a new tie-in with the Ultimate Elvis winners. Now, they are presenting shows around the country with past winners headlining.  The Elvis Lives tour seems to be a great success.

Elvis Lives 3

 

The ultimate purpose of this article was not to give unpaid endorsements for EPE’s Ultimate Elvis contest or its Elvis Lives tour.  I really wanted to show just how far the evolution of Elvis tribute has come.  To do that, we have to go back and see what some of those guys that gave it a bad name looked like.  For years, I have kept a file titled “Elvis Impersonator Losers.”  After showing a few here, I’m going to delete the whole file.  Better gone and forgotten.

 

Big Belly

Fat Elvises are a recurring theme.  With all the iron bars here, it looks like this guy is in jail.  I think Elvis Week could use one, so we can keep these guys from walking the streets of Memphis and getting shown in the media around the country.

 

T

Todd Morgan certainly had a point about parody.

 

Elvi with Moustaches

Okay, we’ve got a group of Elvi’s with moustaches hovering around a copy of the Heisman Trophy.  Nothing strange about that.

 

Big Belly 2

Oh, no.  Not another fat Elvis.

 

ShElvis

Is that really an old female Elvis?  Some of the young ones are pretty hot, but this one… probably not so much.

 

midget

I saw this guy (or one of his peers) at the Collingwood Elvis Festival a decade ago.  I don’t think he actually performed, just added to the ambiance of the event.

 

Fat Red Elvis

Sad, just sad.  Another candidate for the bad impersonator jail at Elvis Week.

 

Too Old

Maybe this guy isn’t really an Elvis Impersonator Loser.  It would actually be pretty cool if an old dude could put on a good Elvis show.

 

Loser Drinking Beer

Give me a break.  Where do you even get a wig like that?

 

Fat Boy Sitting Down

Do we really have to look at another fat Elvis?  Hey, we’re not finished yet.

 

Hot Dogs

Well, at least they’ve got nice jumpsuits and sunglasses.

Just to end on a high note, here’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest winner Shawn Klush, showing what a good ETA looks like.

Shawn Klush

Shawn klush 2

I’ve seen Shawn twice.  If you never saw Elvis in concert, Shawn’s show is as close as you’ll ever get.

 

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The First Elvis Impersonator?

Ninety-four Elvis collectible items will be up for sale on December 14 at the Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction presented by Heritage Auctioneers.  I love looking through the items on their website, because many provide the spark for an ElvisBlog article.

Like this Loving You four-song EP signed twice on the back by Elvis.

It’s difficult to see, but both autographs say, “To Buddy, Elvis Presley.”  There were other items in this auction lot, including this old photo:

The young man with Elvis is eighteen-year-old Buddy Ochoa.  The photo was taken in 1958 in Killeen, Texas, home of Ft Hood where Elvis took his Army basic training.  According to a post on the “For Elvis CD Collectors” website, he was a student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he was on the cheerleading squad.

The thing that really caught my eye was in the Auction’s description of the items in the lot.  It said,

“Buddy Ochoa, the original Elvis tribute artist, became friends with the legend in 1958 after Elvis learned of Buddy’s inaugural performance as ‘Elvis’ in Dallas.”

Biography information on the internet indicates Buddy Ochoa first performed as Elvis at the SMU Cheer Camp.  Back in those days, you didn’t need a black leather suit or fancy jumpsuit to impersonate Elvis.  Just put on a sport coat, comb your hair the right way, and start to sing.

So, what happened to Buddy Ochoa, the original Elvis tribute artist?  There is no information that he continued to do Elvis tribute after graduating from college and moving to Los Angeles.  Apparently he found part-time work in commercials for products like Winston cigarettes and Harley motorcycles.  In 1963, he had a bit part as “The Bellboy” in an episode of the TV show Perry Mason.  Between 1973 and 1977, he had bit parts in twelve movies and TV shows.

 

Here is Buddy Ochoa in his role as “The Courier” in the Phony Express episode of the TV series Dusty’s Trail.  The show’s synopsis indicates it was a fairly meaty role:

“Dusty meets a wounded soldier who locks a courier pouch on his arm with instructions to guard it with his life, deliver it to Fort Hale, and keep it out of the hands of an outlaw named Bates.”

 

It seems Buddy Ochoa’s other significant role was as “A Television Assistant” in the 1974 TV movie The Missiles of October.

 

After his movie career, he worked in the advertising business in Los Angeles, rising to Media Coordinator at Admarketing.

Buddy Ochoa in Las Vegas in 2010

©  2012    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net

 

 

Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

 

Impressed Again with Elvis’ Impact on Popular Culture

I live in Greenville, SC, a small city of about 70,000 people with an extended metro-area population of perhaps 400,000.  It is a pleasant, beautiful city, and it has a wealth of cultural opportunities, including five venues that present plays and musical events.

Last year, I wrote about one venue, the Greenville Little Theater, which presented ELVIS: Shake, Rattle, and Roll.  Elvis tribute artist Scot Bruce starred in this presentation, and it ran for eighteen shows over a three-week period.  I was skeptical that our community could support so much Elvis, but the shows were very popular and many were completely sold-out.

Now, a year later, it is obvious that my city can handle even more Elvis than that.  It is also obvious that Elvis’ impact on popular culture is strong and growing.  So strong, in fact, that the coming season at the Greenville Little Theater includes three Elvis-related events.

First, Scot Bruce is back for another extended run of his Shake, Rattle and Roll show, including on one on August 16, the date of Elvis’ death.  So, the big-time Elvis fans in the area won’t have to go to Elvis Week in Memphis to honor the King.  We can do it right here.

Scot Bruce specializes in Elvis’ music from the 50s and 60s.  Last year, he performed 28 songs, split into two segments. He opened with a delightful set of Elvis’ early hits.  I especially liked when he was joined at center stage by just the guitarist and bass player, and they did a tribute to Elvis’ songs from Sun Records.

 

I will be going back again this year to see Scot Bruce perform and I can’t wait.  This is a really fun show.

 

Then, a month later, the theater will present Smokey Joe’s Café, which features thirty-nine rock and roll songs by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

The show is presented in revue format with no unifying theme or dialogue, just thirty-nine songs performed by the members of the cast in various combinations.  Smokey Joe’s Café has been around since its premiere in Los Angeles in 1994.  It ran on Broadway from 1995 to 2000, a total of 2,036 performances, and now theaters around the country present it for their local audiences.

Leiber and Stoller wrote a bunch of songs for Elvis, and eight are included in the show:

Mike Stoller, Elvis, and jerry Leiber in 1957

 

Finally, the Greenville Little Theatre will present a two-week run of the comedy Elvis Has Left the Building.  The title is appropriate, because in the play Elvis is AWOL on the evening of a big performance in 1970.

The main character is the Colonel, and the plot revolves around his efforts to save the show.   He reaches back to the old hypnotism shtick from his carny days, and somehow comes up with two emergency pseudo-Elvises.

When our local theater director picks the two actors for these roles, I hope he comes up with men that resemble Elvis better than these guys in a Virginia production of the play.

 

There is no denying that Elvis is prominent in the entertainment shows being presented this season in my little city.  I never considered Greenville, SC to be a hotbed of Elvis fans, but two years ago when Elvis on Tour had its one-night showing here, the theater was jam-packed, so maybe we are.

I think the real reason so much Elvis-related entertainment is coming to town is because Elvis, thirty-five years after his death, is ingrained in American popular culture more than ever.  Keep an eye out for Elvis coming to your town in one form or another.

 

©  2012    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net

 

Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

 

The Evolution of Elvis Tribute — Part 3

Reference books state that Elvis gave performances in 79 cities in 1956.  How many cities do you think hosted Elvis Tribute Artists in 2011?  My guess is that it could be ten times that number.  ETA shows aren’t limited to just large cities.  They have come to three small suburban cities in my area, and you probably have seen the same where you live.  These were one-night gigs, and one tribute artist did the whole show.

In 2008, a two-part ElvisBlog article noted a change in the nature of some Elvis tribute concerts.  It covered a package show called The Elvis Birthday Tour with three top Elvis Tribute Artists performing back-to-back-to-back.  One did the 50s Elvis songs, another wore a black leather suit and sang hits of that era, and finally a jumpsuited ETA did the songs from Elvis’ Vegas days.

 

Donnie Edwards

Ryan Pelton

Shaun Klush

 

The show moved around to eight Midwest cities where expensive tickets in large venues moved Elvis tribute into the realm of big-time entertainment.  These multi-artist shows have continued in the years since, and similar tours have performed in other areas of the country.

 

Now, one very talented performer has done something I never thought possible.  He repeated his act for 18 shows in a city of just 62,000.  The venue was the Greenville Little Theatre in Greenville, SC.

 

This doesn’t look like a performaning arts center you’d find in a city of just 62,000 people, but Greenville is the hub of an area with 400,000 people.  The Little Theater presents a schedule of extended runs like Barefoot in the Park, The Music Man, and A Christmas Carol.  So, I was incredulous when I saw their newspaper ad for ELVIS: Shake, Rattle, & Roll, running from September 15 to October 2.

 

 

The star of the show was Scot Bruce.  Although I have seen or read about dozens of Elvis Tribute Artists, I was not familiar with Scot Bruce.  Certainly the theater-going public in our area didn’t know him either, so how could he continue to put people in $30 seats for 18 performances?  Part of the answer was the Little Theatre subscriber base of 3,000, but a capacity of 600 seats time 18 shows equals 10,800.  Scot Bruce had to deliver, if this was going to be a successful run.

 

 

It turned out that savvy marketing, a great review in the paper, and tremendous word-of-mouth recommendations made this a very profitable show for the theatre.  The Friday and Saturday night shows nearly packed the house, and week-nights had ¾ of the seats filled.

The reason the reviews and word-of-mouth were so good was because of the considerable talents of Scot Bruce and his band.  So, who is this guy who did such a great job?  Based in Los Angeles, Scot has a varied background that led to his Shake, Rattle and Roll show.  Over the years he has been a radio personality, singer, drummer, songwriter, and actor.  During his early years in L.A., Scot experienced his share of hard times, so he started doing a 1950s era Elvis show to supplement his income.  What was meant as a part-time gig has grown into a full time career.

 

 

Scot’s live shows have taken him across the U.S. and many parts of the world.  He and his four-piece band regularly perform at Disneyland, and he tours with the Legends of Rock and Roll – Buddy, Roy & Elvis.  However, it was his performance in another touring show, Idols of the King, that gave him the chance to reach new levels in Elvis tribute.  Idols of The King is a two-part play, half music and half vignettes about two Elvis fans who would do anything to see Elvis perform in Las Vegas. 

 

 

Scot Bruce has starred Elvis in the show’s extended runs in many performing arts centers around the country, including the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, former home of the Grand Ole Opry, and the Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery.  However, it was at the Barter Theater in Abingdon, VA where Scot made such an impression on the theater’s administrators that they worked with him to book his own show for an long run.  The theater-goers had loved him so much in Idols of the King that they came back to catch him again in ELVIS: Shake, Rattle & Roll in 2010.  Then, Scot brought his show there again in 2011, and it had 23 sell-out shows.

As fate would have it, the Artistic Director of the Greenville Little Theater was visiting his son in Abingdon, VA and took in a performance of the show.  He was so favorably impressed that he booked Scot for 18 shows in my city this fall.  When I saw it, I was so favorably impressed I had to write this blog article.

Scot took a risk when he planned his new show.  He decided to skip the all-too-common jumpsuit Elvis, because “when I wore a jumpsuit I looked more like Evil Knievel.”  Instead, Scot specializes in Elvis’ music from the 50s and early 60s.  He performs 28 songs, split into two segments.  First, he does a delightful set of Elvis’ early hits.  I especially liked when he was joined at center stage by just the guitarist and bass player, and they did a tribute to Elvis’ songs from Sun Records.

 

After the break, Scot came back on stage in a ’68 Comeback Special black leather outfit.  He performed a mixed bag of Elvis tunes from the early sixties, three gospel songs, and two late 60s hits:  “Burning Love” and “Suspicious Minds.”   It was strange but rewarding to see someone not wearing a jumpsuit do “Suspicious Minds” without those blaring trumpets.

 

 

The program ended with what has become the de facto Elvis tribute show finale: “American Trilogy,” complete with the US flag unfurling in the background.  I’ve seen this before several times at other performers’ shows, but I still get choked up every time.

The other element of Scot Bruce’s successful show is that he has been a lifelong Elvis fan, and it shows.  I loved his banter between songs.  It contained humor, trivia and a lot of respect and admiration for the King.


I don’t guess there are too many theater artistic directors who read ElvisBlog, but I hope one of you readers might know one.  Send him a link to this article, and maybe he can envision Scot Bruce in ELVIS: Shake, Rattle, & Roll succeeding in your home town.  If that should happen, be sure to go.  You will have a blast.

 

Scot Bruce in  ELVIS: Shake, Rattle, & Roll   www.scotbruce.com

Scot Bruce Fans Facebook Page

 

 

©  2011    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net

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Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of  Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

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.

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