Tag Archives: Elvis Tribute Artist

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.

 

©  2013    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 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.

 

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