Tag Archives: Elvis Presley

Gyrations Galore

Gyrations Galore

 


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Dressed to Kill: Elvis impersonator David Lee. The 4th Annual Elvis in Dixieland competition will take place at the BJCC on Saturday, June 19.

Ladies, it’s that time of year again, when plunging necklines on rhinestone-studded jumpsuits reveal hairy chests glistening with sweat as grown men imitate the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. On June 19, at 2 p.m., popular Elvis impersonator David Lee stages his Fourth Annual Elvis in Dixieland competition in Ballroom A at the BJCC. Past contestants in the impersonator showdown have presented every phase imaginable in the King’s celebrated career: the dashing 1950s Elvis with hips too hot for “The Ed Sullivan Show;” the Las Vegas Elvis (including a couple of guys who look as though they might have eaten too many fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches in preparation for their roles); and one inventive fellow who recreated Presley’s character in the film G.I. Blues.

This year’s festivities include special guest Edie Hand, Elvis’s cousin and a former actress on the soap opera “As the World Turns.” And if that’s not excitement enough, there will be children impersonating Elvis in two categories, one for contestants younger than five, and another for older kids. Imagine, a three-year-old sporting phony sideburns and singing “In the Ghetto.” Proceeds from the competition benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. For more information, call 205-266-3030 or visit www.elvisindixieland.com.

One Night With Elvis — Fans from across the globe visit Graceland to pay their respects.

One Night With Elvis

Fans from across the globe visit Graceland to pay their respects.

Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis is a bizarre slice of civilization strewn with dilapidated barbecue shacks, check-cashing pawn shops, liquor stores, car washes (one doubles as a burger joint that serves a “Murder Burger”), and umbrella-toting prostitutes winking at passersby in the pre-dawn rain. It’s hard to believe that this neighborhood is the eternal resting place for a star of Elvis Presley’s magnitude. A few thousand feet from Graceland, cheap Screen Shot 2017-08-16 at 3.37.17 PMautomobiles are available in a dismal looking car lot called Heaven-Sent Used Cars. Nearby looms one of the city’s several massive billboards that proclaim: “Johnny Cochran — America’s Lawyer,” a huge, imposing photo of the famous attorney accompanying his telephone number. Another billboard advertises “Dr. Nick’s Memories of Elvis” at a local casino, featuring Dr. George Nichopoulos himself, Elvis’ legendary prescription writer.

On the weekend of August 16, more than 30,000 worshippers solemnly filed past Elvis’ grave, each clutching a candle lit from another candle that was lit by the eternal flame at Presley’s tombstone on the mansion’s front lawn. Colored lights bathed trees in various hues as Graceland’s lawn stereo oozed Presley hymns and ballads around-the-clock, the only sound evident as several thousand worshippers patiently stood in a hushed, snail-paced line beginning at 5 a.m. on Friday to pay respects and proffer gifts at the grave of the King. Offerings included teddy bears, long-stemmed roses, poems, and assorted brands of pork rinds. In the middle of Presley Boulevard, devotees abandoned burning candles in parting tribute, creating an oasis of melting candlewax altars where flames sizzled as raindrops fell.

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Welcome Elvis Fans: Feeding throngs of fans proved too exhausting for this vendor.

“I stood in line for six hours,” said Becky Baker, a 55-year-old Detroit woman who credits Presley with putting an end to her suicide attempts. “I had no desire to live ’til I heard Elvis sing,” she sobbed uncontrollably to a middle-aged man with sideburns, a pompadour, and a white Elvis suit and who claimed to be Elvis Presley, Jr. “My mother was Bonnie,” the man explained with a shrug, “one of Elvis’ early girlfriends. I was conceived when they were both 14.” He admitted to harboring lingering resentment at Lisa Marie’s refusal to recognize him as her brother. The crying woman from Detroit rubbed his hand, nodded her head, and sighed, “I knew there had to be more children, ’cause Elvis had so many girlfriends.”

A disheveled woman with unkempt gray hair aimlessly wandered back and forth on the sidewalk in front of Graceland’s graffiti-covered stone wall. She babbled incessantly to herself while dragging a worn yellow suitcase with a Greyhound luggage tag dangling from the handle. Identifying herself as “Mary from Kansas City,” she explained that she had walked several miles from the downtown Memphis bus station to reach Graceland. She distributed photocopies of tabloid headlines about recent Elvis sightings in the Midwest. The woman ventured a theory that Elvis could have been abducted by curious aliens 25 years ago. Most of the mourners simply ignored her.

The annual Elvis Candlelight Vigil held each summer to commemorate Presley’s death is a world-class freak show that would have made the late Colonel Tom Parker proud. Nowhere else would this collection of oddities be afforded such dignity and respect. A midget Elvis posed for pictures with a group of Japanese tourists. A balding Canadian man with scraggly red sideburns said it was his third trip to the vigil. He moonlights as an Elvis and Roy Orbison impersonator in his native British Columbia, crooning a verse of “Love Me Tender” to convince all who doubted him.

The most notable curiosities, however, labeled themselves Presley’s closest confidants and assembled at a University of Memphis symposium. Framed by a backdrop of velvet Elvis paintings, the informal group recounted favorite stories about how much he had meant to each of their lives, offering nothing less than complete reverence and respect as they praised the man who at one time had most of them on his payroll.

Al De Goren, the man who coined the phrase “Elvis has left the building,” recalled Presley’s generosity. Julie Parish, Elvis’ costar in Paradise, Hawaiian Style, claimed that one afternoon the entire right side of her body had gone numb “after too many diet pills.” Presley laid his hands over her in a healing manner right there on the movie set. Elvis’ dentist remembered the day Presley refused painkillers before oral surgery. “Elvis hypnotized himself,” said the dentist, obviously still in awe. “He never blinked and he never moved. It was amazing.”

Charlie Hodge, the man responsible for handing Presley his scarves and glasses of water on stage, told of the evening Elvis and the Colonel purchased 150 seats behind the stage for a group of blind fans — except no one told Elvis they were blind. Each time Presley tossed the group one of his scarves, it would simply flutter to the ground as if no one cared to catch it. Elvis almost became unglued during the performance, convinced that he had lost his ability to mesmerize an audience.

Struggling with English in a thick Korean accent, Master Kang Rhee, Presley’s long-time karate instructor, remembered that Elvis often didn’t know his own strength when using bodyguard Red West as a practice dummy. Rhee used to applaud enthusiastically as Elvis smashed up hotel furniture with hand chops and flying kicks. “Master Tiger [Elvis] deserve all kind of black belt,” Rhee noted, praising the star’s martial arts prowess. At the end of his talk, Kang Rhee, dressed in a black business suit, removed his shoes and socks to give a karate demonstration, complete with grunts and the classic air punches that became a staple of Presley’s Las Vegas act.

Larry Geller, Elvis’ hairdresser and spiritual adviser, called Presley “an Adonis and modern-day Robin Hood” who had hair “so fine that it needed lots of hairspray.” The hair stylist has previously claimed that Elvis was reading a book about Jesus the moment he died, a book the barber had given him five days before his death. Geller at one time had been ostracized by Colonel Parker and the Memphis Mafia, who blamed him for Presley’s fascination with different religions. At one point, Colonel Tom refused to let him be alone with Presley, limiting barber sessions to a half hour with a chaperon. The Colonel eventually confiscated all spiritual books Geller had given the singer, which Priscilla convinced Elvis to burn one night at Graceland.

Red West was the unexpected guest. West and his brother Sonny had written a tell-all book entitled Elvis, What Happened? after being fired from their bodyguard roles. Presley contemplated having the pair killed after the book came out but failed to carry through with the scheme. Years later, a tearful West has nothing but kind words for his former boss, and recollections about various attempts to break the monotony of life with Elvis in Las Vegas. For one prank, the Memphis Mafia staged an assassination attempt on Elvis, loading everyone’s guns with blanks in an afternoon shoot-out where Presley played dead as those not in on the joke jumped on his body to protect him from the imaginary bullets.

Leave it to Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records and the man who discovered Elvis, to be the one speaker willing to toss a few irreverent barbs in everyone’s direction. Phillips is widely regarded as the man who unleashed rock ‘n’ roll with the release of “Rocket ’88′” by Jackie Brentson. In the early 1950s, Phillips had discovered a black singing group known as the Prisonaires incarcerated at the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville. Impressed, Phillips began soliciting tapes of songs from other convicts, including one who sounded an awful lot like the Presley kid that had made acetate recordings 10 months earlier at Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service. Phillips was forced to give Presley a second listen, eventually hooking him up with guitarist Scotty Moore’s group, the Starlite Wranglers. Moore was initially impressed more with the singer’s name than voice because he thought the name “Elvis Presley” sounded like it came from a science fiction movie. Two years later, Phillips sold Presley’s contract to Colonel Tom Parker for $35,000.

Admitting that “anybody this damn old ought to be dead,” Phillips opened his address expressing admiration for the RCA microphone before him. He praised its aluminum strip and magnetic poles as he noted, “You make the performer feel like he owns that microphone,” the excitement rising in his voice. Admitting that he had more tolerance for Red than Red’s brother Sonny, Phillips praised West for being “exactly what Elvis needed in a bodyguard.” He said the brothers’ tell-all book wasn’t written to make money, but rather “to help Presley straighten his life out.” Phillips spoke in a stream of consciousness delivery that veered off on various tangents before suddenly returning to the topic at hand as he forgave West for writing the book.

Sam Phillips has claimed to have had no regrets about selling Elvis to the Colonel, whom he called “a fat boy with a long tongue and fat mouth.” But he can’t hide his disdain for the man who once had a carnival sideshow featuring dancing chickens on a plugged-in hot plate. “I’ll never say anything against Tom Parker . . . I wish he were still alive — then I would!” Phillips then turned his sarcasm towards Charlie Hodge: “It ain’t easy passin’ a glass of water to Elvis Presley. Forget the scarves.” He finally got around to exalting Presley, lauding him as a man of his word. “Elvis wouldn’t break a damn contract, even if it cost him his lower anatomy. He was the most important personality of the 20th and 21st centuries . . . I loved him because I wanted to kiss him and never got to.” As the audience laughed nervously at Phillips’ peculiar anecdotes, the legendary record producer concluded with a philosophical flurry of words that put a perspective on the two-day Memphis spectacle that few in the throng of 30,000 Graceland mourners would dare acknowledge. “We’re not talkin’ about no damn deities, and we don’t need another pope,” Phillips said quietly of the man who drew revelers from all corners of the globe on the 25th anniversary of his death. “No use in kidding ourselves. Elvis Presley got himself in the mess he made, and you know he did.” &

Elvis Summer Heats Up

Elvis Summer Heats Up

 

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As the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s August 16 death approaches, the late singer currently has a number one hit in Europe with “A Little Less Conversation.” The chart-topper fulfills Colonel Tom Parker’s prophecy that Presley would be worth more to the manager dead than alive. His 1977 passing also opened the door for a new form of entertainment — the Elvis impersonator.

No one is more shocked by his chosen profession than impersonator David Lee. “It’s beyond my belief,” Lee observes about life portraying the greatest American icon of all time. “I don’t think anybody sets out to make a career being an Elvis impersonator.” The singer is revered as one of the top Elvis performers in North America, currently holding the champion’s title after having won the Canadian Elvis Fest 2001. He also placed third in the number one Elvis contest in the world, Images of the King 2001, which is held each August in Memphis in observance of Presley’s 1977 death.

 

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Lee didn’t start out as an Elvis fan. “My best friend had Elvis playing all the time, and I thought, ‘Man, this guy’s a little strange.’” But he soon became a convert, and began impersonating Presley in 1995 after being told he sounded a lot like him. “Deep down, I’m just a big Elvis fan, but I took it to another level.” He presently owns nine Elvis jumpsuits, including the American Eagle costume (from Presley’s legendary 1973 “Aloha from Hawaii” concert), the Peacock outfit, and the white fringe suit. Lee focuses on the more obscure Presley tunes. “You go to the contests and you hear ‘Suspicious Minds’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’ 3,000 times. I try to look for songs that people don’t do.

“I try to give the people an accurate account of what it might be like to see Elvis,” Lee says. “Of course, there was only one Elvis . . . So if you can give ‘em just a touch of it, you’ve done your job.”

David Lee will perform at the BJCC Theatre August 9 with the Promised Land band. Showtime is 8 p.m. He will also be at the Birmingham International Raceway August 10 with the Muddy King Orchestra. For tickets or information, call 205-266-3030 or visit www.elvis4u.com.

Immaculate Deception

Immaculate Deception


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An Elvis impersonator sings “G.I. Blues” to adoring fans.

Decades after Elvis Presley’s twin brother Jesse died at birth, and years before scientists began work on human cloning, an odd strain of human known as the “Elvis impersonator” karate-chopped its way into the belly of 20th century world culture. Long live the King.

Twenty Elvis impersonators invaded Birmingham June 15 and 16 for the second Annual Elvis in Dixieland contest. Memphis-native William Styles, who vomited on Presley as an infant (his parents were pals of Elvis), was crowned champ after his mighty fine version of Elvis’ rendition of “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” Styles, who bears an alarming resemblance to Kurt Russell’s Hollywood portrayal of Elvis, won $1,000 and the opportunity to compete in the world-wide “Images of the King” contest in Memphis in August during the 25th anniversary vigil of Elvis’ death.

David Lee, billed as “Birmingham’s Favorite Elvis Entertainer,” served as master of ceremonies. The reigning Canadian Grand Champion Elvis impersonator, Lee placed third during last year’s Memphis celebration. He introduced an assortment of contenders that aped every Elvis move imaginable — karate kicks, fists punching the air, and hips quivering uncontrollably. Grown women squealed like teenagers as they rushed the stage for kisses and scarves from performers in between endless versions of “Suspicious Minds” and the proverbial Elvis catch-phrase: “Thank you, thank you very much.”

Impersonator Michael Ratcliffe, a member of Virginia’s “Touched By Elvis” fan club, struggled to stay on pitch, but that didn’t stop him from belting out an emotional, off-key version of “My Way.” Danny Dale, an overweight Las Vegas Elvis from Louisville, Kentucky, mingled in the hallway with other contestants after his performance, sweat glistening off his chest as he explained his motivation for imitating the King. “It’s like doing aerobics. I try to mimic [his] moves. I started like most of the impersonators did, doing karaoke. Eventually, I rented a suit and started doing parties.” Beside him stood his 18-year-old son, “Little D,” who waited his turn to present a 1950s Elvis act.

“This is for my country and my Savior,” said a Presley imitator in a sparkling rhinestone-studded blue jumpsuit as he introduced “Dixie.” A gospel Elvis said he got his start impersonating the King at “rodeos, churches, and nursing homes.” Bragging that his Church of God rearing was every bit as religious as Presley’s youth, he opened his set by announcing, “I’d like to put in a plug for the two kings — King Jesus and King Elvis.”

The Men Who Should Be King

The Men Who Should Be King


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Elvis admirers strike a pose at Graceland.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Elvis Presley must be tossing and turning in his Graceland tomb, wondering where he went wrong. Maybe he’ll rise from the dead one day to set the record straight, but until then, the endless parade of imitation Elvis resurrections will continue to thrive as the most alluring sideshow in American culture.

On Saturday, June 16, an army of Elvis clones will invade the BJCC Ballroom to compete in the inaugural Elvis in Dixieland Impersonator Contest. The winner will jet up Highway 78 to Memphis in August to compete for the title True King in the “Images of Elvis Contest,” the most bizarre event of the sacred vigil known as “Death Week.”

The impersonator contest is sponsored by B&K Enterprises, “a household name in the custom costume world.” Internationally acclaimed for authentic reproductions of Elvis costumes, Elvis jumpsuits, and Elvis accessories, B&K Enterprises employs patterns and techniques handed down from original Elvis-wear designers Bill Belew and Gene Doucette. Jumpsuits go for as high as $4,000, capes up to $2,400, and belts for $350. The company also manufactures Elvis-style eyeglasses by Dennis Roberts, the original designer who created 488 pairs of eyeglasses for the King from 1970 to 1977. Roberts also created Presley’s classic “TCB with lightening bolt” necklace.

The host of the contest will be David Lee, who bills himself as “Birmingham’s Favorite Elvis Entertainer.” Lee is also a member of the Professional Elvis Impersonators Association (PEIA), an international organization that promotes “the advancement of Elvis Presley’s music and Style [sic] throughout the world. PEIA’s code of Ethics includes the promise to “not physically, mentally, psychologically, (or) verbally abuse or slander other performers or members.”

First prize will be $1,000 cash; other prizes include a replica of Elvis’ “Aloha” belt and custom-made “puffy-sleeve” satin shirts from B&K Enterprises. Part of the proceeds from the impersonator contest will benefit Grace House Ministries..” Advance tickets are $4 for adults, and $2 for ages 6 through 12. At the door, it’s $5 for adults.