My buddy Phil Arnold recently posted a piece about Elvis impersonators over on his ElvisBlog. Against my better judgment, I’ll link you to it – but with the strong warning that many of the photos there may cause permanent eye damage.
In any event, Phil concludes his post as follows:
“If you never saw Elvis in concert, [Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest winner] Shawn’s show is as close as you’ll ever get.”
I beg to differ, with all due respect to Phil and even to Shawn Klush – who I’m sure puts on a good show for those that are into that sort of thing.
I never saw Elvis in concert, but the following essential DVDs allow me to get much closer to that experience than watching any imitator:
Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Shows
- September 9, 1956
- October 28, 1956
- January 6, 1957
ELVIS: ’68 Comeback Special – Deluxe Edition
- June 27, 1968, Sit-down Show #1
- June 27, 1968, Sit-down Show #2
- June 29, 1968, Stand-up Show #1
- June 28, 1968, Stand-up Show #2
Elvis: That’s The Way It Is
- August 1970 live performances
Elvis: That’s The Way It Is – Special Edition
- August 1970 live performances
Elvis On Tour
- April 1972 live performances
Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii – Deluxe Edition
- January 12, 1973, rehearsal show
- January 14, 1973, satellite broadcast show
On a 73-inch screen with surround sound kicked up, the above DVDs – and others featuring the real Elvis – allow me briefly to believe I am really there at these events. Even the best imitator cannot do that. Why watch an imitation when you can watch the genuine article?
Though the visual component is missing for most of them, I could also cite dozens upon dozens of electrifying concerts on CD that help bring the real Elvis back for an encore, including:
- December 15, 1956 (Young Man With The Big Beat)
- March 25, 1961 (Elvis Aron Presley)
- August 26, 1969, Dinner Show (Live In Vegas)
- August 26, 1969, Midnight Show (All Shook Up)
- August 12, 1970, Midnight Show (That’s The Way It Is [2000 Special Edition])
- April 18, 1972 (Close Up)
- March 18, 1974 (Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis)
- December 14, 1975, 10 PM Show (Fashion For A King)
I am 37 years old. If I had been exposed to imitators growing up rather than the real Elvis via recordings and videos (on a 13-inch black & white TV with mono sound, so it is not the equipment that matters), then I would not be an Elvis fan today. He would not even be on my radar.
I say this not to knock imitators – at least not the few who attempt to put on respectful, quality shows. However, Elvis Presley Enterprises should get out of the imitator business. It should never have gone there in the first place. EPE does a disservice to Elvis’ legacy by endorsing imitations. EPE should maintain focus on the real Elvis.
There is only one Elvis Presley. I accept no imitations. Neither should EPE.
18 thoughts on “As close as I’ll ever get (Conductor’s Reflections #13)”
I whole heartedly agree Troy, I will not be going any further with links to mere imitators. Why oh why ($$$$) does EPE persist in these demeaning endeavours? because to me that’s what they are they diminish Elvis’ legacy, his powerful performances and have turned it into a circus but considering where it all started maybe that should not be surprising to any of us Elvis fans!!? But yes for me there is no other like Elvis, so why bother ?? EPE save the money from these fruitless yearly weak inferior shadows and spend it on something that a true Elvis fan can actually enjoy…They can start with (and I know this will set the cat amongst the pigeons) by releasing “Elvis In Concert” officially on Bluray and DVD with all the footage and cuts et as gallerys and playlists et. I would sooner have that than what they are currently dishing out!!! (with the odd exception :)….) Ray.
I’m glad you brought up Elvis In Concert, as I would rather watch that – painful as it is at times – than any of these imitators. I do plan to write the obligatory “Elvis In Concert should be released on DVD/Blu-ray” post at some point – though so much has been said about this on both sides, I’m not sure what I could add to it.
I totally agree with your assessment…’There is only one Elvis Presley. I accept no imitations.’ However, I also believe the ETA phenomena will persist…… till that one ‘rogue asteroid’ headed this way., finally ….scores! OK! That could be an exaggeration! Perhaps …it is partially Elvis’ fault, since his persona alone….has this problem, as no other. Or, perhaps Mojo Nixon got it right….’Elvis is in everybody!……Elvis is everywhere!’
Thanks for commenting. Another image that is imitated even more often than that of Elvis – and sometimes just as unsuccessfully – is Santa Claus.
Anyway, if you believe Mojo, Elvis is in everybody except Michael J. Fox, if I recall correctly. Elvis is also trying to get out of one particular person, but I’m not even going there.
Hello everyone, I’m like you, I hate our idol lookalikes.
Especially the huge balloons, at home we call it, of Bibendum.
With reference to the image of a man made of tires, a tire brand in France.
I made my friendships Elvisiennes.
In the US, we call “Bibendum” the “Michelin Man,” so the reference is not lost. Thanks for commenting!
I enjoyed the video. Thank you.
I would like to clarify that I do enjoy artists who occasionally pay tribute to Elvis in their own voices, using their own images. For example, I’m a big fan of Sayaka Alessandra – who does some Elvis songs but is not an imitator.
I’ve also enjoyed versions of Elvis songs by Cee Lo Green, Toby Keith, Chuck Jackson, Amy Grant, Albert King, and a host of others.
When it comes to “imitations,” I make a singular exception for Andy Kaufman – who, like Elvis, was a genius in his field.
Hey Ty: Glad I was able to give you an idea for a blog article. We both know how hard it is to come up with something new each week after we’ve already written hundreds of Elvis stories.
One thing about Shawn Klush, who as you say, puts on a good show for those that are into that sort of thing. I’ve seen him bring women in the audience to tears. I’ve seen middle-aged women rush to the stage to get a scarf from Shawn, and then come back to their seats giddy as a teenager. They were thrilled to experience the essence of a live Elvis concert. There was an emotional connection there for these Elvis fans. I’m not so sure they could get that same thing from watching DVDs. If other people can, good for them.
Phil Arnold, ElvisBlogmeister
Elvis imitators bring me to tears, too, but that’s a whole other story.
Ty, your post made me think of one of the first ones I ever wrote… back in 2007 I think it was: http://www.elvistodayblog.com/2007/08/develop-your-own-talents.html
Great post, Thomas! Funny, I almost introduced that exact same quote into mine.
“Do develop your own special talents and abilities, though […]. This is a great compliment to me that you would work so hard on this act like mine but never neglect your own special abilities to be yourself also.” (July 19, 1977)
As you say, it is unsure whether Elvis himself actually wrote this letter to one of his imitators or if a representative actually wrote it (which would be ironic, in a way, as someone imitating Elvis would be writing the imitator to suggest that he just be himself).
If you read it aloud, it sounds like Elvis talking, though.
Still, it is probably unrealistic to believe Elvis was personally answering fan mail in the weeks just prior to his death. I guess we’ll probably never know.
ETAs and impersonators serve a purpose. They keep the memory of Elvis alive and continue to expose him to new generations. Everything has a shelf life and I believe the Elvis phenomena only has about 25-35 years left on the shelf. Everyone who knew Elvis personally will be dead and the majority of fans will be too old to care. Despite your misgivings about the imitators you’re missing out on some great shows, more importantly you’re missing out on meeting people who know Elvis and fans who have seen him in concert. Their eyes light up, often misted by holding back tears, when they share their memories and for a moment you are closer to Elvis then you can ever get from a DVD.
If the ETAs and EPE stop what they are doing then the memory of Elvis will be regulated to the books of music history.
Jim, thank you for reading and sharing your perspective. I started to type out a response here, but I have decided to save it for a future post instead.
I look forward to the post.
Here is my response: Keepers of the Elvis phenomenon. Thanks again, Jim.
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