Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Elvis: here, there, everywhere

Doug Church, above, performed as Elvis Presley
during a show at Escanaba High School on May 7.


An acclaimed Elvis Presley impersonator appeared here May 7 as the phenomenon surrounding the late King of Rock & Roll continues to grow.

Doug Church, who both looks and sings like Elvis, entertained an audience at the Escanaba High School auditorium.

He's among an estimated 35,000 Elvis impersonators worldwide and has even been featured in a DVD instructing novices how to improve their impressions of Presley.

Dressed in a sequined white polyester jumpsuit, Church performed a medley of early hits, but concentrated on Presley's material from the1960s and 70s.

Church sang live to pre-recorded backing tracks fed through the sound system by his wife Pam. "The band couldn't make it so they phoned in their performance," Church joked.

Almost on cue, mostly older women approached the stage to present "Elvis" with a rose or receive a scarf from the entertainer. Several girls did the same.

Besides local folks the audience included fans from Iowa and Wisconsin who were especially enthusiastic.

The event was organized by radio personality Wayne Nault for the Knights of Columbus Council 640.

Church offered a remarkable imitation of Presley and is known as the "Voice of Elvis."

He opened with a rousing version of "C. C. Rider" and hit his stride with "Don't Cry Daddy," "In the Ghetto," "Kentucky Rain," "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" and "Polk Salad Annie."

Still, Church didn't take himself too seriously. "This is all in good fun. Agreed?" Church asked.

The impersonator completed "Moody Blue," telling the audience "I'm going to go back and take a nap now." A woman responded: "Can we come, too?"

A second set included "Seven Spanish Angels," which Presley never recorded. Church did it as a duet, also performing as the voice of country singer Willie Nelson. He even tossed in an imitation of television character Fred Sanford for good measure.

Church also played "The Gambler," made famous by Kenny Rogers, although Presley didn't record that tune either. "She Thinks I Still Care" a George Jones cover Presley released in 1976 was also on the setlist.

The Elvis look-a-like asked veterans to stand and saluted them with a memorable version of "Dixie."

Church told the crowd he "wasn't a Yooper," although he was born near Michigan's southern border and now lives in Indiana.

The 47-year-old entertainer first came to prominence when he won an Elvis impersonator world championship contest in 1991.

Church has performed his Elvis tribute show throughout the United States and Canada as well as England, Denmark, Thailand, Mexico, Russia, France, Hong Kong and Germany.

In 2006, he was spotlighted in "Sing Like the King," the world's first training video for Elvis impersonators.

The "how to" DVD is "designed to help performers improve their vocals and sound more like the King of Rock, with lessons on vibrato, vocal range, mastering the Elvis accent, signature dance moves and gestures, as well as hair, make-up and costume tips."

The film was directed by John Paget who is taking aim at the 35,000 Elvis impersonators he estimates are working around the world.

That number is up from about 200 plying the trade when Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977 at the age of 42.

The first Elvis impersonator was Bill Haney, who Presley actually went to see perform. Another well-known Elvis imitator was comedian Andy Kaufman.

Potential Elvis impersonators have access to two guidebooks, "Be Elvis" by Rick Marino and "The Elvis Impersonation Kit" by Laura Lee.

Although Elvis passed away nearly 33 years ago, his memory lives on in festivals, contests and other events.

If you're interested in seeing Elvis impersonators perform, or becoming one yourself, several events this summer might spark your interest.

Ypsilanti will host the 11th annual ElvisFest on July 9 and 10, 2010 at Riverside Park.

About 9,000 Elvis fans are expected to "pay homage to the King of Rock & Roll and to hear the most award-winning professional Elvis Tribute Artists in North America."

In addition, the Oneida Casino in Green Bay will host the Rockin' E Jamboree from Aug. 27 through 29, 2010, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Presley's birth.

The event will feature top Elvis impersonators including Bill Cherry, Donny Edwards, Garry Wesley, Dwight Icenhower, Travis LaDoyt, Ryan Pelton and Victor Travino.

Also expected are some of Presley's best chums including former girl friend and rockabilly star Wanda Jackson, guitarist James Burton and drummer D. J. Fontana. Fontana drummed on 460 RCA cuts for Elvis, while Burton appeared in concert with Presley from 1969 to 1977.

Another attraction in Green Bay will be Eddie Clendening who portrays Elvis in the Broadway musical "The Million Dollar Quartet."

Both the Michigan and Wisconsin events are sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE).

EPE oversees Presley's estate. Robert Sillerman and CKX, Inc. own 85 percent of the company, while Presley's daughter Lisa Marie retains a 15 percent stake.

Doug Church, meanwhile, is now in his 22nd year as an Elvis impersonator, or as he prefers to be called, an Elvis tribute artist.

Church's most recent stop marks the fourth time he has appeared in the central Upper Peninsula.

His itinerary takes him to Henrico, Virgina where he'll perform with fellow Elvis impersonator Jim Barone on June 12.

By the way, Church ended his Escanaba show to a standing ovation, exiting the stage with the announcement made at Presley concerts to disperse crowds hoping for an encore.

"Elvis has left the building."

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