If I were King
Elvis tribute artist Mike Albert celebrates the King’s 70th birthday in rhinestone splendor
At a press conference in 1973, just before the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey ushered him onstage for the legendary Aloha From Hawaii concert, Elvis Presley said, “A live concert to me is exciting because of all the electricity that is generated in the crowd and on the stage. It’s my favorite part of the business—live concerts.”
If that’s so, then Elvis impersonators, men who labor only to perform the King’s music live again and again, might be the sincerest form of tribute in the colossal realm of Elvis memorials.
“Most Elvis impersonators really love Elvis music,” said Mike Albert, who has toured the world as a Presley tribute artist for 15 years. “Some don’t have the talent others do, but they still have the passion. It’s one of those things: Many are called; few are chosen.”
Perhaps seeking to distance the real Elvis from those less talented, Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc., which manages Elvis’ estate, has issued a coolly diplomatic statement on impersonators: “Impersonating Elvis falls under First Amendment freedom of expression, whether one is good or bad at impersonating him, whether one is making a sincere effort to pay tribute to him or doing an unflattering parody. … In general, EPE and the Elvis impersonator population live peacefully but apart in the world of Elvis.”
That world hits a milestone this Sunday, on what would have been Elvis’ 70th birthday. Elvis tributes, including Albert’s Vegas-style revue at the Cache Creek Casino Resort, will cause pelvises to shake around the globe.
Just before Christmas, Albert spoke to SN&R on the phone from Columbus, Ohio, where his Big “E” Band is based. Albert expressed an unabashed preference for the latter-day King of rhinestones and scarves. “My image of Elvis is the older Elvis, or the jumpsuit version,” Albert explained. “I like doing that one only because we’re able to do all the songs at that point. If you were doing the 1950s, you couldn’t sing ‘My Way’ or ‘Suspicious Minds.’
“There are so many great songs,” Albert said. “I don’t get tired of singing Elvis songs. We change our show all the time because he had so many hits.” Elvis had 149 songs on Billboard magazine’s Top 100 Pop Chart during his career, with 18 singles and 10 albums reaching No. 1.
When asked to choose a favorite Elvis song, Albert hesitated before admitting a preference for gospel. “Elvis won only three Grammys in his life, and those were for his gospel and spiritual albums,” Albert said. “That’s why I feel we always need to include some gospel in our show; it’s what the music world considered his best stuff.”
Of course, what jumpsuit Elvis provides in musical material, he taketh away in wardrobe costs. “I have 10 jumpsuits that were made exactly like Elvis’—same design, same pattern,” Albert said. Most range in cost from $2,500 to $3,500. “I have one that’s $6,500. That was the Sundial suit, the suit Elvis wore the last six months of his life. It’s embroidered, studded and stoned—a very elaborate suit.”
But the expense is worth it to Albert, who has made a full-time career singing the songs of the King in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the United States. “We’ve done quite a few shows over that length of time,” Albert said. “What’s neat is that there are still new audiences, people in their 20s and 30s that weren’t even around when Elvis was living.”
January is a prime season for Elvis to gather new fans, as news of his birthday is still televised around the globe. “Especially on slow news days,” Albert joked. Albert and his six-piece band, which includes two female backup singers, plan to celebrate it to the fullest this Saturday with a 90-minute show and even a birthday cake.
“It is a fun show, with respect to Elvis and his music. I get down in the crowd several times during the show. Elvis would have loved to get down in the crowd with the people who admired him, but most of the crowds loved him too much, and they would have torn his clothes off and hurt him. I don’t have that problem, so I like to try to do what Elvis would have loved to have done.”