Five Elvis Impersonators Slip on Their Blue Suede Shoes and Get Personal
Robert McArthur, 44
VICE: How did you first become interested in Elvis Presley?
Robert: It all started with me being a fan when I was a kid. When Elvis died in August of 1977, I had just started listening to him and getting to know who he was. The very first concert I saw was his last TV special.
When did you decide you wanted to become a professional Elvis impersonator?
About ten years ago, my mom asked me if I wanted to go see an Elvis impersonator in Buffalo, New York, which is where I’m from. Seeing it brought me back to my childhood and gave me a renewed interest in Elvis. I became friends with these Elvis impersonators and told them about my childhood dream of dressing as Elvis. They said, “You should give that a try. You never know.” Eventually they convinced me to do it, and it turned out to be a great success.
Did you have any musical experience at that time?
Yeah, I had been in bands but never anything big. I didn’t do much singing. I mostly played guitar and used it as a way to get more confident with my voice. Throughout the years I’ve been in oldies bands, country bands, folk bands, heavy metal… In fact, I have an oldies band I jam with on the side right now.
How often do you perform as Elvis?
About three to four times per week. On the weekdays I perform at nursing homes and senior centers, and I also do singing telegrams. Then on the weekends I do birthday parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and similar events. I’m also an ordained minister.
Do you get asked to marry a lot of couples?
I do a couple per year. I marry people as Elvis and also do vow renewals. I do a package where I will marry them as Elvis, perform at the reception, and DJ the wedding.
Do you have other jobs, or is this it?
This is my full-time gig. In addition to Elvis, I also do other celebrity impersonations: Neil Diamond, Engelbert Humperdinck, and the Blues Brothers, as well as that oldies band I mentioned. That one is a superhero band—every person is dressed as a different superhero, and we do oldies and 60s surf music.
Which superhero are you?
Batman. We have Superman on drums, Green Lantern on keyboard, Aquaman on bass, Wonder Woman on trumpet, and Hawkgirl plays the sax.
Are people within the Elvis-impersonator community friendly with one another or is it more competitive?
Yeah, most of the guys get along. I’m friends with the local guys, but there are also national people. I traveled around when I first started out and went to the Elvis contests where I met a lot of them. I would say that 90 percent were great to hang out with. In the local community, if I can’t do a job I’ll call someone else and ask them to do it, and they’ll do the same for me. There are a few guys who aren’t very nice or sociable, though. There is a little rivalry between Elvises.
What’s the best Elvis song?
That’s a tough one. He has over 700 songs. I can’t put a favorite one out there, but I really enjoy a lot of his movie songs. He made 31 movies during his career and did the soundtracks to all of them, but none were very big hits. There are a lot of hidden gems in those films. One of my favorite movies is Live a Little, Love a Little, which he did later in his career.
Tunes aside, what’s your favorite thing about Elvis?
He was larger than life. He was loved by so many people. He had a very lavish lifestyle but was still down-to-earth and very generous as well. People would admire his cars, and he would give them the keys and say, “Enjoy.”
Do you ever run across female fans who have an infatuation with Elvis, and does that extend to you?
All the time. We were doing a party for this husband who hired Elvis for his wife’s birthday, and she was going crazy. She was acting like I was the real Elvis. She was practically fainting at my knees and hugging me as I performed. My girlfriend gets a big kick out of women trying to get close to me when I’m performing. It’s funny.
What makes your Elvis impersonation special?
I connect with the audience. If I see they are not enjoying themselves, I make sure that they do. My performances involve a lot of audience interaction and I give away scarves or teddy bears, like Elvis did. I don’t have an attitude, and I very much become Elvis when I put the boots and shades on. I try to put on an authentic show Elvis would be proud of.
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