Updated: Nov 26, 2021
Being asked to describe a typical day in the life of an Elvis impersonator is a bit like being asked to say what the weather will be like on any given day of the year. You have a good idea of what it’s likely to be, but you’ll never know until you actually get there.
Before we get to the shows themselves, I need to make clear an important distinction. There are performing days and non-performing days, and they couldn’t be more different. Most of the week is of the non-performing variety, and what gets done there is the most important work of all.
An early start is definitely not part of my routine. I naturally wake about 8.30am and have usually dragged myself out of bed and down to my office, coffee in hand, around 9am.
Once the caffeine has woken my brain the first and most important thing any singer must do is exercise their voice - and no, coffee is not great for your throat, but plenty of water definitely helps!
Just as athletes need to train their muscles, so do singers. A variety of scales filled with trills, lip rolls, mums and lahs are just some of the ridiculous noises we make, and as bizarre as it sounds its all very deliberate and purposeful, as different sounds and shapes each work different parts of the vocal anatomy.
Once the voice has been exercised it’s important to get the body in shape too. I know what you’re thinking, Elvis was not exactly athletically fit by the end of his life, and you’d be right. But I’m very much in the business of recreating the King at his best, not his worst! For this I like to do Yoga, Pilates and a variety of core strength and flexibility exercises. It’s also important to work on Karate kata – a series of flowing karate moves - as Elvis himself was a black belt and incorporated a lot of the movements into his dance repertoire.
Once the physical work is out of the way it’s all about paperwork, social media and graphic design. I have a great personal manager who takes care of my bookings, but pretty much everything else I handle myself. Posting updates on social media is incredibly important, as it’s the best way to reach existing and potential fans.
Other than that, there are always little things to take care of like website updates, answering emails, planning set lists and liaising with clients.
But of course, none of this would mean anything without the performance days themselves. And like I alluded to earlier, doing roughly the same thing every weekend can feel like a completely different experience depending on where you are and who you are singing for.
I’ve been tremendously lucky in my years as an Elvis tribute, as I have had the privilege of performing as my hero in Memphis and Las Vegas, as well as many famous venues, including Wembley Stadium in front of 70,000 people!
I regularly travel across the UK performing with my Burning Love Band, a trusted group of veteran musicians who love Elvis’ music almost as much I do. The biggest challenge at these shows is the high bar I set myself, as more often than not I attempt to recreate Elvis from the start of his career in the mid 1950s all the way through to his epic Vegas stands of the 1970s. Trying to condense the King’s catalogue into a single evening is impossible, so I always try to pick the most popular songs to fill my repertoire. No matter my personal song preferences, the audience always comes first!
Typically, I would need to arrive a few hours before performing, mainly to sound check, go over the performance area and make the necessary preparations. A medley of costumes for me to frantically change in and out of during the performance will be carefully laid out backstage and after that, I’ll need to carefully apply my Elvis makeup, style my hair and of course warm up the voice and body so I can hit the stage full of energy and adrenalin.
Sometimes you’re singing from a big stage for hundreds of screaming Elvis fans, other times you’re standing in a corner at a corporate do trying to get someone’s attention. You just never know how it will play out. Whatever the situation, I always try to maintain the same energy and commitment to my work.
Once the show is over it’s time to pack down and chill out, before heading to chat to the client and or fans who have hung around, always hoping to hear that you made someone happy! To finish off the event, it could be a hotel stay or more often than not, a long drive home in the dead of night.
That may cover the logistics, but what really matters when performing as Elvis is the shared connection that comes from meeting other people who he has impacted in a positive way. On many occasions I get to perform for small intimate gatherings, often families and friends brought together to celebrate a person or an anniversary. In these settings, it will often just be me performing a highly personal set for my client.
The most intimate of which I can recall was singing for a man who had always been an enormous Elvis fan but sadly only had weeks to live. According to the handful of family members present he had barely spoken in weeks. As soon as I started singing his favourite Elvis songs however, the man’s eyes lit up and he began to sing along. By the end of the show he was visibly brighter and seemed to have genuinely enjoyed the experience. Speaking to the family later, they remarked how happy and more communicative he had been in the days after the event, asking when I was going to come back!
The man passed away some weeks later before I could make my return visit, but regardless of how sad that was, thinking about this experience always lifts me when I’m feeling low.
It hasn’t been a good time to be a performer, with the COVID-19 pandemic all but closing my industry for more than a year. It was very hard to know what to do to feel useful during that time. Now that I can perform again, I’m ever more grateful that not only am I able to do what I love, but that I can share the experience of loving Elvis’ music with so many others.
Just as the memory of Elvis soothed the pain of that dying gentleman, it continues to inspire and motivate me to drag myself out of bed in the morning. I don’t think I could ask for a better job than that.
Contribution thanks to: JD King | www.jdkingelvis.co.uk | @jdkingelvis
Photo credits: JD King