Elvis Presley left the building 38 years ago, but his music never did.
And since the King of Rock and Roll died, a new breed of entertainer was born: the tribute artist.
There are thousands of ETAs (Elvis tribute artists) around the world. They all strive to do one thing. No, not to sneer with the upper lip or even to gyrate their hips.
These entertainers strive to deliver some elements of what made Presley the best-selling solo artist of all time in the United States.
Ray Fischer, now 54, has been performing his “Vegas Elvis” show for the past 20 years.
What’s more important, to “sound” like Elvis or to “look” like him?
“You gotta do both, or the audience won’t buy it,” says Fischer.
By day, Fischer works for Imagine Physical Therapy in North Charleston as the vice president of patient accounts.
In the beginning, Fischer admits he didn’t really know all that much about Elvis. His first show was in the Horseshoe, an outside venue at MUSC. He had no back-up group. It was just him singing to a music track as traffic passed on Ashley Avenue.
Fischer says he was Elvis-esque but was very raw and not nearly as polished and proficient as he is today.
Singing for those desperately sick children, though, totally changed his outlook. He also received an enlightened understanding of how people looked at him when he was Elvis.
Following his performance that day at MUSC, a little girl grabbed Ray’s hand and insisted he visit some of her friends in the Children’s Hospital. He said he would if it was OK with hospital officials.
A few minutes later, he found himself in a cancer patient’s room who had been unresponsive for more than two weeks. The child’s mother asked him to sing “Love Me Tender.”
Before he finished that song, the desperately sick child opened her eyes and looked straight at him. Everyone in the room started to cry.
A year later, Fischer was asked by a dad on Johns Island to visit his small, sick boy. This boy was an Elvis fan and the father thought it might raise his spirits.
Fischer put on the jumpsuit, the wig, the white boots ... the whole get-up and visited the little boy. Two weeks later, the boy died, and his father said the family placed a silk scarf in the small coffin.
The moves, facial expressions and mannerisms of Elvis are often duplicated by many tribute artists. Very few have taken the steps Fischer has made to go the extra mile.
There are all kinds of ETAs around the world. There’s “Rock and Roll Elvis,” “military Elvis,” “leather Elvis” and “Vegas Elvis.” Fischer does nothing but “Vegas Elvis,” the one that wears the jumpsuit.
Fischer just ordered a new suit. It’s actually a creation of Presley’s designer. Apparently, tribute artists still keep the designer in business.
There are eight of Fischer’s previous “Elvis suits” on sale on eBay.
The audience comes to see Fischer’s shows with certain expectations. Fischer makes a point to interact with those fans by letting them touch the suit, feel the rings and receive a scarf.
He also requires that his musicians play their instruments just how Elvis’ band played.
Everything changes when Fischer slips into the white, rhinestone-covered jumpsuit. His voice deepens, his accent becomes a twinge more Southern and his entire persona is transformed.
The jet-black wig with sideburns tops it off.
Fischer continues to believe that the most important aspect of capturing Elvis is capturing the singer’s heart.
“No matter how good the look, the sound or performance, his heart is what people react to.”
Tribute artists take the stage all over the world. Some really look like Elvis, some really sound like him.
I’m not sure any of them have the heart of Elvis as much as Ray Fischer.
Thank ya, thank ya very much.
Reach Warren Peper at firstname.lastname@example.org.