Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
The karate stance wasn’t too bad. But that was about it.
First, he wasn’t nearly heavy enough to be doing the jumpsuit-era Elvis, (also known as “Prescription Elvis”). That polyester’s got to cling like a sausage casing over blutwurst, the flesh underneath jiggling and undulating like a waterbed. Second, he looked more like Buddy Ebsen with black hair and sideburns than E. Woooo-dawwwgeees!
And then there was the voice, if you could call it that.
Not…even…CLOSE! Not even close to SINGING, period! It sounded like someone had pepper-sprayed a basset hound.
Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, he was without a shadow of a doubt the absolute WORST Elvis impersonator I had ever seen.
But on that trip to Las Vegas, he wouldn’t be the last.
Over the years my wife/bodyguard Nan (she protects me from myself) and I have made close to 30 trips to Las Vegas, where we were presently enduring this aural assault. We were in the lounge of the Westward Ho Casino, (or, as it’s affectionately known, “The Ho”) on the north end of the strip. Hot ‘n thirsty from having walked from our hotel, the Monte Carlo, at the south end of the strip, we were drawn in by the Ho’s marquee advertising 75ï¿½ bottles of Heineken or LaBatts (our choice!).
“Shall we go slake our thirst?” I asked.
“Let the slaking begin,” she replied.
We went and bellied up to the lounge bar. While we waited for the barkeep to pop the tops on a couple of those cold, wet treats, we took in Buddy Presley’s jaw-droppingly bad version of “Hunk-a, Hunk-a Burnin’ Love!” More like “Chunk-a, Chunk-a Smolderin’ Cigar Butt.
“It’s like a car wreck,” I said. “You’re horrified, yet you cannot look away.”
“Oh, I can look away,” Nan said, powering down her beer. “You need to chug that…NOW!”
“Wait. Let’s just see what the next number is. Whaddya think, could it get worse?”
“I don’t possibly see how anything could be worse than that!”
Elvis Ebsen came out of his stance and began, and I use the word in the most charitable sense, “crooning” the Beatles’ “Something”.
“Well, that’s it for me,” I said. “Mr. Bartender, two Labatts for the road!”
With beers in fists we exited the Ho post-haste into the unnatural sunlight of the strip.
“Man, that was brutal”, I said. “Now, there’s a cat who should be lip-synching.”
“I agree. He’s got to be the worst Elvis we’ve ever seen!”
“Well, why don’t we do a little comparison shopping?”
The uh-oh look. “What do you mean?”
I pointed my nearly-empty bottle (wow, that went fast) across the street towards the Riviera Casino.
“The Riv. Remember years ago they had an Elvis in their lounge? He used to play outside on the street but they moved him inside. Violation of some kind of noise pollution ordinance or something. He used to be the standard bearer for bad Elvis’s?”
“Hmmm, vaguely. All right, let’s take a peek. A quick peek.”
We Jackie Channed our way through the busy Strip traffic and into the Riv’s lounge. Sure enough, there on the stage, stuffed into a baby blue jumpsuit was Elvis Number Two, just finishing up some incomprehensible number.
“Uh, thank ya, ladies and gentlemen,” he mumbled in his version of Elvis patois.
“Now that’s the way the jumpsuit should fit,” I said “Ready to burst at the seams!”
“He looks like a blue Pillsbury Doughboy in a black fright wig!” Nan laughed.
E2 mumbled some more about what a great audience we were (all 12 of us) and launched into his stylistic rendition of “My Way”. The first couple of lines weren’t too bad. Sort of Elvis-y. But he lost it in a hurry. By verse two his “interpretation” had gone to hell in a fast taxi.
No words were needed. We looked at each other, nodded, and bolted for the exit. As the real Elvis was purported to have said immediately after blowing Robert Goulet’s image off his TV with a handgun, “That’ll be enough of that shit!”
But evidently it wasn’t.
We grabbed a couple of beers in a convenience store and began the long walk back to our hotel. When we reached the Imperial Palace at mid-strip we broke out laughing at the group that was waiting in line to have their picture taken with….guess who? Yep, E Number Three! Dressed in a black version of the de rigeur apparel, he was even skinnier than the first guy!
“Looks like Don Knotts finally got work,” I said.
“Jeez, you can’t swing a dead cat in this town without hitting one of these guys,” Nan added.
We moved on down the crowded sidewalk. When we reached the Flamingo, we stopped at a refreshment stand that was having a special promotional offer of plastic cups of cheap domestic beer for only One United States Dollar! Be foolish to pass that by.
As waited for my draft to be drafted, I noticed the marquee on the side of the Barbary Coast Casino next door.
“Pete Vallee is BIG Elvis! Tuesday-Friday 3-6PM”
“He lives!” I yelled, grabbing Nan’s arm and pointing towards the sign. “Big Elvis lives!”
“Is that the guy Pete saw?”
“Not only saw, performed with!”
“Performed? Isn’t that stretching it a bit? Didn’t he just get on stage when Big Elvis asked for volunteers?”
“Look, he wore the wig and sunglasses and he sang along on ‘Viva Las Vegas’. That’s a performance.”
And that officially qualified my friend Pete as one of the growing (at an alarming rate) number of people who have impersonated Elvis in public.
According to Pete, Big Elvis wasn’t just big, he was huge. Gargantuan if you will.
“He’s about my height (6’2″),” Pete had told me, “but he’s got to weigh at least 500 pounds! He can only stand up for a little while before he gets winded and has to sit down on a stool. Better see him while you can.”
“How’s he sound?” I asked.
“If you closed your eyes, you’d swear Elvis was in the room.”
Those showbiz folks, always sticking together.
We went into the Barbary Coast and followed the sound of the music to the lounge. It was packed! SRO! And the voice, it wasn’t too bad. It was actually pretty good.
And then we saw him.
“He’s got to weigh at least 500 pounds,” Pete had said.
I’d say double that. Outside of a retired NBA center I’d run across, who was obviously heavily into groceries, this was the largest human being I had ever seen. He was singing sitting down in a big comfy chair. Elvis the Hut.
But he did have fair Elvis pipes, especially in the lower range. No, If I closed my eyes I wouldn’t think Elvis was in the room (and I’d had four beers!). But he was semi-entertaining.
We stuck around for about four numbers (pretty good for a free lounge act). On the last song, “Little Sister”, Big Elvis actually summoned all his strength and rose from his comfy chair for the last verse and chorus. The movement caused the mounds of flesh to swirl and vibrate for the duration of the song. It was like the hip-shakin, gyratin’ movements of the original, only he didn’t have to make those movements. All he had to do was stand up!
That was our cue. How could you top that? We left the casino and started thinking about heading to dinner.
“Anything in mind?” Nan asked.
“I don’t know about you,” I said, “but I’ve got this hankerin’ to go to Fatburger.”
The next day, as we were walking past the Aladdin, we noticed yet another Elvis imitator had set up shop in front of the casino entrance. Singing along to his karaoke machine, he was posing for photo ops with members of a senior tour group (for tips, natch).
Fortified by three jumbo beers and that morning’s acquisition of a pair of cheap Elvis-style shades from a kiosk in front of the Boardwalk Casino (unaffectionately known as “The Evil Clown”), I jumped up next to Elvis V and began singing along to “She’s Not You”.
The crowd was wowed!
Elvis was jealous! (until I tipped him).
I was a showbiz legend in my own mind!
It is good to be king!
©2005 Lee Hammerschmidt