Las Vegas Sun

July 31, 2014

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MUSIC:

Spirit of Elvis rocks on

Artist will celebrate the King’s birthday with concert

Elvis Tribute Artists

"The King" of Rock and Roll has been gone for more than 30 years, but on any given night in Las Vegas the spirit of Elvis Presley lives on. For Elvis tribute artists like Trent Carlini, Jesse Garon, Darren Lee and Pete "Big Elvis" Vallee, the message they try to relate on stage is one of fun energy and high intensity, a routine that Elvis himself would be proud of. "It's almost like you're on autopilot," Garon said, of drifting into the Presley persona. "You're no longer the other guy, you're the 'King.' It's almost like being in your zen, your spot."

Elvis Presley

Liberace and Elvis Presley trade jackets and instruments in an impromptu jam session at the Riviera on Nov. 14, 1956. Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

Dennis Wise, 54, has been an Elvis impersonator for more than 30 years, beginning with a garage band he started with his brother.

BY THE NUMBERS

$52 million — Amount the Elvis estate made in 2008, according to Forbes. That’s up from $49 million in 2007. He’s consistently at the top of its “top-earning dead celebs” list, except for the year the Kurt Cobain catalog was sold.

$10 million — Approximate worth of his estate when he died in 1977

More than 1 billion — Best guess of his record sales, according to Elvis Presley Enterprises (the company that owns his likeness and everything else)

147 — Number of albums and singles that had been certified gold/platinum/multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America

31 — Number of feature films that Elvis appeared in from 1956 to 1969

29 cents — Cost of the Elvis stamp issued in 1993. It’s become the most collected U.S. stamp with more than 124 million saved and more than 500 million sold.

$12.95 — Cost of his first guitar, bought in 1946 at the Tupelo Hardware Store

$17.50 — Tickets to dinner show at the Hilton, including lobster or steak, in the 1970s

837 — Consecutive sold-out shows at the International and Hilton

$43.7 million — Worth of show tickets sold in Las Vegas (more than $150 million in 2008 dollars)

ELVIS' NO. 1 HITS

1956 — “Heartbreak Hotel,” “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” “Don’t Be Cruel” / “Hound Dog,” “Love Me Tender”

1957 — “Too Much,” “All Shook Up,” “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear,” “Jailhouse Rock”

1958 — “Don’t,” “Hard Headed Woman”

1959 — “A Big Hunk o’ Love”

1960 — “Stuck on You,” “It’s Now or Never,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

1961 — “Surrender”

1962 — “Good Luck Charm”

1969 — “Suspicious Minds”

Sun Blogs

As incredible as it may sound, Elvis Presley would have celebrated his 74th birthday today – probably quietly at Graceland lest he throw out a hip.

The King is as popular today as he was when he died suddenly at the age of 42 in the Memphis mansion on Aug. 16, 1977.

Maybe even more so.

Last year, he earned $54 million, topping the list of dead performers who are still making money.

Keeping his spirit alive are tens of thousands of professional Elvis impersonators around the world, and millions more who do it for kicks.

Dennis Wise, 54, has been an Elvis tribute artist since before Elvis died (or allegedly passed on if you are one of those who believe he is in hiding).

Wise will perform his annual Elvis birthday concert Saturday at the Chrome Lounge at Santa Fe Station. Admission is $10.

“I’ve never missed a year,” says Wise. “I always do a show celebrating his birthday and remembering him on the anniversary of his death.”

The shows are on the weekends before or after the dates so fans can sleep in.

We aren’t that young anymore, either.

Wise’s mother introduced him to Elvis’ music.

“I was a small kid growing up in Joplin, Mo.,” he says. “He was popular in the South, but not so much around the rest of the country. Dad hated Elvis. Mom was the fan in the house. But dad drove a truck and was gone all the time and so Mom always listened to Elvis records. Since I was 5 I’ve been acting like him – he was kind of like a father figure to me because my dad was gone all the time. I kind of took after him.”

He and his brother formed a garage band in the early ’70s.

“We started playing in clubs in Joplin and in Oklahoma and I’d do a little Elvis skit in the act,” Wise says. “People loved it.”

Gradually Elvis became a bigger part of the act.

“We were offered a job to go to Hawaii,” Wise says. “When the band broke up my brother returned to the mainland but I stayed on in Hawaii a couple of years. I was there in 1977 when Elvis died.”

Soon after he received a call from his brother in Little Rock, Ark.

“A promoter was looking for an Elvis act,” says Wise, who auditioned by singing “Trying to Get to You.”

“I sang a few lines and the guy said, ‘That’s enough,’ ” Wise says. “I thought I was headed back to Hawaii, but the guy said ‘I’ll take him. He’s great.’ ”

That was the start of a career that has lasted more than 30 years.

“It just took off,” Wise says. “My first gig was in March 1978 in Florida. We were traveling the country, doing two shows a night six and seven nights a week.”

Wise channeled Elvis for years, performing with Brenda Lee in a concert in Chile and appearing on shows with Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin and Dick Clark.

“I was blessed,” he says.

From 1982 to 1984 he had a nightclub across the street from Graceland in Memphis. Tourists would visit the mansion and then stop by Wise’s club for the tribute act.

“It was perfect, but it was a lot of trouble,” Wise says. “Graceland started buying up everything in the area. They bought us out as well. They wanted the whole property to themselves.”

After spending the next two years on the road, he and his wife, Marcia, decided to settle down in Las Vegas.

“We were on the road, home-schooling our son, Shane, and he wanted to play ball and do things like normal kids do,” Wise says. “A lot of us in the entertainment business don’t get a chance to do some of the normal things. I wanted to give him some stability, so we decided to find a home in the Entertainment Capital.”

Marcia is a schoolteacher, teaching the history of music.

Shane, 24, is a drummer, living in Nashville. He plays original music with Enjoy the Zoo, a group whose members grew up in Las Vegas.

Shane will be drumming for with his dad on Saturday night. The music will be all Elvis, from the Vegas years.

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