Arts & Culture

Elvis Lives!

We hear from Elvis tribute artist Jim Parsley.

“I’d say around 10 or 11 years old, a friend of mine introduced me to Elvis. He was a big Elvis fan. I’d go over to his house and just started listening to his records and thought, ‘This guy is gooood.’

Elvis had everything, man. He was cool. He had the sound, the moves, the looks. He was also just a good human being. He’d give you the shirt off his back. When he had money, he loved buying people things and giving people things. How can you hate someone like that?

You think, ‘I wish I could be like that!’ All you do is learn the songs, learn his moves, and you just have a great time. I would put on Elvis records and have a strobe light going when I was a kid. I’d be up there in my bedroom dancing, and my mother would scream at me all the time because I sounded like I was going to come through the ceiling.

I never thought I’d be doing this. I’ve only been doing it about eight or nine years. My idea, when I first started out, was I wanted to do a tribute to Elvis but without dressing up like Elvis, without the black hair and sideburns, without the jumpsuit and all that. It wasn’t drawing a crowd.

I got the attention of a friend of mine, and he asked me to open up for his band a couple times doing Elvis stuff, so I did. One day he wanted me to open up at this wedding reception and this time he said, ‘Jim, do me a favor. Do it as Elvis.’ I was like, ‘I’m not going to do it as Elvis. That’s not what I do.’ ‘No, no, no, do it as Elvis, just this one time.’

I went ahead and bought this cheap Elvis suit and glasses and all that stuff. When I walked in, the place went crazy. Cameras started going off and I’m thinking, ‘Oh! Pretty neat!’ And that was before I got to the microphone and—as they say—that’s all she wrote. I was hooked.

Thankfully, I have the vocal ability to do ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s Elvis. So, sometimes I’ll do a three-hour show. I usually like to come out in a ’50s outfit, and then, for the ’60s, I’ll come out in the Elvis leather outfit from the ’68 Comeback Special, and then, of course, the ’70s is the jumpsuit. That’s always people’s favorite. There’s something about that outfit that people love.

I do my very best to spread myself around to the fans. But sometimes I can sing close to 50 or 60 songs in a show and out of those 60 songs, you’d be surprised how many people will come up to me after the show and say, ‘You didn’t sing my song.’

During a show, I sing, I mingle with the crowd, I make the women feel that when I’m singing to them that they’re the only one in the world that matters. They eat it up. I’m married for the second time. At first she wasn’t sure how to handle it, because I’m singing to all these women, and some of these women are just goo-goo ga-ga all over me. Sometimes their hands go where they shouldn’t go. But when they do that, I do my very best not to offend them, and I kinda just ease out of the situation and go my merry way. But you can’t do this and not expect that.

Now there are some Elvis Tribute Artists that go too far. They’ll participate in a way that makes Elvis look like some sleazeball. I don’t do that, and I don’t respect those that do. That’s not who the man was. Don’t say, ‘I’m here to represent Elvis Presley.’ Do it in a respectful way.

Someone told me about Night of 100 Elvises, and I got in contact. It’s a big, crazy event. They have three floors of entertainment. You have the main stage. You have your live bands—and they can be rap artists—as long as they’re doing Elvis music. I think I’m going on now about seven years, out of the 18.

I’ve brought a lot of joy to people by doing this. I believe that Elvis today is just as popular as Santa Claus. I hardly ever call anyone for a gig. It’s mostly by word of mouth that people call me. Sometimes I’ll be riding to a gig dressed as Elvis and people will drive past me and give me the thumbs up. It really, really does make people happy.

One day I’ll be giving this up. You know, you have your moments. But then something will happen that will give you that spark back. But the main thing is to try to stay as trim as I can and not lose any more hair—because I refuse to be the bald Elvis!”