Where else should Elvis be hanging out but at the Fort Collins Senior Center? I saw Bubba Ho Tep? This was the same Elvis whom my wife Ann dated before I met her and who sang at our wedding. His name is George Gray and he is widely known as “The Greeley Elvis.”
The large party room with stage at the Senior Center was filled to capacity by the time Elvis appeared. He brought a ten-piece band including five back-up singers wearing black suits and ties and one black dress. Elvis wore a dazzling white preacher’s suit with a crimson cravat. The first half was devoted to Gospel, beginning with a stunning a capella “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” and proceeding through a remarkable set of songs including “Walking With the Spirits, “The Battle of Jericho” (which employed a heavy doo-wop style,) “Rock My Soul,” and an a capella “Johnny Saw a Big Number” that stunned.
This is much more than homage. George Gray has a huge emotive tenor that evokes Elvis with ease. Gray and the band worship the King and his music and it shows in every note. Bass vocalist Charlie Spillman, from Fort Collins, anchored the chorus with freight train authority. The first half ended with “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art.”
The band returned for the rock and roll half in fresh costume, singers wearing shimmering ivory and slate dashikis, Elvis in sequined white jumpsuit with a belt buckle the size of Texas. This was the mature Elvis. Anyone looking for that skinny guy in the black leather jumpsuit was advised to seek elsewhere. Trombone, flugelhorn and the rhythm section played Strauss’ “Thus Spack Zarathustra,” the official over-the-top pop intro since Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Elvis leaped into “That’s All Right Mama” and his whole demeanor changed. Whereas before he had been rooted to one spot, this rockier Elvis moved around and struck Elvis poses which were both homage and parody. There was nothing parodistic about the singing, however, as Elvis ripped through “Return to Sender,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Teddy Bear,” a mash-up of “Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up,” “Love Me Tender,” and many others. Periodically he would summon some granny from the audience, allow her to mop his brow before bestowing a silk kerchief. The grannies loved it.
Elvis slowed it down for “Suspicious Minds,” showcasing his powerhouse range and mastery of dynamics. He ended with a mash-up of “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Out in the hall was a poster for Steve Lippia, the Sinatra impersonator who is bringing a full orchestra to the Civic Center. The tickets are over thirty-five bucks but hey, if you close your eyes…
As I contemplate the current music scene I wonder which contemporary performers will spawn the sincerest form of flattery. There are already numerous takes on the Beatles. The Rolling Stones are problematic. Future imitators will focus on individuals. Elton John, Billy Joel, the Boss? Will there be Springsteen imitators? Anything is possible but no contemporary figure compares to the iconic status of an Elvis or a Sinatra.