Interview with This Is Elvis star, Steve Michaels
By Amy Cooper
We sit down and chat with internationally acclaimed Elvis impersonator Steve Michaels about all things This Is Elvis, currently on tour visiting ten ATG Venues.
How have you prepared for this role where you have had to act as Elvis?
When I had the opportunity to audition for this role as Elvis Presley I had always thought if there was a role I could play it would be playing Elvis. I've been an Elvis fan my entire life - I've dedicated thousands upon thousands of hours watching listening and learning.
What have you done in your career that's brought you to now?
My journey over all the years that I've been performing Elvis started as a three-piece rockabilly trio performing all of Elvis' great 1950s sun studio recordings. I then found myself performing with many of the same musicians and vocalists that performed with Elvis Presley. My small trio soon grew to an ensemble of 14 people of talented musicians and vocalists and began my career touring across Canada, United States, Australia and now touring throughout the UK with This is Elvis. It's a wonderful dream come true to not only perform Elvis' music but also personify him in character on stage.
When did you discover your likeness to Elvis?
Oddly I didn't wake up one-day, look in the mirror and say heck I look like Elvis so why don't I perform Elvis. I believe it's been slow metamorphosis over the years!
What is it about Elvis that inspires you?
Pretty much everything! He was the first of many things: an actor, recording artist and stage performer but most of all, he was a very generous human being.
What was it that drew you to Elvis (from the beginning)?
At the time I began my career, I thought I had something new to offer in a sea of jumpsuits because there were very few performers paying tribute to Elvis in the 1950s. That was my goal and where I garnered quite a lot of attention. I didn't realize at the time that this was going to lead into full-time career that has now spanned many, many years.
What do you have in common with Elvis?
Joe Esposito, Elvis' best friend and stage manager, said to me that I share the same unassuming qualities as did Elvis, along with his sincere and caring outlook towards others. He said it's one thing to perform Elvis'music but it is entirely something different to possess the essence of what made the man so likable and genuine.
What's the most surprising thing about Elvis that you found out, either in you career or when preparing for this show?
During a conversation with Ray Walker, bass singer for the legendary Jordanaires and Elvis' backing vocalists who were featured on great songs, such as Hound Dog, Don't Be Cruel and All Shook Up, mentioned that during many recording sessions, Elvis produced those rich and wonderful tones by barely singing. Instead, almost whispering into the microphone. Ray told me Elvis thought the microphone should do all the work because that is what it was made for.
What would fans be interested or surprised to learn about Elvis?
If I am correct, I believe that during the filming of Fun in Acapulco, Elvis never actually step foot on Mexican soil. There were two film crews and one filmed on location while the other crew filmed Elvis in an alternate location. Similarly, Elvis' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, it was not actually hosted by Ed Sullivan himself but rather a British personality who introduced Elvis to the New York and home audience, Elvis was actually televised live from Hollywood California.
What does Elvis' music mean to you?
Plain and simple, everything.
What is your favorite Elvis song? And why? Does it remind you of a particular time or event in your life?
My favorite song by Elvis Presley is a song called We Can Make the Morning. It's an inspirational song with a message of: as long as there is a glimpse of light and hope, you can pretty much get through any obstacle that life throws at you.
Do you feel connected to Elvis in any way doing this show? If yes, how do you feel connected to him?
Yes, I would say there is a connection, some argue a spiritual note but for me not so much. I believe it's from a point of respect and adulation towards the man. Every time I step on stage, it's my opportunity to give back and thank him for everything he has done for me. If it wasn't for Elvis, I would not be doing what I'm doing nor have this wonderful opportunity to perform in This Is Elvis.
What has the response been so far for This Is Elvis? How has this made you feel?
The response has been overwhelming. I believe this story we are telling is something that has never been done before with such love and devotion in the memory of Elvis Presley. This is not a tribute show - this is Elvis. Judging by the audience reaction and how they respond to our show with an all inspiring nightly standing ovation, I think it's fair to say they feel it to.
If you could meet Elvis today, what would you say to him?
I would say thank you!
How does somebody begin a career as an Elvis tribute?
Remember that Elvis was not about being Okay.
What do you do to make yourself look like Elvis? Do you think a true visual likeness is important?
My hair! I can't give away too many trade secrets! An accomplished film and television make up artist that I have worked with in the past said it's always a bonus to have a similar palette to what you are trying to create.
Tell us what it was like performing with Elvis' band?
I wish I could say I performed with the entire TCB band but rather I have performed with members of Elvis' band. I have experienced the drive of Gerry Shef's bass guitar as we performed Polk Salad Annie, recreating the '68 comeback special' jam session with DJ Fontana knocking it out on the guitar case. Singing How Great Thou Art with the Jordanaires, and to have had the opportunity to work with all the original members that were seen alongside Elvis during the televised Ed Sullivan 'shoot him from the waist up performance' of Don't Be Cruel. And experienced the angelic sounds of The Sweet Inspirations soaring high over Burning Love, Suspicious Minds and American Trilogy.
If Elvis were still here today, do you think he's still be making music?
Yes, I believe so, once a musician always a musician! Do I think he would've been making music into his 80s? That I can't comment on but I believe at the age of 42 he would've continued well into the 1980s and possibly the 90s with his musical offerings.
If you weren't an Elvis tribute, what could you see yourself doing?
Working at Graceland!
What do you do in an average day as an Elvis tribute?
Nothing as an Elvis tribute artist, everything as an ordinary human being. Elvis and my performance and personification of him remain on the stage. When the jumpsuit comes off and the baseball cap goes on, it's 100% me.
Best/Worst performances you've ever done and why?
Luckily, there hasn't been any disastrous performances thus far and I do hope this will continue over the next 125 performances!
This is Elvis is currently on tour around the UK.