Elvis Tribute Artists Radio

Ladyluckmusic.com

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Carol@ladyluckmusic.com

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Well, I really did try to think of a catchy original title for this month’s column, but the name “Doug Church” is so closely associated with “The Voice of Elvis” that there just wasn’t anything more fitting. In fact, I’d venture to say that if asked, “Who is known as ‘The Voice of Elvis’?” 9 out of 10 ETA fans (if not all 10) would answer, "Doug Church." So -- as a column title, it’s not too original, but as a compliment, no-one deserves it more!

Doug has been performing since the late l980's, is so well-known, and has had so much written about him, that I decided in this column to bypass most of the usual autobiographical details and just focus on a more personal side of Doug....his early days (some of you may relate!), his reflections on his career to date, and his recent recording endeavours.
Doug also has some encouraging advice for beginning ETA’s. Read on!

Unlike many other truly talented singers, Doug Church didn’t sing as a youngster. In fact, he wasn’t really aware he had a “singing voice” until he was about l5. He became an Elvis fan, (influenced by a high school buddy who was a big fan) about 6 months before Elvis died, and, as he says, “All I have ever wanted to do since is sound like the man on the 45 rpm records I heard at that time.”

While in high school, Doug says he tried and tried to impress his friends with his “horrible” singing. He even had his high school chorus teacher tearing her hair out and trying to talk him out of singing altogether. He remembers, “I wanted to sound like Elvis so badly that I would go around singing in between classes and during all events, annoying almost everyone with whom I had come into contact. It is a memory I will cherish forever. I was the school's "pain-in-the-butt" who was enjoying the attention I was getting. Although my motivations have changed over the years, adoration and recognition were among my strongest at that time.”


After high school, Doug joined the Air Force, and one reason he joined was to hang out with his high school buddy who was such a big Elvis fan. That buddy was stationed in England, and Doug thought it would be great to join him there and sing Elvis songs for the British, or for any servicemen who would listen! Upon finishing basic training, and just before entering Technical School, Doug learned about an organization called
Tops in Blue -- these were the elite performers and entertainers of the Air Force branch of the US military, who traveled from base to base, performing for the top brass and government dignitaries. They were considered the “Best of the Best” and Doug wanted a taste of that!

After being assigned to an RAF base in the UK, Doug’s Elvis fan friend talked him into entering the talent contests held by each Air Force base, as they had levels that would lead to the illustrious
Tops In Blue. Doug reluctantly entered his base's contest with nothing more than a black leather jacket and a pair of blue jeans, painted on sideburns (the real ones would have been non-regulation) and a guitar (karaoke had not yet been conceived of at this time) and proceeded to take first place in his category.

Eventually, Doug came away with 13 trophies from the Air Force talent contests (eleven 1st place, one 2nd place, and an honorary 1st place as Emcee for one of the contests where he had a chance to showcase some of the other 65+ vocal impressions he is so good at). The biggest and, by his estimate, the absolute cornerstone award of his entire career came when he won first place in the U. S. A. F. E. (United States Air Forces in Europe) talent contest in Germany. This was one step away from the Worldwide competition in the US. However, as Doug says, he decided not to go past that mark because he wasn’t ready for that kind of fame and responsibility at such a young age and at that time in his life.

After leaving the Air Force, Doug moved to Florida and entered the job force, taking on a considerable range of jobs. The next year, l988, he moved to Indiana, hoping to break into the music business with his Elvis fan buddy. Unfortunately, no musical career materialized, so Doug found himself working two “minimum wage” jobs to support himself. Eventually, he met some new friends in the area who had a similar love of Elvis and he began to supplement his day jobs by singing with his guitar in people’s living rooms for nearly any occasion. By l990, the demand for his talents had grown to the point where he was able to choose between his day jobs and his night jobs -- and ultimately the night jobs won out. Since l990, being a singer/tribute artist has been Doug’s full time occupation.

Recalling some of the “highlights and lowlights” of his early experiences, and what he had to get through to get to where he is now, Doug says: “On the downside, I can recall clearly having played in some of the smallest, smokiest and dingiest dives in the country -- traveling hundreds of miles in a day, being exhausted on my feet and playing to crowds who had no more interest in Elvis than they did the dead-end nine-to-five job they’d just left. Car shows had the least attentive audiences I have ever performed for! I understand that the audiences were there for a specific purpose, looking at cars and parts, and that was one of the things that helped me get through the show (aside from the music itself). On the upside, I have met many, MANY good people who have become friends and even colleagues over the years. Many have come and gone, through my travels, and I remember them all and thank them all for the experiences and lessons they have each taught me. I have seen much of the world as an ETA (ironically even more so than when I was a serviceman). There is still much of that world left to see, and I look forward to seeing as much of it as I can before God retires me from the business.”

In the past few years, Doug has been keeping busy on the road, traveling in the US and overseas (he’s off to England again next month), and has recorded several popular CD’s. He says the greatest compliment he’s ever received, and most likely ever will receive, is being dubbed the “Voice of Elvis” by a client for whom he did a show a few years back.

In May 2000, Doug was approached by a producer about a recording project that entailed singing songs of today in the style and voice of Elvis. It was ultimately called “Kingtinued” and included such songs as
Tears In Heaven, Wind Beneath My Wings, and Livin’ La Vida Loca. As Elvis had gravitated toward country music in his later years, they also included a CD of country favorites ranging from On the Road Again and The Gambler to the Garth Brooks’ hit Ain’t Goin’ Down Til the Sun Comes Up. The project was so successful that Doug released another installment of the “King Country” series last June. He has also released an All-Elvis CD simply called “DC LIVE” which has been very well received everywhere.

Because Doug has such a wealth of experience and has such a successful career, I asked if he had any advice for beginning ETA’s He says: “The only advice I can give to any fellas starting out in this business, is to never forget that the fans pay your bills. They can make you and they can break you, and their opinions and ideas merit your attention. And always PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!! I believe the biblical phrase is, ‘Study to show thyself approved’.

I also asked what it takes to be a successful ETA.
“To be a successful ETA, you must always maintain a good image, that of yourself and Elvis as well. Work hard and be patient. The work is out there and just because it doesn't fall into your lap right away, don’t get discouraged. All good things take time. AND “attitude is EVERYTHING!” I cannot stress enough how important a good attitude is, because it not only gets you through rough times but it is contagious and makes your audience comfortable. Elvis knew that no matter how badly he might have messed up on stage, as long as he could laugh at himself and keep things up-tempo, everything would be all right!”

Doug is known as the “Voice of Elvis” because he’s studied Elvis’ voice and songs carefully and has developed a strategy for sounding just like Elvis. I was curious as to how he does this. He explains,
“I take the songs and break them down phonetically, concentrating on how Elvis SAID his words rather than sang them. I also cataloged where and what types of vibrato was used in any given song at any given time. In essence, I have reduced the songs to their basic elements and then reconstructed them. And all of it was done mentally. It is also a mental “juggling act” maintaining the illusion on stage. You must concentrate on how you stand, how you walk, sing, look, smile, move and talk……all at the same time!”

When asked if there were any ETA’s he admires or any up and coming ETA’s who have caught his attention, Doug replied,
“I was first inspired by three fellows in the late 70’s and early 80’s, gentlemen who made a name for themselves back in the heyday of ETA’s. They are Ronnie McDowell, Jimmy “Orion” Ellis and Ral Donner (the latter two have since passed away). They were the pioneers, the trendsetters, the ones who laid down the groundwork for those of us who would follow in their footsteps in an effort to carry on the legacy of Elvis. I have and always will admire these guys for the work they have done and the part they played in helping mold me into the entertainer I am today! One of the newest ETA’s on the scene, and one whom I am proud to call a friend, is another fellow Elvis Vocalist named Jesse Aron from Wisconsin. I have seen him grow and develop in just a few years into an entertainer with a golden voice who wows his audiences with his ability to sound like Elvis, which, in my humble opinion, is the most important facet of any ETA’s skills. I see great things in his future and I know the fans will want more and more of him.

Finally, I asked Doug what he thought the future would bring for ETA’s and if he’d noticed any trends emerging. He says, “It’s hard to say what will happen to ETA’s in the future. I think that as long as there are new generations of Elvis fans coming along all the time, there will be an ongoing desire to see and hear “Elvis” re-created. I have noticed that the standard has been raised over the past few years, and I know that serious fans will no longer tolerate the “clown acts.” The fans’ love and respect for Elvis demand that they be more and more critical of those who have taken on the task of keeping the King alive in their hearts. All the ETA’s will be forced to study harder and do their best to meet the higher standards they will face. I think that the ETA’s are more aware of the higher standards demanded of them, and I have seen some of them apply themselves in every area and work hard to improve themselves. Keep up the good work, guys!


Many thanks to Doug Church for this meaningful and informative interview – and for taking the time during the hectic holiday season to work with me on this! To read more about Doug Church and for more details, including Doug’s schedule, check:


www.dougchurchusa.com

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Click here to hear sound bites from many of the songs Doug has recorded, and check www.dougchurchusa.com for details about the most recent CD’s, mentioned above.

Last July, Doug was the headliner at the Collingwood Elvis Festival where he re-enacted Elvis’ spectacular l973 Aloha from Hawaii Concert. He tells us about that experience:
“I was honored! I was so excited about the prospect of re-creating the landmark concert of Elvis' career that I studied the video day and night. I watched no television nor listened to anything other than the CD from the concert. As a matter of fact, I was watching the video of the concert up to just a few minutes before I was to go onstage. I hired a makeup specialist to help me with the look, the Collingwood city council even bought the "Aloha" suit for me to wear to help with the re-creation. I went all out and wanted to make this show one for the books.” (Let me say here that it most definitely was one for the books..one of the best, outstanding ETA shows on record, and judging from the many cheers and standing ovations throughout the entire performance, it was thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated by the capacity crowd).

I asked Doug what he’s enjoyed the most about his successful career and the satisfactions he’s received from it. He answered, “The music is all I have ever really cared about and that is what I have derived all my pleasure from in my career. I have visited Graceland about 5 times and enjoyed each trip but have always felt as though nothing compared to the FIRST visit, which was almost a “religious” experience for me, as though I had my first epiphany. The personal and trivial aspects of Elvis’ life never mattered as much to me as does his music and my interpretation of it. Another thing I enjoy immensely is the look of enjoyment and happiness on the faces of my audiences when I perform. As with any performer, the applause has a certain gratifying appeal, but is more a gauge for how well received my material is.”

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Doug has traveled extensively around the world -- while he was in the service and in his capacity as an entertainer. I asked if he’d noticed any differences in Elvis fans from other countries or if they were about the same as the North American fans. He says, “I have had the privilege of traveling to Denmark, Norway, Sweden and England and have found that the fans over in Europe are the most respectful, Elvis-loving bunch you'll ever meet on this planet. I think that perhaps, having been deprived of Elvis' direct influence and presence, they miss him most and are the most critical and ardent fans anywhere. I have met many Elvis fans who rival them right here in the US (mostly on the East coast) but the majority, especially in the Midwest, seem to be burned out by the over-saturation of what are called "wannabe" Elvis impersonators that have become prevalent over the past 20 years or so. I have heard from many fans, with my own ears, "You've seen one, you've seen em all," or "Oh no, not another Elvis impersonator!" It's tragic what Elvis' image has degraded to.

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