Larger Than Life

Whole lotta shakin' goin' on

Elvis impersonators keep his image
and music alive through
the many tribute shows around the region

‘A tribute artist has to stay as true as he can to the
original artist and his music. You have to have
the whole package: the sound, look and style.’
– Todd Bodenheimer, Elvis tribute artist

Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

January 2012 Cover

January 2012
Edition Cover

(January 2012) – From the moment Todd Bodenheimer takes the stage in a brightly sequined jumpsuit, he immediately feels a connection to “The King of Rock and Roll,” Elvis Presley.
From enthusiastic audience response to all of the opportunities it has afforded him, being an Elvis tribute artist has been nothing but fun.
“He left one of the best legacies anybody ever lived,” said Bodenheimer, 38, who performs regionally and every Wednesday night at El Nopal Mexican Restaurant in La Grange, Ky. He says Elvis is still extremely popular today because of the way he impacted everyone’s life and the fact that so many people grew up listening to him. In addition to having a superior talent for entertaining, Elvis was perceived as down-to-earth and as someone who came from a modest background.
“Even before he died, a lot of people mimicked him,” said Bodenheimer, a Louisville native who resides in Owen County, Ky. And like Bodenheimer, there are quite a few Elvis tribute artists throughout Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. “Locally there are close to a couple hundred,” he said. “World-wide, there is probably 3,000 to 4,000.”
So singling out the best from the rest may be difficult. The thing that makes a good tribute artist is not letting the image go to your head, said Bodenheimer.
“A tribute artist has to stay as true as he can to the original artist and his music. You have to have the whole package: the sound, look and style.”
Several people have contacted him in the past for advice on becoming an Elvis tribute artist. He tells them, “You have to love the music and enjoy entertaining. You’re bringing back a memory for many people. You have to feel the music in your heart before you can send it out to other people.”

Bodenheimer has played many different venues as “The King.” It has been a full-time job for him for the last three years. If he pulls off a full-packaged performance, sometimes “people will look at you and think, ‘That’s Elvis!’ ”
Based on the way the audience reacts, he said he can see why some tribute artists “feel they’re a superstar.” But for him it comes down to the fact that “it’s our job to keep Elvis’ spirit alive.”
Bodenheimer enters a lot of Elvis contests and competitions. This past year he was the 2011 National Champion at the Midwest Tribute to the King. Five months later he entered a world competition in Memphis, Tenn., and placed fourth in a category based on image and was a finalist in another category.
Over the years, Bodenheimer has “gotten to meet a lot of people who actually performed live onstage with Elvis, his family and friends,” he said. Along with these individuals, Bodenheimer says he feels Elvis’ “impact as an entertainer and as an individual. You can’t help but hear his music and enjoy it. When he passed away, everybody felt as if they’d lost a family member.”

Todd Bodenheimer

Photo courtesy of Jimmy Supplee

Elvis tribute
artist Todd
Bodenheimer of
Owenton, Ky.,
performs throughout
the region, including
a weekly show on
Wednesday nights
at El Nopal restaurant
in La Grange, Ky.

Many that remember “The King of Rock and Roll” also remember his sometimes flamboyantly designed clothing. Bodenheimer said his favorite Elvis costume was the aloha jumpsuit that Elvis wore in 1973 for “Aloha from Hawaii.” Bodenheimer gets all of his reproduced Elvis costumes from B&K Enterprises in Charlestown, Ind.
This costume is so famous that a statue wearing this clothing was dedicated to Elvis and erected in Hawaii at the site of the arena where the original performance took place.
“They contacted us for the costume,” said Kim Polston, co-owner with her husband, Butch, of B&K Enterprises. “The clothing was placed on the statue and bronzed over.”
In business full-time since 1993, Polston said, “We have the original patterns from the original designers.” Owning all rights to the original designs guarantees a B&K Enterprise costume will be perfect in every way.
Butch Polston did all of the research by hand that was needed to recreate the Elvis clothing, said his wife. California’s Gene Doucette, one of two original designers for Elvis’ clothing, also “works for us. He does all of the embroidery work for us,” she said.
But Elvis did not only impact the United States. The Polstons have shipped their Elvis costumes around the world to such places as Holland, Brazil, Poland, England and France.
The couple has been “big Elvis fans” for quite some time, said Polston. They were engaged when Elvis died. The last time he performed in Louisville, Butch stood in line for what seemed like forever, only to learn the show was sold out before he could purchase tickets.
Like the Polstons, Bodenheimer did not get to see the King perform live, but he does own a piece of Elvis memorabilia. “My mother saw Elvis in concert in Louisville,” he said. She managed to get to the front of the stage, and Elvis placed a scarf around her neck. She gave this scarf to Bodenheimer on his 21st birthday.
He also has a ring that was once owned by Elvis. “It was given to me by a lady in Memphis who I had gotten to know through Elvis competitions,” he said. The woman had known Elvis personally and gave Bodenheimer a ring in her possession that had belonged to the King.

Robert Shaw

Photo provided

Elvis tribute artist Robert Shaw
of southern Indiana performs at
the Derby Dinner Playhouse in
Clarksville, Ind. He is scheduled to
return in October 2012.

The craze to keep Elvis’ memory alive is still apparent today, even here in Kentuckiana. On Dec. 17, an Elvis tribute show, “Blue Christmas: A Tribute to the King,” was performed at Joe Huber’s Family Farm & Restaurant in Starlight, Ind. The star, Robert Shaw, “is well-known in the Brown County area. He’s also a concert promoter,” said Kim Huber Kiser, president of Joe Huber’s Family Farm & Restaurant.
Kiser said she is “finding there is a lot of interest out there in Elvis.” The fact that Shaw has an awesome reputation helps fuel the fire, she said.
She has heard many people “rant and rave about Shaw. He’s just as good looking as a young Elvis.”
Shaw, born in southeastern Indiana, began performing at age 10. He studied voice, acting and dancing and accepted an offer in 2005 to perform the role of Elvis at the Gaslight Theater in Tuscan, Ariz., where he resides in the winter months.
“We put on large-scale, theatrical-style concert productions where the focus is really on performing the music and capturing the spirit of Elvis rather than trying to be a clone,” said Shaw, 33. He has assembled eight different types of Elvis productions including “How Great Thou Art-The Gospel Music of Elvis” and a live on-stage recreation of Elvis’ “1968 Comeback Special.”
“Producing and performing is my full-time career,” said Shaw. As his shows gained the attention of Elvis fans, he formed a production company to handle the business end of his concerts, Lonely Street Productions. In addition to the Elvis productions, the company produces or manages almost 20 different types of concerts, “all geared toward the nostalgia market.”

Robert Shaw

Photo provided

Elvis tribute artist Robert Shaw
is pictured in a black-and-white portrait
that he uses to promote his shows.

To be the best at what he does, Shaw said an Elvis performer “needs to be a tremendous vocal talent. Elvis was arguably the most gifted entertainer who ever lived, and you can’t pull that off with a sub-par voice or lack of pitch.”
Shaw said it is also important to have respect for the memory of Elvis and put on a top-notch show, which includes using a live band. Even if an individual doesn’t physically match Elvis but does have a good voice, “just stick with singing the songs,” he advises. “There are a lot of guys out there with cheap plastic sunglasses and paste-on sideburns who are doing more harm to the memory of Elvis than good.”
The audiences he performs to are comprised of very loyal Elvis fans. He places heavy emphasis on telling a story in his stage routine, such as talking about how Elvis got to certain points in his career or telling about how he came to record a certain song. “We’ve found that this really engages the audience and they usually leave the theatre having learned something new.”
Shaw sees the best part of his job as being able to connect to the audience through their memories. “Elvis changed everything. I like to think of the mid-1950s as sort of a cultural storm swirling around and Elvis was the tornado that shook it all up.”
Over the last five years, he has performed locally many times at Derby Dinner Playhouse in Clarksville, Ind. Annie Myers, the Derby Dinner Playhouse manager, said Shaw “got his start here as an actor.” He is scheduled to perform a program titled, “Heartbreak Hotel,” on Oct. 15, 2012, that will feature hits from the 1950s.
The thing that audiences find so appealing about him is “the all-around authenticity of the performance. He’s very professional,” said Myers. Shaw travels with a full band and backup singers.
Myers says she is amazed that so many people are still enthralled by Elvis. She attributes it to the fact that “his music is timeless. All ages enjoy it.”
Originally from Bardstown, Ky., tribute artist Eddie Miles travels all over the country year-round to bring his show to Elvis fans. He said Elvis “left a whole legacy of music and was a great performer. People miss that.”
His desire to become a tribute artist “grew out of wanting to be an entertainer.” He learned to play guitar as a young boy. He learned country songs and “people saw and liked it.”
He eventually organized a band and played the county fair circuit all over the Midwest. He ended up purchasing his own theater in the Smokey Mountains, Memories Theater, and in the late 1990s moved to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to open the Eddie Miles Theatre. In 2000 he went on the road again with his show.
The thing that makes a good tribute artist first and foremost is being a vocalist, he says.
“Elvis was the greatest singer ever,” said Miles, who would not give his age. A second factor is how an individual presents himself on stage, down to wearing authentic costumes.
“If you can’t sing, you shouldn’t be up there,” said Miles. “It ruins the image. You have to put a lot of work and attention to detail into the whole show.”
Miles moved back to Bardstown five years ago and said he receives a standing ovation at every show. He said Elvis is still popular today because “young people want to know what he was all about. People still want to be entertained with live music.” 

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