Review Feature

Brad Bailey is 'All Shook Up'

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Make no mistake. Payson's Brad Bailey is NOT an Elvis "impersonator." He is an Elvis "performer."

The difference, he says, is that Elvis "impersonators" tend to "go off the deep end" and carry their fixation with rock's most beloved dead guy into their daily, workaday lives. They tend to think they are Elvis which, when you think about it, is a pretty tragic thing. Seems like it would be a little healthier to select as your life's role model someone who's not in the advanced stages of decomposition.

Elvis "performers," on Bailey's other hand, only suit up in the Elvis jumpsuits, flip up their Elvis collars, don their Elvis shades, curl their Elvis lips and croon The King's "Love me Tender" when they are actually up on stage, in front of a paying audience that expects to see someone impersonate a dead, decomposing guy.

If this distinction holds any water at all, Bailey is indeed an Elvis "performer." I can say this without fear of contradiction, because during the length of a recent half-hour interview, he steadfastly refused to perform.

"Aw, c'mon Brad, give me a little 'Hound Dog,'" I pleaded, desperate for entertainment.

"No, I can't," he said.

"OK, then just say 'Thank you, thank you very much.'"

"No, really, I can't."

See? Right there is proof that Bailey is an Elvis "performer," because he flat-out refuses to perform.

Of course, that would make ME an Elvis "performer," too, because I would have refused to do all the same things Bailey refused to do. And you would have rejected my suggestions, too, no doubt.

So maybe the message here is that, in our hearts and souls and spiritual jumpsuits, we are all Elvis performers.

There is one difference between us and Brad Bailey, however. This 40-year-old is actually going to take the stage at the Payson High School auditorium on the night of Saturday, Aug. 25, to perform his legends-in-concert-style show, "An Evening with Elvis," in the company of a 12-piece band.

Actually, there is another difference. Yes, Bailey's got the dyed-black, real-McCoy lambchop sideburns and mop of black hair ... but even so, the chances are good to great that you look more like Elvis than he does.

Of course, not looking remotely like Elvis has ever stopped an Elvis "performer" or "impersonator" from assuming his identity.

In Leslie Rubinkowski's book, "Impersonating Elvis," which concerns three years she spent in the company of people pretending to be Elvis, the author encounters Elvis impersonators of 40 million kinds: female, African American, Japanese, Mexican ("El Vez"), countless others of the typical white male variety ... and countless others of the overweight white male variety, who are forced by their girth to focus their performances on Elvis' final, donut-addicted years.

Becoming Elvis

"I've been doing Elvis for about 15 years, although I took a break for the last five or six," the Rim country's very own faux Presley said, without explanation of his hiatus.

"I got into it not long after my parents were divorced. Every Saturday, I would go over to my father's house. My stepmother was a big Elvis fan, and she had an enormous 8-track collection that she'd always play in the car. So I heard and sang along with that music every weekend starting at the age of eight or nine.

"Fortunately, I had the right tone of voice I think it's a baritone and after several years of singing along with Elvis in the shower, in my vehicles, I started to sound more and more like him."

Of course, in order to truly perform Elvis, you need more than The Voice.

"I was 16 or 17 when Elvis died, and I ran out and bought two records. One of them was 'Elvis Live at Madison Square Garden.' As I was listening to that, I was wondering what he was doing to make all of these girls scream and swoon and go crazy, because I had never seen him in concert. Later, I found out it was just his mystique, his personality. So I started to incorporate that into my singing."

Bailey's first stab at putting his well-rehearsed Elvis elements together happened about 15 years ago, when he and his buddies came from their Phoenix digs to the Payson area for a weekend of deer hunting.

"We pulled into Pete's Place in Star Valley, and there was a small, three- or four-piece band playing. After several drinks three or four or five I started singing along with the band. The lead singer said, 'You look like you're having a good time ... Would you like to come up and sing with us?' My friends said, 'Do it, do it!" So I got up and sang 'Blue Suede Shoes' the right way, the way Elvis did it.

"Pete's Place was busy that night, and the place just kinda came alive. Everyone was clapping and cheering, and I got the bug. I ended up doing three or more songs, and the audience was yelling for more."

In other words, a star was born. Or born again. Or reincarnated for the zillionth time.

Since then, Bailey has headlined the Rim country's most impressive venues: The Double-D in Tonto Village, The Landmark and the Creekside in Christopher Creek, and Kohl's Ranch, the site of what Bailey calls "my first real Elvis gig, with background music and everything.

"In 1990, I met Elvis' youngest stepbrother, Billy Stanley. I had just finished singing in Phoenix, and he came up to me and said, 'You know, I've seen a lot of Elvis impersonators' that's the word he used 'over the last 13 years, and you come the closest to sounding like Elvis. When you sang 'American Trilogy' and 'My Way,' chills went up my spine, because that's exactly the way Elvis used to sing it in concert.'

"I didn't get a big head, but it was a huge compliment for me, coming from the closest family Elvis has. I mean, he didn't have to say that. He could have just said, 'Hey! You were fantastic!'"

I would certainly vouch for Mr. Stanley if I could if Bailey were an Elvis impersonator instead of an Elvis performer.

But I can tell you this without fear of contradiction: Brad Bailey's sideburns are as authentic as sideburns get.

"An Evening with Elvis," presented by Brad Bailey, will be presented at the Payson High School auditorium Saturday, Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. Tickets $12 advance, $15 at the door are available at the Oasis Christian Bookstore, 512 S. Beeline Highway, Suite 1. For more information, call 474-4713.

Elvis impersonation etiquette

If you want to be a good impersonator you must avoid becoming a carbon copy of Elvis. The goal is to recreate Elvis closely enough for people to lose themselves in the illusion, but not so much that it advertises a lack of imagination and skill.

Do not dress like Elvis in you personal life. (Pompadours don't count. A pompadour shows you are serious about your job and not confused about identity.

Practice historical accuracy. Do not wear the two-piece black leather suit Elvis wore in his Comeback Special in 1968, then sing power ballads like "Hurt" and "American Trilogy" that he performed in the concert era he launched a year later.

Refrain from wearing poor quality clothes. Impersonators who have found a tailor or seamstress who does good work at a fair price won't divulge the name for the world, for fear of losing a competitive edge.

You should not wear sunglasses the entire time you perform. For one thing Elvis never did, and impersonators who do this are seen as having something to hide. Like for instance, the fact that they look nothing like Elvis.

You may tell jokes, but never under any circumstances should you say anything to belittle the memory of the king of rock and roll. Drug jokes are frowned upon, though an occasional remark about jelly doughnuts will work, depending on the crowd.

Unless you are making a joke, never introduce a song by saying, "I did this number in 1973." Because you did not. Because you are not Elvis. If you cannot remember this, you are part of the problem.

Most important, maintain a sense of humor about what you do, even as you try to take it seriously.

from "Impersonating Elvis" by Leslie Rubinkowski

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