Gary James' Interview With
Elvis Tribute Artist
As an Elvis Tribute Artist, his act has taken him all over the world. In Las Vegas, he once portrayed Elvis as a part of the Legends In Concert show. Who are we talking about? Doug Church, that's who. Doug took some time off from a very busy schedule to speak with us.
Q - Since you've taken your act all over the world, is there a place where Elvis is more popular than another?
A - You know, I used to think that. I used to think he was more popular in Japan or Europe, but I have to say his popularity is pretty much the same everywhere you go. I haven't been to the Outback, nor have I been in the Aboriginal Jungles, but I have a feeling there's probably a tribe or two running around there with big sideburns.
Q - Or at the very least, a picture of him hanging on a wall.
A - That's it. (laughs) Black velvet.
Q - Did you ever see Elvis in concert?
A - I never had the opportunity. Unfortunately I became an Elvis fan the year before he died.
Q - So, before joining the Air Force, you never gave a thought to singing or performing like Elvis?
A - Well, I was starting to toy with it in high school. I wasn't very good at all. I wasn't much of a singer either. And so I knew it was great music. Trying to sound like Elvis was attention getting. It sure made the girls scream. I figured hey, there's something to this.
Q - Were you ever in a band that maybe you'd sing an Elvis medley?
A - No. I was never in any band. I just had my guitar. I guess when I started learning to play the guitar, the songs I learned were Elvis tunes.
Q - You do look like Elvis.
A - Glad to hear that, but it's not easy.
Q - You obviously must get that all the time.
A - Actually, I do, even when I'm not trying to look like him.
Q - When you went into the Service, what changed? How did you really get into it then?
A - Well, I found out that they had talent contests in the Air Force every year and I was at that point, more and more into trying to sound like Elvis, practicing. Big Elvis fan at that time. Someone had dared me to enter the contest. So I took 'em up on it. I made myself a costume and got my guitar, went onstage and actually won a contest or two. It just actually turned into something from that point. It just kind of snowballed.
Q - How did you go from winning those talent contests to becoming a professional entertainer? Did you have a financial backer?
A - It took a lot of years. I went through many different phases of growth and progression in this business. I started out in the Air Force. When I got out the Air Force I kind of bummed around for a couple of years trying to find odd jobs. I got some sound equipment that was fairly cheap and I had a guy that was willing to be a manager at that point. He started getting me shows in small places like restaurants. That's pretty much how a lot of guys get started. They get a small set-up. They get some backing tracks and then they do small clubs, restaurants. I was even in people's homes for their birthdays, anniversaries with my guitar. This was way back before there were any Karaoke tracks or anything. That's one of the hardest ways to learn your craft and to make a name for yourself, singing cold right out in front of people. No microphone in front of you. No background tracks. Just singing the best you could, trying to sound like Elvis with just your guitar. When the tracks started coming out, I was very eager to get those going, making better costumes. I had friends who were willing to use their sewing skills to kind of outfit me. A couple years later I met a guy who helped me get into better shape 'cause I was a little on the heavy side and I started going to the gym a lot and getting my weight down. Went out to Las Vegas and auditioned for Legends In Concert. That was the tribute show in Las Vegas.
Q - How much time onstage did you get in the Legends show? I'm guessing ten minutes.
A - Usually about twenty (minutes). It was five songs. There were other acts like Marilyn Monroe, Buddy Holly. Elvis was always the closer. And so I'd do the same five songs, two shows a night, six nights a week.
Q - And how long did you do that?
A - Seven years, '93 to 2000.
Q - Can you really develop an act from doing those same songs night after night?
A - Not really. I had done a lot of my own shows prior to going to Legends. I traveled around the country as far as my car would take me. Different clubs, restaurants, things like that. I had a bigger repertoire than Legends would allow me to use. So, in seven years of working with Legends I had actually started to forget a lot of stuff I had gotten used to doing. So, I decided in 2000 to kind of go ahead and go back to the shows that I was doing before. I got backing and more management, better costumes and started traveling to Europe and overseas. I had actually gone to some great places with Legends, Moscow, Hong Kong, Bangkok…..
Q - How big of a show do you have these days? You have your own backing band and singers?
A - Right. I have three bands that I work with around the country and I have a band I work with in England. I use tracks also. I'd say about 50% of the shows I do are with tracks, due to financial reasons. Maybe the venue wouldn't facilitate a band.
Q - How many gigs a year are you doing?
A - Anywhere from fifty to a hundred.
Q - How long do you see yourself continuing to portray Elvis? Do you have your own musical aspirations?
A - Well, I can see me still continuing to sing after a certain age, but as far as wearing the costume, the jumpsuit and all that, I see me doing that for another five, maybe ten years tops and so I'm doing a lot of work developing my other skills to do a crossover at some point. I'm incorporating some of that into my act now as it is. So people are getting used to seeing half a show as just myself and then the other half of course as Elvis.
Q - How is that going over with your audience?
A - It's going great. I don't know if they're just being polite and accommodating until the Elvis comes out, but I do get a lot of requests from people to do different music.