Gary James' Interview With The Star Of
Young Elvis And The Blue Suedes
Rock-a-billy Tribute Show
Harold Schulz is doing something that most Elvis tribute artists do not do. He portrays only the young Elvis. His band uses the vintage instruments and microphones from that time period and the musicians Harold Schulz performs with are top-notch, having played with B.B. King, The Drifters, Bob Dylan, Paul Butterfield and The Lovin' Spoonful. Harold Schulz fills us in about his unique approach to Elvis.
Q - Harold, you're based out of Atlanta. Do you pretty much stay in that area?
A - Heck, no. I just booked North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, just in the last two days. So, I go all over the place.
Q - You're doing the booking yourself?
A - Yeah. I have a B.A. in Marketing. I always tell people I'm like the Colonel and Elvis all rolled into one. I do the website, DVD, everything.
Q - There's only 24 hours in a day.
A - (laughs) That's part of being a small business owner I guess. This big manager asked me, "Way don't you have a manager?" I said, "What can a manager do that I can't besides take 20% of what I make?" He just looked at me and said, "You're right." (laughs)
Q - There comes a point when once you get the stage show down, why not handle the business.
A - Yeah, right. It's like Bill Murray. If you call him now he'll pick up the phone. He doesn't work with agents anymore. He deals direct. He will pick up the phone and say "Hello, this is Bill. How can I help you?" He really does. He just got tired of working with agents. What can they do that I can't do besides take part of the money I make? And with the Internet, these days you can do that.
Q - The middle man is being cut out.
A - Nowadays everybody is so tech savvy. They all go to the Internet. Corporate gigs. We just booked a big country club over in Cashiers, North Carolina. A real well-to-do place, like five grand a gig. They just looked us up on the Internet and called us up and booked it. Corporations all have their own internal party planners, so they just call everybody direct now.
Q - On average, how many gigs a month or a year are you doing?
A - It's hard to tell. I do solo gigs 'cause I'm a look-alike. I work in the look-alike industry. I work with Johnny Depp's body double. I work with Sean Connery's double. I work with De Niro's double. They're all friends of mine. The De Niro guy just did a movie with De Niro. He did Grudge Match as De Niro's double. Johnny Depp does two or three movies a year. Ronnie Rodriguez, he does all the stuff with Johnny. That's kind of the industry I work in. People hire me to be a look-alike. Sometimes all I do is go in there, look like Elvis, play a little guitar and take pictures with people. Play a couple of songs on the guitar and that's about it, man. The Meet-And-Greet stuff is what we call it in the look-alike industry.
Q - You work with the film studios then?
A - I've done a few movies and commercials. Those guys work with the big film studios, 'cause unfortunately Elvis is dead. (laughs) Their guys are still alive.
Q - Did you ever see Elvis in concert?
A - No. I never got a chance. My mom was an accomplished pianist. She was nine years in a conservatory. A very good pianist. So, my brothers and sisters and I all grew up around the piano. I guess that's kind of how I got my music background. We sang show tunes and hymns and everything else. When I was in junior high school I played clarinet. Everybody said I should be an actor. When I was younger I looked like Robby Benson and Val Kilmer. As a matter of fact, I went to UGA (University Of Georgia), I went there in the summer time. I was an Air Force ROTC. I had to cut my hair real short and everybody called me "Ice Man" 'cause I looked just like Val Kilmer in Top Gun.
Q - Had you grown your hair out really long, you could've been Jim Morrison in a tribute group.
A - Yeah, no kidding. (laughs) But Elvis is really marketable, especially young Elvis. If you put "Young Elvis Impersonator" in Google, we'll be the first ones that come up in the whole world. So, I've kind of positioned us as the young Elvis thing. We get calls literally from all over the world sometimes because of that.
Q - Now, that's a good tag to have when you're young. What happens when you get older? You'll be old Elvis?
A - When I get older, I'm doing the '68 Comeback. I've already got the black leather outfits 'cause I'm a slim, trim guy. I'm not a fat dude. I've got a 32 waist. When I can't do young Elvis anymore, I'll do the '68 Comeback.
Q - You've got these top of the line musicians in your group.
A - I've god amazing musicians, dude. My guys have toured with B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, Little Richard. These guys kick butt. They're all Jazz and Blues guys. They're all full-time guys. They've been doing this, most of 'em, for fifty years, each.
Q - You must have a lot of work to attract musicians of that caliber?
A - Yeah. I keep 'em busy and I pay 'em well. Some guys do big gigs and they pay their musicians $200 to $300. We do the big performing arts center in Sussex, New Jersey at Sussex Community College. I think I paid 'em $850 each. If I make a lot of money, they make a lot of money. Then it's all expenses paid, per diem, the whole nine yards. All they have to do is go there, show up, do a couple of shows and collect $850.
Q - Do you have back-up singers as well?
A - There's a beauty to that. My guitarist, Randy Le Roque, and the bass player, Sonny Alfano, both were lead singers in groups, so they sing two part harmony. I don't have to have any back-up singers. It's just like Elvis in '54, '55, '56. It's just a trio and that's it, man. The whole thing about our show is everything we play is vintage.
Q - And you have to buy your clothes on Beale Street in Memphis?
A - Actually, I just got a jacket there. My wife got it for me for Christmas. A really cool, blue jacket. Normally I have a seamstress that makes a lot of my outfits for me. Well, the G.I. Blues I put together myself. That's military issued stuff. The gold jacket, she made for me. The blue jacket I always wear is vintage. It's a 1950s shark skin jacket. I found it in a thrift store about fifteen years ago for 15 bucks. Those jackets go for 1500 bucks in L.A. if you can find 'em. They're very expensive. Elvis had one exactly like it. I've got some pictures with him in it in the 1950s. We look like twins. It's scary, man. (laughs) As a matter of fact, the first time I met Elvis' step-brothers, Rick and Billy Stanley, who've endorsed us, we're the only show they've ever endorsed. I was wearing my G.I. Blues outfit and I walked by the room they were staying in at the Airport Hilton near Memphis and I didn't know these guys. Billy, the older brother, told me later, "Man, I caught you with the corner of my eye and I thought you were my brother's ghost. You look so much like him. Same height, weight, everything. It's scary."
Q - Do you talk like Elvis too in your act?
A - I kind of do that whole Elvis thing. I try to stay in character the whole time. It works out better that way. Our show is very different. It's like the Jersey Boys, Million Dollar Quartet, who by the way keep asking me to join the show and I say "No." I say "We have a much better show than they have." And frankly, much better musicians. They have a bunch of teenage kids. Our show, we walk people through The Louisiana Hayride, first recording session with Chet Atkins at RCA in the story and I'm Elvis the whole time.
Q - How did you get started playing Elvis?
A - What happened was this, and it's kind of funny, we're on America's Got Talent on season one and the lady looks at me and goes, "Why Elvis?" And my drummer, Steve Cohen, who is from New York and a smart aleck from Brooklyn, two of my guys are from New York. They're both smart alecks. He looks at the lady and goes, "'Cause he didn't look like James Brown." (laughs)
Q - And how did that go over?
A - Oh, they laughed like crazy. Basically, I was in Marketing. I have a B.A. degree in Marketing from Georgia and I was doing high tech sales. After 9-11, I got laid off and I got divorced and my ex was taking me to the cleaners. So, I had on money to live on. I was going out for the heck of it and doing Karaoke and having fun and just hanging out with my buddies. I was singing everything from Sinatra to Elvis, Waylon Jennings, Frankie Avalon, Dean Martin, everything. I can sing anything, The Beatles. I just happened to do a contest one day and I happened to do Elvis and the place went nuts. I think I did "Heartbreak Hotel". The lady called me up and said, "You're very good." I said "Thank you." She said "No, you're very good. Have you ever thought about being an Elvis impersonator?" I said, "That's a fat guy in a jump suit." She said, "You'd make a lot of money doing that. I'm an actress too. You can make upwards of $500 and hour." I was like, "That sounds pretty good, considering I was living on $300 a month at this point, after my ex garnished my wages. I was living with my mom. It stunk. So I started doing that on the side. My very first gig I started practicing and people at church heard about it. They were doing a Christmas Sunday School party. This was at the house of Dean Day Smith. You've heard of Days Inn? This was the wife of the owner / founder of Days Inn over here in Atlanta, Jones Creek. She called it a little party room. It was $5,000 square feet easy. It was gigantic. They always invited her to come to these things and she never came. They invited her to come up to mine and she showed up. So, my very first paying gig I got the wife of Days Inn. No added pressure or anything. All I know is I did my show there. They loved it. I did a forty-five minute show and I was sweating bullets. She loved it. She was up and dancing the whole time. She's normally a very reserved woman. She was going crazy. They took a love offering up at the end of the night and I'll never forget, I was sitting in the car and counting it. Let's see what I've got here. I had the car light on, packed everything. There's an envelope in there and there's $350. I go, "Wow! This is amazing. I made $350. This is great!" Then there's a check in there and I started opening the check up and it's a check from Dean Day Smith for $500. So I made $850 my very first gig. I looked up and said, "Lord, I can do this if you want me to do it." And that's kind of how it went. Did it on the side for about a year as I worked for corporate America. After about a year I got laid off from my last corporate job and I was making more money and having more fun doing this, so I went into it full-time. I always wanted to do the jump suit crap. So, this bass player got in touch with me, a really good slap bass player and he said, "I always wanted to do a young Elvis too." So we hooked up and we had a guitarist with a nice old Gibson. He started playing with us and we started doing a show just like Elvis did with Scotty Moore and Bill Black, slap bass and guitar. We started doing shows all over the place. Eventually we added a drummer. My drummer, Steve, has been with me since the get-go. He's been with us for almost ten years. Then I went through a few different guitarists. One of my guitarists was bass player and road manager for the Gregg Allman Band. A real nice guy. He quit the Gregg Allman Band 'cause he didn't want to go on the road anymore. He was my guitarist for about a year. Then I got the guys I have now pretty much. They've been with me many, many years. This show just kind of came together. It gelled and we started working on our set list. My guys are all show biz guys. Randy, my guitarist, led a thirteen piece show band at Harrah's in New Jersey for nine years. Are you familiar with the film Goodfellas?
Q - I am.
A - Well, Steve, my drummer, played for Henry Hill for four and a half years at the club where everybody was getting killed. It was two blocks from his house in Brooklyn. He got to know Henry pretty well. Didn't know he was such a big Mafia guy.
Q - It's probably better he didn't know.
A - Yeah, no kidding. For sure. One of the reasons Steve got to play with Dylan is when Dylan got to New York he didn't have a pot to piss in literally. Dylan stayed across the street with one of Steve's friends. They put him up for a year and a half when he was starting off in the Village area. Bought him his first buckskin jacket for that famous photo shoot that he had. When Dylan made it, he gave him about five signed albums and that was about it. (laughs) Kind of a cheapskate if you ask me, but what are you going to do? So, that's how he got to play with Dylan. Sonny, my bass player, he's been a guitarist and a bass player, he was a mounted cop in Central Park in New York for many years. Then he became a Fed. and worked for the Witness Protection Agency for awhile. He's a musician the whole time. He did some touring. Coincidently, he taught Johnny Depp how to ride horses for the movie Sleepy Hollow at a big warehouse in Yonkers, New York, where they filmed most of that movie. I bet you didn't know that.
Q - I didn't know that.
A - Very colorful guys (Steve and Sonny). They helped develop the show and the set list. So, there's always been something going on onstage. Everything pops. No dead time, ever. There's always something going on. They said that's how show biz has to be. I know business, but I didn't know show business when I first started in the business. So, these guys helped me out and we kind of went from there. The show grew and grew and grew. We've played for crowds of twenty people and ten thousand people and everything in between. It's been a blast.
Q - That Marketing degree must really have helped out.
A - (laughs) It helps a lot, yes. When I talk to these big producer guys, they think I'm an agent. They have no idea I'm the talent. When they find out I'm the talent, they're just dumbfounded. They're like, "What?!" We just started working with 615 Entertainment out of Nashville. 615 handles The Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Exile, Juice Newton, Lisa Marie Presley. When I started talking to this lady at 615 she said, "You're really good at this booking thing. How would you like to do some booking?" Bertie Higgins, Ambrosia. Bertie Higgins is huge in Asia right now. He just put a new album out. It's Top Five stuff. She started talking to me. She said, "Do you want to work for me? You're a really good agent. I want you to do some bookings for me." I said, "Why, sure. What the heck. I'll make some extra money." If you book a $50,000 show, you make 10%. That's not chump change. That's eventually what I want to do when I retire, when I can't do Elvis anymore.
Q - Why not be a manager like Colonel Parker?
A - I could be a manager, an agent, whatever. Anyway, we just got to record our album over at Sun back in October (2013), which was amazing, at Sun Records in Memphis. That was the coolest thing ever. My wife kind of surprised me there one night and all the guys showed up and we recorded. We laid down seventeen tracks in three hours. I don't know if you know anything about recording, but that's crazy.
Q - That's really fast!
A - Yeah, and it came out great. That's kind of the level of specialism of my guys. They've got the music down. I've been doing it for so many years. We did all the early stuff too, everything from "Mystery Train" to "That's All Right Mama" to "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" to "Good Rockin' Tonight", the songs that really started Rock 'n' Roll.
Q - How did your voice hold up for those three hours?
A - It's hard to record at Sun because you don't get headphones like you do at a regular studio. They've got a couple of speakers sitting in the back. Everything's from the '50s, the RCA mics, the amps, everything. The mixing equipment is left over from the '50s. Elvis, Johnny Cash, B.B. King and Roy Orbison recorded there. So, it's all the same stuff. It's kind of hard. If you don't know your music really well, it's tough to record, I'll be honest with you.
Q - Sun Studios is still open for business?
A - Yes. It's an active studio. U2's drummer left his '62 Ludwig drum set there. There the one's Steve played when we did our recording. Every group in the world wants to record there. It's very difficult to get in there. It's an active studio at night and during the day they have tours. So, it's really hard to get in there. I think we got in there on Memorial Day. It's cheap. It's only $150 and hour to record there. We did all the mixing ourselves. My guitarist, Randy, has a mix studio with Pro-Tools, so all we did is put everything on a memory card and took it back with us, a USB card. He did all the mixing and it came out amazing. It was pretty cool.
Q - You take that and sell it at shows and on line?
A - Absolutely. We do mostly shows. On line stuff I just use it for demos. Anyway, that's the kind of stuff we do. It's an audience interactive show. I don't stay on stage much. Half the songs I'm walking around. I have a cordless (mic) and sometimes the guys play instrumentals. I just walk around the audience, take pictures with 'em. As a look-alike, people like to see you up close, not just up on a big stage. So they get that one-on-one thing. Even if we're doing a performing arts center with 2,500 people, which we've done several of those, I'm running around, taking pictures for sometimes ten minutes. I stay in character of course all the time. So, that's the closest thing to Elvis most people are going to get in their life. A lot of acts out there can't do what we do. We come in. I've got about seven Bose 802s. We set everything up. All they do is provide the venue and we do everything, backline, P.A., lighting if needed. We're just self-contained. Everything fits in a 4' x 6' trailer. Just think, when Elvis started out, they put everything on top of a car. Put the stand-up bass on top of a car and went from one town to the next. That's kind of what we do. We just hop in my Lincoln Town Car, put the trailer on the back and hit the road. We're self-contained. We can do 2,500 people with nothing else. Just us. So, it's definitely different. And it's a blast. I wouldn't trade my life for nothing. I really wouldn't.