Gary James' Interview With Elvis Tribute Artist
Out of Harrow, Ontario, Canada is Elvis tribute artist James Gibb. James' show is a tribute to Elvis from the 1950s. In the world of Elvis tribute artists, that is unique. And so James Gibb spoke with us about his act.
Q - James, were you doing anything musically speaking before putting together your Elvis tribute? Were you in a band?
A - No. I'd never even sung before. I've been a fan of his (Elvis) since I was 13. Actually, I enjoyed all kinds of music, but in particular the older '50s stuff just really spoke to me and him in particular. He was just above everyone else. Just a stand-out. Prior to doing it, I never played an instrument. I'd never sung before.
Q - How did you arrive at doing an Elvis tribute show?
A - I'm sure you know there's contests to do this all over the place, in the Elvis thing. I didn't really know much about that either. My wife saw in the newspaper that Windsor was going to be getting its own contest and so she signed me up for it, but neglected to tell me about it 'til about two months prior. So she told me about it and then I had two months to get tracks, backing music. You have to provide your own backing music at these things and then two months to learn how to sing. It was a train wreck. It was terrible. But in that experience of being on the stage and playing his music and being in front of everybody, it meant something. It was a big deal. So, the Monday after this Elvis event on the weekend, my wife signed me up for singing lessons and then it just took off from there.
Q - One thing you don't have to worry about is getting all the jump suits ordered that the Elvis from the '70s wear. Elvis in the 1950s didn't dress like that.
A - No, not at all. It can still get costly, the outfits to portray that look. I don't even own a jump suit. I'm one of the rare Elvis guys that doesn't own a lot of jackets, a lot of pants. I've gone through lots of pants. Not in the '70s he wasn't physical 'cause he did that with his karate, but it was different then, very, very physical.
Q - You more or less have this field to yourself, don't you?
A - Well, there's other fellas that do it strictly. I'm one of the rare ones that does it strictly. A lot of 'em will dabble in the '70s. They'll dabble in the '50s and they'll dabble in the middle ground, the '60s. I'm one of the few that devotes his act pretty much strictly to the '50s. I will do the '60s black leather as well, but 98% of the time it's strictly '50s.
Q - How popular is Elvis in Harrow, Ontario? Are there a lot of nightclubs there where people go to hear Elvis?
A - (laughs) I'll tell you how big Harrow is and you tell me if we should even use the word nightclub. There's about 3,000 of us here. It's very, very small. It's a very small town, but we put an event on here and there's only one place you can hold an event like that and it's actually only one street over from me. it holds 400 people. Whenever we do anything there we fill 'er up. But when we play in the cities, the venues are larger than that.
Q - What does winning one of these competitions do for your career? Doest that mean you can ask more money?
A - Somewhat, yeah. Basically it allows you to build a resume. It's funny 'cause the Elvis thing, when you're advertising yourself you display that as it's kind of your public resume. If you're in a show you'll put that you've won such and such an award. In this world of Elvis tribute, that means something. If you say you won the Collingwood Elvis Festival, big deal. Very big deal. Everybody that participates in this world knows what that is, knows what that means. It's very prestigious to win that thing 'cause it's the largest thing of its kind in the world. You can command more money, but it's a resume builder is what it is.
Q - I noticed you entered this Saginaw King Fest in 2012. We're talking about Saginaw, Michigan?
A - That's right.
Q - Isn't that a hot bed for Elvis sightings?
A - (laughs)
Q - One of the places I think.
A - That was Kalamazoo. That was going on in the '80s.
Q - How far is Saginaw from Kalamazoo?
A - I'm not sure, but it's close.
Q - I take it you do not entertain the idea that Elvis faked his death?
A - I do not entertain that at all. Not in the slightest.
Q - How far up the ladder do you think you can go with your Elvis act? What do you think you can attain with it?
A - Well, there's this contest that goes on in Memphis. I got there last year. What you have to do is win a preliminary round. Certain contests pay money to become a preliminary round for this thing in Memphis they call the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Contest. I won one last year and I got into it. If you win that thing, it's the ultimate. If you get that, that changes your life. Definitely. People think you go to Las Vegas to get the biggest Elvis thing. It's not. It's in Memphis. Myself, I do not do this full-time. It's a part-time thing. If you win that thing in Memphis you will be doing this full-time. Your life will change.