Gary James' Interview With Elvis Tribute Artist
Working out of the Chicago, Illinois area, Jerome Marion has taken his act all over the world with great success! How he started, what he's done and where he's been, we'll let him explain.
Q - Jerome, are you even old enough to have seen Elvis in concert?
A - Unfortunately, he passed away when I was about fifteen years old. I never got to see him perform, never had the honor of doing that. Obviously my mother was a big fan and that's how a lot of guys in this industry get started; somebody in the family is a fan, you just kind of lean in from there.
Q - How did you get involved in the whole Elvis Tribute Show industry? Did someone say "Hey Jerome, you know, you kind of look like Elvis"?
A - Actually no, just the opposite. I didn't look anything like Elvis when I was younger. I sounded like him. I started recording music through the old singing track they offered twenty-five years ago and I used to play tapes and fool people. I'd say "This is Elvis and this is me." They'd say "You don't sound nothing like Elvis." I'd go "This is me and that was Elvis!" "Oh my God! You sound just like him!" That's how I started doing it. And then I had a friend of mine who talked me into doing a private show for their church. I rented a costume, dressed up a little bit and the first performance was so pathetic. I guess weird would be the word for it because I had no movements, but it was very well received. Everybody thought I was lip-syncing. So from there I bought new costumes and got serious about it. Within five or six months I was playing Las Vegas in Legends and travelling, so it really took off quick.
Q - How much of an investment did you have to make in your show?
A - The initial was really costumes. The first few costumes I bought I paid just a few hundred dollars for. But from then on I bought four of five costumes that were a couple thousand dollars apiece. That's really the investment you make. It's really in your costumes, your sound and the music you buy.
Q - When you perform, do you carry your own band or do you use tracks?
A - It goes both ways. I work with a band. I actually fronted two bands. The first one was called The Expense Account Show Band, which I was a part of for twelve years. They became the number one band in the industry behind Elvis performers, and then about nine or ten years ago I started another band called Change Of Habit and I fronted that band for about six years. Change Of Habit now is just a tribute band. They play behind basically all the Elvis' out there. They're hired for contests. Whenever I used to work, I used to work with my bands. I do work with tapes a lot because the cost is very effective to do so.
Q - How often do you perform these days?
A - These days not nearly as much. Maybe one a month, even a little less then that sometimes. I've been doing it twenty-five years now. I own a re-modeling company and that's what I do full-time. So, I really don't do the Elvis as much as I used to, but somebody calls me up and wants me to do a party or corporate event, I'm still ready to go! I still have seven costumes and I still perform whenever I have the opportunity to do so.
Q - Don't you have your business, Celebrity Impressions? That's a booking agency, isn't it?
A - Yeah. Celebrity Impressions is a look-alike agency that supplies professional look-alikes to corporate events and different things which I've had for ten years now or better. I still have that company and it still supplies talent throughout the United States.
Q - So you're actually booking other guys who perform as Elvis, right?
A - Yeah, sometimes on the Elvis' but most of the time it's other professional look-alikes like Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson. Most of the time the Elvis' have already spread themselves out enough that they're known in just about every town and if you're any good, your reputable, usually you can get the work from just word of mouth.
Q - So there's quite a few people in the Chicago area who can perform as Madonna, Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson?
A - Michael Jackson there's probably five that I know of that are tops. Anybody who can do Marilyn Monroe can usually do Madonna. So, there's a girl in Chicago who does that. And then they're spread out throughout the United States. There's a Britney Spears out of Chicago. There's a Robert Di Niro. There's a bunch of people in the Chicago area. It's one of the top market areas and I think there's fifteen to twenty Elvis' in the Chicago area alone. It's a pretty saturated area.
Q - You've been all over the world with your Elvis tribute, haven't you?
A - Yeah. I've had the opportunity to travel and see Russia, Japan, Canada, all over the United States.
Q - What country has given you the best reception?
A - I would say that Russia was an experience because we had gone over just when the wall came down, so it was something they had never got to see before. I think a lot of people kind of thought I was Elvis. A lot of people knew he was dead of course, but a lot of people didn't. So, I think it was kind of a unique experience. I'd say that was probably the most exciting for me. That was definitely a lot of fun.
Q - Now, will you know when the time comes for you to throw in the towel for your Elvis tribute, or is your plan to keep on going for as long as you can?
A - I would say I'll know when the time comes. I would say I'm probably close to it now, within the next couple years. I'd say I'll probably be retiring from the business. I've been doing it so many years now, I'm just ready to call it a day pretty soon.