Gary James' Interview With Elvis Tribute Artist
Michael Hoover's "Memories Of Elvis" show has taken him all over the world. In August of 1988, a singing competition was held in Memphis. Close to a hundred people competed. Michael Hoover was proclaimed to be "The Best Elvis Tribute Artist In The World." Need we say more?
Q - Michael, your home base is Garrisonville, Virginia. If you're an Elvis tribute artist and you're from the South, I would guess it really gives you an edge because you better understand the Southern tradition. Would I be right about that? Do you understand Elvis a little bit more?
A - I think so. I was actually born in Washington D.C.
Q - Still the South.
A - Right. I've been in Virginia probably the better part of my life. But I've always been an Elvis fan. So, even back before there were Elvis tribute artists, I was singing Elvis songs in my high school band. So I've always been an Elvis fan and always interested in that kind of Rock 'n' Roll and of course Elvis was such a charismatic personality. I just sort of always admired that.
Q - From ready your online bio, I gather that you've been in the music business most of, if not all of your adult life. Would that be true?
A - Absolutely. Even the very first little combo that I ever worked in was in like the sixth grade or seventh grade. One of our neighbors had a daughter and son and one of 'em played the accordion, the old squeeze box and my next door neighbor played drums and we had a girl that played electric bass guitar and we just sort of played some neighborhood functions and things like that. It just kind of went on and on and on. (laughs)
Q - Isn't that the way most people get started?
A - Yeah. I've worked day jobs also of course along the way, but I always knew I was gonna be in the music business. I didn't necessarily know that I was strictly gonna do Elvis and of course we've branched out. We've done those Gospel CDs. We've also recorded a song called "Home Sweet Home Virginia". We're working to get it as a recognizable song in Virginia as part of the state promotional kind of thing. The song was actually written by a friend of ours. It got the People's Choice Award for the song. So, we have recorded it and it's done. We're just waiting now to have a meeting with some people and decide what we can do with it.
Q - Sounds like you're getting a little into the political world with it.
A - It's possible, yeah. Virginia is a great place to live and I can't really imagine living any place else. It's a great song. This guy's been talking to me about the song for over a year and when I finally got to listen to it, I said "Hey, this is a really good song," so I recorded it just about a week ago. And we're working on getting it all together.
Q - You saw Elvis in concert three times.
A - I did.
Q - And this was in the Maryland area?
A - Yes. The very first time I saw him was at Colefield House at Maryland University. And then the last two times was at the Capitol Center, which was in Largo, Maryland. The Capitol Center is actually gone. The area is there, but it's kind of like a shopping thing now. Capitol Center was a huge venue. It probably held thirty thousand to forty thousand people.
Q - And I bet Elvis sold out.
A - Absolutely.
Q - What years did you see him at those venues?
A - I saw him in 1974. Then I saw him in 1976 and 1977. I saw him just a couple of months before he passed away. It was in June and he died in August.
Q - How was that June 1977 concert?
A - He looked like he had put on a little weight. I had some really, really good binoculars that a friend of mine loaned me. He really did have a pretty face. (laughs) He had nice skin. Good hair. He was definitely slower in his moves, but his voice was just on target. He had a real strong, great voice. He had like an overwhelming presence when he came out on that stage. He really did.
Q - I saw Elvis in concert in July of 1976. His voice was fantastic, but he tended to talk too much between songs.
A - For me, he did ramble on a couple of times. I was like, OK, let's hear the singing. When you see him in something like "Elvis On Tour" or the "Aloha" concert where he's not doing a whole lot of talking... I think when he was being filmed for those kinds of things, he was probably a little more, I wouldn't say uptight, it was more of a structured kind of show I think. When he was on tour, out on the road, he did talk a little bit. He talked about people and things and joked around a little bit. It was kind of good to see that side if him also. It also showed you that he was just a guy like you and I.
Q - As much as you admired Elvis, did you ever envision a day when your tribute act to Elvis would take you around the world?
A - (laughs) I thought about it. Of course now we've been to Japan. We've been to London. We've been to Wales. We're doing our cruise next week, which takes us to Mexico. I've really been lucky. I thought maybe we would do Elvis for, I don't know, six or eight years or boy, if we could do this for ten years. Now, it's been over thirty years. So, I've kind of grown into the part.
Q - Bobbi is your wife, but she's also your manager and agent?
A - She takes care of everything pretty much, except the singing.
Q - What is her background?
A - A lot of it for both of us has been a learning process. When I met her, she was managing the Elvis Presley Museum, which was in Potomac Mills Mall, not too far from Virginia. It was a small museum that had some of the items that belonged to Jimmy Velvet. Some of 'em came from Graceland. All of the items in that museum were sanctioned by Graceland. So, she worked with Graceland. She had some background in management skills and put 'em to work to book the shows. The museum has moved and is now in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Q - How many people travel with you?
A - It really depends on the venue. I have anywhere from four to seven pieces in the band, so I work with background tracks and over the years the soundtracks have really gotten very good. There are some places where the venue wants some entertainment, but they don't necessarily have the budget to afford like a five or six piece band. So, I do both. I do probably half and half. Half with the band and half with tracks.
Q - Elvis has always been your hero. Tell me what you admire about Elvis.
A - Several things. Of course his vocal ability. His ability, I would want to say to re-invent himself. You had three different sort of eras of Elvis. Of course you had the rebel in the '50s, which was raw, uncontrolled, untrained talent. He was just totally different. He was out there. Then in the '60s you had the movie Elvis. You had this kind of guy who was not a bad actor, pretty decent actor. Some of the songs they picked for the movies were so-so. There were some good songs that came out of the movies. That sort of turned into the '68 Comeback Special. You could see some of that raw '50s talent that he was known for come back, but it was polished at that point and refined. He had a great look and bam! All of a sudden the '70s come around and here comes Elvis with the outrageous jump suits and capes. I'm saying, man, this guy is unbelievable! And still had the voice. Still had the charisma. I don't think there's been anybody that had that kind of staying power. Even though he gained the weight, he still had the magic. Elvis never, ever sang to an empty seat. There's not too many people in this business that can claim that fact.
Q - I often wonder if Elvis was a "lucky" guy because he came to the attention of Colonel Parker or were there others who were more talented than Elvis, but just didn't get the breaks. I suppose we'll never know. Colonel Parker is in large part responsible for this enduring mystique that surrounds Elvis.
A - I agree. I remember Ray Walker, the bass singer of The Jordanaires was asked that question. He said Elvis would've been Elvis no matter who managed him. He was that strong of an individual. He might not have made it to the status the Colonel took him to, but the Colonel was definitely a shrewd businessman. It was pretty much his way or no way. I'm sure he and Elvis had a lot of disagreements. I'm sure that Elvis on several occasions fired him and then of course they would make up and go back in business as usual. My understanding is at the end, the Colonel was getting 50%. I don't know how far Elvis would've gone without the Colonel. It's hard to say.
Q - 50% would have been a bargain. I heard it was 80%.
A - (laughs) I heard it was 50%. The Colonel kept Elvis' older shoes. He had the gold lame' jacket. Colonel Parker was the one that kept all that stuff. Of course over the years he's given most of it to Graceland. He was an intelligent man and shrewd and probably hard to get along with and hard to do business with, but he had the right idea and the right way to promote Elvis.