Gary James' Interview With Elvis Presley Tibute Artist
Out of Columbus, Ohio comes Elvis tribute artist Prentice Chaffin. Prentice has been doing his Elvis tribute act for over twenty-three years. We talked to him about what all goes into such an act.
Q - You've been a truck driver just like Elvis, haven't you?
A - Yes. Now I'm a truck mechanic. (laughs)
Q - I guess you can really identify with those early days of Elvis, can't you?
A - Really what interested me the most about him was actually the middle years. I kind of get a kick out of the movies. But the weird part that started it was, I was at the record store. I didn't have much money, so they'd have everything on sale in the box there. The Elvis stuff at the time was pretty cheap stuff. So, I started buying some of those and I thought, I can do this a little bit. I originally did Ricky Nelson. My voice changed a little bit. Oh, about 1967 we put a band together called The Touches Of Gold. We found that people didn't really dance doing the Top 40 stuff, but you do the old Rock 'n' Roll like Elvis and Little Richard, why they'd get up out of their seat.
Q - And that didn't happen again 'til Disco hit.
A - Yeah.
Q - So, that was the beginning, the foundation of your Elvis tribute show.
A - Absolutely. To me it felt fairly natural to do the Elvis stuff. I was dark hair, blue eyes and all that stuff. It was more of a fit for me. As time went on I realized I could do his voice probably easier than anybody else's.
Q - So, how long have you been doing this show?
A - The way it is now, probably since 1988.
Q - That's a long time.
A - Yeah. I originally started, like I said, in the late '60s off and on. I tried to put it away for awhile 'cause I thought, man, I'm getting too old to do this stuff. It was in the late '90s. I ran into the "E Team", the skydiving Elvis. Now we work together a lot doing shows all over the world really.
Q - What countries have you been in?
A - Australia, Japan and Canada, as well as coast to coast in the United States.
Q - Could you have imagined when you started that you would take your act around the world?
A - No. I really couldn't. Actually I have to give a big hand to my wife because her handiwork in building suits was what caught the "E Teams" eye. They really like the way she built the suits. That's kind of the way we got hooked up. They wanted to add to their show, the skydiving. So, I do the ground show for them.
Q - Your jumpsuits are very impressive. You're telling me your wife makes them?
A - Not all of 'em, but she makes most of 'em.
Q - She's got a real talent then.
A - I think so. The last one she built was called "The Ancient Bird", I think is what Elvis' people called it. The one she built has got over 20,000 pieces on it. It took about eight months to build it.
Q - When you started with the Elvis tribute act, how much of a demand was there for your act in Columbus, Ohio?
A - Well, I wasn't really an Elvis tribute artist. Actually in the ninth grade of high school I kind of picked up the nickname of Elvis singing at parties. I just never shook it off. But as far as the group, we did mostly Top 40, but we found out that people want to have fun. They want to hear the old Rock 'n' Roll.
Q - Do you travel with your own band?
A - No. Most generally when we go with the skydiving team, we fly little Cessna 182s and we can only haul so much. I usually run tracks. A lot of times I'll hook up with a band at the air shows. Sometimes they'll back me up.
Q - Are you an Elvis fan?
A - Absolutely.
Q - Do you love the material he recorded over the years?
A - Yup, absolutely. You get to feeling down or having a bad day and you find the right song and you're back in it. It's all good.
Q - What would you like the readers to know that maybe I haven't touched on?
A - You know, there's something always said during the show. It's been said that Rock 'n' Roll will never die and if this is the case, perhaps Elvis will live forever. That's just my thinking. Truly the greatest entertainer, to me, of all time, and more than that, a great American. He was red, white and blue plum through. No one will ever take it away.
Q - I forgot to ask you, how many gigs a year are you doing?
A - I work full-time as a mechanic right now. We don't to too many. I'll work in the vacation in order to do 'em. I got grandkids now. We do it whenever they call pretty much, but they kind of have to go according to my schedule now.
Q - You could go full-time, couldn't you?
A - I like my home life too. I've been in other countries. I love my home probably more than anything else. To me it's always been about the sound. If you can produce the sound, it's all good. I don't need to prove anything to anybody anymore. (laughs) My wife gave me two beautiful daughters. I got grandkids. Like in Japan, the last one we did there for the United States Marines, the last day it opened it up to the Japanese people and there was over 266,000 people there.
Q - Wow!
A - And I didn't blink an eye. I just went and done my thing and they enjoyed the heck out of it. I don't worry about it too much. I don't have anything to prove anymore.