Gary James' Interview With
Elvis Tribute Artist
The Las Vegas Convention Visitors Authority named him spokesperson for Las Vegas! He's taken his Elvis Tribute Shows to such venues as Players Island Resort Showroom, Holiday Inn Casino, Playboy Mansion, Palm Desert Marriott and the Waikiki Shell, Hawaii to name just a few. He's been on TV and the movies. Before he even thought of doing an Elvis Tribute Show, people were calling him "Elvis" because of his resemblance to Elvis.
His name is Rick Alviti, one of the most respected and admired Elvis Tribute artists in the United States today.
Q - Rick, I see you'll be performing at the Turning Stone Casino on August 16th, 2010, which will be the 33rd anniversary of Elvis' death. What do you think will be going through your mind when you take the stage that night? Will it be just another show for you, or will it in some way be emotional?
A - For me, it will be emotional because it is the anniversary of his death. Playing on that date, you always remember where you were when that happened. It's still a sad thing after all these years 'cause so many people love Elvis, including myself.
Q - Is it fair to say that even when you're not onstage, you're always thinking about Elvis and what you can do to change your act, or improve your act or better market your act?
A - Always, yeah. My tribute show, I call it That's The Way It Was. I trademarked that phrase from the movie That's The Way It Is. I'm always trying to figure out ways to stand out or be different to bring the Elvis experience to people in the tribute.
Q - You appeared in a show called Elvis Is Alive. What was that all about?
A - That was a movie actually. It was a long time ago. It came out. You can get it on a video. It was a psychedelically odd movie from what I remember about it.
Q - What was the film about?
A - I'm gonna tell you honesty, I never watched the whole thing. But it was a really odd movie, one that didn't make sense so much. That's all I can tell you, from what I remember. I had a very small part in it. It was when I first started out. I don't know much about it to be honest with you.
Q - You worked for awhile as a singing bartender in Hollywood.
A - Sure did.
Q - This would have been in an upscale club?
A - The club is still there. I was the first one. The place is called Dimples and it's actually in Burbank, California. Now it's a Karaoke place. When I first went there to sing, it's been there since the early '80s and all the big stars go there. You're talking Britney Spears, Olivia Newton-John, Kurt Russell. When I was there it was Quincy Jones, David Hasselhoff, Roscoe Lee Brown. He (Rosco Lee Brown) was a good friend of mine. He just passed away.
Q - What would you do?
A - I would sing different times in the night and my gimmick is I would pour drinks, take the money and flip the bottles behind the bar.
Q - Sort of like Tom Cruise in that movie...
A - Yeah, but he didn't sing. It was actually the owner's idea. I had a microphone. I used to host the shows there. When I first went in there and sang, he said "You want a job?" I go "sure." Then he goes "I'm gonna have you host one of the nights when we get people up to sing." After that he said "You know what? I'm gonna put you behind the bar. I'm gonna put a microphone behind there and you can be singing behind the bar." I go "That's what I do. I was a bartender for eleven years." He didn't know that. He was just gonna put me back there to learn it, but I already knew it. Then, what I did is, for years I was back there singing. Not just singing Elvis songs. I sang all kinds of stuff. I had a beard and long hair then. I worked there like six nights a week. It was a great gig. I had a great time. It was a lot of fun.
Q - What kind of songs were you singing?
A - I sang oldies stuff, everything from Freddie And The Dreamers to The Zombies, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra. I'd sing all kinds of stuff. That was my thing I guess, singing, making the drinks, flipping the bottles and taking the money. So, that's how it was.
Q - Tips must've been pretty good.
A - Tips were fantastic.
Q - And these famous people would come in and no one would say "Hey Rick, I think I can get you a gig"?
A - Well, you know what? It's the weirdest thing. I met many people in there, people that tried to get stuff. Actually, one guy came in and he worked at the NBC studio at The Vicki Lawrence Show. He was the head comedy writer for her. He's actually one of my best friends now. Every time I go to L.A., I stay with him. He used to come in there to sing 'cause he likes to do Frank Sinatra. And that's what he does to this day. His comedy writing is like his work. (His) Frank Sinatra tribute is his love. He got me on The Vicki Lawrence Show two or three times. And we became very close friends. I mean, I got some work out of it. I met a lot of big people. It was after I stared doing the Elvis stuff is where I stared getting more TV work, believe it or not. Then again, when I was working at night, I was sleeping late. So then I probably wasn't focusing as much on the acting career when I was bartending, because you go in at 5 or 6 and I'd be there until 3 or 4 in the morning. Having parties afterwards. By the time you get home, you're sleeping late. I think after, I focused harder on it, when I got out of there.
Q - When did you start doing your Elvis Tribute Act?
A - I started doing it after I did that stint. After I shaved my beard and cut my hair, people used to tell me all the time, "Hey, you resemble Elvis. You should go to Vegas." If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I'd be doing alright. What I did is, I started looking into agents and people that represent tribute artists. At the time they called them impersonators. And started getting work. I studied the films, watched the film every night. I loved 'em. I was mesmerized. Then I'd practice at home. I had already been a singer. So, I just developed this. Then I went on the tour for Las Vegas where I represented the Visitors Convention. I went on a whole country tour. I would do an Elvis act for the people. We went to New York, Detroit, Denver, Seattle, Houston, Dallas, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco. I was doing a theatre production, I had the same manager as Soupy Sales, Adelade Nimitz and she booked me on the Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I was the character The Pharaoh. He's like an Elvis guy. I got hired to do that in Raleigh. When I came to the East to visit my parents in Myrtle Beach, I went to this theatre, 'cause J.D. Sumner And The Stamps were playing there. I said "He ain't gonna be around much longer. I got to see him." So, I saw the show and it was an Elvis theatre. I loved the band. They were fantastic. I happened to go next door to get something to eat afterwards, not knowing that's where everyone hung out. I met the owner and some of the people. The people in the band remembered me. When there was an opening, I guess they said "What about that guy from L.A.?" I gave 'em my card, my manager's card and said "If you ever need anybody." They ended up calling a few months later and J.D. Sumner died the following Monday. This was in November. They called me in January. They said "we'd like you to come down and take over down here." I said "OK, whatever." You know how it is in Hollywood, you never count on nothing 'til it comes through. Then in March they called me and said "Can you be here tomorrow?" I said "I can't be there tomorrow. I can be there the day after." I went there and I've been here ever since. Then I had my Celebrity Theatre for a few years doing five, six shows a week. So, that's where I really learned. I consider myself an entertainer. I learned how to entertain and put on a show. I had to do two hours. It wasn't like being in Legends where you had to do twenty minutes.
Q - Are you early Elvis or Elvis in the white jumpsuit?
A - I usually do two sets. The first set is usually black leather or movie year type. I wear different things. I have all the costumes. Then in the second half is 2001, jumpsuit Vegas years. So, that's how I do it.
Q - You have your own band that travels with you?
A - Yeah. I sure do.
Q - Backing vocalists as well?
A - Yeah. I've got backing vocalists.
Q - How many people are part of your production?
A - We can do anywhere from a four piece to a twelve piece, four singers to two singers, to one singer. It just depends on the budget. For me, that's how I had to develop stuff in order to keep working. Cost is a definite. You have horn players, but you might have to knock the horn players out, but you have the keyboards that can cover the horns. It just depends on the budget.
Q - Did you ever see Elvis in concert?
A - I never did. I had the opportunity, but I never did.
Q - I don't suppose you ever saw him drive by in a limo or walk into a hotel?
A - I can honestly say, no. I wish I did. I grew up in Niagara Falls, New York and he played there twice. As a kid, I remember him being in town.
Q - When Elvis was touring in the '50s, he played a place called The Town Casino in Buffalo. It was a nightclub.
A - Really. I didn't know that.
Q - How many shows do you perform a year?
A - It varies. I like to say around 100, 150. It depends on the year. Every year is different.
Q - You're playing one-nighters?
A - I'm mostly playing one-nighters. I'm traveling a lot and I enjoy traveling. Thank God for that.
Q - You have a degree in business. How has this helped you in your chosen profession?
A - Like everyone says, show in business, it is definitely a business. It's helped me to work that end of it a little better. When I went to college I probably went more for my Dad. I wanted to go to Hollywood.
Q - And you actually did both.
A - Did both, yeah. Sure did. I got a Bachelor Of Science degree. Then a little while later I went out there. I was a butcher for many years. In Italian meat markets, the hanging beef. I used to break down sides of beef, cut up that stuff. I remember thinking, I'm just doing my time. I'm in Hell. I'm in jail.
Q - How many people in your fan club?
A - I'd have to ask my fan club president, Linda. I don't know. I'm not sure.
Q - So, you can pretty much do this Elvis tribute show of yours for a long time, can't you?
A - Well, I hope so. I've been doing it for a living now for about eleven years. I'm hoping to do it until I can retire.