Gary James' Interview With Elvis Tribute Artist
His show has been called "The Closest Thing To The King In Concert." He was named the international champion of BBC1's World's Greatest Elvis competition in the U.K. He's performed with Elvis' musicians and singers J.D. Sumner And The Stamps Quartet, The Jordanaires, D.J. Fontana, Myrna Smith and The Sweet Inspirations. We are talking of course about Shawn Klush.
Q - You've been chosen as the world's greatest Elvis...
A - Must be a lot of people who are blind.
Q - What does that mean to you personally?
A - It puts me in a position where I feel I have a responsibility to put that name and image in the best light possible. That's what it means it me. It's very ostentatious to have that.
Q - It's a very serious thing to live up to.
A - Well, that's what I mean. It's very difficult to try and continue on to something where there's no book. You have something to follow at one point and then you don't have anything to follow. It's all instinct.
Q - You've been doing Elvis probably longer than Elvis was doing Elvis.
A - Probably since I was three or four years old. There's a cassette tape of me singing with my Dad when I was three years old.
Q - Do you ever concern yourself with some of the competition that's coming up?
A - Sure. Everybody is apprehensive about it. There's a camaraderie that's there. We're all after one goal. At least I am. My ambition is to keep that individual who is no longer here. He left too early. There were too many more things that needed to be accomplished.
Q - You look so much like Elvis it's scary.
A - Thanks. I'm glad you feel that way. I've never went under the knife. Everything you see on my face is my face. It's my hair. It's my sideburns. It's my nose. No doctor ever altered me in any which way, shape or form. So, I've been extremely lucky. Elvis and I both have the same nationality so to speak except for one thing. Where he was French, I have Italian blood. Everything else is the same. We both have Irish, German, Cherokee, except I have Mediterranean, which is Italian.
Q - When you come off stage and you take off the costume and all the accessories, can you become Shawn or are those Elvis mannerisms hard to shake off?
A - Well, I've been told by people in the entourage and most recently his private nurse, that I have a lot of attributes that are naturally, quirkily the same if you can believe that, or as they would put it down South, uncommonly good. (laughs) So I mean, that's what they've told me. I don't feel any different. I don't act any different. I am what I am. All I've known is this my whole life. I don't know how to answer that. I just am what I am. Basically when I go on the stage, whatever happens, happens. Whatever works stays. Whatever doesn't, goes away. So as far as carrying it or walking around or that kind of stuff, I'm in a pair of jeans and cowboy boots right now. (laughs)
Q - I won't ask you how old you are, but how did you first hear about Elvis?
A - I was little. My father was a d.j. in the '50s and '60s. I was the only child, so I probably grew up listening to it. First thing I probably heard was The Grand Ole Opry or something like that, but I was little. He was a d.j. so music was constantly on. There was always The Rat Pack or Mahilia Jackson or something. So, I grew up listening to that, Dean Martin and all that stuff.
Q - Did you ever see Elvis in person?
A - I didn't. My folks did. My Mom and Dad went to Madison Square Garden. June 11th 1972 and June 22nd or June 23rd of 1973 at Nassau Coliseum.
Q - Have you ever worked at anything other than doing the Elvis Tribute Show?
A - Oh, sure man. I was a gas station attendant. I worked in a pizza joint. All that stuff. I was still singing in bands, but I had a job too as well.
Q - So, did someone say "Hey Shawn, you kind of look like Elvis"?
A - It was always something that was part of me anyways.
Q - So, in the band maybe you'd sing a couple of Elvis songs?
A - Sure.
Q - When you decided to put this tribute show together, I'm guessing it had to be very expensive.
A - It was more of a spontaneity kind of thing, which is what we're all based on anyway or the whole show is based on that anyway. It wasn't something where we took a bulk of money and had an idea. That never happened. We've had investors for big shows in Vegas. We played at the Hilton on the very stage they did That's The Way It Is. We had investors for that because there's a lot of people you have to fly in from different parts of the country, string section, horn section. But it built slow. We played a lot of honky-tonks, little joints here and there.
Q - Do you bring your own musicians with you or do you use tracks or does it depend on what the gig is?
A - Pretty much. We don't really work a whole bunch with tracks at all. It's not our thing to do that. It's with the band usually. Usually it's with The Sweet Inspirations or The Imperials. Tracks? There's no punch to 'em. It's dead when you do that. It's like being in a studio. There's no energy. There's no excitement to it.
Q - Nothing like a live band!
A - You got that drummer behind you, kicking you in the butt; you need that. That has to happen.
Q - How do you prevent boredom from getting into your act?
A - (laughs) Karate.
Q - Just like Elvis!
A - You set yourself up for that one. We try to keep things as fresh as possible. The audience pretty much does that for us. The audience helps us with that. It's according to the excitement. We change up a lot of different songs and do up a lot of different things. Sometimes the guitar player will play a lick that was played differently one night from another night that we had heard James Burton do. I hear all that stuff and it inspires you. It just inspired you do more. Coupled with the fact we can use The Sweet Inspirations at any time. They're really an incredible duo.
Q - How fortunate you are to be able to do what you're doing!
A - I'm incredibly fortunate. Every time I stand on a stage, I tell myself it's my one shot, don't mess it up.
Q - If you hadn't discovered Elvis and you hadn't discovered the talent you had for putting on a tribute show to Elvis, what do you think you would be doing?
A - I don't know. I liked a lot of the different things. Law enforcement was in the family. Archaeology.
Q - Law enforcement. Just like Elvis.
A - Yeah, but I have family members who were police officers. The archaeology I think was pretty neat, but unless you find a big dig, you don't get nowhere. How the hell does that pay the bills? But I was always interested in that, still today.
Q - With the act you have, you can pretty much do this for as long as you want, correct?
A - I've been fortunate enough to have people behind me who are seasoned, and I mean seasoned to the point where they were around and kickin' and young themselves when the whole scene happened. They're very seasoned individuals. Half of them worked for Elvis himself. Being around that kind of forces you to be 100% better than you could ever be every time you stop on the stage. You have to year yourself that way. They put this label on you and now you have this awesome responsibility for this man you feel almost a kinship with. I take it on like he's a family member to be that I can't let down. I won't. There's been nights I've been onstage with a 102, 103 degree temperature and I still do the show. A lot of adoration. And again, the people that are with you, you know that old slogan, You're only as good as what's behind you? There it is!