Gary James' Interview With John Denver Tribute Artist
He's a singer, a songwriter and a John Denver tribute artist. He's sold out venues in Pennsylvania, Kansas and performed twice for John Denver's Windstar Foundation in Aspen, Colorado. Ted Vigil talked with us about his John Denver tribute.
Q - Ted, the advertisement for your appearance at Vernon Downs was all over the TV recently. I never realized there were guys doing John Denver tributes.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - You were awarded the Rising Legend Award by the National Traditional Country Music Association. That had nothing to do with your John Denver tribute, did it?
A - No, not really. They were just acknowledging me as an up and coming artist. They had me come out there and perform and I did some of my original music as well as some Denver tunes.
Q - How did you get the idea there was a future as a John Denver tribute artist? Did someone come up to you and say, "You know, you look like John Denver and you kind of sing like him"? Is that how it happened?
A - Well, yeah. It kind of did. I did a contest in Laughlin, Nevada in 2006 and I was singing a John Denver song. It wasn't any kind of a tribute artist thing or impersonator thing. It was just a singing contest. I ended up in the Country category as well as Pop and Rock. After I won, I got first place, I met some people who had worked with John and they mentioned the fact that a lot of people missed him and his music and they thought it would be a good idea for me to do a tribute show. Then I had been contacted by a guy that did an Elvis show and wanted me to open for him. So it started out with me just singing to tracks. I didn't even play the guitar, but then it really just took off. People really enjoyed the show and now I do it full time.
Q - How long of a show would that be?
A - I typically do two 45 minute set shows. So, it's about a two hour deal. Sometimes people want a little bit more. Sometimes the casinos want you to play 75 minutes and get off the stage. It's always different. Typically I'd have to say 90% of my shows are a 2 hour show.
Q - Do you have your own band that travels with you?
A - I do work with a lot of different musicians. Sometimes I'll do a solo show. Anything from duo, trio to a full seven piece band in Vegas where they want a big band. So it just depends on the venue and the budget is basically how it works and I work with different people all over the country.
Q - The venue then provides the band for you?
A - Yeah. Typically I have to seek them out and sometimes the venue will provide the musicians and I have to send them charts and then get in to do rehearsal before the show.
Q - So much time has passed since John Denver's death, are you surprised at all in the interest of his music? Are you surprised those people would have approached you early on to do a John Denver tribute?
A - I had heard it pretty much all of my adult life. "You know, you kind of look like John Denver." My wife, when she met me when I was 23 said, "Yeah, he looks like John Denver." So, I kind of had it growing up before I started thinking about doing the tribute. People would say I look like John.
Q - When you were growing up in the state of Washington, just how popular was John Denver?
A - Well, I think there was still a lot of fans. My mom was a big fan, so she would put the John Denver records on from time to time. There was still a lot of people that liked his music. Back in the '70s he was really big when I was a kid. That was when he was in his heyday. So he was pretty popular. I remember when Rock 'n' Roll came in and a lot of that Folk music started to fade off the airwaves. The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin and all that kind of stuff really came on the scene.
Q - Ted, where do you usually perform? Theatres? Casinos?
A - I do a lot of casinos. They like the tribute bands. They have a draw. I do a lot of theatres. I do dinner theatres. I do outdoor events as far as like community concerts. Every once in a while I'll do some state fairs and I do private parties. So, I really do a little bit of everything.
Q - You're busy, aren't you?
A - Yeah. We stay busy all year long. This year we started to do showcases in different states and that way we can do more of a consistent tour instead of ping-ponging back and forth around the country.
Q - What year did you put the John Denver tribute act together?
A - Oh, I probably started really serious doing it in about 2008. That's when I really started, actually performing.
Q - How many gigs did you perform last year?
A - The last couple of years I'm thinking I do 70 to 80 shows a year. So I basically work weekends.
Q - The rest of the week you perfect your act?
A - Yeah, during the week I like to spend my time being outdoors. I do some writing. I work on my show and travel. Sometimes we're traveling a couple of days at a time.
Q - When you say writing, you mean you're trying to pursue a deal with your original material?
A - Right. Yeah, doing some more original material.
Q - Has John Denver's ex-wife Annie ever seen you in concert?
A - I've never spoken to Annie Denver. I did meet John's mother Irma before she passed away. I got to sing for her; his brother Ron. His uncle Abe. I did meet him and spoke with him when I was out in Aspen. I was performing a couple of different times at Windstar before Windstar was shut down.
Q - It must've been a real honor for you to meet John Denver's mother and brother and uncle, wasn't it?
A - Yeah. It was really cool. I did tour with Steve Weisberg who was John's lead guitar player back in the '70s, from '73 to '77. Steve and I toured for about four and a half years.
Q - I would imagine there were nights when he looks over at you and just for a split second he thought you were John Denver.
A - He said he had some moments where he had like a flashback. (laughs)