Gary James' Interview With Elvis Tribute Artist
Walt Sanders has been performing his tribute to Elvis Presley since 1993. Based out of Bellevue, Ohio, Walt Sanders will open his show by saying "Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I'm Kurt Russell." That's because of his strong resemblance to the actor. But make no mistake about it, Walt Sanders is an Elvis Tribute Artist and in this interview we talked about all things Elvis.
Q - Walt, I heard about you from this book Living The Life, The World Of Elvis Tribute Artists by Patty Carroll. I take it you had to be pretty special to be included in that book. She probably approached you, correct?
A - Yes, she did. I came offstage in Memphis in '97 and she approached me.
Q - How did she hear about you?
A - There was a contest. I forget the name of the contest. It was the one before EPE (Elvis Presley Enterprises) got involved. So I was doing that.
Q - It was great publicity for you to be in that book, wasn't it?
A - There's probably three people who told me they've seen me in that book. (laughs)
Q - I suppose I'm included in that three?
A - Yes, you are.
Q - It's a nice book Walt. It has the website listings and e-mail address.
A - Yes, it does.
Q - It's been thirty-three years since Elvis died. It would seem that the people who were around when Elvis was King would appreciate your act the most, but you get a lot of younger kids at your shows. What do they say to you? How can they relate to Elvis?
A - A lot of people that weren't Elvis fans, that aren't Elvis fans, have heard of me and just wanted to see what it was all about. They were just gonna come to a public show or a festival and check out a couple of songs and end up staying for the whole show. So, you don't have to be an Elvis fan to enjoy 'live' music.
Q - What do you find so fascinating about Elvis?
A - I just think he had the complete package. He had a voice. He had a gift from God there. He had good looks, charisma, charm. You name it, he had it. He was a complete package.
Q - I know you make reference in the book to the fact that you look like Kurt Russell.
A - I've been told I look like Kurt Russell more now than I've ever been told I look like Elvis.
Q - Would that mean that Kurt Russell has heard of you? Has he ever made contact with you?
A - No. I'd love that. That's my ultimate goal, to have my picture taken alongside of Goldie Hawn. (laughs)
Q - Maybe Kurt or Goldie will read this interview!
A - I'd really like to meet Kurt someday.
Q - How much of an investment do you have in your Elvis show?
A - I have the most investment in my suits. I own a small P.A. system. I have six jumpsuits from B and K and a wig. That's a small fortune.
Q - Do you carry back-up musicians with you?
A - I have a full band and also have the finest tracks.
Q - You pretty much book yourself?
A - We are at this moment self-promoted, yes.
Q - And when you were starting, booking agencies were telling you they already had an Elvis?
A - They'd say "we already have our guy. He gets the job done." The other excuse is "we don't get much call for Elvis."
Q - What year were you told that?
A - Oh, all along, even still. And I beg to differ. All you have to do is look up one of these guys who's very successful, look up their website and see how busy they are.
Q - I know what you're talking about. Some of these tribute acts go all over the world. I don't know how far you travel.
A - I'll go anywhere I can go. Anywhere the sun shines. I have a passport. So does my band. We've been to Canada.
Q - Are the booking agencies trying to tell you the market is over-saturated for Elvis tribute acts?
A - I've had personal friends tell me "you're just a small fish swimming in a big pond. You have to do something to set yourself apart." We came up with the two tier show. If you go to
my website you'll see two pictures of me: one in a very nice dress suit and then the other is in a jumpsuit. So, we put on our own production. I open up the show in this very nice dress suit, trying to show the audience that I know I'm not Elvis and that no matter how hard I try, I'm not going to be Elvis. Either you accept me for who I am or you don't. There are people that are sort of disappointed, but after I start singing, I guess they get over the disappointment. And then it kind of just builds up the anticipation for the climax when I'd come out for several sets in the jumpsuit.
Q - How long of an act do you have?
A - We basically go too long. I don't know if it's me talking between songs or if it's too many songs, but we do fill a three hour slot very easily.
Q - That's a lot of Elvis songs.
A - It is. Did you see the video where I did the Ricky Nelson song?
Q - I did.
A - I think I should not forget about the Elvis, but I think I might go in the direction of doing Ricky. There's probably a lot less competition.
Q - But is there a market for Ricky Nelson?
A - There has to be. He's like one of those greats of Rock 'n' Roll as well.
Q - Walt, how many years do you think you'll continue to do your Elvis tribute?
A - I might eventually follow through on the suggestions of a lot of people and try to find who I am. I don't know. I met Ray Walker in 1997 and the very first thing he told me was "You don't need to do Elvis. You can do anything you want." I thanked him. I appreciated his opinion, but I told him this was all I ever wanted to do. I don't know what I can do as a solo artist. I can sing in a choir. Don't ask me to sing solo.
Q - Have you ever worked a day job?
A - I've had twenty-one years doing auto glass replacement. I gave that up in 2006 when my wife donated a kidney to our son. I got allowed the money to continue by doing part-time jobs and doing my Elvis.
Q - Where's your next gig?
A - I just did one the other night. These people came to see me three times now. They said "We're new fans. You won us over with 'Puppet On A String'." Well, actually before that. I made reference to 'em this weekend. I said "These people call themselves my fans." I feel a little uncomfortable saying I have fans because really we're all fans of Elvis.