Elvis Lives On

It’s a story from a Hollywood script. The lost soul who ran off with the circus only to find out he’s a legend’s son. While, the origin story of Elvis Presley Jr. isn’t news to his fans, sharing it with the world has taken him down roads he never imagined.
He is no longer a novelty, proving himself as a solid singer and performer in his own right. Not only is it in his blood but he was reared before an audience. For those who don’t know the story, Jr. was born out-of-wedlock on Dec. 24, 1961, the result of a liaison between Elvis Presley and Angelique Pettyjohn, a young actress who was an extra in the film Blue Hawaii. At the time, Presley was at the height of his fame and it was feared marriage to Pettyjohn would destroy his career. Pettyjohn agreed to have the baby in secret and to put the child up for adoption immediately after the birth.
Enter Elvis’ colorful manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Parker was an orphan adopted by a circus couple, so drawing on his own experience, he began combing the circus troupes for a suitable couple to adopt the child. He found them in a pair of young Yugoslavians known as “The Vargas” who were performers with the Ringling Brothers Circus throughout North America.
The conditions of the adoption were simple and the young couple adhered to them. First, they were not to reveal, under any circumstances, the child’s biological parents until the infant reached his 21st birthday; second, they were not to seek any monetary compensation from the Presley family on behalf of the child. The child then began life as Phillip Stanic, growing up in the gypsy-like circus world.
He trained exotic cats and by the age of 15 was known as the youngest wild animal trainer in the world. He trained his exotics with love — no whips, no chairs and uncaged, Jr. said. When he turned 21, Jr. was told of his parentage.
After a tough inner struggle, Jr., realized that he wanted his true identity to be acknowledged. He applied for and after sworn testimony and legal documents were presented, was granted on January 21, 1985, the legal right to bear the name Elvis Aaron Presley, Jr. by the United States Federal Court system.
Soon after he started performing as Elvis Jr., with a voice naturally reminiscent of his biological father’s. And he has done so ever since.
Audiences may remember Jr. from his stop in Laughlin in 2012. But they may be surprised by his evolution as a performer. Jr. brings more to the stage than flashy costumes and a band.
He brings history in the form of people who knew his father well, artifacts that once belonged to his dad and charisma both inherited and learned. His entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t stop at creating a memorable stage show, Jr., is also in the museum business. He is the proprietor of Dreamland Elvis, one of the largest private collections of Elvis memorabilia.
“I have a new museum now in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee,” he said. “It’s at the Memories Theater, with all the tribute shows, and it’s one of the biggest Elvis collections outside of Graceland. We’ve got a touring unit as well. It’s called ‘A Private Collection of the King on Tour.’ It’s a big semi-truck that travels around the country. It’s really, really elite. We’ve got another museum in Traders World in Monroe, Ohio,” he added. “We’ve got several cars in that museum, one of the famous pink Cadillacs, a ’62 T-Bird, Liberace’s Phantom V Rolls-Royce, a James Bond car and some other stuff. We’re looking to bring a small collection over to Laughlin with us this trip.”
Jr. will also be bringing plenty of the King’s memorabilia, as well. “We’re bringing the Aloha Belt that was thrown into the audience in ’72 when he took it off on stage before he finished his show.
“We’ll have one of his other costumes on display, a light blue jumpsuit with a guitar, and several other objects like original banners from the International Hotel when it opened up in Vegas, and we’re going to bring one of his rings out, as well.”
Elvis isn’t the only crooner who will be on stage. The show will also include memorabilia from Bill Haley’s Comets.
“Opening the show is Bill Haley’s Comets’ original drummer, Joey Kay,” Jr. said. “He’s gonna do five songs, about half an hour and Tony Figgy, who also was a guitar player with Bill Haley, will be with him.
“Of course, they’ll do one of the first rock and roll hits, ‘Rock Around the Clock.’ They do a great routine.”
To keep his audience interested, and avoid getting bored himself, Jr. is always tweaking the show.
“We’re constantly changing stuff around in the show, so everything is always new,” he added. “This time we’re bringing in more of the Elvis Sr. effect, we’re gonna do a jumpsuit and stuff like that.”
The jumpsuit wasn’t part of the show during his last stop in Laughlin.
“You know what, so many people were constantly asking me, ‘why don’t you do the jumpsuit thing, so many imitators and tribute artists out there are doing the jumpsuit?’ I said, ‘well, I want to be myself, you know, I’m Elvis Jr,'” he said.
“After a memorial weekend, we decided to throw in the jumpsuit after many years and do that for the fans and the audience. My jumpsuits are black because it’s a special memory of him, so I won’t be wearing a white one, I’ll be wearing a black one. We’re gonna do the whole shtick in Laughlin including ‘The Trilogy.’
“Before the show starts, I’m going to have Greg McDonald out talking to the audience as a warm up,” Jr. said. “Greg McDonald was a right-hand man for Colonel Parker for many years ever since he was a teenager. Later he became Ricky Nelson’s manager for 17 years, and he also worked with Roy Orbison as his manager and promoter, so he’s gonna be talking about all of that and that’s gonna be a fantastic moment.”
Jr. willingly shares the spotlight with his support team. One of the backup singers, Rose Angelica, recently went platinum for online record sales of her single ‘Girls Just Wanna Drink Beer.’
“She also plays rhythm guitar and plays a horn,” Jr. said. “She’s pretty famous all over the country now. Rose and I have known each other for many years. With all these elements, the show is gonna be a nice collage for people.”
Jr. figures he has to amp up his musical game plan since audiences have long since gotten past how he came into this world.
“I think one of my biggest accomplishments doing shows and educating the public is just keeping the memory alive,” Jr. said. which is why he has dedicated so much of his life to collecting and displaying musical memorabilia.
“I’ve been in the museum business for many years. It’s getting close to 30 years,” Jr. said. “I had a museum in Niagra Falls, Canada, for 18 years and now it’s on the road, it travels. I had a big one here in Ohio called Dreamland. I’ve got a huge Michael Jackson collection that’s now in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
“Being associated with people who were in the business has certainly helped,” he said.
While it’s his daddy’s songs he performs and the King’s stuff that he collects, Jr. does it all his way. For instance, audiences may get to hear a bit of Elvis rap. He did it for a guy at a gas station and sometimes he does it just to get a reaction from the crowd.
“The guy at the gas station laughed. He had such a ball with that,” Jr. said. “I do that a lot in my show, too. When I tell ’em we’re gonna do some Elvis rap, they all look at me funny.”
He enjoys recording music that pairs his music and Elvis’ standards, tweaked for today’s listeners with different beats.
“I keep coming out with new tunes all the time. I’ve got two new albums out that were released last year. One is called We All Nations. It’s a tribute to every Native American name in every tribe and it’s done in techno so it’s really new and modern. We’ve also done a whole new rendition of ‘Suspicious Minds.’ We’ve given it a 40-year facelift and it’s full of dance club music—the boom, boom, boom stuff. We took ‘Always on my Mind’ and gave it a tropical beat. It’s playing in clubs for kids, so a lot of stuff is continuing.”
While some of the Elvis Jr. shows include his original music, the Laughlin show will feature only his father’s music.
“I do a lot of my stuff, but this time around we’re not doing any originals of mine because we’re just doing this as a special memorial,” he said.
After the show, Jr. and his cast will be outside taking pictures and doing autographs. “We’re gonna have a great time, that’s what we’re there for,” Jr. said. “We’re gonna have a really good time, enjoy ourselves and enjoy Laughlin.”


ELVIS PRESLEY JR.

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside

Wednesday-Sunday, Aug. 15-19 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets