Character Connection

Don Rose is in the building again, making sure Elvis keeps rocking the jailhouse and the concert stage.
Since the “King of Rock and Roll” has been gone more than 40 years now, the younger generation never knew Presley through films or ground-breaking concerts other than a short clip here and there in documentaries.
Elvis set the standard and changed the face of the music industry. He proved millions of people wrong, particularly those who thought rock and roll was a flash in the pan. He was personally responsible for bringing that “devil music” out into the light.
The genre outlasted every last naysayer, and no entertainer in the history of music has had such a profound and long-lasting effect on both fans and the business than Elvis Presley.
Many people who were around during his time on earth didn’t have the opportunity to experience Elvis live in the Vegas showrooms or through his many concerts held across the country. If they were lucky, they got to watch one or two of them via satellite on television, which was considered a technological miracle at the time.
So this is where tribute artists like Don Rose come in. They provide a glimpse of the kind of stage presence and entertainment power Elvis possessed. That is why “getting it right” is important to Rose, who just happens to be one of the biggest Elvis fans out there, whether he was making a living with the connection or not.
His heartfelt tribute comes from a place of someone who felt that Presley was a lifeline to better days and the American dream. If an unknown musician from Tupelo, Mississippi, could go against the grain and create a genre of music while developing a loyal following to this day, then the hope was there for the rest of the world.
“I was raised in an Elvis-fan family. My mom is a big Elvis fan. My brother was playing Elvis music in a band. I just grew up with him,” Rose told the Laughlin entertainer. “But what attracted me to him — that’s a hard question for Elvis fans to answer. Why is he more popular now, 40-plus years after his death, than he was when he was alive? He connected with people in many different ways. For me, his character was just bigger than life. It’s his voice that has always attracted me.”
And it is Rose’s vocal ability that fans are attracted to at his shows. His voice is as close to the original most of us will ever experience.
Every year about this time, Rose makes a pilgrimage to Laughlin to Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort to perform his “Happy Birthday to the King” tribute show. It’s a celebration of Presley’s music in a big way. “Happy Birthday to the King” takes the stage for another run, Wednesday-Sunday, Jan. 8-12.
These regular performance dates mean Rose’s portrayal resonates with fans time and time again because of one important element — his passion for his craft.
“People have always said that my strength is my voice,” Rose said. “I just developed by being an Elvis fan. I have all the concerts, all the music, all the movies, and all the bootleg stuff. I’ve watched it all so many times.
“I never really practiced anything like stage movements or mannerisms. I just picked it up by watching. The only thing I’ve had any training on or practiced was my voice.
“Everything else is just embedded in my head. When I’m on stage doing Elvis, I see Elvis. It’s always in there, I guess because I’ve seen it all so many times. I can’t get enough of that. I still watch Elvis movies, still watch his concerts.”
Sharing in that passion for the music is Rose’s band of players who include Pam Hays (keyboards and vocals), Hal Hays (drums), John Morrison (bass and vocals), John Scott (guitar and vocals) and Jay Boyer (keyboards and vocals).
“We have a great show planned this year,” Rose said. “We’ll have lots of Elvis’ biggest hits — the show is completely different from last year with the exception of those songs you just have to do.
“There will not be one song in this show that was not a smash hit or an absolute fan favorite. It is packed with the best vocal songs, production numbers, and requested songs that we have ever done in one show.”
Of course Rose’s show includes the jumpsuit era, which has become his specialty.
“I love the jumpsuit era and the vast amount of different kinds of material that Elvis was able to perform,” he said. “As an entertainer and vocalist, I think Elvis really arrived in this era, performing some of his most memorable material live in front of his legions of fans across the country.”
The ETA (Elvis Tribute Artist) community in Las Vegas lost one of its own about a month ago when Trent Carlini unexpectedly passed away. Rose also resides in Vegas and said he was sad about Carlini’s passing.
“It is always sad when we lose anyone,” he said. “I can’t speak too much to Trent as I only knew him in passing on a few occasions. Obviously, Trent was one of the most successful ETAs over the years. I first saw him in “Legends.” He did a nice job and had a great look. I met him briefly on a few occasions. He ended up in the Riviera one time when I was performing there and I introduced him in the audience. We shared greetings off stage and on a few other occasions, but our paths did not cross that much. He obviously had a lot of fans and will leave a void for all those that followed him over the years.
“It’s always sad to lose entertainers or anyone whom you have known, be it a passing acquaintance or a close friend.”
“This year saw the loss of one of my mentors, best friends, a second father to my son, and a constant presence for years at my shows — my right hand man David Leach, who used to do my scarves, guitars, and so much more for me lost his battle with cancer in 2019,” Rose added. “It will be a tremendous emptiness with him not around and right by my side. Dave was the guy whose cup was always half full, and the positivity was infectious. This show “If I Can Dream,” Dave’s favorite, will be for him with a whole new meaning to those of us that were lucky enough to have been a part of his family. Always sad to lose anyone you know, especially the ones you love.”
People often wonder why Elvis is still so popular more than 40 years after his passing, and Rose has the answer.
“I feel the reason why Elvis is a mainstay and is still so popular, or maybe more popular today than when he was alive — I had always struggled to answer that because I just didn’t quite understand it all myself. But I think I have finally found the correct answer.
“I was reading an article from Steve Binder’s book, who was the producer for the ’68 Comeback Special,” Rose said. “He worked with and got to know Elvis maybe unlike any other producer or out of inner-circle person in Elvis’ career. What he said was poetry to my ears — ‘People ask me why Elvis sustained so long and do I feel he will be around for another 50 years? It is a pure indefinable charisma that keeps him different. When he sang a lyric to a song, the difference is, in my opinion, he somehow penetrated people’s souls. He got inside of them. It’s like he is living inside these people’s hearts.’
“There you have it, that’s exactly what happened to me,” Rose added. “He had a special-ness you can’t define, but a feeling you can’t deny. Elvis lives forever in our souls through songs and films like no other could ever accomplish.”
And Rose’s tribute has all of that heart, soul and charisma, as Elvis would have delivered.
“It will be a fast-paced, fun show and as always, when necessary, we will go with the flow for our loyal following here at the Riverside,” he said. “I always look so forward to performing in Don’s Celebrity Theatre. They have special people there, we’ve made long-time friends and maintained relationships from our many years of performing there. We look forward to seeing our loyal fans and making new fans along the way.”
The whole show still revolves around the power of Rose’s voice.
“That is my biggest asset. I am just me — I love Elvis Presley and the many blessings he has brought to my life, and that is what I am most thankful for. So I will keep giving everything I have on that stage to portray Elvis in a way that I can feel proud of when I walk off stage at the end of a show. And hopefully, people will see the connection I have with this character I portray, and understand the passion I have for performing this music.
“Elvis is the main thing and I intend for my love of him and his music to shine through in my shows always,” he added. “He has given us and me so much and I am so thankful I get to share those memories with Elvis fans.”


Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort

Wednesday-Sunday, Jan. 8-12 (7 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info