The King Reigns Supreme

With the first note sung and a swivel of the hips, Elvis Presley commanded an audience, who were in hysterics over the scintillating performer. The King of Rock and Roll will never be matched, nor forgotten.

Just as he amassed legions of devoted fans with his debut in the 1950s, the King continues to inspire new generations as they find out about his music. Another recent wave of Elvis mania occurred in June when the biographical film “Elvis,” starring Austin Butler, hit theaters. With Butler’s dedication to capturing the spirit and every nuance of Presley’s being, fans fell in love all over again with their musical hero, and sympathized with the tragic parts of his story. The film renewed interest in the star, which has been felt by longtime Elvis tribute artist Don Rose.

“With the release of the new ‘Elvis’ movie, a whole Elvis atmosphere has been energized,” Rose said. “We will be introducing three new songs this year that we have never done before. It is funny how that works. I have had young people bring songs before me, especially after the release of the ‘Elvis’ movie, that really were not on my radar, and they have ended up being great songs. Some songs I was not sure that we could actually duplicate the production, but my band has put forth a valiant effort and I think they are going to sound great!”

Beyond the wonderful music, the movie instilled a greater understanding of the trials and tribulations Presley faced as he exploded with fame.

“There was much interpretation as to exactly what individuals got out of the movie and many have varying opinions,” Rose said. “My takeaway from the movie was simply that Elvis was a very complicated, yet simple personality. Humble and shy, yet he was defiant. He was definitely a searcher and appeared to always be looking for answers to why things happen the way they did. I can’t even imagine how it must’ve been to exist at that level in show business.”

Somewhat like Presley, Rose himself was quite shy about his talents in the beginning.

“When I was in high school, my choir teacher tried to talk me into being in choir for several years and I wouldn’t do it,” Rose said. “But I finally got into choir my senior year and then she talked me into joining an ensemble group of like 12 kids, so I joined that, but I would never do anything like get out there and sing by myself. I was kind of shy about all that.

“Then when Elvis passed away and I started messing around with singing and doing impersonation stuff, I used to take a little piece of rope and tie the door shut to the basement so nobody could come down there while I was doing it, because I was so shy about it.”

Eventually a few people would hear him singing and invite him to play, which slowly turned music into his career.

“Somebody coaxed me into their living room, and out of their living room and into a little nightclub, and before you know it I was milling around trying to figure out how to get into the business,” Rose said. “I got into the tribute business strictly because I was a very big Elvis fan all my life, from the time I was 6 years old and my mom took me to my first Elvis movie at the theater.”

With his affinity for Elvis, replicating the stage presence came fairly easy for Rose.

“I never really practiced or concentrated too much on the mannerisms or the things that Elvis did on stage because I have watched so many concerts and so much footage, I kind of already knew most of that — how he acted on stage, how he moved, how he stood,” Rose said. “I’ve pretty much only really ever had to concentrate on the voice, which I’ve put a lot of time into and took a lot of vocal lessons.”

During a contest in Palm Springs, his portrayal of the King gained the attention of those who were close to Elvis before his passing.

“A special thing was winning a contest that was judged by Estelle Brown, who was one of The Sweet Inspirations (Elvis’ touring background group) and Ed Bonja, who was Colonel Parker’s guy — he took a lot of the pictures you see of Elvis in photograph. Sonny West (Elvis’ bodyguard) was a judge, Al Divorin was a judge — he was the guy who was famous for saying ‘Elvis has left the building.’ So everybody who judged the contest was somebody that worked with Elvis, either in his band or his entourage,” Rose said. “I won that contest in Palm Springs, a long time ago, and just being around those people was really cool. I did a show with Sonny West in Memphis during Elvis Week one year. Sonny had a show where he talked about Elvis and shared stories and I did a little concert afterward. That’s really a special memory.”

Rose also has had the honor of playing at Graceland, Elvis’ estate.

“Oh I’ve been to Graceland many times, been to Elvis Week many times,” Rose said. “They have a thing down there for performers that used to be called ‘the tent.’ So I’ve performed down there at the tent, and one year my son performed with me down there when he was probably 6 or 7. He was a big hit. He’s in college now.”

Rose is a big hit himself, especially with Laughlin audiences, where he has been performing for about 20 years. He credits his stays at the Riverside Resort as one of the highlights of his career.

“Definitely one of the highlights is the Riverside,” Rose said. “I started out in a show there that at the time was with a Hawaiian group called Hot Lava, so I was just kind of part of the cast. Over the years it just kind of evolved and I ended up with my own show and I have probably been playing there around 20 years. So we’ve definitely had a long relationship with the Riverside and that’s definitely a highlight. It was one of the first showrooms that I ever played and it’s been a continuous best showroom for us across the country.”

Rose is back at the Riverside with his show “Happy Birthday to the King” Wednesday-Sunday, Jan. 11-15. His band includes John Scott on guitar, John Morrison on bass, Steve West on keyboards, Pam Hays on keyboards and Hal Hays on drums.

“We look forward to returning to the Riverside, one of my absolute favorite places to play!” Rose said. “With great lighting, and superior sound, we will certainly be rocking Don’s Celebrity Theatre, as I lean heavily toward big production numbers, which will work nicely with a couple of the new songs we will be introducing this year. In addition to those new songs, we have a great lineup this year, and a great band to play them. It will be a high energy show with audience interaction, popular ballads and of course, all the hit songs that everyone will remember.”