Elvis Presley would have been 80 on Jan. 8.
Would have been 80, had the singer/actor/pop-icon not died in 1977. Not that his death is keeping anyone from celebrating, including this weekend in Fresno.
Elvis tribute artist Jeremy Pearce is hosting an 80th birthday concert Friday, Jan. 23 at the Paul Shaghoian Concert Hall with his band The Memphis Sons, and Roger Perry and Vince Warner will lead an all-star ensemble of local musicians in their tribute to the music of the King on Sunday, Jan. 25 at Fulton 55.
“Elvis has been gone for almost four decades and it’s still going on,” says Pearce, better known as“Elvis” Pearce, both for his stage performances and his collection of Presley memorabilia.
These kinds of tributes are the closest many will ever get to seeing Presley perform.
Even Pearce, who has studied Elvis more than most people study any single thing, missed seeing Presley by a couple of years. Pearce was born in 1975. Presley played Fresno in 1973 and again in ’74.
“I’ll never get to see him,” Pearce says.
And there are generations of fans (and potential fans) who grew up without Elvis. That makes Pearce’s performances all that much more important.
“It is passing that torch and teaching people about Elvis,” he says.
For this show, Pearce went all out, with a 70-minute performance that is the closest re-creation he’s ever done. It will run like an actual Presley concert, complete with a performance from the Sweet Inspirations. That was Elvis’ original group of back-up singers.
The show’s opening act is Jimmy Velvet, a singer from the ’60s who had a couple of singles (“We Belong Together” is the best known) and counted himself a friend of Presley’s.
Velvet once had the largest collection of Elvis memorabilia in the world, and was the inspiration behind Pearce’s own collection, some of which will be on display in the lobby during the show. There will also be a display of rare photographs of Presley from Sandi Miller, Pearce says. Miller was also friends with the King and is known in the circuit of Elvis collectors.
Think of Pearce’s tribute as a mini Elvis convention.
“It’s as much about him as it is his music,” he says.
Of course, Presley is more than his music.
He is a pop-culture icon. Even those who’ve never heard an Elvis song (the sad souls surely exist) know the pop-culture canon: the jumpsuits and sneer, the love of Cadillacs and karate and drugs, the fact he died on (or near) the toilet.
I am by no means a fanatic and am surprised by the vast amount of stuff I know about Presley.
For instance, that in 1970 he met with then-President Richard Nixon to try to score a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Or that Presley collected law-enforcement badges.
Who knows how I came to know this stuff about Elvis? But it’s there, taking up space in my head.
That’s the kind of reach Elvis has.
In that respect, Presley won’t ever die. Neither will the need for ETAs — that’s Elvis tribute artists, Pearce says.
“We’re kind of like sharks’ teeth,” he says. “When one gets lost, another comes in.”