Jim VanHollebeke's Interview for Newsday Magazine
1. When and why did you decide to become an Elvis impersonator? Can you give me a little background on yourself and your fondness for Elvis?
I never decided to become an Elvis impersonator. I was just another kid who liked to sing. Elvis was my favorite and of course, my main influence. it became apparent that I had become a REFLECTION of Elvis well into my adulthood. People began telling me I sounded like Elvis Presley and I thought that was the best of all possible compliments. In the 70's and 80's I was author of the "For Elvis Fans Only" column in Goldmine, a magazine for record collectors. It was during this time that I began playing my guitar and recording. My first effort was a satire LP starring me as "Elvis PRESSMEE"! It sold about 30 copies as I recall. When Elvis died , I was one of a million or so artists who recorded a special tribute. I used my magazine column to promote this 45 and sold WELL over 30 copies! Now, being a "recording star", I started buying my own recording equipment (the cheapest stuff possible) and eventually formed what I call "a tiny little studio" in (a tiny little corner of) my living room. In the early 90's I began producing my cassettes concentrating mainly on my favorite music, most of which was Elvis. That evolved into our present day Elvis Tribute CDs. More money has been lost than made but it's a great hobby, if nothing else and our customers have been very happy with the product.
2. How would you describe your act? You call your act a tribute to Elvis--is that how you perceive the others doing similar things?
My 'act' is just singing and reminding. I don't really pretend to BE elvis. I'm performing a salute and my goal is to remind people of the LASTING greatness of the one and only Elvis. I think most of the others would agree with this, though some DO tend to get caught up in the IMPERSONATOR thing. Normally we don't like the "impersonator" tag and much prefer ELVIS TRIBUTE ARTIST; in my case, Elvis Tribute Recording Artist.
3. Where do you perform? How would you describe your audience?
Most of my LIVE performances today are just for fun - no pay. Being over 50, I think the YOUNGER Elvises should do the "LIVE" stuff. But there is a honky-tonk near us that has "karaoke" on saturday nites and I have become a fixture there. My main focus, however, is on the recordings. to me it's like, if you want to leave a record, you gotta make a RECORD !
4. What would Elvis think of your act?
I think Elvis would approve of what I do. I try to convey what HE thought were the most important elements of his music: EMOTION and RHYTHM.
5. If Elvis was alive and entered an Elvis impersonators contest, who would win, you or him?
Well. In my opinion, contest judges are less competent then most elvis impersonators, themselves. So God only knows. But I'll say this: no one can hold a candle to Elvis. No one.
6. What kind of response have you gotten to your Web site? Is there an advantage to promoting yourself via the Web? Do you think Elvis would surf the Web? Do you know of a lot of others who have Web sites?
Actually, the response has been slight. I think if Elvis were alive he might enjoy exploring the web. I know he liked to inquire and read a lot.
7. Unlike many of the others, you've recorded quite a bit. Do you do only Elvis material or your own? Tough one: It's one thing to see a show, but why would someone buy a recording by an impersonator when they can just buy the real thing?
My recordings concentrate on Presley but I've covered just about everyone - especially from that era. The only original material I've done were the aforementioned 2 songs I wrote for the tribute 45, 20 years ago plus a song I recently wrote for our NEW album. Basically, the only people who would want to buy a recording of an Elvis sound-a-like rather than a recording by the real thing; are those who have EVERYTHING by Elvis and are beginning to go for the "alternate track" diversion. NEW Elvis music, so to speak. (this in my opinion, is the REAL purpose of the elvis tribute artist.) problem is that among these die-hard fans, 98 percent of them hate "Elvis immitators"! They mistakenly think the tribute artists are COMPETING with Elvis rather than obsessing their devotion as fellow fans. Naturally, this makes for a very, VERY limited market !
8. How did you put together your guide to impersonators?
Actually, the guide was NOT put out by me. it is the site of the Elvis Impersonators Webring. it's one of the most extensive sites of it's kind on the web but is no where near exhaustive or complete.
9. Some of them seem pretty funny and some serious. What's the market like these days for impersonators? Does it matter if you look like him or not (some have gone so far as to have plastic surgery--is that necessary?)
Yes. Some of them DO seem pretty funny. And because of the FUNNY ones (60%) the market is A DISASTER. There is an unwritten LAW in the media: DON'T GIVE ANY EXPOSURE TO ELVIS IMITATORS. The only exception to this LAW is...if it will be used for comedic purpose. If an Elvis Tribute Artist is really good (and there ARE some REALLY GOOD ones) , he has no chance of being covered. No chance. I can remember some 30 odd years ago a great Judy Garland imitator who was given SO MUCH media attention that she was practically deified by the American public. And she was a HE ! James Bailey, i believe, was the name (for any of you old timers out there). There's a guy, Eddie Miles, performing ELVIS in the South who is SOOO GOOD - you literally believe you're watching Elvis again. This guy SHOULD be famous. But it won't happen. He doesn't fit the JOKE IMAGE...and the law is the law.
10. You seem to be SO into this elvis thing.do you have ANY other interests besides Elvis Presley?
Yes. I know this will sound like a gag but my other interests include; paleo-anthropology, collecting disney's pinocchio items, classic E.C. horror comic books, satire entertainment, and wolf research. I have recently completed a scientific paper which is published on the net and I'm up-dating a fiction piece for the web's comic collectors. I'm also into drawing, painting and sculpting although I haven't had much time for them in recent years. Did I mention gorillas? I'm nuts about 'em! Went to see DISNEY's re-make of Mighty Joe Young THREE TIMES (and bought the video TWICE!).
.........and oh, yes, I also have a PHOTO ART SERVICE where we can create an actual picture of YOU and Elvis!!!
(See photos below)