Donnie Edwards discovered his connection to Elvis Presley from singing karaoke.
It’s a connection that since 2002 has turned Edwards into an Elvis tribute artist, living in Las Vegas and touring across North America.
“I looked like Elvis and was always a huge fan, he was my hero going back to when I was a kid,” Edwards explained.
“But I was just goofing around sinking Elvis tunes on karaoke one day back in 2002, and my dad and sister really loved it.”
So Edwards made a karaoke tape of him singing, which his dad tried to circulate around on his behalf, leading to him being invited to participate in an Elvis singing contest in his hometown of Jackson, Texas.
“I won that contest, then did another, people started noticing me at that second event and I started getting calls from talent agencies. Before I knew it, I had a gig singing at a casino in Oregon for three months, then I landed in Las Vegas for another gig, did an Elvis-A-Rama event while I was there and the guy who ran that hired me on the spot.”
And Edwards, 42, has been busy ever since, this winter coming to Kelowna on Feb. 10, at Kelowna Community Theatre, 7:30 p.m., as part of a tour across B.C.
As a tribute artist, Edwards said his task is not just to impersonate Elvis on stage.
“In my show I dress and sing like him, and move and look like him, but I also talk about Elvis in his life along with performing his songs.”
He says offering insights into Elvis’ life is not hard, given the iconic figure he was as a rock’n roll singer, movie star and international celebrity.
“It’s really hard to pinpoint what made Elvis unique. But there was nobody like him before he arrived on the scene, and I don’t think there has ever been anyone like him since,” Edwards said.
“He looked different, he sang different, he acted different than anyone else. I believe he is one of the greatest vocalists ever, he could sing anything from rock to country to rhythm and blues to gospel.”
Beyond creating a cottage industry of impersonator and tribute artists, Edwards says Elvis’ legacy remains his music and his movies.
He counts Suspicious Minds as perhaps the King of Rock’n Roll’s signature song, but others like Love Me Tender, Hound Dog, Don’t Be Cruel and Jailhouse Rock also come to mind and remain popular with his audiences today.
“Some of the people who come to my shows weren’t even born when many of his early hits in the late ’50s and early ’60s were being recorded,” Edwards said.
On the silver screen, Edwards says King Creole was probably his best role as an actor, while his personal favourite is GI Blues.
“I think King Creole was the best role he ever had but another of my favourites is Blue Hawaii, which I think also showcased his acting ability in a way many of his other movies didn’t, and it’s still a good movie that holds up today.”
As for the final years of Elvis’ life, when he descended further into prescription drug dependency and binge eating habits, Edwards said Bruce Springsteen probably summed it up best: “All the things to learn and not to learn from a career in rock’n roll we learned from Elvis.”
Edwards feels Elvis’ extensive touring schedule over about a 10-year period from the late ’60s into the early ’70s was his ultimate undoing.
“He was the hardest working guy in show business for a time. His performances had so much energy and there was so much power in his voice, so much versatility to it.”
To order tickets online,go to the Kelowna Community Theatre website theatre.kelowna.ca.