BILLY SUTER chats to DOUG WEICH, a popular Durban-based Elvis Presley tribute artist who, backed by band, will present his new show, Viva Las Vegas, at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre, 42 Cunningham Road, Umbilo, at 8pm on August 3 and 4 and 2pm on August 5. First, however, he will stage it at the theatre’s Pietermaritzburg branch, at the Allan Wilson Shellhole, at 2pm on Sunday, July 22. The show offers favourites such as Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes, Jailhouse Rock, It’s Now Or Never, Fever, Heartbreak Hotel, Johnny B Goode and Suspicious Minds. Tickets cost R150 and booking is at Computicket or by calling Roland at 082 499 8636.
HOW MANY ELVIS SHOWS HAVE YOU PERFORMED AT THE RHUMBELOW IN UMBILO – AND HOW IS THE LATEST ONE DIFFERENT?
This will be my seventh production at the Rhumbelow Theatre. The show gives a glimpse of what it was like to watch the King of Rock”n’ Roll in Las Vegas when he made his return to live performances with his iconic gem studded jumpsuits, starting from his debut in 1969 up until his last performance in 1977.
IS THERE A DIFFERENT VIBE WHEN YOU HAVE A LIVE BAND, COMPARED TO PERFORMING TO BACKING TRACKS? WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF EACH?
Having a live band is the ultimate for any Elvis tribute artist. It is incredible to be surrounded by such talented musicians.
With a live band you can interact with musicians on stage. You can also change songs to suit your style of singing and to suit any specific show. With backing tracks you are alone on stage and what you have is what you sing. I control the band on stage, but backing tracks control me.
The advantages of backing tracks is that they are always in the right key, always the right tempo, never miss a rehearsal, don’t have to get paid and are available for every show. But, in saying that, the musicians I have are the most awesome, talented people. If I can’t do a show with them, then I would rather not perform.
HOW BIG AN ELVIS FAN ARE YOU – AND HOW AND WHEN AND WHY DID YOUR INTEREST START?
I am a huge Elvis Fan. There has not been a single day I haven’t done or listened to something Elvis-related. He is my drug, my escape from reality.
Sometimes, when I feel that life is getting me down, Elvis always takes me to a place of peace and tranquility.
My passion for Elvis started when I was about 8. I would sit for hours in my brother’s room and listen to his Elvis vinyl LPs. We did not have TV when I was young so I had never seen Elvis perform. I was captivated by his voice and style of singing.
I have been collecting Elvis memorabilia since I was young. I now have a few cabinets full of Elvis memorabilia – ranging from salt-and-pepper sets to Zippo lighters, bottles of wine, gold-plated coins, Elvis figurines, belt buckles, books, all his movies and replicas of his stage jewellery. My latest addition is an original ticket from his 1975 concert. I don’t think I will ever stop collecting.
WHEN, HOW AND WHY DID YOUR IMPERSONATING ELVIS COME ABOUT?
It started when I was about 11. Elvis was my idol and I wanted to be just like him. I entered a talent competition in Johannesburg. My sister made me a white-sequinned suit. I couldn’t sing then so I used to mime to Elvis songs… but the dream had started.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BROADER PUBLIC PLATFORM AS ELVIS.
It has been a long journey, over many years and hundreds of shows. My first public performance, where I actually sang, was at my daughter’s primary school, where they had a fun evening and asked parents to do some sort of act or performance.
I sang a couple of Elvis songs in a white-sequinned jumpsuit. I remember how nervous I was, but hearing positive reaction from the crowd made me realise I would like to pursue being an Elvis tribute artist more seriously.
HOW FAR AFIELD HAVE YOUR ELVIS SHOWS TAKEN YOU – AND HOW OFTEN DO YOU PERFORM?
My shows have taken me all over South Africa. Before we formed the band, I used to perform on a weekly basis in and around Durban, with backing tracks. I did a lot of small gigs. Now that I have the band I don’t perform as much, but our venues and audiences are a lot bigger and better. I can now be selective with my shows.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU ARE NOT BEING ELVIS – WHAT IS YOUR DAY JOB AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING IT?
I am self-employed. I bought a small laundomat, Dirty Laundry in Umhlanga, four years ago.
HOW MANY COSTUMES AND WIGS HAVE YOU GOT, WHO MAKES THEM, AND WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE? ALSO, HOW MUCH HAVE YOU SPENT ON COSTUMES OVER THE YEARS?
I have six Las Vegas rhinestone jumpsuits, two “young Elvis” costumes, a GI Army outfit and a 1968-era leather suit. Fortunately. I don’t need a wig as it’s my own hair, but I do use real-hair, stick-on sideburns.
The “eagle” jumpsuit I wear is the most expensive suit as the rhinestones and pattern were imported from the US.
I have spent in the region of R100 000 on costumes and added extras through the years. Most of my costumes were made by my wife.
HAVE YOU ANY NATIONAL OR INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION AS AN ELVIS TRIBUTE ARTIST?
I don’t have international recognition, although I would love to perform overseas. I suppose I do have some national recognition as I have been interviewed on quite a few radio stations.
There are only a handful of Elvis tribute acts in South Africa, that perform professionally. We all know each other. There are times when one of us can’t make a gig and we will pass it on to another among us.
I have performed at the Miss Lebanon event at Emperors Palace, a corporate at Montecasino and at an Elvis Festival at Storms River. Most of my shows are in KwaZulu-Natal.
HAVE YOU EVER VISITED ELVIS PRESLEY’S FORM ER HOME, GRACELAND?
No, unfortunately I haven’t been to Graceland… but it is at the top of my bucket list and I hope to get there next year.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST THING A FAN HAS SAID TO YOU – AND THE ODDEST THING? AND HAVE YOU EVER HAD MARRIAGE PROPOSALS OR OTHER AMUSING COMMENTS FROM AUDIENCE MEMBERS?
The best comment I have had came from a group of people that were in South Africa on holiday from California. They said they had seen other Elvis tribute artists from around the world and really enjoyed my performance. Them being from the US really made me feel great, as they were comparing me with the tribute artists in America, which are plentiful.
The oddest thing I experienced was having a man throwing his undies on to the stage.
I have had plenty marriage proposals. Also, women sending notes while I have been on stage, asking if they can have my baby.
OF ALL THE PRESLEY SONGS, WHAT THREE ARE CLOSEST TO YOUR HEART?
Suspicious Minds is such an energetic song that really gets the crowd going, while American Trilogy is a big personal favourite – a powerful song filled with so much emotion. I also love My Way, even though it is associated with Frank Sinatra. When Elvis sang it, he made it his own. Another powerful song with so much meaning.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING OR AMUSING MOMENT ON STAGE?
I got bad flu during a run at the Rhumbelow Theatre. I almost completely lost my voice during the last show of the weekend and I sounded absolutely horrific. I managed to finish the show with much difficulty, and eventually apologised and explained to the audience.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST MEMORABLE SHOW YOU HAVE DONE?
The most memorable for me wasn’t really a show, but more of a guest appearance at Emperor’s Palace for the Miss Lebanon event. To sing to a packed venue of a thousand-plus people, with a sound system that was of top quality, is something I will never forget.
WHAT OTHER RECORDING ARTISTS DO YOU ENJOY? AND WHAT MUSIC OR ARTISTS DO YOU NOT ENJOY?
When I am not listening to Elvis, I am very much stuck in the 1980s. It was such a good decade for music. The best music came from this era – Michael Jackson, Madonna, Modern Talking, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Yazoo, Wham, just to name a few. I don’t like rap, hard rock and heavy metal.
WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
Perfectionist. Punctual. Analytical. Kind. Honest.
WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF (HOWEVER TRIVIAL) THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?
I love cooking. I gave up smoking six years ago. I love the ocean. I’m a creature of habit. I enjoy science-fiction movies
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘VASTLY OVERRATED’?
Politics. Branded clothing. Valentine’s Day. Soccer. Five-star restaurants.
WHERE WERE YOU BORN – AND WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE BIRTHDAY?
I was born in Johannesburg. One of my memorable birthdays was when we lived in Portugal. I had made friends with people from all over the world and we had a good party.
However, I think my most memorable birthday is still to happen – I turn 50 on August 23 and I’m hoping to have a bit of a bash.
WHAT ARE TWO OF YOUR MOST TREASURED MATERIAL POSSESSIONS?
My Elvis collection and my car.
WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN?
I’ve always tried to avoid trouble, so I really don’t have anything to talk about. Although, accidentally shooting my cousin in the leg with a pellet gun comes to mind.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED – AND WHO GAVE IT?
Do unto others as they do unto you. That is a piece of advice I gave myself.