3 Faces of the King 30th Anniversary Celebration
Arcada show will feature 3 of the top Elvis impersonators in the country along with Elvis’ original drummer, DJ Fontana
By Deborah L. Kunesh
Copyright 2007 by Deborah L. Kunesh
Elvis Presley, the undisputed King of Rock ‘N Roll, left the building permanently on August 16th, 1977 at 42 years of age, and left a permanent mark on the world of music and on millions of fans across the world. It was one of those moments where most people remember where they were when they first heard the news of his passing.
Thirty years after his death, his music and his life are still being celebrated by his fans, including artists who have chosen to imitate his craft and have nailed it down to an art form. His memory and life are also celebrated by those who knew him best. One of those who knew Elvis well was his drummer of 15 years, DJ Fontana.
Fontana, along with 3 of the top Elvis impersonators, Shawn Klush, Donny Edwards and Justin Shandor, will all be part of the Arcada Theatre’s “Three Faces of the King” event, celebrating the life and music of Elvis in honor of the 30th anniversary of his death.
This show came together as a collaboration between L.A. Producer Ron Kurtz of 30th Anniversary of Rock and Roll Productions, Dan Lentino of Ambassador Shows and Ron Onesti, owner of the Arcada Theatre.
“Ron is a big Elvis fan and a big 50’s and 60’s fan and he wanted to do something special to honor the 30th anniversary of Elvis’ death,” said Lentino. “So the three of us got together and put together the very best possible 30th (celebration). We brought in the best of the best.”
Onesti states that the people telling them what they want is a big factor in bringing shows like this one to the Arcada, along with other recent successful shows like it.
Drummer Fontana fondly remembers Elvis and his time playing drums for him. “We always had a great time,” said Fontana. Going to shows, “there were four of us packed into a car with our instruments,” he said, noting that at that time there wasn’t the same celebrity indulgences we think of today, like tour buses and airplanes to take you to each job. “We were young and we had a good time.”
He notes that Elvis’ records would stand up to anybody’s records today. “The sound and feel of his records were really good,” states Fontana.
Fontana was with Elvis from 1954 through 1968. The year 1968 brought with it the chance for Elvis to go beyond television to performing in front of a live audience. “I imagine it was a little bit scary, even for him. We hadn’t been in front of an audience except for TV and it was one of the biggest shows,” exclaimed Fontana.
Fontana remembers an Elvis that did not let fame change him. “He was always a kind, gentle person, very polite,” said Fontana. It was always “Yes, ma’am, Thank you sir. He stayed the same way despite popularity. If any of his entourage mistreated a fan, it was ‘out you go.’”
Fontana also shares a side of Elvis that really speaks of what his fans meant to him. “Here he was, this big star, and every so often he’d go down to the gates of his home, he’d take a golf cart and ride on down there, when he would see a crowd gathering, and he’d let people in, sign autographs and take pictures until the crowd thinned out and he’d go back to the house. He’d stay down there about an hour.”
Though Fontana no longer has a regular drumming gig, he has throughout the years had the opportunity to be on television, in movies and also to play with a lot of well-known artists like Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Dolly Parton, Chris Iszak, Bill Carlisle, Goldie Hawn, Cheap Trick, Roy Orbison, Jeff Beck and many others. “That was more fun than anything,” exclaimed Fontana. “You hear about these guys half of your life and I got to work with them.” Fontana also had the opportunity to spend a day at Beatle George Harrison’s home. “They were really (all) nice as they can be, one on one,” said Fontana. “I’ve had a good time all my life.”
Fontana will bring his drumming brilliance to the stage at the Arcada where he will play at different times with each performer. He will also do a Question and Answer session, entertaining questions from the audience and sharing memories about his life and his time with Elvis. “It’s kind of fun,” said Fontana. “I always tell the truth. There are a lot of Elvis fans that know just about everything, so I don’t tell any stories,” said Fontana in a humorous tone. For the last 20 years he’s been working with Lentino, co-promoter for this concert as well as the manager for Shawn Klush. “It’s fun. I get a kick out of it every time. I get to talk with people and I get to work with Danny, Shawn, Donny and Justin. They are all really good. Some of the best I’ve ever seen as well as being nice guys to go along with it.”
Klush, Edwards and Shandor each has his own story of how Elvis became such a big part of his life and ultimately, the portrayal of who then became his livelihood.
Justin Shandor, 23, was first introduced to Elvis’ music at the age of 12 by his mother. He found himself instantly connecting with Elvis’ music and “his voice,” said Shandor. “Plus, the uniqueness of the music at the time.”
Shandor found himself being teased in high school due to his likeness to Elvis. Once he moved to Las Vegas, he was soon performing in a show on the strip at 16 years of age called “All Shook Up.” Shandor was hailed as “best new tribute artist” by Elvis Tribute Artist Radio and was a winner in the Midwest, Canadian and Las Vegas Elvis Impersonator Contests. Winning those contests has been exciting for Shandor. “It feels great. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a great feeling.”
“I like to bring back the memory of what it was like to watch Elvis,” states Shandor, noting that he portrays a young Elvis, as well as Army Elvis.
Shandor is really excited about the upcoming show at the Arcada. “In my opinion, these (Edwards and Klush) are two of the top Elvis’ I’ve competed against and worked with. It’s really exciting for me. I’m looking forward to coming out there and rocking and rolling.”
Shawn Klush, originally from Pennsylvania, began imitating his idol at a very early age. Klush likens his career choice to an almost religious experience. “I almost feel as if I was called to do it,” said Klush.
Klush, who each year stars in the “Elvis Birthday Tribute Tour, which is a 12 city tour that takes place during January, Elvis’ birthday month (Elvis was born on January 8th, 1935), also portrayed Elvis in the hit TV miniseries “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” in 1999, which aired on both CBS and VH1. He has also won several contests for his art, including becoming grand champion at the $25,000 “World Elvis Tribute Artist Competition,” in 2006 and receiving “The Peoples Choice Award” from Gibson Guitar Co. in Nashville as “Best Concert Elvis.” In 2006 Klush was also chosen by Graceland to headline Elvis Presley Enterprises’ first ever Tribute Artist Showcase in Memphis, TN.
All of these contest winnings came as a surprise. “It was most unexpected to be honest with you,” said Klush. Though he feels it’s an honor, “I’ve never been a big fan of contests,” admits Klush. “I never was. Elvis wasn’t in competition with anybody. There is room for everybody in this business.”
This year, Klush was not going to take part as a contestant in the Tribute Artist Showcase. “But his fans kept e-mailing him and he went out and did a film shoot for Elvis Presley Enterprises,” said Lentino. “They are looking for a tasteful representation of Elvis, someone to do it correctly, so Shawn did decide to get in,” said Lentino.
Klush noted that Elvis was what many people wouldn’t expect. A real human being with a big heart. He also notes that everyone that surrounded Elvis, even down to his gardener, were talented in their own right and that Elvis recognized this and he chose people who were passionate about what they did. “Genius followed itself,” said Klush.
“No other artist has been able to move people like that,” said Klush.
Recently, the BBC flew Klush out to England for The World’s Greatest Elvis contest, which, according to Lentino, airs in September. “It was a very positive outcome,” states Lentino. “Every one of their markets wants that show, so it will be seen by 7 million people.”
The upcoming show at the Arcada will give the transitional illusion to the audience and showcase different parts of Elvis’ personality.
“We try to keep it as real as possible,” said Klush. “We don’t over do or under do, no over-exaggeration. We believe in bringing it back the right way or as close to it as possible.”
“It’s really a great show. We have a lot of fun doing it. It’s laid out in such a way that it takes you through (a journey). It’s like his life in music,” said Klush.
We feature everything from the 1950’s through 1973,” said Klush. He stated that they like to leave it on a high note, forgoing bringing additional negative attention to the later years when it was more of a downward spiral.
Donny Edwards was on tour in Japan as of press time. He and Klush will also be undertaking a South American tour at the end of August. Edwards was able to answer a couple of questions long distance.
“I’ve been blessed with having a similar look and voice to Elvis,” said Edwards, “and being able to do a tribute to him, it’s a dream for me.” He also feels that one of the highest points of his career was being on stage with The Jordanaires, DJ Fontana and others. Performing with the actual people who backed up Elvis has been an honor for him.
Kristy Lee Royal of Royal Talent, Edwards’ manager, discovered him and recognized his talent right away. “I’ve sent him all around the world. I wanted to show everyone what I saw,” said Royal. “I took him and got his name out there,” said Royal. “I saw the talent and I wanted everybody else to see it too.” That determination has proved to be successful in introducing the world to another great Elvis artist.
Edwards was able to meet Elvis’ entourage and friends in 1996 and he then went on to win a local Elvis contest in Texas, which gave birth to his decision to honor the King with his talent.
Edwards was the Grand Champion in both the 2006 and 2007 “Tribute To The King” contests, winning the $25,000 prize both times. He was one of the five finalists on ABC’s “The Next Best Thing.” He also recently had a guest singing spot on the soap opera “The Young and the Restless.” Edwards has had many additional honors as well. Being asked to perform at the 50th Anniversary of Elvis returning to Tupelo, where he was able to perform with the Jordanaires in front of 14,000 people in Elvis’ hometown, as well as performing at a Nascar party (he was asked there by the family of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.), performing for the New York Jets Monday Night Football Halftime Show as well as many other appearances.
“It’s really something,” Onesti says of the upcoming show. “Expert talent in a historically correct place. Though the theatre was restored to the splendor of 1926, it really fits in with each era. The ambiance of the historic venue adds to the experience.”
What would Elvis think of his fans, including new fans that continue to find his music relevant, still celebrating his life, his legacy and his music 30 years after his death? Fontana believes that he would be amazed and deeply honored. “He always thought it an honor for someone to even just sing one of his songs,” said Fontana “much less dress up like him.”
All of this would have most likely left Elvis graciously and sincerely saying “thank you, thank you very much” to all of his fans, the artists who keep his memory alive and to all of those who shared the amazing journey with him and continue to do so to this day.
To purchase tickets, call (630) 587-8400 or visit www.o-shows.com
Websites to visit for more information:
Friday, August 10th &
Saturday, August 11th
The 3 Faces of Elvis:
DJ Fontana, Elvis’ original drummer of 14 years
The Sweet Sensations