I happened to be in Montego Bay two weeks ago, when I received a call from my Music Broker Abe Casserly requesting that I come to Miami for a show, as an Elvis Presley look alike, for another performance.
Traveling that morning with the sun barely rising in the sky, I thought about all those events in my life that made me like Elvis. When his music first came out, I went with my parents to see a show in Los Angeles. I was amazed: the man looked like me, I sung like him, but his gyrations were nothing like anything I had ever done.
In spite of the opposition, I persuaded Dad to pay for the extra guitar lessons, not knowing where all of this was taking me. I grew my hair and let it hang over my face, and practiced singing like Elvis in my girl’s Michelle’s garage. I had help in the form of a small group we had formed, Michelle, a few instruments, calling ourselves “Ron and The Mystics”.
We made a few dollars playing around at some of the local clubs and around the Bay area, especially when I did my Elvis impersonations, singing everything from “Don’t be Cruel” to “Love me Tender”’, plus the usual tourist essentials, Brown Skin Gal, Don’t touch me tomato, and so forth.
We wrote and arranged our own music and in this Michelle gave a lot of help, as she played piano, and learnt sheet music. At an audition we played, we sung some Elvis, and some of our own music. Abe my agent always said to me: “Your music swings good; but your lyrics are no good. A song without lyric is a poem without a rhyme, a message without a meaning, a lover without desire.
Your Elvis pieces are good though, and I have a proposition for you. The King of Rock is not around, and I need a substitute; will you consider doing Elvis Impersonations at various events? If so, I can give you guys some steady work!” I talked it over with the group and we agreed, though some overseas travel would be involved.
Over the next five years, we played making good money. I enjoyed being the other ‘’Elvis”’. I remember one day on stage in Baton Rouge, a young boy asked his Dad, “Is that really Elvis? He sounds just like him.”’ My heart swelled with pride. By then I had learned to gyrate like the King and looking at a recording on film, I could scarcely tell the difference.
I sent all my money home and Mom put it away in safe keeping, so I was not short of cash. Then two things happened. One, Michelle upped and married Steve, our drummer, and they both left the group. Then, I happened to see a contract that Abe had made for us, and we were getting around 25% of the profit. I was being slowly robbed.
Abe and I did not hit it so well after that. I deliberately let him down after that and told him why. He looked for another Impersonator, and found Tony. I then realized there were dozens of Elvis Impersonators all over, and the King was dead. The time had come to be my own person, as good as Elvis, if I could make the right musical ballads.
I tried for another four years on my own, only surviving by occasional benefits I received from playing the “King”. My music was almost good but a miss is as good as a mile.
American Airlines touched in Memphis around 2.30pm, and I was tired. I headed to the hotel to find Abe waiting for me there. He took one look at me and shook his head. He gave me a copy of the program, asked me to get some rest, saying he would pick me up just before 8 PM that evening, and we would head for the Concert Hall. I fell asleep, and could only look at the program on my way to the show just after eight when Abe returned.
Looking at the group of people in that audience, reality struck me. These people were older than I’ve seen before, in their 50’s, 60’s, where had the time flown? I gave my best Elvis, and for the 45 minutes I ran through “Hound Dog” to “Blue Hawaii’ I had them rocking and rolling in the aisles. There was one young intense looking woman near the front enjoying the show, but looking at me rather intently. I slipped my own CD during the intermission heading for the dressing room. After I rested and reviewed my score for the next half, there was a knock on my door: I expected Abe, but just this young woman appeared, not looking that young, not so intense having removed her glasses, and quite attractive. “I would like to see you later, its important,” she said, handing me a card. ” By the way who sings that CD now playing?”
I stammered, “That’s mine, do you like it?”
“Let’s talk after the show,” was the command I received.
I ran through the rest of the show uneventfully, and Abe came by to deliver some cash. That was OK, I told him, and he replied, “Tomorrow night, same time same place, and don’t be late!” I looked at the wad of bills; the most I had earned in a long time, and consented. I went back to my room and looked at the card, and realized that the woman was a writer and a talent scout for a famous Motion Picture Company. This was a surprise.
Millicent was her name as I found out when we had drinks at the Cascade Bar, a nice lounge near a large Marriott. “I have a song, she said, the lyrics are great, but I need a musician and a good singer. I think you are the man; it has to be a man, Mr. Castell”. “Call me Ron please,” I replied; “though Elvis sounds better, I said with a chuckle.”
She smiled. “I think Elvis Castell is a very good name. You could try that for the stage.”
She gave me some music on a sheet, had me look over it briefly, commenting that she liked the lyric but the music did not fit. She left me there after paying the bill. I shrugged and headed back to the Hotel. I slept like a log waking up at nine am, hearing room service knocking at the door. I forgot I had ordered breakfast the night before. I ate; showered, put on some clothes, sat down and looked at the song, which was titled “SHE.” Clearly, that’s why they wanted a man to sing that piece, the gender would be accurate.
That morning and way into the afternoon, dazzled by the beauty of the lyrics, I created the melody and composition and sang it into my small portable deck. It was a lovely song; one if I did properly would put me in front of the crowd. I looked up her phone number and called her over, to my room, and singing only the best that I knew how, sang the song to her, loving the song and falling in love with the woman with every bar of music, strumming it on my guitar while I sang:
“She, may be the face I can’t forget, the trace of pleasure or regret, May be my treasure, or the price I have to pay; She may be the song that someone sings, May be the chilling autumn rains, May be a hundred different things, within the measure of a day.”
What more is there to tell? Millie loved the music and lyric, and so did I: And so did many an audience. It made us wealthy, as well as other songs Millie and I wrote. It made a life for us.
Yes, Elvis taught me how to sing, but every man needs to build his own life, and sing his own song.
(Author’s Note: The song “She” is on the Soundtrack of Notting Hill, the Motion Picture, sung by Elvis Costello.)