Thursday, 29 May 2008
Return of the King
by Wes Helbing
May 28, 2008
Side Elementary School.
Fifty-three years later, the King of Rock is set to return to northeastern Louisiana in the person of Shea Arender, professional Elvis tribute artist who grew up in the area.
Arender will perform his Elvis tribute June 7 at the historic Fiske Theatre in Oak Grove, accompanied by special guest Gerald Lewis, cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis. A portion of the proceeds from this "Legendary Night of Music" will benefit the 5th District American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
So how does one become a successful Elvis tribute artist? Arender broke into it at the age of 12 when he performed on the Commodore Cruise Line of New Orleans.
"Elvis was always a big inspiration to me," said Arender. "His movies and music were clean fun for a child growing up in the '80s. Elvis had his own style that intrigued me from the very first sound, when my mother brought me Elvis' Golden Records at the age of seven."
Arender was also inspired by Anita Wood Brewer, who seriously dated Elvis for several years and later married NFL personality Johnny Brewer.
"Anita Wood Brewer was the mother of my sister in law," said Arender. "When I was growing up, she told me a story that she recalled when Elvis was leaving for the Army. She was right there crying with his mom and dad when he left.
"Elvis picked out a song for her when he was over in Germany in 1958-60, and it was the song 'Soldier Boy.' That song meant more to Anita than any song he recorded because it was directed to her. From time to time when I see her, I sing it for her and she just smiles at me."
Arender has a degree in international business and is also educated in music theory, vocalization, song writing and Classical forms.
"I do a little international business import and export, but I mainly perform all year. If I'm not on the road as the King, I'm writing and recording my own material. I often play rhythm guitar at my concerts, and I play around on drums."
Arender has taken his love for music all over the world. He has found there are Elvis fans in such diverse places as Italy, Brazil and Puerto Rico. Everywhere he goes, the audiences are all shook up.
"I sing Elvis songs as is, and even if the audience can't speak English very well, they still seem to shout out his song lyrics. Elvis appeals internationally because unlike America, they still put Elvis stuff in the mainstream media. For example, even though he's dead, he had his 21st number one hit in England last year."
Arender said his favorite Elvis era to perform is that of the King's televised 1968 Comeback Special.
"That show originally was seen by more than 75 million people when it aired. But I perform more of the 1970s Vegas-style stuff because most people relate to it more.
"My costumes are original replicas of Elvis's suits. Elvis is perceived to be this big, tall person. But our sizes are almost the same, according to what B&K Enterprises (Costume Co.) told me the last time I made an order."
Arender notes a distinction between being an Elvis impersonator and a tribute artist: He is the latter.
"I won a grand championship in Miami in 2002, but I no longer compete as an impersonator," said Arender. "I'm actually a tribute artist, meaning that my show is Elvis influenced, not Elvis copied. My versions of songs may vary in form from his."
Arender has recorded an Elvis tribute album, "American Trilogy," and plans to do shows in Branson, Atlantic City and Las Vegas after his concert here.
"Oak Grove is a neat, historical town and I have a few family roots in it. So I got with Commander Tommy Shoemaker, director of the Northeast Louisiana War Veterans Home, about the concert. He loved the idea. So a portion of this money will help fund some of their activities, not to mention the concert is free for an organized group from District 5, including towns like Tallulah, Delhi, Rayville, Oak Grove and parts of Monroe.
"We were wanting some gospel music at the show because Oak Grove is a very Christian-focused community. So Gerald Lewis is a blessing to have with us. He will handle the gospel part of the show and play piano like crazy for you."
Asked why he thinks the legacy of Elvis continues to endure, Arender offered the following reflection.
"Elvis is the biggest selling artist of all time. He is the only artist in the history of music to chart hits in every country worldwide. His sound was so diverse, as he recorded in country, rock, jazz, blues, Dixieland and gospel.
"With Elvis there was something for everybody. And he also broke down racial barriers. He was loved by people of all races -- and all ages. Even children are fascinated by his costumes and his stage presence.
"God has blessed our tribute," said Arender. "We have met some wonderful people on our journey."
To learn more about Shea Arender, visit his Web site at www.sheaaselvis.com.
"A Legendary Night of Music" will begin at 7 p.m. June 7 at the Fiske Theatre in Oak Grove, LA USA. Tickets are $10 apiece and may be purchased by calling 318.341.1697 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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