ARCHIVE: Two Kings, in the Count’s Court

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Elvis and Scotty are in the building: The top-shelf Elvis tribute artist Scot Bruce returns to Red Bank this Friday for the annual concert in honor of The King’s birthday.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit January 15, 2009)

It happens every year about this time — at Graceland and around Memphis, of course, not to mention in Vegas and Tupelo and various other places where The King held court.

A week and a day after what would have been the 74th birthday of Elvis Presley, it’s happening again in Red Bank, where for the fifth consecutive year the Count Basie Theatre will be hosting an Elvis Birthday Bash that spotlights the Kingly kung fu of not one but two headlining tribute artists.

In a format that surely brings to mind the vintage SNL skit in which Dan Aykroydand John Belushi appeared as titanic tag-team the Elvi, LA-based soaps actor/musician Scot Bruce opens the show with a spot-on channeling of the early-days Elvis — the popculture provocateur and stylistic savant who “changed the course of mighty rivers” way more than Superman ever did.

Bruce is followed on the bill by the veteran performer Mike Albert, who’s scary-good as the Elvis of the 1970s — he of the rhinestoned jumpsuits, the championship belts, oversized shades and jet-black helmet of lacquered hair. The man who defined Vegas style for all eternity, and who bested all pretenders to the throne (Wayne NewtonEngelbert and Tom Jones) at their own scarf-and-sideburns game.

A regular presence at Disneyland and a hardworking guy who’s plied his Presley-digitation in Faith Hill videos, TV commercials and The E! True Hollywood Story, Scot Bruce returns once more to the newly beautified Basie. Red Bank oRBit and the busy performer spoke LA style — on our cell phones, while we were driving.

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Mike Albert joins Scot Bruce for the second of two featured Elvis tributes Friday at the Count Basie.

RED BANK ORBIT: So you’re back in Red Bank this weekend for, what, the fifth straight year?

SCOT BRUCE: Right, five years. Red Bank’s a beautiful town, too; lots of good music happening around there. It’s an honor being invited back.

The Count Basie’s been completely done over since you were last there. New paint, new carpets, and a gorgeous dome with a custom-made chandelier — all of that was covered over with netting this time last year.

Obviously, all of that vigorous rockin’ is what made the roof crack! Seriously, it’s a great place to play. The King is alive and well around there, and the people there just love the music, even 50 years after it first hit the radio.

You’ve been working each year with Mike Albert on this show, but a lot of people may not be aware that you and Mike don’t work as a team for the most part.

We each have our own career to maintain. We were originally put together by a theater for what was supposed to be a one-time-only event, and now we’re at the point where we do about twenty shows a year together. But when we do those shows, each of us concentrates on a different stage of Elvis’s life. If you wanted to take that further, you could define three or four different stages in his life and career.

I’m really not involved in any “multiple Elvises” sort of situation, because I think it perpetuates the cartoon stereotype. If you go to some event and see ten guys dressed as Elvis, your first response is that it’s funny; it’s a comical thing rather than something that respects his music and legacy.

Like The Flying Elvises from Honeymoon in Vegas. I get the sense that you’re in this for all the right reasons; that you’re a true Elvis fan first and foremost?

Absolutely. What an extraordinary entertainer. It really is an honor and a thrill to celebrate his music that way. That is truly where it started, where it came together — the R&B, country influences, all of the artists that he listened to and studied.

Not very many artists have that kind of multi-generational appeal. But in the case of Elvis, it’s coming to a point where you’ll see great-grandparents and great-grandkids listening to the same things. When you introduce someone to the music of Elvis, it’s like you’re handing them the key to the universe.

My own Elvis baptism, not that you asked, happened when I heard one of his old Sun sides on the radio. I was listening mostly to punk and metal then, but the next day I’m at Jack’s Music in Red Bank buying a copy of the Sun Sessions album; feeling a little self conscious about it too. But I played the hell out of that thing from the moment I brought it home, got my friends listening to it too, and from that moment I never looked back — or forward, for that matter.

Sure! Listen, I was into metal at one time, and the New Wave stuff from the early 80s, and what did it for me it was the resurgence of rockabilly, particularly what Robert GordonThe Stray Cats were doing. It really spoke to me, got me interested in where they got it from. All the music of that era — Sun Records, blues and country — it’s just good music. It’s neat to see how everything evolved from that.

I understand also that you perform occasionally as a drummer with some LA bands. How different is that to step out of the superstar persona and take that back seat?

I’m a drummer first — it’s always been my passion. These days I work mostly as a sub, but when I get a chance to do it, it’s so fun and refreshing. Playing the drums feels so great. I’ve been told that when I’m sitting there on stage, I have the biggest grin on my face.

Now, when you’re up there doing your specialty as young Elvis, do you like to keep the setlists loose and on the spontaneous side? After all, you’re dealing with the small-combo days when Elvis and the guys would try out all sorts of songs, rather than the era of the big orchestras.

I have certain “anchor” tunes — “Blue Suede Shoes,” which I never get tired of doing; “All Shook Up,” “Hound Dog” — all songs that you absolutely have to do. But since there’s so much material to draw from, I do try to mix it up, especially on the ballads. I enjoy doing lesser known stuff like “Young and Beautiful,” “As Long As I Have You,” and “Don’t.”

Sounds like the gig is yours to carry on as long as you enjoy doing it.

As long as I have the energy! One can only pull it off over a certain amount of time.

So what regimen does Scot Bruce follow to psych himself up, get into shape before a gig?

I use music, really — the music gets that rock and roll blood flowing. Before we play, you’ll find me and the band backstage goofing around, running through a few songs.

So you’ll recommend a shot of Elvis over something like 5 Hour Energy Shot?

My recommendation is to join a rock and roll band. You can quote me on that!

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