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All SHOOK UP in memoriam

He may have left the building for good 30 years ago this month, but Thailand's Elvis impersonators are streaming through the doors

Published on August 2, 2007

August 16 marks the 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death and events are being organised all over the globe commemorating the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

Many Thai radio stations and entertainment venues have already launched their tributes, devoting entire evenings to such ballads as "Love Me Tender" and hip-twisting numbers like "Jailhouse Rock".

Record company RCA, now owned by Sony-BMG, still owns the rights to the Presley catalogue, and is releasing a batch of re-mastered albums including "The Essential Elvis Presley" and "Elvis Viva Las Vegas".

However, fans in Bangkok  who prefer their music live can travel through time in the company of some of the best Thai impersonators in the business. They'll be on stage tomorrow at the Asia Hotel's Ratchathevi Grand Ballroom from 7pm to midnight, at the Hard Rock Cafe on August 16 and at the Windsor Suites Hotel on August 18.

Asia Hotel, which has been organising the Presley commemorative events for a decade now, promises a superb night with "Elvis Presley Ramluek" ("Elvis Presley in Memory").

The king is remembered at the very entrance to the ballroom, where pictures depicting the king's life story are exhibited.

"The younger generation can learn about 'Love Me Tender', the song after which his 1956 movie debut was named or his last concert in Springfield in 1977 not long before he died," says Jaruek Viriyakij, the hotel's entertainment manager and an accomplished impersonator.

A round stage is being set up in the centre of the ballroom to accommodate Jaruek along with the other impersonators, namely Jirasak Pinsuwan; Ongarj Jeerapan; Arthur Hussen; Vasu Sangsingkaew; Manuel Toyyeebee; Lek Presley; Suda Chuenban; the late Wisoot Tungarat's 22-year-old son "Camp" Satawat; the 19-year-old winner of the 2004 Elvis contest, Natthasak "Guide" Voravittaya-nont; and Rudy Zura from Macau.

"This year, we'll be performing Elvis' hits from his boom years such as 'It's Now or Never', 'Teddy Bear' and 'Don't Be Cruel', says Jaruek. "That was the era when he wore his trademark jumpsuit. Before Elvis became really popular, he used to cover songs by American country/pop sensation Brenda Lee, so, this year we've also invited a female impersonator, Suda Chuenban."

A band, complete with a brass section, plus a group of dancers will be backing the singers. Camp Satawat will duet with a video showcasing his late father, Wisoot, and there'll be prizes for the best costume.

"It will be magnificent," says Jaruek, who's performing next month in Malaysia.

Jaruek, who's been an Elvis impersonator since 1992, has come up with an interesting way to encourage the young generation to carry on the king's legacy. "I plan to have the veteran impersonators offer training in Elvis' singing and dancing style," he explains.

"If they enjoy these events, they'll seek out more materials about Elvis," says Nakorn Veerapravati, editor of retro magazine Young@Heart and concert organiser. "That's why Elvis' Graceland Mansion in Memphis is still visited by people of all ages from all over the world."

So far, only a handful of young people seem to be interested in impersonating the rock 'n' roll legend.

"My father didn't teach me directly. I learned mainly by memorising what he taught his friends, especially my uncles Jirasak Pinsuwan and Lek Presley. It was they who gave me advice about Elvis - his singing, dancing and costumes," says Camp, a third-year student at International Bangkok University. "Now, I think there's a move towards the music of the '60s. Elvis' songs aren't really popular with teenagers but I think they are interested in him as a legend," says the youngster, who will be doing "Jailhouse Rock" at the concert.

Guide knew nothing about Presley before entering the contest, but that didn't stop him from signing up for voice lessons. "Uncle Jirasak [Pinsuwan], who's a friend of my mum's, persuaded me to take part and trained me in Elvis songs for two months before the competition," says the freshman at Sripathum University's mass communications faculty.

"I'm not sure if I have the same feelings for Elvis as the veteran impersonators, but Elvis has become my idol because of his star quality," says Guide, who is scheduled to do "Teddy Bear" and "Blue Suede Shoes".

"I'm now making a music video of Elvis, which I'll show at university."

Commemorating the legend has become a yearly event since 1983, when Nakorn, a former Daily News reporter, joined up with Apiwat Pienlert, the founder of the Nitespot radio station, to organise the first show at the Dusit Thani Hotel.

"At the time I was associated with a group of Elvis lovers including Sakkarin, Wisoot, Ongarj, Jirasak and DJs such as Lek [Wongsawang], Jiem Limsodsai and Thewan Navaphuti," says Nakorn.

Elvis first came to Thailand in the late '50s via AM radio.

"People were fascinated by him. Some women, like Orawan Presley and Chaleowan Presley, were so crazy about him that they even changed their names," recalls Lek, who was working with AM Sieng Samyod at the time and developed the popular songbook, "IS Song Hit".

"Unlike today's audiences, fans of Elvis sent in their requests by mail using Elvis-related nicknames.

"They liked us to announce their names and play their favourite songs," he adds. "Whenever Elvis released a new single or album, I would publish the lyrics in my song book."

Tickets for "Elvis Presley Ramluek" cost Bt2,500, Bt1,500 and Bt950 and can be reserved at (02) 215 0808. Part of proceeds will go to the Thai Red Cross.

Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul

The Nation

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