Elvis – Why he’s the King – Take Two!

This month we continue the journey of discovering why the King of Rock’n’Roll, Elvis Presley, is special to so many of us. The first contributor below describes the impact Elvis has had on her life. The second is the man they call the “Russian Elvis”. And third is Yours Truly, detailing some of the reason why Elvis is the King for me.

Elena Kotofeevna, Russian rock’n’roller and dancer: It all started with my mother’s vinyl record “Zarubezhnaya (Foreign) Estrada”, which had two Elvis songs: “True Love Travels on the Gravel Roads” and “Gentle on My Mind”. Lyrical and gentle, I loved to listen to them as a child. Then, when I had my first pocket money, I bought my first vinyl LP record and it was Elvis Presley! It was called “That’s All Right Mama”. I was about 14 years old then, I went to a school where my foreign language was French and I did not know a word in English! I listened to this record almost every day, and danced to it till I dropped. Mum and Grandpa were looking at me and Grandpa was saying, “She just had lunch, she’s going to have stomach pains!” And Mum said, “Too late, there’s nothing we can do now. Let her dance.”

I learned the songs on this record by heart, knew the songs order and when I was walking to school and back I sang them, repeating word by word as I remembered it. I didn’t have a tape recorder then. Some time later I got my first tape recorder, so I was running around town looking for Elvis’ tapes. I collected more than 20! I collected Elvis calendars, photos, postcards, magazine clippings, everything I could find. After school, I went to English courses. One of the reasons for this was my big desire to understand Elvis’ songs. I studied diligently and at night I would sit and translate the songs. I didn’t have a computer back then. And CDs with lyrics were very rare (by that time there were players with CD drives). So I had to translate mostly by ear. I finished the English courses with all A’s on my certificate. Now I understand all of Presley’s songs! Many of them I know by heart.

His voice, his style, his charisma and the crazy energy of his songs became so dear to me and really got under my skin.. And although I listen to many different artists and genres, I recognise his voice and manner out of a thousand and it still gives me a thrill and fills my hearts with joy and tenderness. Elvis FOREVER!

Valery Setkin, vocalist, piano player and leader of the Russian band the “Raw Cats”, has created an Elvis museum at his home. Over here in Russia they call him Russia’s answer to Elvis. He’s loved Elvis’ lifestyle and music nearly all his life. He named his lovely daughter the same as Elvis’s only daughter i.e. Lisa. Valery is proud to say his daughter sometimes mixes him up with Elvis. Those of you with a good memory will remember I have written about Valery a few times in this column. His performances really do capture the spirit of the King and he sure is the Russian Elvis.

Here is Valery’s Elvis Story:

I was already drawn to the keyboard even before my second birthday. Around the age of 4, I started music school, then went on to jazz college. That’s how my club scene life began. My first steps were in the blues path, later on I played rock’n’roll. Eventually, I smoothly eased into the rockabilly genre. Our band the Raw Cats, where I sing like Elvis, has existed for nine years now.

Thanks to my parents, Elvis has been in my life for a very long time. My father was a cameraman and brought the best albums from abroad – Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis. Elvis became a favourite from the first time I heard him. His voice has been with me all my life. I might’ve been interested in various musical trends and listened to heavy metal, but Elvis has always stood out because his voice and stage presence are unique.

I didn’t start playing Elvis right away simply because I didn’t have that kind of voice. Fifteen years ago, my voice was downright awful, with no vocal range. However, I was madly keen on resembling my idol, the King. I worked on it for a long time and my voice became very similar to his. A British journalist recently wrote that my cover of “Las Vegas” is better than anyone else’s (with the exception of Elvis himself, of course). Even when I got discharged from the army after undergoing lung surgery at the Sklifosovsky Institute and was unable to play or sing, I knew that nothing will stop me from playing Elvis. And I regained my voice, even made it better. I understand that I can’t become another Elvis – I’m the second one, anyway. If I could, I would of course be born in the 1950s and record it all myself. But as it happens, my time came quite a bit later. I may be the second Elvis, but I know for a fact that I’m Elvis number one in Moscow. This isn’t even debatable. I sound presumptuous saying this but it’s a fact. I have never heard anyone perform Elvis the way I do. I love this music. I live it. And to me, rock ‘n’ roll and Elvis aren’t just music and its author – this is a lifestyle and a mode of behaviour.

I try looking like Elvis even though I’ve kept part of my own style. Elvis never had really long hair but I won’t cut my ponytail off. I grew sideburns, though. I even created a bouffant style even though it’s hard to do with my hair.I like the fashion of that time a lot. I have the trademark Elvis glasses and suits as well. It’s not hard to obtain all the Presley-style attributes. There are specialised stores (including straight from Graceland). There is a website elvis.com. You can find theme-based stores in Moscow which sell 1930s-1950s items. In my house, I have a real “Elvis museum” with books, artifacts and things. It’s widely known that people give me Elvis-themed gifts for my birthday; cigarette boxes, knives, amulets – everything. I collect his vinyl records as well.I like being like Elvis, including that randy gait. When I walk, everyone instantly says, “Oh, our Elvis showed up!” I enter a club, people recognise me. I was on a train once, walked down the car and the kids shouted behind me, “Look, look, Elvis walking!” Naturally, I enjoy that a lot. Also, I have a super huge belt buckle which usually delights and shocks the audience. Since Elvis isn’t music but a lifestyle, the whole external resemblance has become second nature to me. It isn’t just for show; it’s permanent.

To understand Elvis, one needs to listen to his songs. They reveal everything. Elvis isn’t about Cadillacs, bouffant hair and gold costumes. It’s about his songs and melodies, plus his films. Elvis was very varied. I suppose my favourite Presley image is his rebel “leather period” of 1968. When singing the King’s songs, I incorporate a little part of me in his art. Indeed, I too can have a somewhat different view of the things he wrote but Elvis remains the unshakable foundation. He is the foundation everything is built on.

When singing Elvis, I usually sit at the piano. But sometimes I jump on the stage, hit the keys and dance with my foot. Even though strictly speaking Elvis didn’t do that on stage. This is Jerry Lee Lewis’ influence on me. Naturally, I named my daughter Lisa (after Lisa Marie Presley). I’ve been teaching her the right music ever since she was a child. I have a bunch of Elvis posters at home. My daughter sometimes even mistakes me for him. She points at my picture and says, “This is uncle Elvis!” I don’t just do Elvis covers; I write my own songs as well. My work is in the rockabilly style; no Russian language there, even though I believe English language music isn’t needed in Russia. Only a handful of people here know English. That’s why of course I would like us to make it in Europe, so that people abroad can listen to us. It would be cool to perform at such a rockabilly festival.

Why should people come to our concerts instead of just listening to Elvis on records or social media? Online, you can’t chat with Elvis or touch him. When I sing his songs on stage, I become one with them and turn into him a little bit. This is probably why I do this: I would like to be the King. And since I have that opportunity and people like it, why not. I have a favourite saying; “Listening to contemporary music isn’t worth it – trends change all the time. Listen to Elvis – he’s ageless.”

Thanks, Valery ! And Yours Truly ? Well, my earliest recollection of Elvis is the following. In the late 1950s I was a very little boy (at the end of the 50s I was still only nine years old). I had a lot of cousins, nearly all of whom were a few years older than me. I can remember family visits to my aunts and uncles. And what I remember clearly is that all my older teenage female cousins had large posters in their bedrooms of Elvis. And I have never forgotten how cool he looked in those posters. And don’t ask me why a little boy was spending time in my older female cousins’ bedrooms – it’s so long ago I can’t remember!

As I grew older, nothing that came after, as I was growing up e.g. the Beatles, Rolling Stones, et al, had the same impact on me as Elvis. Sure, he deteriorated markedly and by the 1970s was a shadow of what he had been. But nothing can take away 1950s Elvis. He was the King of Rock’n’Roll – and always will be. And now that I’ve mentioned them, don’t get me started on the Rolling Stones. How many of you can remember the wonderful lyrics that began Crazy Cavan’s classic “I keep Rockin”; “I don’t like Mick Jagger, Bowie what a bore. And now it’s Johnny Rotten, ain’t music had enough!” It might not be Shakespeare, but those lines sum things up perfectly!

Richard Hume