The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 16, 2013

Good to be the King: Tribute artist still amazed by fans' devotion to Presley

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

MIAMI, Okla. — Brent Giddens really doesn't care about looking exactly like Elvis Presley. He has plenty of help when it comes to that. He doesn't have all the dance moves down perfectly, either.

Giddens cares most about sounding like the King.

"I don't try to be Elvis," Giddens said. "What I try to do is sound like him as much as I possibly can. When people started listening to him way back when, I want to take them back to that time. I wish I could say I'm a great dancer, but the voice is important. I want to perfect that more than anything."

Giddens will perform his tribute show, "An Echo of the King," Saturday at Buffalo Run Casino. The show is a fundraising concert for the Grand Lake Shrine Club.

The concert is also booked for the last day of this year's Elvis Week, an annual celebration anchored around the day of the singer's death on Aug. 16. Though vigils are usually held on that day, the rest of the days are filled with celebrations of Presley's contributions to music, movies and culture.

"There are so many of us tribute artists, it's a testament to the demand that he still has," Giddens said. "And this week being Elvis week, it's kind of like Christmas for guys that dress up like Santa Claus."

'Should have started sooner'

Giddens, 40, has loved Elvis ever since he was a kid. His father would play Presley's music any time they got in the car.

Picking up an ear for Elvis' singing style came naturally, but Giddens didn't do anything with it until about three years ago. Instead, Giddens went into coaching and school administration -- he has been a basketball coach for 17 years and is in his first year as principal of Graham/Dustin Public Schools in Weleetka, Okla.

About three years ago, he was singing an Elvis song during a karaoke session in Tulsa. Afterward, he was approached by a woman who asked if he'd be interested in becoming a tribute artist.

"I said, 'Sure, if you could make me look like him,'" Giddens said. "She said that was no problem. I thought she was blowing smoke, but she called back, and eventually got me started."

The woman turned out to be Connie Meadors, a past president of the statewide chapter of a national Elvis fan club and a stylist who had recently worked for Rod Stewart. In a report by the Tulsa World, she said that Giddens sounded "hauntingly" like Presley, and that she has seen a lot of tribute artists.

With her help, Giddens lined up his first shows in August 2010, and hasn't turned back since. In 2010 he also competed in an international Elvis extravaganza and was named a semi-finalist among thousands.

"I remember the first night I did it, and I was a million times more nervous singing in an itty bitty establishment than coaching any basketball game," Giddens said. "It took a while to get comfortable. Now I really enjoy doing it. If anyone ever told me that I'd be making money doing this, I would have called them a liar. But it's turned into a blessing."

In a way, Elvis has helped save him over the past three years, Giddens said. After going through a divorce and the death of his Elvis-fan father, performing gave him something to look forward to.

"I think a lot of people feel the way I do," Giddens said. "A lot of people have told me when they were young they would listen to Elvis records, and it would take their problems away."

Every era

Featuring songs from every major era of Presley's career, "An Echo of the King" includes about 40 songs, from the streamlined, Jordanaires-backed songs of his debut to the fully-orchestrated pop anthems at the end. Giddens will be joined by the Burning Love Band (which contains instrumentation for a full orchestra -- Giddens jokes that the name should be changed to Burning Love Orchestra).

While the show features several costume changes and an overview of Presley's career, including the controversial TV performances, ubiquitous movies and legendary comeback concerts, a majority of the show is spent on the '70s era.

Don't ask him to pick a favorite song, though.

"There's too many that I enjoy singing," Giddens said. "It's hard to narrow it to one. Certain ones are more personal to me than others, but I never sang one of his songs that I didn't enjoy doing."

Giddens also appreciates Presley's philanthropy -- he said Presley is legendary for all that he did for St. Jude's. And, just like the King would do, the show will benefit the Grand Lake Shrine Club.

But that's meaningful to Giddens because of his coaching experience, not Elvis appreciation. He said he knows children who have benefited from Shriners hospitals -- including one student athlete who had an arm that couldn't straighten out. The student had the arm surgically repaired as a senior, he said.

"To see those kids' whole attitude change was something," Giddens said. "He wasn't ever 100 percent, but the amount of hope in his eyes when they fixed him to be better than he was ... those guys do so much for people in need."

Want to go?

Brent Giddens will perform "An Echo of the King" at 7 p.m. Saturday at Buffalo Run Casino's Indoor Peoria Showplace. Doors open at 6 p.m. Chairs are available on a first come, first serve basis. Tickets: $15, $5 for children 13 and younger. Details: 918-542-7140, ext. 2200.