This tribute artist once represented SA in the Elvis World Cup

Cape Town – It’s almost time for the fourth annual Tribute Fest which will feature a phenomenal line-up bringing you 12 hours of music to pay tribute to some of the greatest musical legends of all time. 

Taking place at Hillcrest Quarry in Durbanville on Tuesday 26 December, the bands that will be performing to honour the likes of Elvis, Neil Diamond, ZZTop, Depeche Mode, Joe Cocker and many more are: Mark Haze, Patrick Canovi's “Kiss the Sky” Show Band, Music 4 the Masses, Johan Liebenberg Band, The Rivertones, James Marais and various other collaborating artists.

We get to know James Marais, who has developed the reputation of being South Africa's no 1 Elvis Presley tribute artist.

Check it out here:

Tell us a bit about your career as an Elvis impersonator? Where did it all start?

I heard Elvis music for the first time when I was 5 years old. My father owned an Elvis album which he played repeatedly, and from then onwards I became a huge Elvis fan. After having sung for my family and friends at home for years, I made my debut public performance as an Elvis Tribute Artist at the age of 25. I refer to myself as an Elvis Tribute Artist, or ETA for short, as the word "impersonator" has been phased out in the ETA world, due to an unfortunate negative stigma that has become attached to the word.

We heard a birdie whistle that you did very well in an Elvis competition here in SA and overseas. Tell us a bit more about it.

I was fortunate enough to win the ETA competition held in 2010 at the first annual Elvis Festival Africa, Storms River Village, Eastern Cape. The win took me to Cardiff, Wales, where I represented South Africa in the "Elvis World Cup", in which 12 ETA's from around the world participated. I finished fourth, behind ETA's from Scotland, England and Ireland. It was an amazing experience for me, where I performed in front of more than 2000 enthusiastic supporters in the final, and I got the opportunity to visit London, England too as part of the 10 days I travelled.

Which is your favourite Elvis song to perform and why?

I particularly enjoy performing Suspicious Minds, as it gives me an opportunity to do some well-known, dynamic Elvis moves, which audiences really seem to enjoy. The song was one of Elvis' last number one hits, and it's a firm favourite among fans.

How do you decide on your Elvis wardrobe for your performances? And where do you get the clothes from? Any interesting stories about this?

I wear Elvis costumes according to the era of his music that I will be performing at any particular event.  Elvis' career spanned 23 years over three decades, i.e. the '50s, '60s and '70s, and his style changed considerably during that time. In the '50s, Elvis was known for his colourful shirts, jackets and wide trousers, with the '60s bringing in a more tailored look, along with black leather (which he wore in his 1968 television show, known as the "Comeback Special") and in the '70s he became known for his variety of jumpsuits.

I have bought my costumes from different sources over the years, and some have been specially made for me, for example my jumpsuits. I have had to import some accessories, including beading and rhinestones, to complete my jumpsuits, and I make the belts myself. I have also completed the rhinestone work and beading on some of my jumpsuits myself, which was a very time-consuming effort, but very satisfying once I completed the work.

I also had the great privilege of visiting Elvis' home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee in September 2014, and while I was there, I was able to purchase a few costumes and accessories, which are also replicas of Elvis' clothes, and endorsed by Elvis Presley Enterprises.

My hair and sideburns are natural (I do not wear wigs), and I dye my hair black (I am a natural blond).

Are there any unusual facts about Elvis that you have come across that is not well known in general?

I think people would be surprised to find out that Elvis was a natural blond, and dyed his hair black from 1957 onwards, after becoming an international sensation in January 1956, and making his first of 31 feature films, Love Me Tender. He decided that having black hair looked better on screen, and made him look a bit like one of his favourite actors at the time, Tony Curtis. Another interesting fact that many people don't know, is that Elvis was a humanitarian, and gave generously to charities throughout his life. Elvis also had a twin brother, Jesse Garon, who was stillborn.

What can people expect from your performance at this year's Tribute Fest?

I will be representing Elvis in the '70s, wearing one of my white jumpsuits (all my jumpsuits are replicas of what Elvis wore), giving people an experience of Elvis' Las Vegas and touring years. My repertoire will include many of Elvis' famous hits, performed in his '70s style, along with some big ballads, for which Elvis became known during those years.

What are your plans for 2018?

Apart from my solo Elvis tribute show, I have two other shows in which I perform alongside my partner and fiancée, Monique Cassells. Our shows are called Oldies But Goldies, which we have been performing together for a number of years, and a brand new show, launched in October 2017, called Old School Country Legends. We also perform an Elvis tribute show together, called From Memphis To Las Vegas.

Apart from taking our tribute shows to as many new venues around the country as possible, we would like to expand on our original music repertoire and release our original albums. We have been writing songs for many years and currently have songs play-listed on the internet station, Zone Radio, with Monique's song, So Great To Be With You, also receiving airplay on RSG 100-104FM. I have an Afrikaans song called Sy Is My Bokkie, which is currently on the Zone Radio Top 40, and two of my English songs, Closure and Can't Let Go, reached the top 5 on Zone Radio's Top 40 chart.

Click here for all the details about this year's Tribute Fest.

(Photo: Supplied)