In the business of Elvis tribute performers, of which there are said to be around 250,000 swiveling their hips and sneering, there is only one Shawn Klush. Who? A native of the small coal-mining town of Pittston, PA, who has been called “The Closest Thing to the King in Concert.”
Don’t believe it? Understand that Klush, who’s been performing as some variation of Elvis ever since taking the stage in eighth-grade at a moving-up ceremony to high school and belted out a rendition of the 1969 Presley Top 40 hit “Memories,” was crowned the World’s Greatest Elvis on the BBC program of the same name back in 2007. Not only did he win this competition before a satellite audience of six million people, but Klush got to play his idol in the 2016 HBO series Vinyl and was also named the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist by Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., which handles all the licensing for the late music titan’s estate. Focusing on the early 1970s era of Elvis, Klush has toured with many of Presley’s musical accompanists over the years including The Jordanaires, DJ Fontana, Jerry Scheff and The Sweet Inspirations. He’s rightfully proud of his show’s authenticity, particularly from someone who considers himself a fan first and foremost.
“People coming to the show are going to get a whole lot of realism—real musicians and a great set list. And they’re going to hear things that they haven’t heard in a long time actually played the right way. They’re going to get a strong band and a lot of quirky and funny stuff that goes on in-between songs,” he explained. “[Elvis fans] can expect to see something very real. It’s a high-energy show, so there’ll be a lot of sweat going on—it makes good for the scarves. It’s a lot of fun, great music and good memories for anybody who was around at the time.”
Having spent decades playing Presley, devouring numerous books on the subject and heard hours of anecdotes from people who personally knew the King, Klush’s preparation to play his musical hero doesn’t go much beyond his checking whatever venue’s lighting situation prior to the show. He also admits that he’s still learning from the King, even four decades after his death. And when asked about what makes Elvis Presley so special, Klush has a few theories, but he also admits that those wanting to wade out into these performance waters should be made of a special kind of mettle.
“It’s the funniest thing but I can listen to something today that I’ve listened to all my life and still find something different. There are so many things. The way Elvis held his hand, the way he pointed to something or what he’d say if he was trying to get a point across. There’s also the pronunciation and enunciation and the way he did things. Just little things. Once you’re caught in that trap, there really is no way of getting out of it,” he said. “[But to play Elvis] means complete and utter dedication. A lot of soul searching and finding your niche in it. To study it makes it like school. To study it uninhibitedly without knowing that you’re studying it is pure soul. And that’s what you get out of it. When you break it all down, that’s what it is. Everything is from the heart—all of it.”
Shawn Klush will appear on Aug. 25 as part of the Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular at NYCB Theatre @ Westbury, 960 Brush Hollow Rd., Westbury. For more information, visit www.livenation.com or call 877-598-8497