Forty years later, Elvis lives on, especially on Grand Strand stages

Christine Beattie, longtime regional general manager for Legends in Concert, at Broadway at the Beach, said that when the theater first opened in 1995 in Surfside Beach, a “house Elvis” would play year round for several years, succeeded by a rotation of artists to showcase “different eras of Elvis.” More than 50 men have filled those shows since then, and that figure doesn’t include the number of contestants in local, annual prelimiary rounds since 2008 for Elvis Presley Enterprises’ Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, a tradition begun for “Elvis Week” festivities in August 2007 in Memphis, Tenn.

Beattie said four of those title winners have played locally at Legends, which moved to Myrtle Beach in 2011: Shawn Klush, the 2007 champion; Bill Cherry (2009), who’s scheduled to play here next year; Dean Z (2013); and Jay Dupuis (2014).

Kevin Mills (kevinmillsevlis.com) of Toronto, the global runner-up in 2010, also finished third in 2009 and ’14, in the top five in 2012, and top 10 in 2008, ’11 and ’15. His summer run as Elvis at Legends in Myrtle Beach goes through Aug. 19.

Mills said he has entertained for Legends’ venues since 1993. He started as a 1950s rock ’n’ roll Elvis, and has progressed through the icon’s movie years, the black-leather comeback special from 1968, and for the last decade, donned jumpsuits for Presley’s concert era, which ended in 1977, at age 42.

Fans move Mills when they thank him for helping keep Elvis’ “music legacy alive.” Mills said that after a show in Las Vegas, earlier this year, he met Mark James, who wrote and first recorded “Suspicious Minds,” and lauded Mills for “the best rendition” he has seen.

He named other hits such as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “All Shook Up” and “Hound Dog” as standard fare, however returning to next month to Legends’ home base in Vegas, Mills said he’ll debut his late father’s favorite song recorded by Elvis, a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Football practice on the day Elvis died

David Chaney of Myrtle Beach earned an extra name for himself as the “Boardwalk Elvis,” performing in downtown Myrtle Beach from 2010 through 2016. He remembers vividly the day Elvis died.

“I was 15 years old and had just finished football practice for a Pop Warner team,” Chaney said of his childhood in Winston-Salem, N.C. “I was sitting in a van with one of my friends, shooting the breeze and relaxing, when another student walked up to us and said that Elvis Presley had died earlier that day.”

Arriving home, Chaney said his family had the living room TV on, with “special reports that were airing over all the networks.”

“As a small child,” Chaney said, “ I would go with my family to see Elvis’ movies at the theaters. Anytime his movies came on TV, we always made a point to watch them. We would buy his records, and even before I reached the age of 10, I would sit in my room and play them. I’d sing to all of those records, pretending the room was full of girls who were enjoying the show.”

Marrying a lifelong Elvis fan only deepened Chaney’s affinity for Presley’s talents. Singing “Suspicious Minds” to a standing ovation on a cruise ship’s passenger talent show led to more public performances of Elvis gospel and rock hits, in nursing homes and festivals, then in 2007, the growth of trademark sideburns and black-hair dyeing. Playing Myrtle Beach’s boardwalk, Chaney found his favorite number in “American Trilogy,” to honor all veterans in attendance.

Elvis; influence also adds an element to Chaney’s work as a waiter at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on Marina Parkway in Myrtle Beach.

“I still sport the ‘Elvis look’ and even have a nametag that says ‘Elvis’ in addition to one that says ‘David,’ ” Chaney said. “I even entertain my tables on occasion. … If someone has an anniversary, I usually sing a snippet of ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love.’ If a lady has a birthday, I might sing a ‘Love Me Tender’ snippet or ‘Happy, Happy Birthday Baby.’ There were a couple of occasions where we had large parties in private rooms where I was able to be louder and rock it out to ‘Hound Dog,’ ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘A Little Less Conversation.’ which drew thunderous applause.”

Chaney encouraged younger people “to look at Elvis as someone who rose from the humblest beginnings and believed in himself to achieve greatness.”

‘Bringing people together’

Rick Alviti has brought “That’s The Way it Was – Tribute To Elvis” (www.rickalvitishow.com) to the Alabama Theatre in North Myrtle Beach for several years. His band is booked for concerts at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9, and a “Christmas Special,” Dec. 10.

Speaking last week by phone from home in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., Alviti said his tribute show fits with his view that music stays “so universal to everybody,” of all ages.

Seeing the appeal resonating from what Elvis built decades ago, Alviti’s group has played in Japan, Italy, and even for the prime minister of Malaysia.

“People love Elvis all over the world,” he said. “He was so charismatic.”

Alviti also said from 20 years of paying tribute to the King of Rock ‘’n’ Roll, “you have to have the look, in song and voice,” more than just “stand up there and sing.”

“You have to entertain like Elvis did,” he said, always happy to do meet-and-greets after each show, for people he calls a “family” who appreciate Elvis’ legacy.

“Somebody once said BPT – bringing people together,” Alviti said. “That’s kind of what Elvis did.”

For ‘the next generation’

In 2008, Michael Sokolik Jr. of the Forestbrook community won the first-ever local preliminary for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. Known locally for his “Elvis ’n’ Friends” shows, he said the “best part of keeping Elvis’ memory alive is the next generation.”

“They’re the most important Elvis fans, always,” Sokolik said. “I hope they can see and hear the simplicity of his music, his acting, and his heart as a humanitarian.”

Sokolik said he frames his tribute to Elvis to keep young folks intrigued in a performance “so raw, without the glam, … which lets them see what Elvis brought without all that.”

“If people can see that level of talent through me,” Sokolik said, “it will open their eyes to a world of rock ’n’ roll like they’ve never known.”

Sokolik’s next “Elvis ’n’ Friends” outing (843-222-2324 or www.facebook.com/msjrproductions) is 5-8 p.m. Aug. 26 oceanfront at Compass Cove Oceanfront Resort, 2311 S. Ocean Blvd., Myrtle Beach. Jeff Swider of Pottstown, Pa., and a 10-year-old, Max Lee James, will perform their tributes to Elvis, along with Rinaldo Wright as Chuck Berry and Ray Charles, and Stephanie Sokolik as Marilyn Monroe. Admission is free, and in case of rain, the show will move inside the hotel’s Crow’s Nest Restaurant.

Older Elvis fans never lose rank in importance with Sokolik, either.

“They’re the ones who bought his records, screamed at his performance and made him a star,” Sokolik said. “Any chance to perform for them is amazing, yet scary. Because they witnessed the real thing, they’re more hard to please, in my opinion. But it’s so much fun to perform for them because they always have the best stories of their life and Elvis music.”

Sokolik’s three children also pay tribute as namesakes: Presley Monroe Sokolik, 9, and 3-year-old twins Memphis Cash Sokolik, a boy, and Gracelyn Annabella Sokolik.

If you go

— Legends in Concert, 2925 Hollywood Drive, Myrtle Beach, at U.S. 17 and 29th Avenue North, at Broadway at the Beach, at 8 p.m., with this lineup of tribute artists through Sept. 3: Elvis Presley, portrayed by Kevin Mills (kevinmillselvis.com) through Aug. 19 and Ryan Pelton (www.ryanpelton.com), Aug. 21-Sept. 3; Dolly Parton (Karen Hester); Madonna (Kimberly Goltry); Steven Tyler (Chris VanDahl), and the Blues Brothers (Russ Peterson as Jake, and Dan Meisner as Elwood). Elvis tribute artists in other season rosters will be Pelton, Sept. 5-Oct. 30, and Travis Powell (www.etatravispowell.com), Nov. 2-Dec. 31. Most shows: $39.95-$49.95 ages 17 and older, and $13.95-$49.95 ages 3-16. 843-238-7827, 800-960-7469 or www.legendsinconcert.com/myrtle-beach.

— Michael Sokolik Jr.’s “Elvis ’n’ Friends,” 5-8 p.m. Aug. 26 at Compass Cove Oceanfront Resort, 2311 S. Ocean Blvd., Myrtle Beach, with Jeff Swider of Pottstown, Pa., and a 10-year-old, Max Lee James, performing Elvis tributes to Elvis, along with Rinaldo Wright as Chuck Berry and Ray Charles, and Stephanie Sokolik as Marilyn Monroe. Free admission; in case of rain, show moves inside the hotel’s Crow’s Nest Restaurant. 843-222-2324 or www.facebook.com/msjrproductions.

— Rick Alviti Showband’s “That’s The Way it Was – Tribute To Elvis,” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9, and “Christmas Special,” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10, at Alabama Theatre, at Barefoot Landing, on U.S. 17 in North Myrtle Beach. Each $27.40 or $34.95. 843-272-1111, 800-342-2262 or www.alabama-theatre.com, and www.rickalvitishow.com.

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