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Rural Missouri Magazine

Almost Elvis
One man’s alter-ego brings joy to those
who fondly remember “The King”

by Heather Berry

Dan Smith steps onto the 40-foot-long 1956 motor coach parked in his Williamsburg yard. Moments later, his alter-ego emerges, decked out in his wide-collared black polyester-bejeweled jumpsuit and large gold-framed sunglasses with his guitar in hand.

Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis lives — or at least one incarnation of “The King” is alive and well and living in rural Callaway County.

For more than six years, Dan has impersonated the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll when he’s not working his day job of 16 years for a paper distributor. He gives a co-worker the credit for getting him started in his side gig.

“A co-worker’s sister was having a 50th birthday, and she wanted to hire an Elvis impersonator for the party,” says Dan, 43. “I was like, ‘I know a place where you can rent one — or, well, I could do it.’”

So Dan rented an Elvis suit, slapped on fake sideburns, brushed up on his gyrations and did the birthday gig. He was an immediate hit. And that’s how Elvis Grace Dan (“Grace Dan” is a reference to Graceland, Elvis’ home) was born.

Dan, who performed for 20 years after high school with his band, Timber River, is used to playing guitar and singing for audiences. The band, now defunct, would occasionally do an Elvis tune if the crowd requested one, but it wasn’t their forte.

The store where Dan rented his Elvis suit thought he played “The King” so well they helped him book more shows. Eventually, Dan’s reputation as Elvis preceded him, and people starting calling him directly for jobs.

“I finally bought some jumpsuits and let my hair and sideburns grow out. Everybody remembers Elvis’ look, especially his hair and sideburns, a certain way. I’m always experimenting with that,” says the Callaway Electric Cooperative member, running a hand through his mop of black hair.

If you’re an Elvis fan, you’ve probably seen a gamut of impersonators who portray “The King”. There are those who look so much like Elvis you’d believe he truly is still alive — then there are the flying Elvi, four-year-old Elvi, women Elvi and bearded Elvi. There are Italian, Greek, Mexican, Jewish and African-American Elvi. And they portray Elvis from his early years to the 1970s, when he died overweight and in bad health at his Graceland home on Aug. 16, 1977.

“I always say I can only be the ’70s Elvis,” says Dan, with a hearty laugh from his 295-pound frame.

The tribute artist keeps everyone “all shook up” by performing for family reunions, birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, class reunions, business openings and corporate parties across the state. He even received an online certification to perform weddings, in case someone wants to say they were married by Elvis.

“Elvis goes with every occasion,” says Dan in his best Elvis voice.

Through the years, Dan has received Elvis memorabilia from fans. One of his most prized possessions is the copy of the book “Elvis By the Presley’s”, which includes a personal note written to Dan, thanking him for “keeping the memories alive” and signed by Priscilla Presley. A friend of Priscillas shared a video of Dan’s performance with her. She had her friend deliver the book to Dan months later.

“It makes me feel pretty good to think that Priscilla thinks I’m doing Elvis’ memory justice,” says the performer.

Although he impersonates Elvis, Dan never had the chance to see him in concert. He finds that imitating “The King” comes to him without much practice.

Dan’s son, Brandon, is a senior at North Callaway High School, and he’s used to his dad being Elvis.

“I’m quite a sight when I attend his football games because I always wear my Elvis jumpsuit that’s in his school colors,” says Dan.

Dan’s most requested songs are “Kentucky Rain,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Blue Suede Shoes,” but his favorites are “My Way,” “Suspicious Minds” and the live version performance of “An American Trilogy” (“Dixie,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “All My Trials.”)

“Songs like ‘My Way’ or ‘An American Trilogy’ are songs where I belt my lungs out and half of somebody else’s, but I love to perform them,” says Dan.

According to Dan, no event is too small to book and prices begin at $65 plus mileage. Valentine’s Day is one of his busiest days of the year, where he often works from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. delivering greetings of love as Elvis.

“I usually do about 40 to 50 gigs a year,” he says. “That, and my day job, keep me pretty busy.”

Jeff Young, a friend and colleague of Dan’s, is helping the performer promote what they’re calling the “D-Tour,” which begins Nov. 30.

“Dan’s plan is to perform at 25 different nursing or retirement homes across Missouri,” says Jeff.

The holiday concerts will be funded solely by contributions, as Dan wishes only to give the gift of music, as Elvis did during his lengendary 1975 Christmas tour.

“Dan’s got a huge heart and he is doing this for the people’s enjoyment, not the money,” says Jeff. “He could be making $1,000 or more per performance during the holidays, but he wants to give back to his fans.”

While Dan loves imitating the “hunka-hunka burning love,” he can’t believe he’s been performing for as long as he has been.

“I thought I’d do a few birthday and anniversary bashes and be done,” says Dan, “but the Elvis opportunities are endless and I’m still having a lot of fun with it.

“Think about it — you can buy somebody a gift they’ll probably never use, or you can invite Elvis to their party.”

To find out where Dan is performing on his D-Tour or for bookings call 573-642-9869.

Rural Missouri magazine - April 2014 issue
 
 
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