When talking to Shawn Klush on the phone, it’s impossible not to be struck by how much his normal speaking voice sounds like Elvis Presley.
“I was at an event with Priscilla Presley one time, and she said, ‘OK, you can stop now,’” Klush said. “And someone told her, ‘No he can’t. That’s just how he sounds.’ I mean, I don’t walk around the house with my lip up in the air, but it does come very naturally to me.”
Busy being Elvis
Whether nature or nurture is responsible for that identifiable voice, Klush has made the most of it for many years.
One of the world’s most coveted Elvis impersonator, Klush has made the most of his physical and vocal resemblance to the King to parlay it into a busy schedule.
This includes stage appearances around the world as well as TV and film appearances, playing Elvis in TV films like Shake, Rattle, and Roll, TV series Vinyl and The Mamaluke, and the all-star feature film 3000 Miles to Graceland.
Northeast Indiana gets to check out Klush along with fellow Elvis impersonators Ryan Pelton and Cody Ray Slaughter when the Elvis Tribute Spectacular visits the Honeywell Center just a week or so after what would have been Presley’s 85th birthday.
For Klush, who grew up in a small Pennsylvania town, the appreciation for Presley goes well beyond his look or his sound, and it anchors him in a childhood enveloped in music.
“His music was something that was always inside me anyway,” Klush said. “My dad was a DJ in the ’50s and ’60s, and I remember when I was two or three and would take a bath, my dad would play this music for me. I grew up listening to Elvis, Dean Martin, Mahalia Jackson, and I was hooked on it. I’d hear Elvis on the radio or on records, and we had Dean Martin albums, so I was influenced a lot by that.”
Klush wasn’t just listening to music all those years. He was also performing through high school and in outside venues, including in bars which he concedes now he was too young to be in at that time.
But his career as Elvis began early and has grown steadily over the years, with Klush saying he eventually came up the ranks. He, Pelton, and Slaughter will each handle a different aspect of Presley’s career with Klush handling the iconic Vegas era.
But his appreciation for the wide array of music Presley tackled in his 20-plus year career encompasses a eclectic range of music.
“I love the early rockabilly, the stuff he was doing in ’54, ’55, ’56,” Klush said. “But there’s a lot of great stuff in the ’50s, then the movies in the ’60s, and right up until 1973, The transition he went through in the late ’60s is interesting because he has the Comeback Special in ’68 and his film Change of Habit around that time. He was still looking really good.”
Klush’s uncanny ability to channel Elvis’s look and sound has put him on the radar of Presley’s family and contemporaries. That group includes not only Priscilla Presley but Joe Esposito, who served as Presley’s road manager and confidante for many years.
To earn the respect of so many who were close to the real deal for so long, Klush has clearly nailed his performances.
His current setlist with the Elvis Spectacular includes well-known classics “Suspicious Minds,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and “CC Rider,” as well as a couple of covers — “My Way” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” — which Elvis made his own in his last several years.
One of the things that makes touring in the persona of the King of Rock & Roll is being able to fulfill some things that Presley himself never did in his too-short 42 years.
“I performed in Santiago, Chile, in front of 12 to 14,000 people in 2001,” Klush said. “The energy that comes at you from a crowd like that is unbelievable. Elvis never traveled there, so they’re coming to see him really.
“At one point I was singing ‘In the Ghetto,’ and the crowd started singing it back to me in English. It was such an amazing thing, and all I could think is, ‘He belongs here, not me. He deserves to feel all of this love and gratitude.’ All I can do is do my best to create those feelings.”
Expanding TV and film
Although touring as Elvis is his bread and butter, Klush has enjoyed his forays into television and film which to date as been exclusively as Presley. But he wouldn’t mind expanding upon that in the future.
“I got a call from Hollywood to be in the FX series What We Do in the Shadows,” Klush said. “All my scenes are shot. I’d like to do more acting. After being in Vinyl, I really loved being in a show where I got to work with some real professionals. That’s something I’d like to do more.”
Part of the lure of Hollywood is the warmer temps which Klush admits makes his trips home to Pennsylvania less enjoyable this time of year.
Other than winter cold, Klush seems to have few complaints and is appreciative of how diehard and even casual Elvis devotees have welcomed him over the years and will likely do for years to come.
“The fans respect that I take it as seriously as I do,” he said. “And when you get respect from people from Elvis’ life like Priscilla Presley, Joe Esposito, and Jerry Schilling, it really means a lot. I think fans know that we’re not going to just do some mumbo jumbo. We’re playing the actual music with an actual band. Getting the response we do means everything to me.”
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