Without question, the legendary Elvis Presley had unique talents that catapulted him to the pinnacle of recorded music as a true megastar. And as such, many singers attempted — with various degress of success — to match the Presley “sound” and incorporate it into their own repertoire.
This column will attempt to identify some of the very best — though not always the most successful — of the recording artists who came closest to matching Elvis’ fantastic voice and singing style prior to The King’s death in 1977.
The listed singers are not Elvis impersonators; rather, they are vocalists whose recordings bear the closest resemblance to Presley’s style, and the following could well be considered as the Top 10 in the Elvis sound-alike category. [To hear the songs, click on the title].
(1) RAL DONNER, born in Chicago in 1943, was one of the few Elvis sound-alikes who became quite successful in his own right. But although his style had an almost uncanny resemblance to Presley, Donner never totally escaped from Elvis’ shadow. MUSIC SAMPLES: “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got” (No. 4 on Billboard, 1961); “Girl Of My Best Friend” (No. 19, 1961); “She’s Everything” (No. 18, 1962).
(2) VINCE EVERETT, unlike Donner, never had a song reach the Billboard Hot 100. Born Marvin Benefield in Atlanta in 1941, he was, without question, one of the best Elvis sound-alikes, and he took his recording name from the character played by Presley in “Jailhouse Rock.” MUSIC SAMPLES: “Such A Night” (1962); “Box Of Candy” (1964); “Don’t Go” (1962).
(3) JIMMY ELLIS was born in 1945 in Orrville, Ala., and he commonly performed under the name Orion, wearing a mask and a bejeweled jumpsuit. But without a doubt, he was one of the very best Elvis sound-alikes. While performing, he not only sounded like Elvis, but he acted and moved like Elvis. MUSIC SAMPLES: “Blue Moon Of Kentucky/That’s Alright Mama” (1972); “Love Me Tender” (1972); “Separate Ways” (1976).
(4) TERRY STAFFORD is most-known for his great cover rendition of “Suspicion”, which was first recorded by Presley on his “Pot Luck” album in 1962. Stafford was born in Oklahoma, raised in Texas and moved to California in 1960. MUSIC SAMPLES: “Suspicion” (No. 3 on Billboard, 1964); “I’ll Touch A Star” (No. 25, 1964); “Follow The Rainbow” (1964).
(5) RAY SMITH, a Kentucky native who committed suicide in 1979 at the age of 45, began his career with Sun Records, although his only major charter was on the Judd label. MUSIC SAMPLES: “Rockin’ Little Angel” (No. 22 on Billboard, 1960); “That’s All Right” (1960); “I Guess I’d Better Move Along” (1964).
(6) CONWAY TWITTY, born Harold Jenkins in Mississippi in 1933, eventually became a C&W superstar with dozens of No. 1 songs. But his earlier recordings fit more into the Presley-esque mode, and his “Lonely Blue Boy” was originally sung by Elvis in the film “King Creole.” MUSIC SAMPLES: “Lonely Blue Boy” (No. 6 on Billboard, 1960); “I Need Your Lovin'” (No. 93, 1957); “It’s Only Make Believe” (No. 1, 1958).
(7) SLEEPY LaBEEF was an Arkansas native, born in 1935, who started recording rockabilly singles after moving to Texas in 1953, and some of his recordings bear resemblance to those of The King. MUSIC SAMPLES: “Baby Let’s Play House” (1956); “All The Time” (1957); “Little Bit More” (1957).
(8) JOHNNY BURNETTE, born and raised in Memphis, drowned in a boating mishap on a California lake at the age of 30 in 1964. But until then, he was a rockabilly pioneer who sounded much like Elvis on a number of his recordings. MUSIC SAMPLES: “Love Me” (1960); “It’s Only Make Believe” (1960); “Hound Dog” (1956).
(9) THOMAS WAYNE was another recording artist who died an unfortunate early death, in an auto accident at age 31 in 1971. His biggest hit (“Tragedy”) was produced by Scotty Moore, Elvis’ former guitarist. MUSIC SAMPLES: “The Girl Next Door” (1960); “Tragedy” (No. 5, 1959); “No More No More” (1959).
(10) CLIFF RIVERS a k a JOEY CASTLE was born in The Bronx in 1942. Though he attempted to match the Presley sound, he never had a significant chart hit. MUSIC SAMPLES: “True Lips” (1963); “Marsha” (1963); “Don’t Knock It” (1963).
Another song that deserves mention here is “Turn Me Loose” — which had at least two renditions that sounded somewhat like an Elvis recording. To hear the 1959 version by Philadelphia teenage idol Fabian, click here. To hear Britain’s Cliff Richard sing it later the same year, click here.
A few more artists who have recorded songs considered as Presley sound-alikes:
* BILLY BARRIX, whose 1957 version of “Cool Off Baby” bears a close resemblance to Presley’s 1955 recording of “Baby Let’s Play House.”
* BILL PARSONS’ “The All American Boy” was actually sung by Bobby Bare, but songwriter Parsons was erroneously credited as vocalist on the early 1959 record which had reference to Elvis’ early career.
* JOE DOWELL’s “Wooden Heart” — originally sung by Presley in the film “G.I. Blues” — went to the top of the Billboard charts in 1961.
* SONNY JAMES scored a No. 1 hit with “Young Love” — a 1956 Presley-like ballad that was also a huge C&W seller.
But despite all of the imitators and sound-alikes, most music fans will likely come to the conclusion that none of them were the equal of the great Elvis Presley.