Randoll Rivers makes Elvis his life's work
It was Saturday morning clean-the-house music.
Every weekend when Randoll Rivers was a little boy, his dad would wake the kids and blast the tunes of cultural icon Elvis Presley, who became know as “the king of rock ‘n’ roll.”
“He’d crank the music, we’d get up and rip the sheets off our beds,” Rivers said. “It was Elvis music and I was pretty hooked on it. I’ve been a huge Elvis fan since I was a little boy.”
Rivers, 47, of Fairfax, Va., remembers mimicking voices of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and other famous people. He’d also sit in his room listening to Elvis and try to match his voice.
“I mostly listened to him. When I had a bad day or I was angry or whatever, I’d go crank the Elvis music. That was the only thing that would calm me down,” he said.
About seven years ago, Rivers’ brother asked him to dress up as Elvis and “put on a little show” for his birthday party.
“I thought that would be kind of fun,” he said. “I did that birthday thing. Later my brother told me, ‘Hey. People are talking about you. You should do it again.’”
The second year, there were more people at his brother’s birthday party to see Rivers’ Elvis tribute than there were to celebrate his brother’s birthday.
“That’s when I started looking into doing it. I got connected to a couple people in the Elvis tribute world. They heard me sing and took me under their wing,” Rivers said.
Today, at 47, he has retired from his work replacing windshields and he works full time as an Elvis tribute act.
Rivers will perform his Elvis tribute Sunday, Jan. 12, at 3 p.m. at Washington County Free Library Fletcher branch as part of the Noteworthy Sundays series. Admission is free. Registration is not required but is preferred.
The series is sponsored by the Friends of the Library, the City of Hagerstown, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence J. Hoeck, the Washington County Arts Council and Western Maryland Regional Library.
“I always kind of, I guess, could sing,” Rivers said. “I used to listen to classic country music when I was down in boot camp in Parris Island. We were sitting around. I started singing Garth Brooks. Guys were like, ‘Oh man. You’re really good.’”
But he never took singing seriously until about five years ago.
After the second birthday party performance and making connections with other Elvis tribute acts, Rivers entered an Elvis tribute competition in Dewey Beach, Del., and won first-place.
He would not have predicted that he would be making a full-time living performing as Elvis, but Rivers realized he had “made it” when he was hired about three years ago to do a show with Washington, D.C.-based Elvis tribute performer Michael Hoover.
“Michael Hoover has been doing Elvis longer than Elvis did Elvis. He is a legend in the ‘ETA’ world, the ‘Elvis Tribute Artist’ world,” Rivers said. “I used to watch him and think, ‘I wish I could make a living singing, being up there.’ Now I actually get to do it.”
Though Elvis’ career spanned nearly 25 years, Rivers’ take on his music and his persona is mostly inspired by 1970s.
“First of all, nobody wants to see a 47-year-old guy in black leather,” he said laughing. “But I just feel the music from the ‘70s. Those songs meant something. The ‘50s songs were more than just rock ‘n’ roll. The ‘70s songs just touched me more.”
Among his favorites are “Moody Blue,” “Suspicious Minds,” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
He sings “whatever the crowd wants to hear.”
“I don’t really have a set list. I know a few that I’m going to do. Then I ask the audience what they want to hear. They yell out songs and I start doing it,” he said.
“Teddy Bear,” “Little Sister,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock” are popular requests. Rivers also likes to throw in some lesser-known Elvis songs.
“There’s one called ‘(It’s) Easy for You.’ I like to do a song called ‘Shake a Hand.’ I kind of make that my song,” he said. “If there are not 500 people in the audience when I do that I try to shake everybody’s hand in the audience. I did that last night and it took me about 20 minutes.”
His performance at the library last year drew the biggest crowd of any show in the Noteworthy Sundays series, he said.
“It’s a cool place. It was fun. Everybody was into it. People were dancing,” Rivers said.
People young and old continue to respond to Elvis’ music.
“He could actually sing. He had the charm, the charisma and the music,” he said. “No one is ever going to be like Elvis. He was the ultimate entertainer.”
Top photo: Elvis Presley tribute artist Randoll Rivers bases his persona on "The King" during the 1970s. (Submitted photo)