“Elvis was the coolest man musician who ever lived. He had everything the average male teenager needed and wanted, you know, the ladies being number one,” says City Limits guitarist Les Allen. City Limits is a pop and country band that supports James Kruk, an Elvis tribute artist.
“We do 50 [Elvis] songs,” says Kruk, “but in a 1970s live setting.” He describes his collection of faux Elvis outfits, including “the black phoenix, which is a white suit with a beautiful black bird on the front and the back.” He corrects himself. “That was actually from 1976.”
Kruk first appeared in public as the King as an actor in the national touring company of a play titled Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Kruk says he was auditioned for the part by the playwright, comedian Steve Martin. “I wasn’t overly into Elvis at the time,” says Kruk, “but he was one of my top five dudes that I listened to.”
Kruk’s speaking voice has a little East Coast working around the edges. He says he is originally from New York. He bears resemblance to a trim, 40-ish Presley. Prior to meeting City Limits through an ad on craigslist, Kruk did his Elvis routine solo. Instead of live music, he used backing tracks.
Becoming an Elvis tribute artist helped Kruk turn a financial corner. “We were just barely squeaking by, my wife and I.” After the acting gig and prior to the Elvis-tribute gig, Kruk taught foreign languages at Oceanside’s Mira Costa College. His wife encouraged him to enter a contest at Dick’s Last Resort two years ago. “I went and I had a terrible costume, but I ended up winning.” He says he lands enough paying Elvis gigs now to survive. “It’s shocking. When I put on the costume, people automatically have this respect.”
Kruk hopes to take his act all the way to the top during Elvis Week in Memphis next year and be chosen as the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist. Sponsored by Elvis Presley Enterprises (“It’s the company started by Elvis and his dad”), he was a preliminary runner-up last year. This year, he feels good about his chances. “I get better all the time.”
Les Allen agrees. He says that Kruk’s Elvis “holds the crowd’s attention till the very end. And then it’s over and he leaves.” Allen says that City Limits finishes the set minus Kruk. “It’s kind of strange going back to doing our thing after he’s finished. You know, Elvis is a hard act to follow.”