Mike Madriaga 11:30 a.m., Sept. 23
Do It Like Elvis: King Kruk
According to the Professional Elvis Impersonators Association, there are 200,000 or so Elvis Presley impersonators around the globe. At least one of them lives in Oceanside California. His name is James Kruk. As an actor, he played Elvis in a Steve Martin play once but aside from having a more than passing resemblance to a 30-ish Elvis, Kruk had no real experience at singing Presley’s hits.
That is, unless you count the time Kruk sang karaoke in Poland, for which he won a prize.
As King Kruk, he is planning a tribute show to coincide with Elvis Presley’s 77th birthday in January. Kruk’s been doing the Elvis tribute now for about five years. If anything, the amount of money that he’s has been able to invest in his Elvis wardrobe speaks to the success of the enterprise. In the years prior, the New York native describes an actor’s life of financial hardship. He taught school on the side to make expenses. But now, it’s a different story. “When I put on the costume,” Kruk says, “people automatically have this respect.”
The first known Elvis impersonator of any public consequence was a boy only a few years younger than Elvis himself. His name was Jim Smith. His deal was to jump on stage and mimic Elvis. Many probably did the same, but apparently, Smith caught on and in 1957, the local newspaper claimed that the teenager's uncanny resemblance to young Elvis landed him guest slots on TV shows where he was said to lip synch. Smith could neither sing nor play guitar.
Bill Haney claims that he never set out to impersonate Elvis, but that is in fact what he did. He fronted a two-hour act in a sequined jump suit fashioned after the Nudie Cohn designs made for the King and he sang the hits. As such, Haney was possibly the first full-time impersonator to earn a living during the real Elvis’ lifetime. His fame amassed to the point that Presley was compelled to take in a performance. After, as the story goes, Haney was invited for some bro time at Graceland.
I liked Elvis just fine when he was alive, but not enough to seek solace in the grips of an Elvis tribute gig in the years following his death. In fact, not counting El Vez the Mexican Elvis or Elvis Herselvis, a lesbian Elvis impersonator, I only witnessed one Elvis tribute. He was an attorney from New Jersey who copped the early Elvis black leather rebel look. He did a pretty good job on “Jailhouse Rock,” and he blew on “All Shook Up.”
Otherwise, the majority of Elvis’s impersonators seem fixated on the man’s paunchy Vegas years. Kruk says that this apparently is the easiest chapter of the King of Rock and Roll's short life to imitate.
“People think you can get a wig and a jumpsuit and a pair of sunglasses and walk down the street and because Elvis was such an icon, people will wave or smile. You can even get jobs posing for pictures with people.”
But the job of an impersonator is certainly not without its hazards. “I have to find really creative places to change [into my Elvis costume.] Kruk says otherwise, jewels from the elaborate suits get stuck in the car seat. “I’ve become an expert at changing in parking lots. I have a big car. I do the makeup and all that at home, and that way all I have to do is quickly zip the jumpsuit.” The element of surprise notwithstanding, why not just change inside a venue?
“At some of the dives we were playing,” he says, “the parking lot was cleaner than the restroom.”
Starting with a bottle of Russian Champagne that Kruk won for imitating Elvis in Poland, it’s been a rather steady, if unlikely climb to where Kruk finds himself today: in demand on the local casino circuit and at lucrative corporate events. Elvis, it turns out, has been good to him.
“You have to have a lot of respect for him, and you can never lose it because you’ll lose all your fans. You’re only borrowing your fans from him. I have my own fans, but they’re really there because of Elvis.”
photo source: KingKruk.com
James Kruk's Elite Elvis Tribute features the Big Boss Men at the Belly up in Solana Beach, January 8th, 8pm-10pm