Scot Bruce has spent nearly all of his professional musical career performing as Elvis Presley. But he can’t recall the first time he heard an Elvis song.
“I just know that his music has always had a presence in my life,” Bruce said.
Bruce performed as Elvis in Lodi last year on what would have been the King’s 79th birthday. This year, he’s returning on Feb. 22 to Hutchins Street Square for “Love Me Tender: A Rockin’ Valentine’s Bash.”
The tour travels for shows just about every weekend, including a monthly gig at Disneyland.
“There’s 4-year-olds who know all the words to ‘Hound Dog,’ and it was recorded 50 years ago,” Bruce said.
Bruce grew up in Washington state and studied communications at the University of Idaho. He played guitar and the drums. During college, he worked as an on-air personality for a Top 40 radio station in town. That’s where he cemented his penchant for stage patter and telling stories. The Elvis gig fits him because it’s both an acting and musical opportunity, he said.
Bruce fell into his Elvis career after a well-intentioned move to Los Angeles, where he planned to elevate his music, left him scrambling for a way to pay rent.
“It’s amazing how creative you can get when you’re starving,” he said. It was the early ’90s and the rockabilly look was coming back into favor. When Bruce trimmed his hair from an ’80s mullet style into a classic pompadour, he started turning heads on the sidewalk. Friends pointed out, “Hey, you kind of look like Elvis!”
Somehow Bruce never gets sick of the same songs over and over again.
“I sing ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ night after night and I love it just as much,” he said. “We all really love celebrating this great music with people who are fans just like us.”
A few of Bruce’s bandmates were raised on Elvis songs and enjoy the chance to dive into the sounds every weekend.
Bruce plays with Russel Scott on the upright bass, Eugene Edwards on the electric guitar, Lee Pardini on the piano and Shawn Nourse on drums. Several of them have their own bands. Edwards plays guitar full time for Dwight Yoakum when he’s not traveling for the Elvis show.
The set-up for each show is all about attention to detail. Bruce piles up his hair into the Elvis pompadour with plenty of hair product, and wears costumes to evoke the ’50s and ’60s era of the King’s career. The standard look is a bright suit jacket or black leather.
Even the instruments are period-specific, especially after a little help from the Martin Guitar Company.
Bruce was playing a Gibson guitar, which Elvis was known for in his later years. Five years ago, he played a concert in Pennsylvania. Afterward, he got an email from the head of artist relations at Martin Guitars.
The writer enjoyed the show and appreciated the detail, but asked if Bruce had ever considered playing a Martin guitar, as Elvis did in the ’50s.
“I said I had dreamt of it, and I could give him several thousand reasons why I don’t have one,” Bruce said, citing the high price of the quality instrument. For the company’s 175th anniversary, they created 175 exact replicas of the Elvis guitar with a leather cover. One of them went to Bruce as a gift.
“To me, that was the ultimate piece of the puzzle,” he said. “It was a really cool addition to the show.”
During performances, Bruce jumps in and out of character to share stories of Elvis’ career and blast through songs. It’s an energetic show celebrating the early years of the King instead of the Vegas years, which can become cartoonish.
“We celebrate the years when Elvis had a fire in his britches and a brand new sound people didn’t know what to make of,” Bruce said.
Despite his career choice, Bruce does not gravitate toward mass Elvis conventions or look-alike contests. His mission is to avoid the caricature of the King in a white sequined jumpsuit. Occasionally, Bruce will do a package show with a performer who showcases Elvis from the ’70s.
Once, Bruce was auditioning for a commercial and entered a room with 30 men dressed as Elvis in varying stages of his career.
“I was feeling uncomfortable,” he said. “I don’t throw the word ‘surreal’ around very much, but that was quite bizarre.”
The act Bruce will perform in Lodi takes the focus off Elvis as a character, and aims to honor and respect the music.
Bruce loves the music and lore of Elvis Presley, but is continually struck by the stories of generosity he hears from people who knew Presley in life. The same messages come out over and over. Friends say Presley was extremely generous with his money and his time, he cared a lot about people and he treated them with dignity.
“He happened to be one of the most famous men on the planet, but he gave the bathroom attendant or janitor the same respect as the head of the record company,” said Bruce.
“Of course I admire him for his music, but to hear he’s a decent guy: That really makes him remarkable.”
These days, Bruce still plays drums and acoustic guitar in local pubs. He’s first and foremost a songwriter, so this year he is getting back to his roots and recording an album of his own music.
“This Elvis career has made me somewhat complacent,” he said. “So much of my life has been spent singing someone else’s music. As an artist, it’s extremely gratifying to be recording my own songs.”
Contact Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.