Elvis|Keeping the King alive is Shea Arender’s ‘Burning Love’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 10, 2009

If he talks like Elvis, looks like Elvis, walks like Elvis and sings like Elvis, then he must be…

Shea Arender!

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Shea Arender will present A Tribute to The King at 8 p.m. Saturday at Horizon Casino’s Mulberry Lounge.

Admission is $10.

He’s a 28-year-old Tallulah native who did such a great job of portraying The King of Rock and Roll that he won the grand championship in an international competition in Miami in 2002.

“And I’ve been going full speed ever since,” he said, doing several big shows each month, appearing all over the United States. He’s also taken his act to Brazil, Italy and Puerto Rico.

Though he used to be an impersonator, Shea is now billed as a tribute artist — he is Elvis-influenced, but not a copy of Elvis, staying true to Elvis’ arrangements but recording some songs that Elvis never sang in concert.

“A regular impersonator will not only call himself Elvis but will lose his identity,” Shea said. “I never claim to be Elvis. I just remain Shea Arender. Elvis lives through me, but I’m still me.”

For Shea, the journey began 21 years ago when he was 7 and he was given an Elvis cassette. That’s when he first heard him, and he was hooked. He started singing and, at 12, put on his first actual performance.

Though Shea was born several years after Elvis Presley’s death, his parents had grown up in the era when the Tupelo-born musician was making a name for himself, so he always heard stories about him. In a way, Elvis was part of family lore, for Shea’s sister- in-law wears a ring Elvis had given her mother long before his wife, Priscilla, was on the scene.

Of the Elvis impersonators and tribute artists, Shea figures there are a few hundred worth noting but there are a lot more not worth mentioning.

“When somebody says they do a tribute, I ask if they can hit the high notes — Elvis was noted for that,” Shea said. “Can you move like him, do you have a resemblance, and are you from the South? There are a lot of different factors.”

Shea can answer yes to all those questions, which, he said, “separates me from the pack.”

After graduating from Tallulah High School, Shea went to Hinds, then to Georgia State University, where he earned a degree in international business. He lived in Florida before moving to the Clinton-Raymond area. He also studied music theory and voice and plays rhythm guitar, as did Elvis. He uses his college degree in promotions outside the country, “not exactly what I planned to do with it,” but it all comes in handy. He also composes what he calls modern country with an Elvis influence.

Shea has backup musicians, the CC Player Band, the brass being called the Heartbreak Hotel horn section. He also has backup singers. They do a full Las Vegas-type show with a little bit of everything but try to keep most of it in the 1968 to 1973 era. They sometimes do shows from Elvis’ rockabilly years, the 1950s and from the mid-1960s.

On stage, Shea wears special-made suits, totally true in design to those Elvis wore, including the sequins. One of his guitars is an exact replica of one Elvis played, and he uses props like those Elvis used, such as scarves — and even owns a few originals. There’s not much in the way of commemorative items that have escaped Shea’s personal collection.

Though Elvis shows, or tributes to him, have been popular for decades, Shea foresees no decline, for he’s still The King. Other artists have tried to promote great stars but their success has been very limited, and Shea thinks it is because “most other artists don’t stand out in our memories,” and while Elvis’ appeal is worldwide, that isn’t the case with most others.

“There was a certain amount of music and fire that Elvis had that nobody else has been able to reciprocate or top,” he said.

Authenticity in portraying Elvis is all-important to Shea Arender — his stage presence, his voice, his costumes, and yes, he said, “I can swivel my hips, too.”

Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.