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Above: A promotional photo for the film “Jailhouse Rock,” depicting singer Elvis Presley. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Tribute bands are not unusual. Every city has theirs, and Worcester is no exception. Bills at The Lucky Dog, Jillian’s and JJ’s in Northborough regularly feature these acts, who perform music inspired by, or slavishly modeled after, a group, an era or a genre. Tributes to the King, Elvis Presley, however, go a step beyond and Elvis impersonating has become a peculiarly American icon just as the original did half a century ago.
Musician cum legendary Vegas Elvis impersonator, Steve Connolly, returns to Worcester on Friday, January 10 for a show at Mechanics Hall, with opening act James Montgomery Blues Band.
So, what makes Elvis Presley the king of tributes? It starts with his legendary place in popular music. The icon, who has sold a whopping total of nearly 208 million certified units (600 million claimed – the most by an individual artist ever, and second only to The Beatles, who have 258 certified/600 million claimed), and who is credited with 20 No. 1 albums and 36 No. 1 singles.
And though Elvis died 36 years ago (August 16, 1977), he is by no means dead. His recordings continue to generate enviable sales and his legacy widespread media attention. In fact, Elvis recordings have reached sales of $35.5 million, according to Soundscan, since 1991.
So, there’s a market here, and Steve Connolly is at the top of it as one of the most successful of all Las Vegas Elvis impersonators, having held a long-term gig at Bally’s Jubilee Theatre, four and a half years and over 4,000 performances at Fitzgerald’s Hotel and Casino, three years at the MGM Grand, one year at the Aladdin Blue Note Café and six months at the Riviera, as well as private functions at just about every casino or hotel you can think of.
While mastering this rarefied craft, Steve has won endless accolades, distinguishing himself as the “Best Elvis in Vegas” for 2006 and 2007, and receiving glowing recommendations from the likes of Steven Tyler and Bill Clinton, and even Elvis’ music director, Bobby Morris.
Guests of this Friday’s show should expect the vital rock ‘n’ roll presence of early Elvis, as well as a series of costume changes that run through highlights like the ’68 Comeback Special, and ‘70s Hawaii. In his recent run in Palm Desert, Connolly, a trained artist, who, by day, paints and restores church ceilings, devoted a portion of the hour-and-a-half show to creating an original Elvis-inspired painting. He hopes to have some of this original artwork on display at the shows.
The Elvis impersonator isn’t a new phenomenon, either. Elvis made such a splash that impersonators began to spring up during the height of his career, the first being in the mid 1950s. Folkie Phil Ochs is thought to be the first performing Elvis impersonator, a historic landmark he achieved when he appeared onstage at Madison Square Garden in March of 1970 wearing an Elvis-inspired gold lamé suit designed by Nudie Cohen. Later, comedian Andy Kaufman would work an Elvis impersonation into his act, and Elvis seemed to have enjoyed these imitations, even venturing out to see Bill Haney perform, though he is reputed to have liked Kaufman’s spoof the best.
The Worcester show will feature a set by the James Montgomery Blues Band, fronted by legendary blues harmonica player, James Montgomery, who has carved out a sizable reputation as a New England performer since the early ‘70s, performing with blues legends, like James Cotton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and John Lee Hooker and rock acts, such as Aerosmith, Mick Jagger, Kid Rock, J. Geils, The Blues Brothers and Gregg Allman.
You can’t see the real Elvis Presley anymore (well, some say you can!), but you can get this startling facsimile and maybe a good fake can take you most of the way there.
Catch Steve Connolly As Elvis: Spirit of the King live on stage Friday, January 10 at Mechanics Hall, 321 Main St., Worcester. Purchase tickets by calling 508-752-0888 or visit
by Matt Robert
Guitarist/keyboardist Jim Perry says that the name of his band, The Silverbacks, has little to do with the majestic, rare simian, and a lot to do with the gray heads of the band members, most of whom are hitting the six-decade mark and will soon enjoy senior citizen discounts. On first appearance, a bar patron seeing the band, which returns for its monthly gig at Greendale’s in Worcester this Saturday, January 18, might notice little more than their age.
However, it wouldn’t take more than a song or two for that patron to notice something more. If he or she were new in town, this person would hear high-energy, tasteful renditions of mostly classic rock, sprinkled with some blues and r&b, and a healthy dose of a band favorite, John Hiatt. His or her ears would begin to notice that the band was tight as a drum, the vocal harmonies were rich and accurate, the interplay was intuitive and dynamic, and the versions, while hip to the nuances of the original recordings, benefitted from great new arrangements and often featured intense and potent jams that linked seemingly disparate numbers from different genres and decades.
If that patron were from the area, he or she would recognize the lineup of area legends, who have cut their teeth in some of New England’s best bands, have toured the world with international stars, and all of whom, despite 40 or more years of humping gear out to clubs, still smile an awful lot when they perform.
The Silverbacks is an aggregate of remarkable talents – proven talents – who just happen to perform in highly accessible local clubs. And though the band plays all covers, it is much more than merely a general business band. The selections and arrangements give a new life to what could be, in lesser hands, the banal playlist of a classic rock station.
The band, one of numerous projects in which these guys participate, is comprised of Jim Perry and Mike Lynch (lead vocals/harmonica) (both formerly of Albatross), Cliff Goodwin (guitar – American Standard Band, Mitch Chakour, Joe Cocker, Mohegan Sun All-Stars), Deric Dyer (saxophone -Tina Turner, American Standard Band, Farrenheit), Bill MacGillivray (drums – The Firemen, Zonkaraz, Russo Brothers), Glenn DiTomasso (bass).
Photo by Kelly Dolen
That patron, having paid attention back in the day, would know that these guys have cut their teeth on stages all over kingdom come, and came of age during the early 1970s (perhaps the climax of the rock era), a time of tremendous freedom and radio stations willing to play almost anything, regardless of how long or how strange.
The Silverbacks were raised on the excitement of the British Invasion, an electric kick in the pants to a bland pop mainstream that re-introduced American audiences to their own blues traditions.
This bunch of Worcester kids, weaned on the Beatles and Stones, soaked in this peculiar pop explosion and entered maturity listening to Hendrix and Yes and Steely Dan and The Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, and early Santana. Entrenched in this world, where artists made radical music – and moreover, were paid handsomely for it – they hoped to catch the lightning of fellow bands in the New England scene, like Aerosmith and the J. Geils Band.
Albatross was one such band. Perry, along with Lynch (said, by Perry, to be something of “the Bob Dylan of the local scene” back then) joined guitarist Jerry Martin and his brother, drummer Paul Martin, keyboardist John Bianchi and bassist Bobby Palermo. Formed around 1966, they made a serious run well into the mid ‘70s, when, after the toll of constant performing, managing a band house and several close calls with major labels from LA, the band called it quits.
During those years, though, they were a premiere New England live outfit and recorded a number of well received tracks, including the hit “I Believe in the USA” (a 45-rpm copy of which I still have!). The band played to huge crowds and, as archived footage from a 1974 show at Mechanics Hall demonstrates, played a fiercely high-energy form of progressive rock, with skilled players at every position. They could be mellow and introspective, too, as the Bianchi, Martin composition, “1,000 Universes,” shows. Think complex ‘70s rock, like Styxx and Kansas.
As the decade wore on, members of this group, as well as a host of other members of the scene, fell into a more timeless, focused style: up-tempo rock and r&b marked by James Brown-tight playing and complex, often horn-tinged arrangements.
Flash forward to the new millennium, and two of those band members found each other again in The Silverbacks. That’s where the times find this particular ensemble now. (All members maintain membership in a host of other far flung projects, too.)
The true testament to the inspiration of the period is in how many of this band’s, and the scene’s players have continued to work in music in the area.
Come on out to Greendale’s Pub, 404 West Boylston St., Worcester, on Saturday, January 18 at 9 p.m. to catch this hot act.
“We are very proud of our 18 years as we thought it would not last more than three,” says Dolly Vazquez, of Worcester’s Centro Las Americas, about the 18th Latino Film Festival, which runs April 2 through April 7, at Clark University’s Cinema 320 in the Jefferson Academic Center, and College of the Holy Cross’ Seelos Theater in the Kimball Dining Hall.
Despite the group’s cautious initial hopes, the festival has grown into a local tradition for a cadre of area students, film buffs, and the Latino community, and this year will present six films beginning on Tuesday, April 2 at 7:30 p.m at Clark with the 2011 Argentinean comedy “Mi Primera Boda” (My First Wedding), and ending on Sunday, April 7 at 4 p.m with the 2011 Cuban comedy “Juan De Los Muertes” (Juan of the Dead), also at Clark. Inbetween, the colleges will play host to films on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday of that week, at a variety of times, from the 2008 Mexican-American sci-fi film “Sleep Dealer” and Uruguay’s 2009 “Mal Dia Para Pescar” (Bad Day to Go Fishing), to the 2011 Argentinean comedy “Un Cuento Chino” (Chinese Take-Out).
Admission for the films is $6 for the general public and $4 for students with a valid I.D. and senior citizens. Additionally, the lone film at Holy Cross, the Thursday, April 4, 4 p.m. showing of “Sleep Dealer,” is presented free of charge and will include a live conversation via Skype from Los Angeles with the film’s director, Alex Rivera.
“Eighteen years ago Centro Las Americas decided to present a series of Puerto Rican movies and I asked the help of Clark University’s film professor, Marvin D’Lugo, to help organize it,” Vazquez says. “Over the years other colleges have joined in, so this year we have Centro, Clark University, College of the Holy Cross, WPI, Assumption College, and QCC.”
“That first year we called it the Puerto Rican Film Festival,” she says. “But the following year we realized that Puerto Rico did not have a big enough film industry and that Centro represents a broader spectrum of Latinos than those from Puerto Rico, so we started calling it the Latino Film Festival.”
“The highlight every year is that people can see films made in Latin America that otherwise they might not see in big theaters,” says Vazquez, “and to engage Spanish students of the participating colleges in an exciting learning experience. Because all films have English subtitles, we want to offer the English speaking audience an opportunity to see films by Latin American countries. We also succeed in uniting Latinos and Anglos in appreciation of Latin-American culture.”
As for the audience attracted to the festival, Vazquez says that “the festival is open to the public in general and we get a big mix. The regular audience of Cinema 320 usually also comes to our films as well as students from the various colleges and a wide collection of friends from the community.”
Vazquez sees dual goals for the festival. “It is a combination of showcasing Latin films as art, but also to get a cross mix of audience together,” she says.
“Without the collaboration with all the colleges involved,” she adds, “this festival could not happen.”
Find the schedule of films at cinema320.wordpress.com.