Leo Days, 34-year-old Elvis tribute artist, preps in front of the mirror in his dressing room; Days on stage, doing The King. — Photos by Tony Grillo-Artistic Mindz Photography
Note: An abridged version of this story appears as part of Wayne Harada's Show Biz column this Sunday in the Today section.
Leo Days, the 34-year-old Elvis Presley tribute artist in the midst of a Waikiki engagement, will likely spend Sunday (today, Aug.16) watching an old movie or two featuring The King of Rock.
“It’s not really a ritual, but on his birthday or the anniversary of his death, I watch as many of his old films as possible,” Days said in an interview. “I watch his movies all the time, but I when I recognize one of his special days, I often have a cheeseburger and banana sandwich (in his memory), too. It’s really good — if you don’t have too much.”
Sunday happens to be the 38th anniversary of Presley’s death on Aug. 16, 1977. Were he still alive, The King would be 80.
Sundays are Days’ night off from his “Burn’N Love” spectacle at the Magic of Polynesia Showroom of the Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber Resort so he’ll have a little more spare time to indulge in his passion for Presley on the anniversary of his passing.
Days, who was born at Tripler Army Medical Center on Oct. 3, 1980 (his Marine Corps dad was stationed at the Kaneohe base), started noticing Elvis when he was toddler, age 2 or 3.
“I watched Elvis’ ‘Aloha From Hawaii’ TV special and thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen,” he recalled. “My dad was a big fan, too, so I was listening to Elvis’ music all the time.”
His parents bought him a karaoke machine and an uncle, who was a policeman, used to bring him to a bar where he sang Elvis songs. That amateur status led to a country fair talent contest, where he sang “Viva Las Vegas,” and by 15, he started doing his Elvis thing, en route to a career.
As a kid Elvis, he remembers watching Honolulu’s Bruno Mars, who also donned mini versions of Elvis’ bejeweled jumpsuits on TV’s “Star Search.” Mars, whose real name is Peter Hernandez Jr., was a widely known Little Elvis, performing in Hawaii with his dad’s group, The Love Notes.
So it was no surprise that Days perpetuate the music and magic about the idol he grew up with. “Burn’n Love” is a full-fledged tribute recalling benchmarks in The King’s Hawaiian history: his first island concert in 1957, his Pearl Harbor Bloch Arena concert to raise funds to build the USS Arizona Memorial, his three Hawaii-lensed films between 1961 and 1966 including the iconic “Blue Hawaii,” and his milestone “Aloha From Hawaii” concert televised around the world in 1973.
Days’ ascent in the whirlpool of Elvis tribute artists started in 2009, when he placed in the top five at Elvis Presley Enterprises’ “Ultimate Elvis” competition in Memphis, and launched the inaugural “Elvis Lives Tour” the following here and has been invited back annually ever since.
He had to learn everything Elvis to become a believable Elvis — the songs, the styles, the gyrations, the different eras — and could easily spout out the birthdate, the death date, the voice pitches over the decades.
“I knew a lot about Elvis, but learned about pacing and everything else through watching videos,” he said of how he immersed himself in the Elvisdom. “I studied websites, too, and learned what suits he wore, what songs he performed, who wrote them, and what kind of chart success he had. I learned what his musical influences where, knowing if you study influences as you try to emulate, you see how he saw things.”
The bottom line, he said: “He flat-out sings, putting emotions into song; you feel like he meant what he was singing. That’s what I had to learn.”
Lays had no vocal or music training and is a self-taught guitarist, picking up lessons from books and the Internet. “I play by ear,” he said.
The impersonation job also means being physically fit.
“I have a fitness app in my phone,” said Days. “The way I’m built, I’m more muscular than Elvis, so I can’t do weights, otherwise I’d get big (in the biceps). I do long-distance running, from where I live to the top Diamond Head, two or three times a week. I used to play basketball, too, as a recreational sport, but it’s bad on the knees.”
How “Burn’N Love” evolved “while I was working in Las Vegas’ ‘Legends in Concert’ for six years; I was married and we were expecting a baby (a girl, Danica), when I got a call from the producers to do this show, which came along at the right time. And in the Hawaii I love. Now it’s wonderful: I perform and get to go home to my family, since I’m not on the road. I sing Elvis all the time to her (Danica).”
Days owns a home in South Carolina but hopes that Hawaii would become his base for “Burn’n Love.” ‘“We’ve had offers to tour China and Japan, but I sure love it here...just like Elvis.”
He wears those classic sideburns and kind of a ‘60s/’70s mop of hair which often receive curious stares when he’s not on stage. “The hair had to be real,” he said, recalling an Elvis impersonator whose wig fell while taking a bow.
Days let his hair down on other Elvis elements:
* Favorite song: “If I Can Dream.” “The emotions he poured into that song, about peace and brotherhood in the world, is something I myself would like to see; that we all live happily (together). But I also love ‘American Trilogy,’ because I have so many family members tied to the military.”
* Costumes: “I have more costumes than what you see in the show; I tried to select costumes in the period I am portraying, and Elvis had 33 movies, which inspired the costumes, and he was in the Army. I have 14 jumpsuits, and I get them from a company that had the blueprints for his costumes, and sanctioned by Graceland. You can’t Mickey Mouse with the costumes.”
* The most difficult Elvis song to sing: “Probably ‘Jailhouse Rock.’ That’s three minutes of singing; the vocal tolerance is hard to nail. Even he changed key a half-step down from his original (earlier) versions. * Assessing Elvis’ legacy: “There will not ever be another star of his magnitude. He paved the way for many artists. And he died young (at age 42). He was a gifted vocalist, a good-looking guy, who could do everything. Main thing: He was the original rock star, with the kind of voice that turn around, from ‘Jailhouse Rock’ to an operatic tune, ‘It’s Now or Never.’”
* Elvis trivia he learned in his research: “Elvis loved coming to Hawaii, not only for vacations, but also to get a tan before a tour or a show.”
Featuring Leo Days’ tribute to Elvis Presley
Where: Magic of Polynesia Showroom, Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel
When: 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; seating from 8 p.m.
Tickets: From $69
Reservations: 439-8824, www.BurnnLove.com/Waikiki
August special: 50 per cent discount for Hawaii residents, with Hawaii ID; mention or use code Hawaii50