Dennis Murphy didn’t set out to impersonate Kenny Chesney; however, so many people believed he was the country music sensation, it just sort of evolved. At first, he did it for fun, posing for pictures at corporate events. Now it has expanded into a part-time business.

Chesney hails from Knoxville, Tenn., and his family still lives about 40 miles from where Murphy makes his home.

“The more popular he became, the more people were coming up to me and asking if I was Kenny Chesney,” Murphy said. “I guess that’s why they would think it’s at least possible to see Kenny Chesney in various places around town.

“I’ve come to find out it really doesn’t matter where I’m at or who’s with me, like my family, if they want to believe it’s Kenny, then it’s Kenny.”

This went on for a couple of years, and Murphy thought he might be able to turn it into a business opportunity.

“I was well aware there was a business out there for look-alikes and impersonators, so I went for it. I started out doing what is called ‘meet and greets.’ This is basically where you go to an event, usually a corporate function, and take pictures with people.

“After a year or so of doing this, I decided to take it to another level and actually do the performance end of it...

“It is a lot of fun, but it’s also been a lot of work. Plus, just like starting any other business, there is a lot of expense involved. Basically, it has turned into a part-time business.

“I enjoy the fact that I don’t ‘have’ to do it. I do it because it’s fun and it gives me opportunities to see parts of the country I would have never seen.

“Oh yeah, the money isn’t bad either,” he joked. “I have had little side-jobs in my life where I worked a lot harder to make an extra dollar. So now I’m in it up to my cowboy hat and having a blast doing it.”

Murphy is no stranger to performing. For the past 17 years, he has played drums for one of southern gospel’s best loved groups, The Kingdom Heirs. The group has been named Band of the Year 4 of the past 5 years by The Singing News.

Murphy has been nominated 6 times for Favorite Instrumentalist.

He penned one of the group’s top 10 hits, “God’s Word,” and continues to write gospel music for other performers in the industry.

“We perform at Dollywood’s Showstreet Palace five days a week, two and three shows a day. Our Dollywood season starts in March and runs through Dec. 30. When Dollywood closes, we take a couple of weeks off and then travel and sing four days a week January through the first week of March,” he explained.

To that schedule he’s added Kenny Chesney tribute shows booked across the country.

“I’ve found the impersonator industry to be a really big and competitive industry,” he said. “It hasn’t been the easiest thing I’ve ever done. Now I’m not talking about the performing end of it, but I’m talking about everything that goes into the ‘business’ end of it. I’m booked through agents from as far away as California.

“Most shows usually consist of several impersonators and a band. There are times when I do what is called a ‘track show.’ It’s just me and sound tracks because there is no live band. I’ve also performed at private parties for people who just love Kenny.

“I am available and would be glad to talk about your function or event,” he said. “You can contact me through my Web site at

“People watching a show expect for me to make them believe they just saw Kenny Chesney,” he explained. “That’s what they paid to see and anything less isn’t going to get it.

“Now there’s only one Kenny and nobody does it like the original, but I sure give it my best shot.

“I was a fan of Kenny’s music before I was ever an impersonator. I’d have a hard time selling myself to others if I personally didn’t like the music and person I was imitating. Anyway, it’s all good as long as you keep it in perspective.”

Murphy auditioned for ABC’s upcoming reality show, “The Next Best Thing,” which premieres May 30.

“I can’t really say a lot about it because it is a reality show, but, what I can say is, it’s a mixture of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘American Idol.’ It’s going to be very entertaining and funny, but, at the same time, you’ll see some wonderfully talented impersonators.

“The show starts out, the first few weeks, showing auditions in the four major cities in which they were held. Ultimately the show goes live and America will vote by phone for who they want to be named ‘The Next Best Thing.’ I encourage you to tune in and be entertained, and not take it too serious,” he emphasized.

Dave Chesney, Kenny’s dad, is among those who regularly come to watch The Kingdom Heirs perform. While Murphy didn’t point out the fact that he looked like his son when he donned a hat, Dave Chesney eventually caught on and took Murphy and his wife to meet Kenny Chesney at a concert.

“Now I didn’t want to wear my cowboy hat when I met Kenny, but Dave insisted on it. I didn’t want to freak the guy out or anything,” Murphy joked.

He doesn’t intend to create a sensation when goes out with his family, but donning the ball cap sometimes results in people mistaking him for Chesney.

“I don’t do it intentionally and sometimes I forget that it’s going to cause some stares. I mean, I have my wife and daughter with me, and, the last time I checked, Kenny has neither one of those. Well, he had a wife for a few months,” Murphy joked.

“I’ve been stalked at malls, had my dinner paid for in restaurants, carried on conversations with people that I thought knew me, Dennis, but in all actuality, they thought I was Kenny.

“The dinner being paid for is the funny one. I mean it’s not like Kenny can’t afford to buy his own meal. After having a nice dinner, the manager walks over and says, ‘Sir, it’s been an honor having you here and your meal is taken care of.’ I’m like, okay, they think I’m Kenny. I just grin and say, ‘Thank you very much. Do you think my tractor’s sexy?” he said with a laugh.

“It gets wild sometimes with this look alike thing. I caused a major commotion at Kenny’s concert in Nashville, Tenn., last year. I went to the concession stand to get my daughter a drink and had to be escorted back to my seat surrounded by security. It was crazy!

“Security literally asked me not to get up again until Kenny went on stage. What do people think, ‘Hey, there goes Kenny to the concession stand.’

“Now I know some people think, ‘Oh, he loves it’ or ‘I bet he tries to do that.’ The fact is, I really don’t go out trying to cause a scene or anything, but it happens.

“I’ve learned to go with it, have fun, and most of all, give them a business card,” he joked.

“I had been in Branson, Missouri, to do my ‘Denny As Kenny’ show and was flying from there to Los Angeles. I checked in with my luggage and found my flight had been delayed. Well, after searching the computer for a flight, I found nothing that would get me to L.A. when I needed to be there.

“I wasn’t aware that the ticket agent had been watching me the whole time. He motioned for me to come over to his counter and began checking available flights.

“Now remember I’m in an airport and have my ID and everything that says ‘Dennis Murphy’ on it. He takes my ID, checks me in, and says, ‘Here you go, sir, you’re on the next flight to Los Angeles.’

“I thought, that’s awesome, he was really nice. Well, I get my ticket and continue through the airport to get a bite to eat before my flight. I’m sitting there, and I see a female airport security agent coming towards me. She walks up and says, ‘Excuse me, are you Kenny Chesney?’

“I say, ‘No, I’m just a look-alike and impersonator.’ She says, ‘Well, the guy who just checked you in swears you’re Kenny Chesney and using a fake ID.’

“She then asks if I could go over and meet the guy who checked me in. I’m thinking okay, I’ll do that, obviously he knows I’m not Kenny, so what’s the harm.

“I walk over and he’s nervous and sweating. Before I could even say anything, he says, ‘My wife saw you in concert last month and just loves you.’ He then grabs my ticket and goes to the computer. He comes back, hands me my ticket and says, ‘Here, Mr. Chesney, you’re flying first class all the way to Los Angeles.’

“Now at this point I have two choices. I could tell him I’m not Kenny and ruin his day, or I can just take the ticket and leave. So what do you think I did? I’ll put it this way, the food sure is good in first class,” he said with a laugh.

A graduate of Oceana High School, Murphy and his wife, Angie, just celebrated 16 years of marriage. Their daughter, McKenzie, will turn 9 later this year.

“I love being with my family and taking advantage of the beautiful area we live in,” he said. “Although it was great growing up in Oceana, W.Va., I love making my home in the mountains of east Tennessee. This area is a great example of God’s craft in creating this world.

“With my job, I’m allowed the luxury of having a lot of free time. I spend most of it with my family. I try not to over-do being gone so much doing the ‘Kenny’ thing... I enjoy taking McKenzie trout fishing and boat riding to the lake. She plays softball and is really active in church activities.

“I love playing the drums for a living and being able to have fun with my ‘Denny As Kenny’ act.

“I want people to know that life is too short to say ‘I can’t do that.’ You can do anything you set your mind to. I believe if you can be a positive influence in whatever you do, you’re doing good.

“I get to do that in both of my situations. I meet wonderful people everyday who come to our shows at Dollywood. They love what we do and we love doing it. We entertain, but, at the same time, we get a good message across.

“I also meet great people when I perform as ‘Denny As Kenny.’ I sometimes hear people say, ‘That guy thinks he’s Kenny Chesney.’ No, but I sure am trying to make you think I am!

“You have to have tough skin to do this because sometimes impersonators get a bad wrap. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes it’s deserved. There are those who live it all the time. They get caught up in it.

“To me, the true art and fun of it is being able to transform into your character when you walk on stage. When you walk off stage, then it’s time to go back to being who you really are.”


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