The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

August 11, 2013

Elvis has regaled the reunion

FLAT TOP — Talking to tribute artist David Chaney almost makes one think Elvis faked his death and is secretly making the concert circuit incognito under an assumed name.

Not really.

Chaney is, by his own count, among thousands of men across the globe who impersonate the king of rock ’n’ roll, and for the second year in a row Saturday, he delivered the best of Elvis for the benefit of attendees at the Lilly Reunion.

As a youngster, the 51-year-old Myrtle Beach, S.C., resident lay awake at night with a white earplug connected to an AM transistor radio to hear Elvis sing. And not just the King, either. He took in a steady diet of all the popular songs of Motown, other rock artists and country music singers.

“When I was a little boy, I used to play my 45 records in my room and sit on the edge of the bed and sing all the songs that they had and pretend I had a whole room full of girls that I was singing to,” he said, laughing.

Now, he no longer pretends.

For the Lilly clan, he came armed with eight scarves to toss out to the women. His wife doesn’t mind the adulation bestowed on him by the females.

“If she were a jealous woman, we wouldn’t be able to do the show,” he said. “And that’s what it is. It’s a show. It’s an act. When I put on the jumpsuit, and she will tell you this, I belong to the world. When I get home and take it off, I belong to her. It’s all an act. And 99.9 percent of all the gentlemen whose ladies I make over are loving it and taking pictures of me doing it.”

In his youth, Chaney harbored two dreams — one was to become a major league baseball player, the other a performer.

Chaney got a start in baseball, playing just about all positions until he was dispatched to centerfield in deference to his good range and strong arm.

“My favorite player was Brooks Robinson of the Orioles,” he said. “I used to want to wear No. 5 on my uniform whenever I would play. A great thrill would be to meet him one of these days.”

Eventually, Elvis won out over the diamond.

“He transcends all generations,” Chaney said. “He transcends all different ethnic groups — black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern. It doesn’t matter. His spirit is alive all over the world. Worldwide, there are 85,000-plus people who impersonate Elvis. I found a couple of guys in France who don’t speak a word of English but sing all of Elvis’ songs in English. There are many, many of us. There are a lot of guys who are much better than I am.”

Chaney bears a striking resemblance to the late singer.

“I work on it,” he said, quick to emphasize he doesn’t resort to plastic surgery to enhance the effect. “There are guys that go that far. I think that’s just way too much. I take the features that God gave me. Fortunately, this is my own hair. I just color it. These are my real sideburns. I have to color those, too. Most of the guys who do Elvis actually wear wigs.”

At no time do the personalities of David Chaney and Elvis merge, he said.

“The only time I actually feel that I’m Elvis is when I’m performing, when I’m actually doing a show,” he said.

“I’m what you call a tribute artist, more than an impersonator. An impersonator is someone who may look like Elvis and can actually speak like him, stay in character the entire time he’s talking to you. I’ll do that when I’m doing a show, but when it’s all over, I turn back into David and go about my business.”

At 6-foot-4, he stands about 5 inches taller than his late idol, and normally puts on 180 shows a year. In the summer months, he covers the Elvis repertoire seven nights a week.

“If you’re blessed enough to be able to do that many and love what you’re doing, you really never work,” he said.

Chaney owns four jumpsuits and his wardrobe is about to add a fifth one. At times, he puts on one and accompanies his wife to a shopping mall just to gauge the reaction. A few people give him a fisheye look. Most accost him with this greeting, “Hey, Elvis, how ya’ doin’?”

“It’s amazing that his sprit and his presence is still alive and even stronger than it ever was,” he said. “Little babies that can just barely talk know who Elvis is. I feel very fortunate that God blessed me to have the ability to do what I do.”

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