Layoff turns hobby into career as “The King”
Bill Cherry grew up with a love for Elvis Presley and his music. “I was raised on it,” he said. “We used to have records, so I was exposed to it. We watched the movies when he was on TV. I was always an Elvis fan.” He used to sing along with Elvis’ records when he was younger and later started entering look-a-like contests as a hobby. “Elvis was sort of a side-kick for me.”
A welder by trade, Cherry was a victim of a massive lay-off at the steel foundry where he worked in 2008. That is when he turned his hobby as “The King” into a full time career and joined the “Legends in Concert” shows in Las Vegas and other areas of the country.
He won the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest sponsored by Graceland in 2009 and is featured in the winter/spring production of “Elvis Lives,” which comes to the Lutcher Theater April 22.
He said being on stage used to make him nervous when he first started performing, but what helped was putting on a costume and becoming someone else. “In my mind, it wasn’t me, it was me being Elvis, so that eased my nerves.”
The “Elvis Lives” tour started Jan. 15 in Florida and ends May 13 in California.
“It’s a show that takes you through his musical career,” said Cherry. “It starts with the 50s and then you have the movie era which features Ann-Margret. Then we do the 60 comeback, where Elvis wore the black leather and then myself, I do the jumpsuit era which represents the 70s.”
“You get four shows because each one is a separate guy, as opposed to one guy changing costumes,” he said. “Another thing that is neat is Elvis narrates the show on a large screen behind us. He talks and there is video footage that takes you through the years.”
Other cast members were the finalists in the contest: Kevin Mills, Leo Days and Ben Klein. The four tribute artists each represent a period in Elvis’ career: the early years in the 1950-60s; the movie years; the comeback tour; and the jumpsuit era, which is what Cherry portrays. Lorri Russo joins the cast as Ann-Margret during the movie years’ portion of the show.
Back-up singers, dancers and a live band completes the cast. Imagery from the Presley estate is shown throughout the production. It is the only Elvis Presley endorsed show out there according to Cherry. “It has the stamp of approval,” he said.
“It’s a show for all ages. We really love what we do,” said Cherry.
Currently they are doing seven to eight shows a week. “We sleep on the bus and every morning we wake up in a different state. We’ve eaten everything from grits to Yankee pot roast,” laughed Cherry.
Cherry was called back for his former job as a welder, but he turned it down to continue as “The King.” “There was no way I was going to go back,” he said.
When the “Elvis Lives” tour is over, he will go to Connecticut and perform with the “Legends in Concert” at a casino there. “It’s something we continue to do all year round.”
“I want to continue doing it as long as I can, up to the point my looks or my voice starts to fail me. Then it would be time to quit, because I don’t want to be disgraceful or a mockery. I want to do what I do in a respectful way.”
“Elvis Lives” graces the Lutcher Theater Stage at 7:30 p.m., Monday, April 22. Tickets can be purchased online at Lutcher.org or at the box office. You can contact the theater at (409)886-5535 Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m-4:20 p.m. Tickets are $40-65. The theater is located at 707 Main Ave. in Orange.