So when I heard that Pamela Thomas-Williams had written a book about ETAs, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to interview her!
Right: the author, Pamela Thomas-Williams
E.C.: ELVIS LIVES (The Business of Being Elvis) is your first "rock" book. What made you decide to write it and why the subject of Elvis?
Pamela: As you know, I have primarily written books about weddings and party planning. The idea of writing ELVIS LIVES was suggested to me by several people involved in the business of being Elvis. In my hometown here in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Ronny Craig promotes THE ELVIS EXPLOSION on Sept 5 and 6th, which is an ETA show and contest, so I was able to get some exposure to this business from that. Then I went on to Memphis to participate in the real deal. I couldn't believe the fanatics(that's what I call the ETA fans) and how they followed these guys and spent quite a bit of money to buy their photos, CDs, etc. At times it is almost like a cult. It is also interesting to see how the ETAs get energized and relish in the stage presence of the King. As you are aware Ronnie, Elvis is the most impersonated celebrity and the highest ranking financially of deceased celebrities.
E.C.: The main description for performing Elvi in your book is "ETA" (Elvis Tribute Artist). How would that differ from "impersonator"? Or is there a difference in your opinion?
Pamela: One of the primary goals in writing this book was to create a more positive awareness of the ETA vs. the Elvis Impersonator. The impersonator is so obviously NOT in tune with creating the illusion but rather one of creating attention to themselves...often believing they ARE the King. Very sad, I might add. The ETA studies the music, films, and performances of Elvis. They also are good business managers and invest themselves with quality promotional packages. They know that they are only creating Elvis when they are on stage...not living it 24/7.
E.C.: When I interviewed Johnny Thompson for EAR CANDY in 2002 he said that only Elvis fans really take ETA's seriously. Why do you think that in general so many Elvis impersonators aren't taken seriously?
Pamela: Johnny Thompson was correct in his statement about Elvis fans taking ETA's seriously. Unfortunately so many of these fans do not take the opportunity to see a really polished ETA. Again, this was the emphasis I tried to achieve in my book. If they would open their eyes to the great Elvis performers, we would be able to eliminate many of the down right awful impersonators...hopefully. But as long as the contests continue and with the invention of Karaoke, there is seemingly a new impersonator popping up every day.
E.C.: Until I read your book, I wasn't aware of the number of contests for ETA's. Also, there seemed to be a real division between ETA's to the validity of these contests. Some call them "rigged" and say they will never do them, while others seem to relish in the competition. What are your thoughts about these contests?
Pamela: The contests are a necessary evil to some degree because they generate exposure for the ETA that they might not otherwise gain. These guys come from some of the smallest towns and for them the cost of traveling to the contests is worth the investment. The big contests are often deemed to be a guarantee for getting booked into some big acts and a win is what has put some of the best ETAs into financial success. As far as the validity of the contests, I think the biggest culprit is the fact that the judges lack knowledge of Elvisology. No one ever knows who the judges really are and in some contests the ETAs don't get a chance to see their scores. which would allow them the opportunity to learn what they need to improve upon. It is also a known fact that the prize money should be increased for the winners. Naturally one can only assume that the contest promoters make money or they wouldn't continue doing them.
E.C.: How long did it take you to get all the interviews for your book? How many did you get to see perform (or how many have seen perform)?
Pamela: It took me 2 1/2 years to do all of the interviews and over $5000.00 in telephone bills. I have seen almost all of them perform...not all live of course, but the better ETAs have great videos, CDs, photos, etc. It is important for these guys to realize the importance of quality promo packages. Getting good photos from the guys was the toughest part of the book and that was so important to me because it is the only opportunity for the reader to get an idea of who they are.
E.C.: One thing that struck me as a little bit odd after reading your book was the number of ETA's (Elvis Tribute Artists) that were from other countries. Do you just think that is the universal appeal of Elvis?
Pamela: There is definitely universal appeal to Elvis. Remember Elvis did not travel out of the country (other than Canada and a bit in Germany) The Europeans totally have had to rely on bootlegs, videos, and now cyberspace to create their illusion of the King. The European ETA's also make significantly more money than others because their fans seem more willing to spend the money to see them perform.
E.C.: My only complaint about the book was that all the photos of the ETA's were in the middle of the book and there was no reference to each ETA interview. I keep finding myself flipping back to the middle on each interview to find the picture of the ETA in question. Was this a purely economical concern? (I don't know much about the financial aspects of book publishing, but I'm guessing the reason for putting all the photos in the middle was that it was more economical.)
Pamela: The photos were placed in the middle because I believe that the buyer of the book would open the book to that section first. It is where the quality of the book begins. It was also more financially feasible because the pictures were grouped together based upon a 16-page galley.
E.C.: With the number of ETA's out there, I'm really surprised that no one has written a "how-to" book for Elvis Tribute Artists with a list of "dos" and "don'ts" and general tips for those who want to follow this career. Do you think there is a market for such a book? I guess it would have to be approved officially by those in power at Graceland? Did you have to get any official sanction from Graceland? I've heard they are pretty strict with anything with "Elvis" in the title.
Pamela: There is a book about "how to" for Elvis impersonators written by ETA Rick Marino called BE ELVIS. He is in my book and perhaps you might like to interview him. He has a very interesting perspective about the whole business of being Elvis. He had a publisher behind him where as I am the publisher of my book so the financial investment is much more risky. So tell everyone to buy the book....I did contact Elvis Presley Enterprises legal department for permission to use the name Elvis on the cover. They gave me the go ahead as a freedom of speech right.
E.C.: Do you have any future plans to write more books about Elvis or any other musicians?
Pamela: I think there may be an opportunity for a sequel to this book. I would like to follow the included ETAs in their careers and also pick up some new ETA's. Let me know what you think.