Alan Meyer, a pioneer in the field of Elvis tribute artists, passed away on April 4, 2015. His show, “Alan: A Tribute to Elvis,” drew large crowds and glowing reviews even when Elvis was still alive. A saw Alan’s show in Las Vegas just a few days after Elvis died in August 1977. I remember it vividly both for Alan’s musicianship and for his respectful treatment of Elvis’s memory at that sensitive time.
In March 2010, I paid tribute to Alan’s career in my weekly entry on Elvis History Blog. Over a year later, Alan contacted me. “Pretty nice comments,” he noted. He then explained that he was working on his autobiography, which he had entitled, The Illusionary Elvis. “It begins when I was, as you say, ‘At the top of my game,’ but still six months before Elvis died.” Coincidentally, the first professionally booked performance of his Elvis tribute show was at the Spokane House hotel in my hometown.
• From Spokane to Canada to Las Vegas
That booking led to his first national tour. “First from Spokane to Winnipeg, where the Town and Country Cabaret made me a national celebrity in Canada,” he recalled, “and how they were waiting for me to arrive in Calgary because of what they heard about Winnipeg.” He went on to explain how his Elvis tribute show won the approval of audiences and critics alike:
“Throughout the book I refer to an old scrapbook containing maybe 1,000 articles from newspapers and magazines that established my credibility and kept my story honest. In the Las Vegas Sun, for example, Forest Duke and Joe Delany, who reviewed the real Elvis, wrote that I was a ‘screaming success’ in their columns. Just that they were reviewing me was a little more than unusual. Possibly that Dick Clark’s name was on the marquee had a lot to do with that.
“My story has some very high points, like playing on the same stages with Jerry Lee, and some funny lows, such as when I found myself on Bourbon Street prepared for another terrific gig, only to find out the place was a dive that didn’t pay me. My manager had the ability to pull tricks out of his hat to rescue me from dire straits.”
Alan closed that first email message by explaining briefly why he ended his Elvis tribute show. “As you know, I was playing in the main showroom of the Tropicana when Elvis died, and my career had peaked while he was alive. Being the so-called king of the impersonators is why I quit and never looked back. That is until now. So, I’m writing about it. That I never once impersonated Elvis makes my story unique.”
We continued to keep in touch for some time via email. In one message, he recalled some complimentary reviews and compared his own singing voice to that of Elvis:
“Paul Raugust of the Winnipeg Press wrote, ‘Alan is to Elvis as a Bentley is to a Rolls.’ That was probably my most flattering review, with the exception of when Variety’s staff writer Nitty May said, ‘Only one thing shakes the illusion: when Alan occasionally lets go his voice, it has more magic that Presley’s even at his youthful best.’ I, of course, disagreed. Maybe I sang ‘Teddy Bear’ in 1975 more like Elvis did on his original recording than Elvis did in 1975, but I barely approached the magic of Elvis’ voice on his original recording.”
• Alan tried to restore Elvis’s early sound
Although Alan led the way in the Elvis Tribute Artist (ETA) movement, he was disappointed with many such performers today. “To me, the dyed-in-the-wool Elvis fans have, unfortunately, truly died,” he explained. “Not all, mind you, but most. There is the new breed of Elvis fans out there that support impersonators. I call them ‘Elvis impersonator fans.’ To Elvis, these impersonators are like ‘bleached flour to whole grain.’ The dyed-in-the-wool Elvis fans like myself missed the way he sang in his early years through the mid-60s, and that’s what I tried to restore, while still pointing out the improvement in his vocal quality that he demonstrated on songs like ‘Hurt.’”
In a follow-up email, Alan explained further: “Still, who could top ‘Hurt’ and many other powerhouses Elvis did even on his final tour? I just found it so disheartening that his fans were so quick to turn to impersonators after he died. Kind of like they all decided it was OK then.”
When I asked Alan if I could read some of his autobiography, he emailed me a draft of the first chapter. It was in need of some editing, but the content was very interesting. But since our email communication ended shortly after that, I never knew if Alan finished writing his story.
A few months later in 2011, Karen in Chesapeake, Virginia, read my blog about Alan and sent the following message about her memories of having seen his show years before:
“My husband and I attended an Alan performance at the Lido Inn—a tiny venue in Norfolk, Virginia—in the mid-’70s. Elvis was indeed still alive, yet Alan made us feel as though we had gone back in time to relish the young Elvis once again. I can remember getting one of Alan's scarves and nearly dying from the thrill and the joy! I have no memory of what became of it. The only thing I have in a material way is a tattered advertisement taken from our local Virginian-Pilot/Ledger Star newspaper concerning the upcoming performance. I happened to be rummaging through an envelope of old papers in the garage and found it recently … thus the research and discovery of your information on Alan's career. All sorts of happy memories from that evening flooded back. Oh, how I wish we'd taken photos to seal that set of memories forever.”
• Two tributes to Alan Meyer’s life and work
My blog about Alan has been archived on Elvis History Blog since it first appeared in this space five years ago. A few weeks ago, I received the following message from a special reader who came across the article:
“Mr. Hanson, I am Alan Meyer's wife. Today is the first time I've seen your review of his ‘Tribute to Elvis’ performances. I must say I was very pleased. It is the best and most accurate review I have seen. It was always Alan's aim to create the feeling of seeing an Elvis performance—not trying to be Elvis. You may not know yet, but Alan passed on on April 4, 2015. I can not tell you what reading your review has meant to me during this very sad time in my life. I thank you so very much. I am sure it was no accident that I found this page.”- Bren
Just a few days ago, I received another message about Alan. It came from Rick Marino, who was one of Alan’s fellow pioneers in the Elvis Tribute Artist movement. Rick’s comments are an appropriate way to conclude this remembrance of Alan Meyer.
“Just read your piece on Alan Meyer. He was a friend of mine for many years. We began our careers about the same time, him in ’71, me in ’73. He was indeed a trailblazer and the first to make the big money doing Elvis shows. I wrote a couple of reviews for Alan in the early 2000s, which he appreciated, with me being the author of the book ‘Be Elvis’! I was in Vegas two weeks ago talking about Alan, when I was told of his passing. I could not believe it. I knew of his health issues but still was very unsettled by the news. We started something together, and today it is crazy how it has grown to what it is. Alan could sound so much like Elvis that it was incredible. I still have his LP from 1974-5. Peace be with you Alan. I will miss you.”
Alan Hanson |© May 2015
"Only one thing shakes the illusion: when Alan occasionally lets go his voice, it has more magic that Presley’s even at his youthful best."— Nitty May in Variety