SEARCHING FOR AMERICAN SUPERSTARS

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN LAUGHLIN, NEVADA, AND CLINT'S WELL, ARIZONA, YOU MIGHT FIND THE MEANING OF LIFE IN THE '90S. ROGJT.

Before you can say, "Throw the bags on the beds and start gambling, dammit," we'd thrown the bags on the bed and started gambling. Dammit. But we wanted to ease into the whole thing, so we hit the bar for a little refreshment. And guess what--the thoughtful Flamingo people had installed video poker games at every stool! I started winning big on an investment of $1.25, had 12 bucks in quarters in front of me in no time.

The bartender knew we were serious players, he knew to treat us right; he plopped down a couple icy Michelobs, on the house. Tim, who, unlike me, had been dealing poorly with the intense pressure inherent in video poker, suddenly looked like he'd won the lottery. "Free beer!" he gushed, and who could blame him? Just then a full house netted me another big payoff, as we toasted our new lives. Forget American Superstars! Forget our crummy journalism gigs! Luck be a lady tonight!

Ten minutes later, the beer stopped flowing, and we'd lost our wads, so we hunkered down and trudged across the room to the stage where the Superstars would be doing their thing.

I met a man named Bobby Gino, musical director for the show. He was standing outside the room, gazing at the action on the casino floor. And that's exactly what he looked like he should be doing. Bobby was pit-boss cool, in sort of a Bob Guccione way. Tan as hell, slightly graying hair, pleated white pants, striped shirt open a few buttons, firm handshake. Maybe I've seen too many movies, but I had the overwhelming sensation that I didn't want to fuck with this guy. Bobby hooked us up with tickets for the late show, and while we stood there talking, an attractive black woman walked by. "That's Janet Jackson," said Bobby G. Yes, the first Superstar sighting. Okay, she really looked nothing like Michael's little sister, but what the hell? Janet Jackson probably doesn't look like Janet Jackson when she's walking through a casino in Laughlin, Nevada, either.

@rule:
@body:Almost showtime.
We were about ready to go in and find seats, when Roy Orbison strode past. And this guy really looked like Roy Orbison. Clad in black from head to toe, dark shades, Iron Cross around his neck, a bit paunchy. Excellent, late-period Roy.

Really, it was a guy named Terry Ray, who's been doing Roy for three years. We grabbed him, and Ray graciously gave me a little background on what it's like to make a career out of someone else's career.

"It's like a calling," Ray/Roy said. "I never sang before, I was a drummer. I was tested, and I found out I was a tenor with a five-octave range."
But you look just like him, too, I told him. "Well, I accidentally shaved my mustache off and that's how it happened. I didn't look like Orbison at all before, but I was trimming it one day, and I got a bald spot in it, and I couldn't do anything with it, so I started looking like the guy."

How'd you get into this? "A friend of mine that does Ricky Nelson introduced me to Bill Medley [one of the Righteous Brothers], and he's the one that started my career."

Do the impersonators all get together and party, just like the real stars?
"I hang out with everybody but the Elvises. I've done shows with 206 different Elvises."
Are they weirder or something?
"Oh, man . . ."
Do a lot of impersonators take it too seriously?
"Sometimes, and I find that the ones that do are usually the ones that don't have very much talent. They gotta hide behind it. I'll be backstage at a show, and people will be staring at themselves going, 'I am this person,' trying to psych themselves out. I just go out there and be myself, and I come across as Roy Orbison. I try and separate between impersonators and re-creation artists. An impersonator has to work really hard at what they do; with a re-creation artist, it all comes very naturally. They happen to look like the person and happen to sound like the person."
I asked Ray what he was going to do after the Orbison thing, and he said he wanted to record a country album and make it on his own unique talent. Which, one would think, might be kind of hard to establish, after looking and sounding like someone else for so long. But no, Ray insisted.

"This is my own thing. I don't try and sound like Roy, this is just the way I sound. I think people identify me with Roy because of the way I'm dressed. People listen with their eyes more than their ears. You can listen to me and listen to Roy on a tape, and there's no comparison. I don't sound like Roy Orbison."
Hmmmm.
@rule:

@body:And then I'm at ringside, the only person sitting right up in front. The room isn't too big and not too full, about 50 or 60 people, young, old and in-between. But then, this show offers a galaxy of superstars for all ages.

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