Frankly speaking, I don’t know much about rock music. But I enjoyed some when I was in college or high school. But I stopped listening after Elvis Presley!

– Ban Ki-moon,eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations

Two special days are usually observed annually the world over pertaining to the late King of Rock N Roll, Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977).

These are Jan 8 and Aug 16, which are his birthday and death respectively. His untimely demise, aged 42 in 1977, was a great devastation for me as I was the recent winner of Mr Curled Lips held in one of the popular Penang Road music joints.

I was entering Third Year in USM, Minden.

Back in Sarawak, in 2002 after a seven-year stint in Brunei and working as a pub deejay at night and teaching English at a local college in Kuching during the day, I met a lot of people, including fellow Elvis enthusiasts and impressionists.

A few gigs were held at a number of entertainment outlets on Jan 8 and Aug 16 or around the two dates, usually choosing the closest Saturdays, since 2002.

Initially, our local Elvis Tribute Artistes (ETAs) was led by twice Elvis of Sarawak titleholder (1964 and 1965) Wilfred Vincent Ragam and later by Elvis of Kuching titleholder Ges Barundang aka Elges Presley. Our Elvis Presley Fan Club of Sarawak (EPFCS) was formally registered with Registrar of Societies in 2014, led by Elges.

It was a dream come true for us, especially for Elges, who made a pilgrimage to the King’s mansion Graceland, Memphis USA in 2004. He stayed and performed at its legendary Heartbreak Hotel using his blue EP jumpsuit — he has 13 of them now.

Since 2014, we have performed as members of the club, funded by donations from generous VIPs, starting with club advisor Tan Sri William Mawan, a prolific crooner, who hitherto has helped with a five-figure sum. Others who chipped in funds were local philanthropist Tan Sri Abang Khalid Marzuki and state Cabinet members Tan Sri James Jemut Masing, Datuk Seri Michael Manyin, Datuk Seri Dr Sim Hui Kian, as well as Datuk Dr Jerip Susil.

The funds are for our expenses and tokens during performances as well as sharing sessions with fans. After all, our main aim is to keep the Elvis flame burning and we want all to be part of his music and songs plus the culture traits related to rock and roll genre.

Our members are multiracial, a testimony to the unified pluralism in Malaysia.

Presently, the active members are of Malay/Melanau, Chinese, Iban and Bidayuh descents. The eldest among us is Sarawak’s first Elvis Presley titleholder Eskandar Eyaw, 75, while Adrian David Jr, a Bidayuh, at 29, is the youngest. Besides those two, plus Ges and I, also active are Azmi Jahidin and Christy Duin.

Sadly though, we really miss our late ETAs such as Reynolds Gregory (Kuching), Alex Ting (Miri) and John Sia (Sibu) who have left to join “The King”.

For the record, we don’t compete against each other but instead, we give compliments. Elges did join a contest in Gold Coast Australia in 2015 and entered the finals, thus earning some Aussie dollars. For that matter, we can easily match our counterparts elsewhere.

At the world scene, the biggest gig was on the 30th anniversary of Elvis’ demise. It was known as Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artiste Contest, held on Friday night, Aug 16, 2007 ending on Saturday morning. It was judged by EP close friend Joe Esposito, singer/songwriter Suzi Quatro and Australian-British stage man Craig Revel Horwood.

Twenty-four of the best ETAs from around the world travelled to Memphis during Elvis Week 2007 to compete, with Shawn Klush of Pennsylvania winning the first-ever ultimate title King of ETAs, winning USD5,000.

I watched the 2007 show on YouTube and was enthralled by the “Elvii” in performance. Since then, Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) has made it into an annual contest. Taylor Rodriguez of Virginia won the 2019 contest and USD20,000.

In 2012, Ben Portsmouth, from the UK, made history, becoming the first from outside USA to win the annual Ultimate ETA contest in Memphis.

The contest searches for ETA who “best represents the legacy of EP” and represents him in the area of vocals, style, stage presence and overall performance.

This year’s Elvis Week (starting Aug 8) in Graceland was unlike any other, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of the ETAs were staying home.

There was no EPFCS gathering here in Kuching too.

Elvis left the building 43 years ago for good but he still lives in our hearts.
Long live The King!

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.