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Fit For A King - Elvis impersonators abound in R.I., 25 years after the rock icon's death
[All Edition]
 
Providence Journal - Providence, R.I.
 
Author: BRYAN ROURKE Journal Staff Writer
Date: Aug 15, 2002
Section: Lifebeat
   

Document Text

CRANSTON - Amy Beth Parravano curls her quivering upper lip to one side, then the other. Back and forth she goes, baring her teeth or else flaunting a doozy of a facial tic.

"Look," the 51-year-old Cranston woman says. "I can do both sides."

Ed DeMayo notices. He's watching. He sees Parravano across the table, through his enormous, dark sunglasses. He's not preoccupied. He only appears that way, pressing felt sideburns to his cheeks.

"I can't grow sideburns," he confides. "I don't have that much of a beard."

That's okay. The glue's holding.

Meanwhile, Parravano's waiting. So DeMayo nods approvingly, one professional to another.

"Thank you," Parravano says. "Thank you very much."

Now DeMayo delivers the shibboleth, raising the right side of his tremorous upper lip before speaking.

"Thank you, thank you very much," the 50-year-old North Providence man says.

Knock it off you two. Get serious. And suddenly, DeMayo does, sort of.

He sings, without warning, loudly and boldly.

"You ain't nothing but a hound dog . . . "

DeMayo, wearing a white jump suit studded with precious plastic and wrapped with a gargantuan glittering gold belt, steps off his stool for this. Apparently he feels the need to stand, and swivel his hips.

"I should have brought my cape," he says.

This could be a long night.

" . . . you ain't never caught a rabbit and you ain't no friend of mine."

We weren't looking for a show. We just wanted a word with these people. Who, after all, could appreciate Elvis Presley more than his impersonators?

Certainly they could help commemorate tomorrow's 25th anniversary of his death, if only they'd stop singing and snarling for a second.

"Elvis is in the building!"

That's Joe Baker of Providence speaking. He loves that line.

Parravano and DeMayo turn and see Baker walk by. He carries a telltale red jump suit, enters another room and closes the door behind him.

"Elvis is in the bathroom," DeMayo says.

Oh no, keep the King off the commode!

You remember the last time: Aug. 16, 1977. At age 42, Elvis fell from the throne and never graced land again.

Wait. We've got Elvises to spare. This place is flush with them.

We're at Baby Boomers, a '50s-style bar in Cranston. Someone suggested we meet here, as though these people needed a nostalgic nudge into the past.

Living proof

"I think he's here," Parravano says.

The people at the table, even the ones who look like Elvis, go silent. This is serious stuff.

He's here?

The answer separates Elvis fans from Elvis fanatics.

"Spiritually, he's still alive," Parravano says, backpedaling from boldness. "I'm living proof."

So Parravano is a fan, not a fanatic. But one wonders about DeMayo. The King, he says, could be alive. He could have faked his funeral.

"It's possible," DeMayo says. "He had enough money to fake it. He could do it."

Baker, 66, shuffles out of the bathroom, looking, well, different. He wears the red jump suit, zipped down to his stomach. And on his previously bald head, he now has a heap of thick, dark hair, similar to what you'd see along a roadside.

"Elvis is dead," Baker says. "Believe me. If he wasn't dead, he'd say Golden Joe Baker, knock it off; you're ruining my act.' "

Capturing the essence

There lies the essence of Elvis. He has imitators, but no real impersonators, who admit as much. That includes Parravano.

"I'm not Elvis," she says. "I'm his sister."

No, Elvis did not have a sister. But he did have a song about one.

"Little sister don't cha kiss me once or twice . . . "

Now Parravano is off her stool. She's standing, singing and windmilling her arms, which suddenly stop straight to one side and parallel to the floor, as though she's sending a semaphore signal.

But look closely. Those are forefingers, not flags, she's pointing.

"Thank you, thank you very much," she says.

No, thanks be to Elvis, the god of rock 'n' roll, still revered, idolized and impersonated decades after his alleged death.

Do you wonder why?

Well, he transformed music and culture. He crossed racial divides when they were especially deep. And he exuded sexuality in songs and movies when it really wasn't widely welcomed.

King of comedy

"He's a legend," Baker says. "They live long. He came around at the right time. People needed a superstar, and he was a good- looking guy. He was something special. He had charisma."

But Baker had ambition. A year after Elvis came to fame, Baker followed, becoming one of the world's first Elvis impersonators, riding the King's career like a barnacle on a boat.

"I had groupies all over," Baker says.

For 45 years Baker has been filling in for the Man from Memphis.

"I don't do it seriously," Baker says. "I do it with comedy."

That would explain his act's rousing finale, when he pulls that apparent possum off his head and throws it into the hirsute-hungry crowd.

"The crowd goes wild," Baker says.

Baker performed 11 years in Las Vegas. He appeared on Tonight Show with Jay Leno. And he proudly served with the Flying Elvi.

That's plural for Elvis.

A bunch of parachute-wearing impersonators would jump out of a plane and land at some outdoor stage, at which time Baker, who was the king of the Flying Elvi, would join them.

"They'd pantomime," Baker says. "I'd do a song."

Baker's singing voice is good, he says, but he's no Elvis. Neither is DeMayo. No one is. There's only one Elvis.

"His was a gift from God," DeMayo says.

Elvis had range, reverb, vibrato and everything else that God apparently wanted to hear in a singer.

"I love him immensely, but don't take it to the point of over idolizing," DeMayo says. "I appreciate his contribution in life and I think he had a good one."

Elvis certainly influenced DeMayo, who when asked in an assignment in second grade what he wanted to be when he grew up, wrote "I want to sing like Elvis."

After years of taking voice lessons and 20 years of impersonating Elvis, DeMayo comes close. But still, Elvis remains elusive.

"I believe in my heart of hearts, he was given a gift from God," DeMayo says.

Blue-suede brotherhood

In June, Donna Adamonis, an entertainment producer, attempted to find Rhode Island's best Elvis impersonator, but was thwarted by none other than Elvis impersonators.

"They're too much of a brotherhood," Adamonis says. "They didn't want to compete against each other."

But they are willing to celebrate with each other. So, Aug. 30, in the Castle Cinema, they'll come together in a special commemoration show, Elvis and Friends.

You should know this though: Parravano is not Elvis's friend. She says she's his psychic outlet on earth.

"I'm like a faucet," Parravano says. "It's like the Star Trek series. This energy comes down and I'm Elvis."

Parravano's story starts in 1997. She's in bed, sleeping. That's when it happens.

"Elvis channeled to me in a dream," Parravano says.

If it happened just once, Parravano could dismiss it: Elvis had the wrong channel. But it happened several times, Parravano says, in a recurrent dream.

It goes like this.

Parravano is in the audience at the Grand Ole Opry. Elvis is on stage, singing. Then he stops. He spots Parravano, who stands up and walks down the aisle toward him. Now, they're just a few feet apart. Their eyes meet, and Elvis speaks.

"Can I depend on you?" Elvis says. "I want you to be my little sister."

Parravano says yes. Elvis hands her his golden microphone with the wish that she carry on the tradition, you know taking care of business.

"A lot of people would say she's got to be out of her mind,' " Parravano says. "But other people accept it."

That's it. We've heard enough. We wish the impersonators well and thank them, which we soon regret.

"No," they all say, lifting twitching upper lips. "Thank you. Thank you very much."

* * *

* IN THE BUILDING: Ed DeMayo of North Providence, left, and Amy Beth Parravano of Cranston celebrate the memory of Elvis Presley by impersonating him at Baby Boomers in Cranston last week.

JOURNAL PHOTOS / GLENN OSMUNDSON

* JOE BAKER of Providence (shown at Baby Boomers last week), one of the world's first Elvis impersonators, performed in Las Vegas for 11 years.

* THESE THREE KINGS: From left, Ed DeMayo, Joe Baker and Amy Beth Parravano strike their best Elvis poses for the camera last week in Cranston.

JOURNAL PHOTO / GLENN OSMUNDSON

 
Abstract (Document Summary)

[Joe Baker] had ambition. A year after [Elvis Presley] came to fame, Baker followed, becoming one of the world's first Elvis impersonators, riding the King's career like a barnacle on a boat.

Baker's singing voice is good, he says, but he's no Elvis. Neither is [Ed DeMayo]. No one is. There's only one Elvis.

[Amy Beth Parravano] is in the audience at the Grand Ole Opry. Elvis is on stage, singing. Then he stops. He spots Parravano, who stands up and walks down the aisle toward him. Now, they're just a few feet apart. Their eyes meet, and Elvis speaks.

 


 

 

 

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