In his heart of hearts, who was the King of Rock 'n' Roll? Was he rockin' Elvis? Crooner Elvis? Hillbilly Elvis? Movie Elvis? Vegas Elvis? All of the above?
The wide array of artists gathered Monday for the 16th annual Elvis Birthday Bash at the House of Blues pondered nothing so philosophical, but they did illuminate most of those facets during the 4 1/2-hour celebration.
Hosted by co-founder Art Fein, the show marked what would have been Elvis Presley's 66th birthday. Each participant performed just one or two songs, and the transitions were generally smooth and quick. The rapid-fire changeovers meant no one could monopolize Elvis' memory for too long, but also made it hard to keep a groove going.
Such Birthday Bash veterans as James Intveld, Ray Campi, Swamp Dogg and Johnny Rivers offered renditions of the usual favorites. But there was also a refreshing undercurrent of giddiness in turns by actor Fred Willard, Diamonds lead singer David Somerville, and the Sprague Brothers, who performed the Beatles' "I'm Down," claiming Presley had done it in his Vegas show.
Then there was legendary MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, twanging through "Hound Dog" behind the Knack's Doug Fieger. The Groovy Rednecks' trucker-sized lead singer Tex Troester, with his flowing red hair and beard, was truly a sight to behold while vamping to "Treat Me Nice." The L.A. band offered one of the few original homages, the cautionary "Don't Talk Bad About the King." Another was "Trucker From Tennessee" by fine roots-rockers Randy Beckett & Rebel Train.
Almost everyone had the music down pat, but sorely missing (again) was the sexual heat that made Presley a sensation. Lanky young Australian Brigitte Handley provided some with her revved-up rockabilly. But for the most part, even fat Elvis in his tacky white jumpsuit could have seduced an audience more effectively.