For all of us everything began with Mom, in the sense that we owe her our lives. But for Elvis Presley, his mom was responsible for a little more -- his career. If it weren't for Gladys Presley's love of music, her son would never have gone into the studios at Sun Records and recorded two songs for her as a belated birthday present in 1953. Returning one year later, he laid another couple of tunes on vinyl, one of them titled "That's Alright, Mama." Initially indifferent about Elvis's previous vocal outing, Sun owner Sam Phillips was impressed this time. And soon the world was, too. Elvis earned millions of dollars and bestowed more gifts upon his mom: jewels, clothes, a pink Cadillac, and a mansion dubbed Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
For 31-year-old Dan Cunningham it all began four years ago as a lark at a karaoke night when someone heard him and encouraged him to become yet another Elvis impersonator. Convinced, Cunningham joined the ranks of the eccentric subculture, embarking on a crash course in Elvisology that consists of weekly singing lessons, viewing hundreds of hours of video, listening to the more than 700 Elvis songs, and "a lot of standing in front of the mirror." Cunningham, who spends his days as a hairdresser in Broward, was just eight years old when the King died. Growing up in a strict religious household, he wasn't even allowed to listen to rock and roll, but as a teenager he got to hear Elvis's '68 Comeback album and was moved by the emotion the singer put forth. Dressed in authentic jumpsuits from the tailor in Tennessee who originally crafted the emperor's old clothes, Cunningham has tried to transfer that vocal vigor to his performances, along with stage antics that, of course, include karate moves.
"It's all about having a good time. Everything is simple and plain and a little more pure," Cunningham says about the Elvis movies he's seen. "And if you can capture that kind of feel when you're singing: I'll do a Fifties set and a movie set and a Seventies set, and it's all different, the voice, the look. It's never-ending." Something else that seemed endless was the King's appetite -- for drugs and food. Popping pills did little to curb Presley's legendary gorgefests, which included tubs of ice cream, fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and gallons of sugary soft drinks. Bound to be heartier -- and healthier -- will be the food served at this weekend's Mother's Day Elvis Dinner Show, which will feature Cunningham as Elvis performing with a live band and paying tribute to benevolent moms everywhere.
"I want to win them over," the impersonator notes about his audience. "And get them to feel what I feel when I hear Elvis's music." The ten members of Cunningham's fan club will surely populate the crowd for the show, but will his own mom be there? "I hope so," he sighs. "She works."