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The King of Elvis tribute artists coming to North Van

As you might expect, Las Vegas is a magnet for top Elvis tribute artists.

So to stand out, you’ve gotta have more than a rhinestone-adorned jumpsuit and gyrating hips.

Darren Lee knows what it takes.

He performed in Vegas for 11 straight years as the King in the acclaimed American Superstar’s Show at the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino.

Turns out, that’s a record run for Elvis tribute performers.

Other Elvis impersonators may have worked in Vegas longer, but not for consecutive years in the same casino show. Six nights a week Lee performed six songs in the ensemble show that lasted more than a decade.

During his stay in casino country, Lee met about 25 performers who did Elvis.

And while he says there aren’t “as many as you would think” it’s still a highly competitive subgenre.

There were convention Elvises, wedding Elvises and showroom Elvises.

“Everybody wants to be in a showroom,” he explains. “It’s what pays the most.”

Conventions were the most competitive, he adds. “[There are] certain Elvises that do that and nothing else.”

What made Lee stand out?

If you go to YouTube and type in his name it becomes obvious.

Some tribute performers look like Elvis, some sound like him and some move like him — but Lee hits the mark in all the aforementioned categories.

Plus, as he notes, “I’m lucky I can do all eras of Elvis.”

Some impersonators, for instance, can only do the jumpsuit period.

While living in Las Vegas, Lee, as Elvis, also performed around 50 marriages a month at the Garden of Love Chapel. “That was a lot of fun,” says Lee, who became an ordained minister in Nevada.

But performing under the Vegas lights is not his only claim to fame.

Originally from Edmonton, he seriously began his Elvis tribute career in 1988 after placing second in a contest. That led to one of the other tribute artists recommending him for an audition to be in the Elvis-Elvis-Elvis show. He got the gig and played ’50s-era Elvis across Canada. That led to more tribute shows, tours, fan clubs and, eventually the Vegas show.

One of the biggest highlights in his career came in 1997 when he was named the No. 1 Elvis Tribute Artist in the World at a contest in Memphis on the 20th anniversary of Elvis’s death.

Lee’s musical career began early when his mom bought him his first guitar at three and introduced him to the music of Elvis and other legendary performers.

By 15, he was routinely performing in talent contests.

Since leaving Las Vegas, Lee’s guitar case has been collecting plenty of airport stickers.

He’s in Edmonton tonight, back to Vancouver, then to Camrose, Alta., and then on to Hartley Bay (90 miles south of Prince Rupert) and later Maui. Next Friday, he plays at North Vancouver’s Centennial Theatre.

When discussing his 25-year Elvis tribute career, there are many highlights and memories, none perhaps as special as when he was honoured last month with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his musical work.

At the ceremony in Surrey, he was asked to appear in costume (he wore a red jacket, black shirt and white tie) and he sang the national anthem, “Elvis style.”

“The national anthem sounded like Little Sister,” he says.

On Feb. 22, Lee will bring his show to Centennial Theatre with his band the Memphis Flash.

“It will be the best Elvis show anyone’s ever seen,” he says. “Guaranteed.”

For tickets ($32), call 604-984-4484 or visit centennialtheatre.com.

twitter.com/justinbeddall

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