Pittston native Shawn Klush has been singing for as long as he can remember, but he never realized he looked and sounded like Elvis Presley until the end of eighth grade.
“I never understood any of that,” Klush said in a recent interview. “Then I was in the school play in eighth grade and I asked to sing a song at the end of it. I chose ‘Memories’ from the ’68 ‘Comeback Special’ because it seemed like a fitting song, leaving this grade and moving on up.
“That’s when I began to realize the potential of all this.”
Klush, now in his 40s, went on to become an internationally recognized Elvis Tribute Artist (ETA), often referred to as “The Closest Thing to the King in Concert.” In 2007, he was named “World’s Greatest Elvis” by BBC One in London, England. A few days later, he was named the first-ever “Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist” by Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) in Memphis, Tennessee, on the 30th anniversary of Presley’s death.
Klush will be returning to his hometown area for two shows at Mohegan Sun Pocono. On Saturday, there will be a three-course meal inspired by some of Presley’s favorites (barbecue braised short ribs with cheddar grits, peanut butter and banana cheesecake), a cash bar during dinner and a 21-and-over show to follow. Tickets priced at $125 and $175 for Saturday are already sold out. A few tickets remain for Sunday’s all-ages show in the Keystone Grand Ballroom.
The Sweet Inspirations with original member Estelle Brown, who appeared in concert with Presley from 1969 to 1977, will back Klush at both shows.
“I’ve been singing with the Sweets for the better part of 15 years, (which is) longer than Elvis did,” Klush said. “Those girls aren’t my back-up singers, they’re my sisters. We’ve travelled the world together.”
Klush said his father was a DJ, stand-up comedian and ventriloquist, so he grew up with performing in his blood. He said his parents went to see Presley at Madison Square Garden in 1972 and at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island the following year, and he can’t remember a time when Elvis’ music wasn’t a part of his life.
“Somewhere around ’87 or ’88, I decided to pursue this after so many people told me to take a shot at it.”
He won his first competition – and a $5,000 prize – about 10 years later in Montreal.
“That was so unexpected,” he said. “Until then, I didn’t think (performing as an ETA) was as big as it is, but there were 15,000 people there. It was overwhelming.”
He then went to work with “Legends in Concert,” portraying Presley in the company’s Myrtle Beach, Las Vegas, Branson (Missouri) and Atlantic City showrooms.
“I got a call on a Wednesday to go to Atlantic City to try out,” he recalled. “I was in Myrtle Beach that Friday and I didn’t return to Pennsylvania for like 10 years after that.”
On January 6, 2005, two days before what would have been Presley’s 70th birthday (he died in 1977 at the age of 42), Klush became grand champion at the $25,000 “World Elvis Tribute Artist Competition.” That same year, he was named “Best Concert Elvis” by Gibson Guitars in Nashville.
But his biggest triumphs came two years later with his wins in London and Memphis.
“England was ridiculous, there were 6.5 million viewers for that,” he said. “So I won that and the next day I flew to Memphis and was right back to another contest.”
Klush said winning the first-ever ETA event sponsored by Elvis’ estate did the most for his career, opening a lot of doors. He has performed and appeared with Elvis’ closest friends such as JD Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, The Jordanaires, The Imperials, DJ Fontana (Elvis’ original drummer) and others. He has also portrayed Presley in the TV miniseries “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” which aired on CBS and VH1, and performed on “Late Show with David Letterman.”
Klush, who said his favorite Elvis song to perform is “If I Can Dream,” said his show is based on Elvis’ so-called “Hot Years” of 1968 to 1973.
“The Hot Years start with the ‘Comeback Special.’ Then he conquered Las Vegas, and then he conquered the globe with the satellite show in ’73.
“Besides, my body and sound lends itself to the ‘70s and there’s no changing that.”
Asked if he will do anything extra special for his hometown-area shows, he responded, “No we do what we do, it’s pretty cut and dry with us. Well, we probably play 20 to 30 minutes longer than we should, but I can’t help it. I see the faces and I have to keep on going, giving them my all.
“Like I always say, ‘Leave all your inhibitions behind and come out and have a good time.’”
Brad Patton has been reviewing concerts and writing about music for the Times Leader and Weekender for more than five years. He also hosts a two-hour radio show on 88.5 FM-WRKC (Radio King’s College) every Tuesday at 7 p.m.