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El Vez Update!
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Sun, 11 Jul 2004

"...the genius of El Vez" - LA Weekly

"El Vez is the world's most intelligent Elvis Impersonator" - Chicago Sun-Times

"El Vez...Gets a Big Ole" - Los Angeles Times

"Elvis con Salsa" - People Magazine
"El Vez is more than an Elvis Impersonator...He is an Elvis translator, a goodwill ambassador for Latin culture." -Rolling Stone

"VIVA EL VEZ!" -Dallas News - San Francisco Chronicle - London Evening Standard "**....viciously overrated" - Buzz Magazine

EL VEZ- The Mexican Elvis- The Latin Sensation that is sweeping the Nation....and the world!

A Modern Multicultural hybrid of Americana and Mexicano. A thinking man's Elvis. A Post-Modern king with a Latin twist, the Chicano experience through the songs of Elvis.

As seen on The Tonight Show, Oprah, MTV, HBO, CNN, Kathy & Regis, Hard Copy, y mucho mas... as raved about in News week, People, Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, TV Guide, The New York, Los Angeles & London Times plus mucho, mucho mas.

A Social-Political-Las Vegas-via Memphis-by way of Mexico, Rock and Roll revue featuring his top notch band the Memphis Mariachis and the World Famous Lovely Elvettes.

EL VEZ has R-O-C-K'ed across the USA and all over Europe. He has headlined festivals and opened for such greats as David Bowie, Carlos Santana, Linda Ronstadt, The B-52's!

With over seven CDs under his Elvis belt, wonderful merchandising that includes, T-shirts, videos and locks of hair, EL VEZ is a Cross-Cultural Caped Crusader singing for Truth, Justice and the Mexican/American Way.


By Karen Schoemer

Some Elvis fans do crazy things, like light candles on the anniversary of his death. Others do even crazier things, like drive to Graceland and stock up on Elvis shampoo, floater pens and and refrigerator magnets. But it is the rare and supremely loopy fan who actually becomes Elvis. In the realm of Elvis impersonators, El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, is king.

El Vez is a multiethnic, multicultural, multicostumed revolutionary who reinvents American rock from a socialist Hispanic perspective. "G.I. Ay, Ay! Blues" (Big Pop Records) is his latest manifesto, following "Graciasland" and "A Merry Mex-Mus." "Misery Tren" remakes "Mystery Train" via Pancho Villa, los zapatistas and an edict to "destroy los capitalistas." "Say It Loud! I'm Brown and I'm Proud!" filters James Brown through a California immigration nightmare. "I've worked all day with my hands and my feet / And all the time we're running from some governor named Pete." Throughout, a message of hope and unity rises to the fore. So love me tender, so love me long," sings El Vez. "Why can't we all just get along?"

Nutty Los Angeleno: Seven years ago, El Vez was Robert Lopez, an averagely nutty Los Angeleno working at an art gallery. He decided to mount an all-Elvis show; by the end of it, he was plotting a trip to Memphis and scribbling Hispanic lyrics to beloved old chestnuts. Lopez was enchanted by the world of wanna-bes. "In Memphis there was a place called Bob's Bad Vapors," he says. "From 3 in the afternoon until 3 in the morning you could see an Elvis every 20 minutes." Today the El Vez show is an extravaganza with pompom-toting singers (Lisa Maria and Prescillita), a rainbow of sequins, camouflage bell-bottoms with gold lame flares, pro-tolerance patter and a band that moves from "La Cucaracha" to "Wipeout" at the drop of a sombrero.

Lopez knows this is silly. But as a second-generation Mexican-American raised in Chula Vista, Calif., he has a right to be culturally confused. "In the '60s, my uncles had the continental slacks and slicked-back hair," he says. "They looked like ´Elvis in 'Fun in Acapulco.' I remember as a kid thinking, 'Elvis must be Latino, like us'." But Lopez was encouraged by his parents to assimulate. He lived in a white neighborhood and didn't hear Spanish until high school. "The whole trip to El Vez-ness was a search for identity," he says. "How brown can I be? What are my roots?" Lopez believes that beyond the kitsch factor, El Vez has potential to spread good will. He's tapped into an American ideal: that anyone can be Elvis, no matter which race, creed or jumpsuit size he is. "When you come to an El Vez show, you walk away proud to be a Mexican," he says. "Even when you're not."

EL VEZ in 1994, by Jim Washburn --

He wears a sombrero and a garish jumpsuit with the Virgin of Guadalupe embroidered in sequins on the back. He sings such songs as "You Ain't Nothin' but a chihuahua," "En el Barrio" and "Huaraches Azules." One newspaper headline dubbed him "Elvis for Aztecs." He's El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, and he's got a pretty good gig going. You want marketing? El Vez offers a full product line from compact discs to packaged, authenticated locks of his hair. You want camp? "My favorite color is gold," he declares. He sports gold lame suits, loud mariachi outfits, a pencil mustache and Aztec headgear. At performances, his El Vettes gyrate behind him. You want sociopolitical import? El Vez has transmogrified Elvis songs into explorations of immigration rights and other social issues ("Suspicious Minds" becomes "Immigration Time," while "Little Sister" is now "Chicanisma," about the empowerment of Latinas).

His performance at the Cal State Fullerton Pub today will mark the timely debut of an original song, "Cinco de Mayo," which he describes as a Clash-like history lesson on the holiday. El Vez - who in his less gaudy moments answers to Robert Lopez - has often been called the most intelligent of the Elvis impersonators. That may be an example of damning with faint praise. "Yeah, in the company I'm in, that's not saying much," Lopez said recently in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home base. "Most Elvis impersonators don't put that much thought into their show. But then, Elvis himself said, 'I'm just an entertainer, not a politician.' "What I'm trying to do is taking the Elvis idea and putting it into the '90s' because everyone needs to think more now," Lopez said. "You can't just be passive, as in the past. The power needs to be back in people's hands."

That's a pretty big change to effect, even for a man with a gold lame cummerbund. Lopez, 32, doesn't want for bravado, though. His 1988 debut as an ersatz Elvis was a baptism of fire. Lopez had managed a Mexican folk-art gallery in Los Angeles, and one of its openings had featured several Elvis impersonators. A veteran of Southern California punk-era bands the Zeroes and Catholic discipline, Lopez thought he could do better than they, and came up with the El Vez character.

Then he took a plane to Memphis, Tenn., during "Elvis Week," which commemorates the anniversary of his death each August. El Vez made his first performance in front of rabid Elvis fans at an impersonators contest near Graceland. They liked him. His Latino slant helped his performance stand out amid the karate-posing competition, the national wire services reported on his act, and El Vez was an instant celebrity. Lopez now make his living as El Vez, touring the United States and Europe and sharing stages with acts as disparate as Linda Ronstadt and the Sugarcubes. He still returns to Memphis for "Elvis Week" appearances every year."

Lopez says his persona is freer artistically than other Elvises and such novelty acts as Dread Zeppelin - which got its start doing reggae versions of Led Zeppelin songs - and traces some of that to the way he started out. "The nice thing was when I started it, it was all on a dare to myself. In going to Memphis, I figured, 'If I make a fool of myself, it'll be in Memphis, where they won't know who this fool is.' I started off with a real what-the-heck attitude. That's what made it fun, because I was taking chances and didn't care." One example of his stylistic freedom, he said, is his "Cinco de Mayo" single. Rather than a reworking of an Elvis song, it's an original, musically rooted in the Who, the Clash and the Dils, with no particular nod to Memphis.

"I'm really lucky that I can nod in any direction I want to . . . The neat thing about being El Vez is people at first think, 'Oh, you can only do this,' but when you're Mexican and you're Elvis, combining the two kind of nullifies everything, and your artistic range is free to go wherever you want." Though he plays free and funny with the Elvis image, he says it's done with respect. "People who don't know my shows think it's all parody and making fun of Elvis," he said. "But if you see the shows, you'll know I do love Elvis. My whole house is full of Elvis stuff. I don't think you can do this unless you love and admire Elvis. This isn't some fat-man-on-pills Elvis parody." Lopez said that when he was growing up in Chula Vista, he always thought Elvis was Mexican. "They invented the velvet painting of Elvis and made many busts of him," he said. "And when I was a kid in the '60s, I had uncles with continental slacks and slight pompadours in that Elvis style. I thought Elvis looked like my uncles. He looked Latin. The first movie I ever saw him in was 'Fun in Acapulco.' I found out later that wasn't even f ilmed in Mexico, but on a sound stage."

Despite that cinematic deception, Lopez used the "Fun in Acapulco" soundtrack cover art as the model for his Spanish-language El Vez album "Fun in Espanol." The same songs appear in a more anglicized form on his album "How Great Thou Art, the Greatest Hits of El Vez." Both are released on the Long Beach independent Sympathy for the Record Industry label. On the albums, Lloyd Price's "Laudy Miss Clawdy" becomes "Lordy Miss Lupe," with a somewhat less secular subject. One verse proclaims:

I said Virgin de Guadalupe
I'm so glad that you came to me
You are La Nuestra Senora
And you're brown like me

"En el Barrio" takes a tongue-in-cheek look at inner-city crime, with an equally specious escape from it:

Out of East L.A.
With no more gangs and no more crime
To the promised land
Out in Anaheim . . .Near Disneyland.

On the album, El Vez freely mixes musical quotes and styles. Along with "In the Ghetto," "En el Barrio" also sojourns through Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and the Beatles' "I've Got a Feeling." A new album, of which the "Cinco de Mayo" single is a harbinger, is expected in June. It will include the politically astute "Immigration Time," "Chicanisma" and a remake of the amorous "Baby, Let's Play House," with cautionary '90s lyrics about playing safe. To the best of his knowledge, his "Cinco de Mayo" is the first pop or rock song about the holiday, though he has heard corridos and folk ballads that address it. The album will also include mariachi staples such as "La Negra" performed in a rock-band context.

"It's like a cross between Gary Glitter - big pounding '70's guitar and drums - and the traditional melody and guitar," Lopez says. "We also do a rockabilly - Western swing version of Paul Simon's 'Graceland,' only I change it to 'Aztlan,' the idea of California Texas, Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona all being one big area before the mexican-American war. It was all occupied by Mexicans and governed by Mexicans. It's the idea of a Chicano space, what was ours, a self-governing, self-supporting land. It's about the chicano trying to find one's identity."

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