Introduction: Evolution of the Interview
I met Gordon Hendricks twice last year at post-concert meet-and-greets in Hamilton and Grimsby. During our two conversations, I asked if I might interview him sometime, to which he very kindly answered ‘yes’ each time. At the Casablanca concert, his road manager, David Regan, gave me a business card with contact information in the UK. Given the distance, and Gordon’s busy schedule, it was going to take some juggling to set up an interview with him back home in the UK. I initially sent email questions to Gordon in England, but it was during his most recent visit to Canada that the interview finally took form. I wish to thank David Regan and Sandra Gold for their assistance in setting up my interview with Gordon which took place on October 19th, 2017. It was a privilege spending two hours with Gordon, recording his answers, and getting to know the Memphis Ultimate Elvis Tribute Contest winner for 2017 on a more personal level.
When I asked Sandra Gold if she would like to add her thoughts to Gordon’s introduction, she answered my request with the following thoughtful words:
I love Gordon. I first met him in Collingwood in 2015 when he returned as a headliner after winning the Grand Champion title in 2014 and before headlining in Memphis. I brought him to work with me because there was something special I saw in him, and we got along so well. Gordon is the sweetest, most funny down-to-earth guy. He makes me laugh all the time. We have an ongoing joke in which Gordon uses an announcer voice and says, “Fly Sandra Gold Airlines, where you fly around the world twice and never get to your destination.” Gordon has not forgotten the roundabout flight that I once booked for him to come to Canada. It has become the source of much joking, and he likes to bug me about it. Gordon is so real, genuine, witty, professional, and a perfectionist. I feel blessed that Gordon came to Canada, and I am looking forward to his return.
The Interview Prelude
I arrived early for the interview. I wanted to compose my thoughts and read over my interview questions. I was instructed to wait in the lobby, and Gordon would meet me at the designated time. I knew how tall Gordon is, having met him before, and I knew how fabulous he looked in his Elvis outfits on stage; but I was not prepared for how great he would look dressed as himself in jeans, white t-shirt and baseball cap. Gordon’s transformation from stage to street is quite remarkable. Two ladies in the lobby were inquiring about Gordon’s Saturday night concert. They were obviously unaware that the good looking guy in denim was the ETA in the poster, because Gordon passed by them without detection.
Gordon greeted me with a kiss and a hug, and asked if I would like a cup of tea. I can always tell how an interview is going to go in the first few minutes of meeting the interviewee. I knew this interview was going to go well.
There weren’t any empty rooms available, so David suggested the mezzanine level. Coincidentally it was in this area of the hotel where my favourite photo of Gordon, dressed in black leather, was taken the year before. It was also the same place where Gordon presented me with his signed CD as a gift. David, and his wife Linda, joined us for the interview. I met David and Linda Regan last year, and it was very nice to see them again. They are such a friendly, pleasant couple. I was looking forward to their input during the interview. David Regan, a former firefighter, is Gordon’s road manager. David’s duties include discussing the song choices, preparing the song lists for the sets, booking venues, co-ordinating band members, and assisting Gordon in any other way needed. Linda looks after Gordon’s wardrobe and merchandise. She also looks after CD sales, but jokingly requested that she not be referred to as the “CD lady”. Linda is also an unofficial bodyguard who has a gentle way of corralling eager fans away from Gordon and out the door when necessary. With tea delivered and poured, I thanked Gordon for meeting with me.
Almost one year to the day, and after several emails, the moment had arrived.
Q. What adjectives or adverbs best describe you as a child?
A. I was shy and withdrawn. In a large family, attention had to be shared.
Q. Did you have childhood aspirations to be a stage performer?
A. Absolutely. As early as age 4, I would escape into the world of make-believe, and pretend to be Elvis Presley. I was fascinated by Elvis and his performance in Aloha from Hawaii.
Q. Did you train your voice to sound like Elvis, or is it a natural gift?
A. It is a natural gift. My hobby was singing Elvis, and I remember my Nan saying I had a nice voice when I was about 11 or 12 years old.
Q. How would you describe your high school experience?
A. I was an individual in high school. I bleached my hair, and wore a coloured shirt with my uniform until I was told it wasn’t proper dress. I then wore wild t-shirts under my uniform shirt and changed into them outside the classroom.
Q. What are the most rewarding parts of being a professional ETA?
A. The people who never got to see Elvis get close to the Elvis experience. They react with deep emotion, and sometimes even cry.
Q. If it were possible, what question would you ask Elvis Presley?
A. Considering his lifestyle and all it entailed, would he still have chosen the same career path?
Q. Is there a song that you wished Elvis had recorded so you could perform it on stage as an ETA?
A. Yes! I wished he had recorded Where Would I Be, Sweet Angeline, and Just a Little Bit of Green by Geoff Morrow.
Q. When you look at the audience, what catches your eye? (When I asked this question, Gordon shifted in his seat, tugged at his baseball cap, and gave a wry smile in the direction of Linda. Linda must have read Gordon’s mind because she said, “Go ahead; say what you are thinking.”)
A. The low cut tops of the ladies in the UK!
Q. What word best describes your favourite audience?
A. Just pure Elvis fans—an audience that appreciates Elvis.
Q. How do you define a successful concert?
A. Appreciation. It doesn’t have to be a sold out crowd, but they need to be enthusiastic. Two concerts can be entirely different. I will change the song choice to reflect what the audience is responding to. If I sing ballads, and I sense the crowd wants faster songs, I change the song list during the concert.
Q. What would you do career-wise if you weren’t a successful ETA, besides being a barber?
A. I am a people person, so as long as it is a career that deals with people.
Q. Do you have any special rituals that you perform before going on stage?
A. I get into the zone by having 5 minutes of quiet time before performing.
Q. What would fans find surprising about you?
A. They would be surprised at what I look like out of costume, makeup, and wig.
Q. Do you have movements on stage that make your performance unique?
A. I ask fans what they want. At one concert, a lady in the 4th row kept shaking her head no. “No, no, no! I didn’t come here to hear someone mime Elvis.” She didn’t believe it was my voice; so my stage manager asked the band not to play during the next song so she could hear me sing.
Q. How will you know when it is time for you to retire from performing as an ETA?
A. My goal was reached when I became the Ultimate Grand Champion. I will return next year as a guest. If I stop enjoying it, and the travel is too much, I will retire.
Q. What does a perfect future look like from your point of view?
A. I will develop my own style of music, while not forgetting how Elvis got me where I am. My son, Jamie, who plays several instruments will collaborate with me on my CDs.
Q. When you are performing, does the voice you hear in your head sound like Elvis; do you sound like Elvis when you sing in the car or in the shower; and if you sing a song by any other artist, does the song end up sounding like an Elvis song?
A. Yes, yes, and yes.
Q. When you perform in a city outside the UK, are you able to sightsee as yourself, minus the black hair and Elvis costumes?
A. Yes, although I am starting to be recognized. When I performed in Wales, I went to the bar after my concert dressed as myself. I overheard some people seated at the bar saying how much they enjoyed the concert. I said, “So, you enjoyed the concert?” “Oh, yes! But we hoped Gordon was going to come and talk to us after the concert.” I was unrecognizable to them.
Q. Does putting on your Elvis clothes change your personality?
A. Yes. I develop an Elvis persona. I feel special…10 feet tall. But inside I am still shy.
Q. How did you feel before, and after, the Stripped Back Acoustic Launch Evening where you performed as yourself?
A. I was apprehensive. Is it right for my career? It was a risk. But the reception was incredible. It unleashed a new way of life. I was elated!
Q. Is performing as yourself something you hope to do more often in the future?
A. Yes. After the success of the Stripped Back Acoustic concert, I could see where my future lies.
Q. How are audiences in other countries different from those in Great Britain?
A. In Norway, they clap in unison if they like you. It is a similar response in Germany. In Canada, the audiences are genuine and warm, not so judging, and they enjoy the concert. Audiences in GB are more excitable if they love the performance. In Australia, they are quiet at first as they study you, but then they warm up and the excitement builds. One very interesting audience was in the Middle East. It consisted of 1000 women, all dressed in black. All I could see were their eyes, so I couldn’t read their facial expressions. At the end of the concert, they nodded and politely clapped.
Q. At what point do you think that a fan has gone too far with their words or actions?
A. A woman came up to me after a concert and tugged at my hair and asked if it was real. Then she poked me in the eye and asked if they were real. (Gordon reached over and tugged at my hair, and then pointed towards my eyes. His actions took me by surprise, but effectively demonstrated how unsettling the incident must have been for him.)
Q. Do you still have the black leather suit that they gave you when you appeared on Stars in Their Eyes?
A. Yes. I have it framed.
Q. How did the voting on Stars in Their Eyes result in you being eliminated, then brought back and eventually winning by a landslide?
A. The day of the voting, the audience consisted of college students. When it came down to Phil Collins and Elvis, the decidedly younger crowd voted to keep Phil Collins. When the at-home viewing audience had a chance to vote to bring back an eliminated contestant, they voted for me as Elvis. I went on to win by well over 80,000 votes.
Q. What were you feeling after not placing in the top two in the BBC’s The World’s Greatest Elvis competition in 2007?
A. I was fine with the result. I wasn’t ready. Shawn Klush had just won the Ultimate Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis, so he deserved to win.
Q. What feedback did you receive after winning the Ultimate Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis on August 19th, 2017?
A. Some of the previous winners told me that I would feel a sense of freedom after winning, and I do. The response to my winning has generally been very positive, but I did receive some unsettling comments. Some were upset by my win because everyone has their favourite ETA who they think deserves the title.
Q. Was the Flaming Star Festival your first time as an Elvis Tribute Artist judge?
A. Yes; and it was tiring. It requires a lot of concentration. For me it was about the vocals—do they sound like Elvis? You have to find something positive to write, even if it is “nice shoes.”
Q. What advice do you have for up and coming ETAs?
A. Do not study other ETAs—study Elvis!
Q. Is there any particular title that you have won that has special meaning to you?
A. The European Elvis Champion title, held in Birmingham in 2011, was my first big win. It took three tries, but I won the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis, Tennessee, on August 19th, 2017.
Q. What can you tell us about your latest CDs?
A. I have recorded 9 albums, and a 10th CD of Elvis’s Gospel music is in the works. I am hoping it will be out by Christmas. I am also recording a Stripped Back 2 album.
Thus concludes the formal part of the interview. I had a chance to chat with David after the interview, and he told me the most delightful story that I want to share with you.
When Gordon was about 4 or 5 years of age, he used to stand outside his grandparents’ house on the front lawn and sing Elvis songs while using a plank of wood as a guitar. When Elvis passed away and met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, St. Peter asked Elvis what they should do with his voice, as it was too good to waste. Elvis looked at St. Peter, and said, “Give it to the little boy on the lawn.”
You may dismiss David’s story as a tale of fiction, but if you have ever heard Gordon Hendricks sing, you must agree that his voice was sent from Heaven!
As a surprise for Gordon, I contacted Jamie Hendricks in the UK to ask if, as the son of the recently crowned Ultimate ETA Champion, he would like to add his thoughts to his dad’s interview. As well as being his son, Jamie is Gordon’s music collaborator, and shares his dad’s passion for music. I wish to thank Jamie for responding with such a heart-warming message. Brill! CM
A Note from Jamie
Life as the son of an Ultimate ETA has its great perks. I get to see the world’s best, every time he performs. It’s always been in the back of my mind with my father anyway, but now it’s legit! I feel really proud of him. We have had many talks in the past about what it would be like to be the world’s best, and I always said "Dad, you are the best," which I’m guessing has always been my job as his son! Apart from sharing this great feeling with him, I also get to play in a number of his bands, which can be anything from a 12 piece to a 45 piece. As a guitar player for my dad, I also get to travel the country, which for someone of my age is pretty awesome, right...especially playing the King’s music! Also, we are concentrating on a new Stripped Back 2 album together that is a compilation of Elvis music with a modern acoustic live lounge twist. It also includes songs from other artists using the same style and giving them an Elvis feel as well. This is very interesting for me, as it has a wide open door of creativity, and we work with a superb group of musicians to create little pieces of magic through these ideas. Please give our Stripped Back albums a listen, and see what you think!
It was such a pleasure interviewing Gordon. He reached the highest echelon awarded to an Elvis Tribute Artist when he won the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest this past August; yet this great achievement doesn’t appear to have changed him. He is as I remembered him from last year—sincere, considerate, honest, humorous, and professional, with a little bit of boyhood shyness to keep him grounded. On behalf of fans everywhere, thank you very much, Gordon, for allowing us to know you a little better through your interview answers. We look forward to seeing you when you return to Canada in 2018 at Collingwood Elvis Festival, July 27th – 29th, and at Sandra Gold’s shows, October 25th – 27th. Cheers! CM