As an introduction to New Brunswick ETA Thane Dunn’s interview, I am including an excerpt from a December 3rd, 2015 article written by Shelley Steeves, Senior Correspondent for Global News:
MONCTON – He makes his living channeling the King of Rock and Roll, and has quickly become known as one of the best Elvis impersonators in the world. Moncton’s Thane Dunn is a fiercely private man when he’s not on stage, but he did reveal to Global News a bit about how he became obsessed with the King. “I think Elvis had a connection with people something we don’t see with stars these days,” he said. Dunn says he tries to duplicate that connection in his own stage performances. Growing up in Moncton, he was heavily influenced by his boyhood idol. Shelley Steeves
Three years later, the “fiercely private” Thane Dunn opened up during our phone conversation, and gave honest and entertaining answers to my questions, fulfilling his promise to give me “a doozy of an interview” to post on SIDEBURNS Magazine.
Thank you, Thane. It was a pleasure chatting with you and preparing your interview for everyone to enjoy. Best regards, Carolyn.
Q. Tell us five interesting things about your childhood.
A. I was an only child with an overactive imagination. I loved Spider-Man, and thought I might become him one day. I loved the Fonz from Happy Days so much, that when we went for a visit to Maine, I got a jacket and engineer boots just like the Fonz. I first saw Elvis Presley when I was around six years old. The movie Spinout was the first movie shown during Eddie Driscoll’s Great Money Movie ‘Elvis’ week, a program that was broadcast in New Brunswick from Bangor, Maine. I was very young, but I remember thinking that he had a ‘spark’, and could sing, and got the girls. I felt Elvis was part of my family because his records were always played at my house. My ‘girlfriend’ when I was six had the record “Return to Sender” that we played over and over as we danced on her bed. Her mother, who was amazing, had a tickle trunk like Mr. Dressup that had a slick black wig that I used to like to wear.
Q. Describe your life as a teenager.
A. My life as a teenager was interesting. When I was thirteen, I entered the school talent contest. I used Vaseline to make a pompadour hairdo, borrowed a jacket from my dad’s closet, and with my friend on guitar, performed "Heartbreak Hotel". Our act was well received, but we were beat out by the French class girls who did a clog dance with wooden shoes. I looked like Elvis, so the kids at school started calling me Elvis. Around grade 6, I tried out for the school choir and was told I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Not one to be discouraged, I went ahead and kept on singing. After my voice changed, and I performed with bands, people would tell me I sounded like Elvis. At school, I loved history, but had a love/hate relationship with biology because I hated the subject but had a great teacher. In high school I spent a lot of time chasing girls and raising hell. It was a lot of fun.
Q. What did you do with your time after your high school years ended?
A. My dad sold restaurant equipment on the road, so I got involved in sales. I sold cemetery properties for Arbor Memorial, and won a ton of awards for my salesmanship.
Q. Did you take any lessons related to the performing arts? Please explain.
A. Not really…not until I got into the ETA business. I have probably have spent $5000 for voice lessons over the years, and not all the money was well spent.
Q. What music was most often heard in your home?
A. We listened to traditional country, like George Jones, Patsy Cline, and Tammy Wynette, and Elvis Christmas albums.
Q. What made you decide to embark on a career as an ETA?
A. I was in Las Vegas, and even with my blondish brown hair, people would ask me where my show was in Vegas, thinking I was an ETA. I was pursing my sales career at the time, and Elvis was not a part of my life. But I would see and hear him everywhere—in a movie as I flipped through TV channels or even in cartoons, so I decided I would see where I could go with putting on a show. I drove from Moncton, New Brunswick, to Calgary, Alberta, in my 1960 Cadillac. Gas for the trip ate up all my money and I arrived in Calgary with $90 in my pocket. A guy, who saw my car parked on the street, knocked on the door of the place I was staying and asked if I would sell him my car. I sold my Cadillac for 5xs what I originally paid for it. I was asked if I could sing Elvis songs, and a friend of a friend in Calgary sold me a jumpsuit, starting me on the ETA road.
Q. Describe what you were feeling before, during, and after your first performance as an ETA.
A. One of the early things I did as an ETA was actually awkward because a professional (a doctor or dentist) asked me to come to his office and sing “Love Me Tender” to a lady in his office and present her with a scarf. I also did a karaoke track at a bar located in the countryside of New Brunswick. Women loved it; men hated it. I ended up in the parking lot a couple of times that night, but I kept on going back in to sing, lol.
Q. Describe the atmosphere before a competition backstage.
A. I hate competitions with a passion. I get nervous, and people get on my nerves. Confrontations happen before a competition, and I have seen ETAs making fun of other ETAs.
Q. Describe the process of turning yourself into a stage ready ETA.
A. When I am getting ready before a show, I always brush my teeth and see that I am clean shaven. I use dry shampoo to replicate Elvis’s teased hair. My circa is 1972 and I try to look as good as I can. I don’t wear makeup, mascara, or eyeliner. I always have good tan, so the bright lights do not fade my complexion in photos. I always say a prayer, and thank my angel, my dad, Charlie Dunn.
Q. Describe how you felt before, during, and after your first competition. Did you achieve the outcome you desired?
A. After I drove 17 hours from New Brunswick to Ontario, and through the hectic traffic of Quebec, I arrived at Collingwood white-knuckled and rattled. Still, I thought I could win. I sang a song that I couldn’t sing, “Just Pretend”, which was out of my grasp at that point in my career; so the outcome was not what I had hoped for. I honestly thought I would never compete again.
Q. What valuable life lessons did you learn from your parent(s), or mentor, that you still use today?
A. From my dad, I learned my people skills. He was the greatest salesperson. He was very personable, and people trusted him. I learned right from wrong from my dad. I learned how to treat people and to expect to be treated the same in return. The lessons I learned from my dad, I still use today. I am so much like my dad…even my handwriting is like his. My father and I always loved Johnny Cash gospel music, and when we went on trips together we would sing his music in the car. In 2012, I sang gospel at Collingwood—a year after I lost my dad, and that particular win meant more to me than the overall win in 2009.
Q. Describe the highlights of your ETA career.
A. The biggest highlights of my career have been working with the Bill Baize, who sang with Elvis and is the high tenor on “Burning Love”, and J.D. Summer and the Stamps. When we were doing “Aloha from Hawaii”, Bill joined me in my hometown of Moncton, New Brunswick. Bill paid me the compliment of saying, “Thane Dunn is the closest I have seen to Elvis.” And on a Royal Caribbean Allure of the Sea Cruise, during the third show in the Amber Theatre, Bill, who is my vocal coach, said that I hit notes that he hit in 1972. Bill Baize is the topping on my musical cake.
Q. What is the best part of being an ETA?
A. I like meeting new people, so the best part of being an ETA is all the interesting people I meet. I have raised 50 to 60 grand for charities since 2009. I was made Celebrity Ambassador for the SPCA, which suits me well because of my love for animals.
Q. Who are the important women in your life? Why are these women important to you?
A. My wife, Melanie Dunn, is important to me because she is my rock. She is also the greatest singer I have heard in my life, and I have learned more from Melly about singing than I did from the teachers I paid. When Melly was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, we thought there would be no children to carry on my dad’s name because I am an only child. It was a miracle when our son was born. Charlie, who is named after my dad and who is almost three years old, has brought so such joy to our lives.
Q. How are you different on stage compared to off stage?
A. On stage, I never refer to myself as Elvis, but I also don’t say, “Elvis sang this song.” I have a different spin: I want people to get carried away, and if they think I am Elvis, that is okay. People who have not yet been to my show, but know Elvis, will find him in my performance. Off stage, I am Thane Dunn. I like who I am.
Q. What ETA title would you like to have that has so far escaped you?
A. I honestly would like to win the Ultimate.
Q. Would you want to judge an ETA competition? What do you think are the challenges of being an ETA competition judge?
A. No. I think getting the other judges on the same wavelength is difficult. There is a certain criterion in performance that is needed to be convincing. Over the years, the image has been watered down by TV and the media, and even by some Elvis impersonators. There is a handful of ETAs who are convincing. Many have nothing in common with Elvis, other than the jumpsuit, and judges really need to know their stuff. Other judges, such as the mayor of the town, are not really qualified.
Q. What men have had a positive influence on your life? How?
A. One of my managers, a gentleman from Manchester, UK, has had a positive influence on my life. He has taught me business skills: how to market a show, how to deal with theatres and rentals, and how to back the shows—everything I need to know to market my product.
Q. What makes you sad? How do you cope with sadness?
A. Nothing makes me sad. I exercise, eat right, take care of myself and have the love of a good woman.
Q. Is there a country where you really want to perform as an ETA?
A. England. My wife is from England.
Q. What are your strengths as a performer?
A. A little bit of everything: a voice that sounds like Elvis, the look and resemblance to Elvis, and a sense of humour…everything to get the audience in the palm of my hand.
Q. Describe your typical non-performance day.
A. I don’t get much time to relax because I run my own shows. Pensacola State Fair came up, and I am dealing with different booking agents. I try to make time every day for my family. I make events happen, and it is a job and a half!
Q. What makes you laugh?
A. My wife makes me laugh. My son makes me laugh. The other day, he greeted me with, “Hello, darling. It’s nice to see you.” He is extremely intelligent, and started talking early. Life makes me laugh. I laugh with people, not at them. I laugh at myself.
Q. If it were possible, what would you like to ask Elvis? What would you say to him?
A. I would ask Elvis why he kept so many hangers-on for so long. I would tell him that I love him as if he were part of my family. I would thank him for allowing me to do what I do on stage that helps me pay my bills.
Q. What do you treasure?
A. I treasure my family, my wife, and especially my son. I treasure the people who follow me, and my loyal fans.
Q. If you weren’t an ETA, what career would you choose?
A. I would be in sales; it is in my blood.
Q. What has surprised you most about being an ETA?
A. The impact you make on people’s lives if you do your tribute correctly.
Q. Describe a special moment with a fan or audience member.
A. Last year we were doing a show in a place where we had not been before, and a lady who responded to “Love Me Tender” more than others, told me she had been at Elvis's concert in Buffalo in 1972. The same lady and her husband were on the Dream Cruise, where another lady, who was from Newfoundland, won the picture that John Rowlands had taken of Elvis in Buffalo in 1972. Both had a connection to the 1972 concert, and both were on the cruise at the same time. I thought it was an interesting coincidence.
Q. How do you decide who receives a scarf during a performance?
A. We do it like Elvis did, otherwise it turns into pandemonium. I try to be fair.
Q. What sacrifices have you made for your ETA career?
A. For one thing, when I retire I won’t have a pension--other than what I put into it. I rolled the dice, and everything has turned out okay so far; but I am not Elvis, so there is a risk about shows.
Q. What Elvis costume is your favourite? Why?
A. My favourite suit was made by Mark Woodward, who is, in my opinion, the best in the business. He made me a copy of the white pinwheel jumpsuit that Elvis wore for the 1972 tour that was documented in the MGM documentary. I purchased a stud that was from the jumpsuit that Elvis wore at the April 6th, 1972 concert, from Joseph Kereta, one of the world’s top collectors, and Mark added to my costume.
Q. How do you care for your costumes so they are always stage ready?
A. I have 12 or 13 jumpsuits that I hand wash.
Q. What annoys you?
A. I am in a business where anyone can jump into and you don’t have to have any talent whatsoever. There are great people who do this, but they are few and far between. Unfortunately people paint everyone with the same brush. Some people see a show and get turned off by the experience and don’t go to see a quality show.
Q. What do you fear?
A. Nothing. I have strong faith that keeps that me going. I have strong faith in the Lord.
Q. Describe a future that is specifically design for you.
A. I would like to have my own show in Hawaii. I would live there for a few months a year on a consistent basis.
Q. How do you handle disappointment?
A. I try to learn from my mistakes.
Q. How will you know when it is time to retire from being an ETA?
A. I see a lot of guys wearing gold lame jackets who look like they come from an old folks home. I try to take care of my body, but I am realist, and if I see an old man in the mirror, and I don’t look like a vibrant Elvis, I will know it is time. I have to be able to create the magic. A tribute means something positive to me.
Q. What will you do in retirement?
A. I may get into the real estate business, or into politics.
Q. Who are the people you would like to thank for being there throughout your ETA career?
A. I would like to thank my wife of 8 years, Melanie, the people who come to my shows, and my fantastic band, the Cadillac Kings from New Brunswick.
Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. I am a Libra. I am left handed. I have a car that was owned by Sammy the Bull Gravano, henchman for Mafia boss, John “Dapper Don” Gotti.
Q. What would you like to say to the backup singers and band members with whom you perform?
A. Keep up the good work everyone.
Q. What song do you wish Elvis had recorded so you could sing it on stage during your tribute to Elvis?
A. “Pure love” by Ronny Millsap.
Q. What question do you wish I had asked, but didn’t?
A. Tell me about your April 28th show in Toronto.
Q. How would you answer your own question?
A. I would include a poster showing the details of my upcoming show.