Elvis Presley may have had an untimely death, but his voice never made it to heaven.
Instead, it has been reincarnated in the vocal chords of Queens singer and musician Gregg Peters. While Elvis impersonators seem a dime a dozen these days, Peters has been crooning the King of rock ‘n’ roll’s tunes for 32 years in a music career that has spawned over 10,000 performances. Not only does his voice sound uncannily like Elvis’, but his dark dyed hair, sideburns, and physique evoke memories of one of the most revolutionary yet beloved musicians in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Born in Astoria in 1954, Peters became interested in Elvis when he saw his idol’s film “Love Me Tender” at the age of 4. His mother then bought him a toy guitar.
“I always fell in love with Elvis’ music. I loved all of his films,” he said. “The way he looked, his style.”
During his childhood in Queens, Peters studied guitar and took voice lessons. He learned how to sing opera and Broadway show tunes; still, he was always trying to imitate Elvis’ voice and gestures.
By the age of 14, Peters had recorded his first song. Soon after he formed his own band and began performing at high school shows and even his own prom. While Peters played popular hits from that time period, he devoted most of his shows to performing Elvis’ top songs. After graduating from high school, Peters’ musical career began to accelerate. In 1973, he was the opening act for a Frank Sinatra concert and a year later appeared on a television talk show. Now he has logged 140 television appearances to promote his work as an entertainer.
When Elvis died in 1977, fans began to request performances from musical artists who looked like him and sang his songs in the same distinctive voice. Peters recalls that in the first few years following Elvis’ death, there were only about 10 singers performing tribute shows to the King. In comparison, today, Peters estimates, there are about 100,000 different Elvis imitators giving concerts. He explained that as a musician he has a “good voice and is a good showman” and can sing various genres of music, while the other impersonators are “typecast. They can only do Elvis.”
Wearing flamboyant jumpsuits, scarves, and sunglasses, Peters dresses and sings in a style that Elvis enthusiasts refer to as “the concert years,” from 1969 on, when Presley played in Las Vegas. At his own shows, Peters belts out Elvis tunes “99 percent of the time,” but also sings songs from two other famous Vegas showmen, Engelbert Humperdink and Tom Jones. His own Vegas career was cut short, however, after six performances due to $6 million in royalties he was obligated to pay Elvis’ estate for copying the singer’s image.
Outside of Vegas venues, Peters has achieved a level of accomplishment few tribute singers have been able to equal. In 1980, he recorded his first album, “The King on Long Play,” an Elvis disco medley that reached the number one ranking on the Billboard charts in the United Kingdom. The record played on the radio across Europe in the early 1980s. Peters continues to write his own songs and record albums.
The international success of “The King on Long Play” led to more opportunities stateside. World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon hired Peters to endorse the sports entertainment organization in his concerts. In the late ’90s, professional wrestler Lou Albano promoted Peters’ song “Magical Girl” on WCBS-FM. Peters has also held concerts with stand-up BITS by comedians Rodney Dangerfield and Andrew Dice Clay.
Music is a family business for Peters, who along with his wife of 30 years, Sharon, is a lifelong resident of Queens. He trained two of his three sons to sing and play guitar professionally. In all of his shows, he sings duets with his mother, who goes by the stage name “Miss Marie.” One of his sons, James, is a guitarist in his band. James calls himself “J.J. Burton,” in reference to James Burton, Elvis’ former lead guitarist.
Peters’ youngest son, Lamar, is also an Elvis tribute artist who has been performing with his father since he was 9 years old.
“We get a discount on hair dye,” Lamar joked.
Singing Elvis songs from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, Lamar, who just turned 21, performs with the same energy and youthful exuberance that Presley exhibited earlier in his career. Building up an impressive resume of his own, Lamar toured across the country this year and is currently playing at various venues in Queens.
Nowadays the elder Peters performs mostly in the tri-state area, including tribute shows in Atlantic City.
In another tribute to Presley, who generously donated money to a variety of organizations and individuals in need of financial assistance, Peters also does charity work. He has raised funds during his career for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the American Red Cross and the Walter Kaner Children’s Foundation.
Information about Peters’ upcoming performances can be found at his website on myspace.com or by calling (212) 561-7354. Peters and his son Lamar will be performing on Jan. 16, at Glendale’s American Legion Post 104, located at 72-02 Myrtle Ave. Tickets for the show are available for $20. The concert is aptly titled “A Night with Two Kings.”