Originally created 07/06/06

Upcoming tribute artist contest shows that Elvis will never die



It's been 29 years since Elvis Presley's death, but fans continue to perpetuate his music and memory.

A major Elvis tribute artist contest will be held Friday and Saturday in Aiken, with about 20 contestants from across the U.S. and Canada.

Danny Haywood, who organizes the annual Augusta Elvis contest each January, is helping Tim Key organize the event, which will be at the Aiken County Shrine Club, 1526 Columbia Highway N.

Preliminary rounds are at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday. The final round starts at 8 p.m. Friday.. Admission is $8 for preliminaries and $15 for the finals.

A favorite is Pete Paquette, of Ottawa, the first runner-up in last year's Images of the King contest in Memphis, Tenn. The winner of the Aiken contest qualifies to take part in this year's Images of the King contest in August. Visit shadowsofthe kingcontest.com or call (803) 640-4085 or (803) 221-3200 for details.

Also paying tribute to the king of rock 'n' roll this month will be Jason Sikes, a popular local tribute artist, who will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 22, at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 124 Newberry St. N.W., Aiken. Tickets are $23. See jasonsikes-entertain ment.com or call (803) 648-1438.

He will be backed by the Sassy Brass Show Band and will have as his guest Sonny West, who for many years was in charge of security at Presley's concerts until fired by Elvis' father, Vernon Presley, in 1976.

Immediately after being fired, Mr. West joined his cousin, Red West, and another Elvis confidante, Dave Hebler, in helping celebrity scandal reporter Steve Dunleavy write the 1977 tell-all book Elvis: What Happened.

Many Elvis fans accused Sonny West of ratting on one of his best friends (Presley was the best man at Mr. West's wedding), but the ex-security chief said he was just trying to shock Presley into doing something about his abuse of prescription drugs.

Presley died a few months after the book came out.

He performed twice in Augusta's Bell Auditorium in 1956, on March 20 and June 27. He was so popular by his second concert that both the 4,000-seat main side of the auditorium and the then-1,000-seat Music Hall section on the other side of a common stage had to be opened.

The Music Hall was demolished in the 1980s to make way for a loading dock. Only a few entertainers in the 1950s drew that many fans to the Bell. James Brown was one of them.

Though there were seats for 5,000, The Augusta Chronicle reported that 6,000 fans, public safety officers and curiosity seekers packed in to see Ameri-ca's newest singing sensation.

Presley, just 21, performed eight songs: Heartbreak Hotel (his first RCA single); Long, Tall Sally; I Was the One; Baby Let's Play House; I Want You, I Need You, I Love You; I've Got a Woman; Blue Suede Shoes; and (You Ain't Nothin' But a) Hound Dog, which he recorded a month later.

It's hard to believe that Elvis would be 71 today, but his music and his spirit are still alive.

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 35 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at don.rhodes@morris.com.