Tribute artists bring back old-time rock

Gordon Rebel (left), Aaron Wong (above right) and Eli Williams (lower right) will perform at the Summer Night of Rock & Roll Sept. 20. - Contributed photos
Gordon Rebel (left), Aaron Wong (above right) and Eli Williams (lower right) will perform at the Summer Night of Rock & Roll Sept. 20.
— image credit: Contributed photos

What better way to offer a farewell salute to summer 2014 than with an old-school, multiple-bill rock n’ roll show?

That’s what host Michael Roberds and three noted tribute artists are asking with their upcoming show, Summer Night of Rock & Roll, which threatens to shake, rattle and rock South Surrey’s Royal Canadian Legion Crescent Branch 240 (2643 128 St.) to its foundations, come Saturday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m.

The evening, co-organized with Surrey’s Gordon Rebel (saluting Roy Orbison) and Eli ‘Tigerman’ Williams (channelling ’68-Vegas-era Elvis), and Burnaby’s Aaron Wong (evoking young Elvis), will bring back the distinctive sounds and performance styles of two of the most legendary and enduring hit-makers of the last 60 years.

Tying it all together in old-time MC style will be Roberds (well known for numerous appearances as actor, comedian and media host, including his long stint as Uncle Fester in The New Addams Family), with partial proceeds from the evening going to the Royal Canadian Theatre Company.

Putting together the show was pretty much a natural, Roberds said, explaining that he has known Rebel for some years, and that the latter was instrumental in bringing onboard Williams and Wong, with whom Rebel has worked frequently on the same bill over the last few years.

“I was a fan of all the acts, and I thought we could maybe present them and bring them to a wider audience,” he said, adding that he is developing an “old-fashioned comedy routine” to blend with the acts appropriately.

“I’m a huge fan of old rock n’ roll. I’m not a singer, but I enjoy the music a lot. We’re going to have a really fantastic night.”

The modest, down-to-earth Rebel explained that while he and his colleagues manage to capture the look and evoke the sound of Orbison and Elvis, they’re not doing “impressions” per se.

“There’s only one Elvis and only one Roy Orbison,” he acknowledged.

He looks on their performances as a recreation of the excitement generated by the original artists – and he’s seen the music, and the live experience forge an immediate, electrical connection with audiences across B.C.

“In some of the communities, like Salmon Arm, Enderby and Kamloops, it’s like you’re a real star – everyone knows you’re in town and who you are,” he said.

He is quick to credit the appeal and dynamism of  both Wong and Williams – the latter a frequent competitor at the annual Elvis World Championships in Memphis.

Their ability to work audiences contrasts nicely with the more shy approach Rebel takes in evoking the real-life Orbison, he said.

“That’s their strong suit. Aaron brings a lot of energy to his performance that conveys the young Elvis – he’s a good dancer,” he added. “And Eli, if he’s doing the `68 Special with his leathers, or the Vegas years with the white jumpsuit, he’s got all the women drooling.”

Rebel said he first got into singing as a karaoke performer, but got into performing Orbison’s material after a well-received Halloween appearance eight years ago, turning professional in 2010.

Ironically, he said, he was a bigger fan of the Beatles, growing up, although he accepts his natural alto-tenor range is better suited to Orbison’s songs.

“I was really into the British Invasion, but I remember listening to Orbison’s voice and realizing he was unique.”

He’s learned a lot about Orbison along the way, he added.

“Ringo Starr said he was the only performer the Beatles did not like to follow. He’d opened for them, but they knew that while they held the record for so many weeks in the number one spot on the charts, the one who broke that record was Orbison.”

He also discovered that Orbison’s trademark dark shades look came about while touring England, when he lost his regular eyewear and had to wear his prescription sunglasses instead.

Rebel, naturally, includes all of the key Orbison hits in his set, including Pretty Woman, Only The Lonely, Running Scared, In Dreams, and the singer’s latter-day success with The Travelling Wilburys, You’ve Got It.

The music still has potent appeal, he noted, and there’s a mystical something about the persona that adds another dimension to performing it.

“When I put on the dark glasses, I don’t even recognize myself in the mirror,” he said. “And people are very forgiving – about 80 per cent of it is visual. If you look the part, you’re dead-on.”

But performing a tribute is about much more than cashing in on an artist’s appeal – in many cases it’s reaffirming and extending it, he suggested.

“I enjoy Roy Orbison’s music – and I want to keep it alive for a younger generation.”

“If this all works out well,” quipped Roberds, “I might come back in the spring with my personal tribute to Madonna.”

For tickets ($20 each) call 604-582-6111.

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