As a teenager, Will Reeb made his first Elvis jumpsuit with his sister using a generic pattern and bell-bottom pants.
Over 40 years and 20 jumpsuits later, Reeb still dons the King’s wardrobe, now as his full-time work uniform.
Reeb, 58, the only full-time Elvis in Calgary, started performing his tribute to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll in 1975.He first took to the stage as a hobby, while working weekends at Federal Express. Impatient in his wait for the perfect moment, Reeb made the leap to performing as a full-time career in 1991.
“I said goodbye one day and I never looked back.”
Reeb was born and raised in Calgary, opting to stay in the city throughout his performing career.
The first time he fell in love with Elvis was by accident as the sultry sound of the King’s crooning flowed through the speakers of his mother’s portable 8-track player. Reeb, 11 at the time, began to sing along while building model airplanes in his childhood bedroom.
The attraction to the singer, according to Reeb, was immediate.
“He just had this charisma about him,” he said. “He was the epitome of cool.”
According to The Washington Post, Reeb belongs to an industry that includes an estimated 3,000 artists worldwide.
Scott Christensen, general manager of Annerin Productions in Calgary, says the central goal of a tribute show like Reeb’s is to recreate a unique but and electrifying experience for the audience.
“The more successful acts are iconic artists from the past, and everyone’s trying to relive that,” Christensen said. “We’ve been able to produce these shows and send them all over the world, so there is an appetite for them.”
Though a majority of Elvis tributes choose to migrate to hotspots such as Las Vegas or Memphis, Reeb chose instead to remain in his hometown of Calgary.
“It was a no-brainer to stick around Calgary. I love Calgary. I grew up here, it’s my home,” Reeb explained, “…For me it’s been lucky ‘cause I’ve never really had much competition.”
Renee Griffiths, a fan of Reeb’s who has seen him perform over 15 times since 1999, says what puts him apart from other Elvis acts is his ability to entice his audience.
“He pays so much attention to the crowd,” said Griffiths. “He engages everybody and makes everybody feel really special and part of the show.”
Reeb’s effort to include the audience is crucial to his act. He recognizes that not everybody is guaranteed to be an Elvis fan, but they all expect to be entertained regardless.
“I consider myself these days an entertainer first and an Elvis performer second,” Reeb says, describing his performance mission. “The entertainment part is the most important thing.”
Nowadays, Reeb mostly performs private events, including corporate parties, birthdays, retirements and occasional weddings. Carter Bond, who hired Reeb to perform at his annual holiday party this year, chose Reeb as a surprise guest in order to liven up his get-together with a sense of nostalgia.
“I’m of that generation, so it sounded great,” Bond said. “Will did a great job. I mean, ‘Elvis’ did a great job.”
Reeb arrived to the gig in a custom black jumpsuit, accented with gold stars and flares of red scattered throughout. Paired with golden aviator sunglasses and the permanent additions of side-slicked black hair and wild black sideburns, Reeb’s costume recreated the look of Elvis’s mid-1970s Vegas persona.
At Bond’s house party, Reeb performed 45 minutes of Elvis hits, pre-coordinated and requested by the client. Karaoke instrumentals on Reeb’s personal iPod acted as a backing band as Reeb fully committed to his routine for the 16 guests in attendance. Strutting, dancing and kicking as Presley did, Reeb transformed the family living room into a stage as he adopted the King’s character. By using the iPod, Reeb says his ability to read the room and adapt his setlist accordingly has been strengthened.
“If I’m in the middle of a performance and I go ‘you know what? I think they’d like this song,’ I’ll just go and flip through and do that song,” Reeb said. “So I never do the same show twice.”
Though Reeb dresses, sings and performs as Presley, his crowd interaction in between songs does not aim to duplicate what Elvis did. Instead, Reeb works to engage the audience in his own style and character, with play-along bits and song dedications throughout in his own personal performance style.
In his performance for Bond’s guests, Reeb pulled a ‘protégé’ from the crowd for “Jailhouse Rock,” serenaded several guests for “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and dedicated “Hound Dog” to the family dog, Ozzy.
Overall, it’s Reeb’s love of performing that drives him to keep his tribute alive, vowing to continue until it’s no longer enjoyable for him or the audience.
Although he admits the performance doesn’t get easier with age, Reeb can’t see a time in the near future where the thrill of performing will fade.
“As long as I keep having fun with it, I’ll keep doing it.”
The editor responsible for this piece is Hannah Willinger an can be reached at email@example.com