Whole lotta shakin’

Presley, Perkins, Lewis & Cash at ‘Million Dollar’ Kuss event

By Rusty Pate

Photo: Presley, Perkins, Lewis and Cash: A Night To Remember takes place Saturday, Jan. 23 at Clark State’s Kuss Auditorium

There was magic in the air in Memphis on Dec. 4, 1956.
Elvis Presley, the city’s favorite son, had already taken the country by storm. His modest start at local Sun Studio in the previous years had blossomed into a recording contract with RCA, one of the biggest record companies in the industry.

By the end of 1956, he had already recorded “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me Tender.” Two of his now legendary appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show had aired in the previous months and his cultural and financial effect had sent shockwaves throughout the entertainment industry.

Carl Perkins was certainly not as famous as Elvis at the time, but he had written “Blue Suede Shoes.” It was his recording session on Dec. 4 that was meant to capture songs like “Matchbox,” which would become a classic rockabilly tune in its own right. An unknown piano player named Jerry Lee Lewis was sitting in on the sessions. Fellow Sun Records singer Johnny Cash also showed up that day to listen to Perkins’s session.

When Elvis dropped into the studio to say hello, an impromptu jam session popped up. Owner of Sun Studio and marketing mastermind Sam Phillips saw an opportunity. He rallied a local journalist who hustled over with a photographer.

It was dubbed the “Million Dollar Quartet” and quickly became the stuff of early rock and roll legend.

Victor Trevino, Jr. helps bring that legend to the modern stage in Presley, Perkins, Lewis and Cash: A Night To Remember. Trevino portrays Elvis, but don’t mistake this take on that classic recording session for the musical theatre version.

“Our concert is not a fictionalized story,” Trevino says. “It starts out with Carl Perkins doing a song. Then, he brings out Jerry Lee Lewis, and they do a couple songs together. Then, Jerry Lee Lewis does a couple songs. They bring out Johnny Cash, and they bring out Elvis. It’s more of a concert. It’s a very intimate show, where we’re able to react to the audience. That’s what I like about this show. A musical is a set script, and you act like the audience isn’t there. This is emulating the fire and the showmanship of the original artists.”

Trevino began his performing career in high school, but a bit of trouble found him kicked out of his senior year’s musical. He then auditioned for a prestigious local community theatre in Fort Worth, Texas and was promptly given the lead in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

He has been bringing Elvis to the stage for more than seven years. He started out doing weddings and competing in impersonation contests, which can bring thousands of dollars to the winner. Agents always keep a close eye on these contests, and it wasn’t long before Trevino was traveling the country as an Elvis impersonator.

Trevino says the show’s small cast is able to pull off an intimate vibe regardless of the size of the venue.

“What’s cool about the show is it’s only a six-person cast and we travel together,” Trevino says. “We have an upright bass player and a drummer.”

They don’t strictly follow the specific recording session’s track list. Johnny Cash only had a few minor country hits for Sun at the time and Jerry Lee Lewis was a virtual unknown. His first album would come out in the weeks following the session. The idea is to construct a story around these seminal rock and roll artists at the height of their early power.

They do try to keep everything as period-specific as possible.

“We do our best to stay right in there,” Trevino says. “With Johnny Cash for example, you will hear some of the 1960s songs like ‘Cocaine Blues’ and ‘Ring of Fire.’ For Elvis, you will hear 1956-57 stuff. You won’t hear the 1960s, 1970s or movie stuff. Same with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins—you won’t hear any of the later stuff.”

The show continues to evolve with the cast rotating roles. For the show at Kuss Auditorium, Travis Daggett will play Carl Perkins, Ben Hale will play Johnny Cash, Blair Carman will play Jerry Lee Lewis. Jonny Bowler will play bass and Brook Emelio will drum.

“I would say the show is still being created,” Trevino says. “It’s a little different now than it was before. That’s the beauty of it—there’s a loose script to the show. Basically, there is a set list. Everyone knows what the cues are. We kind of base it upon the audience. Some shows, we might joke around more—it totally depends on the audience. For example, there’s jokes I might say here in America that won’t go over well in Canada. We do our best every time to give a solid show.”

Presley, Perkins, Lewis and Cash: A Night To Remember takes place Saturday, Jan. 23 at Clark State’s Kuss Auditorium, 300 S. Fountain Ave. in Springfield. Show starts at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $33-53. For tickets or more information, please visit nighttr.com or call 937.328.3874.

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Rusty Pate
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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