He's coming back! It's been more than a decade since Doug Church played Pottstown's SunnyBrook Ballroom, filling the place to capacity. A lot has happened since then , with Church traveling the world as an Elvis Presley tribute artist. But on Aug. 17 at 8 p.m. he'll be performing again, and during a recent interview, Church, now an international star, had a chance to reflect on his past, present and future.
First, the back story: When a high school friend back in Iowa introduced Doug Church to the less well-known movie music of one Elvis Presley, it was a bit like Columbus discovering America for the teenager. 'I was instantly and completely in love!'
So Church,, admittedly a shy kid,, figured that if could master Elvis' music as an interpreter, maybe girls would notice him. Back then, such motivation was all he needed to try.
As it turned out, he may have impressed some girls with his spot-on echoes of The King, but something more far-reaching was happening.
When Doug Church entered the United States Air Force after high school, he began competing in base talent shows - and winning. 'Then I got to the regional levels and began winning in larger ponds that involved bases all around Europe.' Before he had completed his four years in the Air Force, the crooner had won an impressive11 first place trophies for his Elvis talents.
'It felt good, of course, but back then I didn't realize that it would become my life's work. 'I was one of eight kids, and four of my older brothers sang gospel, and they complained that I sang that music off-key. So I wasn't really that confident.'
After bouncing around with some odd jobs, he landed in South Bend, Indiana. At about the same time - in the late 1980's - the karaoke craze was sweeping the country. For fun, Church made a tape based on his Elvis talents. It was so outstanding that it caught the attention of the sound technician who was running the tape machine.
That technician was so dazzled that he invited Doug Church to get himself a simple Elvis get-up and sing a few love songs for a couple celebrating an anniversary, right in the couple's living room.
'And he told me I'd even get paid to do it,' the Elvis tribute singer was remembering during a recent phone interview.
That one living room performance led to many more, and Church got himself a better costume - and more and more gigs. 'I was finally starting to realize that this could really turn into something bigger.'
It certainly did. The kid who began doing Elvis to get past his shyness with girls placed second in the country in his first foray in 1990 into The World's Best Elvis Impersonator competition in Memphis. The following year, he captured the first place crown in the same competition.
Somewhere along the way, he became known as 'The True Voice of Elvis,' and has even developed a series of tapes that delve into Elvis Presley's specific phonics pattern for 'wannabe' interpreters.
After becoming a celebrated performance artist in the Midwest, Doug Church was invited to join 'Legends in Concert,' the entourage in which tribute artists perform as celebrities. While 'Legends' is based in Las Vegas, its performers travel the globe. Church has wowed audiences in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Aruba, The Bahamas and even Moscow - and yes, everybody there recognizes The King.
His love affair with Pottstown began in the 1990's, and his last visit of several was in 2001. 'I can't wait to get back to the SunnyBrook Ballroom - I love the place and the fans are just terrific,' says Church. 'Responsive audiences are what keep me loving what I do, and wanting to do it forever!'
There's a new challenge coming in Church's life in the near future, when he will doing the Elvis musical soundtrack in an upcoming motion picture called 'Fame and Fortune.' Church will be handling a 17-year span of years in Elvis' life. Also involved in the film is Elvis' best friend and bodyguard, Sonny West, who has become a close friend of Church's.
This remarkable performer, now living near South Bend, Indiana, still travels more than 30 weeks a year for performances, and usually does two 45-miute sets. His costumes are an essential part of the show, and so is humor.
'Sure, there are days when I guess I'd rather be fishing,' says Church, who is careful to explain always that he is not an 'impersonator' in the traditional sense, but rather a 'tribute artist.' I perform each and every show,' he says, 'as a tribute, and out of respect, for 'The King.' You really can't 'impersonate' the greatest legend of all time.'
Doug Church will be performing in concert with full orchestra and back-up singers at the SunnyBrook Ballroom, 50 Sunnybrook Road, Pottstown, on Aug. 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35. Ticket hot line numbers are 856-673-6223 and 484-624-5187. For online orders, go to thesunnybrookballroom.net