It was the right house, Rob Schwertley’s place in southeast Everett. But answering the door in an electric-blue spangled jumpsuit was, unmistakably, someone else: Robbie Dee, Schwertley’s alter ego, is an Elvis tribute artist, a singer who can rock and croon with the best of those who double for The King.
“I have a lot of fun. All these shows are little adventures,” said Schwertley, who in 2015 claimed top prize at the Seattle Elvis Invitationals with his power performance of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
At just 40, Schwertley was born nearly half a century after Elvis Aaron Presley entered the world on Jan. 8, 1935, in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi. On Monday, a couple days shy of what would have been Elvis’ 85th birthday, the Everett man opened the door to the home he shares with his wife, Briana.
As Robbie Dee, in his upstairs music room, he launched into “Suspicious Minds,” a No. 1 hit for Elvis and a late ’60s favorite of mine. Fun as it all is, Schwertley said, “I try to be pretty serious about it.”
Schwertley, a 1998 graduate of Kamiak High School, is a manager with The Seattle Times digital advertising and marketing team. Growing up in Edmonds, he heard ’60s tunes on the oldies station his parents liked.
“When I was in high school, it was the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears,” Schwertley said. “I didn’t really know much about Elvis when I was a teenager.”
His younger sister, Bonnie, “had a very short interest in Elvis, and started watching Elvis movies and listening to Elvis music,” he said. “I would sing along just for fun. My family would say, ‘You kind of sound like Elvis.’”
Schwertley was on a cruise ship with his family when he first sang an Elvis song for an audience. “It was karaoke night, and I did ‘Viva Las Vegas.’ I knew all the words,” he said.
At Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival in 2012, he happened upon an Elvis exhibit and sang a Presley song, “Moody Blue.” There, he met Marlow Harris, an organizer of the Seattle Elvis Invitationals.
His first try at the Elvis competition was 2013. “Everyone lines up and sings one song,” he said of the Seattle Elvis Invitationals, where the Kentucky Rain Band backed up performers.
The Seattle event hasn’t been held for a few years, but the Everett-based Kentucky Rain Band is going strong.
An Elvis tribute band, Kentucky Rain was started in 1993 by Everett’s Steve Adams, then its frontman. Adams no longer performs as Elvis, but joins with the group as an emcee at some events.
Original members Dallas Cooper and Steve Preszler are still with the band, which performed at the Historic Everett Theatre in October and at Rocko’s Fireside Bar & Grill in Everett for a Christmas with Elvis show Dec. 20.
“I kind of see myself as a student of Elvis Presley,” said Cooper, 58, Kentucky Rain’s bass player. “There’s so much depth in his music. He’s kind of the blueprint for all great music artists to copy, emulate or study.”
Schwertley, as Robbie Dee, sings on his own with recorded tracks, and with Kentucky Rain and the local Graceland Station Band. He performs one afternoon a month at Bothell Health Care, a residential facility for seniors, and at lots of private parties. Fees for his shows range from $300 into the thousands.
“I do a lot of different types of appearances — birthday parties, retirements, things like that,” said Schwertley, who has performed at Tour de Terrace in Mountlake Terrace and Taste Edmonds. “Typically it will be an 80th birthday. I’ve done 40th and 50th birthdays, memorial services and anniversary parties.”
Picking a favorite song is tough. “I like all of them,” said Schwertley, admitting he favors the 1970s Elvis. “One of the hardest things is making a set list — what do I keep and what do I cut?”
Kentucky Rain’s bass player likes performing with Schwertley. “He’s just a great person on and off the stage. He’s a great guy to practice with — definitely a tribute artist,” said Cooper, who has heard and worked with many would-be Elvises: Steve Adams, Steven Sogura, Bret Wiggins, Robert Washington, Dino Macris, Scott Coon, and from Monroe, Brian Andrews.
Puyallup-based Danny Vernon — his given name is Daniel Vernon Smith — is among the region’s best-known Elvis tribute performers. The King had it all, said Vernon, “looks, talent, passion.”
Vernon, who performs an “Illusion of Elvis” show with his band the Devilles, doesn’t like to tell his age. He is certainly older than the age Elvis reached. Presley was 42 when he died at Graceland, his Memphis mansion, on Aug. 16, 1977. “I have to perform as a 21-year-old Elvis,” said Vernon, who has performed at Everett’s Cruzin’ to Colby. “Fortunately, I’m holding up pretty well.”
As a boy, Vernon found his dad’s Presley records. “I just enjoyed listening to him,” he said. Like Schwertley, his introduction to being Elvis started with karaoke. That was years ago at the Puyallup Fair. “I sang ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’” he recalled.
Presley’s appeal is personal, Vernon said. “He’s like a friend you can relate to. I can’t explain it,” he said.
“In today’s day and age, music is so fabricated,” said Vernon, who’s not a fan of popular singers who employ Auto-Tune. “Anything classic, there’s a reason why it’s classic. Millions of people like it.”
For the King’s 85th birthday, Cooper doesn’t plan anything flashy. He’ll just enjoy the music.
“I’ll go through my Elvis collection, pick up my bass and play along,” he said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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