For Elvis Presley tribute artist, Jimmy Tighe, impersonating “The King” is not about recognition or accolades. It’s about paying homage.
An Exeter resident, Tighe has performed as an Elvis tribute artist since 1998 and attended several competitions. He was recognized for his performance at the 2015 Lake George Elvis Festival in New York where he took fifth place in his division and recently returned from the 2016 contest. Tighe’s next local performance takes place 7 p.m. July 27 at the Avenue Diner in Wyoming.
Tighe, 36, was born into a rock and roll household, where the music selection included Elvis.
By 1998, when his parents took him to see his first Elvis tribute artist, he had found the inspiration to carry on Presley’s music.
Immersing himself in Elvis history and culture, Tighe attended several Elvis weeks in Memphis, sang at the Graceland Crossings music venue and competed in the 2003 Images of the King contest.
“It was unspeakable, unbelievable,” Tighe said of the experience. “Just the atmosphere itself was amazing.”
Tighe also met friends of Elvis — Joe Esposito, D.J. Fontana and Ray Walker — getting insight into who Presley was.
“He was the most honest guy,” Tighe said. “He didn’t like getting help. He always wanted to help other people.”
Tighe cites one story where Presley had his pink Cadillac complemented by a woman in Memphis. The next day, he allegedly bought her a Cadillac and had it delivered to her house.
“He was very generous,” Tighe said.
The tribute artist said his affinity for Presley comes from the way the singer, actor and icon inspired people throughout his career.
“I try to inspire people through his music and by bringing them back to the days when they were young,” Tighe said.
He went to his first Lake George festival in 2014. Categories at the competition are broken into 1950s professional and non-professional and 1970s professional and non-professional. Judges assess performance based on appearance, performance and vocals.
“If you’re doing ’50s and you’re doing ‘Hound Dog,’ you better do ’50s ‘Hound Dog’ and not ’70s ‘Hound Dog,’” Tighe said. “There’s a major difference.”
Tighe impersonates ’70s Elvis in the non-pro division, because he likes the theatricality of the “jumpsuit” era and the period provided a lot of footage for him to study.
“I didn’t expect to make it that far,” Tighe said of the 2015 event. “When I found out, I was shocked.”
Although his trip to this year’s festival didn’t yield awards, Tighe said placement is not the point for him.
“It’s not about winning,” he said. “I’m going out there to pay my tribute and that’s it.”
Tighe said his favorite part of performing is interacting with audience members, often sitting in their laps and giving them a scarf or a teddy bear.
“If you’re in the back of the room, I make you feel like you’re in the front row, which is basically what he did,” Tighe said of Presley.
The tribute artist takes pride in carrying on the legacy and music of Presley with reverence.
“I don’t go out there in a wig and a piece-of-crap jumpsuit,” Tighe said. “I have the best in the business, and I try to be as respectful as I can. I goof off a lot, but I do it in a manner I think Elvis would do it.”