How and when did you get bit by the Elvis bug?
My mom was a huge Elvis fan, so she had his records, and as soon as I heard them, I was hooked. When I was 9, we lived in a really small town in Utah that had this carnival thing every year, and I won a contest singing “Blue Suede Shoes.”
I was 7 when he died, and I remember just crying, crying, crying. I was already so touched by his music. Even at that age, I remember what I was wearing, I remember where we were, I remember everything [when he died].
In a city overpopulated with Elvis impersonators, how do you make yourself stand out?
You pretty much have to have something [authentic] to offer. Whether it be that your moves are incredible or your voice is incredible or, “Wow, your face looks just like Elvis!” Because I know guys who have a fantastic Elvis look, do fantastic moves but can hardly sing, and they’re at the top of this business. I know guys who sound great and don’t have the other two, but they’re still making it in this business. So if you have one of the qualities, it can get you gigs.
With me, it’s always been my vocals. I try to do the Elvis look the best I can with the hair and the makeup, and of course all the suits I have are authentic and very expensive, so my clothing is there. But it’s my vocal that brings people back.
You know more than 350 Elvis songs. What’s the toughest to perform?
At the top of my list would be “Rags to Riches” and “Just Pretend.” Those are very powerful [songs sung] at a real power, high range. I do these songs, but it takes 120 percent of everything I have to give.
In addition to performing at El Cortez, you also have a gig Tuesday nights in Mesquite. Do you sometimes see the same fans in both venues?
I have I guess you could call it the John Brooks Fan Club, and these people will literally sit through four hours on Friday [at El Cortez], four hours Saturday, drive to Mesquite, four hours Tuesday. And they do this week after week, and I asked them, “How can you stand to listen to me that [often]? I would’ve gotten tired of me after the first week!” But they love my show, and they like the way I interact with the crowd. But a lot of it is the variety. I’ve never done the same show twice.
You’ve probably encountered more than a couple of overzealous female fans? Any of them request to have you into their bedroom as Elvis?
Yeah, but this was before I got remarried. [Laughs.] But I’ve [been given] room keys. Most memorably, I had these four young ladies who wanted me to meet up with them all at the same time. But, no, I didn’t.
I’ve had some crazy fans who look at you like you are the Elvis Presley. It got ugly a few times. I’ve had to have some 86’d, because it got to stalking problems or them trying to break up my marriage.
What’s the biggest no-no in the Elvis impersonator rule book?
Letting the whole thing go to your head—thinking that you are Elvis; thinking that you’re too big for your fans. I look at it like this: If it weren’t for the people who come out and see me, I wouldn’t be performing for anybody. So I appreciate the person who gave me a $100 tip, and I appreciate those people who have no money [and] who really can’t even afford to buy a drink—they’re all the same to me. I’ve met so many [Elvis impersonators] in the past who are so full of themselves. … But I’m very humble. I always have been; I always will be. If I got a multimillion-dollar deal—which would never happen in the Elvis world—I would still have the same time for my fans that I do now.
Where do you stand on fried peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches?
I love ’em. I actually had never had one until about three years ago when I did a show in Louisiana, and somebody just kidding around bought us some for dinner, and I loved it. Last year, when we hit our 100th show at El Cortez, they made us a peanut butter-and-banana cake, which sounds like it wouldn’t be very good, but it actually was.
Let’s say Elvis really is still alive and you run into him at a truck stop. What’s the first thing you ask him?
Where the hell you been?
Memories of Elvis
John Brooks performs his Elvis tribute show from 6-10 p.m. Fri-Sat at the Parlour Bar in El Cortez and from 7-11 p.m. Tue at the Casablanca Resort and Casino in Mesquite. Both shows are free.