In a steel cage death match of early rock ’n’ rollers, which mid-20th-century musical icon would claim the title of greatest — Elvis Presley or the Beatles?
Peery’s Egyptian Theater attempts to answer that question next week with “Beatles vs. Elvis: A Musical Showdown.”
The revue, which features Beatles tribute band Abbey Road and Elvis Presley impersonator Scot Bruce, hits the stage at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13, in the Egyptian Theater, 2415 Washington Blvd. Tickets are $35 to $55.
“Although the title says ‘Beatles vs. Elvis,’ it’s all friendly — it’s all good fun and everybody wins,” Bruce said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Palm Springs, California. “This show is just about celebrating two great, iconic musical figures. It’s just a high-octane, fun, fun celebration.”
Alex Clarke, who performs as Ringo, said Abbey Road has been doing a Beatles vs. Rolling Stones show for six or seven years now. Three years ago, their manager had the “crazy” idea to try a Beatles vs. Elvis show.
Clarke admits he wasn’t sold on the idea at first, as he pictured his Beatles going up against a silly caricature of the jumpsuit-wearing fat Elvis.
“But this is the way-cool early rockabilly Elvis, and it really works,” Clarke said in a telephone interview from his home in Long Beach, California.
Each group does three 20-minute sets, then — spoiler alert — Bruce and Clarke say both bands may or may not get up on stage together at the end for one great, grand mashup.
“And with three 20-minute sets? It’s all killer and no filler,” Clarke boasts. “We’re playing all the hits.”
Bruce says that although he was aware of Elvis growing up, the Beatles were more a presence in his own life early on. But then, in the 1980s, there was a resurgence of rockabilly music thanks to bands like the Stray Cats. Bruce says that got him to revisiting ’50s music.
“And when you do research like that, all roads lead back to the King,” Bruce said. “It wasn’t until the 1980s that I really began to listen to Elvis and appreciate his music. So today, I’m a huge Beatles and Elvis fan.”
Bruce says it’s interesting that the audience response from show to show is so different.
“We can often both get equal audience response, but sometimes the Beatles get more and sometimes the Elvis band gets more audience response,” he said. “There’s just no telling how it’s going to go.
“But we always say the real winner is the audience,” Bruce adds.
Clarke said that while it’s not huge, there is a slight generational divide between the Elvis and Beatles fans.
Says Clarke: “When we do the Beatles vs. Stones show, you’re drawing from the same era — which band from that time do you prefer? This is a little different.”
And while Clarke says there are usually pockets of Elvis and Beatles fans in the audience, he also senses a lot of appreciation among fans for the other act.
“And, with this show you really can see the connection — the line — between Elvis and the Beatles,” he said. “It’s a cool evolutionary thing in this show.”
Very few artists in popular music have the same kind of multi-generational appeal that both the Beatles and Elvis have, according to Bruce. He said that, growing up, there was the music his parents liked and the music he and the other kids liked — “And never the twain shall meet.”
“I wouldn’t have been caught dead at a country music show, and my parents wouldn’t be caught dead at a Led Zeppelin concert,” Bruce said. “But having said that, it’s neat to see grandparents and grandchildren, ages 4 to 94 — everyone — celebrating this music together as a family. Both the Beatles and Elvis were definitely multi-generational artists.”
So then, seriously. In a friendly Beatles-vs.-Elvis-who-did-it-better competition, who wins?
Clarke, a.k.a. Ringo, says it’s a question that has no answer.
“Elvis is like Lewis and Clark, and the Beatles are like the guys who built the (transcontinental) railroad,” he said. “It’s an apples-and-oranges thing. The whole “vs.” in the title, we play that up in the Beatles vs. Stones show, but we could just as easily call this one ‘Beatles AND Elvis.’”
But Bruce, the Elvis impersonator, has his own theory.
“I will let John Lennon answer that for you,” Bruce explains slyly. “John Lennon said two very important things. He said, ‘Before Elvis, there was nothing.’ … And he also said, ‘If there was no Elvis, there would be no Beatles.’”
Still, Bruce says there’s a lot of mutual respect between the two groups of musicians. But there’s also a little playful banter onstage.
“They make fun of my hairdo, and I make fun of their hairdos,” he said.
“We’re just excited to be coming to Ogden,” Clarke concludes. “We haven’t played Ogden before. We’ve done Salt Lake a bunch of times, and we played St. George and even Logan, but this will be our first show in Ogden.”