Craig A. Meyer may not be the original Rocket Man, but he’s a darn fine astronaut in his own right.
The Atlanta-based musician/actor brings his Elton John tribute show to Layton this weekend, offering audiences a virtual smorgasbord of hits from one of the top-selling musical artists of all time. “Remember When Rock Was Young: The Elton John Tribute” hits the stage at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, in the Kenley Amphitheater.
“It’s a full-bore fun fest — we have a great time in our show,” Meyer said in a recent telephone interview from his home base of Atlanta. “The show is exciting, and filled with all the Elton John hits you want to hear.”
For Saturday’s concert, Meyer will be bringing a seven-piece band to help him play such songs as “Crocodile Rock,” “Honky Cat,” “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Candle in the Wind.”
Meyer is coming up on his 43rd year in the entertainment business, and he’s currently in the midst of his 10th year of impersonating Sir Elton. Last year was his biggest yet — 240 days on the road, 110 concerts in all.
“It pays my mortgage and bought my house,” Meyer deadpans. “And to be a working actor and musician and to own a house is quite an accomplishment.”
Originally from Los Angeles, Meyer moved to Atlanta 14 years ago for a job that “didn’t work out.” But instead of returning to L.A., Meyer says he was looking for a change, and Atlanta was a town he’d liked for many years.
So he stayed, and opened a vocal studio.
One day, Melody Knighton, a nationally known tribute artist and impersonator, came in to Meyer’s vocal studio to work on her Dolly Parton impression. The two artists became “very dear friends,” and she set about trying to talk him into putting together his own tribute show.
It’s not that Meyer couldn’t do it, it’s that he didn’t want to.
“Here’s the thing: As an actor, I’m always somebody else,” he said. “Whether it’s ‘My Fair Lady’ or ‘42nd Street,’ I’m not performing as me — I’m an actor.”
Still, Meyer says there was a certain hesitancy in considering the idea of becoming a tribute artist.
“When I think of an impersonator, I think of a really bad Elvis doing his thing somewhere, and I just couldn’t fathom that,” he admits. “I mean, I have legit credits on Broadway. That just doesn’t feel right.”
At one point in all of this, Meyer did a concert at a local theater in Atlanta and included a couple of Elton John songs at the piano. After the show, a dozen or more people came up to him and told him, “There were moments I heard Elton in your voice and in your piano.”
So Meyer finally contacted Knighton, and she used her contacts to help him get started in the tribute business. His first gig was New Year’s Eve 2008, within 18 months he was playing Vegas, and by 2011 he’d formed his own band and they were off and running.
Meyer says when he finally said yes to doing a tribute, he was determined to create something that was “critically, commercially and artistically sound.”
“And that’s what I’ve done, I feel like I’m bringing something great to my audience,” he said. “While I don’t cure cancer, I make them forget it for awhile.”
Today, Meyer says he’s very proud of what he does, and he considers it “something wonderful.” He does admit, however, that at first he was hesitant to tell people he was doing an Elton John tribute. He wasn’t sure how they’d react.
“I had a couple of not-so-generous responses from colleagues and people I know,” Meyer says. “But I look back at them now and go, ‘The joke’s on you, because I’m doing really well.’”
Meyer says he prefers the moniker “tribute artist” rather than “impersonator.”
“An impersonator sounds cheesy to me,” he says. “As a tribute artist, it’s a more well-rounded term.”
Staging his shows like a theatrical production, Meyer seeks to take his audience on an emotional journey.
Meyer said the musical pairing of composer Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin was something incredibly special.
“In the history of music, there are cataclysmic, brilliant collaborations that happen that are like asteroids colliding and creating something different — the Beatles, Rogers and Hammerstein,” he said. “Bernie Taupin and Elton John have that.”
Meyer runs his own career as a tribute artist, and he has no intention of giving up his autonomy to some big agency.
“I’ve had some people approach me and wanted me to sign over all my intellectual property,” he said. “They treat me like I’m some starving artist, and that I should be grateful that they’re interested in what I do. But I’m good — I’ve got a good business model, and I’ve got a pretty good business going on.”
Meyer says he loves everything in the tribute show, but if he had to pick a favorite moment it’s when he sings “Your Song.”
“It’s just me, the piano and the audience,” he said. “It’s an intimate, sweet moment, after all the flash and trash and lights and stuff — and the feathers and sparkles and sequins — it’s my moment to prove I am a good musician.”
Meyer admits there are some deep cuts off of some Elton John albums that he’d love to put in the show, but he says they always end up feeling like a square peg in a round hole and simply don’t serve the evening he’s creating. For example, audience members often request that Meyer add the song “Levon” to the show.
But Meyer tells them, “Well, what do you want me to take out? ‘Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road’? ‘Rocket Man’? ‘Tiny Dancer’?”
“There’s only so much you can do in a show, and you always want to leave them wanting more,” he concludes.
Meyer says he particularly enjoys doing these outdoor summer concerts like the one coming up this weekend in Layton.
“The outdoor summer concerts are the best,” he said. “We sometimes will have five generations of audience members sitting together at the show. It’s great to see families together in that setting.”