In a conversation with noted disc jockey Wolfman Jack, Elvis Presley impersonator Lionel Ward wondered how long his sideburns, pompadour hairstyle and jumpsuit would remain in his wardrobe.
"Wolfman told me, 'The audience chooses what we do,'" Ward said. "So I went in and bought another jumpsuit."
For the last 25 years, Ward, a Burke resident, has been on the Elvis impersonation roller coaster ride and loving every minute of it. He travels all over the country as well as Europe delivering "Don't Be Cruel" to audiences that love the nostalgia.
"What's really amazing is how the Elvis phenomenon is still growing," Ward said.
Ward spent April on a Carnival Cruise ship traveling around the Bahamas, doing a couple of Elvis shows a day. He had a captive audience for five days.
"When you get on the ship, it's like 'Hello, Las Vegas.' They have two Vegas rooms on their ships. They're there to party," Ward said.
WARD CALLS himself an "Elvis Tribute Artist." He started out in an oldies rock 'n' roll band that evolved into the Elvis act. He still rocks with the band as well.
Ward could never get tickets to see Elvis in person, but his wife, Barbee, saw "The King" six times. While at a Four Tops concert, Ward got into a conversation with Wolfman Jack, and the two hit it off. Their initial conversation was fueled by nostalgia. Wolfman Jack lived in Springfield at one point in his life, Ward said.
Ward was touring in Germany with his oldies band on Aug. 16, 1977, when he heard a series of Elvis songs on the radio. This was followed by the announcement of Elvis' death.
Despite this sad event, Elvis has lived on for Ward and fans of this tribute act. While at a Tom Jones show in Atlantic City, people thought Ward was part of the show as well.
"There's so many songs that bring happiness to so many people," Ward said. "People relate to that era. Tom Jones is still doing an Atlantic City show and still selling out."
As Elvis, Ward has opened for the Drifters, Bellamy Brothers, Johnny Paycheck and Alabama.
Ward has real sideburns and hair, but when he's not decked out in his jumpsuit, or saying, "Thank you, thank you very much," he does his day-to-day routine like everyone else in the Springfield-Burke area. He's a regular shopper at Fischer's Hardware in Springfield. That's how he was picked to participate in Fischer's customer appreciation day on Saturday, June 1. Helen Wyckoff, a Fischer's employee, sees Ward in there from time to time.
"He shops in the store," Wyckoff said. "Customers recommended him for our customer appreciation day."
When Ward is not performing, he gives guitar lessons at Fort Belvoir.
Barbee Ward is his wife and agent. She runs the business from their Burke home.
"He's so dedicated and hard working," Barbee Ward said. "We've been doing it for about 25 years."