Over the past 20 years, Burke resident Lionel Ward has traveled around the country and the world impersonating "The King," Elvis Presley. On Friday, Aug. 26, he and his New World Band will perform their Tribute to Elvis at 9 p.m., at JW's and Friends in Springfield. He recently answered a few questions about the world of Elvis impersonation.
How did you start as an Elvis impersonator? I originally started doing Elvis in Europe. I was in a show band and my character was Elvis and it grew from there.
Where has impersonating Elvis taken you? What kind of gigs do you do? Locally, we tour the fairs, military clubs, a lot of cars shows, weddings, corporate parties and when JW's opened up it gave us a chance to play for our fan base in Virginia.
Nationally, we have played from Vegas to Texas, to the Carolinas, to New York. We have a tour bus so there is nowhere we won't go.
Internationally, we've played Canada, Germany, Austria, and Italy. On the Aug. 28, we leave for the Bahamas on the Royal Caribbean for a week. We get back Sept. 2 and play the Officers Club at Fort Belvoir that night.
We've been the opening act for Alabama, The Bellemy Brothers, The Drifters and Johnny Paycheck. When Wolfman Jack was alive he would have us in his Oldies Shows that he would put together. I recorded two CDs on Sonic Records, which was Wolfman's label.
Favorite Elvis song: I love them all. As far as the most requested, it would have to "Suspicious Minds."
Favorite Elvis movie: "Elvis on Tour."
Have you ever been to Graceland? What were your impressions? Yes, I have. It is totally overwhelming to think that one person could have such an impact on the world. Elvis has so many awards from just about every country.
What do you do when you're not impersonating the King? I give guitar lessons at Fort Belvoir Virginia Community Center.
Tell me about the strangest experience you've had in your entertainment career. When we were in Italy, there were three girls and a guy who jumped on stage during a show. They gently pushed back the lead guitar player away from the microphone and started singing all the back up harmony parts. I couldn't believe it — they sounded great. The security people were coming on stage to usher them off and I motioned for them to just let them sing. As soon as I closed the show, they took a bow and ran off stage to avoid security. To this day, I don't know who they were, I never saw them again. I wanted them to finish the rest of the tour with us — they were great.
Have you ever been to a gathering of Elvis impersonators? Yes, the night of 100 Elvises goes on for two days in Baltimore. It is a charity event for Johns Hopkins Hospital for Children. It's gotten so big that they had to have two nights — it completely sells out each year. Elvis impersonators from all over donate their time. I personally have been doing it for over 10 years. I take the band up there and we go and do the show. Each entertainer gets 15 minutes. It's continuous Elvis music all night.
Is Elvis alive? No. It's people like me that keep his music alive.
Lionel Ward and The New World Band perform their Tribute to Elvis Friday, Aug. 26, at 9 p.m., at JW's and Friends, 6531 Backlick Road, Springfield. For more, call 703-451-4556.