Q&A: Eddie Clendening
Denver-born singer and musician Eddie Clendening has performed in Las Vegas quite a bit over the years, including the annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender that currently takes place every spring at The Orleans. But when he takes the stage at Harrah’s this month to play the music of the King in Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel in Concert, it will mark the proper Strip debut for the veteran Broadway performer. He portrayed Elvis in thousands of productions of The Million Dollar Quartet in New York and Chicago, and now he’s ready to honor the music in an all-new way.
How did you get your start as a singer and performer?
I’ve been onstage more in my life than I haven’t. I really just opened my mouth and got myself in trouble and had to do it one day and ended up liking it. Somewhere around 13, I had friends who were in a garage band and I went to hang out at their practice, and at the end of the day they asked what I thought. I told them they were terrible, that I could do better than that, and they were like, “OK then, do it.” I went home and dug a guitar out of a closet, learned a Johnny Cash song, went back to rehearsal and they asked me to join. Pretty soon I realized it was all I ever wanted to do with my life.
How did you get into the music of Elvis and other rock ’n’ roll from his era?
It came from my parents in an indirect way. My parents were way cooler than I was and they were into the same music my friends were into, going to Lollapalooza and things like that. You can’t be into what your parents are into, that’s not cool, so I started looking for other stuff and happened into it. I saw the movie La Bamba about Ritchie Valens and thought, “This is good stuff.” I picked up some compilation tapes with Carl Perkins and Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent and thought, “All these guys make sense to me.”
There have always been many Elvis impersonators and tribute shows in Las Vegas. What do you think is the key to standing out?
I’m not really very good at that. I’m not an impersonator and I think that’s the uniqueness of our show, that I’m onstage as myself. The main thing is the band as a whole is as passionate about this style of music as I am. A lot of times when you see an impersonator it’s a guy with a karaoke track or the band is just hired guns going through the motions. We’ve got full unity, with everybody invested in re-creating this experience at 100 percent. It all adds up to something special.
So, Heartbreak Hotel is really all about using the music to tell a story.
We started out with a two-act dramatic play with a lot of scene work in between the songs, but for this show we basically took all those scenes out and expanded some of the songs and kept this cool multimedia experience in the show. We’ve partnered with the Elvis Presley estate and have access to their archive, so there are thousands of pictures and a lot of video that’s never been seen before. At the end of the day, the Vegas crowd just wants to be entertained and they want a little rock ’n’ roll in their lives, so we cut through and give them what they want.
Are you looking forward to learning more about Las Vegas as you spend more time here working on this show?
That’s my first priority, to get out there and meet all the performers working here now. I’ve been told there’s a good off-the-Strip scene with a lot of musicians playing different gigs around town and different jams I can get involved in and explore as much as I can. I’m going to be doing the same show every night for hopefully a long time, and you’ve got to have something to keep your chops up.