EIN: Hi Max, welcome back to Australia. Congratulations on the 3 dates at Sydney’s Star City Casino - you’ve sold more tickets than Lisa Marie herself!
Max: Thanks. Yes, it’s our first time playing Star City. I love Sydney. I grew up in San Francisco and it’s got that same kind of European feel about it. I live out on the East Coast now but I really miss it
EIN: Where did the name Max Pellicano come from, it sounds Italian?
Max: It is southern Italian. It’s a kind of a funny thing my grand parents migrated into Southern France back in the early 20s and then both my parents were born in Monte Carlo. We were in Monte Carlo until I was 2 yrs old and then we moved to New York.
EIN: And you’ve been back to play Monte Carlo. Did they realise you were born there?
Max: I don’t think so. It’s a funny thing that when you perform as Elvis you need to promote yourself as being from the USA, otherwise you lose the mystique.
EIN: Unlike most imitators, you studied Arts at California State University.
Max: That’s right. I studied for 4 years, did a lot of theatre and then I graduated and went on the road with a summer stock production. I had big plans of going to Broadway and to be a big actor but then I found myself in ‘Bye Bye Birdy’. All of a sudden I found something that just seemed to fit and the "Elvis character’ was just right. After that show I was approached by a couple of promoters who asked if I was interested in doing an Elvis show and that’s how it really started. They offered me a thing in Hawaii and I ended up there for about 3 years. That was where I created ‘Elvis To The Max’.
EIN: That’s interesting that they actually suggested you "do Elvis", as opposed to you thinking of it first. That’s a nice twist.
Max: Yeah, I was really ready to move to go to New York and try my hand at theatre and then I just got this opportunity and I thought yeah I’ll just try it for 6 months. Then 6 months turned into a couple of years and a couple more years and you know how it goes, you just do what works for you. I was very fortunate because I was in the Vegas ‘Legends in Concert show’ for quite a few years.
EIN: Unfortunately I’ve seen some very lame Elvis performers in that show. You would have been great.
Max: Overall it was a good experience, even though you only got to perform about 20 min and that got really frustrating. However while I was there I met up with an Australian who put me in touch with Argentino Russo my arranger & guitarist here. He suggested that we go to Australia & put a big show together with a big band and do a real live theatre show! The first time I came here the reception was just incredible and I’ve been coming ever since! I think we started in 1992. It’s just amazing, I’ve made so many friends here it’s like I don’t want to leave.
EIN: Well you’ve played so many places – you’ve played Mexico City, what did the Mexicans think of you?
Max: That was fun & they were jazzed, they liked it. However I do like to perform in English speaking countries because they get your jokes! Like here in Australia where I’ve met so many avid Elvis fans that watch the movies, they watch the live concerts, the can recite lines.. That for me is really rewarding because when you do the show and they pick up all these little nuances. I talk to fans afterwards and I feel like they really appreciate it and they get the jokes and so I’ve concentrated on working in Aust, Canada, NZ and UK.
EIN: So what do you put down as your profession? Are you an actor? Do you put "Elvis"?
Max: No ….. just ‘Entertainer’.
EIN: I’d put "Elvis" !!
EIN: How many shows do you perform a year?
Max: Depends. I just finished at the Hilton in Windsor, Ontario and we did 5 weeks so that’s like a sit-down gig. I get to settle in which is kind of nice. When we travel we might just do 1 or 2 nights in one place then travel on, which gets a little tough. But easily over 100 performances a year.
EIN: You have a core following here. Fans fly state to state to see your shows.
Max: That is amazing, sometimes I can’t believe it myself! The power of Elvis is incredible. The other night we were in NZ and after the show I go out to sign autographs and I couldn’t believe how many young people were there – you know teenage girls!! I don’t get it – how do they relate to a guy who died 28 years ago?
EIN: I think it’s fantastic for the Elvis legacy that the ‘A Little Less Conversation’ remix got into the dance charts and pushed his popularity back up again. The other amazing phenomena I’ve seen is you on stage and women giving you their underwear!! What do you think of that?
Max: (laughs) You just take it for what it is! Sometimes it’s people I know and it’s a kind of a joke. Perhaps the atmosphere of the show gets to them. It’s nice to know that people still look at you and want to give you their underwear! But I really like people to get out of their seats, come up to the stage and get scarves because it gives the feeling of a real Elvis concert.
EIN: Have you ever met Elvis’ band?
Max: I worked with The Jordanaires & JD Sumner & The Stamps, and met most of Elvis’ musicians. I really, really, loved performing with the Jordanaires. They told me that they had really worked with some real kooks. And so I made a point when I first met them that although I "do Elvis’, I was just going to be myself and no fake. Really my biggest dream would be to do a concert with Elvis’ band but they are rightly wary of belittling Elvis’ image. I saw ‘Elvis- The Concert’ and really enjoyed it, but it is odd that ‘Elvis’ at the front is actually missing. That’s the type of thing I’d like to do but only as a tasteful tribute thing.
Elvis never travelled overseas and regrettably a lot of people never got to see him, so that’s the key for me. There is nothing like a live performance, and with the concert you can really feel him alive onstage. That’s why I like performing overseas, because Elvis never got to these countries, and I hope to create some of that special aura of his.
EIN: Do you still do film work?
Max: That was fine when I lived in LA and I could regularly check in with my agent but I’m not living there. I’m also used to doing the live shows rather than hanging around waiting for small parts & waiting for cameras to role. There’s just not enough stimulating energy there for me.
EIN: The "Aloha" tour you did was incredibly successful but I do appreciate that you regularly change the themes of your shows.
Max: The thing is that with so many Elvis songs, whatever shows I create, there is always new material to do, and always new requests from the audience. So I like to plan the set, change the theme add new songs as well as pace the set right.
EIN: You mainly focus on Elvis' shows up to Aloha. What do you think of Elvis' very final years up to 1977, they seem so emotional?
Max: In some ways I actually do appreciate Elvis’ final concerts and the power of his voice. Some of those songs from his last years on tour were also kinda’ prophetic, so I would like to feature some of them in a show one day.
EIN: Tell me about the Fifties shows at the Basement in November.
Max: I hear it’s a great club, I’ve never played there & it’s good to do something very different. It’s a nice venue and will be strictly Elvis’ rockabilly stuff. It’ll be great to do something new & adventurous - we’ll rock out!
EIN: Where next?
Max: We’re hoping to do some shows in England and trying to arrange a tour with a promoter over there.
EIN: What do you to relax between shows & what music do you listen to?
Max: I’m an avid Beatles fan but I listen to everything, & love good rock. On days off I sit & play guitar. I love great lyrics, Burt Bacharach stuff. I was a guitar player for a long time and so I love playing for fun. In some ways I always wanted to be a Beatle!
EIN: Where were you when Elvis died?
Max: I was performing, but not doing ‘Elvis To The Max’. My Father had finally convinced me that I needed to get a regular job. So I was driving across the bay to a job interview and suddenly on the radio, ‘Boom’, they announced that Elvis had died at Graceland at 4.30pm that afternoon. It just hit me…. I just couldn’t get to the job interview. I went back home and thought about him, what it all meant. So much good stuff came out of Elvis life. Not just the music but the people he helped – and on a personal level too.
It was months later that all of a sudden the crowds started searching for Elvis impersonators, because suddenly everyone realised that they would never get to see him any more. Everyone missed Elvis. My life turned around about then…
EIN: Max, you are certainly one of the very, very best.
Max: Thanks a lot. I will definitely always come back and please tell the fans how much I appreciate their support.
Interview by Piers Beagley.
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