Australia’s “Voice of Elvis” and rock ‘n’ roll legend “has left the building”
Emmanuel Caramalis (El Gamble)
After a long illness, the legendary El Gamble passed away last week, aged 66. The term legend should never be used lightly and in El Gamble’s case it certainly isn’t! Apart from his record breaking Elvis show, El Gamble worked with many of Australia’s and a number of the world’s greatest performers, including John Farnham, Johnny Devlin, Digger Revell, Kamahl, Kylie Minogue, (being fired by Australia’s King of Rock ‘n’ Roll) Johnny O’Keefe and (almost working with) the legendary Sir Tom Jones.
100,000 Australian El Gamble Fans Can’t Be Wrong! - The name El Gamble will strike a resonant chord with long time rock and roll and Elvis fans in Australia. El was the original Elvis tribute artist back in 1977 and after Elvis' death he went on the road to perform his The Life and Times of Elvis Presley tour with nearly 300 “sold out” shows. For the tour, El was backed by a four girl group, Topaz, a four male group, The Woodsmen, a five piece skeleton band and (for his Las Vegas) segment a three piece brass section. It was a dynamic, high quality production which is still fondly remembered by fans in 2014.
Born: 31 March 1948 - Died: 21 May 2014
At a time when a young Roy Hawkins was also starting out and Eddie Youngblood was soon to arrive on the scene, what set El apart was his incredible voice, a voice remarkably similar to Elvis'!
Despite his great success, after a gruelling 13 months performing The Life and Times of Elvis Presley, El was physically and mentally exhausted.
Needing a change he entered the show band/rock and roll arena where he enjoyed a very successful stint fronting The Cadillacs in Queensland.
Twenty-eight years after his last Elvis show, and now afflicted with a rare motor neurone condition where he had no feeling in his legs, El made his own triumphant “Comeback” in the home of Elvis in Australia, Parkes, NSW. El’s appearance was not during the popular Parkes Elvis Festival but around the 29th anniversary of Elvis’ passing on 12 August 2006, when he could hardly walk and had to sit down through most of his one hour show. An initially subdued Parkes audience, used to the gyrations of the jump-suited Elvis tribute artists, was soon on its feet cheering and clapping as they were won over by El’s charisma, amazing Elvis-like voice and his integrity as a wonderfully talented entertainer.
The 'El Gamble Comeback' saw him return to the recording studio to record and release a string of new albums including Echoes of the King; Memories of Elvis; In The King's Shadow (3 volumes) and El Gamble Variety Show By Request.
El would also appear at the annual Parkes Elvis Festival several more times, the highlight being his Standing Room Only performance in front of a record outdoor crowd of 6,000 at the 2007 Festival. Several years later, the Parkes Elvis Festival Committee, very fittingly, asked El to become the “King of Parkes”. By this time his health had deteriorated significantly and El’s management, in consultation with his family, decided it was best not to tell him about the invitation as El simply would not have been able to attend or perform.
Another example of the charisma and power of the El Gamble voice to connect with an audience occurred when, as a member of the audience in Parkes watching a prominent Aussie ETA, the performer recognised El and handed him the microphone during the closing song, Can’t Help Falling In Love. The audience reaction was simply one of awe as they were held spellbound by the wonderful El Gamble “Elvis like” vocal.
In his early years El was actually a drummer who became a front man by accident, stepping up to the microphone when the lead singer of the band he played in continually got drunk and couldn’t perform. The rest as they say is history!
Being of Greek and Spanish heritage and having an ethnic name in Australia in the 1960s wasn’t conducive to easily finding widespread acceptance or success and this led to the name El Gamble being bestowed on El by a cousin. In an interview with EIN in 2006, El related a very funny incident involving his new “stage” name:
One time I entered a talent quest at the Peppermint Lounge and unknown to me my cousin told the promoters my name was "El Gamble". Up until that time I had just been using my real name. Anyway I was sitting there watching the show when they called for El Gamble to take the stage. No-one got up and I said to my cousin, he must have left already. My cousin just smiled and said "No, it's you, I gave them your new name!" And ever since I've been known as El Gamble.
As a performer El was noted for his ability to perform up to two and a half hour shows without repeating an Elvis song! He was also the original ‘superstar’ on the online USA based radio station, Elvii Radio, consistently being voted the #1 artist for many months! Off-stage El’s warm smile and friendly personality made him a quick friend to many.
El Gamble initially moved like Elvis and while his motor neurone impairment significantly limited his ability to walk or gyrate........it was that “Elvis voice” which always mesmerised his audiences! And despite his debilitating physical condition El maintained a positive outlook on both life and his ability to perform and entertain audiences!
As a 5 time ‘E’ Award winner in Australia, El Gamble is among the most decorated entertainers of his generation and his incredible 13 months run of “sold out” Elvis shows across Australia is one which will never be equalled.
El’s many years of suffering from ill health finally caught up with him on 21 May and very sadly Australia lost one of its musical icons! El Gamble is not only an important part of the Elvis story in Australia, but also an important and revered part of the history of rock ‘n’ roll music “downunder”!
El Gamble (born Emmanuel Caramalis) is survived by his wife, Cheryl, three sons and a daughter from his first marriage. A private memorial ceremony will be held tomorrow in Melbourne.
El, Rest in Peace.......your legacy lives on!
Nigel Patterson, 29 May 2014
(EIN thanks El Gamble’s long-time manager, Ian Coombs, for contributing to this tribute)
Comment on El Gamble
Sandy Rolff: I was saddened to hear of El’s passing in May. El and my late husband, John, went to school together in North Blackburn. Shortly after John and I married in 1973, El moved in with us and I worked with him in Hawthorn, at an entertainment agency. Every Friday and Saturday night we would have dinner at the Ferntree Gully Hotel, or the Vine Hotel or The Sentimental Bloke and then watch El and his band, 5th Power.
I have many fond memories of John, El and my brother Steve working on cars in my parents’ garage. With regard to Robert Hill’s comment about the 45 “Strangers No More”, I have the original autographed one. And yes, El and his band did write the song. I will always remember him as a very kind, caring and funny man. My deepest sympathy to his family.
Robert Hill: Really enjoyed reading about the El Gamble story through your interview. The internet is an amazing thing. El Gamble used to front a band my brother was in during the mid 70s called RAMROD here in Melbourne. My older brother played bass guitar. (David Hill) They were a covers band that played in venues like The Vines Hotel in Frankston, The Ferntree Gully Hotel and the Council Club amongst others. The band had a really good, tight sound and El’s voice and stage presence was a stand out. RAMROD finished up in 76’ by my recollection.
I remember a funny incident at the FTG Hotel one night when the band was performing the Gary Glitter song Do You Wanna Touch Me, when the power went out. The vocals and guitars stopped, but the Drummer kept pounding out the beat for about 10 mins with patrons on the dance floor giving it their all and taking cues from the song until the emergency generator was fired up. Almost disappointing when the power came back on. I still have an old 45 record of the band performing a song called Strangers No More. It would most likely be the only copy in existence. Maybe it was El who penned the song. I’m not sure. It is very early El Gamble, but the voice was there.
I’m also pleased that El Gamble went on to become a much appreciated talent, as he deserved it.
Kerri O'Keefe: I am deeply saddened at the news of El Gambles passing. I first met El in 1998 while he was performing at the Commercial Club, Albury. he was a regular act there with Tony Dee in a duo. I instantly fell in love with his voice, ( that uncanny likeness to Elvis ) he was the consummate performer, and he was totally entertaining.. Enjoyed by everyone in the audience. He had such a great sense of humour, and stage presence. He held the audience captivated, as he entertained and sang all the great songs. The dance floor was always full, there was never a spare seat in the lounge either. After meeting him, and his family, we remained in contact on and off for years .. He sent me his Cds, which I often play to people who say they cant tell if it is Elvis or not! I knew he wasn't well back then, we often talked at the end of his shows. .. I wanted to express my admiration for the man, and sadness that he is gone, R.I.P. El...you will never be forgotten, (Thank you for the music and for all those great memories. ) x
Bob Hayden (Young, NSW): This is a sad time in the Australian Elvis scene. As discussed over the years my wife and I first saw El Gamble when I was working in Melbourne and living at Carlton. Chris and I went back to an old stomping ground the Tarmac Hotel at Laverton Victoria which became a very popular night out for seeing live shows. What impressed me was that the shows were organised by Phil Galotta from the very popular Melbourne based band “The Blue Echoes”, and it was probably the first time that a hotel venue saw a full style production of back up singers, musicians and a three piece horn section grace the stage.
The show was very well attended, and to my knowledge became one of the most popular shows around the Melbourne scene till mid-late 1978.
I really enjoyed the show and especially how close his voice matched Elvis’ during many of the songs he performed. The song Suspicious Minds was a favourite, as well as some of the earlier recorded songs by Elvis. I did have a small flyer advertising the show but cannot find it at this time to include in the little reply to your excellent review of a very talented performer.
It was very pleasing to read that when he finally got to Parkes and performed he was accepted after a few songs into his very first performance. There may have been other Australian Elvis tribute artists grace the stage, but it is the opinion of the writer that El Gamble was the closest artist to posses a voice close to Elvis Presley, and present the songs in such a way that you came away from the show thoroughly pleased with what you had just witnessed.
John and Cynthia Henderson: We met El Gamble and his manager on our first trip to Parkes. El Gambles show was one of the best we have seen and he chatted to us after he finished and shared funny stories from his career. We thought he was a warm and gracious man and an outstanding performer. We wondered what had happened to him and it was a shock to read he had died.
El Gamble: The Comeback Interview
The Inspirational Return of El Gamble (Concert Review)
Memories of Elvis (CD Review)
Echoes of the King (CD Review)
In The King's Shadow Vol. 1 (CD Review)
In The King's Shadow Vol. 2 The Rock 'n' Roll Years (CD Review)
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