Elvis is in the house!
Discovering his passion late in life (and finding Elvis), Jimmy Lee is making sure he makes the most out of it … and shaking it up!
BY: Eleanor Yap
Jimmy Lee never thought that one day he would be donning a customised Elvis jumpsuit and belting the icon’s tunes. He was once a businessman in building construction materials but today, he is on a far different path.
At 62, his passion for Elvis got ignited and today, he continues fuelling it at age 67 with his upcoming concert in August as one of nine Elvis Tribute Artistes (ETAs) from Asia in a first-ever event, singing alongside the Philippine Elvis Band. The event is organised by him and his 61-year-old wife, Judy Chong. Shared the father of three daughters of his Elvis journey: “I didn’t expect to do this but I have taken it on and want to do it well.”
Ageless Online catches up with the man himself, under his moniker name of Jimmy PresLee, and his support system (Judy) about how Elvis became part of his life and about why he and his wife put together the Elvis night to remember:
How did your passion come about?
Jimmy: It all started when I was 62 in 2009. It was actually before that when I was singing karaoke for fun. As years passed, I met friends from a live professional band. They thought I was a not bad singer and they commented that I sounded like Elvis. I decided to join them in 2009. From then on, I started singing more Elvis songs than before.
I got to know a few musicians closely, and started another live band in 2010. I was the one who approached Bishan North CC and as a result, they hired the band to perform one set at a community event. During the event, I wore an Elvis-customised jumpsuit. I got the idea from joining an Elvis karaoke group in Thompson CC in 2009 as they wore jumpsuits in their performances.
After the Bishan event, I had more guts and offered the live band to accompany the ETAs in the karaoke group in their annual concert. The concerts I organised were held in 2011 and 2012 where we had an audience of over 300 people.
However in the later part of 2012, I decided to leave the band to pursue my own solo singing and to sing with other bands. For me, I didn’t need the band for myself. I was getting invited to Hong Kong, Philippines and Malaysia as an ETA. In Singapore, there isn’t a real thriving ETA community. The ETAs are very low key and they would normally sing karaoke and not with a live band, and also there are only a handful of Elvis singing groups.
So what is the difference singing with a live band and singing karaoke?
Jimmy: In the karaoke group, I was the one who started ETAs singing with a live band. With a live band, you have a backup group of musicians playing music, and you shake and move to the music. With karaoke, you are alone on the stage. It is a different level. The band won’t let you sing out of tune; it will also prove whether you can sing. Also, a live band is grander and it is like going pro. It really gives that extra kick.
Let’s talk about the August event. Why hold such an event?
Judy: Baby boomers are dying, and the fan base is sadly shrinking fast. Because of expiry dates, we decided to do the event this year. Within these four years, Jimmy has become well-known in the Elvis fans’ circle here and abroad. In fact, he is quite popular and has made many new friends.
Detractors are saying the event is really a hoax as they can’t believe we could get so many people on stage. The eight ETAs are the top artistes from their respective countries in Asia (Jimmy being the only one from Singapore) and the five-piece band is imported from the Philippines. There has been some animosity coming from singing peers and even those who are not Elvis singers. I guess there’s jealousy and even resentment as Jimmy has only been around for a short time and has gotten recognised in other countries.
Jimmy: I don’t behave like a 67-year-old when I perform; I behave like Elvis when he was 40 years old! Most of the performances I do, I tell people I am 67 and can still rock it!
Do you have a favourite Elvis song?
Jimmy: None, I just sing his songs. He is handsome and he has a great voice (Judy is in full agreement on this). I have a unique voice. I don’t try to emulate Elvis; I sing naturally.
When you were igniting your passion, some seniors were busy looking after their grandchildren. What do you say to that?
Jimmy: I already told my children, that I brought them up and that I don’t want to bring up their children as well as I want to do my own things and enjoy life with my wife.
Do you have another band?
Jimmy: Two months ago, I started another three-piece band. The band is for me to practice and will soon get them to perform when they are ready. I can sing with any band really and sometimes with no rehearsals.
To change the subject, how many of jumpsuits do you have?
Jimmy: I have 10 Elvis jumpsuits. First three are my own designs, and others are Elvis’ designs and they have names too. True-blue Elvis fans can name the jumpsuit when I perform. In total, I have 12 puffy shirts, and nine performing belts. All my stuff is everywhere. I don’t have a room for it. I tend to change jumpsuits each time.
Are you adding any more?
Jimmy: Probably one more jumpsuit – the American eagle one!
Judy: That is the last one for your 70th birthday!
Behind your passion is your pillar of support – your wife. Can you share more about what binds you both together?
Jimmy: We quarrel a lot; we are happy most of the time.
Judy: We have a passionate love affair in our over 30-year relationship (and three children) and we get scorched at times! He is a loving father and husband who dotes on us.
Jimmy: I just have a bad temper.
Judy: We … I am still dealing with it. I have to learn to accept it. It is a weakness, a shortcoming. Those who can’t would have left long time ago. There was a few times, the economy was bad and he almost became bankrupt twice but we managed to stay that off. It meant we had to go through hard times.
Jimmy: We couldn’t even pay for my daughter’s 50-cent ice-cream! I told her to save money for lunch.
Judy: We were lucky during that time to be surrounded by generous new friends from our church who didn’t know us and were supportive of us. They gave us money and took us for meals and holidays. We carried on a nice lifestyle even when we were broke. Through tough times, through love, we will stay together. Life is about tough times. Life is about ups and downs and if you abandon ship at the first sign of difficulty, it doesn’t say much about your vows, true love and the words – “for better or for worse”. Those words would be meaningless.
With performing, you need to keep fit. How do you do so?
Jimmy: I do 150 push-ups everyday. I also do weight training five times a week and briskwalking at least twice a week. Every morning, I do a 1km walk to get the free newspaper!
How long do you think you will continue performing?
Jimmy: Britain’s Got Talent had an 80-year-old salsa dancer! I think I have another five good more years to go.
** Catch Jimmy at “Elvis is back in the Building!” on August 21 at 8pm at D’Marquee @ Downtown East. To book your tickets, go to: www.ticketbooth.com.sg. NTUC and U Live members earn discounts on the tickets.