NEW PORT RICHEY — When was the last time someone announced that Tom Jones has left the building?
Tonight, an Elvis Presley tribute artist and a Tom Jones tribute artist are coming to town for a show at Pasco-Hernando Community College. Figuring Elvis impersonators have been the topic of multiple documentaries, music videos and corny movies, we wanted to talk to the underdog.
Turns out Irv Cass, who performs as Tom Jones next to Elvis tribute artist Dwight Icenhower on Saturday, is anything but.
Not only does Cass also do a mean impression of Mr. Presley, he starred in the 2001 documentary, Almost Elvis, which followed several tribute artists as they competed for the title of "World's Best Elvis Impersonator."
We talked to Cass about performing, the magic of tribute artists and of course, the King.
Name: Irv Cass, "make you sure put the 'C' in there," 51
Hometown: Fenton, Mich.
Gigs: Performed as Elvis in the Philippines, England, Japan, the Bahamas, on cruises lines and in Lebanon — "Everybody there knew who Elvis Presley was." Earlier this year, he played Tom Jones on a two-week tour through Australia.
Family: 2-year-old son, Preston, wife, Betheny.
Previous jobs: Jewelry sales, restaurant and factory work, manual labor, professional male dancer — "I just got sick of it. Make sure you put in there that it's something I'm not proud of. I'm a different person now."
In 1992, Cass went into business for himself as a performer and started a production company that books look-alikes. "I got a Rod Stewart. I got a Roy Orbison, the list goes on. If you want a Michael Jackson, I got him."
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You've performed as both Elvis and Tom Jones?
I've played Elvis for 16 years and still do him. I used to have the hair and sideburns. Walking around and looking like Elvis 24 hours a day, it just gets monotonous. You get tired of hearing people say, "Hey, Elvis, I thought you were dead."
I've been doing Tom for a year now. I realized when I put the tight pants on, I could really hit the high notes.
Which character do you like better?
It's not that I like performing Tom better than Elvis, it's a challenge for me. I've been doing Elvis for 16 years. There's a thousand Elvis tribute artists out there, and only a handful of good ones.
How did you learn to play Tom Jones?
I learned all my Tom Jones stuff from watching YouTube. I move my hips a lot. I've had people come up and tell me, "Tom Jones doesn't move like that." I say, "He used to."
Which character, Elvis or Tom, gets the bigger crowd response?
I think Elvis has more fans than Tom Jones does. Elvis' sex appeal is a little more subtle. Tom Jones' sex appeal is a little more in your face, more raw.
Yeah, about that. In your videos online, we saw certain undergarments tossed on stage during your performances.
I don't believe I get them for the same reason Tom Jones used to. When Tom Jones got them, I think that was an offer. They do it to me for a joke. I think.
What's the more politically correct term for your craft, "impersonator" or "tribute artist?"
Tribute artist. If you want to do it for anything other than paying tribute to the man and his music, you're doing it for the wrong reasons.
Why do people come to watch tribute artists?
They come to see an illusion. They come to reminisce. In this kind of job, if you're good at what you do, it makes people feel young at heart.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7312.