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Elvis impersonator sets endurance record: 23 straight hours of melody

Published Sep. 29, 2005

Donn Jett started like The King and finished like a hound dog, but he broke his own record by singing 430 songs in a row, from memory.

Dog tired and with a sore bottom from hours perched on a bar stool, a local singer broke a world record Sunday for the longest continuous solo singing performance.

Donn Jett, a 6-foot-6 former Elvis impersonator and Spring Hill resident, sang 430 songs in 23 hours, surpassing his former record of 21 hours set in 1994 in Branson, Mo.

The attempt, staged at the Holiday Inn on U.S. 19, began at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, when Jett opened with an Elvis-inspired I'll Remember You.

He accompanied himself on electric guitar for the duration.

Though the category of longest continual singing performance is not listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, Jett's manager, Gene Santa Maria, said that in his research, he could not find another record-holder of this type.

In addition to the length of the performance, Jett increased his challenge with his own set of strict guidelines.

The first rule was that he could take only a 20 minute break every four hours. The second rule _ and the one that may present the biggest obstacle for contenders _ is that he could sing only from memory and not repeat a tune once it was sung. Also, he allowed no prompting of any kind.

And since he didn't strum the instrumental breaks that tend to lengthen songs, Jett rapidly went through tune after tune.

For Jett, 48, a lifetime as a professional musician helped in the effort. A walking encyclopedia of Elvis trivia with a mind filled with the lyrics to more than 3,000 tunes, Jett churned out standards from Johnny Cash to Marty Robbins. Occasionally, he fell back on simple favorites such as White Christmas and Peter Cottontail.

But mostly his repertoire consisted of music learned when he was The King, or at least, when he imitated The King.

"When I first heard him on a recording, I had to listen real close to tell whether it was Donn or Elvis," said Pearl Zullo, one of the judges who kept a list of songs, making sure none was repeated.

Surprisingly, Jett's voice held its Elvis-like clarity through the entire performance. He drank Mountain Dew and Barq's root beer to stay alert, but the long period under the stage lights took a mental toll.

"I'm a little brain-clouded," he said during the last hour. "I had to be real careful not to repeat any songs, or the whole thing would be wasted."

His former record of 396 songs was set five years ago, accompanied on guitar by his brother Bob, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1997. Jett dedicated the performance to him.

Jett finished his attempt 11:30 a.m. Sunday, haggardly euphoric and hungry for a seafood dinner. His last song was an appropriate Presley standard, From a Jack to a King.

His last words to the handful of people still gathered?

"Elvis has left the building."