The King takes the stage -- James Brown, an Elvis impersonator from Belfast, hits it big with old classics in ''Graveyards''

By Beth Johnson
April 16, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Take a black-leather-clad Elvis impersonator known as the King, have him record a passel of songs by deceased rock stars, and call his just-released Stateside debut Gravelands. How’s that for a concept album?

The King — a.k.a. James Brown, a 31-year-old Belfast postman with five kids — got his break in ’97 when his aunt nudged him on stage at a local club to sing ”Suspicious Minds.” His uncanny vocal Elvisness led to steady gigs; a year later, Gravelands, produced by Irish rocker Bap Kennedy, was released. Once the singer and producer put together a list of songs Elvis should have sung — Kurt Cobain’s ”Come as You Are,” Bob Marley’s ”No Woman No Cry,” and Eddie Cochran’s ”Something Else” — Brown realized ”we’d stumbled upon a theme. They were all dead!”

Before you could say ”rock & roll heaven,” ”Come as You Are” was a Euro hit and Brown was on sabbatical from the Royal Mail. Germany loved him so tender, he did a Burger King commercial there ”on the condition that it wasn’t a mockery of Elvis.” While touring has him lonesome tonight (”I miss my wife and kids”), he’s thrilled with the ”handed to me on a platter” success. Still, says Brown, ”if Priscilla or Lisa Marie told me tomorrow that they were offended by this whole thing, I’d stop. Honestly.”

What’s next? Brit pop star Robbie Williams recently caught the King’s tongue-in-cheek, hip-wigglin’, hunka-hunka burnin’ show and asked Brown to join his U.S. tour, and a Gravelands follow-up is planned. Just don’t expect the mailman to deliver ”Return to Sender.” ”The post office would probably love it,” admits Brown, ”but the master has already made the masterpieces.”

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