Scot Bruce can thank a legendary Los Angeles radio show for jump-starting his career.
Aware the hosts of “The Mark & Brian Show” were huge Elvis Presley fans, “I just decided to show up at KLOS at 7 in the morning dressed as 1950s(-era) Elvis,” Bruce recalled, describing the experience as “absolutely the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I almost turned around a couple times, going ‘Scot, what are you doing?’ ”
Fortunately, Bruce stayed the course. “I spent the rest of the morning singing and talking about Elvis,” he said, swapping lyrics with two men who would later rank among his biggest fans.
A couple of decades later, Bruce makes his living touring the nation with his personal “Tribute to the King of Rock and Roll.” The show, which comes to the Central Coast on Feb. 21, finds him channeling Elvis in his prime.
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Bruce, who grew up in Pullman, Wash., initially wasn’t a hardcore fan of the hip-shaking, guitar-strumming singer credited with popularizing rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s.
“I was more a Beatles/Led Zeppelin guy around the time that that Elvis left this earth” in 1977, he said.
When rockabilly music saw a resurgence in the early 1980s, bolstered by The Stray Cats and other bands, “That’s when my real, sincere interest in Elvis came along,” Bruce said. “I grew to understand not only how great Elvis’ music was, but (also) how important Elvis was to music.”
“There were so many people who saw Elvis on TV and wanted to pick up a guitar,” he added. “All roads lead back to the King.”
Bruce’s own road involved a trek from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California in search of a show business career.
After studying communication and television production at the University of Idaho, Bruce moved to Los Angeles in 1990 on the encouragement of his friends.
“They said, ‘What are you doing in Moscow, Idaho? Get your ass down here. What’s holding you back?’” he recalled. “I’m really grateful to them because that decision changed my life.”
It also changed his hair. At one time, Bruce sported a “classic mullet hairdo … spiked on the top, with Captain Kirk sideburns,” he recalled. After getting into rockabilly, however, he switched to an Elvis-worthy pompadour.
“People started saying, ‘You know, you look like him,’” Bruce recalled. That gave him an idea – What if he started performing Elvis songs such as “All Shook Up,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog” while dressed as the King?
“It’s amazing how creative you get when you’re starving,” he quipped.
By 1992, “I was traveling all over the (country) doing shows, having these incredible eye-opening experiences that I couldn’t have expected,” said Bruce, who has appeared as Elvis in a California Lottery advertising campaign, the TV show “E! True Hollywood Story: Elvis, the Hollywood Years,” the musical play “Idols of the King” and music videos with Sheryl Crow and Faith Hill. He also played Elvis in the soap opera "Days of Our Lives."
He doesn’t consider himself an Elvis impersonator – rather, a dedicated actor-musician with a deep appreciation for the King.
Bruce’s “Tribute to the King of Rock and Roll” portrays Elvis at the peak of his career, following him from his humble beginnings as a country boy from Tupelo, Mo., to his days as a successful Sun Records recording artist in Memphis, Tenn. Although the tribute show focuses mostly on the 1950s and ‘60s, it does dip into a few of his later hits from the ‘70s.
“People identify Elvis with the white jumpsuit and the sunglasses and the sideburns as … something more comedic, and that detracts from who Elvis was,” Bruce said, explaining that he prefers to celebrate the rock star at his most revolutionary.
“Here’s this kid with sideburns and grease in his hair and fire in his britches,” Bruce said. “Not only did he transcend musical barriers, but he (also) transcended racial barriers. … It really freaked out America at the time.”
Bruce performs with upright bass player Russell Scott, electric guitarist Eugene Edwards, drummer Shawn Nourse and pianist Lee Pardini. Like him, they prefer vintage instruments and a retro wardrobe.
“Not only are they are they my brothers in rock ‘n’ roll but they are my true pals,” Bruce said. “They care about the quality and the authenticity of the music as much as I do.”
In addition to touring gigs, Bruce and his band perform once a month at Disneyland – an arrangement that dates back to the release of the animated movie “Lilo & Stitch” in 2002.
According to Bruce, the continuing popularity of his “Tribute to the King of Rock and Roll” is proof of his Elvis’ lasting legacy.
“Ultimately, it just says to me how much people really love this music that’s we’re celebrating,” he said. “It’s just a good sign that Elvis’ music is alive and well and appreciated.”
“Tribute to the King of Rock and Roll”
8 p.m. Feb. 21
Clark Center for the Performing Arts, 487 Fair Oaks Ave., Arroyo Grande
$32 to $43
489-9444 or www.clarkcenter.org