A German Elvis in Thailand
By Anne Marie Ruff, 6/15/2001
The whole scene should be familiar to my American sensibilities. The music...the beer...the studly Elvis impersonator in his rhinestone studded jumpsuit. But because I am on Koh Samui - a tropical island in Thailand - and because the Elvis impersonator is German - this familiar scene feels totally surreal.
Ritchie Newton's long story started in Bavaria...when he realized that his career as a hard rock singer was getting soft - and his future could profit from the past...from the legend of Elvis.
Ritchie: "Four years ago I came to Thailand for the first time, becayse I was looking for a tailor who made my Elvis dress."He was heading for Memphis, Tennessee, to get his Elvis jumpsuit from a tailor within the influence of Graceland. But on the way to the airport, a friend told him the tailors in Thailand were cheaper. Unfortunately his tropical detour turned into a dead end. Despite the fact that Thailand has thousands of tailors, Ritchie couldn't seem to find any with enough rhinestones - or a belt buckle big enough. So he went home.
Back in Bavaria, he convinced his Elvisadoringmother to make his costume. But by then he had fallen in love...
His heart had been captured by the island of Koh Samui. And he decided that it was just the place for his professional reincarnation. And as it turns out...Thailand is a great place to be an Elvis singer.
Ritchie: "The king of Thailand met Elvis in 1960 in Hollywood. On the set to 'GI Blues,' and that's why in Thailand the people love Elvis. Many many people love Elvis because the King of Thailand was a fan or is a fan from Elvis, and thats why I think I have no problem with this."The King of Thailand made the king of Graceland so popular here...that it is inevitable impersonations of Elvis will creep into even the swankiest of parties - as I recently found out at a birthday ball in Bangkok.
There are so many Thai Elvises that they have a convention every year in Bangkok where more than two hundred of them show off their sideburns and rhinestones. Ritchie says none of the other Elvises seem to mind his German accent.
Richie: "We're all friends except the old Elvises...the two Elvises they don't like me because they are jealous, unbelievable. But all the other Elvis, Thai Elvis are close friends of mine."The two old Thai Elvises might be jealous...because Ritchie has done pretty well for himself. He has swiveled his hips on stages from Austria to Hong Kong. Bejing to Singapore...and someday he may make it to Japan.
Ritchie: "In Japan, Elvis is very big. So around Asia Elvis is still the king."In this little corner of asia - Ritchie croons away six nights a week in tourist-filled nightclubs. He is the island's resident king.
And for this night...on this Thai tropical island...this man from Bavaria has captured my heart with an American legend.
For the Savvy Traveler, this is Anne Marie Ruff from the blue suede beaches of Koh Samui, Thailand.
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