When I heard that Australia’s Dean Vegas was coming back to the 2004 Collingwood Elvis Festival to participate in a “past winners” headliner show, I couldn’t have been happier. Dean was the Collingwood Grand Champ in 2000, when he’d first caught my attention, and like many others in this neck of the woods, I was looking forward to seeing him again and to featuring him on LadyLuck Music (in fact, I’ve had more than a few phone calls recently asking: ”Are you going to write a column on Dean?”).
Dean Vegas grew up in Sydney but moved to Brisbane, Queensland about l5 years ago. He didn’t sing much as a young child (as he tells it -- only in the shower or around the house) but, at the age of ll, he saw Elvis Presley on TV and, like so many others, was “hooked” from that moment on. He says, “I fell in love with the guy, and I said to myself that if there was anyone in this world that I wanted to be like, it was Elvis.”
Dean became an ETA 8 years ago. I asked him what prompted this move, and he said, “Elvis is my idol. I wanted to keep his memory alive, and I just got sick and tired of paying money to watch ETA’s in Australia who were not doing Elvis justice.”
I was surprised to learn that Dean started out as a full time ETA right from the get-go. He says he only performed 3 shows his first year and was, needless to say, flat broke most of the time. The next year, he had 9 shows.... the year after that, 25.... and now he’s consistently performing close to 100 shows a year. Dean told me that although Elvis is “very big” in Australia, just as he is around the world, there are only a handful of ETA’s in Australia who actually perform full time.
I asked Dean about his early “starting out” years, and he recalled that prior to performing his first show, he had to borrow a pair of white shoes. He also had to barter for his first suit as he had no money to have it made. He wound up doing some yard work, laying paving stone in the seamstresses’ back yard, in return for her sewing the suit. And, as far as buying the sequins for the suit -- they were $2 a pack -- he could only buy 4-5 packs at a time and then had to wait till he had some extra money to continue. He said it took about 3 weeks to buy all the sequins and have them put on (actually, the bartering system eventually worked out well, and resulted in 6 different outfits being made -- and a lot of paving work !).
But things soon picked up, and within two years Dean was a feature act at Warner Brothers Movie World on the Gold Coast (as part of a legends type show), working there for close to two years. He’s also enjoyed a variety of other work, appearing in magazines, on radio and television (in commercials and as a guest and host on prime-time TV), touring frequently, and traveling extensively. He currently performs the younger years, the leather, and the jumpsuit eras and has two bands (The Dean Vegas Tribute Band) that he works with -- one in Queensland, where he’s based, and the other in Victoria, another Australian state about 2000 km away. He also plays a bit of guitar himself.
When I asked Dean to name a few highlights, he said that winning the Elvis competition in Collingwood, Canada in 2000 was definitely a highlight, along with also winning the Collingwood “E” award which was voted on by all the other ETA’s and awarded to the person who best depicted the spirit of Elvis. In 2002, he was invited to sing at the Elvis Presley Memorial Dinner in Memphis (as he says....a great honour!). He’s also been to Memphis 3 times, Las Vegas twice, Canada 3 times, Bali twice, San Francisco, Lebanon, Indonesia, and Tonga -- in addition to performing in many casinos and clubs throughout Australia. He says, “How lucky am I?”
When I asked about the Collingwood and Memphis experiences, Dean said, “You cannot describe them! The Elvis fans from around the world are just amazing. They are the ones who keep Elvis alive. Without them, we, the ETA’s, don’t exist. I would have to say that Collingwood is my favourite. I have made so many friends there.”