Broadway to Broadway

A lot of miles between Denver’s Broadway and New York’s Broadway

When Million Dollar Quartet opens in Denver, here’s a fact you may want to know – in case you find yourself in a game of Denver rockabilly trivia or S & G’s value. Did you know the Elvis Presley role was originally created by Denver’s Eddie Clendening?

Six years ago Clendening was a young rock ‘n roll guitar slinging/singer, with the Elvis leg-thing going on. He and his band the Blue Ribbon Boys, were making the rounds of local rockabilly bars, like Broadway’s Skylark Lounge and appreciating local celebrity. Then in true Hollywood lore making stories, Eddie was literally plucked out of the Denver music scene to star in the original production of Million Dollar Quartet. A new musical scheduled to open in Chicago in 2008.

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Eddie Clendening

Around that time, fans of Eddie remember the excitement for his almost-stage debut in The Buddy Holly Story at the Arvada Center in 2008. Tickets were bought and fans anxiously awaited opening night. But before Buddy (Eddie) opened at the Arvada Center, Clendening had a change of heart. Denver fans were disappointed to learn Eddie was no longer in the starring role nor, was he in the production at all. There were lots of shock waves and scratching heads over Eddie’s departure.

But a few months later, out of the blue, Eddie received a call from the producers of a new musical, loosely based on the night of December 4, 1956. It was the night Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins had an impromptu jam session at Sun Studios. This Memphis moment in music produced the photograph of the four legendary stars at the piano, who were all destined for rock ‘n roll history. It became known as the Million Dollar Quartet and, Eddie became Elvis.

After 2,000 nights as Elvis, Eddie is temporarily back home in Denver. Fortunate for his non-Denver fans, he’s jetting around the country and Europe, with his Blue Ribbon Boys, rocking away on the tails of his MDQ success. When I contacted Eddie he was performing in New York, so we did the interview via Facebook messaging.

DAM: After playing Elvis and being on stage with Johnny, Jerry Lee and Carl, which one would you want to spend time with and why?

Well, thats hard to say. I guess Elvis, just because he was so weird, a total head case. From his introverted behavior, his childlike nature, his need for acceptance and approval, to his mother issues, his relationships with women and various sexual hang ups – and on and on and on. I think he would be the most interesting to observe and talk to.  Jerry Lee and Carl seem like the most fun to go drinking with, and Johnny seems like he’d be a good fishing buddy.

DAM:  When did you become infatuated with Elvis? I remember before MDQ you had the Elvis moves.

Well to be honest, I started out, and have always been into artists other then Elvis. He’s great and all, but I was really into black music, old country blues especially, then I saw the movie La Bamba as a kid and really dug that music. Elvis came a bit later. He’s the most easily accessible as far as recordings and such, but there’re so many amazing lesser known artists that have had as much or more influence on me.

I really love Merle Travis, and the way he picks a guitar, James Burton as well. Bob Lumans band, The Shadows, was and is one of my all time favorites – too many to start rattling off a list.

As far as the moves, I think some of that stuff gets to be a bit corny, if you have a rehearsed set of things you’re doing or whatever. I tend to just go with the song and the moment. If it makes me wanna dance then I suppose I will.

DAM: You were suppose to be in the Buddy Holly story at the Arvada Center when it played 6 years ago. Then you suddenly went to Chicago. The next thing I knew, you were opening the Tony Awards with Million Dollar Quartet. Briefly, how did that come about?

I was supposed to do Buddy yes, but into the production I realized that the show just wasn’t for me. I moved on, and a couple months later I received a call to do MDQ. I reluctantly gave it a shot and ended up fitting in nicely with the cast and crew as well as the show itself. A couple of years and several hundred performances later, there I was in New York City performing on Broadway. It was a great experience getting to be a part of that crazy ride, performing the show thousands of times, appearing at the TONY Awards twice and also appearing on television several times, not to mention making appearances as myself in a number of great venues and forums that otherwise would have not been available to me had I not been in the show.

DAM: How did you like living in Chicago then NYC?

Chicago and New York were both such great cities for music. I’ve recorded my last 2 albums in Chicago, and met and played with some of the best players I’ve ever worked with. Denver has always been my hometown more or less, that’s where I grew up, where my family is, and it’s always a great place to get back to for a recharge and to clear my head.

DAM: Are you on tour now, playing gigs in the East?

I just finished up a show that ran in New York that was essentially a cabaret show featuring the music of SUN records, covering the Million Dollar Quartet artists as well as others. I’m on the road for another week or so playing a few gigs as I make my way back to Denver for a few shows over the weekend of my birthday February 27, at Gary Lee’s in Denver and February 28, at Rockabillies in Arvada. Saturday March 1, I will be guest DJ-ing at Mile High Soul Club’s monthly dance party at The Beauty Bar in Denver. I will be back on the road shortly after that.

DAM: Who are the Blue Ribbon Boys, and where are they from?

I have a solid stable of musicians located all over the US and abroad that I hire when I can, however the main backing band I record with and use is “The Blue Ribbon Boys” who are currently involved in the touring company of MDQ, and will be appearing with me at the shows booked in and around Denver during the last half of February and early March.

DAM:  It appears you have a large fan base in the East.

I’ve managed to develop a great fan base on the east coast. It happened after living here and playing as much as possible while I was working in Million Dollar Quartet.

DAM: Would you like to be in another show? What was the hardest part to performing in a successful Broadway show? How many months were you in MDQ?

I would love to do work in other shows, and have continued to do so since I left MDQ after 5 years. Acting was a creative side that was fun and interesting to get into.  I look forward to keeping it all going.

DAM: What is the one thing that comes to mind when working in a show night after night. What did you take away from that experience?

The importance of consistency.

DAM: What is your next career move; are you going to the MDQ at the Buell?

Well, like I said before I just finished a short run of a different show. I’m looking forward to playing some gigs and traveling a bit.

I’m not sure if I’ll go see the show at the Buell. I was in it around 2000 times, so I’ve pretty much got the idea. The touring company is doing essentially the same show, but every new actor brings his own strengths and weaknesses to the roles as well as, their own flavor. That’s the beauty of live theater.

DAM: How old were you when you were hired for MDQ, how old are you now?

When I started the show I was 25 or 26, I was 14 when I started playing guitar and gigs, I’m 30 now. (31 on February 27)

Footnote 1: Make note of Eddie’s shows happening this week. It sounds like audiences will be in for a real treat – not just hearing Eddie play, but Elvis, Johnny, Jerry Lee, and Carl will be joining him.

Footnote 2: Rose Whitlock, aka, Mamma Rose to Eddie, met Eddie when he was 13 years old. She remembers clearly he was sitting in her living room watching a movie. What she remembers that stood out that day was the contrast of her son, the punk rocker, hanging with a throw-back friend. She said she walked in and saw this young stranger with a pompadour hair-do watching an old Elvis movie. She remembers when he left her house, he was so interested in her collection of old movies and music, she loaned him the Elvis movie and to this day, just like a kid, he has never returned it.

Footnote 3: Eddie Clendening has performed on The View, The David Letterman Show and the TONY Awards show.

Footnote 4: The musical Million Dollar Quartet was written by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott. Runs at the Buell in Denver February 25 – March 9, 2014.  www.denvercenter.org

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