CORNWALL, Ontario - There’s no mistaking when you enter the basement at TJ Jackson’s home, that there is a devoted Elvis fan living there.
Jackson says that event before he was born, his parents were Elvis fans and used to go to record hops and dance to his music.
“That’s where they first met.”
Growing up in Akwesasne, as a child, Jackson, now 54, got his first taste for performing when accompanying his parents to Malone to do laundry on Saturdays.
Next door to the laundromat was a bar where a young TJ would tap dance and two-step, a skill taught to him by a family friend, while patrons showered him with spare change, as his father and grandfather kept watch over him. “They got to sit and drink and I did all the work,” he laughed.
From there, an uncle taught him guitar, and he would eventually go on to play in country rock bands, for many years, and event record a couple of CDs of original music.
Construction worker by day, Jackson traded his cowboy hat for the proverbial gold lame suit, seven years ago, and fulfilled a long-time dream of becoming an Elvis tribute artist, performing throughout the community for fun and good causes.
This summer, Jackson, who also competes regularly as a non-pro, took home an arm-load of hardware, after coming in first at the Tweed Elvis Festival, as well as at an impromptu competition at a local pub, there, wanting to get in on the action.
Earlier in July, Jackson returned once again to the Collingwood Elvis Festival - considered the biggest one in the world - where he came in second place, singing Promised Land and Hurt.
“I’ve always been in the top ten since I started (to compete at Collingwood),” said Jackson who has every intention of returning year after year until he wins. “I’ve got to get that first place.”
He also intends on returning to compete in Memphis, considered the most important one of these contests, sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterpries, worldwide.
What makes a good tribute artist? Vocally, the similarities are uncanny, and there no doubt that the King himself would approve of Jackson’s ample pompadour, it could also be the attention to detail that has given him the edge over the competition and has made him a favourite among Elvis fans all around the region.
“You have to be careful when you perform songs, that you’re in the right era,” he said. “Don’t make the mistake of wearing a jumpsuit from the early 70s if you’re singing a song from ’76.”
It’s Jackson himself who painstakingly sews every bead and embellishment onto his jumpsuits, to exact specifications. “A lot of people don’t know Elvis was part native, and loved the native designs on his suits.”
Presley’s incredible talent and mark on the history of modern music aside, it’s his soul that draws Jackson to emulate this icon. “Elvis was a humanitarian. When he made it big, money was nothing to him, he was so humble.”
Jackson remembers vividly where he was on August 16, 1977. Home sick with the flu, it was his mother who went to his room to tell him that Elvis had died. “I was devastated.”
With his tribute act, Jackson hopes to keep the memory alive.