Kevin Mills


Look over Kevin’s accomplishments and it won’t take you very long to realize that he is one of the very best in the world at what he does professionally… and that is performing as an Elvis Presley tribute artist. He has been recognized with accolades and awards pretty much since the very first time he performed as Elvis, and the applause has only grown louder… the praise has only become stronger.

A review of 2010 alone provides a stunning list of accomplishments. As the year began, Kevin hit the road with The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Tour, one of the only Elvis-related concert events sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterprises… a group well-known for as very protective about offering its endorsements. He was on stage performing with Ann-Margret (Lori Russo), recreating movie moments with specialized production numbers. The tour proved so successful and well-received that a second leg was added, which Kevin took part in during the fall. During the year he was also performing with Legends in Concert, sailing with The Elvis Cruise, and earning his second straight top-three finish in the annual Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest.

Now, in 2012, he is beginning the year again performing with Lori as part of the well-received Elvis Lives Tour, which continues his association with the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artists and Elvis Presley Enterprises.

Kevin is incredibly versatile with his portrayal of the King, expertly covering the ground from the Louisiana Hayride days and early Elvis of the 50s, through the movie years and the Comeback Special, and ultimately into the iconic jumpsuit of Las Vegas and Aloha From Hawaii. In fact, to date he is the only Elvis tribute artist to open and conclude a Legends show as both the 50s Elvis and 70s Elvis, and one of very few to cover just about every stage of his career.

As he arrived to meet me for the longest conversation we had in preparing this interview, I learned something different about him. Simply put… he honestly seems to get it. Kevin is a confident, self-assured and easy-going person. Friendly. Honest. A great guy that feels very comfortable with his profession and abilities. On this day, I noticed something else. He understands the little things in life and how important they are.

Kevin was running a few minutes behind due to a shuttle bus that he took from his hotel to the theater. He was apologizing profusely to me, asking if he’d held me up from anything else. His son was with him at the time, and he brought him to his dressing room, organized some books and study materials, and asked him to finish some work while he spoke with me.

Part of Kevin’s greatest joy that summer was spending time with his kids. In fact, having seen each other a few times, his broadest smiles and least guarded moments were… to my eyes at least… when walking around the theater with his son and daughter.

Performing as Elvis is rewarding and thrilling… something he’s great at and clearly enjoys. On the other side of things though, spending five or six weeks working in a single location and being able to have his kids there while school is on break? That’s just about untouchable for him.

And that’s the Kevin that becomes so impressive. He works hard at what he does. He knows he is very, very good at it. But there is no arrogance… no sense of entitlement to be found. He is unfailingly polite and attentive. He takes time to consider each and every question, and at times asks a few of his own to either clarify the intent or allow him to expand on an answer. He offers a few jokes that not only keep the interview fun and lively, they also show a confidence that he feels at ease in speaking and trusts me. He appreciates those that greet him and want a moment of his time, and yet during all of the swirling touring and commitments, he makes no secret about placing his family above it all.

Kevin Mills is a true professional, and quite simply a great guy. It’s an honor to have spent some time with him, and a thrill for me to share this interview with you.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

About twenty years ago or so, you were, I believe, playing cover songs with a band.

That’s right. It was a 4-piece band called the Rock and Roldies. We played mostly rockabilly stuff.

Speaking of that style, that would have been around the end of the big run for the Stray Cats.

Yeah. About then. We played Eddie Cochran and some Elvis tunes.

How did that bring you to performing as Elvis?

We were playing some Elvis stuff in our shows, and a lot of people would make the comparison between our looks. We had heard about this contest being held in Memphis and thought it would be a great thing for me to enter. So I spent a couple of weeks watching his movies, going over his songs, and trying to learn all of the Elvis moves.

It was 1990, and the contest was called Images of the King. I was the only 50s Elvis in the competition and I won.

Did you ever imagine where that start would take you?

No. But it is very funny how fast things can happen.

It turned out that there was someone in the audience of that contest working on a biography of Elvis for the A&E network. It was called Elvis: The Beginning. After seeing my work in the contest, and the fact that I was focusing on early Elvis, they asked me to be a part of it.

We did a re-enactment of his first year, going all over the place, doing things like the Louisiana Hayride and performing songs like “That’s All Right Mama” along the way. I got to visit a lot of the places he performed at, and worked on the same stages. It was great.

You just mentioned that you were the only person in the contest that was a 1950s Elvis. But with Legends I believe you target the years of 1970 to 1973… or to expand it bit and give it some Elvis milestone markers, basically from the Comeback Special to Aloha From Hawaii. When did that change take place?

Well, that’s a funny story. It’s sort of a demand thing.

I’ve always been really motivated and focused on doing anything the very best that I can do it, and I approach everything in my life that way. Once I get interested in something, I’m driven to keep doing it until I have it virtually perfect.

I had mastered the 50s Elvis. I wanted to work with Legends, and I auditioned in 1992. They rejected me.

I thought I had done really well. In fact, my father told me after the audition that he had never seen me better and I had to have the job. The problem turned out to be that they didn’t want a 50s Elvis. They told me to put on a jumpsuit, but I wouldn’t do it at the time.

John Stuart is the man when it comes to Legends in Concert. Two years after I was rejected, John got in touch with me. He wanted to know if I was interested in performing on a cruise ship. I said yes, provided I could do the 50s Elvis. After debating it a bit, they hired me, and I performed as the 50s Elvis for about two years after that.

Ultimately, I found out what they meant back in 1992. Most places looking for an Elvis tribute artist want the Vegas Elvis. I put a jumpsuit on, studied more of his songs, and began performing the 70s Elvis in shows. To this day, I am the only performer with Legends to open a show as the 50s Elvis and close a show as the 70s Elvis.

I’ll let you in on a guilty pleasure of sorts for me though. Remember back when they released those Elvis stamps? And they picked two different points of his career? I’ve always been thrilled that they selected a 50s Elvis as part of that.

In the beginning of 2010 you participated in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Tour. What was it like doing that? (Note: Since the majority of this piece was assembled, Kevin has performed as part of several events with the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist group. He is currently on the road with the Elvis Lives Tour.)

It was great. Twenty-five cities in about thirty days. A lot of fun and very tiring.

I did the movie years for it, which was challenging because it involved the only real production numbers in the show. Lori Russo was performing on the tour as Ann-Margret, and she’s fabulous. She and I have performed together before, mostly about 15 years ago or so in Atlantic City. That made some of the initial stuff very easy for me, and I could focus my attention on the extra work those production numbers required.

Bill Cherry, Vic Trevino and Leo Days were the other artists for the different periods of Elvis, and I had a good time being around them as well.

The whole thing was organized and endorsed by Elvis Presley Enterprises, and working with them means a lot. They take everything very professionally when it comes to protecting Elvis, and all the people around us had tremendous stories to tell.

You also seem to take the details very professionally and seriously. The first look I ever had of you performing was stepping on stage, “See See Rider” kicking in as part of that classic Vegas Elvis start, and around your neck is placed a great replica of his Gibson Dove guitar.

(Laughs) Yeah. But it’s a prop, right? I’d love to own authentic models of some of his guitars, but I don’t think I’d use them on stage that often if I did have them. Maybe at a one-night event with the most hard-core of Elvis fans. The truth is, if you could see the back of that guitar, you’d probably be stunned by how beat up it is. Those belts do not treat guitars kindly.

The thing is, I know I don’t look exactly like Elvis. I don’t think anyone really does. And what that means is I have to do all of the little things I can to create an illusion. I’ve got nine different jumpsuits. I’ve got the guitar and the decal on it. Put a live band out there with me, and all of it sets the atmosphere up just right. Everything I can do helps.

There are three elements any tribute artist has to get right, and those are the look, the voice and the stage presence. And for Elvis it’s even tougher, because he is so identifiable in each of those areas.

(For the next three questions, you need to know that our in-person interview took place before the 2010 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest semifinals and finals in early August of 2010. Kevin improved on his 2009 third place results and finished second that year. In 2011, he was again selected to perform in the semi-finals of the event.)

The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest is coming up next week. You’ve finished in the top ten twice before. How hard is it being around the people that don’t just have the look, voice and stage presence, but are, like you, among the best in the world at it?

Very hard. I’m still not sure what songs to pick for it. Bill Cherry called me the other night and we started talking about what songs I was thinking of selecting. Have you ever heard “How The Web Was Woven”? I think that will be one of the songs I pick. It’s a song I really love, and that audience should react to it very well.

Is there a lot of thought that goes into picking what you’ll play?

There’s a lot of strategy involved. The choice of songs is incredibly important.

But you also have to be in shape for it, and the timing is really good for me. I’ve been performing here with Legends on this run for about four weeks now, eight shows a week, so I think I’m going to be really on top of my game hitting the contest.

Last year’s winner came into the contest having won Tupelo. You won Tupelo this year. Any symbolism there?

(Laughs) Actually, I have thought about that. And Shawn Klush, who won the Ultimate Elvis in 2007, competed in Tupelo and won there too. He did it in a different order though.

They take Elvis very seriously there, and they do it way beyond the basic reason of it being his birthplace. They love Elvis and they take tremendous pride in him. I competed there in 2009 when Bill Cherry won. When we got there, I was looking out at the audience, and they’re all wearing t-shirts with Bill’s name on it and screaming for him. It was like he personally bussed in hundreds and hundreds of members of his family. I got a lot of them into my performance during the show, but it was just insane.

After the event, this woman comes up to me and introduces herself. Her name is Debbie Brangenberg, and she runs the festival that the contest was a part of. She told me that she really wanted me back in 2010 to compete. I went back, and this year I won.

These folks are amazing with their support. The fans from the Tupelo show bus in to Memphis for the finals to support their champion. The festival is taking care of my family and I while we’re in Memphis for it. In fact there’ll be a great party on Monday night with all of them there. Great people, huge fan base, and I just couldn’t thank them enough for their support.

Do you find any differences in audiences and their reactions to your performances depending on where you are?

Definitely. There’s a common connection that I try to establish with any audience in any location. I want to excite people, get them on their feet and really have them experience a memorable show. That never changes.

The funniest place to perform is down south. They’re really easy going and laid back in the beginning. Elvis is theirs, and they’ve seen lots of people trying to imitate him. But the thing is, if you’re good, and especially if they know who you are, then they eat it up and go really crazy for you.

Around here in the north, they tend to be a bit more conservative overall. They recognize talent and a good performance, and they’ll really get in to it. It’s just not the deep down, emotional and literally personal reaction.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

I don’t know for sure. At least not in any way I want to talk about just yet.

As far as my performances, right now I usually set up my schedule with about six months on stage with Legends in Concert and then six months on my own. So if anyone would like to have a great time and see a show, check out my schedule and maybe I’ll be nearby soon.

When it comes to my music, what I can tell you is that I’m always wondering what Elvis would have done if he had lived longer. Check out the changes he went through from the first shows in the 50s to the movies and then on to Vegas. I don’t think he would be wearing the jumpsuits today. His performances of his own songs was different if you compare the early releases and shows to his concerts later on.

Over the years I’ve been introduced to some great people and fabulous groups. I really think I have some opportunities in front of me to do some very different things, and I look forward to working on them.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I want to thank Kevin Mills for all of his time and consideration on this project. Not only was he in the middle of an 8-show-per-week performance schedule when we sat down for the main interview, he was also preparing for the 2010 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. Tremendous appreciation for his generosity is about as best as I can describe it, and frankly that doesn’t do it justice.

Also, a very special thank you to Lori Russo for her assistance in setting up our interview and getting the materials moved back and forth as I prepared it for posting. She is fabulous to work with… very patient and incredibly understanding.

If you should ever have a chance to see Kevin perform… especially in a tribute effort for the King… do not miss it. (And if Lori is there as well… geez, run, don’t walk.)

(By the way… Kevin is supposed to be heading to Atlantic City in June of this year... 2012.)

If you would like any other information about Kevin, check out these fine sites…

The official web site of Kevin Mills

Kevin Mills at Legends in Concert

The Kevin Mills photo gallery at In My Backpack

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at