Gregg Peters isn’t wearing a white jumpsuit.
This is a startling fashion statement from a guy who has made his living impersonating Elvis for 43 years – one longer than the King of Rock and Roll was on this planet.
The jumpsuit, even by Elvis standards, is a little flashy for a Saturday morning interview in New York City Bagel & Coffee House at the Broadway stop, so Gregg has come conservatively costumed.
He’s wearing a jet black “Viva Las Vegas” Elvis wig, golden sunglasses with rosy-red lenses – he needs them, no doubt, to block out the sparkle of his big-ass diamond ring – and a black Western shirt emblazoned with a pair of embroidered gold guitars.
His slacks are jumpsuit white, but his comfort-walking shoes aren’t blue suede.
“When I’m in my stage boots, I’m six feet – two inches shorter than Elvis,” he says, adding that he and Elvis were born in January under the astrological sign of Capricorn.
Even so, the outfit draws a lot of eyeballs.
“Are you an Elvis impersonator?” asks a guy strolling by the café. “I like it.”
Gregg, the self-styled King of the Elvis Impersonators, is used to the adoration. The only thing that would be likely to get his attention is if his fans don’t flatter him.
“Do you want to pose for a selfie with me,” he says, looking deeply disappointed when I decline.
Oh, well, that’s show biz.
Gregg, a lifelong Astorian, comes from a family that knew its way around the entertainment industry.
His mother, who goes by Miss Marie and who sings as part of his act, is a songwriter, and his father, Colonel Gregory Lecakes, created the wardrobes and sets for several Oscar-winning films, including Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” which was released in 1967.
Gregg was three when Miss Marie took him to see the Elvis movie “Love Me Tender.”
“It was the first time I ever saw or heard Elvis, and it was the first time I ever saw a movie,” says Gregg, who saw Elvis perform in person once – on June 10, 1972, at Madison Square Garden in a seat ten rows from the stage. “My mom told me that I got really excited and said, ‘I want to be like him and I want a guitar.’”
She promptly bought him a toy guitar, and by age nine he was taking lessons on a real one.
In high school, he was in a band whose top-ten repertoire included a couple of Elvis tunes and was taking voice lessons from noted opera singers.
“Our band got such strong feedback on the Elvis songs from our audiences that we built a whole show around him,” he says.
Gregg’s first big break came in the late 1970s when Otis Blackwell, the songwriter responsible for a string of Elvis hits that included “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Return to Sender” and “Great Balls of Fire,” approached Miss Marie and asked her to collaborate.
“Blackwell wanted me to be ‘The New Elvis,’” Gregg says. “I recorded for RCA, Elvis’ label, three songs by Blackwell that were originally intended for Elvis and eight by my mother. The record company decided not to release them – they didn’t want to turn on Elvis when he was in his prime – so the songs and recordings were shelved.”
He shrugs; fame is, after all, notorious, for being fleeting.
But when Elvis died in August 1977 at age 42, Gregg’s career did take off, if not in the way he had expected or envisioned.
“I was playing the Empire State Building, and on November 1 I did the first all-Elvis tribute show,” he says. “I stayed for three years. Everyone was heartbroken about his death and every show was sold out.”
As he sang the years away, Gregg married his high school sweetheart, Sharon, and had three sons – Lamar Peters, J.J. Burton and Gregory Peters.
Gregg, who has a collection of replica Elvis jumpsuits, stayed on the stage, expanding his act to include impersonations of Engelbert Humperdink, Tom Jones, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.
Larmar and J.J. are following in his footsteps, and sometimes the three of them perform together.
Sharon and Gregory, who has a career in education, reserve their participation to applauding.
“I was playing a club in Westchester, and I was on the bill with every superstar who came through,” Gregg says, adding that he and Sinatra were thick at one point.
Professionally, this is a very promising time for Gregg.
A documentary about his life is in the works, and he’s releasing the CD “Voice of the Century,” a compilation of what he calls the greatest classic ballads, including Elvis’ “If I Can Dream.”
“It brings out my voice in a more elaborate way,” he says.
(On a previous CD, “The King and I,” he does duets with Elvis.)
“Every time I do a show, it feels like the first time,” he says, adding that at one time he was doing five to six nights a week, but now it’s about two. “I’ve been Elvis more times than Elvis was. I’ve been Elvis for 43 years. He was Elvis as we know him for only 22 years.”
Gregg wants the world to know that he’s not the average Elvis emulator.
“When I started, I owned New York,” he says. “There were maybe five impersonators in the United States. Now there are about 400, but only about 25 are working professionally in the world.”
With some 7,000 private, public and charity performances under his rhinestone jumpsuit belt, Gregg’s Elvis isn’t about to leave the building any time soon.
“I’m just getting going,” the 67-year-old says, flashing his diamond ring and a toothy smile to a fan on the street.
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.