By KATE LUDLOW
As a young boy growing up in Houston, Randy Hinson used to hear Elvis on the radio, and got the feeling he was hearing something special.
“Elvis was a very charismatic person. I used to listen to ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Don’t Be Cruel,’ recalls Hinson. “As I grew older, I realized he had the ability to mesmerize. What I really appreciated was, whenever he performed, he put his whole self into his shows.
“I was never able to see him in person, but I was able to watch his concerts on TV. He would enter the stage, his countenance, you could see how completely worn out he was at the end of his show. He put his whole self into it,” says Hinson.
Hinson had watched Elvis on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” where he was only shown from the waist up, his hip gyrations that he is famous for had been deemed too vulgar for primetime television.
At the time, Hinson knew he loved Elvis, but he wasn’t yet aware that he would one day build a career around him performing as a professional Elvis Tribute Artist.
“I played music all through junior high, high school. We played rock and roll songs, heavy metal, light rock, the music of the day,” says Hinson.
College took him to Boise, Idaho, where he met his wife, Terry, whom he married in 1973. Music took a backseat to starting a new family, and a new career working as a law enforcement officer.
In 1978, Hinson moved back to Houston and took a job with Harris County. Over the years, he and Terry had seven children and 19 grandchildren. His love for Elvis never died, and in 1995, a friend pointed out that Hinson had a lot in common with The King of Rock and Roll.
“He said, ‘You know, has anybody ever told you that you bear a striking resemblance to Elvis?’ I had heard that a few times, and then he asked, ‘Do you sing?’”
Hinson was invited to his friend’s house where the two began collaborating on “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” one of Elvis’ most popular ballads.
“I only knew the part about ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ so he whipped the lyrics out of his pocket, and went on playing the keyboard. He said people would pay money to see that,” Hinson said.
The two went to check out another Elvis Tribute Artist, and what Hinson saw convinced him that he could do better.
“He didn’t even sing, he just liked the notoriety. He wore the white jumpsuit, but there were no stones,” says Hinson, of the famous white rhinestone-bedecked jumpsuit Elvis wore. “He just had it painted. I thought, if this fellow can get recognized….”
Hinson’s first jumpsuit was handmade, a replica of the ‘Aloha from Hawaii’ concert.
“We based it off a photograph from that concert,” says Hinson.
Through the years, “The Spirit of Elvis,” Hinson’s official business name, has carried him to performances in Europe, the Virgin Islands, Mexico and along the Gulf Coast. He plays a variety of shows, from charity benefits to cruise line performances.
Elvis Tribute Artists are a varied bunch, some preferring the gold lame suits and wild hair of Elvis’ youth, some preferring the white jumpsuits, flashy rings, and golden sunglasses, but Hinson says all the tribute artists have a common goal.
“We share a common thread to keep Elvis’ music in front of people. He is a giant among entertainers. Elvis is a phenomenon. It’s really hard to explain. I grew up listening to him. He was like John Wayne. In a sense, Elvis can never die. When he passed away, it was like waking up in a dream to realize Elvis was really gone. For us, and our fans, The King is still alive, at least in spirit,” says Hinson.
Though Elvis Tribute Artists are prolific, and Hinson has met a good many, The King is still an untouchable.
“There will never be another Elvis,” says Hinson. “They broke the mold with him. His natural ability to sing, and the way he moved…that’s not something you can teach someone to do. I have seen some very good Elvis Tribute Artists, and none of them are able to do it. There is only one Elvis.”
It is Hinson’s voice that lifts him above other tribute artists. A rich, deep clear voice, with just a hint of Southern twang, transports you to that building before Elvis left. Though some tribute artists lip synch, this is a practice that Hinson opposes.
“Who wants to pay to see someone move their lips? It’s an affront to Elvis Tribute Artists, if you pay to hear his music, and it’s just playing to your moving lips,” he said.
Hinson’s shows, like the one he will perform Saturday at the Liberty Hill United Methodist Church, are purposefully relaxed.
“It’s a time to forget your cares. Let go of your troubles, and just enjoy a nice evening. The first time I was singing, and people started dancing, I was startled. But my wife, Terry, said ‘That’s great.’ Dancing with your sweetheart. It’s all about living in the moment.”
Hinson’s wife, Terry, accompanies him to all of his shows, and for years as worked as his sound tech.
“She comes into the recording studio with me. I would not be able to do this without her support. She is my biggest critic,” says Hinson.
Mrs. Hinson works as a counselor with Leander ISD, and it was her call for Hinson to go back to work in law enforcement.
“She said if she had to work, so did I,” Hinson jokes.
“The song I enjoy singing most is ‘The Wonder of You’,” says Hinson. “Regardless of where I am in the building while I sing it, I’m always singing it to her (Terry).”
Since July, Hinson has worked for Williamson County Pct. 2 Constable Rick Coffman. Together, they began working with the Over the Hill Gang in Liberty Hill, and the idea for a free concert was borne.
“Originally, it was just going to be for the Over the Hill Gang, but then we thought it would be neat to open it up to the public. It’s an entirely free show, and open to everyone. It’s family friendly, bring the kids. It’s just an enjoyable time,” says Hinson. “I want to thank the Methodist Church for the use of their facilities for our performance.
“I’ve sang professionally for over 15 years. It probably counts for most of my income, but it’s not going to be that way Saturday night,” says Hinson.
“I’ve sang to 10 people, I’ve sang to thousands…but the best groups have been small groups. You can relate to those kinds. I’ll get right up in a lady’s face and sing her a love song in a New York minute – with the permission of the husband first, of course,” Hinson says, laughing. “I have had ladies come up to me afterwards and tell me that was the first time someone has actually sang a song just to them. That feels good. I like to get the audience involved.”
To see “The Spirit of Elvis” alive in Liberty Hill, come to the LHUMC, 101 Church Street, Saturday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. for this free show. For more information, you may visit Hinson’s website at randy-terryhinson.blogspot.com or call (281) 455-5069.