Local Elvis impersonator goes Hollywood

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Local musician Alex Swindle performing at Mae’s Food Hall in Cullman in 2018 (Alex Swindle)


 

CULLMAN, AlaAlex Swindle was only 10 or 11 years old when he auditioned for a part in a children’s theater musical that would place him on a strange path to Hollywood. A part playing the legendary Elvis Presley would grow into much more that he could have ever imagined. Now, in his late 20s, Swindle’s love of music is stronger than ever, despite having mostly retired the white jumpsuit.  

Originally from the Fultondale area, Swindle moved to Cullman when he turned 21. He was mostly playing live music at local bars and events while moving away from the Elvis impersonator scene. Rockandroll is his passion, with Guns N Roses, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and Journey among his inspirations.  

As a child, Swindle did not attend public school, and children’s theater and musical theater became a way for him to connect with other kids. During a production of Schoolhouse Rock!, he tried out for a part that was a bit of an Elvis spoof. He went and got a wig for the part to cover his blonde hair, and next thing he knew he was invited to an Elvis contest at the BJCC.  

“We showed up there thinking it would be like a little talent contest, but there were like 2,000 people there. At least it looked like that in my 11yearold eyes,Swindle recalled. His grandmother offered to take him home because of the size of the competition, but Swindle carried on. He was entered into the youth division against two 16 year olds. He sang “Love Me Tender” and snagged the win.  

He said, “After that, it was off to the races!” He won several more contests that year and more youth division titles until he turned 16. He began competing against adults, and by age 20 he was winning adult division contests. He added, “In 2014, I won a World Championship and the next year I got pretty high up in the Elvis Presley Enterprises Contest.” By the time he moved to Cullman, he was also touring with a group doing shows all over the country in “One Night in Memphis.” 

After doing Elvis for many years, he began working on his own music.  

“Mae’s Food Hall opened up and we probably played there at least 50 times,” he said. “Then on to Moe’s and we played there a whole bunch. I started just as a solo guitar player-acoustic stuff.”  

He said he knew he wanted to play in a full rock band and soon he assembled the band RNR. 

He explained, “We had a cool little rock band playing that scene and they were like, ‘Come up with a name, Alex!’ I said, ‘We are just a rock and roll band.’ Nothing big ever came of it, but in July of 2018 or 2019, we played just shy of 20 parties in just one month.”  

Swindle was living in Cullman at that time and was focused on playing around town when his former days of playing Elvis resurfaced.  

He recalled, “It was a summer morning in 2018 when I got an email from a production company. It said, ‘Hey, do you want to be in a commercial playing Elvis Presley? It pays this, that and the other. Yes or no?’” He thought it was a small commercial. The project name was “Tupelo,” so he assumed it would be a commercial for Tupelo tourism.  

Swindle was sent non-disclosure paperwork and was asked to download Skype, to which he laughed, “You’re still using Skype? That’s weird. They wanted a video of me singing the song from the commercial and my measurements.” The production company called, and he auditioned via Skype and verified that he was indeed who he said he was. A couple of weeks went by and Swindle continued playing local gigs with his band.  

“I had sort of forgotten about it. I got a phone call saying that I was one of the director’s favorites. At this point, I still have no idea what is going on. Who is the director? What’s this for?” A contract was sent, and he signed it. “They were like, Here’s your plane tickets and we are going to need you for a week out here. I asked, ‘Where am I going?’ and they said, ‘Hollywood!’’ 

He continued, “As a rock and roll guitar player, that’s the Promised Land to us. Even if it’s not all that it is cracked up to be, every rock and roll guitar player wants to go see where it all started. I’ve dreamed of seeing Whiskey A Go Go and Canter’s Deli. At this point, I still don’t know what the hell is going on, but I am stoked!” The night before he was scheduled to leave for Los Angeles, he played at Mae’s Food Hall.  

His plane stopped in Las Vegas and that was incredibly exciting for Swindle, who said, “I was super stoked to see the Las Vegas airport, but they wouldn’t let me off the plane. I could see all the highrise hotels and things, but I couldn’t get off the plane. I was so bummed.” While he was on the plane at the airport, he was able to turn on his phone only to discover some bad news, that his girlfriend had broken up with him. “I’m like, ah man, I’m getting broken up with right now, but at least I’m halfway to Hollywood!” 

He finally arrived at LAX and was picked up in a black Cadillac SUV. The driver sent to pick up Swindle asked, “When’s the last time you were out here to do something like this?” When Swindle explained that he had never even been to California before, the driver said, “What? They don’t ask random people to do this. You are going to the moon dude! Who do they send to the moon? Astronauts that have been there before, not trainees.”  

Swindle was starting to feel really good about the situation and he was very thankful to the driver. He was dropped off at a recording studio where he met a director.  He was asked to sing the few seconds of an Elvis song for the commercial. He was then asked to sing the whole song, “There’s Always Me.” Swindle had never sung the song, but he was looking at a screen as he sang.  

Swindle explained, “They had a mock version of the commercial with a story board that went to the music of the song. Then at the end, the last note hits and BOOM!, the Apple logo. That’s when I knew it was big doins.” He said he did a “happy dance” and headed back to his hotel. He couldn’t tell anybody because of non-disclosure agreements. He spent the next week shooting scenes for the Apple Elvis commercial.  

His portion of the commercial took 48 takes as his scene was on a moving set meant to look like a ship or aircraft carrier. Another Elvis impersonator chosen for the commercial was someone Swindle had known for many years, and he said he befriended the other participants as well. The commercial was finally released in December of 2018.  

Now, Swindle has used the pause in live music because of the pandemic as an opportunity to focus on developing his own music.  

“I am working on a concept album now and the recording process I am doing by myself which is very important,” he said.  

Swindle hopes to get back to playing live shows in Cullman soon, and anywhere he goes, you can bet that there will be rock and roll!  

(Alex Swindle as Elvis for a performance in “One Night in Memphis”)

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Christy Perry

christy@cullmantribune.com