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It has been well documented in this publication that I loathe the popular M-Net series, Idols, to the core of my being. It shatters me that so-called “musicians” choose to participate in a show which forces them to perform other people’s hits while there are so many worthwhile musicians creating original music on the streets of this country.
Fundamentally I find the whole process morally wrong. Yes, it makes for good television ratings and some passionate Tweets… blah, blah, blah. Yeah, well, whatever, Dad.
Give me a dingy club and some kickass young rock band over a poxy, glitzy show invented by the odious Simon Cowell any day.
For these reasons I have never bothered to watch or read or write about the antics of the judges, the bad performances and indeed the so- called “musicians” who have emerged into heady fame for all of a nano-second before plunging down further into the depths of obscurity than they ever were.
Enter Elvis Blue. Through the musical grapevine it came to my attention that not only did this Idols winner’s eponymous debut album sell in vast quantities in the first few months of its release, he is actually the real deal. It became evident he knows how to play an instrument and indeed, paid his dues for many years before he decided to enter the evil competition.
With the release of his second album, Journey, it was time to take the bull by the horns and discover how Blue was able to turn his life around after Idols.
Our meeting was at a Durban beachfront hotel where he was on holiday with his wife and daughter before embarking on a five-week national tour. He had also just come off the Mandela Bike Ride (see opposite page) and was looking pretty relaxed.
“The first time I realised I wanted to be a musician was at boarding school in Potch. I walked past this guy’s room and he was playing Metallica’s Enter Sandman on a black Strat. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen.”
Hmmm, cool basic intro into music. Tick.
“When I returned to Jozi my parents, who have always been supportive of my career, bought me a guitar and I started busking at The Zone in Rosebank. I made a lot of money playing easy stuff like Bryan Adams and basic Rolling Stones.
“At school I joined a school band and we were so bad. I was fired as the lead singer and replaced by this chick. Much later when I was playing guitar for Karen Zoid we discovered it was her who replaced me.” Elvis starts laughing.
“So basically I was fired and replaced by Karen Zoid when I was 16!”
He played guitar for the coolest rock chick in the country. Tick.
“I chose to study at Allenby Music School. When I first arrived I was a bit of choir boy. In the first week they made us sing Wild Thing. I was like (he breaks into pseudo opera) ‘wiiiiild thiieeeng’. I met Dan Patlansky and we formed a band called Crosstown Traffic and played places like Question Mark in Melville and Radium Beer Hall for more than a year. I was still too sweet to be in his band, but we were friends.”
He was cool enough to be in a band with the great Dan Patlansky as a student. Arrrriigghht honey!
Elvis then went on to relate how he embarked on a solo career under the pseudonym Mono and was signed to Gallo Music Records. Like many other rock artists at the time he was basically ignored. It was always rumoured that rock artists in those days were mere tax write-offs to the majors who back then were coining the moolah. Shame, how the tables have turned.
Anyway, the struggling muso, realising he could not rely on the record company to even bother returning his calls, booked his own shows and did his own promotions and launches. “But basically I was paying to play.”
On one of his tours he found himself in George where he was offered a job as a music teacher. Having married the love of his life, they packed their bags three months later for the pretty town.
While there he recorded two Afrikaans gospel albums under his real name, Jan Hoogendyk, which were produced by Jake Odendaal. Elvis admits, however, that the albums weren’t mainstream enough for the conservative genre which, like most gospel, observes very strict creative parameters.
It was also during that time that Jan Hoogendyk took up working at hospices with his sister.
“I met this fascinating child called Elvis Blau who wanted to be a keyboardist. We had a strong bond and decided to change his name to Elvis Blue. Unfortunately he became sicker until he finally died. But he really had an impact on my life.”
Later on, he and his wife decided to sell craft they had made at the KKNK (Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees) in Oudsthoorn.
“I was about to become ‘that’ guy and my mother told me never to become ‘that’ guy. I had a daughter and a wife and I was on my way to sell craft. My wife phoned me and suggested I go for the Idols audition in Cape Town. I decided to change my name to Elvis Blue in honour of my young friend.”
By the time he entered Idols he’d released five albums and already toured and played for 10 years. This is perhaps what makes him different to many of the other contestants. The man had paid his dues and was up for a break. Perhaps this is the kind of story Cowell was thinking of when he hatched his plan to make millions all those seasons ago.
What also makes Blue different is that he understands music. This seemed to be demonstrated when the new label for Idols, Universal, hooked him up for his debut album with two of the top producers in South Africa – Brian O’Shea and Crighton Goodwill.
His uncomplicated lyrics appeal to the average adult contemporary pop fan and his music is honest and straightforward.
“I think I am essentially a storyteller. Songs that are timeless, songs that tell stories, great songs will always win because people love great songs. When I write I want to capture great things and write lyrics people can relate to.”
The aptly named Journey reflects this long journey during which Blue showed tenacity and determination to reach his dream. With this album he has again used Brian O’Shea who was joined by producer Theo Crous, both of whom have multi-platinum sales behind their name.
“The first album went platinum, now with the second there is a lot of pressure. I wanted to work with producers who wanted to work with music outside of their genre, which is why I chose Theo and Brian. I wanted to give them a challenge. For me the song is king. It is everything.”
Nuff said, Elvis Blue. Nuff said.