El Vez [1960-]
El Vez, also known as the “Mexican Elvis,” is the stage name of singer Robert Lopez. He took the popular Elvis-impersonation phenomenon and reinvented it into a cross-cultural live performance combining a love of Elvis with an impressive knowledge of popular music and a pro-Latino political agenda. El Vez brings the Chicano experience to life by irreverently highlighting the musical connections between classic pop, rock, and punk songs and Mexican and Afro-Caribbean Music.
Lopez grew up south of San Diego, California, in a town called Chula Vista. A former member of pioneering Hollywood punk bands the Zeros and Catholic Discipline, Lopez explored beyond the Los Angeles scene in the late ‘80s. Inspired by his experience as a Mexican American from Southern California, he headed to Memphis with an entirely new take on the King of Rock and Roll: a carefully constructed character known as El Vez. His rip-away Gold Lame Mariachi suit represents his sassy interpretation of American culture from a Chicano point-of-view. With a campy drawn-on pencil-thin moustache and a sizable pompadour, his live show consists of multiple costume changes, rock n’ roll band the Memphis Mariachis, and the Lovely Elvettes, a trio of female back-up singers.
While the “Mexican Elvis” theme is certainly Lopez’s hook, El Vez is so much more than just an impersonator. A savvy lyricist and political activist, Lopez weaves themes of the Chicano experience into his covers, medleys and original songs. Singing about immigration, gang violence, Mexican history, and influential Mexican American figures like Cesar Chavez, El Vez is a multicultural phenomenon. The Seattle Times reported in 2007, “As a Latino co-opting a white musical legend who had appropriated black music, El Vez was unmistakably pushing back on society’s broad notions about ethnicity and race.”
Originally intended to be a one-time gig for a kitschy Elvis tribute week, Lopez’s El Vez turned out to be a 20-plus year career with plenty of accolades. El Vez has opened for David Bowie, The B-52’s, and Carlos Santana and has released over 25 records. After 20 years in L.A., Lopez relocated to Seattle in 2001 and performs often.