Elvis impersonator reinvents self as coronavirus ‘Crisis Crooner’
With his tribute act on indefinite hold, Chris Maddox is penning parody songs about life in quarantine
Usually when Chris Maddox gets behind a microphone, he’s dressed as the King in his long-running Elvis Presley tribute show, Graceband. But these days, the quarantined Carlsbad dad has a new act he’s calling The Crisis Crooner and he’s appearing regularly in his bedroom closet.
Over the past three weeks on his Facebook page, Maddox has been posting home-recorded videos of himself singing coronavirus-era parody songs he wrote with his wife, Heather. Maddox said there’s nothing funny about the disease that has killed tens of thousands worldwide, but he and his wife are trying to find humor in the daily tedium of sheltering at home.
Among the half-dozen songs they’ve penned so far are “Hand Spray,” set to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”; “It Seems I Clean,” set to “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical “Les Misérables”; and “I Walked the Dog (5 Times Today),” to Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.”
Maddox — who has a full-time day job as global sales director for the vehicle tracking business CalAmp — isn’t looking to capitalize on his parody songs. The Graceband show is so elaborate that it costs more to produce than it makes in ticket sales. For Maddox and his four high school buddies who make up Graceband, it’s more about getting together, entertaining the audience and having fun. But with the band now on indefinite hiatus, the Crisis Crooner has helped Maddox keep singing to an appreciative crowd, albeit online.
“The response from friends and family was so positive,” said Maddox, 47. “People were saying: ' I’m laughing for the first time in a week. When’s the next one?’ I’m a ham and I love an audience. Once I get that kind of feedback, you don’t have to ask me twice.”
Maddox grew up in Redondo Beach where he started singing in high school musicals, then discovered he had a knack for singing like Presley.
“I did ‘I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You’ because Elvis had that deep baritone and it was right in my wheelhouse,’” he said. “A girl liked it, and that was it.”
The summer after high school graduation, Graceband was born. The quintet played bars and frat parties during their college years, then split up in 1997. In 2013, they reunited and do about 25 to 30 shows a year throughout Southern California. Maddox said the success of the show is honoring, not parodying, Presley and putting on an audience-participation party.
“It’s a celebration, not an impersonation,” he said. “It’s very amped up. It’s almost like a Pilates-style workout with lots of music, lots of dancing and lots of fun.”
Graceband’s last show was in early February at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. That was about the time COVID-19 cases began spreading rapidly in Italy and beyond. Maddox said watching the cascading events unfold across the globe was emotionally overwhelming. He jokes that he knew things were getting serious in the U.S. when he went to the store to buy bagels and they were sold out.
“I knew things were bad when even the ‘everything’ bagels that nobody touches were gone,” he said. “I thought, ‘oh crap, this is real.’ That was the moment for me.”
Then on March 15, he heard a parody song while sitting in the car with his wife in a supermarket parking lot.
“I thought, there’s got to be something that makes people stop and breathe,” he said. “I sing all the time but I don’t have a band anymore. But I can do something funny here to help my friends and family laugh.”
While still in the car, the couple began tossing back and forth new lyrics for “My Way” that poked fun at people hoarding hand sanitizer (“I did / What I had to do / Got there before you / I need this prevention”). Next came the song from “Les Misérables” which focused on being trapped in the house for weeks (“But still I dream that we’ll be free / Kids back in school and no more screaming / But there are dreams that cannot be / So for now, more binge and streaming”).
Then, after Neil Diamond posted a video of himself on March 21 singing “Sweet Caroline” with the lyrics “hands, touching hands” changed to “hands, washing hands,” the Maddoxes created a full-length parody song called “Hand Sanitize.”
Maddox said it takes about two hours for him and his wife, a teacher at Nichols Elementary School in Oceanside, to write new lyrics for a song. The experience has proved to be a big bonus for the couple, who have a 12-year-old son named Ryder.
“I’ve never found ways to creatively collaborate with her before. I’m a bit of a diva and am very exacting. But she’s really good at this,” he said. “We work hard to write really good lyrics. It’s not just fart jokes and low-hanging fruit. I come up with basic concept and ideas. She helps me refine it. It’s a great A-B collaboration.”
Since launching the new video series online (facebook.com/chrismaddoxlives), Maddox said his viewership and shares have skyrocketed. He has been profiled on CBS News 8 locally and the national TV magazine “Inside Edition” is also working on a feature.
Maddox is now working on new songs from different genres, as well as collaborations with other tribute artists. And he’s been using the videos to promote the Belly Up’s new downloadable concert service, bellyuplive.com, which is helping the club pay its bills during the shutdown.
One of the best things to come out of The Crisis Crooner is that, for the first time, Maddox is singing songs to an appreciative audience without a rhinestone jumpsuit, $700 wig and sideburns and bedazzled sunglasses. He hopes that even after the coronavirus crisis ends, people will still want to hear Maddox perform as himself.
“To sing in my voice and my face is super gratifying and fun,” he said. “There’s a much greater emotional connection with people because they can see your eyes. I’d love it if the world demanded I come out of the closet and sing all kinds of songs. I want to be the San Diego Chicken for our times, spreading joy through music and humor.”
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