Elvis Week Blog 3 - Elvis Inspires Dean Z to Keep on Rocking

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Welcome to the official blog of Elvis Presley’s Graceland! You can take Elvis-inspired quizzes, get first-looks on events here at Graceland and how-to guides on everything you need to know about Elvis and his home. Like Elvis, we come with a little southern charm

Elvis Week Blog 3 - Elvis Inspires Dean Z to Keep on Rocking

By Jon Waterhouse

Dean Z was born to be a rocker, literally. And evidence exists. A video circa 1987 shows a 3-year-old, jumpsuit clad Dean performing “Jailhouse Rock” with more swagger than a post-toddler should have, just a month after the kid saw Elvis on TV for the first time. 

Today the 2013 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist keeps rolling upward, achieving some of the highest acclaim and visibility of any performer of his kind. Using an intense appreciation and inspiration of Elvis as a springboard, Dean manages to simultaneously further his tribute artist career and transcend it by sharing his own persona with the world. His latest solo concert production “Elvis: The Rocker,” debuting 7 p.m. August 12 at the Graceland Soundstage, arguably converges the two like never before. 

The production showcases Elvis’ most electrifying music from his entire career. And we’ll see and hear it through a Dean Z filter, which the performer describes as an interpretation rather than a traditional tribute. He likens it to “a road that runs alongside the superhighway of Elvis.” 

“Elvis taught me how to be a performer by replicating his work,” says Dean. “And through that process I found myself and how I’m my own performer. Through Elvis, I’ve created my own personality of how I present music to audiences. And this is a way for me to sort of mash these two things together by applying the things Elvis has taught me and things I’ve discovered through performing his music for myself.”

What word best describes the pinnacle of the king’s rousing work? Dean chose the appropriate moniker “rocker,” a nod to one of the earliest impacts Presley had on his life.  

Soon after first seeing the huge impression Elvis was making on their son, Dean’s parents would often gift him with Presley cassettes. A standout was “The Rocker,” a concise compilation of some of Elvis’ most powerful early work. It quickly blew the young boy’s mind. First, it was the cover: a black and white shot of a young, leather wrapped Elvis on a motorcycle, his name in giant, bold red letters on a striking yellow background. Then Dean pressed play.

“It’s like rock ‘n’ roll shot out of a cannon,” Dean says. “The song selection (is so exciting.), ‘Jailhouse Rock’ is the first song on side A, and you get right into this gritty, rock ‘n’ roll sound. It’s not a controlled sound, because Elvis’ voice changed so many times. All of the songs are reminiscent of the untamed nature of Elvis at that time.”

While that cassette focuses on late 1950s material, Dean quickly points out Elvis never stopped rocking. Elvis’ ability to channel pulse-pounding vigor into his music remained consistent throughout his whole catalog. So, Dean divides his “Elvis: The Rocker” show into Presley’s three professional eras: the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. And he does it by conveying a fresh appeal with different-but-familiar musical arrangements. He includes medleys and mash-ups of Elvis material done in a way Presley never performed live. “Wearing That Loved On Look” intertwines with “Bossa Nova Baby” and “C.C. Rider” buddies alongside “Tiger Man.” And Dean Z seals it all with his personal stamp and boundless energy.

This theme seeps its way into the show’s costuming. Nothing Dean dons onstage in “Elvis: The Rocker” is an exact replica of anything Elvis wore, but each outfit remains reminiscent of the respective era and the king’s tastes. When Dean delves into “Jailhouse Rock,” he skips the trademark striped T-shirt Presley wore in the film of the same name. Instead, Dean slides into a black leather, bolero-style jacket blinged with gunsmoke rhinestones in the shape of stripes.

Like the music and the wardrobe, Dean’s fingerprints can be found all over the show from its state-of-the-art video content to its lighting cues, online advertising, and more. This comes from a place of artistic vision and direction Dean says he feels fortunate to have.

“I’m always grateful Elvis Presley Enterprises trusts me enough to have the freedom to show my creativity and push perceptions,” says Dean. “I keep my hand on the pulse of all aspects of the production, because I want them to represent me truthfully and authentically. ...For me, seeing a vision fully come to life from an idea is just as fulfilling as performing the show.”

Multitasking and having laser-like attention to detail can be challenging, he admits. With perfectionism comes harsh self criticism. Yet according to Dean, pushing himself to the next level sharpens things, and keeps him from resting on the laurels of accomplishment.

This means packing as much as he can into the stream of life, which includes multiple projects in the works, worldwide shows on the books, and the impending arrival of he and wife Stephanie’s first child. Yes, Dean Z continues rocking, and “Elvis: The Rocker” will likely serve as a tangible example of a performer who pours passion into all he does. 

“I want the audience to always feel like I’ve done everything I can to keep them happy and make the experience special,” he explains. “And there isn’t anything more special than Elvis Week for Elvis fans. And it doesn’t get any more special than Elvis Presley Enterprises putting you as their first Elvis tribute artist to have his own headlining show on their main event Graceland Soundstage. ...For me, the pressure is already at the max. You’re talking about the greatest entertainer of all time, Elvis Presley. Impossible shoes to fill, and you just can’t do it. You want to represent in a way that Elvis himself would (approve.)”

Tickets to “Elvis: The Rocker” starring Dean Z can be purchased online at Graceland.com

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