Charlotte's Elvis Reflects On His Career

Feb 12, 2016

For over two decades, a Charlotte man has had a successful music career singing throughout the city. But, it’s not his songs he’s best known for but those of Elvis Presley.

Charlotte can’t seem to get enough of Rene Escarcha, better known as Renelvis. And the Filipino native is grateful for the Elvis inspired career he’s had. 

But as WFAE’s Sarah Delia found, walking a mile in Elvis’ blue suede shoes is both a blessing and a curse.

It may be impossible to describe Rene Escarcha in one word.

The 69-year-old Filipino immigrant is a father, former substitute teacher, at one point a Wal-Mart greeter, former seminary student…and he’s also Charlotte’s Elvis.

He’s on the shorter side with thinning hair and has a belly laugh that fills a room. Yet for the last 25 years, he’s found regular work booking shows anywhere he could in Charlotte and the state of North Carolina.

His first gig was in Chinese restaurant. He’s played charity concerts, parades, and played at local establishments like The Spoke Easy.

He’s got it all: the Elvis jump suits, bejeweled belts (many of which he made himself), and newspaper clippings that have chronicled his career.

Once he got the notoriety it wasn’t what he thought it would be.

The road to his Elvis career started when he came to America from the Philippines in 1978. Most of his family had immigrated to the states and they were petitioning his visa.

But he says he had reservations about coming to America.

During that time he was actually engaged, but couldn’t come over if he was married. That engagement and relationship eventually ended and Rene, who had a fairly successful music career in the Philippines (he even got some radio play) found himself starting over in Charlotte.  

"I did a lot of demos of my original songs and I bought this song writers marketing book and I would look at all the record companies and write them. I wrote a lot of letters and they all rejected me," he said.

By now, it’s the early 90’s. He’s married and has a daughter with special needs. He’s frustrated his original songs just weren’t grabbing the attention of record labels.

Then he met someone who would put him on his path to Graceland…so to speak. Dwight Moody, the father of the Grammy nominated bluegrass group The Moody Brothers had a studio in Charlotte. Rene gave him a demo that had some Roy Orbison covers on one side and Elvis on the other.

He started listening and Rene says, Moody called in a colleague and had him take a listen. Moody asked Rene who was singing, when he answered it was him, Moody told him singing Elvis songs was what he should do. 

Dwight Moody passed away in 2013. His son Dave Moody who lives in Nashville, says that advice sounds about right.

Dave Moody says by the early 90’s, it wasn’t uncommon for people to stop by their studio to seek advice.  His dad always tried to steer people in the direction where they’d find the most success.

"Not everybody is going to be Blake Shelton or Taylor Swift. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t have a viable thing in the music business," Moody said.

So here Rene is 25 years later. His wife has passed away and he’s the caretaker of his daughter.

He’s still in Charlotte doing Elvis songs. And it still bothers him that he’s in the same Elvis feedback loop. So much, he thinks about quitting from time to time.

"I really don't need to be doing this anymore. I want to be known as somebody that's done something and to me the money thing is not important. I want to have a name for myself. I don’t want it to be emphasized that I was an Elvis impersonator," Eschara said.

But it's complicated. His Elvis music is his link to his fans and music career in Charlotte.

"When they remember Elvis, they remember me. I don’t have a hit song yet. So no one would remember me," he said.

But if he were to hang up his mic, there are plenty of people who would miss him. Like Chris Neilson, the owner of Moosehead Bar and Grille who’s known Rene since the mid 90’s and books him regularly.

"He’s got dark hair, handsome, knows how to gyrate, and he’s got a beautiful voice. Seems like a perfect mix to me. Just a smaller version," Neilsen said.

That’s part of the magic of Rene’s performance; he’s good at what he does and gives people a little piece of the magic Elvis had.

So Charlotte’s king is unsure if he’ll ever be able to leave the building. But one thing is for certain if he did, he’d surely be missed.