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Little Elvis impersonator makes a big impression

By Bill Lynch, Staff writer
Hank Poole shows off his moves at the State Line Eagles Club.
F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Sunday Gazette-Mail photos Elvis Presley impersonator Hank Poole, of Vienna, has the look of the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Hank is only 8 years old, but he’s shaking up the Elvis tribute artist community.
Photo courtesy of BILL POOLE Hank began performing his Elvis impersonations in the family’s garage for friends and relatives.
Photo courtesy of BILL POOLE Hank’s fascination with Elvis began at a very young age, when he donned a bath towel “cape” over his pajamas to sing for the family.

PARKERSBURG — There will only ever be one “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

His name was Elvis Aaron Presley. Born in January 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, the dark-haired Southerner with the cocky swagger and angelic voice became a legend and pop-culture icon who influenced generations of performers around the world.

His style has never been replicated, but it’s been imitated, though seldom with as much charm or as earnestly as 8-year-old Hank Poole, of Vienna.

“I like everything about Elvis,” he said. “My favorite song is ‘It’s All Right, Mama.’”

It is the first Elvis song he remembers hearing.

He’s been listening to Elvis his entire life. Hank’s dad, Bill Poole, takes full responsibility for that, though he insisted he had nothing to do with Hank wanting to dye his hair black or learn the moves of a societal touchstone, dead for almost 40 years — at least, Bill doesn’t see himself as the driving force.

“It’s what he wanted,” he said of his son’s fascination.

Bill’s own relationship to the music of Elvis has been off and on. “I was in first grade the first time I saw him,” he said.

Along with the rest of America, Bill watched the future King of Rock ‘n’ Roll curl his lip and swivel his hips on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1956. “We’d just bought a TV,” he remembered. “Some cousins came over.” His sister, Maxine, who was a few years older was outright giddy.

Elvis went on the program and history was made. Bill said, “My mom liked him, but my dad didn’t.”

The 64-year-old grew up listening to Elvis, usually on “American Bandstand,” originally broadcast out of Philadelphia. “Elvis never appeared on the show,” Bill said. “But they played his music all the time.”

It would be safe to say he was a fan — at least until 1964 and the British Invasion and the Beatles.

Bill, who works in the mineral leasing industry, grew up loving music, but Elvis became only just part of his record collection. He went to a lot of shows, met a lot of musicians — one of them was Steve Sams, a local singer.

“Steve is amazing,” he said. “He can sound like Elvis, like Willie Nelson, like Jim Morrison. He just has one of those voices.”

But he did Elvis particularly well. So, the pair bought sound equipment and Bill helped Sams do an Elvis tribute show.

After Hank was born, Bill started bringing his young son along to the shows.

“I thought it would be good for him,” he said. “I wanted Hank to like music.”

Hank watched everything, and by the time he was 2, the toddler was demanding his own microphone. So Bill gave him one — but it wasn’t plugged in to anything.

It didn’t take long for Hank to notice.

“He became obsessed with performing,” Bill said. “When he was 3, he’d put on his PJs and wrap a towel around his neck like a cape. He’d wear white socks like boots and put on little shows.”

Hank did shows in the basement, in the garage and at the parties of family friends. In between, he listened to Elvis’ music.

“On Sirius XM,” Hank sang.

The elementary school student watched old Elvis movies and concerts, like the 1968 comeback special. He memorized every move.

“People think he’s only been doing shows for two years,” Poole said. “But it’s more like he’s done 300 shows so far.”

Two years ago, Sams invited Hank to perform with him at a concert in Belpre, Ohio, and from there it’s been almost nonstop.

Hank’s mother, Samantha, shook her head. “I had to quit my job,” she said and then shrugged. “But I wouldn’t be OK with it if Hank wasn’t OK with it. He wanted to do this.”

Hank’s mother wasn’t really that much of an Elvis fan to begin with. But she’s always been a huge fan of her son.

“It’s been fascinating,” she said. “Just how people respond.”

During spring break in 2013, Sams took Hank and his brother Max to Memphis. They did the whole tour of the city, visited Graceland and Sun Records, where Elvis cut his first records.

While at Graceland, they heard about Elvis Week, which takes place in August. Hank and his family returned to Memphis and became part of an Elvis-inspired frenzy.

“He got mobbed by people for photos,” Bill said. “By Wednesday, he’d been on every television station in town. He got invited to appear at all kinds of places.”

Since that trip, Hank has performed as Elvis all over the area and competed as an Elvis impersonator in Canada, Florida and Tennessee.

This summer, he won first place in the junior division of the Collingwood Elvis Festival in Ontario, reported to be the largest in the world. He also performed at Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo and was given a key to the city by the mayor.

Poole said he’s tried to encourage his son to listen to other musicians, to maybe even see performance as something beyond imitating Elvis Presley.

“I showed him videos of Bruno Mars,” he explained. “Bruno Mars was an Elvis impersonator when he was a kid and then branched out.”

Hank just wasn’t interested. He’s a die-hard Elvis fan. His favorite Elvis movie is “It Happened at the World’s Fair.” He thinks fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches (reportedly one of Presley’s favorite snacks) are pretty good, and he loved the jungle room at Graceland.

“It had an indoor waterfall,” he said.

Without some costuming, Hank doesn’t naturally look like Elvis. His blond hair is dyed black, and when he’s at school, he doesn’t wear it up in a pompadour.

Still, Hank’s dad said, every Elvis tribute artist wants hair like Hank Poole. “They call it the Hankadour,” Bill said.

Hank also wears contacts to turn his brown eyes blue, but he has the singer’s moves down and has the King’s attitude.

He’s rambunctious, polite and he enjoys the attention. He loves to entertain.

“There’s a lot of comedy in what he does,” his mother said. “He reaches out to people. If he’s seen them before and remembers them, he calls on them from the stage. He just entertains.”

The Pooles said they were happy to support Hank as long as he wants to remain an Elvis impersonator, though Hank’s father acknowledged they were all getting a little burned out on all the Elvis.

“I’d like to go back to work,” Hank’s mother said.

Meanwhile, while Hank was demonstrating his Elvis moves on a stage and singing, his kid brother Max was singing right along.

There are no plans to get Max into the Elvis business too.

Hank, for his part, wants more.

“I’d love to be in a movie,” he said.

For more information, visit www.hankpoole.com.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter.


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