Cameron Caton is standing in the empty parking lot of the Grace Villa nursing home, dressed in a black polyester jumpsuit and gold-rimmed sunglasses.
He holds a microphone in one hand and, with the other, points a finger gun at the residents staring at him from the building’s second-story window.
“I’m going to sing you one more song and then move around to the front,” he tells his audience in his best Elvis Presley voice, before launching into a rendition of “All Shook Up,” a song Presley’s chief composer wrote for a bottle of Pepsi.
That was on New Year’s Day.
In the time since, Caton, Hamilton’s resident Elvis impersonator, has performed nine other shows across southern Ontario, shlepping his audio equipment and costumes from town-to-town and returning, if all goes according to plan, with hundreds of pounds of food for local food banks.
He’s been swimming in business since March, when he first borrowed an Elvis outfit from a friend to play a show at a long-term-care facility for a woman whose birthday party had been cancelled due to the virus’ spread.
The gigs first started as a way to liven the mood and earn a few bucks, but it quickly evolved into something bigger — an opportunity to raise awareness and resources for local causes.
He’s known around town, now, as “Covid Elvis.” With most indoor venues closed to the public, the streets of Hamilton are his stage. Presley wrote 600 songs over the course of his career — Caton’s catalogue includes 75 of them.
He started a Facebook group in March to advertise his services and sell T-shirts. His wife, Chantel, began livestreaming his performances and created a TikTok account to capture his finest moments.
By the end of the year, Caton had generated almost 30,000 pounds of food for local charities.
Turns out, demand for an Elvis impersonator skyrockets during a pandemic.
The work isn’t just good for the community — for Caton, now 55 years of age, it’s life’s latest plot twist.
Seventeen years ago, he was working at a chemical plant in Oakville, “breathing in the worst stuff imaginable,” he recalled.
He’d developed a passion for singing as a teenager, and spent his youth performing in bands until life got in the way.
In 2005, sick and tired of a monotonous day job, a friend of his asked him to perform for the residents at a long-term-care home where she worked.
The gig was a hit and, a few months later, the then-40-year-old quit his job and took up singing as a full-time career — then as Cameron Caton, not Covid Elvis.
Few thought this was a smart career move for Caton — but “life is short,” he would say.
Only when the pandemic hit, early in 2020, did Caton embrace his alter-ego.
“It’s the craziest thing, to be honest,” he said, looking back on the past year. “Even now it feels kind of surreal. None of this was planned or pre-designed and yet here I am — Covid Elvis.”
The world is full of Elvis impersonators, ranging in hairstyles and eras and musical catalogues. Caton focuses on the Elvis of the ’70s, the comeback years, when the King of Rock ’n’ Roll experimented with horn sections and made Las Vegas his stomping ground. The choice of era can be contentious among impersonators, but “that’s when he was flashy,” Caton explains. And Caton’s polyester jumpsuit only really applies to Elvis’ later years anyways.
He claims his work is winding down due to the cold weather — he’s performed 10 times in the new year, admittedly a decrease from his twice-per-day average during the summer — but he hopes to keep the job for as long as he can.
“Some people think Elvis’ sound is too old — but, trust me, it’s not,” he tells me, hastily loading equipment into his van for a performance in Mississauga.
“The man’s been dead longer than he was alive and yet people still love him.”
Jacob Lorinc, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator