Red Elvises

Sporting sexy Russian accents and a bass guitar shaped like a giant red triangle (okay, it's an electric contrabass balalaika), not to mention Euro-rockabilly garb so loud it could shatter glass and the occasional accordion, the Red Elvises are one of America's most easily recognizable novelty acts. They must also be one of the most prolific: Since the group's inception in 1996, they have recorded at a relentless pace, releasing no less than nine full-length studio records, along with a live album, a live DVD, two original film soundtracks (Six String Samurai and Mail Order Bride) and a Russian-language version of one of their own records. In the process they have stepped over the line that separates novelty from legitimacy and made music that, if still a little gimmicky, is consistently amusing and competent. And they have managed this feverish productivity despite frequent lineup changes that somehow never required the group to admit more than one non-Russian (or Russian-American) at a time. Do the Red Elvises have a major label contract to show for all this work? Why, no, in fact they do not, because they have declined, in their words, "several" offers so that they may continue to release records themselves. The group's founders, Igor Yuzov and Oleg Bernov, reportedly have second homes in Thailand, so it must be working out pretty well. The one smudge on the Elvises' reputation, of course, is that someone else made "Surfin' U.S.S.R." before they had a chance to; that chump Ray Stevens has nothing on these guys.
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Daniel Mee