The first time Garry Moore sang as Little Richard — heck, the first time he sang before a live audience — was on national stage.
It was the late 1980s and Tony Roi, a friend and an Elvis Presley tribute artist, had joked that Moore should perform on the annual Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon. At first Moore resisted — “I was a shower and car singer,” he says, laughing — but relented because it was for charity.
And if the prospect of appearing before a national television audience wasn’t enough, there was a problem no amount of talent could overcome.
“I had just got out of the Army so I didn’t have any hair,” Moore says. “So we got mama’s wig and made a pompadour, and it worked out well.”
Since then, the Hawaii-based performer has stunned audiences with his spot-on performances of Tutti Frutti, Long Tall Sally, and Good Golly, Miss Molly. Moore will perform at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg on Saturday, Sept. 19 with Beatlemania Now, and two tribute artists from Pittsburgh, Lee Alverson (Jerry Lee Lewis) and Michael Brown (Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran).
Perhaps what’s most impressive about Moore is his lack of formal training. Growing up he wanted to be a professional baseball player. But he also was fascinated by performers such as Sammy Davis, Jr., Rich Little and Pittsburgh native Frank Gorshin.
“I loved those guys,” Moore says. “I always tried to emulate their voices.”
Moore has a naturally deep voice — he can also do a convincing Elvis Presley — and he admits that it takes lot of work to be able to mimic the vocal gymnastics of Little Richard, not to mention the mannerisms, the wardrobe and the look. When Moore had the opportunity to meet the legendary musician, there was a bit of trepidation.
“It was kind of a weird situation,” Moore says, noting they first met backstage in a dressing room in Las Vegas. “There was always something going on. There were a lot of people around him and the two bodyguards who were with him were looking at me as if I was going to do something to him.”
A subsequent meeting in 2007 turned out much better. On the ABC-TV show The Next Best Thing, Moore was singing Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll with Tina Turner tribute artist Cookie Watkins when Little Richard emerged from the wings and joined them on the song’s last verse.
Little Richard told Moore the most important part of any tribute or impersonation was capturing the sound. They also chatted about why Little Richard sang with an impassioned, flamboyant style.
“We talked about (the range of) his vocals and he said he did it because back in those days everybody was emulating people,” Moore says. “He sang that way because it was hard for people to sing that way. When other people sang his songs it was good because it brought him attention and made him more popular. But he also said, `Pat Boone (who did an infamous cover of Tutti Frutti) couldn’t sing like me.”
Garry Moore performs as Little Richards with Beatlemania Now at The Palace Theatre in Greenburg at 8 p.m. on Saturday, September 19. Also performing: Lee Alverson as Jerry Lee Lewis, and Michael Brown as Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran.
Tickets: $48.50 and $43.50, can be purchased at the Palace Theatre Box Office, 23 West Otterman St., Greensburg, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays; charge by phone (724) 836-8000); or online at https://itkt.choicecrm.net/templates/PALT/?prod=palace