by Dr. Iain
past the Captain’s Corner restaurant on a Wednesday evening, or the
Jomtien Boathouse on a Friday night and you will hear the unmistakable
sound of Elvis Presley thumping out his ballads. Get closer and you can
see a youthful Elvis Presley with the coiffed hair, white rhinestone suit,
red scarf and the trademark gyrating pelvis. However, this is not Elvis
coming down (or up) to do a couple of gigs in Pattaya, but a performance
by a very talented Thai musical artist by the name of Suriya Prajamthee.
Suriya was born in Korat, the eldest in a family of
five children. His father worked on the railways as an engine driver, but
young Suriya had no childhood desire to be an engine driver himself. His
father did sing Thai songs to his children, but mother also was musical.
“I grew up to mother singing Honky Tonk Woman and songs like that, and I
remember asking her what that was, because she always sung in English.”
did well at the government school in Korat and then went to college in
Bangkok to study drafting and architectural design. However, at weekends,
while he was still at school, he would sing in pubs and clubs in Korat,
and in his mind he could already see that drafting boards and design
offices did not really suit him. He wanted to be a full-time musician.
By then living in Bangkok, it was time to see if he
could make it. He teamed up with some friends and they began performing in
the pub and club scene in the nation’s capital. Band members showed him
how to play the guitar and he practiced in his room till he became
proficient. In many ways, the ‘normal’ apprenticeship period for a
After a three years in Bangkok, Suriya knew that he
could make it in the music scene and in 1988 decided to leave Bangkok and
come to Pattaya. “There were many tourists and good opportunities for a
singer down here,” said Suriya.
His repertoire covered all styles of music, R&B,
rock and roll, Country and Western, the usual general offerings suitable
for the western tourists, and he was making a living.
After five years of being down here in Pattaya, he was
singing regularly in the Island Cafe attached to the Alcazar Cabaret.
“The boss there loved Elvis and he listened to me sing and said that my
voice was just like Elvis and I should try to do him.” This was not as
easy as it may sound. Suriya had never really seen Elvis performing (Elvis
had been dead for 11 years at that stage), so was not conversant with the
unique Elvis style.
However, he took the advice and went and bought Elvis
videotapes and VCD’s and read the (sad) story of Elvis’ life. It took
12 months of study and refinement before Suriya was ready to perform in
public, as Pattaya’s answer to (or reincarnation of) Elvis Presley.
Part of that stage persona is the Elvis outfit. Suriya
has many of these now, but the first ones took much out of his salary.
Between 7,000 and 10,000 baht is the price for the high-collared, jewel
encrusted outfits. A hefty sum of money for a young Thai musician.
To be able to keep up the frantic pace of his concerts,
the real Elvis Presley resorted to drugs. You only have to watch and Elvis
concert and see just what energy is required. Our “Elvis” Suriya also
has the frenetic energy in his performances, and I asked him directly
whether he has to use some chemicals to help him through his performances.
“No, I take no drugs. Maybe some beer or wine,” said Suriya with a
laugh. However he did agree that it was tiring. “You need to have power,
so I go jogging and exercise three time a week, and go swimming as
Being fit enough is only one problem for the Elvis
impersonator. Elvis was well known for his luxuriant mop of hair and the
long sideburns. Since playing Elvis is his life these days, Suriya has to
carefully coif his hair every day. Now being in his mid forties, there is
a little receding at the temples that has to be attended to as well. There
is more to being an Elvis impressionist than a rhinestone suit and a
I asked Suriya what he would do if he won a million
dollars. He did not hesitate. “I would go to Graceland!” And while
that remains a dream, there have been some tentative offers for him to
take the suits and guitar to Europe. “Some German and Swiss people want
me to go. I would like to go overseas one time in my life.” However, it
would need a large contract to get Suriya away from Pattaya. He likes it
here and has his regular gigs in Pattaya, as well as doing parties and
events. There are many people who still love Elvis who are thrilled that
they can get “Elvis” to perform again.
Suriya really is ‘Elvis’ these days. And just like Elvis, he is
married and has a seven year old daughter, who proudly says, “My Papa,
he is Elvis!” And how could any seven year old child be wrong!