Wiradjuri singer and guitarist Jerikye Williams shares far more than just a hairstyle with American rock legend Elvis Presley.
Since his passion for 50s and 60s rock music became supercharged as a teenager, the 21-year-old from Cowra, NSW, has spent the first two hours of each day pompadouring his hair into the swept-up style made famous by the King of Rock and Roll. It’s a painstaking multi-step process that begins and ends with “lots and lots of hairspray – and I’m talking like half a can a day”, Jerikye laughs.
“I don’t need to do it but I feel really good about doing it. It makes me really comfortable and I’m not ashamed of how I dress or do my hair up. I’d kind of feel a little naked if I didn’t.”
Since the end of his high school years, Jerikye has been playing music by legends like Elvis and Roy Orbison around the region and country, firetruck-red electric guitar in hand.
“Locally, everybody knows me as Elvis,” he explains. But Jerikye says the label impersonator “just kind of infuriates me a little bit”.
“Impersonator to me, you’re just doing it for the fun of it, ” he says.
“A tribute artist is somebody out there keeping his music alive and doing what they love.”
Jerikye can remember falling in love with music from a young age. Growing up around Aboriginal country music legends and Hands of Fame inductees, his Uncle Harry and Aunty Wilga Williams of the Country Outcasts, the story goes he was handed a guitar at the age of three. By six or seven, he performed his first gig after the guitarist in his Aunty Maria Williams’ band didn’t show.
“I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember it was a really good night,” Jerikye says. “It must have gone well because I think we got a few encores.”
The reasons why Jerikye gravitated towards 50s and 60s rock, in particular, are less tangible, but the feelings are crystal clear.
“There’s this one song from the 50s and every time I play it or even just listen to it, I can vividly picture myself riding down the street on my bike with a mate on either side,” he says.
“In a weird way, it’s kind of nostalgic. It just makes me feel really good and at peace.”
That song is Come Go with Me, an upbeat slice of late-50s doo-wop rock and roll by American musical group The Del-Vikings, all about love and longing.
Jerikye says he tries to add a 21st-century spin to these perennial themes in his own original music, which takes particular inspiration from Roy Orbison.
But more than the songs, personalities and fashion from the era of American rock that Jerikye lives and breathes, his ambitions also match those of his biggest idols.
“Someone asked me in an interview a couple of years ago what my five-year plan was and I simply said it was to be bigger than Elvis.” His answer remains unchanged today.
Catch Jerikye Williams at the Queanbeyan RSL Memorial Bowling Club on Saturday, 30 September, from 7:30 pm to 11 pm.