Besides his sideburns, Fulton resident and family man Tom Gilbo looks like an average guy.
But his “burning love” for singing along to Elvis Presley records as a child led him to a hobby he is passionate about as an adult.
Gilbo, the general manager at Par-K Chrysler Jeep in Fulton, is an Elvis impersonator who has been competing since his 20s in international singing competitions.
He took first place in Canada for amateur status in 1999 and first place in Buffalo in 2001. He said he has also made the top five in numerous additional Elvis singing competitions.
Gilbo attends the annual Lake George Elvis Festival accompanied by his band as Tom Gilbo and the Blue Suedes.
“This was our eighth year there. There’s 65 Elvis’ there every year the first weekend of June and they fill the forum in Lake George. There are 5,000 people there. It’s full for three days in a row. It’s nuts,” Gilbo said.
Gilbo and the Blue Suedes perform during the weekend festival at King Neptune’s, the only club in town. He said the club is packed with Elvis’ on Friday and Saturday nights reminiscing the talented voice of the 1960’s pop sensation.
Locally, Gilbo performs at annual sock hops at Sweet Inspirations in Fulton and does two shows each year at Castaway’s Restaurant in Brewerton.
On Wednesday nights, Gilbo also brightens the days of senior citizens, singing at nursing homes around Fulton and Pulaski.
As a child, Gilbo honed his skills singing along to Elvis records his mother would buy him.
Memories as a youth — “That was my very first record when I was a kid. I was probably around 6 years old. Back in the ‘70s, I remember they had them in the grocery stores. It was either a candy bar or an Elvis record. I remember seeing Elvis with that white jumpsuit on, and [my mother] bought me the record. I never bought anything else [music] until I was in high school,” said Gilbo.
Instead of watching TV growing up, Gilbo said he would go to his room to sing and listen to Elvis records. He would go see Elvis impersonators as a kid and in his 20s Gilbo decided he would try his hand at competing.
He must have had a “good luck charm” on his side when he put an ad in the newspaper for a band to accompany him. Those who responded played with Gilbo for seven years.
His current band is Southern Comfort. When Gilbo joins, it is known as Tom Gilbo and the Blue Suedes.
He said they perform about 50 songs together, the average number of songs in a set.
“Since I’ve been practicing for 40 years, we’ve got it down. The only time we practice is when they learn a new song, and I already probably know it. In Lake George, we did two new songs and we didn’t practice them; we just did them. I know the words and I know how they go,” Gilbo said of his band.
He said although his dream was to be a singer, Gilbo said he is very fortunate and enjoys his career in the auto industry.
“I love my job, I feel very lucky. I love cars and I love to sell them,” he said.
On top of the world — His fame from being Fulton’s Elvis does mix business with pleasure at times. Gilbo said people will recognize him in public and will sometimes call Par-K asking for Elvis instead of Tom Gilbo.
“They put up with it,” he said of his Par-K co-workers. “They’re all used to it and think it’s funny. People know that I work at Par-K, so that’s where they call me. It’s good advertising.”
Gilbo is married to his wife Tracy, and has a daughter and two sons, aged 18, 11 and 9.
He said his wife and children are supportive of his hobby and when his children were younger, they would get up on stage to sing with him.
His family is most important to him, Gilbo said, followed by his job at Par-K and singing.
“I truly love to sing; it was my first love. A lot of the other guys do it maybe because they’re fans or for money. I don’t claim to look like Elvis. I don’t try to be like Elvis. I don’t try to talk like Elvis. I studied his voice and I love the way he sings. I still think he’s the best singer of all time,” Gilbo said.
As a child, he dreamed of a career as a professional singer. But when opportunities such as “American Idol” and “The Voice” came about, age restrictions halted him from earning a place on the shows. He said he is still jealous of everyone who gets a chance.