“I sound 85 percent like (Elvis), but if somebody’s been drinking, it’s 95 percent.”

And he’s right. When I sat down with 70-year-old David Joseph — the Elvis aficionado in question — in the University Hospital’s lobby, he gave me a short preview of what to expect from one of his performances.

Softly crooning lines from “Memories,” his favorite Elvis song, Joseph transformed. His voice quivered as he emulated his icon, encapsulating, well, about 85 percent of what made “The King’s” baritone so distinctive. Joseph’s velvety tone ain’t quite as deep as Presley’s, but it was pretty damned impressive nonetheless.

Joseph has been an Elvis Tribute Artist (or ETA, for you professionals out there) since two decades before most current college students were born. He has played music since he was 13, and has been part of a few bands, but it wasn’t until 1972 that he began his rhinestone-encrusted hobby.

Joseph had watched local Elvis Tribute Artists for a few years, and decided to give it a go at the Bell Bar in Ypsilanti, one of his favorite hangouts.

“It was scary, but it went alright,” said Joseph of his first time performing. “It felt good; the audience liked it; the people in the bar liked it. I felt good since I sound a little bit like Elvis, so it went pretty good, you know.”

A little bit is an understatement. But Joseph radiates modesty. Contrary to the ostentatious decadence of Presley, Joseph speaks relatively quietly and was dressed simply when we met. Aside from the Graceland hat on his head, you’d never know that Joseph moonlights as an entertainer, though he has slowed down recently.

Joseph was born as the eighth child in a family with 16, and works part-time as a stock keeper in the very same hospital where we spoke. Joseph has lived his entire life in Washtenaw County, and has been a part of the University of Michigan Health System for about 30 years. He always loved Elvis, and as a kid, he had a hunch that they sounded alike. Eventually, he decided to test out his theory.

“With a tape recorder, I would have an Elvis record playing, then I would sing into the tape recorder. Then the tape recorder would pick us both up and we sounded pretty good, as a duo.”

Elvis has helped Joseph through some daunting times as well. Joseph joined the Navy as a young man, and was stationed in Guantanamo Bay during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

“We thought Castro was going to incinerate us,” Joseph recounted. “We were scared; we were out there on the base, (and) everybody did their own thing, whatever comforted them.”

For Joseph, that was playing Elvis songs on his guitar. It helped him relax in the face of a situation with seemingly life or death implications. In his post-service life, Elvis’s tunes have played a therapeutic role as well.

“It’s therapy for me; some people do other stuff for therapy, but this, it just relaxes me — makes me feel good, and I know people enjoy it because they’re singing along with me,” Joseph said. “It’s just fun.”

It might be “just fun” for him, but for others, it can be meaningful. He performs in nursing homes and Veterans of Foreign Wars halls, and his Valentine’s Day performance will be in the lobby of the University Hospital starting at 12:10 p.m. as part of the University of Michigan Health System’s Gifts of Art program. He especially likes to sing the song “Teddy Bear” at his performances, because it gives him a chance to do something kind for his audience.

“Elvis had a song called ‘Teddy Bear,’ and after he recorded that — his first birthday after he recorded that — he got thousands of teddy bears in the mail. So now when I sing that, my granddaughters hand out teddy bears to the audience, to the kids. That’s why I went to all the different departments and told the nurses that the kids can come down (for this show).”

Karma has reimbursed Joseph for his charity work. He’s made a pretty decent second income for his performances and he even won a Minor League Baseball contest that flew him out to Las Vegas for an Elvis-themed festival.

Joseph has an unparalleled knowledge of all-things Presley, leaving little wonder as to why he’s been so successful at impersonating The King. While the official numbers vary, Joseph claims that there are about 748 Elvis singles, and that he knows “about 600 of them.” Joseph never stops improving his technique though, even after over half a century of playing Elvis songs.

“Each time you learn more, and by watching other people, you can learn a little bit more, too.”

As much as Joseph reveres Presley’s music, though, he wants no part of Elvis’s drug-filled life.

“I think that before he got into all the drugs and stuff, he was great,” Joseph emphasized. “If you looked at him in 1969, he was in tip-top shape, but at his last concert his face was all bloated. He couldn’t pronounce his words because he was so drugged up.”

Our conversation became serious as Joseph addressed the all-too-familiar lifestyle of Presley and his other musical heroes. His easygoing mannerisms hardened a bit, and his speech became more deliberate.

“It makes me mad that he did that. It makes me mad that Jimi Hendrix did that. Michael Jackson, too,” Joseph said. “I’ve had a chance to go on the road, but I didn’t want to. I never wanted to; I didn’t want that kind of life. I never wanted to do it because I’ve seen what happened to them.”

Joseph prefers to think about the good Elvis — the admirable Elvis that treated everyone equally in a time of suffocating segregation; the goofy Elvis that, upon trying his first-ever fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, bought the maid who fried it a brand-new Cadillac. And the charitable Elvis who raised $75,000 for cancer research at his “Aloha from Hawaii” concert following the death of a friend.

Joseph has profited both economically and in life experience from his three decades as an Elvis impersonator. He’s made a lot of friends, sang almost as many Elvis songs as Elvis himself and has even wooed a few Elvis fans of the fairer sex.

“You ain’t kidding,” Joseph laughed. “When you’re in a bar or something, some lady’s gonna try it just like you’re gonna try it if you’re in a band.”

When Joseph performs at the University Hospital, he’ll be singing Elvis’s romance songs to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and his own romance is going strong. He’s happily married to a woman who loves his unique pastime, telling me that “she gets mad if I don’t do it every once in a while.” She even participates in the glitz and glamour of it all, as she hand-makes all of his costumes.

The stereotypes about celebrity impersonators generally revolve around desperate artists vying for money and hungry for attention, but those tropes simply don’t apply to Joseph. He doesn’t crave the spotlight; he just enjoys making others feel better. While Elvis might have left the building, David Joseph still hangs around, and maybe, if you have just a few drinks too many, you might be lucky enough to confuse the two.

Correction appended: The article misstated the concert’s start time. It begins at 12:10 p.m.

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