Kool Kat of the Week: Shakin’ It Up with “Big Mike” Geier on His Burning Love for Elvis and Other Musical Matters

"Big Mike" Geier don't need no jumpsuit to celebrate Elvis. Serenading the audience during last year's ELVIS ROYALE. Photo Credit: Laura Newman.

Over the past 14 years, Kingsized’s Elvis Presley tribute show has grown from a family affair at the Star Bar into ELVIS ROYALE, an always sold-out Vegas-style multimedia Retro extravaganza with a 15-piece orchestra and glamorous glittery dancing girls, aka the Dames Aflame, at Variety Playhouse. Forget Elvis impersonators. “Big Mike” Geier don’t need no jumpsuit—his deep baritone voice, wide smile and signature charisma are more than enough to rival the stage presence of the undisputed King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, that is with that signature Geier twist. You’ll hear all the Presley hits with a sense of homage and humor, and some surprises along the way that Big Mike believes Elvis woulda sung had his life not been tragically cut short in 1977.

If you’re from Atlanta, skip on to the questions. If you’re new here or not from here, Big Mike has been big in Atlanta’s Retro revival scene since before we even knew we had one, and that’s not just because he’s six-foot-eight. He started performing in Richmond, Virginia, fronting the Useless Playboys, in 1989. That “swing noir” band attracted a national following and toured with Reverend Horton Heat, Southern Culture on the Skids and El Vez. But the Playboys also used to play here at the Star Bar so often it was hard to know he didn’t live here.

Mike Geier and wife Shannon Newton of the lovely Dames Aflame. Photo credit: David Stuart.

Then Big Mike came to Atlanta in 1995 to host the city’s first full neo-burlesque show, Go-Go and Torchy’s Taboo Revue, and he never left. Instead, he launched Kingsized—arguably Atlanta’s  best known and most popular swing band. In 2004, he started a Polynesian pop lounge band, Tongo Hiti, who are now Thurs. night regulars at Trader Vic’s downtown. Along the way he hooked up with burlesque troupe, Dames Aflame, led by his wife Shannon Newton. And that’s not to mention a slew of side projects, such as voiceover and music work for Cartoon Network and Puddles Pity Party, a cabaret clown act that recently toured with AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE LIVE.

So what do Big Mike, Kingsized and the Dames have in store at this year’s ELVIS ROYALE. Heck, let’s ask him…

You moved to Atlanta in 1995 at a very pivotal time for the Retro revival here. Obviously the opportunities have grown immensely here for performers who embrace a vintage style, but do you ever miss those more pioneering days? And do you have a favorite memory you’d like to share with those readers who were too young or moved here later?

I miss being able to fill up my 1960 Cadillac Coupe De Ville for $21. Gas was $1 a gallon! My favorite memory would be filling up my 1960 Cadillac Coupe De Ville for $21, then driving out past The Starlight Drive-In to Rio Vista for mountains of fried catfish and sweet tea with my super hot girlfriend who is now my super hot wife.

Can you talk a bit about the Elvis Royale’s humble origins and how it grew into the Vegas-style multimedia extravaganza it is today?

Imagine 350 people crammed in the Star Bar. It’s August and 80 degrees at 10 p.m. Everyone is chain-smoking and guzzling Rolling Rock. PBR’s ironic comeback is just beginning. The Grace Vault is where ya go to pay your respects to the King, among other things. Tim Lathrop used to perform the séance at midnight. The show didn’t even start until 11 o’clock. I had to move the show or else it would have killed me.

Big Mike Geier gets jazzy. Photo credit: Emily Butler.

I’m sure you want to keep plenty of surprises for the audience, but can you share a few hints as to any special plans you have for Elvis Royale this year and what do you do to keep the show fresh?

I’m always trying to freshen things up. New tunes, mash-ups. “What Would Elvis Do?” is our show closer concept where we ask our fans to pick songs that Elvis woulda, coulda, shoulda. It’s different and a surprise every time.

Why should even people who aren’t Elvis fans come to the Elvis Royale?

Dames Aflame! What’s not to like about foxy scantily clad dancers?

How did you first discover Elvis Presley and what does his music mean personally to you?

At conception. Elvis has always been with me. Footprints in the sand.

Mike Geier in Tongo Hiti mode with two members of The Dames Aflame "hula special teams" unit. Photo Credit: David Stuart.

Any other news with KingSized, Tongo Hiti or the Dames Aflame that you’d like to share? Upcoming performances? Recordings?

We are developing a new show that is a bit variety, burlesque & cabaret involving the Dames Aflame, myself and other familiar performers from around Atlanta and beyond. Tongo Hiti is performing August 20 at Trader Vic’s with The Dames Aflame “hula special teams” unit. Also I’m collaborating with Tom Kenny, of SpongeBob fame, on a musical project.

You’ve been doing quite a bit of work for Adult Swim and Cartoon Network, as well as some voiceover projects. Can you tell ATLRetro readers a bit about that?

My talented wife Shannon, Dames Aflame’s curator, and I have been creating music for assorted Adult Swim projects and I’ve worked with Cartoon Network on some ADVENTURE TIME promotions.

Mike Geier gets "corny" in one of his many eclectic side projects. Photo credit: David Stuart.

You’re also a featured vocalist on Ursula1000’s MONDO BEYONDO album, which is scheduled to be released this month? Any fun story about how that came about?

We met at a Russian bath house a few years ago, and he like the cut of my jib. He flies in for Elvis Royale when his schedule permits.

Are you still bartending at Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium on Mondays, and if we stop by, what cocktail will you mix up for us?

No unfortunately I had to move on. Sister Louisa said the Lord had other plans for me, and I was entirely too “dependent on her Spiritual Sangria.” That sounds dirty.

Gotta ask about Greasepaint. Your performances with Jim Stacy seem to be rare treats nowadays. Do you have any more planned this year?

Jim makes a mean corndog. GET DELICIOUS on PBAwww.facebook.com/getdelicious

Big Mike Geier as "Puddles" with wife Shannon Newton as "Monkey Zuma."

You and Shannon seem like the ultimate Retro Kool couple. I’ve often thought that couples who both embrace the same pop culture have an easier time at that. Is that your secret?

No secret. I just get outta the way and let it happen.

What question do you wish someone would ask you but they never do?

May I massage your feet?

Note: All photographs/artwork courtesy of Kingsized Productions.

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