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Harrah’s Big Elvis: Elvis “chose me”

Last updated: May 9, 2017 at 12:34 pm. Posted by in Celebrities, Harrah's Las Vegas, Las Vegas Shows, Things to Do in Las Vegas. 2 Comments on Harrah’s Big Elvis: Elvis “chose me”.

Las Vegas has a funny way of attracting people seeking many different things. You’re a gamer? Vegas is where you can scratch you poker itch, perfect your dice toss or double down to your heart’s content. More of a foodie fan? The Vegas culinary scene has grown faster than a pile of crab leg shells at a buffet. Live entertainment lover? Well, you too have come to the right place with everything from Chippendales to Céline Dion and all that’s in between, including free live lounge entertainment.

Young photograph of Harrah's Big Elvis Las Vegas show

Small Elvis, aka a young Big Elvis. The resemblance is definitely there, right down to that lip curl.

Finding the KING

The one thing that’s growing harder to find in Las Vegas is its King. I’m talking Elvis Presley of course. The original hip-swiveling heartthrob left the building in December of 1976 when he performed for the last time in Las Vegas. Since then, dozens, or likely hundreds of tribute artists and performers have emerged, all thinking they’ve got what it takes to carry the torch of the hunka hunka burning love himself. While several have made their marks on the Vegas entertainment scene, few have done so in a manner bigger than Pete Vallee, aka Big Elvis.

Las Vegas Entertainment - Harrah's Big Elvis Las Vegas Show

When I first moved to Las Vegas nearly 12 years ago I was a recent college grad looking to explore the Strip and enjoy every free attraction and lounge act I could find. I heard about “Big Elvis” but I worked a day job Monday-Friday so I never seemed to catch his afternoon shows at his former home of Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall, the current site of The Cromwell Las Vegas. When I heard he moved to The Piano Bar at Harrah’s Las Vegas five years ago, I knew I needed to check out this Vegas institution. Work continued to get in the way and I only recently made my way to Harrah’s with the express purpose of checking out the fun new patio addition to Big Elvis’ home, The Piano Bar.

I quickly discovered why this iconic Vegas performer, himself a tribute to the original icon, has legions of loyal fans who follow him wherever he goes. Luckily for the crowds of Vegas visitors sharing my eternal quest for the free entertainment, Big Elvis is available for our listening pleasure Monday, Wednesday and Friday with three sets from 3 to 6 p.m. Just head to Harrah’s and follow the sound of the soulful, powerful voice belting out the classics you know by heart.

He came by it honestly

When asked why he chose to be an Elvis performer, Vallee said, “I think it chose me.” His mother was a country western singer who was introduced to Elvis by Kitty Wells. Vallee’s mother met Elvis in 1964 and they really hit it off. “She loved Elvis and he was always a part of our life.”

As Vallee was finding his voice, he initially settled on Gospel music. “When I was singing in church, they used to say I sounded like a young Elvis Presley. I got in my own band and started singing country and rock ‘n’ roll stuff and everyone said, ‘no, you’ve got to do Elvis.’ It kept falling back to me performing Elvis.”

In case you’re wondering how he got his stage name, it’s not just referring to his powerhouse vocals. He’s a big guy with an even bigger love for what he does. “You want the truth… we have the most wonderful fans and if you show people love and it’s genuine from your heart, they’re going to support what you do. And I’ve got fans who keep coming back. Most days this whole area is just packed.”

More than just “Jailhouse Rock”

Hoping to hear your favorite Elvis B side? You’re in luck. Vallee noted, “I’ve got 900 songs I do of Elvis. I do pretty much every one of them he did. You’re going to get people in here who come up and say they want the standards like ‘If I Can Dream,’ ‘Burning Love’ and ‘Suspicious Minds.’ And then if I get away from a song for a while, I appreciate it when I sing it again. If I’m doing it every day, two or three times a day, I’m going to try to go to something else if I can but I’m always going to try to please people as best I can.”

Vallee keeps his pipes in performance shape in the Vegas desert with the help of hot tea and as much rest as he can get. He’s large and in charge but he’s lost a lot of weight over the years and is on a good track right now to continue losing. He’s mindful of his health and grateful his fans support him through thick and thin, literally. “This has been a bad allergy season for me. My fans are so good to me. During this one show, they got me tea and cough drops and, you know, they love you more for sticking it out.”

Big Elvis Las Vegas show at Harrah's Las Vegas

Courtesy of Develop a Dream Photography

Loyal doesn’t even begin to describe these fans

His fans come from all over the world and many are frequent flyers who make a point to see Big Elvis every time they visit Las Vegas. Many build their vacations around seeing him as many times as they can.

“I have lots of fans from the United Kingdom and Germany. England, Scotland and some from Japan. Lots come from Canada. I’ve had some from Russia. You know it’s kind of like Elvis. It’s spread there and I’ve never even been there. They play my records there, my CDs; they play documentaries about us. A lot of people come from England. There have been times when the crowds have been seventy-five percent English.”

With his lengthy Las Vegas career, Big Elvis has developed a hyper-loyal following who not only share their dreams with their favorite performer, but help him to achieve his.

“It’s kind of strange because people have been following me for so long that it’s like I’m a part of their family so when they come up after the performance, they’ll update me that they’ve had kids, gotten married or they’ve lost their husbands or wives since they last saw me. I had a lady today who recently lost her husband and she just hugged me and held me and told me she and her husband used to come here all the time and it just broke my heart. I told her he’s with her. I mean, what do you say to that?”

Vallee knows his importance to his fans but is still one of the most genuine and modest people you’ll meet.

“This job is more than just a job; it’s a calling. Some entertainers get to be on a big stage and I’m glad I’m not because I get to deal with the people one on one and that’s really good.”

A star is born

His fans love him so much they were willing to part with their “Money Honey” to see him have some recognition right on the Las Vegas Strip. The Las Vegas Walk of Stars recognizes entertainers like Wayne Newton and Elvis Presley himself who have made a big impact on the Vegas entertainment scene.

Big Elvis' Las Vegas Show at the Piano Bar in Harrah's Las Vegas

Courtesy of Develop a Dream Photography

“It started out as a fan-driven thing and the fans donated very generously and my brother donated some money and I put the rest in. it was a labor of love from a lot of people. We presented to Caesars Entertainment saying we think it would be a really good idea if we put the star right out here [in front of The Piano Bar at Harrah’s].”

Most of the stars are elsewhere on the Strip, especially around Paris Las Vegas and the site of the former Riviera casino. Vallee told Caesars Entertainment, “This is where I’m playing so this is where it should be.” They agreed and helped to make it happen.

Now Vallee says, “The fans come by the droves and they get to take a picture in front of it. I was so grateful Harrah’s let me do that. It was great. We got it done and it’s really awesome to come to work and see that in the ground. It’s surreal. There’s only 81 of those in town so for a guy who started working in honkey tonks, that’s really something else.”

Thank you. Thank you very much, Pete Vallee, for sharing your talents with Las Vegas and keeping the throne occupied as The King of Las Vegas entertainment.

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About The Author

Allison came to Las Vegas over a decade ago and fell in love with the city and all its dining and entertainment options. A live music junkie and tequila enthusiast, she has written for Las Vegas Weekly, Las Vegas Sun, Vegas Magazine and Conde Nast's VegasChatter.

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2 Responses

  1. John "CookE" Fross

    My buddy and I have been to Vegas for the last 5 years mainly just to see and visit with Mr. Vallee. He is the most down to earth gentleman you will ever have the pleasure to meet.. In our books he is the finest entertainer in Vegas. If you ever get to Vegas you have to make PETE “BIG ELVIS” VALLEE’S FREE SHOW he does on M-W-F, 3 times each day. I consider him to be the NUMBER ONE ELVIS TRIBUTE ARTIST IN THE WORLD, WITHOUT A DOUBT. Keep up the great work you do and MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND YOURS………CookE Fross, HAYS, KANSAS…..

  2. Bonita Arbour

    We were In Vegas not long ago and we seen one of his shows .. what a amazing voice.. really enjoyed his show too and we also seen his star .. when I go back I will stop and see his show again .. thanks u for bringing us back to the good old days ..

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