Elvis performer Prior remembered with a star for his dressing room

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Donald B. Kravitz, DBKphoto / Carol Prior, wife of the late Ted Prior, unveils a star plaque that was placed on Prior’s old dressing room in the Music Pier. Donald B. Kravitz, DBKphoto / Carol Prior, wife of the late Ted Prior, unveils a star plaque that was placed on Prior’s old dressing room in the Music Pier.

OCEAN CITY —Ted Prior entertained hundreds with a flashy mix of blues laced with country and gospel, just like his idol, “The King of Rock and Roll.”

A local legend, for more than 50 years and over 10,000 performances, the Elvis performer never missed a beat. Then, in May 2011 at age 68, Prior, of Galloway, succumbed to brain cancer, leaving a huge hole in the heart of his loyal fan base.

So on Saturday, Nov. 17, a large crowd of family, friends and fans gathered in the green room on the second floor of the Ocean City Music Pier to mount a star on his dressing room.

The star, which reads “In memory of Ted Prior, Ocean City’s forever Elvis,” was designed by Ray Esterlund, who works in the Ocean City Public Works Department.

Prior’s wife, Carol, surrounded by grandchildren, unveiled the star. About 40 people attended the ceremony, which was filled with love, laughter and reflections of the local icon.

Neil Regina, Prior’s longtime manager, recalled a time when Prior went to an older lady’s home who was very ill.

“He played a complete concert for her alone,” Regina said, recalling that the ailing woman was overjoyed with the attention. Prior did this for free, he noted, one of many such benevolent actions.

Local Realtor John Walton remembered Prior entertaining at his home during a Night in Venice party.

“Once he started playing, he attracted half of the neighborhood,” Walton said.

Those who knew him best recalled a perfectionist with a big heart.

City publicist Mark Soifer said Prior was “meticulous about everything.”

“He was a real professional, very precise and detailed,” he said. “When we went to the Chatterbox, he would ask them to cut the onions a certain way. He continuously upgraded his wardrobe; he had more than a dozen hand-made Elvis costumes; one in every color and leather jackets to match.  

“He was exacting about every aspect of his performances,” Soifer said.

Prior, he said, was not just someone impersonating Elvis, he was a performer who lived the part.

“He called women ‘baby’ because he was always in character,” Soifer said.

Prior knew he wasn’t Elvis, but he wanted to be the best Elvis he could be, so he played the part, his friend said.

Prior was always “on”; everything had to be authentic. Soifer said Prior loved it when they would walk to the Chatterbox for their weekly lunch together and someone would call out, “Hey, Elvis!”

“He was a character in the best sense of the word, a perfectionist and a great musician,” said Soifer.

As a soldier in the U.S. Army, Prior survived the Vietnam War; he once calmed a raging fever with shots of ginger brandy to perform at the Split Rail Tavern. The brain cancer that eventually took his life caused Prior to miss the first show of his long career on First Night.

The energetic and vibrant Prior, Soifer said, would swivel his hips and jump up and down on the stage.

Soifer said Prior knew how to lead a band, not just stand in front of it. Prior, he said, did a lot for Ocean City beyond the routine performances on First Night, parades, and the annual publicity events such as Miss Crustacean and Martin Mollusk.

“He did a lot of charitable work,” he said. “If we had to go to New York for a promotional event, he’d drive us; he knew all the shortcuts. Ted was not intimidated by the New York drivers, even when they made obscene gestures.”

Prior performed in the annual “Barks on the Boards” event, raising money for the Humane Society, Soifer said. A kennel was named in his memory.

Prior, he said, was charged with chaperoning visiting celebrities, a role he relished.

“He was an entertainer, he was used to dealing with famous people,” Soifer said. “He chauffeured Elton John one time and Carol Channing, and when Mickey Rooney, who could be very difficult, was here, Ted was the only one he trusted. He wanted Elvis, no one else.”

Born in Atlantic City, Prior was in high school when Elvis Presley hit the scene in the late 1950s.

“I was a big fan,” Prior told the Gazette in a December 2010 interview. “My uncle John and Aunt Peggy had given me a guitar, and I learned to play. I would take it to parties with me. One time, I was at the Inlet in Atlantic City, mimicking ‘Stuck on You’ and one of my friends said, ‘Hey, you sound just like Elvis.’ That’s all I needed to hear.”

Encouraged by his friend’s support, Prior formed a band and crafted a career based on Presley’s music and style.

“I studied his movies, his moves and eventually I developed an Elvis style of my own,” Prior said.

After graduating Atlantic City High School in 1961, he met up with a childhood friend, Jim Albertson, who became a Smithsonian Folkways recording artist and radio personality.

“We formed a group, The Other Brothers, as in not The Righteous Brothers or The Everly Brothers,” he said. “We played at dance parties.”

In the Army, Prior played with fellow military musicians at various officers clubs. The barrack’s balladeer entertained his soldier buddies and the surrounding community.

“I started wearing sideburns and, since I was in the Army, boots,” Prior told the Gazette. “After I left the Army, I was hired to lead a touring band, ‘Ohio Express’ and traveled around the country for 15 years.”

Prior went out on his own, perfecting his “Elvis” performance at the Tropicana, Caesar’s and other venues. About that time, he met up with Ocean City’s Nancy Boyle, who hooked him up with Soifer.

“She told me I needed to go to Ocean City, that there was an opportunity there,” he said. “She promised to introduce me to Mark and she did.”

A lasting friendship developed as Prior became an integral part of Soifer’s publicity team.

His career evolved, Prior told the Gazette. He and Soifer became very good friends. He started doing parades and events, and every time Soifer added something new, Prior was a part of it.

Prior led three groups, Teddy and the Riptides, a 50s rock band; Early Morning Reign, a folk ensemble and his El-Live show.

“He sang every song by memory,” Soifer said, adding that no one could stump him. “There was a radio show, and they tried and couldn’t do it.”

Soifer said Ocean City would never replace Elvis.

“He lived the part, he will always be Elvis,” he said. “He did a lot for Ocean City. We really miss him.”

Donald B. Kravitz, DBKphoto / City publicist and friend Mark Soifer speaks to a crowd gathered in the green room of the Ocean City Music Pier for a tribute to the late Ted Prior. Donald B. Kravitz, DBKphoto / City publicist and friend Mark Soifer speaks to a crowd gathered in the green room of the Ocean City Music Pier for a tribute to the late Ted Prior.

Donald B. Kravitz, DBKphoto / City publicist and friend Mark Soifer speaks to a crowd gathered in the green room of the Ocean City Music Pier for a tribute to the late Ted Prior. Donald B. Kravitz, DBKphoto / City publicist and friend Mark Soifer speaks to a crowd gathered in the green room of the Ocean City Music Pier for a tribute to the late Ted Prior.

Donald B. Kravitz, DBKphoto / City publicist and friend Mark Soifer speaks to a crowd gathered in the green room of the Ocean City Music Pier for a tribute to the late Ted Prior. Donald B. Kravitz, DBKphoto / City publicist and friend Mark Soifer speaks to a crowd gathered in the green room of the Ocean City Music Pier for a tribute to the late Ted Prior.

A rhymed tribute from Mark Soifer

To Ted Prior From All of Your Fans
 
Ted you brought a lot of joy
To all your fans for many years-
Today is not a time for tears-
But for happy memories, smiles and such-
We hope you somehow hear our cheers!
Thank You, Thank You, Very Much!

We know you're up there with the "King"
With Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline-
We hope you have the chance to sing
The songs we loved to hear and such-
We'll never forget you were our "King"-
Thank You! Thank You! Very Much!


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