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Better than a 'nanner sandwich

Billy Lindsey has graced Citrus County with his Elvis impersonation. Fans in Sun City Center can't get enough.

JAY CRIDLIN
Published May 4, 2003

SUN CITY CENTER - It is 5:55 p.m., and Billy Lindsey is singing to no one.

His stage is Pat's Place, a tiny diner buried in a Sun City Center strip mall, where he comes to sing oldies each Wednesday night for a house full of septuagenarians.

Lindsey's set is good, but with no band, it's just karaoke. The crowd is polite and appreciative, but keeps right on eating and talking.

This, says server Diana Fox as she pours coffee at the bar, will not last for long.

"Wait'll he does his Elvis," she says, as Lindsey wraps up his opening set and heads backstage.

Twenty minutes later, the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey kicks in. All eyes turn toward the kitchen.

There, standing in the doorway, wearing a rhinestone-studded full-body jumpsuit and clutching a microphone, is Lindsey. The music segues into a rollicking That's All Right, Mama, and Lindsey steps forward.

Elvis has left the kitchen.

Lindsey is no stranger in Citrus County. He frequently performs at the Marguerita Grill in Homosassa and is the "Official Elvis" for WRGO-FM 102.7 in Crystal River.

But at Pat's Place, where he has been performing just seven months, Lindsey has become a legend.

The restaurant is so small it shares a front door with a drugstore, yet the staff takes reservations weeks in advance for Lindsey's Wednesday night shows. Walk-ins are not advised.

During his 45-minute set, Lindsey is the King incarnate, a sweaty cyclone of quivering lips and swiveling hips. He meanders through the audience, crooning Elvis tunes and giving every woman a kiss and a cheap plastic lei.

Then comes what can only be described as a lap dance. He swings one leg over the lap of every seated woman, crouching till he's almost seated, as friends howl and snap photos. Some women scream, some gaze into his eyes and sing along, and some, who can't help themselves, grab hold of his thighs.

The crowd eats it up. Especially the ladies, for whom Lindsey, 46, represents the ultimate hunka hunka burning love.

"We've had women grab his butt, unzip his jumpsuit," says Nancy Taber, the owner of Pat's Place. "These older women go crazy. Some things shock me."

As Lindsey straddles a frail-looking woman, gyrating to the strains of his sultry Never Been to Spain, Fox shakes her head and laughs.

"It beats bingo, I guess," she sighs.

Pompadour and circumstance

Billy Lindsey used to wrestle professionally. He was a member of the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps. And last weekend, he fell just short in his bid for Honorary Mayor of Riverview.

His campaign slogan: "I won't be a good mayor. I won't be a fair mayor. I'll be a fun mayor."

But one look at his hair - a tousled quasi-pompadour with 4-inch sideburns - and it's clear his true calling is to moonlight as the King.

"He was just as cool as Superman, Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk," Lindsey says. "He was Elvis, man. He got the chicks. He could sing. He was a bad a--."

The impressions began about 15 years ago, when Lindsey was the front man for a bar group called the Flash Band, whose lively, humorous sets usually included one or two Elvis selections.

The band broke up over time commitments - Lindsey was also holding down a day job as a chef - but he kept doing Elvis.

Last fall, Taber hired Lindsey to play Pat's Place after glowing recommendations from Fox, a longtime friend of Lindsey's, and her mother, who had seen him at a show.

The restaurant thought a little Elvis was just what it needed, but Lindsey didn't know what to expect from the Sun City Center crowd.

"I think they had to get just as comfortable with me as I did with them," he said of his first Pat's Place performance. "Before the night was out, I told everybody I'd be back (the) next week."

Born to flirt

The average Sun City Center resident was born in 1928 - nearly three decades before Elvis released his first No. 1 hit, Heartbreak Hotel.

Here, Lindsey is more than a bar singer. He's a bona fide sex symbol.

"He keeps me smiling all the time," said Elizabeth Goldenberg, 61. "He's certainly good looking. He's giving all the ladies a treat."

Joy Trimble's favorite part of the show? "When he goes around and sits on ladies' laps."

Billy's own wife of 24 years, Jackie Lindsey, goes to watch her husband's act about once a month. They met when he played at her family's bar in Chicago.

"He has always been really, really flirtatious," she said. "It's one of his great attributes. The women love him."

It doesn't bother her.

"I just think it's wonderful to see people enjoy what he does," she said.

What about the husbands of the women who scream for Lindsey? What do they think of this man dancing for their wives?

"My husband would be very jealous," said Goldenberg, half-joking. "I had my back to him, and kissed him (Lindsey) on the lips. My husband didn't know that. But we won't tell that."

Actually, the men love Lindsey. They snap photos when he sits on their wives' laps, and guffaw when he occasionally dances for other men.

"It's all part of the fun," said Jim Brunner, moments after his wife, Karen, got a tableside visit.

Most couples get nothing but joy out of the music Lindsey makes.

"We had him over to our house, him and his wife, for Christmas dinner," said Bob Ameduri, who has standing reservations at Pat's Place every Wednesday with his wife, Patti. "He's a beautiful guy. Oh, god, what a guy."

Vegas quality

Lindsey is wrapping up another opening set with Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman.

"Coming up in a little bit," he announces nonchalantly, "a tribute to Elvis."

As if the crowd didn't know.

The 15-minute intermission gives everyone a chance to finish their meals, take a final sip of their coffee, and turn their chairs to the stage. One woman checks her makeup. A few clear lap space by moving their purses to the floor.

Lindsey, meanwhile, saunters through the kitchen to his backstage dressing room - a storage area stuffed with water-stained boxes of napkins and condiments. On the way, he grabs a bottle of Bud Light from the fridge, popping it open without so much as a glance at the label.

Out comes the ornate white jumpsuit, hand-stitched by Lindsey's mother in Arkansas. Out comes an old car's broken side-view mirror, held in one hand so he can check his hair with the other. Finally, out come the oversized golden shades.

And as Lindsey slips into character, out comes Elvis.

He takes a final swig of beer.

"It's a matter of having fun," he says. "That's what everybody's there to do. That's the deal. I don't pretend to be Elvis. I just go there, do my thing and have some fun."

He ambles into the diner and blows through an hour's worth of classics, gyrating the entire time. Hound Dog. All Shook Up. Burning Love. Release Me.

Says Bob Ameduri: "I've seen Elvis impersonators in Vegas. This guy - and I'm being biased - none better that I've ever seen in Vegas than him."

If this audience - composed of many folks who've seen the real Elvis Presley - is an accurate gauge of talent, Lindsey could make a decent living on the road. They've told him this time and again.

"Jokingly, my response is, "If I went to Vegas, I wouldn't be here singing for you guys,' " he says.

He'd have a hard time finding a more appreciative crowd. He closes the night's show with the ultradramatic An American Trilogy, draping a U.S. flag over his shoulders and collapsing to his knees.

"Glory, glory hallelujah!" he wails. "His truth is marching on!"

Whistles. Screams. A standing ovation.

"Thank you very much!" he shouts. "Have a safe trip home!"

Afterward, men slap his back and women ask for his number. Lindsey curls his lip for the camera and shakes the hand of anyone who asks.

And then, at 7:15 p.m., Pat's Place is totally empty, a tiny diner buried in a Sun City Center strip mall, waiting for another Wednesday to roll around. As the servers count their tips, in the back of the kitchen, only Lindsey is left.

"It doesn't matter what age they are," he says of his fans, folding his jumpsuit. "It's all just good fun. That's all I'm trying to do."

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