Jimmy Ellis ( Orion ) – by Patrick Ranasinghe

Jimmy Ellis ( Orion ) – by Patrick Ranasinghe

James Hodges Ellis (born James Hughes Bell, February 26, 1945 – December 12, 1998), who used the stage name Orion at times in his career, was an American singer. His voice was similar to Elvis Presley’s, a fact which he and his record company played upon, making some believe that some of his recordings were by Presley, or even that Presley had not died in 1977. At the start of his music career Ellis sang in nightclubs, and in 1964 released a single, “Don’t Count Your Chickens”, for a small Georgia label, Dradco. His vocals closely resembled Elvis Presley, and in 1969 Shelby Singleton, who had acquired the rights to Sun Records’ back catalogue, other than Presley’s recordings for the label, released a single of Ellis’ recordings of Presley’s early songs, “That’s All Right (Mama)” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky”. The label credited the recordings simply to “?”, and it was rumored that they were alternate takes from Presley sessions (despite featuring an electric rather than string bass

After Presley’s death in 1977, Singleton revived the hoax by releasing singles which overdubbed Ellis’ voice onto known Sun recordings by Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and others, including a version of “Save the Last Dance For Me” on which there was simply a credit to “Friend”. The records were endorsed as genuine Presley recordings by the song’s co-writer Doc Pomus, music writer Roy Carr, and by the TV show Good Morning America which undertook a voice comparison test of the song against Presley’s voice. Around the same time, Ellis released another single under his own name, “I’m Not Trying To Be Like Elvis”, and an album, By Request – Ellis Sings Elvis.

In 1978, writer Gail Brewer-Giorgio published a novel, Orion, about a leading popular singer – clearly based on Presley – who faked his own death. Singleton then persuaded Ellis to start appearing as “Orion”, wearing a small mask, with dyed hair and in similar clothing to that worn by Presley. His album Reborn, showing the singer emerging from a coffin, was released on gold-colored vinyl on the Sun label in 1978. Some listeners clearly believed that “Orion” was, in fact, Presley, who had supposedly faked his own death. Orion then had several hits on the country music chart, including “Am I That Easy to Forget” (1980), “Rockabilly Rebel” (1981) and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (1981). He also recorded several albums for Sun between 1979 and 1981, and built up a substantial live following, still wearing his mask.

He tore off his mask at a performance in 1983, saying that he would not wear it again. However, after failing to retain his popularity using his real name, he returned to performing as Orion in 1987. He also started to run a store in Selma, Alabama, with his girlfriend. On December 12, 1998, Ellis was murdered during a robbery in his store, Jimmy’s Pawn Shop. Jeffrey Lee was convicted of the murder of Ellis and Ellis’s ex-wife Elaine Thompson, who was working as an employee at the store, and the attempted murder of employee Helen King. Lee was sentenced to death and his appeal against the sentence was refused on October 9, 2009.



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