A Calgary minister who is also an Elvis tribute artist spent the King's birthday Monday in the worst way possible: being questioned by lawyers representing the Presley estate about his ministry's name.
Rev. Bruce Sheasby is the minister of Your Grace Land, a Calgary nondenominational church and associated radio show (broadcast on AM 700 in Calgary and 96.5 FM in Olds). The name that conjures up images of a certain legendary Memphis, Tenn. mansion where Elvis resided until his death in August 1977.
Sheasby is as much of an Elvis lover as he is a church minister. He told Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray in an interview Wednesday that appeared on The Gong Show back in the 1970s, when he was 16. He sang Jailhouse Rock for the talent contest.
When he received his first ministerial posting, in Vauxhall, Alta., Sheasby took to singing Elvis tunes on karaoke nights. He discovered it was an excellent way to connect with the local community.
Sheasby eventually added Reverend Elvis to his legal name. A Toronto Sun reporter gave him the nickname in the 1990s. He also launched the International Elvis Gospel Festival as a fundraising event for his church.
"This is a passion for me," Sheasby said. "This is a calling. Elvis I would describe not only as an influence but a hook. It helps me to connect with people and then to deliver a message of grace."
Now he just may have to deliver his message in a renamed church, unless he convinces the legal representatives of Elvis Presley Enterprises that his church doesn't infringe on their trademark.
In 2015, Sheasby applied for a trademark for Your Grace Land; it was eventually approved by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
The trademark was advertised after receiving preliminary approval, which led to Sheasby being contacted by Elvis Presley Enterprises. Its lawyers formally opposed the trademark on the grounds it was too close to Graceland. Sheasby insists that just isn't true.
"I've split up Graceland into two words," Sheasby said, "but most importantly, putting the 'your' before 'Grace Land' is what makes it distinct."
And even if it's reminiscent of the Memphis mansion, Sheasby says that shouldn't disqualify him from naming his church and radio show what he likes.
"In trademark law … you can have the exact same name, and still trademark it, as long as you're selling different goods and services," he said. "There are many churches, particularly in the U.S., that use the name Graceland in one word as part of their legal name — Graceland Methodist Church, Graceland Presbyterian Church.
"I'm two steps further than that," he said, "but I'm going for the trademark."
The two sides met Jan. 8.
'Elvis himself had a deep love of God'
Sheasby also thinks if The King were still alive, he'd approve of Your Grace Land.
"Elvis himself had a deep love of God," said Sheasby. "I'm holding here a book called The Gospel Side of Elvis, which was written by a friend of mine, Joe Moscheo, with a foreword by Priscilla Presley."
Elvis, it turns out, recorded more than 70 inspirational gospel songs.
"He wasn't a perfect role model, but tell me any human who is perfect," Sheasby said.
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No resolution came about as a result of the meeting this week, but Sheasby certainly took the opportunity to deliver a hopeful message to his estate's attorneys.
"I'm no threat to you folks," he said, recounting his address. "Let's get past the suspicious minds and let's have some peace in this little valley of the battle. And no, seriously, I feel that what I'm trying to do through Your Grace Land is only helping the branding of Elvis Presley Enterprises."
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener
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