Editor's note: This story was originally printed in The Press of Atlantic City on April 1, 1990. 

It's the gig of a lifetime, and Billy Fellows has spent the past year preparing for it - by not working.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, surrounded by chaos, accompanied by confusion and charged with adrenaline, Fellows will enter the Atlantic City record books when he becomes the first entertainer to appear at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.

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"I'm psyched, not nervous," said Fellows, who was promised the booking in the 400-seat Casbah Lounge a year ago by Taj Mahal entertainment director Colin M. Wilson.

But Wilson attached one important condition to the deal when he selected the singer and impressionist over hundreds of acts that coveted the job.

"He wanted me to keep a low profile by not working (casino) lounges in town for the past year," Fellows said. "He told me if I could do that, then I was his man to open the Taj."

Fellows, 55, lived up to his part of the bargain, and Wilson kept his word, too. But Fellows admitted he had to make a major sacrifice to win the honor.

"A lot of my work comes from the lounges," said Fellows, who's spent the better part of the last decade working lounges at Merv Griffin's Resorts, the Golden Nugget, Caesars and the Showboat.

"Getting a prestigious thing like the first act to play the Taj cost me work," he added, "but it's going to be well worth it."

To maintain his income level, Fellows began taking cruise ship dates that kept him away from the local casino circuit. He's also spent the past three years working concert dates around the world as Dionne Warwick's opening act, which was another gift from Wilson to Fellows. Although he appeared in Atlantic City with Warwick twice during the past 12 months, Wilson didn't mind because Fellows as a supporting act in a main room and not a headliner in a lounge.

"(Wilson) engineered my relationship with Dionne at Resorts about three years ago," Fellows said. "Since then, whenever she's worked alone, she's always asked me to open for her."

Because the Casbah is rigged and dressed more like a small showroom than a traditional casino lounge, Fellows has had to make some changes in his presentation.

He's not only developed new material, but he's also adding two backup singers to the show and will work with a seven-piece band instead of the usual five musicians who used to accompany him on lounge dates.

Opening a new room, or christening a lounge on a cruise ship, isn't a novelty for Fellows, who's been down that road before.

"That's one of the reasons I wanted Billy for the job," Wilson said. "He's able to cope with the little things that can pop up when you're opening a new venue. I wanted someone who could handle that sort of pressure."

Fellows expects things to be slightly chaotic during the first week of his monthlong engagement at the Taj. He'll return for a six-week engagement in October and expects to eventually play the Taj three or four times a year.

"The folks at the Taj have been extremely accommodating," he said. "They're allowing me to bring in a bigger band and the extra singers. They're letting me to do the type of show that's fitting for a place like the Taj. They want it to work just as much as I do."

Fellows will be the lounge headliner during the first four weeks of operations. He'll alternate nightly with acts including Special Effects, D & N Factor, Funnesse and Just Us.

In the more intimate Oasis lounge located between the hotel lobby and the casino, softer entertainment will be provided by a trio of trios: Rio, Daz and Renee.

***

Editor's note: This story originally printed in the Press of Atlantic City on April 13, 1990.

Billy Fellows is probably the only person at the Trump Taj Mahal who actually benefited from the problems that forced a shutdown of most of the casino's 3,008 slot machines.

Without the distraction and noise of all that bell-ringing and coin-clanking, Fellows has been able to showcase his multiple talents as an impressionist and singer.

Unlike other copy cats, Fellows isn't a comic impressionist, per se. He's actually a singer (and occasional songwriter) who long ago discovered he possesses that rare talent to mimic famous singers. In other words, you won't find Fellows doing Dr. Ruth or George Bush in his act in the Casbah Lounge.

You will, on the other hand, hear everyone from Julio Iglesias to Tom Jones to Sammy Davis Jr. and many of your favorite contemporary vocalists.

But Fellows, who's become Dionne Warwick's steady opening act for the past three years, doesn't get lost in the voices of the rich and famous.

He's backed by a superb, seven-piece band (something you don't see too often in a casino lounge) and has two backup singers lending him a hand on the harmony parts. The extra accompaniment and voices fills out Fellows act and enables him to sing like ... well, like Billy Fellows.

Fellows, who christened the show lounge at the Taj, performs nightly except Monday through early May and will return to the room for six weeks beginning in October.

 

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Features reporter, Flavor magazine editor

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