One of them wants to be Elvis Presley. The other says he sings depressing songs of love and heartache.

Together, they hope to form a dynamic chorus of veterans to perform locally with the pride and gusto one might expect from a group that served their nation in the trenches and on battleships.

Bob "Fig" Newton, who loves to do Elvis impersonations, and Rusty Pray, who grew up singing in church choirs, are forming the Voices of Freedom Veterans Chorus. And, tonight they are inviting any veteran who can carry a tune to come meet with them at River City Grill in downtown Punta Gorda.

"The more the merrier," Newton said. "We want veterans and spouses of veterans — men and women."

The get-together is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. when those interested will talk about things like how often they want to practice and what types of events they would like to participate in.

"We haven't even formed yet and we already have a couple of gigs," Pray said, alluding to plans to sing at the Air Show this fall and a Nov. 11 program for vets.

Pray and Newton are both well known around town.

Newton, when he's not dressed in one of his wacky costumes, is easily recognized when he is invited onstage at the Orange House in Punta Gorda to help close the final set.  Rory Dewey and his four-piece band often ask their friend to do his rendition of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say."

Other times, you can find Newton, an Air Force veteran, making a guest appearance in his Elvis outfit.

"I have always enjoyed singing," he said. "As an only child I did Elvis gigs in front of the mirror. I actually have three or four Elvis numbers that I can sing pretty well."

Pray, a Navy vet who served on a guided missile destroyer during the Vietnam era, also enjoyed singing at a young age.

"I started singing in church when I was a little boy," he said. "My family was very musical. I had a grandmother who could play piano by ear. We didn't have one in the house, but anytime she found one she sat down and started touching the keys and pretty soon she was playing a song.

"My mother and aunts sang harmony and I would join in with them.

"Fig heard me talking about a veterans chorus and he said he'd like to get involved. We had a chorus at one time but it dwindled down to five guys the last time we sang together on the Fourth of July. I figure there are a lot of vets in the area who can sing and would have some interest in doing this."

Newton said there are already about a dozen who have expressed interest in joining the group.

"We have quite a collection of individuals and personalities that have signed up."

If things work out, Newton said they plan to have several patriotic songs in their playbook and perform at various events, but especially at those with a military or holiday theme.

Pray said he's sure the songs will be more uplifting than the normal John Denver and James Taylor songs he likes to sing while strumming his guitar.

"I do a lot of sad love songs," he chuckled. "It's kinda depressing to hear me sing."

If you can't make it to River City Grill tonight, you can call Pray at 609-217-3038.


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