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Music

Peter Kraus - Germany's Elvis - at 75

Starting his career in the 1950s, Kraus drew on Elvis' music and look for inspiration. Songs like "Sugar Baby" and "Mit 17" (At 17) made him a rock star, and he also hit it big as a film actor.

Born in Munich on March 18, 1939, Peter-Siegfried Krausnecker didn't have to look far for a path to show business. His stage director father was also active in cabaret and ran a small theater. Peter dreamt of joining him on stage. He took acting and voice lessons and even learned to tap dance, modeling himself after the American musical star Fred Astaire.

The ambitious teenager was soon rewarded for his efforts - at 15, he had his first major film success as one of the star actors in "Das fliegende Klassenzimmer" (The Flying Classroom). But Peter Kraus - his stage name - also had music in his blood.

Peter Kraus performing on stage in 1956

The "German Elvis" on stage in 1956

Passion for rock 'n' roll

"I started playing music at age ten. I just wanted to make music no matter what. Once a kind of music came about that was for us, it really grabbed me. Rock 'n' roll was for us young people, and that's when I really went wild," he recalls.

Bill Haley, Elvis Presley and Little Richard became his idols. Kraus learned their songs on guitar and hit the stage with a swing in his hip and a swept-back mane. Fans loved his renditions of Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Heartbreak Hotel," and German newspaper headlines hailed him as the country's very own Elvis.

Soon, music producer Gerhard Mendelsohn recognized Kraus' potential and offered him a contract.

Teen idol years

In 1957, the up-and-comer put out his first single, a German version of the Little Richard hit "Tutti Frutti." Along with Ted Herold, Peter Kraus soon became the most popular German-language rock singer. In just four years, he recorded 36 tracks that went on to sell over 12 million times. Long before Beatlemania swept over from England, German teenagers were in fits for the young performer whom they saw as a hero.

Peter Kraus at the microphone

Kraus is going on a farewell tour in 2014

"It really was a novelty that a young person was making music specifically for young people - and it's a good thing the parents rejected it because it just drummed up interest in it all that much more," Kraus says, looking back.

Peaks and valleys

What followed was a career that's been second to none in German show biz. The single "Wenn Teenager träumen" (When Teenagers Dream) sold 500,000 copies in 1958. The same year, the musical film "Wenn die Conny mit dem Peter" (If Conny with Peter) hit theaters. Peter Kraus and actress Conny Froboess were celebrated as the "it" couple in the world of mainstream film. Their success continued with the sequel, "Conny und Peter machen Musik" (Conny and Peter Make Music).

Not content to rest on his laurels, Peter Kraus then undertook a musical experiment, recording a jazz album. It became a major success in Great Britain, and his concert tour in support of the album led him through the UK, France and the US.

At that point, it seemed as if Peter Kraus was on the way to world stardom, but a shift in taste interrupted his success story. British artists began conquering the charts, displacing Elvis-style rock 'n' roll. A new generation found its idols in The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.

Reinvention

Peter Kraus pulled back from the pop music scene, disappointed but not ready to end his career. He went back to his roots and took to the theater stage, finding work in Vienna. He also became active as a director and wrote stage and film scripts. Slowly, fans found their way back to Kraus, who was increasingly to be seen in film roles - a fact that helped fuel audience interest in his musical career once more. As nostalgia for the early rock 'n' roll era spread, fans rediscovered a performer seemingly untouched by the years.

Kraus began taking the stage again, full of verve and able to enchant audiences just like in the 50s. No shortage of younger people also got into the Peter Kraus phenomenon.

"What young people pick up on with me is that I handle things and even my own life with a wink and a bit of irony - and God knows I don't take myself seriously. I think that's a reason why there are three or four generations going to the concerts today," he says.

The CD cover for Zeitensprung

"Zeitensprung" is Kraus' latest release

Forever young - at 75

In 2004, German public broadcaster ZDF celebrated 50 years of rock 'n' roll with an evening show - inviting Peter Kraus as a guest of honor. He played the Bill Haley hit "Rock Around the Clock" along with Haley's legendary supporting band, The Comets. Two years later, the singer celebrated five decades of performing on stage and earned the lifetime achievement award at Germany's Echo Awards.

Peter Kraus is anything but retired these days. His concerts sell out regularly, and he has put out CDs and DVDs in recent years with titles reflecting his lifelong passion: "Rock'n'Roll Is Back," "I Love Rock'n'Roll" and "Vollgas" (Full Throttle). His 2011 autobiography bore the title "Für immer jung" (Forever Young).

He remains an agile musician as he celebrates his 75th birthday with his current album "Zeitensprung" (Leap Through Time), which features covers of songs by younger German rock and pop artists such as Rosenstolz, Culcha Candela and Tim Bendzko.

However, his fans may be seeing less of him in the coming years. The title of his upcoming concert tour through Austria, Switzerland and Germany is sure to trouble more than a few admirers: "Das Beste kommt zum Schluss - Meine grosse Abschiedstournee!" (The Best Comes Last - My Big Farewell Tour).

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