Harrison native is Elvis in Walton Arts Center show

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 307 views 

Cody Slaughter became Elvis with no formal voice training, no acting lessons or dance instruction. He simply taught himself the songs, the moves and the mannerisms, and now at age 20, he’s playing “the King” in the first national tour of the Broadway hit musical The Million Dollar Quartet.

The stage production written by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott dramatizes what became known as the Million Dollar Quartet recording session featuring Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash at Sun Record Studios in Memphis on Dec. 4, 1956. The show comes to the Walton Arts Center Feb. 21-26.

Of course, Slaughter, a Harrison native, wasn’t even born when the supergroup’s famed recording session took place. His parents Sheila and Dale, introduced him to Elvis’ music and a metamorphosis ensued.

“I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t know who Elvis was,” Slaughter says from his bedroom back home, where he used to swing his hips and belt out the tunes that have landed him on the big stage. On this day, he’s suffering from a bad case of the sniffles.

“Allergies,” he says.

Slaughter began impersonating Elvis in the second grade, mostly in school talent shows. By age 13, he was performing on stage in Branson, Mo., then eventually Pigeon Forge, Tenn. He earned his GED and quit school as a sophomore, seeking to further his career as an entertainer.

“I just went full throttle after that,” he says.

The first Elvis song he performed was “Hound Dog.” His favorite to perform is “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

In 2008, he appeared as Elvis on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 (the birthday girl/drama queen lived in Columbus, Ohio), and has won competitions and performed at special events and corporate functions ever since. Perhaps his most notable accolade came last year, when Elvis Presley Enterprises named him the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist.

“You just never know where you’re going to be and who’s going to see you,” Slaughter says of his unwitting rise to fame.

Slaughter auditioned for his slot in the Million Dollar Quartet in June and began rehearsals with the rest of the quartet in September. The tour opened in Cleveland in mid-October. The show provided him his first trip to New York City. Slaughter took a break for two weeks this month to tour with the Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular: Birthday Edition. The show included a full orchestra; Elvis’ original drummer, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer D.J. Fontana; and an updated version of Elvis’ backup singers, the Sweet Inspirations.

Despite his reputation and strong following, Slaughter sees himself as the least-talented performer in the Quartet. Each actor/band member provides his own vocals and plays his own instrument without backup. The score includes rock hits such as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “That's All Right,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On,” “Who Do You Love?” "and “Folsom Prison Blues.”

“It’s as rock and roll as it gets,” says Slaughter.

When Slaughter’s at home in Harrison, he can be seen in a ball cap, t-shirt and jeans, tooling around town in his 1969 Camaro. He has a collection of muscle and “project cars” he likes to tinker with, and he still sings “just for fun.”

“I don’t walk around trying to be Elvis.”