Cody Slaughter as a Fresh Elvis: Keeping It Real
In “Million Dollar Quartet.” the young man with the very rock-and-roll name of Cody Slaughter is asked to portray Elvis Presley when he’s already a little filled out. It’s 1956, and the King is already wearing a crown, but still trailing country and pickup truck dust behind him, mixed in with the stardust of growing fame.
Slaughter fills out Elvis with a mature voice, the slouched shoulders, the sudden wriggled moves and gestures that were a part of the Elvis body language that made high school girls come out with scary screaming noises.
On the phone, Slaughter, just about ready to meet the day in a Washington hotel room, sounds more like a younger Elvis, the one that was polite to his elders, loved his momma to death and had a streak of polite manners and charm that seems to come naturally to some Southern boys raised in small towns, be they rock-and-roll legends or politicians.
Slaughter sounds a little sleepy, just arrived this week from a tour stop in Philadelphia, which he couldn’t remember right away. “You have to excuse me, you get a little tired on a tour sometimes, you know,” he says. The voice is not exactly musical. It’s soft, easy to listen to. He’s thinking on his feet, not minding if he stumbles here and there.
“Elvis has been a part of my life for just about always,” Slaughter said. “Ever since I can remember, I have been listening to his music. I love 'Blue Suede Shoes.' I think I sang it for the first time when I was in kindergarten or something like that.”
Slaughter grew up almost Elvis-like in a small town called Harrison, Ark., near the Ozark Mounains. He has been what most folks would call an Elvis impersonator since he was in his early teens. In the business, he’s an ETA, an Elvis Tribute Artist. Last year, he won the Horizon Award for "Best New Elvis Tribute Artist."
“My father had a whole bunch of cassettes of Elvis music,” he said. “I kind of been around it for a long time.”
Slaughter will be leaving the show next Thursday to prep for and join up with the ongoing Elvis birthday celebrations with other stars, including D.J. Fontana, who was the drummer in Elvis’s band.
“I’ve been doing Elvis a lot, especially in Branson, Mo., but this is very different, you gotta say," said Slaughter, who was surprised when he got the part in this show. I’m still getting used to it, even after doing it for a while.”
He calls you “sir,” and he often says that he’s “only 21” (Elvis was 21 in 1956 at the time of the session in Sam Phillips’s studio). “I’ve been doing Elvis and it’s been a tremendously important experience for me," Slaughter said. "I mean the way people react, girls and older people all at the same time. I try to do the best I can, and I hope I’m giving them something they can remember and take to their heart. I mean, I know I’m not Elvis, but people, you know, if you do the songs right and act right, they sort of see Elvis. I understand that.
Slaughter is looking ahead, for sure, but doesn’t know exactly where the road is yet. “Sometimes I think of rapping, or pop or country. I can do that--or rock and roll or something. I’m only 21, I know that. But you've got to think about the future sometimes.”
Look him up on YouTube, doing Elvis by himself, and it’s almost spooky. That pitch-black hair, purple shirt, the stance that’s at once tough and embracing, the voice. In the show with the others, you can see a little of where Elvis came from, what he might have been like just at that point in time. He doesn’t try to dominate the stage: he’s among friends, Carl, Sam, Johnny, Jerry Lee and the like.
On the phone, his voice goes back a little further. We talk about that time, and I allowed that I grew up hearing Elvis and Perkins on the radio when I was in high school in Ohio. “That’s something,” he says. “Hearing this stuff when it was new, when everything was brand new.”
That was something all right. Talking with him, hearing and seeing him on stage, let me remember that it was something all right. And that’s something.