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MIKE MASTERSON: Elvis lives

Whole lotta shakin'

To many at the Halloween party in Harrison, the tall, slender young man with dark hair, brown eyes and a wide, handsome face was another busy helper among others arranging decorations for maximum "boo effect."

He was soft-spoken with a slight drawl, yet walking with a self-assurance that struck me as unusual compared with other folks who also were helping arrange the spooky garage draped in fake cobwebs.

A couple of times I saw him do a little sliding step, as if he were dancing while he worked.

I made better sense of what I'd seen after introducing myself. "Nice to meet you, sir," he said politely. "I'm Cody Slaughter." He said it in a way that assumed I might not have heard of the planet's top Elvis tribute artist who for years has performed in venues across every state and internationally.

We struck up a brief conversation and I remained surprised by his "yes sir, no sir" humility and friendly, low-key demeanor. "I started doing Elvis at a local school talent show when I was 12, then publicly at 13," he said. "It's all I've wanted to do ever since."

Now 26 and single, Cody, I figured, after 14 years on stage, has at least another decade of entertaining audiences. "Meeting people and seeing the joy I can bring them is the most important thing to me," he told me. "I just love entertaining."

Despite the fame and sights he's experienced from Vegas to New York City and David Letterman's late-night show, Cody said he remains most happy when he's in Harrison with his parents and two brothers. "I never get tired of being back home," he said as nearby younger brother Logan (costumed as singer Bret Michaels) helped ferry party supplies into the home.

When we left the party that evening, I heard Cody's deep voice trailing after us: "Good night. God bless you all."

His truly uncanny resemblance in appearance and mannerisms, along with his spot-on singing voice, make him a dead ringer for the late king of rock 'n' roll. Combine all that with his Elvis expressions, confidence and humor on stage and it's easy to see why nine years ago he won The People's Choice Award during Elvis Week in 2008 when he was only 16.

Then in July 2011, at the Elvis Las Vegas Fest, he was chosen the New Horizon Award as the best new Elvis tribute artist, awarded on stage at the Las Vegas Hilton. That same year Elvis Presley Enterprises in Memphis named Cody the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist.

Vicky Johnson of Harrison has known the Slaughter family since her grandson attended middle school with Cody. "My grandson came in one day and said a boy in his class was performing as Elvis Presley and he was really good. So I went to see for myself. As young as he was back then, Cody was the best Elvis tribute artist I'd ever seen.

"He's worked so hard in those early years watching old Elvis tapes to perfect every mannerism and inflection and movement," she continued. "And through the years he's remained humble. I'd visit his mother Sheila and father Dale and always comment on how polite and sweet Cody and his brothers Joshua and Logan were."

She said that until recent years Dale and Cody traveled by car to performances across the states. Lately, Cody flies to many gigs with his manager since some are as far away as Australia, although Dale occasionally still drives with him.

Today, Vicky remains president of Cody's fan club, which she started in 2008. It continues to swell with new memberships almost daily. "There already are a lot of them," she said.

From Branson to Chicago, Cincinnati, Tupelo and Memphis, Cody's schedule in coming months remains as daunting as it's been since this talented singer and actor began portraying Elvis under the big lights. That occurred when the Tony-Award-winning traveling production of The Million Dollar Quartet began playing theaters coast to coast in 2011; he was nominated for best actor in the Elvis role that year.

As fortune would have it, Cody told us he was performing at the Legends show at the Dick Clark Theater in Branson through Nov. 20. So we made the 30-minute drive to watch this self-effacing young man (who a week earlier in real life had been helping a friend decorate for Halloween) don his dark sideburned wig and black leather jumpsuit to strut his Elvis stuff before another audience.

Sure enough, he was everything billed and more. Watching him transform so convincingly into entertainment history's greatest superstar felt surreal. For 20 minutes, I actually believed I was seeing Elvis Presley, right down to the wry smile, voice, the early years physique, hand movements and slight upturned lip.

As long as Cody Ray "Presley" Slaughter's performances remain so engrossing, the crowds wanting to see for themselves are bound to continue flocking to theater seats. Google Cody's website and prepare to tend to a slightly dislocated jaw, or go see for yourself.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 11/12/2017

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