Ramblin' Rhodes: Relive thrill of hearing Elvis in 1956

Cody Ray Slaughter

Cody Ray Slaughter, an Arkansas-born Elvis Presley tribute artist, has been barnstorming the nation since June 2015 with his Elvis ’56 show.

 

The production commemorates Presley’s crucial year of 1956 going from being a Southern rockabilly artist just signed with RCA Records to becoming an international star.

It began in Lake George, N.Y., and as planned will wrap up at Augusta’s Imperial Theater at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 25.

That is almost 60 years to the day from when Presley made his second appearance at Augusta’s Bell Auditorium a few blocks away.

Tickets are $19 and $29 for balcony seats and $39 and $49 for floor seats. VIP seats, which include a before-show meet and greet are $79. Order online at imperialtheatre.com or at the box office. Call (706) 722-8341.

Presley toured in 1956 with the Blue Moon Boys that included guitarist Scotty Moore, upright bass player Bill Black and drummer D.J. Fontana. They made stops at Bell Auditorium on March 20 and June 27.

Slaughter’s band is called The Hillbilly Katz and features Fontana’s son, David Fontana.

The show’s producer, Jason Sherry, told Slaughter’s hometown newspaper the Harrison (Ark.) Daily Times, “It’s a concert about Elvis, and will appeal to Elvis fans, but the star of the show is Cody and we want his talent to show through. We hope the combination will help introduce an entire new audience to Elvis’ musical legacy and help make Cody a star in his own right.”

He added, “The entire show was built around Cody and what he does on stage. I’ve never seen any entertainer that captures Elvis’ musical style better, while allowing his own personality and personal charisma to show through.”

Slaughter was in the second grade when he sang (You Ain’t Nothing But A) Hound Dog for a talent show at Eagle Heights Elementary School in Harrison.

He was 12 when he saw Presley tribute artists in Branson, Mo., and decided to enter similar contests.

That led to his receiving in July 2011 the New Horizon Award as Best New Elvis Tribute Artist during the Las Vegas Elvis Fest. He received it on the same stage where Presley performed at the Las Vegas Hilton.

At 21, Slaughter performed on the Late Night with David Letterman show singing Hound Dog on the same stage that Presley sang it when he was 21 on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Several Augustans had very close ties to Presley including James Brown, Brenda Lee and Augusta-area resident Ginny Wright Josey.

Josey was a star of the Louisiana Hayride Show in Shreveport when Presley started making multiple guest appearances on the show.

“I used to go out on stage ahead of him,” Josey recalled, “and while waiting I used to talk to him in the wings. He always wore a pink shirt and black pants and only had two band members with him. He asked me how I could be so calm.”

 

BIG NIGHT FOR AUGUSTA ARTS GROUPS: The Greater Augusta Arts Council’s Arts Awards and Membership Meeting and Dinner is at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 16, at the Enterprise Mill Events Center, 1450 Greene St. Tickets are $40 reserved online at augustaarts.com, click on Annual Art Awards 2016, or by calling (706) 826-4702.

The 2016 winners are President’s Award, Steve Walpert; Individual Artist Award, Henry Wynn; Arts Professional Award, Patricia Meyers; Volunteer Award, Linda Scales; Sponsor Award, Beasley Media Group; and Media Person of the Year Award, Drew Dawson.

Flo Carter is being honored for her lifetime achievements with Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. proclaiming Friday, June 17, as Flo Carter Day in Augusta and Richmond County.

 

CAROLE J. BUFFORD BACK IN EVANS: Popular New York City cabaret singer Carole J. Bufford, who grew up in Lincolnton, Ga., is returning to the Jabez S. Hardin Performing Arts Center, 7022 Evans Town Center Blvd., for a concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 25. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at www.carolejbufford.com/tickets.

Her show of Broadway, jazz, blues and pop numbers sold out the Hardin Center in June of last year.

Bufford graduated as valedictorian of the Lincoln County High School class of 2000. She then attended Ithaca (New York) College, graduating in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in musical theatre.

She plunged into New York City theater life and in 2009 began attracting serious attention when she was named second runner-up in The MetroStar Talent Challenge. That led to her debut performance at the Lincoln Center and to performing at New York’s most notable cabaret supper clubs.

 THE REAL ELVIS: HIGHLIGHTS FROM 1956

JAN. 28: Elvis Presley does his first national TV appearance, performing on CBS’ Stage Show, produced by Jackie Gleason and hosted by bandleaders Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.

MARCH 15: In renegotiating his contract with his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker gets one-quarter of the singer’s earnings.

MARCH 20: The future King of Rock and Roll makes an appearance at Augusta’s Bell Auditorium pretty much as a country music act with Mother Maybelle Carter (known for her harp hit Wildwood Flower) and her daughters June (the future Mrs. Johnny Cash), Anita and Helen and Grand Ole Opry comedian Rod Brasfield. Brenda Lee, then living in Augusta, meets Presley backstage. This same day, his parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley, move into a Memphis, Tenn., house at 1034 Audubon Drive that Presley bought with royalties earned from Heartbreak Hotel.

APRIL 1: Presley does a screen test for Paramount Studios performing a scene as Bill Starbuck in The Rainmaker. The role goes to Burt Lancaster, but Paramount producer and director Hal Wallis is so impressed that he signs Presley to a seven-year contract. Wallis will produce most of Presley’s popular movies including Blue Hawaii.

APRIL 3: Presley appears on NBC’s Milton Berle Show from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hancock.

APRIL 23: Elvis spends a week performing in Las Vegas and bombs because of a different fan base. But he sees a group called Freddie Bell and the Bellboys performing an uptempo version of Big Mama Thorton’s blues hit (You Ain’t Nothing But A) Hound Dog and begins working it into his live act.

JUNE 5: Presley is back on the Berle show.

JUNE 27: He comes back to Bell Auditorium, which is packed with 6,000 people on both the main auditorium and then-existing Music Hall sides of the stage.

JULY 1: On the national NBC TV Steve Allen Show. Presley is talked into singing Hound Dog to a bow tie-wearing basset hound. He feels humiliated and reportedly chews out Parker backstage.

AUG. 22: He begins filming his first movie, Love Me Tender, based on a Civil War story.

SEPT: 9: Presley makes the first of three appearances on Ed Sullivan’s CBS show.

NOV. 16: Love Me Tender begins showing in national theaters including Augusta’s Miller Theater on Nov. 21.

DEC. 4: Presley drops into Sun Studios in Memphis to visit Carl Perkins who happens to be recording with an unknown piano player named Jerry Lee Lewis. Sometime that afternoon, Johnny Cash drops by. The recordings the foursome do that day later are dubbed the “Million Dollar Quartet” sessions.

DEC. 31: The Wall Street Journal reports Presley’s gross 1956 income is around $22 million.

– Don Rhodes

 

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