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August 16, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Elvis Presley’s death 35 years ago left a king-sized hole in the music industry. Solution: Get someone with a sultry Tennessee accent and throw him in a white, sequin-studded jumpsuit to sing Elvis’ songs. Mario Manzini and Dan Smith are among those who have answered the call.
Columbia’s Manzini has been performing Elvis shows since 1992. Although he speaks in a New York accent with Italian undertones, his Elvis impersonation is straight out of Graceland. Locally, Manzini has performed at The Blue Note and the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, along with smaller venues. In 2002, he was named the third best Elvis impersonator in the Midwest by the Isle of Capri Casino in Boonville.
Manzini got the idea to do Elvis shows after seeing other performers and thinking, “Well, I can do better than that.” He watched hours of video and listened to every Elvis record he could find to emulate the legendary artist, who he says had the voice of an angel.
“A lot of guys don’t take it serious; they just put on a suit and get up there,” Manzini says. “I try my best to get the way his words sound, the mannerisms, the body movements.”
Although he does this professionally, the money isn’t the draw of his craft. He entertains because that’s what he loves to do, and he never wants to retire.
Prior to 2011, Manzini had company from another mid-Missouri Elvis impersonator, Dan Smith of Williamsburg. Smith had played guitar and sung in a band for 20 years when he fell into the Elvis business. Knowing Smith was a talented musician, a co-worker asked him to do an Elvis performance for a birthday party in 2003. It was while preparing for this informal event that Smith got wrapped up in the impersonations.
Smith rented the suit a few days before the party and wanted to practice the show for his family. “I did a full dress rehearsal with the suit, sideburns, the whole deal,” he says. “They were just blown away.”
For the next eight years, Smith performed professional Elvis shows around the country. At the height of his Elvis fame, Smith played every Friday and Saturday night for six and a half months straight. Smith says his shows were longer than average, with some starting at five in the evening and ending past midnight. As he got bigger, he eventually hired a manager and started traveling on a tour bus.
Smith retired from the professional Elvis game in 2011, partly because he says he was tired of “keeping up with that hair,” but he still performs a one-man show and covers some Elvis songs.
“Sometimes I’ll hear myself on my CD and think, ‘Wow, that sounds just like my Elvis impersonation,’” Smith says. “It will never stop being a part of me.”