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'I'm not Elvis'

He's bald and he doesn't like Elvis, but Nelvis croons Elvis' hits for a living. Nelvis just does it his way.

By LEON M. TUCKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2001


He's bald and he doesn't like Elvis, but Nelvis croons Elvis' hits for a living. Nelvis just does it his way.

CLEARWATER -- The muffled twang of Elvis' Kentucky Rain can be heard from the parking lot outside Norm's Place on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

Inside the smoke-filled bar is an unusual mix of youngsters and 50-somethings with eyes focused on a bald, lanky man up front who punctuates his singing with gyrations, hip swivels and karate chops.

"I've seen everything," says bar patron William "Ozzy" Osborn, between swigs of his Bud Light beer. "A bald-headed Elvis."

But after the man on stage croons That's All Right and five or six more of the King's greatest hits, the tone changes.

He is the real deal.

"He does a good job," says Osborn, recanting his previous quip. "If he put on a wig and 40 more pounds, you wouldn't be able to tell."

That's exactly what Chris Boytoni does not want to do.

No black hair, sideburns, no snarl. Boytoni does not want to be like Elvis; he doesn't even like him.

In fact his stage name is Nelvis , as in "Not Elvis."

"I'm not Elvis, damn it," the 41-year-old said. "He got all the breaks, and I'm struggling. He was a pretty boy, and I'm an ugly man trying to make it."

So why sing his music?

It was 24 years ago, in the shower, when then-17-year-old Boytoni heard the voice of Elvis Presley.

"I was in there singing, and I heard my mama yell, 'Stop singing that noise,' " he said. "And I said, 'Hey, I sound like Elvis.' "

After a seven-year stint in the Army, Boytoni moved around a lot. He worked in construction in California, laid tile and had a job as a nightclub disc jockey.

But he said Elvis' music kept calling him.

"I've been trying to avoid it," he said. "I even did heavy metal for 14 years. I just couldn't get away from it."

Finally, Boytoni worked as an Elvis impersonator, spending time in Orlando, San Antonio and Las Vegas wearing black hair, sideburns and jumpsuits.

It was after living in Las Vegas for five years that he realized his calling.

"They wanted me to be Elvis 24 hours a day and wanted to sign me to six-month contracts," Boytoni said. "I don't like doing that, and that's when I got the idea."

Nelvis shaved his black-dyed hair and sideburns and moved to Clearwater in January. He lives in a $200-a-week motel room on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

And for $100 an hour for three hours, he performs his "Tribute to the King."

"Elvis is gone -- Nelvis lives on to sing a tribute to the king his way!" the newspaper ad reads.

"He's a really good guy. I like him," said Deana Crosby, manager of Norm's. "The women go crazy over him."

Nelvis is in the middle of his third gig since January. He fires off songs such as Fools Rush In, Don't Be Cruel and All Shook Up with a pinpoint accuracy that makes people such as 62-year-old Greg Campos get up and dance.

"He's good," Campos said. "He's nothing like Elvis, but he does some songs that sound just like him and I like to dance to."

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