ELVIS INTERVIEWS BY JOE KREIN

Donnie Sumner

THE FOLLOWING WAS A PHONE INTERVIEW I DID WITH DONNIE SUMNER MAY 15TH 2007.

JOE KREIN: CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF , WHERE YOU WERE BORN AND RAISED ?

DONNIE SUMNER: JOE I WAS BORN IN LAKE WOOD FLORIDA , BACK IN 1942 . THAT WAS A LONG TIME AGO. MY DADDY WAS A FRUIT PICKER WHEN I WAS BORN , AND LATER ON WENT INTO THE MINISTRY . THAT WAS MY ADOPTED FATHER MY BIOLOGICAL FATHER WAS ALSO A FRUIT PICKER BUT HE GOT KILLED IN A BARROOM BRAWL WHEN I WAS TEN MONTHS OLD. SO I WAS ADOPTED AND RAISED IN FLORIDA AND THEN IN MY TEEN YEARS I MOVED TO MARYLAND. MY ADOPTED DADDY PREACHED ALL OVER MARYLAND . THEN I GOT MARRIED AND MOVED TO NASHVILLE , AND I'VE PRETTY MUCH BEEN HERE EVER SINCE.

WHAT WAS JD SUMNER TO YOU?

JD WAS MY BIOLOGICAL 2ND COUSIN . WHEN MY MOTHER PLACED THE FOUR OF US UP FOR ADOPTION MY MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER ADOPTED MY SEVEN YEAR OLD SISTER , AND MY PATERNAL GRANDFATHER ADOPTED MY FOUR YEAR OLD BROTHER . MY 2ND COUSIN JD SUMNER ADOPTED MY SISTER AND JD'S BROTHER ALSO MY 2ND COUSIN ADOPTED ME . SO I WOKE UP ONE MORNING AND BROTHER WAS MY GREAT UNCLE ,MY SISTER WAS MY GREAT AUNT AND MY OTHER SISTER WAS MY 3RD COUSIN AND MY OTHER COUSIN WAS MY DADDY .(LAUGHING) 1

YOUR WHOLE FAMILY CHANGED OVER NIGHT . JD WAS EXTREMELY TALENTED

YES HE WAS ,HE WAS MY HERO AS FAR BACK AS I CAN REMEMBER .  HE USED TO INTRODUCE ME FOR EIGHT YEARS ON STAGE AS THE BROTHER OF HIS DAUGHTER , SO EVERYBODY THINKS HE WAS MY DADDY .

I THOUGHT HE WAS YOUR FATHER TOO.

THAT'S OK I'M HONORED SON

I READ ON A SITE THAT JD SUMNER WAS ELVIS'S ELVIS.

WHEN ELVIS WAS YOUNG AND JD WAS IN HIS MIDDLE YEARS , ELVIS IDOLIZED JD. IN THE SAME WAY JD IDOLIZED ELVIS. (LAUGHING)

JD USED TO LET HIM IN THE CONCERT FREE OF CHARGE BECAUSE HE DIDN'T HAVE ANY MONEY . JD ALWAYS SAID ,IF HE KNOWN ELVIS WAS GOING TO TURN OUT THAT WAY ,IN STEAD OF LETTING HIM IN FOR FREE HE WOULD HAD BOUGHT HIM SUPPER.

(LAUGHING)

YOU WERE APART OF VOICE RIGHT?

YES SIR I WAS , I LEFT THE STAMPS AFTER I HUNG UP WITH MY WIFE AND I ORGANIZED A GROUP CALLED THE TENNESSEE RANGERS WHO WAS APART OF THE GRAND OLE OPRY  FOR A WHILE. THEN I WENT OUT AS A GUEST OF ELVIS AND THEN AFTER THAT PARTY HE HIRED US TO TRAVEL WITH HIM AND LIVE WITH HIM. HE LIKED TO SING WITH US AT NIGHT GOSPEL MUSIC . HE GAVE US THE NAME VOICE. SO WE SANG BACKUP FOR HIS SHOWS AND SANG WITH HIM AFTER THE SHOW FOR HIM EVERY NIGHT .

HOW DID THE NAME VOICE COME ABOUT?

WE WERE SITTING IN ELVIS'S HOME IN LOS ANGELES , AND LARRY GELLER HAD COME OVER TO VISIT ,AND HE HAD A BOOK CALLED "THE VOICE" .IT HAD A BEAUTIFUL ARTWORK COVER , .AS WE WERE SITTING THERE ELVIS PICKED UP THAT BOOK LOOKED AT LARRY AND THEN LOOKED AT US . HE SAID YOUR NOT THE TENNESSEE RANGERS ANYMORE . NOW YOUR NAME IS VOICE. WE TOOK LARRY GELLER'S BOOK AND HAD A LOGO MADE SIMILAR TO THAT AND THAT WAS THE LOGO WE USED FOR ALL OF OUR BUSINESS DEALINGS.

CAN YOU TELL ME HOW MR. SONG MAN CAME ABOUT?

JOE I WROTE MR. SONG MAN RIGHT HERE IN NASHVILLE. DURING A TIME WHEN ELVIS HAD LET US COME HOME FOR AWHILE. I WAS WITH ELVIS MOST OF THE TIME , THAT YEAR I WAS BY MYSELF MAYBE 12 NIGHTS. SO I WAS HOME ALONE , I WAS HAVE MARRIAGE PROBLEMS. I WAS IN A GREASY SPOON DOWN ON BROADWAY IN NASHVILLE CALLED LIMEBOSS.  AND I WAS SITTING THERE AND LISTENING TO THE JUKE BOX , HAVING A PITY PARTY AND I WAS THE ONLY GUEST .I WAS THINKING ABOUT ALL THE SAD SONGS ON THE JUKE BOX AND ALL THE STUFF I WAS GOING THRU. SO I WROTE A POEM TO THE JUKE BOX .THAT'S HOW MR. SONG MAN CAME ABOUT . BEHIND YOUR IVORY COVERED GLASS SING THE SONG FOR ME MR. SONG MAN .

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOUR FIRST MEETING WITH ELVIS?

THE FIRST TIME I MET ELVIS WAS WHEN HE DID HIS FIRST GOSPEL RECORD , I WAS WITH THE STAMPS QUARTET.  I HAD WRITTEN A BUNCH OF SO CALLED CONTEMPORARY GOSPEL SONGS AND JD SAID WE SHOULD SING SOME OF THOSE SONGS FOR ELVIS .JD CALLED UP GRACELAND AND WE LATER WHEN OVER AND I SANG MY SONGS FOR ELVIS WITH HOPES THAT HE WOULD RECORD THEM . BUT HE WAS CHOOSING STANDARD SONGS AT THE TIME AND NOT CONTEMPORARY SONGS. HE HAD CHOSEN SONGS THAT THE IMPERIALS WERE DOING . MY SONGS WERE KIND OF AHEAD OF THERE TIME. NOW MY SONGS ARE OLD (LAUGHING)

BILL BAISE , JIM MURRY , DONNIE SUMNER,ED HILL , LARRY STRICKLAND

YOU BEEN TO GRACELAND?

I LIVED AT GRACELAND. WELL THE ONLY PEOPLE THAT REALLY LIVED THERE WAS ELVIS CHARLIE HODGE. THE REST OF US STAYED IN WHAT WE CALLED THE GRACELAND HOWARD JOHNSON'S , THE OLD BACK WING.

WHAT DID YOU THINK OF GRACELAND , THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW IT?

I FELT LIKE THE LITTLE BLACK GIRL IN GONE WITH THE WIND. HAVE MERCY WE ARE RICH NOW!

IT WAS A LOT PRETTIER BACK IN THOSE DAYS THEN IT IS NOW .

BEFORE ELVIS REDECORATED IT IT WAS REALLY PRETTY WHEN PRISCILLA WAS THERE. IT HAD LIKE A WOMAN'S TASTE, WHAT BECAME THE JUNGLE ROOM WAS ONCE A LUXURIOUS DEN. THEN ELVIS WENT DOWN TO THE STORE ONE DAY , HE SAW A STRIPED CHAIR AND A SPOTTED CHAIR AND A GOLD CHAIR AND AN ORANGE CHAIR , GREEN CHAIR ,AND HE LIKED THEM ALL SO HE BOUGHT THEM ALL AND PUT THEM IN THAT ROOM. (LAUGHING)

IT WASN'T ALL THAT WELL MATCHED BUTS ITS WHERE EVERYONE HUNG OUT AT NIGHT.

WHOSE DECISION WAS IT TO RECORD AT ELVIS'S HOME.?

WELL WE RECORDED ARE YOU SINCERE  IN HIS LIVING ROOM  AT HIS HOME IN PALM SPRINGS. COLONEL PARKER CALLED ELVIS AND TOLD HIM RCA WANTED A RECORD  , IN FOUR DAYS HE WAS GOING TO BE BREACH OF CONTRACT . ELVIS SAID WELL I'M NOT COMING THERE ., ELVIS SAID IF THEY WANT A RECORD THEY CAN COME HERE AND GET IT . THE NEXT DAY TO SEMI TRUCKS PULLED UP OUTSIDE OF HIS HOME. THEY UNLOADED TONS OF RECORDING EQUIPMENT .I ASKED ELVIS WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO , FELTON JARVIS SAID WE ARE GOING TO MAKE A RECORD ,WITH WHAT MUSICIANS . HE SAID WE DON'T HAVE ANY ,FELTON JARVIS GOT ON THE PHONE AND CALLED JAMES BURTAIN , HE FLEW OUT THAT DAY . JAMES PLAYED GUITAR , I PLAYED PIANO AND JIM BALEY FROM MY GROUP PLAYED BASS GUITAR .ELVIS SAID WHAT ARE WE GOING TO RECORD ? FELTON SAID I DON'T HAVE ANYTHING , SO THEY ASKED ME . I SAID I HAVE A FEW COUNTRY SONGS BUT THERE NOT ANY GOOD. ELVIS SAID LET ME HEAR THEM , SO I SANG "MR. SONG MAN " AND "I MISS YOU" .ELVIS SAID LETS DO THEM , SO WE DID THAT WHOLE RECORD IN HIS LIVING ROOM WITH ONLY THREE MUSICIANS .RCA TOOL THEM BACK TO LOS ANGELES AND PUT EVERYTHING ELSE ON THEM .

THOSE SONGS WERE ALL SO SAD , I LISTEN TO THEM AND I GET DEPRESSED .

DO YOU KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COUNTRY MUSIC AND GOSPEL MUSIC?

NO I DON'T.

IN COUNTRY MUSIC YOU LOSE YOUR HOUSE YOUR CAR YOUR DOG AND YOUR WIFE ,IN GOSPEL MUSIC YOU GET THEM ALL BACK. (LAUGHING)

HOW DID YOU HEAR THAT ELVIS HAD PASSED AWAY?

I WAS DOWN IN FLORIDA AND I HEARD ON THE NEWS THAT ELVIS HAD DIED ,BUT I DIDN'T BELIEVE IT . BECAUSE A LOT OF TIMES ELVIS WOULD SAY THAT HE WAS JUST GOING TO DISAPPEAR FOR A YEAR OR TWO .

DID HE REALLY SAY THAT?

HE WAS ALL THE TIME TALKING ABOUT THAT ,I TOLD THE PEOPLE I WAS STAYING WITH ,THAT HE FINALLY DID IT . THEY SAID NO HE'S DEAD , I SAID HE'S NOT DEAD HE'S IN HAWAII OR SOME OTHER PLACE. SO LATER THAT DAY JD CALLED ME UP AND SAID HE WANTED ME TO SING AT HIS FUNERAL. IS ELVIS REALLY DEAD JD? YEAH HE'S DEAD . ARE YOU SURE? ELVIS IS REALLY DEAD I JUST LEFT HIM AT THE FUNERAL PARLOR. I THOUGHT IT WAS A PRANK , NOPE HE'S REALLY GONE. SO NOW I HAVE TO FLY TO MEMPHIS , BUT THERE WAS NO FLIGHT OUT OF FLORIDA ON A COMMERCIAL OR A PRIVATE PLANE THAT WAS AVAILABLE TO GET TO MEMPHIS. I DIDN'T HAVE TIME TO DRIVE UP THERE SO I MISSED THE FUNERAL. I COULDN'T GET UP THERE  , EVERYBODY WAS GOING TO MEMPHIS.

SO DID YOU EVER GET TO PAY YOUR RESPECT ? DID YOU GO THERE LATER ?

I THINK I PAID MY RESPECT WHEN I LEFT HIM ELEVEN MONTHS BEFORE HE DIED . I TOLD HIM NOBODY EVER TREATED ME ANY BETTER OR EVER BEEN ANY KINDER TO ME. AND NO BODY HAD EVER BEEN A GREATER FRIEND .AS LONG AS I LIVED HE WOULD BE MY FRIEND AND IF I PASSED BEFORE HE DID I WOULD SEE HIM SOME TIME.

DID YOU EVER TALK TO ELVIS ABOUT RELIGION? IT SEEMED TO ME THAT HE WAS SEARCHING FOR SOMETHING. READING ALL THOSE DIFFERENT BOOKS.

WELL I WOULD NEVER BE NEGATIVE ABOUT A FRIEND SO DON'T TAKE THAT AS NEGATIVE. I'M JUST RELATING FACTS. ELVIS IN BOOKS WAS NOT VERY EDUCATED ,I MEAN HE WAS SMART . HE COULD READ AND WRITE. HE WAS A BIG READER BUT I WAS A SPECIALIZED KIND OF READING. HE DIDN'T READ ABOUT SCIENCE OR HISTORY, HE READ RELIGIOUS BOOKS. MOST OF THE BOOKS THAT HE READ ABOUT RELIGIONS WAS VERY OFF BEAT. I'M SURE YOU HAVE HEARD HOW HE WOULDN'T MISS OUT ON HEAVEN BECAUSE OF A TECHNICALITY .HE WAS VERY BIG IN EASTERN RELIGIONS LIKE MEDITATION. HE REALLY HAD NO CONCEPT OF A FUNDAMENTAL CHRISTIAN FAITH. EVERY BODY THINKS THAT ELVIS WAS A BIG CHURCH GOER AND THAT HIS PARENTS WERE REAL RELIGIOUS. BUT THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER IS AS SOON AS ELVIS WAS OLD ENOUGH TO WALK AND UP TO THE DAY HE DIED. HE NEVER WENT TO CHURCH UNLESS THEY WERE HAVING A GOSPEL SING. THOSE WERE THE TIMES WHEN A BLACK GROUP WAS IN MISSISSIPPI OR WHEN A WHITE GOSPEL GROUP WAS IN MEMPHIS. SO HIS AFFILIATION WITH CHURCH WAS WITH GOSPEL QUARTETS. SO ELVIS REALLY DID NOT HAVE A LOT OF KNOWLEDGE ABOUT CHRISTIANITY. IN HIS LAST YEARS HE BECAME ASSOCIATED WITH A COUPLE NAMED MAUDE AMY AND REX HOMBARD .IF ANYBODY EVER HAD ANY MAJOR SPIRITUAL INPUT WITH ELVIS IT WAS REX HOMBARD.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE OVER WHELMING POPULARITY OF ELVIS PRESLEY?

ITS PHENOMENON I CANNOT RELATE TO NO OTHER ENTERTAINER HAS EVER BEEN ABLE TO OBTAIN .  EVERYBODY CONTRIBUTES IT TO PRISCILLA AND THAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE. I MEAN I DON'T KNOW HAT IT IS , BUT I HAVE MY PERSONAL OPINION. IF YOU DIDN'T ADHERE TO MY CHRISTIAN FAITH , YOU WOULD NOT AGREE TO IT. I THINK ELVIS WAS GIVEN A ANOINTING ,IN OTHER WORD I THINK HE WAS CREATED BUY GOD TO BE A SONGIST. AND TO SING PRAISE. SOMEWHERE THERE THE POWER OF DARKNESS GOT IT ALL TURNED AROUND AND MORE OR LESS PROSTITUTED THAT GIFT TO ANOTHER FORM OF MUSIC. THE BIBLE SAYS THAT GIFT IS WITH OUT CALLING , THAT MEANS ONCE HE GIVES IT TO YOU , HE NOT GOING TO GET MAD AND TAKE IT FROM YOU. IF ELVIS WAS A TRUCK DRIVER , HE WOULD HAVE BEEN THE WORLDS GREATEST. IF HE HAD BEEN A DITCH DIGGER , HIS DITCHES WOULD BE THE STRAIGHTEST AND THE DEEPEST. BECAUSE OF WHAT GOT CREATED IN HIM. BECAUSE OF THAT IF YOU WERE BLIND FOLDED, AND HE WALKED IN THE ROOM YOU WOULD KNOW HE WAS THERE.

MR SUMNER WHAT ARE YOU DOING KNOW?

JOE I'VE BEEN A ORDAINED MINISTER FOR 25 YEARS , I SERVE AS A PASTOR AND A EVANGELIST. IN 2000 I GRADUATED FROM A SOUTHERN BAPTIST SEMINARY , AND WAS ORDAINED IN A SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION. THAT AND 25 CENTS WILL GET YOU A CUP OF COFFEE. (LAUGHING) AT ANY WAFFLE HOUSE.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH MR. SUMNER.

YOUR WELCOME JOE.