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|LIFE WITH ELVIS IN THE 70s
January 14, 2016 Elvis Express Radio
“Everybody’s written all the bad stuff.
Gospel singer Donnie Sumner is talking about Elvis Presley, the subject of a million biographies.
“Ain’t nobody ever written the good stuff.”
Here to fix that is Sumner, a member of the Stamps Quartet, the gospel vocal group that backed Presley in the final years of his life.
And though it was a tumultuous period personally for Sumner, he has many warm memories of Presley that he will soon share in “The Elvis You Didn’t Know,” his forthcoming self-
The 73-year-old singer will perform at Taft Theatre’s annual Elvis tribute show, and he answered some questions over the phone from his home in Nashville.
Question: How did Elvis come to hire you?
Answer: I was with the Stamps Quartet, and he wanted the Stamps Quartet to back him up, and so we joined him in ’71.
Q: Did going to work for Elvis have an immediate impact on your life?
A: It immediately changed our group’s persona, where all the sudden we went from one of America’s leading gospel quartets to the leading gospel quartet, period. And our personal
lives changed, too, because it was pretty wild, furious, and long times away from home.
Q: Are you talking about the excesses?
A: Back in those days, gospel music was not Christian-oriented. We were not necessarily Christian examples at that point. But when we went with Elvis, it was open season,
because we didn’t even have to be around the gospel crowd. Just to be very honest with you, our lives became a little looser that they had been when we were on the gospel
circuit. And as for me personally, I went sort of wild.
Q: Girls, drugs?
A: Yes, yes, and it finally came to a head in 1976. I resigned and changed my lifestyle, but that’s another story.
Q: If you had to do it all over again to get the experience of working with Elvis, would you?
A: There’s an honest, realistic answer, and there’s a humorous answer. The humorous answer is if I knew now that I could go back and redo it and be where I am now, I’d do it
exactly the same way. The serious answer is in all honesty I have seen the world from the mountaintop, and it’s no better up there than it is where I am right now, and the price I had
to pay to climb the mountain was not worth the view.
Q: What was the price?
A: In my psyche for one. I turned into an arrogant, egotistical horse’s rear end, and I began to believe my own press, that I was invincible, I was the cat’s meow. And that was not
good for my psyche, because what goes up someday has to come down. And when you come down from there, it’s like coming down from drugs. You go into withdrawal severely
when you’re not at that level of notoriety and visibility any longer. When your face gets wrinkled, and your stomach gets big and your butt gets floppy, and nobody wants your
autograph, that’s kind of hard to get used to when somebody reaches that level. The withdrawal from that was bad. I lost my family. I had to restore my relationship with my children.
It’s a wonder I didn’t die. I tried to commit suicide three times. To make a long story really short, if I had to do it over again, no, I would not. I would be a lawyer or a doctor.