- Paperback: 186 pages
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 5, 2012)
- Language: English
- Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.4 inches
'In the Shadow of Kings:' Elvis Presley's backup vocalist releases autobiographyDonnie Sumner, longtime lead singer for J.D. Sumner and The Stamps Quartet, is celebrating the release of his debut memoir, entitled In the Shadow of Kings: From the 'King of Rock' to 'The King of Kings. Mr. Sumner experienced worldwide acclaim when he officially joined Elvis Presley in November 1971 onstage and in the recording studio, remaining for the next five years.
However, the singer first met Elvis in late summer 1960 at Graceland, when Elvis was preparing to record his first gospel album, the beloved His Hand In Mine. His uncle, J.D., was then a member of The Blackwood Brothers [perhaps Elvis' favorite gospel group], and the 'World's Lowest Bass Singer' thought his nephew could showcase his songwriting abilities to Elvis.
Nevertheless, Elvis chose to go in a traditional direction for the album, so Mr. Sumner would have to wait a decade before Elvis finally recorded two of his compositions - 'I Miss You' and 'Mr. Songman', both secular songs by the way.
After appearing in Elvis On Tour [singing a stunning, solo piano rendition of 'The Lighthouse' at one point] and Aloha From Hawaii, Mr. Sumner left The Stamps for a few short months in 1973. The talented singer was then personally flown to Las Vegas for an audition [along with Sherrill Nielsen and Tim Baty] with Tom Jones at Elvis' request. When the 'It's Not Unusual' singer hesitated, Elvis quickly pounced and offered Mr. Sumner, Nielsen, and Baty a contract to become his very own gospel group. Seeing a religious periodical entitled Voice lying nearby, Elvis chose the name, and Voice was born. They are especially evident on Elvis' last great album, Today . The trio remained on call at all hours to sing whenever Elvis felt an urge. Indeed, Mr. Sumner lived with Elvis in Palm Springs. The singer still recalls the night Elvis asked the group to sing 'In The Sweet By and By' 18 times, back to back, including all four verses.
After falling prey to drug addiction himself, Mr. Sumner left Elvis' employment in 1976 to seek professional treatment. Finding that much-needed support, the singer later became an ordained minister. He continues to record and travel around the country, spreading his testimony through song.
Published via his very own publishing company - Life-Line Books, In the Shadow of Kingsrefers to Mr. Sumner's experiences with Jesus Christ, J.D., and Elvis. At approximately 200 pages, each chapter of the 37-chapter autobiography reads like a mini short story.
The anecdotes begin with the songwriter's early childhood, his separation from his biological parents and his resulting travels as the son of a Pentecostal preacher. A great orator, Mr. Sumner is also a gifted humorist. Chapters such as 'Don't Mention It' and 'Are You Sincere' are filled with hilarious accounts, such as the time Nielsen received a hair transplant and had his front teeth capped in September 1973. During an informal conversation the previous evening, Elvis and the Memphis Mafia were discussing their personal flaws.
When Nielsen mentioned his, Elvis came to the rescue with what he thought to be the perfect solution. As no one ever said 'no' to Elvis, both operations were performed. The transplant was particularly painful and uncomfortable.
Come the next day, Elvis had a recording session scheduled at his Palm Springs home. Nielsen had to sing with a fully bandaged head, but somehow he got through it. However, his tenor vocal was noticeably flat on 'Are You Sincere'. Elvis thought this was so amusing that he refused to let Nielsen do another take, and you can hear that flat note to this day. To read more about these antics, visit the following interview link with Mr. Sumner ['Backing Elvis…'], which was conducted with this writer to honor Nielsen, who succumbed to lung cancer after a brave battle in December 2010. In a new, albeit brief conversation with Mr. Sumner, he admitted that he 'started collecting my thoughts in 1998 for In the Shadow of Kings. A concentrated effort didn't occur until spring 2011'.
The songwriter should truly be commended for 'waiting until all the bad reports had settled down, because I only wanted to show the fun side of Elvis and his humanity. I only have good memories and have nothing negative to say about Elvis. He was a true friend'. When asked what was the most difficult aspect of writing the book, the singer replied that it was simply 'telling the truth in a way that was believable and not negative'.
Of course, Mr. Sumner encounters folks who may not be Elvis fans. As to how would he convince them of Elvis' appeal, the singer thought for awhile and remarked, 'Elvis was an innovative singer. Everything about his music is original and well performed. He was one of a kind and appeals to all genres and all ages. He makes every song a story…even ‘Hound Dog' tells a story. Others sing their song, but Elvis tells a story'.
In The Shadow of Kings: From the ‘King of Rock' to the ‘King of Kings' - The Donnie Sumner Story is sure to become an integral part of your Elvis library. The singer was really there with Elvis and counted the superstar as a true friend. Bravo to Mr. Sumner for writing about his memorable life and setting the record straight. No doubt about it, he's had an interesting, sometimes rocky road, but now he's on the right path.