Interview with Larry Strickland

By: Joe Krein
Source: Joe Krein
August 20, 2023

The following is an interview with Larry Strickland - June 28, 2007 by Joe Krein

Can you tell me a little about yourself ? Where you were born and raised?

Larry strickland: Where I was born and raised, I have very little memory of that. I was born in Raleigh North Carolina in 1946. Man that sends a chill down my spine. (laughing)

What did your parents do?

My dad was a minister in a organization called the edmond Christian Denomination which is very similar to southern Baptist. I was brought up in that environment. So I was a preachers kid.

Every time the doors were open I was expected to be there.

Did you always want to be an entertainer?

You know when I was about ten years old my dad took me to a gospel concert and I got to hear, at that time the top groups in the gospel music world. It really sank deep inside of me early as a young child. I started very young as a teenager singing. Teaching myself. Working on my voice learning how to read music.

Its been apart of me ever since.

When did you start singing professionally?

I guess it was after I got out of high school in 1964. I spent 4 years in the army during the vietnam era. Luckily I did not got to vietnam I went to germany instead. When I got back I pick up where I left off, started from that point. I guess not singing professionally but only on the weekends. I was working another job during the week. It wasn't until I joined JD Sumner and the stamps that I went professional or full time.

How was JD Sumner?

He was a great guy, he was a mentor of mine so to speak. He was my idol, he was one first guys I heard sing. I heard him sing bass like it was customary in gospel music. So getting hired by him and working with him on the road was a huge thrill. It was top of the heap for me, JD was a fun guy. He was a old road dog, he spent his whole life on the road. When we weren't touring with elvis we were out doing our own shows. He was always on the road and I was always on the road with him. He was a good man, he was quite a talent.

That has to be hard on your personal life being on the road all the time?

Its almost impossible to have a home life, you sacrifice just about everything when you tour like that.

Its hard to maintain a relationship with your wife, you feel like you don't have any roots.

You all centered on what your doing, your singing is the primary thing. And in doing that you become self centered so its not a healthy life style at all. I don't recommend it.

Were you an elvis fan?

Oh yeah who wasn't? I sure was

Can you tell me about the first time you met Elvis?

You know I can, it was 1974 when I was hired by the stamps and this was not long after they did the show in Hawaii. So the next gig was in vegas at the Hilton, and of course it was my first time in vegas. I go there a day or so early, they had called for a rehearsal the night before. So we were up in one of the big conference rooms up in the Hilton. I'm standing there with all the Stamps and the band, the Sweet Inspirations. Im in this big room where we are going to rehearse. In a few minutes the doors almost burst open, that's the way it was in my mind. They slammed open in a sense and in walked two body guards in front, then Elvis and then two body guards in the back like they were taking over the world. It stunned me for a minute, bam there he is! Then he's going around the room greeting everybody, everybody was like a family to him, he was hugging people and saying great to see you. I guess this was the first time that they were together since Hawaii. He was going around be real friendly and cordial, he finally came over to where I was standing and Ed Enoch. He was our lead singer in the stamps. He was hugging Ed and slapping him on the back, laughing and I'm standing there. One of the popular things that people were wearing, and I can't explain why. It was popular to wear for guys and girls these bib overalls. Well I had bought a pair, I thought they were really cool, I figured I was this really hip guy. So I had no clue about what was about to happen. So he is hugging Ed and all that stuff. Ed turns to me and says Elvis I want you to meet Larry Strickland he is our new bass singer for the group. Elvis puts out his hand and shakes it and then he takes Ed and pulls him about three steps away from me but not far enough that I can't hear them. But I hear everything that he says.

He says 'Ed where in the world did you get the f###ing farmer?'

Oh goodness!

When I heard that I mean my heart just went to my knees, what in the world have I done? Nobody bothered to tell me that Elvis, he hated them kind of cloths, he hated all kinds of denim. Most especially disliked bib overalls because as a child I think that's all that he had to wear. So he hated all denim, and here I was thinking I was all so cool. So I felt for sure I was going to be on the next plane. Plus every person he greeted past me he said did you catch the f###ing farmer? So everybody was looking over at me and snickering. So I was not a good night. But a few nights later he came over and gave me what was his apology. He never said sorry and he didn't to me. But I knew everything was going to be alright.

What a way to have met Elvis. Oh my god, but then everything was cool. Right?

Infact it was his first trip that he had made in his big plane the Lisa Marie. So one night he had all of us come out and see the plane. We weren't going anywhere, we just sitting there and touring it. He was sitting back in the plane and I was still trying to keep a low profile, I was just hoping I was going to be able to keep the gig. I wanted this job, so I was really staying to myself. Except for the stamps, they were the only ones I was saying anything too. But Elvis singled me out on the plane that night and said something like hey man your doing a good job welcome to the tour. Broke the ice and helped me to be able to calm down. I think the next night we are on stage and the curtain closes and the 2001 intro was playing and we are getting ready to take our bows. I feel a hand on my shoulder and I turn around and its Elvis. He came between Ed and me. He had one hand on JD's shoulder and one on mine. That little gesture helped settle me. I felt much better after that.

When did you get your TCB? Did you get one?

I did it was not until a year later, it was at the end of 1974. It was closer toward the end of his life. He didn't hand those things out as much as he did in the early days.

Were you able to sit down and shoot the breeze with elvis?

You know the only time that I got to do that, and prier to me they did that a lot more especially in vegas. After the show elvis wanted everyone to stay and sing all night. But for some reason after I came along they stopped doing that I don't think he was feeling all that well. But some of the recordings I got to do with him was accurately done in Graceland in what they call the jungle room. So there was a couple of times I got some one on one. He came down one night and he just wasn't ready to sing, he said to me he was going through his closet and he wanted to get rid of a bunch of stuff. He wanted to get a whole new wardrobe. So he was calling us all up one at a time to his closet. We went though and picked out cloths, he would hold them up to us. Anything he would pick out you would go 'yeah elvis I like that', 'yeah Elvis that would fit'. I could get that cut down. Like we would really cut it. So we all left Graceland with a bunch of Elvis' cloths.

What I wouldn't do to have something that was his.

Do you still have those cloths?

I still have some of them, you know I am married to Naomi Judd from The Judds.

Back before we got married I gave her a couple of things.

Larry Strickland and Naomi Judd
Larry Strickland and Naomi Judd.

Did you have any run ins with Colonel Parker?

You know not run ins but there were times I was privy to stand by and watch him gamble thousands of dollars at one time. I saw stuff that was not cool to see, I wasn't around him much but you know he didn't have a lot to do with us. But there were some nice little gestures like he bought us tour jackets one year. Another year we were working on thanksgiving and he came by and gave us an extra ten dollars.

Well that was nice of him.

Yes that was really big of him. Ten dollars for thanksgiving diner. That's all I have to say about him

Did you get gifts from Elvis for the holidays?

No I didn't. But JD did. But as a group he would do stuff for us, he would do unbelievable stuff for us as a group but not as an individual. There was one time he wanted us to record, but we had a small gospel date scheduled. So we were trying to figure out how we could do it. He just sent his jet over, picked us up for the gospel date and flew us back over. Probably cost ten times more money to send that jet over to take us from that small gospel date then we made. He also bought us a tour bus. He certainly did a lot for the group.

All he wanted to do was drive it once.

That's right. Exactly

Out of all the concerts that you did is there one that sticks in your mind?

One night in vegas, this probably after I had been with him a year, he turned to me in the show. He was singing now or never. He liked to end it with a low note. He ended the song and he actually stopped the show, he turned to me and the band and said. Larry I'm going to do this song again, when we get to this part at the end. I want you to sing. So he did that. I did it. He made me do that about three or four times. So every time we did that song from that time on. We ended it that way. So that was probably the memorable thing because he singled me out. Then he would start introducing me as his alter ego. He liked the low voices. He always loved trying to hits those notes himself. What we would do is, he would still sing that line himself but I would sing it with him to support the notes with him. So that was my moment in the sun.

Do you remember the first time you went to Graceland? What did you think of it?

My first time I went to Graceland was in the middle of the night so I didn't get a full sense of what it was. It was the second time that when we went to record. I spent several hours in the house mainly down in the pool room. We would wait for him to come down to record.

I was fascinated with it, to me at that time it was just a unbelievable world.

Were you with Elvis right up to the end?

Yes I was.

Could you see Elvis wasn't well?

You know there was only a couple of times where I saw him onstage and he didn't look well. I was wondering what was going on with him. The rest of the time he seemed normal and happy. Because singing is what he loved to do. I know I seen him at his best while he was recording and performing. So no we didn't have a clue that anything like this was happening. We Knew he had a colon problem. There were times he would leave the stage in the middle of the show to go to the bathroom so we new that he had that problem.

We didn't have a clue he was going to pass.

Was there a signal or something?

He would usually turn to us and say you boys sing something for me and we would step out and do Sweet Sweet Spirit. Gospel songs, stuff like that.

Do you remember any of the times that there was a threat on his life?

It seems there was a time or two, when we were told that there had been and just to be aware.

But it never seemed that big of a deal.

How was it recording inside of Graceland? There does not seem like a lot of room.

I know, I look back on it now and it was funny. Because anyone that's been in a recording studio. One of the main deals about a studio is oscillation and deaden the sounds. So that you could control it. Well by putting everybody in a room like that all the musicians singers, just defeated that whole idea. Plus add to the fact when ever he would sing he walk around the room. One minute he is by the piano and the next he is by us singing. So you can imagine the engineers inside the recording truck going what the world is going on in there. One minute the piano is load in Elvis' mike and then the next the singers are loud in his mike, you know they were just going crazy. But I guess he didn't care, but when they got it back to the studio they just did wonders with it. The songs like hurt and way down all those songs were done while he was walking around like that.

They sound just fine.

I know! (laughing)

You were surprised too

Oh yeah.

How did you find out Elvis had passed?

That's one one of my bad memories, we were all at the airport in Nashville waiting to get on the plane that was coming to take us to Portland Main. We were going to start a tour with Elvis. The whole group was standing there in a private terminal. Felton Jarvis was the leader of our Nashville contingency, he was told there was a call. Felton took the call and came to us and got us all in a huddle. He said guys the tour has been cancelled. You guys head home and we will contact you with further information. We all said wow what's happened. Our thought was something happened to Vernon, maybe he passed or was sick. But before I could get home I heard it on my car radio, I thought that was kind of cheesy that they didn't tell us what was going on. He we are people close to him as anybody. They had to play it that close to the vest.

You were lucky you didn't drive off the road when you found out.

I know.

Did you go to the funeral?

Yes we did, in fact we sang at the funeral. Its hard for me to tell this story and to get people to believe it. But this is the truth. We we were on the bus, we were on tour way out west. This was not an Elvis tour this was a gospel gig. I was asleep on the bus, and I have a dream that our group is singing at a funeral, there is more to the dream but I don't like to talk about it. But I dreamed we were singing at a funeral, and so help me it wasn't more then three weeks later we were singing at Elvis' funeral. That was just so weird.

That must have been an awful day for everyone and they say it was very hot.

Oh yeah, it was one of those days that's going to stick in your memory.

You were able to go up and pay your last respects?

Oh yeah

What do you think of the everlasting popularity of Elvis Presley?

I think its amazing, I would expect it on some level. But not as big as it is. Of couse all of us baby boomers were all elvis fans and we think as long as we are still around it will still be so

What are you doing now?

I manage Naomi I take care of all of her personal business and her career. She has a TV show on the Hallmark Channel on sunday morning. We actually shoot it in New York. Plus she does books and touring, speaking tours not singing. I do that and I sing once and a while with a gospel group called the classic sound quartet.

Thank you for doing this for me.

Your very welcome.

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