Here are bios on the original Elvis bandmates who have toured with our show in the past.
Please note that the cast lineup for shows is subject to change. Cast members may change from show to show due to scheduling conflicts that arise.
James Burton, Lead Guitar
James Burton began his career at age 14, playing guitar in the house band for Shreveport's famed Louisiana Hayride. While playing in Dale Hawkins' band in 1955, he wrote the music for the hit song Susie-Q and recorded it with Hawkins. In 1957, he began a nine-year run as guitarist for Ricky Nelson, including recording sessions and concert tours with Nelson and weekly appearances on the Nelson family's classic television show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. By the mid-sixties, Burton was in demand as a session player and made some recordings of his own. Among the many artists he has recorded with over the years are: Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, John Denver, Johnny Cash, George Harrison, Rosanne Cash, Frank Sinatra, Henry Mancini, The Byrds, The Everly Brothers, Tina Turner, Elvis Costello, Andy Williams, Dolly Parton, Linda Rondstat, Hank Williams, Jr., Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Dean Martin, Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Arlo Guthrie, Johnny Mathis, The Mamas and the Papas, The Mills Brothers, Herb Alpert, and many others. Elvis himself called James Burton and asked him to help put together a band for his 1969 engagement in Las Vegas. Burton was Elvis' lead guitarist in concerts for Vegas and national tours, and on many recordings, from 1969 until Elvis' death in 1977. The next long-term gig for Burton was recording and touring with John Denver for a number of years. Today, he continues to work with a wide variety of artists in the studio and on the road, and he is involved in a broad range of projects. Among guitarists James Burton has become an icon, and his influence on generations of guitar players, both the famous and the unknown, is unmistakable.
Joe Guercio, Musical Director & Conductor
Joe Guercio has enjoyed a prolific career, but he is probably best known and admired for his work with Elvis Presley. He was musical director and conductor for Elvis' concert shows from the summer of 1970 to the summer of 1977 when Elvis made his last concert appearance. Elvis was known for spontaneity and improvisation on stage and the cast had to be ready for anything. Guercio remembers "He'd just turn around and start a tune. The rhythm section knew him backwards and forwards, but when you're up there conducting a twenty-six-piece orchestra, what are you gonna do?" In describing that experience, Guercio once commented good-naturedly that conducting for Elvis was "like following a marble down concrete steps." This led to his being a target for a particular practical joker. Guercio later found his stage tux stuffed with marbles and a few hundred more rolling around in his dressing room. Along with the marbles was a note: "Follow the marble - E.P."
Guercio was musical director for the International Hotel in Las Vegas when the work with Elvis began. Along with the obvious contributions he made to Elvis' shows, including many of the triumphs of Elvis' "concert era", it was Joe Guercio who created the now almost iconic six-note theme for Elvis' stage entrances and bows. It was also Guercio who suggested that Elvis' shows open with Theme from 2001 - A Space Odyssey (Also Sprach Zarathustra). The inspiration came when Guercio and his late first wife saw the now-classic science fiction movie in a theater, for when the music began Mrs. Guercio whispered to her husband "You'd think Elvis was about to enter."
Joe Guercio first left his native Buffalo, NY as an accompanist for Patti Paige. He has lived in Las Vegas since 1967 and has been a musical director for Diana Ross, Jim Nabors, Florence Henderson, Diahann Carroll, and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, among others. His arrangement of the medley Sweet Inspiration/Where You Lead was a 1972 hit for Barbra Streisand, and his arrangement of The Way We Were/Try to Remember was a 1975 hit for Gladys Knight. Guercio's work with Natalie Cole to reunite her on stage in duet with her late father, Nat King Cole, pre-dated her famous early 1990's duet recordings and videos with Mr. Cole. Recently, Guercio accompanied blues legend B.B. King to Rome to meet Pope John Paul II and perform in the Vatican's fifth Christmas concert.
Glen D. Hardin, Piano
Glen D. Hardin grew up in Texas and made his way to Los Angeles in the fall of 1961 after leaving the U.S. Navy. By early 1962 he was playing piano at the Palomino Club and soon started touring with the Crickets.Over the years he has worked as an arranger and recording session pianist with artists such as Elvis Presley, Emmylou Harris, John Denver, Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, the Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Jim Nabors, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Sonny & Cher, k.d. lang, Roy Orbison, Linda Rondstat, Ike & Tina Turner, Cass Elliot, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Tammy Wynette and many others. He toured with Emmylou Harris for three years, the Crickets for eleven, and John Denver for sixteen. His work has taken him all over the world. His work with Elvis was from 1970 to 1976, playing live concerts with Elvis, creating some of his arrangements and being a part of numerous Elvis recordings.
Former Members of The Imperials, Male Backing Vocals
Elvis loved gospel music, particularly male gospel harmony, which was not only a major part of his gospel recordings, but also an element in the sound of much of his pop, rock and country work. The Imperials first worked with Elvis doing some of the backing vocals in the 1966 sessions for his How Great Thou Art album, which won Elvis his first Grammy Award, Best Sacred Performance for 1967. The Imperials worked on a regular basis with Elvis on stage and in the recording studio from 1969 until the latter half of 1971, beginning with his triumphant 1969 Las Vegas engagement. A major highlight of their collaboration with him was the 1971 recording (1972 release) of He Touched Me, an album that earned Elvis his second Grammy Award, Best Inspirational Performance for 1972.
Gospel legend and former Statesmen Quartet member Jake Hess founded The Imperials in 1964, putting together what he would call a "super group" in the gospel music industry. By the late sixties, they had a new look and sound, a bit on the "mod" side, which drew criticism from some circles, but the group prevailed. They sold a lot of records, enjoyed a long series of major TV guest shots, toured with country singer Jimmy Dean and appeared regularly on his weekly TV show, and the group had regular bookings in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe. And, of course, there was the special association with Elvis Presley. Over the years, the group in its various membership incarnations has released over forty albums with fourteen of their songs hitting number one, and they have racked up twelve Grammy Awards and 13 of the gospel field's Dove Awards. They were the first Christian group to perform on a Grammy Awards telecast. Their catalog of songs is one of the most enduring in all of gospel music, many of them landmark recordings that raised the standards for the gospel music industry at large. Like Elvis' other male back-up groups, The Jordanaires and The Stamps, The Imperials' current and former members are recent inductees into Gospel Music Association's Hall of Fame.
There were personnel changes within the group over the years. The members known for performing on stage with Elvis are Terry Blackwood, Greg Gordon, Armond Morales, Joe Moscheo, Jim Murray and Roger Wiles. Sherman Andrus began work with The Imperials after their time with Elvis, but joined in with the group's ongoing friendship with him. As of 2005, there is an active Imperials group with Sherman Andrus, Terry Blackwood, and Joe Moscheo.
In accommodating scheduling needs for our tour and the other professional obligations of the two groups, former Imperials and former Stamps have alternated from tour to tour as the male backing vocalists for our show since we first hit the road in 1998. In more recent engagements, members of Voice, another male vocal group that backed Elvis, have also participated.
Millie Kirkham's association with Elvis Presley began with a 1957 recording session, one that yielded, among other classics, Blue Christmas, which features some of the most unique vocal background work she and the Jordanaires ever did with the superstar. Throughout the next twenty years Kirkham's strong, clear soprano could be heard on many of Elvis' pop, rock, gospel and country recordings such as The Wonder of You, Surrender, How Great Thou Art, Polk Salad Annie, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Don't, Just Pretend, Devil in Disguise, C. C. Rider, and many others. She also sang with Elvis on movie soundtracks and appeared with him on stage in Las Vegas. Kirkham has long been a fixture in the music community in Nashville. Her credits include numerous radio and television appearances, collaborations with the Jordanaires and the Anita Kerr Singers, and recording sessions in Nashville, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Among the many artists she has recorded with are Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Burl Ives, Johnny Cash, Brenda Lee, Willie Nelson, Pete Fountain, Bob Dylan, Perry Como, Carl Perkins, Rosemary Clooney, Little Richard, Reba McIntire, Brook Benton, Tammy Wynette, Vic Damone, Paul Anka, George Jones, Patti Paige, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Eddy Arnold, Loretta Lynn and, of course, Elvis Presley.
Millie Kirkham, Soprano
Millie Kirkham was with us for our first several tour outings.
Jerry Scheff, Bass Guitar
Jerry Scheff grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, started playing tuba in grammar school and, by seventh grade, got into playing string bass. His musical bent was toward jazz and R&B. By age fifteen he was playing in clubs in his new hometown of Sacramento and back in San Francisco. As a high school senior Scheff joined the U.S. Navy and wound up in the Navy's school of music in Washington, D.C. taking a nine-month course studying theory and harmony and getting to play with some great musicians. After the course ended he stayed on to teach, moonlighting as a player in jazz clubs, then the Navy transferred him to San Diego. Some time after his service discharge Scheff moved to Los Angeles and played regularly at a club called The Sands in Watts, where a teen-aged Billy Preston often appeared doing James Brown covers. Oddly enough, bass player Scheff began his work in the L.A. recording session scene playing valve trombone. The first hit record Scheff played bass on was an album by the group The Association, including the singles Along Comes Mary and Cherish. On Mary, Scheff made a bass mistake that got left in, so the thrill of hearing his work on a radio hit was counterbalanced by his cringing every time he heard the mistake. However, a couple of years later, it was gratifying to hear an "elevator music" cover of it that had the bass player copying Scheff's part, bad note and all. A special career highlight was playing on The Doors' album LA Woman. Over the years Scheff recorded with Bobby Sherman, Tiny Tim, Johnny Mathis, Nancy Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bobby Vinton, The Everly Brothers, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Dionne Warwick, Barbra Streisand, Linda Rondstat, Judy Collins and many others. By the late sixties he crossed paths with guitarist James Burton, who remembered Scheff's work and called him when putting together the band for Elvis in 1969. Scheff worked with Elvis from 1969 to 1973 and 1975 to 1977, on stage and on a number of recordings. Reflecting on those years, Scheff says "Elvis had a big impact on my career. It was like going to school." Today, he continues to work as a session musician with a wide array of artists. A passion in recent years has been song writing. Although much of his career has been working with rock and pop greats, he still enjoys sitting in to play a little jazz every once in a while, as he says "to keep the cobwebs clear." Both of Scheff's sons, Darin and Jason, are musicians. Jason Scheff took over Pete Cetera's spot in the band Chicago.
Former Members of J.D. Sumner & The Stamps Quartet, Male Backing Vocals
The lowest vocal bass note ever recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records came from J.D. Sumner. It's only one of a long list of great moments in the life of the late musical legend. For much of his career he headed up the Stamps Quartet, one of the greatest success stories in the gospel music industry. The group was nominated for Grammy, Dove and TNN awards, and they toured the world in concert. Sumner was credited with being a major force in the formation of the Gospel Music Association, the Dove Awards and the National Quartet Convention, and for being a significant influence in leading the gospel world to even greater levels of professionalism and organization. His direction and management of the Stamps was, and continues to be, a model for many other groups.
The Stamps worked with Elvis Presley from 1971 to 1977 as the male back-up group for his concerts in Las Vegas and on national tour, and they worked with him on numerous recordings. (The Imperials backed Elvis from 1969 to 1971, and the Jordanaires were Elvis' male back-up group in the 50's and 60's.) The most recent configuration of J.D. Sumner & The Stamps was comprised of: J.D. Sumner (bass), Ed Enoch (lead), both of whom worked with Elvis from 1971 to 1977, and Ed Hill (baritone), who worked with Elvis in the latter two years of that period, and Rick Strickland (tenor) who joined in the early 1990s and is a lifelong Elvis fan. Other members during the Elvis years included Bill Baize, Donnie Sumner, Larry Strickland, Dave Rowland, current record industry executive Tony Brown, and current Oak Ridge Boys member Richard Sterban.
Sumner's relationship with Elvis long pre-dated the Stamps' employment with him. Elvis, as a teenager with sideburns and loud clothes, frequently attended the monthly gospel sings at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis. He became a regular fixture backstage, meeting and talking with the singers he admired so much. One of those singers was J.D. Sumner, then part of the Blackwood Brothers. Sumner and the others came to expect to see Elvis whenever they were in town. One night, the kid wasn't there, so when they played Memphis again, Sumner asked Elvis why he hadn't been there. Elvis confided that he simply had not had the money for a ticket. From then on, Sumner got Elvis in free through the stage door. Said Sumner, "The next thing I knew, Elvis was letting me in free through his stage door!"
With great success J.D. Sumner & the Stamps continued to make recordings and television appearances, and they constantly toured in concert, performing gospel music as only they could. They also continued to have very strong ties to the Elvis phenomenon through their friendship with Graceland/EPE and their loyal following of Elvis fans. The Stamps, including former members, are 1998 inductees into Gospel Music Association's Hall of Fame.
J.D. Sumner & The Stamps participated in the March 1998 tour of Elvis-The Concert in America. The next booking for J.D. and his group for our show was January/February 1999, our first European tour. Sadly, J.D. died in November 1998, but the remaining Stamps fulfilled the tour engagement. Ed Enoch, Ed Hill and Rick Strickland then formed a new group known as Ed Enoch & The Golden Covenant. Strickland has since left that group. Enoch and Hill, along with new members Butch Owens and Royce Taylor, toured with our show from time to time. In 2003, Ed Enoch acquired the trademark rights to the name Stamps Quartet and renamed his group accordingly. Ed Hill had to leave the group due to illness. Enoch now has an all-new group of guys with him as The Stamps Quartet.
Alternating with The Stamps Quartet on our tours have been members of The Imperials and Voice, two male vocal groups that backed Elvis. Former Stamps members from the Elvis days other than Enoch and Hill also participate from time to time.
The soulful harmonies of the Sweet Inspirations have enriched recordings by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and other legends. They have collaborated with writers and producers such as Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Hal David. They've had success with R&B, gospel and pop recordings of their own, most notably their first hit single Sweet Inspiration, which gave the group their name in the late sixties and earned them a Grammy nomination. It was that song that caught the attention of Elvis Presley, who signed them to provide backing vocals and be an opening act for his record-breaking 1969 Las Vegas engagement, his official return to the live concert stage after his triumphant '68 TV special and the end of his Hollywood movie contract obligations. No audition was required. The Sweet Inspirations met him when they arrived for the first rehearsals for the '69 engagement. The "Sweets" worked with Elvis in Vegas, on his national concert tours and on recordings from 1969 to 1977. Myrna Smith, Sylvia Shemwell, Estelle Brown and Cissy Houston (mother of superstar Whitney) were the members when the group first worked with Elvis. Houston left to go solo after the first gig with Elvis. Among those to fill the vacant spot was Anne Williams, who joined them in 1970 for a short time. Brown, Shemwell and Smith soon settled on being a trio. The three stayed together and worked with Elvis until the end of his life. They eventually went their separate ways professionally. In the early 1990's they started performing together again.
The Sweet Inspirations, Female Backing Vocals
Myrna Smith recalls that first meeting with Elvis, "He walked in and had on a chocolate colored suit. He had a tan, and he looked absolutely gorgeous. He walked over to us and introduced himself - like we didn't know who he was: 'Hi, I'm Elvis Presley.' (Cissy literally fell off her stool.) From then on, whenever he'd see us, it was always a kiss." Smith remembers his talent, "He had so much energy. His voice was a lot more remarkable than it ever came off on record...He was just a much better singer than could ever be captured...Some great singers' voices are just too big. Elvis' was like that."
Ronnie Tutt, Drums
Ronnie Tutt is originally from Dallas, Texas. He studied music at the University of North Texas, played gigs in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and held staff positions (drums and vocals) at two "jingle" studios. In 1963 he moved to Memphis and played with some of that city's great rhythm sections during an exciting time in Memphis music history. In 1969 he auditioned for Elvis, who was putting together a band for his Las Vegas engagement. He got the job. Beyond talent as a drummer, what seemed to put him above the competition was his way of connecting with Elvis - watching him, making eye contact, anticipating where Elvis was going with a song. Their "musical communication" was a key part of making a great show. From 1969 to 1977 he was Elvis' drummer on stage and on a number of recordings. For a long time Ronnie Tutt was a studio musician in Los Angeles, later relocating to Nashville. His work with Elvis is his most celebrated, but his list of recording credits with other legends of pop, rock, and country music is long. For several years he was part of the Jerry Garcia Band, doing albums and extensive touring. Since 1981 he has been a member of the Neil Diamond Band, recording and touring around the world. Tutt is endorsed by DW Drums, Paiste Cymbals and Calato/Regal Tip drumsticks.
Voice was a trio formed in 1973 by former Stamps member Donnie Sumner and former Statesmen members Sherrill Nielson and Tim Baty. Long story short, when a gig Elvis tried to get for them with Tom Jones didn't work out, Elvis signed them to serve as an additional back-up group for him professionally and to sing gospel with him in private when the mood struck. The group worked with him from 1973 into 1975. Nielson, who had worked with Elvis on sessions as a member of The Imperials in 1966, continued with Elvis through 1977. Later, Nielson changed his first name from Sherrill to Shaun. All three members of the former group Voice continue with their individual careers. Perodically, each of these gentleman joins our group of male singers for tours of our show.