EIN: Hi from sunny Australia, it’s hot, blue sky and we’re in the middle of the hot summer here.
STUMP: Wow – it’s cold in Vegas right now. It’s usually real warm in July and August, that was when Elvis used to come here. It was real warm when I first came out here – I almost died.
EIN: Let’s talk about your background. So you’re from Washington, right?
Stump: Washington DC, it’s a big change living in Vegas but I don’t miss the snow though. One of my friends, Gregory Gaskin, wants me to come back next week I think for, like, a reunion
EIN: A reunion of the old gang, he was in your band wasn’t he?
Stump: Yeah – Gregory Gaskin, he was the guitar player with the Sweet Inspirations. There’s a photograph of Elvis and him, Gerald Johnson, he was our bass-player, and myself standing together. Elvis is hugging me!
EIN: So where did you get the nickname ‘Stump’ from, where you always ‘Stump’?
Stump: Yeah from Washington DC. When I was a kid I was short, like a tree stump – it just stuck with me - most know me as Stump rather than Jerome – they don’t use it, don’t know my real name!
EIN: I believe you played with some truly great performers in the 60s. You played with Sam Cooke didn’t you and some other great Soul singers?
Stump: Yeah, I played with Billy Stewart and do you remember Dee Clark, I recorded with him?
EIN: Dee Clark yeah, he recorded the great song ‘Raindrops’.
Stump: I recorded ‘I’m Going Back To Him’ with him. Like I used to work with people like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding shows, Jackie Wilson, this was like you’d play the Apollo Theatre or the Howard Theatre or the Regal Theatre for 20K – this is all the places you’d play where the stars played – they were big stars at the time.
EIN: The Apollo Theatre is fantastic icon isn’t it and hard on performers?
Stump: Yeah, I mean if you can play there you can play anywhere – because they will throw eggs at you, if you’re no good they’ll chuck stuff at you!
Oh yeah – I’ve been though all of it – shows with Jerry Butler, I played with Cuba Gooding Snr, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, The Del Vikings, The Flamingos. I played with a so many people I can’t remember half the things I played on throughout my life!
(EIN Note: Cuba Gooding Snr, the actors’ father, was the lead singer of the group The Main Ingredient best known for their 1972 hit "Everybody Plays the Fool," who also worked with another Elvis favourite, Jackie Wilson. - And Click here to listen to ‘I’m Going Back To Him’ on YouTube
EIN: So how did you end up working with The Sweets Inspirations band in the first place – where did you meet them?
Stump: I was playing with Martha Reeves & The Vandellas and I think it was Greg Gaskin who said they needed a drummer and told The Sweets about me I guess and I got the gig – but I never got hired & never got fired!
EIN: What, you never got hired and never got fired, no contract you just played?
Stump: Yeah, I Just played with them for 12 years! Started before the Las Vegas Elvis shows. We were going overseas to Germany, Italy, London, Greece, Spain – going on all over that way to perform and stuff. Soul was big in Europe at the time. And after Elvis I was playing with Ricky Nelson’s shows.
EIN: So do you remember the very first time you met Elvis – do you remember him walking in the room or do you saying hello to him?
Stump: I never met him until 69 when I was in the show. The Sweets went out there a couple of times before but they didn’t take the band. I was in a rehearsal – I didn’t meet him – I just saw Elvis at the rehearsal and you know, he just walked up one time – I’d worked with him for 6 months I think – he walked up one day and Elvis said, "Hey Stump – how you doin?" and shook my hand.
I was shocked that he knew me, I didn’t know that the man knew me – knew my name & stuff.
You know, Ricky Nelson was good but he couldn’t touch EP.... I mean that man Elvis was something else! When I first seen him - I’m not gay at all - but when I first seen him I thought man – this man is really cool cat, he was so clean and slim – like that and just a neat cat man!
EIN: Did you often go to the parties after the shows?
Stump: As I said, Elvis was a cool cat. Although I was just a drummer if Elvis had a party he’d ask, Why you didn’t come along?" We had people like Ann-Margret & Red Fox and all them. I met all those people and Elvis never said ‘just coz you’re a drummer you can’t mingle with them’, he said ‘You come up and enjoy yourself!’ Elvis would come over and talk to us – stuff like that. We got to meet people like Raquel Welch, and at the time I played with Wilson Picket for a while.
EIN: The great ‘Wicked Picket’ I met the man, an amazing performer!
Stump: Yeah, the Picket was wicked! He had a temper but he was a good person.
EIN: Tell me about more about the Madison 1977 Elvis show where you plays drums for the TCB Band, the soundboard recording has just been discovered and released after all these years!
Stump: That was a scary day. I was very, very nervous, I didn’t know what to do – but I told everybody that Elvis talked to me that timing is everything! Why he had me to do that I do not know - but he came and asked me. Elvis came up to me and said, "You can do it Stump" – and I’m looking at him saying ‘This man’s got more faith in me than I have in myself’!
EIN: It is funny because you can hear the difference in your drumming because Ronnie Tutt played the concert more like it was a strip show - he really thumped the rock’n’roll like crazy behind Elvis - whereas you’ve got a much more soulful style of playing.
Stump: Well, Ronnie Tutt was Elvis’ drummer. He studied Elvis, he rehearsed. I didn’t have no rehearsal – I just had to go up on the stage and play – and that was so scary man
(Right: 'Stump' Monroe playing behind Elvis at the Madison 1977 concert)
EIN: So how long before the show did you actually know you were going to do play drums with Elvis?
Stump: I did the Joe Guercio Orchestra part, then the Stamps Quartet, I played drums for all that stuff, I always played for that stuff - and then The Sweet Inspirations performance. Then it was Jackie Kahane and then in the intermission, that was when I found out right there, ‘Elvis wants to talk to you’!
EIN: Oh my god!
Stump: And it was Elvis telling me, "You can do it Stump", and I wanted to say ‘NOOooooo’
EIN: No way. That’s no warning at all!
Stump: To see Elvis’ show ok, but to play Elvis’ show – have myself try and do what Ronnie Tutt’s been doing! I mean we’re two different drummers. I’m an R’n’B drummer and Ronnie was a different type. Ronnie was a really good drummer, but I play with a whole lot of different soulful type feel.
But I’m gonna tell you – it scared me to death. When I seen them people and it was like the ‘2001’ introduction started to play, I wanted to tell them so bad ‘NO, I don’t want to play’ - but you know what, I had to do my job!
EIN: But of course you’d already done two shows because you’d already played with the Guercio Orchestra and The Sweets and so you must have been feeling like "I’ve finished now and I can go back to the bar and watch Elvis" - but now you’ve got to play the main event!
Stump: Yeah, after you’ve finished your regular performance, your mind goes onto "relax"! After I did all that my mind went on relax. And then Elvis dropped that on me in the dressing room and that’s when I found! Elvis asked, "What drums you wanna’ use, Ronnie Tutt’s or yours?"
Man, I could never take his place. I respect Ronnie as a drummer and the thought of trying to play like him & have Elvis feel comfortable on the stage, it scared me to death. And it wasn’t me, it wasn’t me playing! Like I tell everybody – it was The Lord. It was the Lord – he put them sticks in my hand, but he did that show.
Elvis told me to watch him. Elvis was the entertainer – you watch him closely and you can get through a whole lot if you watch him, really watch him.
EIN: And then Elvis does that great line where he says, "Leave the driving to Stump" and he tells the whole crowd of over 10,000 people he’s leaving the driving to you! So you’d better have the Lord with you that night!
Stump: Yeah, well see at the time I didn’t even hear that! I’m telling you – I didn’t hear that – I was so focused on the show.
When you hear thing like that and you are put in the spotlight like that, well, when I got through the show I said ‘Thank God, Thank you Lord ‘, I mean I was that much frightened. My foot, my high-hat, my drum was moving by itself – I was shaking so bad!
(Right: Elvis in Madison,"Leave the driving to Stump")
EIN: No doubt ‘cos you would had had no rehearsal!
Stump: You’re right. Ronnie had rehearsal with him, Ronnie played every night with Elvis!
EIN: So what do you think of the Madison concert now you have finally heard it as a soundboard recording?
Stump: Man, I could have done so much better if I’d had a rehearsal - but I did good, but I could have been better! I put down myself, I’m my worst critic, but all this happens for a reason and timing had a whole lot to do with it.
EIN: But you hadn’t played Elvis’ set since 1975, you’d only been there watching it – so I reckon it’s pretty damn good! What was it like listening to it again in that detail, it must be very strange?
Stump: Without any rehearsal it’s a tough call, I tell you. I don’t ever want to do it again – I thank The Lord that he gave me the opportunity but that took so much from me.
To be very honest with you – when I listened to it I really studied it and tore myself up! I could be ‘rollin’ this part here, I got ahead a little too fast or something – you know, that’s because I like things to be right – that’s all it is. And I shouldn’t have been expecting I could go in & play exactly like Ronnie Tutt did. But overall I did very, very well. Half the things, I don’t remember doing those songs – I don’t remember Elvis doing those particular songs! I mean, he did that song ‘One Night’ which was a complete surprise.
EIN: Yeah, although Elvis’ set-list was fairly fixed, you didn’t necessarily know what song he was going to do next. You must have been hoping, ‘Man I hope he plays every song I know’.
Stump: That wasn’t even on my mind, that’s what I ‘m saying - I was in a daze. Whatever Elvis did, I had to do! You know, wasn’t no reason I could say, ‘Hey Elvis, I don’t know this one!’ But some of them songs I didn’t know too well!
Stump Monroe, with Charlie Hodge and Elvis, Madison, June 24, 1977
EIN: Man, you did a great job if that’s true! So was your drum solo the Billy Preston, ‘Will it Go Round In Circles’ a song The Sweets played in their set?
Stump: No! We didn’t rehearse any of that or what people were going to do! Everything was right "then and there." Everything you were hearing was what we were making up right then. We just looked at each other and said "Will it go round in circles"? The TCB Band was on it, they were all top musicians – you could do anything with those guys and they’d catch it – shows what qualified players they are. The solo fitted right with the song because I wanted the people to keep clapping and going with what I was doing – you know what I mean? And The Sweets were singing along, I think that was Sylvia – afterwards Elvis said,‘That's good man’! – he liked it!
EIN: How cool was that! You can hear Elvis giving some appreciative "Yeahs" during the solo too! Elvis would certainly have never heard his band playing it before!
Stump: Just remember, I said it wasn’t me playing – it was the Lord playing.
EIN: You played twice before for Elvis, once in 1971 & once in 1975 when Ronnie Tutt had food poisoning.
Stump: I played 3 times for Ronnie, but it didn’t mean nothing because each time was different. Like I say, I can’t explain the way your head is at when you’re doing that – I just can’t explain it because I don’t know myself – I don’t know how I did it – I just watched Elvis!
EIN: And I understand that there were years, 3 years between each time you played with the TCB Band and each time you must have thought "Thank God, I’m not going to have to do that again!’
Stump; (laughing) Who you telling!? You took the words right out of my mouth! I thought, ‘Wow, I did it this one time" and I never did think it would be part of Elvis history!
I just thought I was doing my job and getting on with the show and doing the best job I could do ‘cos I respected Elvis and loved him like an Icon – he didn’t treat me like he was an Icon, he treated me like he was a friend.
EIN: The very first time you played for Elvis in the TCB Band was in 1971 – do you remember the shock of playing for him for the very first time – you must have thought what the hell is going on now?
Stump: To be honest – it was all 3 times! All three times was a shock. I’m the type of person that after I got through the main part of the show my mind went on relax. It’s like ‘get it out your head now I’ve done my job’. Then when Elvis comes up & tells me I’ve gotta play I’m like, ‘Good Lord, what are you doing to me?’ You know, if you know you gotta do something you prepare yourself & save the energy – I didn’t save no energy! My Drums were coming off and then you gotta go right back up and play again! That first time The Colonel talked to me about it. Both times Elvis told me ‘just watch him’.
Ronnie Tutt had another one up on me, he took Karate with Elvis so he knew the moves. The only thing that I do with Elvis was sometimes we’d go up in the suite and he’d practice Karate on me. I would stand there and he’d do his moves and stuff you know – but it’s different when the hand is going here, the legs are going there – Ronnie knew that.
EIN: They always talk about the fact that guitarists James Burton & John Wilkinson were there for every Elvis concert but I presume you were probably there for nearly every Elvis concert as well weren’t you?
Stump: I didn’t miss one! You see, that’s what I’m saying, everything was timing. The Lord made me watch those concerts like that and study Ronnie Tutt on those drums and I respect everybody on that show. James Burton, and you know one of the greatest Jerry Scheff, what a great bass player! John Wilkinson, all these cats were top notch in what they were doing – and I enjoyed they taught me a whole lot – I worked with them for nine years and I learn a whole lot! And from everybody to be honest – I learnt a whole lot from Guercio and his directing and how he does things.
And of course The Sweets, some of the best girls I’ve ever worked with in my life!
EIN: How sad that all these great people – they all seem to be disappearing so fast – Myrna Smith dying recently and Lamar Fike the other day.
Stump: I heard about Lamar and how awful that Myrna just left and Sylvia left. You know, all of them passing on – to be honest I’m getting so old I don’t have any more family on. My family is gone, I’m getting up to 67 years old and still playing and saying to myself, ‘Stump, when you gonna stop – you gonna kill yourself?’ But you know, the drums are what’s keeping me alive!
EIN: But if you enjoy it, you gotta do it – you know that!
Stump: Jerry Butler and Wilson Picket they are the people I started out with – worked on shows with and I’ve been out there for a while – just when you start getting old – things start happening to you – you don’t have the stamina you used to have, you get arthritis in your hands and stuff – you know – its just part of age.
EIN: I guess you’ve just got to look at DJ Fontana who’s like 20 years older than you and he’s still doing it!
Stump: He’s still doing it? Hey, being a drummer – its one of the hardest jobs in the band – you got to drive the band, you’ve got to keep the time – it’s a real physical act. But it helps to keep your mind going, work your mind, and your legs! You know I’m still playing with a group here in Vegas – an RnB group – doing like the Platters, Temptations, Wilson Picket – we do all that stuff. The group came from the original group The Flamingos and is called ‘A Touch of Silk’.
EIN: So if people are in Vegas they can see you play?
Stump: Yeah, but the work is still so down here in Vegas – since the Mob left and they got the corporation stuff it’s like no real entertainment. Vegas used to be known as Entertainment Capital – I used to get through with the shows with Elvis & I’d go out to another lounge at 2 or 4 in the morning to hear music – now they don’t have it – you can’t even find a live band no more.
EIN: So when you joined The Sweets and you were playing with Elvis that must have been quite strange ‘cos Elvis was coming off all those mid 60’s movies – I mean he was making bad music, the soundtrack albums were terrible – if you were playing with Otis & Wilson Picket, you must have thought 'what the hell am I doing going to play with The sweets and with Elvis'?
Stump: No, you know, if you don’t keep your mind open to everything and learn from everyone you run into, you don’t grow in the world – you stay just a certain way.
I’m a black man coming from Washington DC, I had to deal with people from Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and everybody in that show. I’m not lying to you everybody in that show got along with each other – everybody in that show got along – and all from different places.
EIN: In the past, some of the tabloids have always been trying to do the ‘Elvis was a Racist’ story or some sort of crap like that.
Stump: That man Elvis, how could he be a racist? If he was a racist he wouldn’t be eating black people’s food, have a black person cooking for him. Nor would he have had black people on his concerts first of all, because he would have had to think about what the prejudiced people might have thought about the show. Elvis was down to earth, in fact I almost got beaten up on the tour because some black guys wanted to jump on me coz I was working with Elvis!
EIN: Is that true?
Stump: That’s true man. I looked at them like they was crazy! People are so ignorant for some reason – just look around at what this man did – Elvis didn’t have to have The Sweet Inspirations in his show – he could have got anybody he wanted – he didn’t have to have me play drums in his show – could have got anybody he wanted!
EIN: That’s what Myrna said when she started playing with Elvis, she discovered that he had this gospel and black r’n’b background and Elvis wanted to combine all these kind of music within his show.
Stump: That’s right. The Sweets even used to teach him some of the dance steps! The way Elvis moves a little bit and you know the way he always joked with them on stage. And if people think he was racist… you know for him to give me that spot to play with him 3 times! I can see Elvis trying me out one time and thinking ‘I don’t like that guy playing with me’ and I wouldn’t have been mad at Elvis – but he asked for me 3 times – so I must have been ok behind him and with no rehearsal!
EIN: I’ve seen some photos of you recently with Dick Grob, do you ever see any of the others or keep in touch with people like Glen D Hardin?
Stump: Well I have the guy’s numbers. I saw the ‘Elvis In Concert’ show in Vegas with the TCB Band and I was sitting there watching it. It was cool, I wonder how they do that – they did a fantastic job – but not the same as the real deal. Elvis – man, go see him every night and witness something different every night – you see what I’m saying?
I was watching the people on the stage and thinking how old everybody’s getting and after it was over I went up to the stage and Glen Hardin noticed I was in the audience and so they pulled from the floor up to the stage and I went and hung out with Glen D, Ronnie and all of them for a while
EIN: They often said that Elvis liked to sing some Gospel sessions after the shows and sing with J.D. and The Sweets – were you there for some of those?
Stump: Yeah – I was up there when they did that – Elvis loved Gospel, he did, that was his passion. It was very special, just hanging around with Elvis taking it easy – and singing – he loved singing.
Elvis was a hell of a performer – I didn’t know how good he was when I first got with him but after you see a person for years and years you – I even started wiggling my legs like him!! But seriously, the stage was his domain.
EIN: What did your family & friends think of you playing with Elvis for all those years?
Stump: Oh, they loved it. Funny though, as in fact it wasn’t such a big thing to my family, they’re down to earth people. I’m a "Drummer" so they still treated me like ‘Jerome the kid’ still coming up with a slimy nose!
Elvis was the biggest icon in the world, but I didn’t really know how big he was or what I had done playing drums with him until recently. My friend Rick, he said "Stump, you don’t realise what you did?" – I still don’t realise – I still think I’m an average drummer and feel like an average person!
EIN: You played shows to 50,000 seater stadiums – you played really big shows. It must be incredible when you walk on stage and you realise that you’re in a stadium they’re looking at you, the man behind the drums.
Stump: Like I’m telling you, I didn’t even notice, I just did the show. When it was time for me to perform I tried to perform and give it 110% - and all those shows that I played, I can’t remember everything that went on there. Some people tell me what Elvis was saying – but I didn’t even hear, I was in a trance. I knew what I had to do and I tried to do it – and the Lord came in and did it. Now I can’t believe that people like yourself want to call me and talk to me about stuff that I did.
EIN: Recently that must have been a shock for you to hear that Myrna Smith passed away.
Stump: Oh, she was such a good person. I didn’t realise she was that sick until I heard she’d gone to the hospital some place overseas. Myrna was going through some suffering. I kept hearing she was in the hospital and then out of the hospital. It was so sad. I’ve been through deaths .. I don’t go to funerals - you need to remember the positives about people.
EIN: The Madison concert you played with Elvis was his third last concert and then suddenly he died. Was that a real shock to you or did you see the deterioration of him in 1977?
Stump: Well, I’m going to be very honest about this. Two or three years before Elvis died, I used to shake Elvis’ hand before we’d go on all the time and his hand was normal, sometimes. But sometimes it was bloated up real big. I felt something, I felt Elvis was not well. I used to tell people, ‘He’s not well’. Then I’d see a bodyguard go up onstage and help pick him up and take him off, which wasn’t good. I used to bodyguard once or twice for Elvis, just to do something and help out.
I think he was going downhill, perhaps two years or three years before he died. That’s what I felt – but he kept on doing those the shows!
EIN: How did you find out Elvis had died?
Stump: We all was up on a plane going to Portland Maine for the next concert and when we landed at some airport – someone came out and said ‘Elvis is dead’. We looked at him and said ‘Come on, don’t be playing like that’ they said, ‘No, he’s dead and I’m not lying.’
We got back on the plane and I don’t think we even said goodbye to each other, the show people, we were so in shock. It took me two years to realise that man was dead – if anyone could pull that off, Elvis could – it took me two years just to realise he was dead. A whole lot of memories.
The fans made Elvis bigger than God almost. That man couldn’t come out, he didn’t know who his friends were. I mean how can you know who friends are with all that money and you being Elvis Presley? It’s a big burden to carry. Any place in this world and they know who he is – I mean, Elvis is so big --- that’s the reason you’re talking to me – I’m just a drummer – I don’t think I did nothing, I just did my job.
EIN: I hear rumours that you might be going on tour over in Europe with ‘The Original Elvis Tribute Show’ next year. The band that’s got Duke Bardwell in it and other Elvis contacts.
Stump: Yeah, we’re working on something about getting me over there next year. I’m looking forward to it. Duke Bardwell, I remember he took over from Jerry Scheff for a while. There wasn’t that many people that Elvis had in the band. I remember Tony Brown took Glen D’s place and there was David Briggs. I haven’t seen Duke in, oh man, I can’t even remember. But that would be fun to go over there and play with those guys.
EIN: There’s a story I read that you shared your room with J D Sumner when you were on tour, is that true?
Stump: No, not with J.D. - he had his own room. But we were great friends and hung out and partied and all that together. And that man’s a very big tall man.. you should have seen the two of us together – it’s like Mutt & Jeff! (EIN note – the old cartoon series). He used to call me Mr Munroe and I’d call him Mr Sumner! We’d always sit at the back of the plane and stuff, we just got along. We took a liking to each other and he even came to Washington DC to visit me.
JD, the Stamps, all of them, all the cats with the show, Ed Bonja, the helping-hands that set up the equipment – to the bodyguards, Mr Diskin, all of them were nice people and we never had a misunderstanding with none of them.
On those tours, they’re hard work dashing from one city to another every night. They’re not easy. You have to agree with things. Of course we used to play jokes on each other, Jerry Scheff used to do play jokes on me all the time! He was my boy, him & Glen D!
EIN: So what did Jerry do, what’s your favourite funny memory of what Jerry did on tour?
Stump: Oh I remember him one morning tricking me into eating a large amount of butter! I thought it was ice cream – you see that butter that looks like ice cream? Well, I came down one morning running late and Jerry said, "Hey, Stump, do you want some ice cream?" And I went over there and stuck a spoon in there and put a mouthful of butter in my mouth and they started laughing!! That was funny, and I said ‘hey, that’s ok’ because we did stuff like that. I mean, J.D. would be asleep and I’d go into his room & throw a bucket of ice on him! That’s how tight everybody was!
EIN: Stump, you’ve got some fabulous memories and thanks for sharing them with us.
Stump; Yeah, I played shows behind all those people - most of them now gone. But all that was is timing, right place at the right time. I told my Mum I wanted to play drums – I taught myself – I wish I could read music ‘cos I’d be doing heavier things than what I’m doing now – that’s my fault!
EIN: We’re happy you’re still playing. And fans should make sure they look you up in Vegas if they are there – and I know you’ll have an amazing time when you get onto the ‘Original Tribute Tour’, fans will love seeing you again.
Stump; It’s been good talking - (Laughing) I’m amazed that some people know me, even over there in Australia!
Interview by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN February 2011 - DO NOT COPY.
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WITH VERY SPECIAL THANKS to Rick Crofts.