Jul 03 2008
We had a nice surprise from Darlene Tompkins whom we featured in our first issue this year. Ms. Tompkins is an actress/stunt woman now turned author. Darlene was in two Elvis Presley films and they became good friends. She had to call us about Andy Seymour who is not an impersonator. He is an excellent singer who doesn’t parade around in jumps suits and capes. Andy has a real love for the Lord and for Elvis and out of this a great appreciation for Presley’s Gospel music. Andy’s program is titled The Gospel According to Elvis, appropriately enough, and we set up an interview as soon as we heard about his mission. It is a unique way of introducing people to a genre’ they may not be familiar with. Gospel music
Ed.: We want to get to the big question right away. Your bio says you were familiar with the music of Elvis as a boy. You surely have a mission in presenting Gospel music as performed by Elvis Presley. What prompted you to devote your life to The Gospel According To Elvis?
Andy: I discovered Elvis’ music around seven years old, on the car radio. He was singing How Great Thou Art, and I commented to my folks that I recognized that song. To hear a song on the radio that I sang in church was very exciting to me.
As I grew older, my interest in Elvis remained. When I began playing music professionally, I put him on the back burner for a while as my interest in music continued. I would always go back to my Elvis collection though, and was regularly encouraged to “do an Elvis show”. Sadly for me, I had seen too many Elvis shows over the years to be put in the same category, so I stayed away from the idea. I love all his big hits, but there’s this pressure to look and move like him if you want to sing his songs, and I didn’t want to do that.
Finally the time was right for me, but I decided to do something different and dignified as a tribute to Elvis that was also quite unique. Elvis was passionate about Gospel music, and this was one of the reasons why I chose this direction. He truly believed in what he sang when he performed these songs. He was jaded later in his career, but he always found solace in Gospel. Nothing soothes the soul like singing Gospel music, music with lyrics that speak of hope and love.
The Gospel According to Elvis is a two-edged sword for me. It’s a way for me to perform the music of Elvis without jump suits and karate kicks, and it’s giving me a chance to give back my God-given talents to an audience with a performance that means something. I have been a professional musician and singer my entire adult life. It’s nice to be able to share my gifts and possibly help change someone’s life. Nothing gives me more joy than being approached after a performance by someone with tears in their eyes explaining how they were moved during the show. I’m always thrilled by this because that truly means something, it has a message.
Ed.: You were a traveling “preacher’s kid” which can be an adventure in itself. What were those travels like?
Andy: I was born in Australia in the mid sixties to Christian parents, and my dad had recently graduated from Bible College. His passion to preach the Gospel saw us traveling a lot. I got to see a great deal of Australian country and farming communities in my travels with my folks.
Many folks believe that “The Church” is a building, but it isn’t in my world. “The Church” is the people. You can worship anywhere and have a church service. I’ve experienced just about every variation of a church service you can imagine. We’ve had services with a few farmers sitting under a tree, we’ve had services in cow milking sheds, in barns, services on the beach with baptisms; and musty old circus marquees in a field. Those “tent crusades” were always thrilling as a boy. Farmers and country folks would drive from far and wide to attend these services. The music at these meetings was always exciting with a large spontaneous band consisting of anyone that brought their instrument! There would be guitars, drums, accordions, harmonicas, single string basses made from a broomstick and a packing crate, and even pianos, somehow! There were always folks who would get up and sing, and I recall one craggy-faced farmer with a guitar singing The Old Rugged Cross. Even as a boy, I remember the impact this had on me, as this toothless old man sang with tears running down his face.
The downside to being a “P.K.” (Preacher’s Kid) was the high expectations that were put on you. While all the other kids were running amok after the service, I was expected to set an example. Sadly, my leadership qualities combined with my spirit of adventure, would have me leading a pack of kids into misadventure somewhere. This always ended with my dad saying through pursed lips, “Go and sit in the car”. I lost count how many times I sat in the back seat after a service, due to the mischief I’d caused.
Ed.: Your singing is very disciplined. Did you take any musical training. Were you influenced by other singers than Elvis?
Andy: Well, growing up with so many musical influences really fired a passion in me.
I was always fascinated with Black American Gospel singers who visited Australia and would go to every service they sang at while here. Often, these visiting Evangelists would do four or five nights in a row at the same church, and I’d be right there at all of them. There’s nothing quite like listening to a Gospel Soul singer singing from their soul. That is where my passion for Elvis’ Gospel songs also stems from. He’s clearly influenced by Black Gospel music and he sings with soul from his soul. Most of Elvis’ Gospel songs are revamped traditional old hymns and at a young age, I discovered I knew them all. I somehow felt an affinity with him, with my Gospel roots and upbringing.
Also, having grown up in a small Australian country town, I was limited to just one TV station, so I listened to the radio mostly. I grew up listening to so many artists all coming from that little local station; Johnny Cash, Wilson Pickett, Glen Campbell, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra and Elvis just to name a few.
Looking back now, I was always interested in songs and artists that told a story or meant something. Perhaps I began to understand music at an early age, but I seemed to pick songs that would become classics by singers that would endure time. I really listened to those singers and began to form my likes and dislikes with styles.
I never had any singing training, but I’d like to think that being born into a Gospel music environment and singing my entire life, more than compensates for any training that I missed.
Andy: Darlene and Bob are just beautiful people. I met them when my wife and I attended an Elvis convention in Las Vegas. They were a calming raft of normality in a sea of insincerity. They have been a great source of help and inspiration for me in this country, and I am very grateful to them.
I began performing in church services from a very early age, around six or seven years old, singing on the pulpit with Sunday School groups, and being involved in a puppet show outreach that my folks had started for kids. It just seemed normal to me to be on the pulpit singing in a service. I had been playing drums since this early age too, and began playing in worship services and outreaches around twelve years old. This was a big thrill for me and I was quite a mature player for my age.
It was also at this age I began getting offers to play in bands. I was always a large framed lad and I looked much older than I was. So, at just twelve years old I began my professional career playing drums in both Gospel and secular bands. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I really decided to sing. As I mentioned earlier, I steered away from anything Elvis for many years despite pleas from friends and family. I finally decided to perform the Gospel music of Elvis, and have only been doing that for about seven years now.
Ed.: You don’t try to be flamboyant like some who try to impersonate Elvis. You are more genuine. Do you have problems with critics who think otherwise?
Andy: Ooh yes, I get criticized constantly for not being “authentic” enough with my dress and my lack of Elvis moves. I have no objection to the guys that are recreating the Elvis experience in concert out there; some of them are incredible, and many are my friends. But, that isn’t what I am about.
Although I have the hair and sideburns, which are relevant to my show, I’m not an impersonator and I get quite offended when called one. I guess I’m a tribute artists, for want of a better description. I’m also more than just an actor playing a role. It’s much deeper than that for me because I really believe in what I am doing and it isn’t a case of being “just another gig” for me.
I conceived this show a long time ago, and co-wrote it with a friend of mine, who also directed it in Australia. This show is a culmination of a life-long passion with a man who gave the world so much of himself, and tried very hard to walk the fine line between serving man and serving God. Sadly, he couldn’t do it, as none of us could in that situation.
Elvis performed songs of worship in his concerts, but he could only do a couple for fear of turning his diehard fans away. And this is what my show is about. It looks at various points in Elvis’ life and how he coped with them through his faith and his Gospel music. It’s a very powerful and moving show that keeps God as the central theme, without it getting too “religious” for those fans who just want to hear great Elvis songs. It’s a fine line I’ll tell ya!
I don’t worry about the constant criticism from “experts”, I’m too busy working. I have just returned from a six week 22-concert tour of Australia, and all of them were sold out to packed houses. What a wonderful way to share my gift!
Ed.: You definitely are an international star, which is unusual for your specialty. What kind of an experience has that been?
Andy: It’s wonderful! This show has a greater cause than just entertainment value and I believe that this is why. I love to meet and greet people in the theater foyer after performances, and I get constant remarks about how I must be a Christian to sing those songs the way I did. That’s a wonderful compliment to me. God gave me my talent and this is my way of sharing it.
Ed.: Have you performed at Graceland and met with any members of the Presley family?
Andy: Sadly I haven’t. I’ve been to Graceland five times but never to perform there or meet any of the Presleys. I have met several of his former musicians and entourage and received some compliments that are dear to me.
Ed.: How would you sum up the influence Elvis had on Gospel music and those who love it?
Andy: At the time, Elvis took hold of old Gospel songs and made them cool. His passion saw him record them with his own style, and he basically turned them into pop songs.
Andy: Elvis was a ball of energetic fury that most parents hated, and certainly not a Gospel singer. But when Elvis recorded people took notice. He introduced a legion of people, a new generation, to a genre’ that they likely would never have listened to.
When he sang Peace in the Valley on the Ed Sullivan show, the switchboard was jammed with people wanting to know where they could get the song. Consequently, they rushed out a five-song album of Gospel songs that sold millions instantly. As his career moved on, he released further gospel albums and won three Grammys for them.
Those songs and arrangements are still going strong today, and I still get goose bumps listening to some of them.
It must be added that Andy Seymour is also a songwriter. In addition to the stage presentations described in this article, he has hosted shows on television, had his own television show and has had minor roles in films.