Larry Strickland Is Back in the Studio — with Jillian Cardarelli — After Wife Naomi Judd's Death (Exclusive)

The country artist invited Strickland to contribute vocals to her new song "If I Could Talk to Elvis" — an enticing ask for the former Elvis Stamps Quartet back-up singer

Larry Strickland knew he had to get out of Tennessee.

“I had to get out of our home,” Strickland, 76, tells PEOPLE of the days following the April 2022 death of his wife, country music legend Naomi Judd. “We lived in this house and on the farm for 33 years, and so when all that happened with her, I couldn’t be there. I sold the house and the farm, and even though [stepdaughters] Ashley and Wynonna were still close by, I couldn’t be there.”

And in the spring of 2023, Strickland made a move to Florida — and the beach.

“Naomi and I both would spend our winters in West Palm, and we would usually just do an Airbnb or stay in a hotel, but I bought a condo here,” he says. “I'm living on the beach. I've always wanted to do that.”

Strickland draws in a deep breath.

“I think of her all the time,” he continues quietly. “I know every time I walk on the beach, I'm walking with her because I know she would've loved to be here."

Related: Larry Strickland on Late Wife Naomi Judd's Final Months: 'It Was a Very Chaotic, Hectic Time'

<p>Courtesy Jillian Cardarelli</p> Larry Strickland and Jillian Cardarelli

Courtesy Jillian Cardarelli

Larry Strickland and Jillian Cardarelli

The pain in his voice seems to linger awhile, but Strickland is quick to note that he’s making it a priority to live his life to the fullest. It’s this promise to himself that resulted in Strickland returning to the studio for the first time since Judd’s death to record with country artist Jillian Cardarelli on her new endearing single “If I Could Talk to Elvis.”

“For years, I didn't have a lot of calls to be in the studio,” Strickland explains. “For so many years, I had worked with Naomi and with her management team and traveled with her. And then in the latter years, I was her caretaker. I was there 24/7 to take care of her.”

But now, with more time on his hands, Strickland found it quite easy to say 'yes' to the idea of collaborating with Cardarelli on the Elvis Presley-inspired single, especially since Strickland himself served as a crucial piece of Presley’s legendary background vocalists, The Stamps Quartet.

“When I went in the studio, I didn't have a clue of what I was going to be doing really, but it just came together,” explains Strickland, who has also been singing with a few Elvis tribute bands as of late. “It was meant to be, I guess. The whole concept of the song is so unique that it itself got my attention. It brought back a lot of memories for me."

<p>Dusty Barker</p> Jillian Cardarelli in Memphis, Tennessee

Dusty Barker

Jillian Cardarelli in Memphis, Tennessee

Related: Country Singer Jillian Cardarelli Marries Sports Agent Brian Parker in Romantic Tennessee Wedding

The memories also flooded the mind of Cardarelli herself, as the rising country artist has spent a lifetime loving the “King of Rock and Roll.”

"I was about 4 years old, and my dad showed me the Aloha from Hawaii concert special on VHS, and I remember just being totally mesmerized and captivated,” says Cardarelli, 30. “Had it not been for Elvis, I don't know that I would be on the career path that I'm currently on.”

<p>Courtesy Jillian Cardarelli</p> Jillian Cardarelli at Graceland at age 5

Courtesy Jillian Cardarelli

Jillian Cardarelli at Graceland at age 5

And to no surprise, Cardarelli says she knew there was no other place other than Presley’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, to shoot the music video for “If I Could Talk to Elvis.”

“I went to Graceland for the first time when I was 5 years old,” explains Cardarelli, who wrote “If I Could Talk to Elvis” alongside fellow songwriters Alex Kline and Tina Parol. “We filmed a lot of the video on that wall right in front of his house." She pauses. "I mean, you feel [Presley's] presence is still there in a weird way. You walk around and you can feel him.”

<p>Dusty Barker</p> Jillian Cardarelli at Graceland at age 30

Dusty Barker

Jillian Cardarelli at Graceland at age 30

“He was such a beautiful man, and his generosity was just unbelievable," Strickland adds of his late friend. “Elvis was just always giving. He was amazing.”

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