April 26, 2019

The Imperials had so many opportunities …

after accepting Elvis’ invitation to work with him. One such opening was when Jimmy Dean asked us to sing with him. The picture accompanying this blog was taken at the Holiday House in Monroeville, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh, in 1971. The Holiday House was a 900 seat auditorium with a huge stage for orchestra and band. We were there for three weeks with no nights off.

One night, about halfway through our stay, Greg Gordon and I happened to be sharing the same hotel room right over the showroom. At the time, the Carpenters were exploding onto the scene and they had a special tv show one night while we were there. Greg and I were sitting there in our underwear engrossed in the sights and sounds of Karen Carpenter and her beautiful voice and we lost track of time. We are on the edge of our beds watching the show when we heard the band play the introduction to the show.  We jumped up like we had been shot! We had about three minutes to get completely dressed and get down to the stage and the song was well underway. We had a shirt, tie, pants, coat, and socks and shoes and we had to be downstairs before Jimmy walked on the stage. It’s the very same suit in this photo. Fortunately, he always started in the audience making small talk with the people and he took his time this night. He would say things to a man who was thin in the crown of his head, “Where do you get those haircuts with the hole in the top”? An older man might be there with a much younger lady and he would say, “Nice of you to bring your granddaughter out tonight”. Everyone laughed but the people he was talking to.  Fortunately for us, he delayed his trip up to the stage that night. Had he gotten on stage and we weren’t there, we would have paid dearly! We made it to the stage just as he walked up from the audience. Everything was in place except the laces on our hightop brown and white patent leather shoes which we just didn’t have time to tie, but our pants covered them so no one ever knew how close we came to getting a lecture. We were standing there with the spotlight on us with untied shoes while we sang the first three songs. We were only able to finish tying our shoes when the spotlight moved back to Jimmy at center stage.

Such incidents like this always made for exciting times and you never knew what might happen the next night. Jimmy was complicated. I could write a novel on him. He loved what we did and we added so much to his show but it didn’t have the energy and excitement we had with Elvis. I will always regret leaving Elvis but life is full of decisions. You can never tell what the future holds but decisions have to be made. Not all of them are good ones and not all are bad. God redeems even those bad decisions and He blesses the good ones.

April 10, 2019

The Nashville Elvis Festival is now History

I didn’t know what to expect as I had never been there before. Tom Brown invited me to be there and I came on stage at 10 am Sunday morning just after Gary Chapman sang. He sang beautifully three gospel songs that were meaningful for him. Since I had never sung for this event, I was apprehensive and didn’t know what to expect. The audience was wonderful! I opened my set with I’ve Got Confidence, a song the Imperials had cut in 1970 and one that Elvis liked and recorded with us on his He Touched Me lp. As you can tell by the photo, I played for myself but the EAS Band from Chicago volunteered to accompany me. Although we never rehearsed, I was pleased and thankful for their help. I welcomed myself and the audience to the event. I told them, there were three male gospel groups who sang behind Elvis during his short career. The first group, The Jordanaires, then the Imperials, and lastly, The Stamps made that list. That meant about 15 male backup singers had the privilege of being on stage with him. I said I was pretty sure I wasn’t Elvis’ favorite back-up singer, (three other men claimed that title), but I’m quite sure I was in the top 15!

It was a fun morning sharing the stage with Gary Chapman, Tom Brown, and six ETA’s who sang gospel for an hour after my appearance on stage. They were all excellent. Of particular note was Dean Z, Diogo Light, and 16 yr old, Riley Jenkins, all of whom were very respectful and kind. They were all very good singers. The crowd loved the show and I was up there singing along with them all the songs I learned as a kid. My wife, Tina, and daughter, Leah, were at the table in the back where we sold the product. I talked to one lady who said she was really encouraged by what I had to say before I sang “Where No One Stands Alone”. The writer, Mosie Lister, also wrote His Hand In Mine, the title song from Elvis’ second gospel lp. We are never alone when we pray and ask God for guidance and wisdom. He said He would give that to us.

We are here for a brief time and we must make every minute count. Don’t waste it watching inane tv shows that offer no answers, only confusion. PLEASE turn off The VIEW!!!!!  Instead, go to that bible and read Psalms and Proverbs for REAL wisdom, eternal truths that have transcended nations and continues to provide answers to all of life’s questions.

April 5, 2019

The Nashville Elvis Festival is now history.

I didn’t know what to expect as I had never been there before. Tom Brown invited me to be there and I came on stage at 10 am Sunday morning just after Gary Chapman sang. He sang beautifully three gospel songs that were meaningful for him. Since I had never sung for this event, I was apprehensive and didn’t know what to expect. The audience was wonderful! I opened my set with I’ve Got Confidence, a song the Imperials had cut in 1970 and one that Elvis liked and recorded with us on his He Touched Me lp. As you can tell by the photo, I played for myself but the EAS Band from Chicago volunteered to accompany me. Although we never rehearsed, I was pleased and thankful for their help. I welcomed myself and the audience to the event. I told them, there were three male gospel groups who sang behind Elvis during his short career. The first group, The Jordanaires, then the Imperials, and lastly, The Stamps made that list. That meant about 15 male backup singers had the privilege of being on stage with him. I said I was pretty sure I wasn’t Elvis’ favorite back-up singer, (three other men claimed that title), but I’m quite sure I was in the top 15!

It was a fun morning sharing the stage with Gary Chapman, Tom Brown, and six ETA’s who sang gospel for an hour after my appearance on stage. They were all excellent. Of particular note was Dean Z, Diogo Light, and 16 yr old, Riley Jenkins, all of whom were very respectful and kind. They were all very good singers. The crowd loved the show and I was up there singing along with them all the songs I learned as a kid. My wife, Tina, and daughter, Leah, were at the table in the back where we sold a product. I talked to one lady who said she was really encouraged by what I had to say before I sang “Where No One Stands Alone”. The writer, Mosie Lister, also wrote His Hand In Mine, the title song from Elvis’ second gospel lp. We are never alone when we pray and ask God for guidance and wisdom. He said He would give that to us.

We are here for a brief time and we must make every minute count. Don’t waste it watching inane tv shows that offer no answers, only confusion. PLEASE turn off The VIEW!!!!!  Instead, go to that bible and read Psalms and Proverbs for REAL wisdom, eternal truths that have transcended nations and continues to provide answers to all of life’s questions.

March 28, 2019

This is an exciting week for me

My main focus is on Sunday, March 31, where I will be involved in the Elvis Festival in Franklin, TN. The festival starts on Friday and I won’t be there until Sunday morning at 10 am. The people will have heard two days and night of Elvis tribute artists and then I will be coming on stage. I have skinny short blond sideburns, blond hair, blue eyes, and led a very strict, sheltered life. I don’t look or sound like Elvis but I do have a focus and a message for those Elvis fans. I want them to understand why Elvis chose the Imperials. Yes, Elvis picked us in 1969 but God directed him to that choice. I’m still singing because of that open door that God opened for me through Elvis. My gospel songs will hopefully give hope and encouragement to them.

Just yesterday I witnessed the two and a half hour funeral service for Dave Kyllonen, emcee and baritone/bass for the dynamic Couriers from PA.  What a wonderful service, filled with testimonies from his four daughters, his son, his wife, and many of his former pastors. After the Couriers disbanded, Dave went on the mission field and continued to minister to people around the world. He had this deep, rich commanding voice and he spoke with such eloquence. I wished I could be that good. His close friendship with his family spoke volumes to me. Many families are broken, at odds with each other, have money issues, jealous, and envious of one who might get a little more success than they. This man’s life was such a bold witness and encouragement of what we should all aspire to be.

Sunday morning I will be on that stage before Elvis fans mostly. I will have some who came to see and hear me. I just want my appearance to be one they will remember; one that gives them more than music. It’s not about me anyway. I’m just the vessel I hope God uses. Thanks for your prayers. I will report back to you next week on the results.

Have a blessed week and remember you have a destiny that only YOU can fulfill. God is with you and a host of heavenly saints who’ve gone before are cheering you on toward the finish line. Finish strong!

March 22, 2019

Silence!

I don’t like silence, especially when you’re with someone. It’s awkward, isn’t it?  You feel like you need to say something clever or just anything to break the silence. Sometimes, my mouth jumps ahead of my brain and I say something stupid that I wish I hadn’t said. Is that you?  Are you uncomfortable with silence? It’s the antithesis of what God wants for us. He said, “Be still and know that I am God”. If you’re busy or you’re talking, you can’t be still and know. I want to work on being still. God never yells at us; He speaks in a still, small voice and we must be quiet to hear Him.

I happened to be in the bank yesterday and was there with my son, Jesse, who was celebrating his 19th birthday. There happened to be a sweet elderly lady sitting in the chair next to me. She smiled and we made light pleasant talk. She seemed fine. When the officer of the bank came up to her to talk to her, she broke down crying. She has so many physical problems from arthritis to cracked ribs and she was in constant pain. I didn’t even know as I spoke with her and listened to her talk. My heart went out to her and I told her as she was leaving that I would pray for her. She needs God’s touch in her life and I happened to be there at God’s appointed time. Our meeting was no accident. Our time together was pre-ordained.

Just this morning, I went to the gym to work out on the treadmill and do my physical activity for the day. No one was in there so I turned on CBN around 9 am and Pat Robertson was on there. I was watching as I was walking the treadmill and another gentleman came in and walked on the treadmill next to mine. He watched intently the gospel being presented right there in the gym. I didn’t say anything but just did my workout. He went to the other room 30 minutes later and worked the machines. I wonder if he took note of what he was seeing on TV? I can only do what I think is right for me. I won’t push my faith on anyone but I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation!

Be blessed today and just be silent at times and listen for God speaking to you. That sound like a good title for the song the Imperials cut many years ago. God Speaking To You. Great song! He’s all around us, He’s in us, and He works through us if we let Him.  

March 14, 2019

That Saturday Afternoon…

When I was about 10, my father, Doyle Blackwood, was asked to run for state representative from Shelby Co, Memphis. His group, the Blackwood Brothers Qt were quite popular in Memphis and Elvis was a fan even before he because famous. He accepted and not too long after that, the party told him they were going to have a parade on Main Street, downtown Memphis in two weeks. They wanted all the candidates to participate in the parade and ride downtown so my father agreed. There was just one problem. We didn’t own a suitable automobile. By that time, Elvis had already had several hits, had bought Graceland and had a few cars to his name. My father knew him because of his love for the quartet, so he called Elvis and made a request to borrow one of his Cadillacs for the parade. Elvis graciously agreed, so I rode out to Graceland with him, met Elvis, and we picked up the borrowed car. 

That Saturday afternoon we were in that parade, waving at people on the street. But we stood out from all the rest, as my father was the only candidate riding downtown on Main St in Memphis that day in a bright pink Cadillac! 

 In 1975 Elvis was shopping in Memphis at the Cadillac dealership and a black lady named Minnie Pearson happened to walk by and stopped to admire the beautiful cars in the showroom. The young black lady clearly was unable to afford such an expensive car but Elvis noticed her outside and he asked her to come inside. That day he bought her a brand new white and gold Cadillac which sold for $11,500. 

At that time, Cadillac was symbolic of success and Elvis, who was raised in poverty, wanted to show the world he was successful and Graceland and Cadillac were two symbols of having made a successful transition.  

It’s funny how times have changed, but human nature remains the same. We all want the good life, money, and fame if possible. However, as we have seen so many times, success doesn’t bring happiness.  Many wealthy people are still miserable because they discovered after achieving every goal they set, they still are empty. They have missed the MAIN THING!  Jesus said, “I have come to give you life and that more abundantly”. Go ahead and enjoy the good things life has to offer but remember who provided you the talent and the sense to acquire them.  

November 8, 2017

The Imperials and Jimmy Dean

In 1968, just when the Imperials were considering disbanding for lack of dates, we got a call from Jimmy Dean’s office in New York City. He had heard our recordings and decided to fly us up there for an audition. At that time, he had just come off a very successful ABC network show where he showcased many country music stars. He was now going to do tour dates and he was using 12 men from New York City as backup for him. They were called the Cimarron Singers. Each were highly educated in the music field and they were featured in his show, singing songs like “Maria” and “Shenandoah”. The sound with those male voices was amazing! We got to New York and into his offices. We met Willie, his personal assistant and Bob MuCulloch his manager. They placed music in front of us and had us read the vocal charts the male chorus sang. Fortunately, my piano lessons paid off and we were able to read the music they put in front of us.  We were hired to do one three week show at the Theater in the Round in West Covina, CA. The supporting artists were the Lennon Sisters from the Lawrence Welk show. We thought we had arrived!

We replaced four of the Cimarron Singers and during the show Jimmy had us singing with eight of them on their songs. Later in the show he would announce us and we would step out and sing a feature. We chose a dynamic gospel song, He Touched Me with Joe Moscheo on the piano. There were rave reviews on the show. The critics had never heard a group like this. The reporter spoke of us as that group with those  “shotgun voices”. I guess we sang pretty loud, especially on the last chorus of the song but the reviews in the papers were really flattering. It didn’t take long before Jimmy decided he didn’t need the Cimarron Singers anymore so he fired them and from that point on, the Imperials were Jimmy’s supporting act.

November 4, 2017

The Jimmy Dean Experience

From graduation at the University of Memphis to three months later, singing with one of the top gospel groups in the nation was a big adjustment. I commuted to and from school to home for four years and now I’m riding a bus cross-country for months at a time. Our schedule was heavy, but the crowds approved of the new sound. We had new songs, a young sounding group with fresh, contemporary arrangements, and we appealed to a broad range of fans. We sang in high school auditoriums, city auditoriums, churches, and anywhere we could get a crowd. One date in particular stood out to me. We found ourselves singing for a big local food market in Beckley, W. VA. that asked us to come and sing for their grand opening. So, when we got there, we were escorted to the area of the grocery store where we were to set up our sound. It wasn’t very prestigious but there we were, singing our songs to eager grocery shoppers on opening day from a small stage in front of the fruits and vegetable section of that store!  Were they trying to tell us something?  We’ll never know.

The Imperials at that time were singing anywhere and everywhere we could because the dates just weren’t coming. After our first year it was so bad we weren’t sure we would survive a second year. It was during that time, between album one, New Dimensions, and album two, Imperials Now, that we got a call from New York and the offices of Jimmy Dean. He was a huge gospel music fan and knew of our group. It was that call that turned it around for the Imperials. It’s a great story and one that merits more time.

 

September 27, 2017

My Parents: Doyle and Lavez Blackwood

The values instilled in me are a direct result of my wonderful parents, Doyle and Lavez Blackwood, both of whom are deceased now. Both were raised in church and it was a vital part of their lives. Church wasn’t just a Sunday morning where friends gathered to share stories of the previous week. Everything revolved around their church life. They had friends outside the church but their close friends shared their faith and their lives with one another. Baptisms occurred often in the creek behind the church often but mostly in the summertime. January baptisms in that cold creek were an exception.

Mother and Daddy met in the town of Jackson, MS. Daddy (that’s southern for Father and that’s what I called him) had moved from Kosciusko, MS where the quartet had a daily morning live radio broadcast to the big city of Jackson, MS and a larger radio station that reached more people. Mother had left her home of two brothers and two sisters, her mother and father (Emmett and Orrie Hawkins) and upon graduating from high school she moved to Jackson where she began her classes at business school to become a secretary. Both lived in the same boarding house. Mother was actually engaged to another man but didn’t have a ring. My father saw her in the hall and it was love at first sight. He knew of her engagement but he told her that he would win her from her love interest and that he did. Their courtship wasn’t like today. He would pass by her room each afternoon and throw a note through the transom over the door inviting her to go to the mailbox to get the mail with him. How exciting that must have been. That little 5 ft, 3 inch man won her heart and their courtship began. He was a captivating personality and she just couldn’t resist his country charm. Their marriage involved a double wedding as my father’s brother, James, had met his sweetheart, Miriam, at a local concert. Two weddings for the price of one; that was another trait we southerners still possess. In fact, the family was so frugal we were accused of being Scotch! However, a recent DNA test revealed we were actually from Northern England!  I was just “gobsmacked” when I learned that. And that’s a word I DIDN’T learn down south in Dixie!

September 12, 2017

My Grandmother Carrie Blackwood

So why am I spending so much time on my history in these blogs? Because our past is a great part of who we really are and why we do what we do. Our past serves as a foundation for shaping our views as to where we might be headed in the future and also helps determine our values as an individual. For me, the great legacy I received from the Blackwood family is significant because that family had several qualities that helped me get my start in music, and specifically gospel music. In the early 1900’s there was a Blackwood string band, made up of great uncles and cousins of theirs who just loved to sit around and play music until time for bed. They would spend their days in the fields, hoeing tobacco and picking cotton, and at night, since they had no television, they would assemble together and make music on guitar, banjo, harmonica and various other instruments. They weren’t polished or professional singers and musicians, but just played for the sheer enjoyment of playing. Their focus changed dramatically
when my little grandmother, Carrie Blackwood had a dramatic experience with Jesus Christ in a local revival there in Choctaw Co, MS one hot summer night.

The change in her life influenced the entire family. From a string band in the early 1900’s to a gospel quartet in 1934, the music was always sung and played with passion. That passion has never left me. Since that great revival that changed the lives of our family so much, it’s become more than just music to me. My faith in Jesus Christ is the prime motivator in what I do. Though my family had a gift to make music, it would have never taken me to where I am today because it was the gospel that transformed our lives and changed our focus from just making music to singing about the life
changing power found in gospel music.