August 16, 2019

This was a Converted Movie Theater

A good friend, Gary Evans, posted a piece of Imperials history last week on Facebook and it got more responses than I get on my posts so I thought I would explain that shot and its history. The photo pictured the Imperials on stage in St Louis, MO at the Kingsland Theater on Gravois Av in 1970. We had purchased some black military uniforms and were wearing them for this show. It appears from the background, the concert took place around Thanksgiving and as always, in St Louis, it was packed. This was a converted movie theater that seated around 1200-1500 and it had two bathrooms on either side of the lobby. Both had two stalls and one sink. Don’t ask me how I know this to be true in the ladies room. At intermission, there were maybe a dozen men at most in line outside waiting to get in and on the ladies side, the line was ten times as long! It seemed to be the case in every venue. There was always home-cooked baked goods in the lobby and such a warm and friendly bunch showed up every time we were there. 

The Imperials onstage with Elvis

This was the group personnel for the first three years I was there; Jim Murray, Roger Wiles, Armond Morales, Joe Moscheo on piano, and me. We had joined up with Elvis a year earlier and it seemed everything we did worked! We would sing with Elvis a month and then do our gospel concerts in between. We had just released a live lp from that same auditorium in the spring called Gospel is Alive and Well. I have it on my website at terryblackwood.com. The songs were an example of the new direction in which we were headed. I arranged the vocals and the group was really focused on excellence. We were doing Jesus festivals and college campuses and bridging the gap from southern gospel to contemporary. These festivals featured the likes of Larry Norman in tie-dyed t-shirts and barefooted, Randy Stonehill, a very folksy singer who connected, Keith Green, who sang songs he wrote from his heart and communicated so well. Andre Crouch and the Disciples were one of the top-performing groups as well as the Imperials. A new and exciting movement called the Jesus Movement was making its way across the nation and young people who were tired of the traditional church were moving in this direction. Our crowds got bigger and younger and it seemed we offended many seniors in the process. 

I remember going to a particular college in MO, and the president of the college gave us a rather lukewarm introduction and left the stage. The students loved us and the faculty endured us. Though they didn’t like our style and look, as our hair was pretty long, they couldn’t deny the impact our music had on their students. That seemed to be the typical response at every college where we were invited to sing. 

Now, I am in that class of people that used to look down on us. It gives me a better perspective and understanding of the new music I hear on the radio. Some of it I like and some I don’t, but if it speaks to the kids who have been in church all their lives or maybe never darkened the door of the church, then I’m fine with it. Kids must know that it’s not a church that saves; it’s faith in Jesus Christ and a personal relationship with Him that saves. A little more patience and understanding goes a long way to bridging the gap between seniors and teens and the body of Christ is one, as it should be.

July 19, 2019

In the Spring of 1976

In the spring of 1976, I was nominated for the Dove Award for Best Male Vocalist. I was pitted in the same category as my uncle, James, who had won it several times previously. The Imperials had released another lp entitled Just Because and it was nominated for a Dove award as well. All was going so well and yet I was ready to leave. I had no plans but just that unsettled feeling that God was telling me to leave. So in the midst of such great success and throwing common sense out the window, I gave my notice to the group and in May of 1976, I left. Since I didn’t plan on joining another group, I needed a little time to adjust. I had always wanted to do an lp with my sister, Kaye, and now seemed like a good time to do that. I contacted Tony Brown, the producer of some really big country acts at a later date in his career. He had played piano for Elvis after we had left. We had roomed together when I first came to Nashville in 1967 and he said he would love to produce it. 

Kaye and I released our one and only lp we titled, Keep Holding On, in memory of our daddy, Doyle J. Blackwood, and a cd that I still sell on my web site at TerryBlackwood.com. Dates at churches were beginning to come in and the lp was getting some good airplay. The Moody radio station in Chicago played His Hand in Mine from that lp several times a day for months! Other noteworthy songs on that cd are, Rise and Be Healed, When God Dips His Love, More Than You’ll Ever Know, Gentle Shepherd, and an acapella song called I Sing of Thee. This cd was totally different from anything I had done with the Imperials but it was time for it. I went from huge venues with the Imperials to small churches overnight.  I was beginning to think I had made a mistake and had acted impulsively. Not too long after the lp was released, we were invited to sing at the national Assemblies of God convention in Oklahoma City, Ok and we accepted. After we sang, a missionary to India by the name of Mark Buntain approached us and said, “You must come to Calcutta”! I was taken aback by that request. He said just raise the money for your flights and be there for their Christmas outreach to the Hindu population that controlled the city. It was a two-week stay with a week of concerts of Christmas music and a week to explore the city. I promised him if we can get the financial support, we will come. I didn’t think we would go, but I announced the offer we had received at the close of the concert in the first church we sang in after that convention and to my utter surprise, a couple came up after the service and said, “We will sponsor your trip and pay for your flights” ! I was shocked and yet amazed at how quickly God worked. Be careful what you promise. You might have to deliver. 

The first of December, 1976, we boarded a flight from Memphis to Calcutta, India. It was to be a trip I will never forget!

July 3, 2019

Summertime

We’re in the midst of summer now and the Imperials are taking a brief time off before it gets busy in August. I thought I would share with you my world after Elvis as there’s a lot of exciting and traumatic events that occurred in my life that followed. 

Doyle Blackwood

In 1974 we were singing in Las Vegas, NV with Jimmy Dean and I received a call from my uncle James that my daddy, Doyle, was gravely ill.  I needed to go home to see him and so I asked Jimmy if I could go. He reluctantly agreed and I boarded a plane for Memphis as soon as I could. I didn’t make it in time. He died before I could get there. He had been a tremendous influence in my life and this was a difficult time for me and my family. I can’t even recall the details of the funeral but I do remember it. My sister, Kaye, was devastated.  She was daddy’s little girl and now he was gone. Mother and daddy had bought a small farm in Hernando, MS and built a home there. He had around 12-15 head of cattle and he loved it down there. It was about an hour south of Memphis and he would make the daily commute to and from town to the farm. He would be what they called a gentleman farmer. He even had all his cows named. They were like pets to him. While feeding them one late afternoon in the pasture he had an aneurysm. It was a weekend mother had gone to Chicago to visit Kaye. He had made it back to the house and since no one was there, he lay on the floor for two days. By the time my mother got home, she rushed him to the hospital but it was too late. He died there in the hospital before I could get there. 

Everything changed after that. Lavez, my mother, was left alone at the farm and I was burdened with the thought that she didn’t need to be that far out of town by herself.  I decided to help her relocate into Memphis closer to her church. We were able to find a house two blocks from the church. I felt this was a much better situation for her and she loved being with her church family on a regular basis. She took trips with friends and simply loved her new home and being around friends. 

Lavez Blackwood

While helping her settle into her new home, I was beginning to have thoughts of leaving the Imperials. I didn’t know what I would do but with the loss of my daddy and mother left by herself,  my priorities began to change. To leave such a successful group after so many years was going to be difficult. 

June 21, 2019

GaitherFest

GaitherFest is held every Memorial weekend in May and it’s an experience for everyone who enjoys great music and fellowship. It’s held in Gatlinburg, TN and the surrounding hills make it doubly special and memorable. I’ve always loved the mountains and the Smokey’s are some of the most beautiful you will ever experience. Gatlinburg was teeming with vacationers that weekend and Bill Gaither’s gathering was part of that excitement.

Saturday morning I walked into the backstage area of the Convention Center to beautiful songs of praise. The singers had their eyes closed and their hands lifted as they shut out the troubling world around them to focus on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit’s presence. Bill Gaither led that special time of praise as songs were suggested and as one started to sing, everyone joined in, in beautiful harmonies. The spirit of the moments in that 30 minutes carried us into the arena where the huge throng of people were waiting. These precious souls come most every year and never seem to get enough. The morning program had various artists singing, including us, and a special speaker closed it out. Our song that morning was The Secret.  

The evening show began at 6 pm and a few new faces showed up for that program. A few names of note that impacted me were Larnelle Harris, who still is one of the greatest singers of all time, and he is totally unaffected by his talent. He sang “I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked” and I felt His presence!  Buddy Greene sang and played his harmonica. The Isaacs, the Martins, the Booth Brothers, Karen Peck and New River, The Nelons, The Imperials, and many more.

Pictured along with this blog are two photos of the Imperials on stage at that event. They will do this again next Memorial weekend, the Lord willing, and while I don’t know if we will be there, you should make every attempt to come if you can. You will experience something unlike you’ve never experienced before.

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.