November 29, 2018

The Fateful Decision to Leave Elvis

In the fall of 1971, the Imperials made the fateful decision to leave Elvis and concentrate on working more gospel concerts and touring with Jimmy Dean instead. Smart move, huh?  We left Elvis just months before the biggest tv show by far up to that time, Elvis, Aloha from Hawaii, in January of 1972. It was a live show by satellite to the world! That show was viewed by over one billion and a half people! Did you get to see it?  Sweet Spirit was introduced to that huge audience by the group that followed us, The Stamps Quartet. We had recorded the song in 1969 and had sung it for Elvis in his penthouse. However, we never got to do it on stage with his audience. That song has touched millions of people around the world and continues to do so. I remember singing it over 30 years later to an audience in Paris in around 2003. We were there singing with Frank Michael, a famous French singer in the world famous Olympia Theatre. Every night, for three weeks we sang that song and every night it touched that audience. The French are a very proud people and pride themselves on not speaking much English, but during that song, though they didn’t understand a word we were singing, there were tears in the eyes of many of the people. The spirit of God touched them in a profound way. They wouldn’t have gone to a church to hear a minister but they came to the Olympia Theatre in Paris to hear Frank Michael and the Imperials and they were deeply touched.

After leaving Elvis, we were still very busy with Jimmy Dean shows, Pat Boone and Carol Channing shows, and supplementing them with gospel concerts around the country. For me, a single guy, it didn’t matter how long I was gone. I was the only single guy in the group! There was no one to go home to except my parents, who still lived in Memphis. I was extremely close to them and honored them as best I could. My father had a huge impact on my life. My mother found no fault in me ever! I never bothered to tell her any different. I like to think that some of his blessings he received for being faithful were passed on to me. I passed them on to my children. There is something to this pronouncing blessing on your children as God takes delight in blessing faithful children. Are you blessed?  The prayer of Jabez applies: 1 Chron 4:10 “And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested.” He’s just a prayer away!

November 16, 2018

Your Relationship With Christ

I am back home enjoying the peace and quiet of home. We’ve had one little change since I got back. I bought a nine week old Labradoodle puppy, and he’s turned our world around. I wasn’t sure we would even keep him as my daughter wasn’t on board with this and my middle son wasn’t either. I will say, after two days, I thought maybe I would sell him, as we leave for Florida vacation next Monday for a week and we can’t take him with us. Then, December 2, the Imperials fly to Switzerland to begin our Christmas tour. What to do with this sweet puppy?  I ran an ad on Craigslist and got one sweet lady who wanted him desperately. Now I’m not sure I have the heart to sell him. He’s brought such joy and life to our home. My wife, Tina, has been battling pneumonia and thrush for two weeks but has finally turned the corner, thanks to many prayers offered up for her and the medicine. I’ve never seen her this sick before. I’m thankful for doctors as they do marvelous work, but I’ve heard it said that doctors don’t heal; they just remove the impediments to God’s healing that always works. I believe that. All healing is God ordained and inspired. Doctors are a great help in that process, and for that I’m grateful.  I will keep you posted.

On a darker note, I was saddened by the loss of a friend who sang with me years ago in Andrus, Blackwood, and Co. David Hassell was a vital part of our group for two years, playing keyboards and singing harmonies. After he left us, he went to work for Lifeway, the Southern Baptist organization in Nashville and his creativity flourished there. Unfortunately, they cut back on personnel and he had to leave. Since then he’s taken several different jobs, got married and had two beautiful children, Mamie and Jude. He died of complications from breaking his ankle and from that, developed a blood clot that went to his heart and took his life last week. Please pray for his children. We know David is in heaven, as he worked his entire life to share the love of Christ with those around him. We will miss you, David, but God had different plans for you. Now you are enjoying the bliss of heaven and can be sure your two children are in the watchful eyes of our loving Father.

Life is unpredictable. You never know how long you have. Be sure you have your heart right with God and are ready for eternity should your time come. Your relationship with Christ is the only thing that really matters.

November 9, 2018

We Planted Some Seeds

The tour of Norway is over and I’m back home. THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME! I loved the Norwegian people and everyone was so kind to us. We saw some amazing sites on this journey, and I hope to get some pictures for you. The last blog was through our second concert. Our third appearance was in Alesund, Norway at a lovely church. We were touring with a 40 piece orchestra and the sounds in that church were amazing. I heard this comment more than I can count – “Your songs brought tears to my eyes”. I hope they weren’t experiencing pain!  I do think they were expressing their emotions at the sound of the gospel being presented to them.

 

Alesund is a beautiful city, and we will always remember the warm reception we received there. We got there on a ferry from Molde, Norway, where we were staying. We boarded the ferry for the short 30-minute boat ride to Alesund. Then we had an hour’s drive to the city. After arriving, James Burton and I were driven to the radio station for a live interview that broadcast all over Norway, and we spoke of our times with Elvis. From there we went to the church, where a sound check was in progress. After the concert, we drove back to the ferry and boarded the ferry for the return to Molde.

Our final concert was in this city and the cathedral was absolutely beautiful. We sang to a packed house that final night as well. The next day we flew to Oslo and spent the night there at the airport hotel. The next morning, Monday, November 5, we boarded the plane for our flight home.

I am grateful to Pal Granlund, our sponsor, Tom Andresen, tour organizer, Morgan Voien, the vocalist who has wanted this for a long time. His dream came true. He got to sing with the Imperials and the legendary James Burton, Elvis’ lead guitarist.  Also, thanks to Steffi Besenrieder, who helped in all phases of the tour. We were amazed at the crowds and the reception of the Norwegian people. God bless them and we hope we planted some seeds that will bear fruit in the future for the kingdom of God. That’s really why we sing.

November 1, 2018

The Imperials Are Going Places

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Oslo, Norway right now after a whirlwind weekend beginning in Oslo last Friday night.  We sang with Morgan Voien in concert at a beautiful concert hall and were accompanied by a 40 piece orchestra, a band, and the legendary James Burton on guitar. The Imperials are going places I never thought possible, but God has opened doors for us. As long as there are people who wish to hear us, we will be there. 


Our second concert was in the mountains of Norway in a little town called Rjukan, Norway.  Our hotel was a very unique one they named the Rjukan Admini Hotel. It was a small venue but it was packed.  With several days off, now we are enjoying the rest and relaxation before we fly north to a very cold country in the north of Norway. 


Two more concerts to go this weekend before we fly home on Monday.  I’m learning a lot about myself as I experience this thing called life. I’m thinking I’ve done many things I thought I would never get to do. Graduating from the University of Memphis with no clue of what would open up and then, three months later, came the call from the Imperials. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to travel again. I was back and forth in prayer on this important decision. After saying yes, I moved to Nashville and immediately went into rehearsals and road travel and concerts. A little over a year and Jimmy Dean called. Two years after I joined, we got the call from Elvis. It’s been an amazing journey with many ups and downs, many highs and lows, but one thing has remained constant. God has never failed me, nor let me down.  People will disappoint, but I have never put my faith in people. Faith in God will get you through the worst of times as well as the best of times. I’ve seen very successful athletes who take success very gracefully, but can’t handle failure.

 

So in closing, let me say we will all experience successes and failures in our lives. That’s life! How you deal with failure tells much more about you than how you deal with success, and success is not about amassing a fortune and achieving great fame. Success is finding God’s will for your life and throwing yourself into the middle of it!

October 25, 2018

May You Find YOUR Purpose

I’m sitting here at the computer at 6 am and totally spent physically from a severe cold that has taken hold of me for two weeks now. On our cruise, we stopped in Rome to see the city and we toured in an open-air two-story bus and were on the top deck taking pictures of the major sites, including the Vatican. The Pope didn’t have time to see me this time, but hopefully, he will have another opportunity in the days ahead. The air didn’t seem to bother me at the time, but we had to hurry back to the boat for two shows and it seemed I started to have early stages of a cold that I couldn’t shake. After two days, we were scheduled to do our gospel concert and by then I was struggling. God gave me the strength to get through that event but from then until even now, I’m still not over it. I’ve prayed daily for relief but it doesn’t come.

So today we get on a flight for Oslo, Norway and it will be another “red eye” flight that will mean unless God intervenes I will endure another sleepless night. Why do I do it? Sometimes I wonder. There are many who support us and love what we do, but there is also a huge opportunity to share the love of Jesus to many in other countries who might never know of God’s love for them. On that last cruise, I was able to talk with a prominent member of the touring group and he told me he was a Darwinist. I got a chance to explain why I’m a Christian and the differences between us were stark. He believes we evolved from apes. My response to that was to say to him, then why are there still apes in the world and humans as well? If we all evolve from apes, why are there still apes? This was done with respect for his views and he was very respectful of mine as well. We didn’t get past that point because he wasn’t ready to move forward but it did make me realize that each of us is on a journey. Some never find the peace of God and reconciliation with Christ that seems so easy for me. Being raised in a Christian home, it came naturally for me. For those who didn’t share my background, it may be much harder. I think God has chosen me for a purpose. While I don’t enjoy the travel, I do count it a privilege to share our music and message of the life-changing power of the gospel in song to many who would never even think about it. To many, the church is boring and stiff; to me, the church is not a 14th-century beautiful edifice that we admire for its beauty,  but a group of people around the world who name the name of Christ and who fellowship and encourage each other in our quest to find God’s will for our lives.

I pray you to find God’s purpose for YOU in the critical days ahead. We are entering what I believe are very serious days of great deception in the world. It’s vital we have a solid foundation in our faith to be able to withstand and recognize the real from the fake. Some say, I just don’t have the faith to believe in God. I can’t see Him so He must not be there. I see him all around me in the beautiful creation we call Earth. The birds of the air, the fish in the sea, the trees, the oceans, but mostly the human body are all such amazing creations. How could anyone say that all this just evolved? For we are His workmanship, created in His image that we might show forth the grace and mercies of God to a world that is lost and without hope.

May you find YOUR purpose in life and know the peace of God that passes all understanding.

October 18, 2018

A Whirlwind Tour of Rome

I know I missed last week’s blog. I was on a slow boat to Rome, Italy from a start in Barcelona, Spain, ending back in Barcelona, and had no internet. You can imagine how frustrated I was not being able to write and get it published in time. The cruise was the TCB Cruise with Dennis Jale as host. Priscilla Presley was on board, Jerry Schilling and his wife, Cindy, were there. James and Louise Burton, Ronnie and Donna Tutt, Glen D Hardin and were included in that lineup. We flew to Barcelona, Spain and did a concert there the first night. The next day, we boarded the ship and set sail for Naples, Italy as our first stop. We arrived there the next morning where we exited the ship and took a taxi to visit Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius. That was an amazing story. The city was hit with an earthquake in 62 AD and it did much damage to the city. As they were in the process of recovery, Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD and the eruption was so quick and complete that people were actually buried in volcanic ash before they had a chance to escape. There are actual corpses there to prove that. History records that the city had become very carnal and wicked and though they don’t link it to God’s judgment, for those of us who are Christians, it’s a distinct possibility this was from the hand of God. He’s slow to anger but if He is provoked long enough, He will act. Human nature without God in their plans always devolves to a lower state of moral depravity.  It seems Pompeii was just one more example of that. From the ruins of Pompeii, we took the cab back to Naples where we found a little pizza shop and got online for about an hour. I had so many emails I couldn’t even get to them all. And the pizza wasn’t even that good!

The next day we had a whirlwind tour of Rome. We took a bus to the train for an hour’s ride into Rome. From there we took a guided two-hour tour of the city. We passed the Vatican so quickly I didn’t even have time to say hello to the pope. The tour had to be fast as we had two shows to do that night so we had to get back on the train, and the bus back to the ship. Two shows that night and weary from a long day, we fell into bed that night. It seems the wind from the open touring bus caused problems for my sinuses and I got a very bad cold the next day. I was so sick I didn’t get to explore the next stop in Cannes, France. Tina got off and said it was the most beautiful spot of the tour. It must have been as she came back with several purchases.

The next stop was Palma de Mallorca, Spain. By this time I was better so Tina and I debarked and visited the shops. This town is known for its pearls and so we purchased a necklace for Tina and earrings for Leah, our daughter. We had to get back to the ship as that night was the gospel concert night for us. Priscilla came, Jerry Schilling was there, and James and Louise Burton were there. It was a great night.

Finally, after six days at sea, we arrived back in Barcelona, where we had to get off the boat at 6 am for the trip to the airport. We left Barcelona for JFK airport at 10 am and arrived in NYC just in time to miss our connecting flight home. AA rerouted us to Dulles in Washington and then we got to our final destination around 9 pm. After the luggage was retrieved, we arrived home about 11:30 pm. That meant, counting the time changes,  we had been up for 24 hours straight with no sleep! So how was YOUR week?

October 4, 2018

You Light up My Life

About the time we were working with Carol Channing, we did a few dates with Pat Boone, the 50’s teen idol. At the time he had his first hit, Elvis was also beginning to make his name known in the rock and roll field. Pat was famous for his clean-cut image and had a number of hits, such as Love Letters in the Sand, (1957), April Love, (1957), Moody River, (1961) and many more.

He and his wife, Shirley were,  and still are very outspoken Christians and they traveled at that time with their four daughters, Cherry, Debby, Linda, and Laurey. We traveled and toured with them for a number of dates in the early 1970’s. When we traveled by bus, I wound up sitting with Debby most of the time. Debby was the daughter who had the mega-hit, You Light Up My Life. You don’t hear it much these days, but “You Light up My Life” was actually the single biggest song of the 1970s. It spent 10 weeks at Number One, a record not beaten until 1991 when Boyz II Men stayed on top for 13 weeks in 1991. The song was written as a love song, but Pat Boone’s daughter Debby always interpreted it as a song about her devotion to God.

The song had been turned down by many famous singers and Debby wound up with it. They were a close-knit family and their mother, Shirley, kept a close watch over her daughters. We would go out first and do our set of gospel songs and then Pat Boone would come out and do a show with his girls. Shirley didn’t sing but she was always there to support the family. I have much respect for this family. They’ve been through much adversity but their devotion to each other and to God remain intact, so I am told. So in heaven’s eyes, Pat Boone has made a lot of money and a lot of fame as well, but his children still love and respect him. He’s truly lived a great life.

 

 

When it’s all said and done, and your name is placed in the history books, if you were fortunate enough to achieve a level of fame or notoriety, your legacy and your mark in the world is not how much money you made or how many “hits” you had. It will be what you did for the cause of Christ and the upbuilding of His kingdom and did it impact your family too.

September 27, 2018

We All Must Make Decisions in Life

By the fall of 1972, the Imperials had left Elvis for work with Jimmy Dean. It turns out that our timing was awful!  January of 1973 was the huge world-wide tv special, Aloha, from Hawaii, that was seen by at least one billion people! Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to that special because we were working with Jimmy Dean.  We were busy as we could be fulfilling dates with Dean, singing with other celebrities as well.

We got the chance to be a supporting act for Pat Boone and for Carol Channing for a short time. Our work with Carol was interesting.  She was wonderful to work with but she had a tyrant for a husband who pretty much ran her life. Singing with her meant we had to rehearse dance steps to her songs. You had to see this to believe we even did it. Her big song was “Hello Dolly” and we ended each show with it. We worked many hours on our staging and steps that the choreographer had worked out for us. We did a three-week engagement at Harrah’s in Reno with her and it was memorable for us. We found out very quickly we weren’t cut out for that. At the end of her show, we were moving around on stage to the tune as we sang with her. The final note of that song and the show, we were to be down on one knee, surrounding her and with one hand lifted up in her direction. I was positioned right behind Joe and one knee up meant the other knee was on the floor. As I looked down at the bottom of Joe’s shoe that night, he expressed his exasperation and frustration with being in a setting that was so unusual for us as he had printed the word, HELP, for us to see and to get a good laugh after the show!

I think my point in this is to say, we all must make decisions in life, and many of them are very consequential to our futures. How tragic for us to miss Aloha, from Hawaii, with Elvis Presley,  but it didn’t change the dynamic of this wonderful group that had so many doors opened to us. We had no idea of the future and that decision provided many opportunities for us on network television that we wouldn’t have had if we had stayed. We had the unique privilege of getting to choose which door we would open. Many people never have so many options. I am forever grateful to the Imperials for providing the opportunity to work with the biggest name in the entertainment field EVER! Many lessons were learned and not the least was that, when you make a decision, OWN it. Don’t wallow in regrets and don’t look back because nothing can be changed after that decision is made. Know that God has a plan for each one of us and He knows what path we will take. He is always there, redeeming every decision and turning it around for our good. Blessings to you all!

September 20, 2018

Measures of Growth

As fun as Greg Gordon was, and a great singer, as well, he just didn’t work out. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when we were making our debut concert at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville, TN and we were in concert with at least five other groups. We were there in time to set up records and do a sound check. So, Greg left, went home to change and assumed we would be on near the end of the show since we were one of the headliners. Unfortunately for him and us, they had put us on second. So when it came time for us to go on stage, Greg was nowhere to be found. This was before cell phones so all we could do was call his home and got no answer. We begged them to put us on later and they obliged us. When Greg arrived back at the auditorium, I’ve never seen Joe Moscheo so mad!  That was the beginning of the end for Greg. I was sorry to see him go as I always liked him so much and the people did as well. I saw him years later and we had lunch at Elliston Place Soda Shop in Nashville and we laughed about that incident that doomed his fate with the Imperials.

So, after a year, we were looking once again for a baritone. Our producer had heard a young black singer from California who had sung with Andre Crouch and the Disciples and he thought it would be a great idea to try him out. At the time, a mixed racial group had never been attempted and this was a bold move. Sherman Andrus’ style was so different from ours and at first, I wasn’t sure it would work. He was used to singing solos and blending wasn’t something he was used to doing. It took a few weeks but he developed both his harmonies and his blend so that the choice turned out to be a good one for us. He came to the group right after the Time To Get It Together LP was released so he just picked up where Greg had left off and sung his songs.

In what we do, critical decisions were made daily about songs, arrangements, concert schedules. Any number of decisions could adversely affect our careers and ministry. They actually became measures of growth and expansion for us and proved once again that change is inevitable for all of us. It’s how you adapt to those changes that is the measure of maturity.

September 13, 2018

Know Your Audience

The Imperials were always out there blazing new trails and singing original arrangements for our fans. We had established ourselves as a group that was unpredictable and that made every new release an instant success. Young people loved our songs because they wanted to hear new expressions of their faith done in a unique way. So many groups played it safe. We didn’t do that. When Greg Gordon joined us in 1970 we were in the middle of the new recording of Time To Get It Together. We were working with a new producer, Michael Omartian, and he brought us some fresh ideas. He had written the song, Jesus Made Me Higher which debuted on this project. He also put together a great medley with Bridge Over Troubled Waters combined with Rock of Ages, My Sweet Lord, Let It Be (The Beatles), Amen, and ended with Sweet Song of Salvation. It was an amazing medley and a huge part of that great release. Other noteworthy songs on that release were Teach Your Children, first recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, This Train, featuring James Burton on guitar, and Everything is Beautiful, written by Ray Stevens.

The Imperials with Jimmy Dean and Mike Douglas

 

Our producer thought it would be a great idea to try these songs at the National Quartet Convention! This turned out to be a BIG mistake! We were too naïve to disagree, so we arrived in downtown Nashville at the Coliseum for the evening concert and we are dressed in the same blue and white jumpsuits we wore on the Mike Douglas Show. In a sea of conservative suits and ties for the men and dresses and pantsuits for the ladies in attendance, needless to say, the medley bombed! We bombed. They couldn’t get past the jumpsuits to listen to our music. We finished our songs to deafening silence! At the end of our stand, we left the stage in utter humiliation and learned a valuable lesson that night. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!!! Give them songs they want to hear and not what YOU think they should hear. They are the ultimate judge of what you do. Your validity and relevance lay in the acceptance of your presentation to the audience to whom you sing. We had come a long way since 1967 but sometimes you have to take a step back and remember from where you came. It was a valuable lesson for us; one we never forgot.