January 10, 2019

The Imperials and James Burton on the Mike Huckabee Show

The new year opened with a tremendous opportunity for the Imperials. On January 4, we made our debut with our new tenor, Will Shaw, on the Mike Huckabee Show on the TBN television network. What a reception! The Governor couldn’t have been nicer. He welcomed us with our good friend, legendary lead guitarist and rock and roll hall of Famer, James Burton. James and I were interviewed by the Governor and afterward, we went center stage for our first song, The Wonder of You was one we sang with Elvis many times. James played his familiar guitar licks and we sang the song. After a short break, we came back on with a song I wrote lyrics to, This Train, and James helped us out on the instrumental lead solo. A third song was added for their internet audience and James was featured throughout that song, Johnnie B. Goode. You may find all three of these songs on YouTube and I encourage you to watch. I would say we couldn’t have been more pleased with our reception, the sound, and the production. I have put two of the three songs on my Facebook page and they are exciting to watch and to listen to.

On January 9, we board a plane for Denmark to begin our three-week tour of Europe. Will Shaw will be with us for his first tour as tenor for the Imperials. We will introduce him to European audiences and I have a feeling they will love him. He’s an amazing singer and people will get to experience him firsthand.  We will have many new songs and hope the tour is successful. Our host, Dennis Jale, has done a lot of work putting this tour together and I think it’s going to be a great one.

I know how hard change is for people. Life is full of changes. We change from birth to toddler, to the first day in school, to Junior High, High School, college for some, marriage for others. If we don’t change, we stagnate and get complacent. So, I challenge you to not resist changes in life but embrace them. Sometimes change is for the better and sometimes it’s for worse. However, complacency is not an option in life if you want to grow. In the Christian life, we are constantly changing and being molded into the image of our savior, Jesus Christ. He will not allow us to become complacent.  May 2019 be a year of growth for you and for me. I want more of God’s best that can only be realized when we follow His lead and walk obediently in His footsteps.

January 3, 2019

Make 2019 a Great Year

Happy 2019!  I hope your 2018 was a good one. As is the case with all of us, there were ups and downs. That’s life, whether you are a Christian or not.

I’ve been blessed beyond my wildest dreams, and I ’ve said many times, I don’t believe in luck. I believe success is the result of hard work and perseverance. It helps to have some talent, too!  I worked hard as a teen, as my piano instruction lasted up through college. I practiced piano when other boys were out playing ball. I HATED practice but my teacher told me I had talent and my daddy made sure I practiced. This was before video games! I happened to be blessed to have the last name of Blackwood. My father and his brothers had become very successful and I benefited from their success. Had my last name been Smith or Jones, I would never have been offered the job with the Imperials.

On Friday, January 4, 2019, the Imperials will be featured with legendary guitarist and rock and roll Hall of Famer, James Burton, on the Mike Huckabee Show. I’m not sure when it will be aired so check with your local station for dates and times.  It’s shown all over the world on the TBN Network. James and I will be interviewed about our years with Elvis and we will sing our songs with James on guitar. We will be introducing our new tenor, Will Shaw. It will be his first appearance with us and we are excited about having his exceptional talent and dedication as an addition to our group.

The year 2019 will be challenging for us all. This world is a temptation for us as Christians but we don’t have to let it form us into its mold. We can be transformed by the renewing of our minds and the power of God’s Holy Spirit to become a light in this dark world. The darker it gets, the more the light of God’s love can make a huge difference in the lives of people who haven’t yet made that decision to follow Christ. I can’t make someone believe as I do, but I can tell them what God has done for me.  I’m not the harvester, just the seed planter. That decision is one with eternal significance and all other decisions pale in comparison to it.

Go out and make 2019 a great year!

December 27, 2018

2018: The Year in Review

The year 2018 is almost gone and a new year is fast approaching.  This year has brought both disappointments and encouraging developments. We started off the year with a month-long TCB tour with Dennis Jale as we visited many European countries.  The Imperials had our first appearance at GaitherFest in Gatlinburg, TN on Memorial weekend. Bill Gaither does this every May and we were honored to be there. He couldn’t have been nicer to us and has invited us back again this May for another weekend. I hope you can be there in 2019.  You can go to Gaither.com for any questions you might have. 

In August, we had two major events. We did a concert with our friends, the Stamps Quartet, across from Graceland. What a great crowd we had, and Donnie Sumner was his usual hilarious impromptu self. After Memphis, we drove back to Nashville and boarded a flight for Denmark. Our friend and promoter, Henrik Knudsen, had his first European Elvis festival and it was a smashing success. We will be back next year for another festival. 

In October we were invited to the TCB cruise from Barcelona, Spain with stops in Naples, Rome, and Florence, Italy, Cannes, France and a final stop in La Palma, Spain.

It was a celebration of 25 years of marriage with my wife, Tina, who deserves a medal for putting up with my schedule.  Also aboard that ship was Priscilla Presley, Jerry Schilling, James Burton, Ronnie and Donna Tutt, Glen Hardin and our host, Dennis Jale who did all the hard work to put this cruise together. We had concerts in Barcelona and then two shows with Dennis and one gospel show with the Imperials while aboard ship. 

In November we did a ten-day tour with Morgan Voein in Norway. The tour was a great success and we made many new friends. Our hope is that we will return sometime in the future for another tour. 

December found us back for our Christmas tour with Dennis Jale as we started out in Basel, Switzerland and ended up two weeks later back in Vienna, Austria for our ninth anniversary of Christmas shows with Dennis.

In 2019, we will begin the year with our new tenor, Will Shaw. He comes to us highly recommended and we are excited to see what doors God opens for us. We wish Royce great success as he pursues his own schedule with the Vogues, and solo concerts. 

Our very first event will be a TV show with Mike Huckabee on the TBN television network. James Burton will play guitar with us on our songs and he and I will be interviewed by Mike about our work with Elvis. We film it January 4 and I don’t know when it will air.  I hope you will be watching it. 

May it be your BEST year yet! 

December 21, 2018

Remember the Reason for the Season

I am back home from a two week Christmas tour of Switzerland and Austria. It was an amazing and fast-paced tour with receptive crowds everywhere. We wound up in two beautiful churches; one in Judenburg, Austria and the last one in a beautiful church in Vienna called Votiv Church. Vienna has a large cathedral in the center of the city called St. Stephens church that was built in the 1200s. It was semi-destroyed at one time and was rebuilt. Votiv Church is a smaller replica of that huge St. Stephens church. The unique thing about these churches is, the ceilings are so high, they can’t heat them! So at the church in Judenburg, we wore scarves and gloves while the audience wore their warm clothes as we sang. The Votiv Church in Vienna was even colder but they did provide a small heater on the stage so we didn’t freeze in place.  Would you believe the Votiv church on Saturday night was full and the temperature in that beautiful but cold sanctuary was below freezing? As we sang, I could see our breaths escaping from our mouths. That gave me the assurance I hadn’t frozen to death!

Sunday morning we left the hotel at 6 am for the Vienna airport and boarded the plane at 8:10 am and sat on that plane for one and a half hours waiting on the wings to be de-iced. I was ok with them taking as long as necessary to be sure we lifted off the ground. I even lifted my feet on takeoff to help the pilot. So, we took off around 10 am, bound for Frankfurt, Germany, where we transferred to our Lufthansa flight to Chicago on a 747 double-decker. I must say that was the most uncomfortable plane I’ve been on. The seats were too small and as tired as we were and as busy with up and down travelers going to the bathroom, sleep was impossible. We arrived in Chicago around 3 pm and because of the delays in Vienna, we missed our connection and were put on a later flight. By the time we arrived home, it was 9 pm Sunday night. We had been up for 36 hours!  

So now it’s Christmas time for us and we look forward to spending time with family. Merry Christmas to all of you and remember the reason for the season.

December 12, 2018

Christmas is the Most Wonderful Time

A little girl jumped up into Santa’s lap. Santa asked the usual question. “And what would you like for Christmas?”, asked Santa.  The child stared at him open mouthed and shocked for a minute, then gasped, “Didn’t you get my email?”

 

The store’s Santa Claus gave little Jeanie a candy cane. Her mother said, “What do you say, Jeanie?” Jeanie looked up at Santa and said, “Charge it!”

We are experiencing Christmas in Vienna, and it’s beautiful here. Our good friend, Dennis Jale has brought the Imperials here for nine years now for his Christmas shows. We started out in Zurich, Switzerland and now will end up here in Vienna Friday and Saturday at two Cathedrals. We sing our songs, back him on his Christmas songs and make new friends. The Austrian people are so welcoming to us “southern boys” who talk funny and can’t speak a word of German except Schnitzel. If it’s about food, we KNOW! I have learned to say, Danke, which means thank you, after I get the Schnitzel. We are staying at the wonderful Intercontinental Hotel and the hotel staff is so helpful. The breakfasts are the BEST. You can special order omelets or eggs any way you like them.

I was thinking last night as we finished the show, we sing Silent Night acapella to the audience and they, in turn, sing it back to us in German. What a beautiful way to end a Christmas show! I miss Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Oh Holy Night, Joy To the World, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, and so many of the carols I sang in church many years ago. Don’t you? Silent Night, Holy night. All is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. What a beautiful message of peace and goodwill in a chaotic world of fighting and arguing.

 

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year when we renew our relationships with family whom we love so much, share time and love with them, and show our love by exchanging gifts. However, were it not for the gift of the Christ child, Christmas would not exist. He came into our world to make us part of His forever world. It’s wonderful to know that God loved us so much, He gave His only son to die for a lost world. The greatest gift ever given inspires us to give back what we have to Him who gave his all for us.

December 6, 2018

A Really Wise Man

Thoreau is quoted as saying, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” I have paid a very high price for the amount of time and effort I have given to music and ministry. Sometimes I feel maybe I haven’t given enough, but other times I feel it’s cost me too much. I sit here in a hotel room in Vienna, Austria, away from my wife and my children and I hope and pray daily they are safe, happy, and provided for as I pursue this costly adventure I have chosen for my life. What about you? Do you feel your life matters to someone else? Are you in a job you hate, yet you have to feed your family, so you plod on in a dutiful way in a boring job that takes you nowhere? I am not saying you should quit. I am saying you should evaluate the cost of what you are doing against the benefits you are receiving. What is it you feel called to do?  Do you have a passion for something you never pursued, but had to settle for a lesser challenge because you had to feed your family? 

I was a reluctant warrior at the start. Graduation from college didn’t teach me anything but how to budget my time and maximize my efforts in preparation for life. I had prepared for music but had a back-up in business. While in that state of confusion, the Imperials called. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to leave the cocoon I had been in because I was comfortable there. However, there was an opportunity calling to make a real difference in the world, so I made the “exchange.” I traded the comfort of home for an unknown, uncertain world. I have had many ups and downs and made many mistakes, but I have never looked back in regret. Jim Elliot, the missionary who was murdered in South America as he tried to take the gospel to a primitive tribe, is quoted as saying, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep gaining what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot paid the ultimate price to take the message of the gospel to people who never had heard. He was instrumental in that entire tribe coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Was it worth it? Some would say how foolish to die so young and miss out on raising a family with children and grandchildren to enjoy. I say Jim Elliot gave what he couldn’t keep gaining what he couldn’t lose; an eternal reward. This was a really wise man! 

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 22, 2018

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Bless the Lord, oh my soul and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, oh my soul and forget not all of his benefits: who forgives all my sins, who heals all my diseases, who redeems my life from destruction, and who satisfies my life with good things so that my youth is renewed like the Eagles. (Ps 103:1-5).  

I have so much to be thankful for and am reminded of just how blessed I am at this special time of the year. I have a wonderful family, all of whom are healthy and growing in grace. The responsibilities given me to lead this family are many and requires my constant attention and devotion. There’s nothing more important than my devotion to Jesus Christ, God’s son, and to follow in His steps wherever they take me. My wife, Tina, has been such a strength to me and for that I’m grateful. My children were a gift from God. When the doctor told us we would never have children, God had a different plan. We knew a couple who had connections to a Christian adoption agency in CA so we called, put together a resume, and sent it to them. Without much hope of success, we did what we could and God did the rest. 

Within a month, a young woman, who had been residing in that home, was praying for a suitable couple to raise her soon to be born soon, and her two requests were this: being short, herself, she desired at least one parent to be short in stature. Tina is around 5 ft, 2 in. Her second request involved her love for music and she wanted her son to be raised in a musical home. When she saw our resume, the spirit of God told her that we were to raise her son. On June 1, 1997, we flew to CA and were there for the birth of our son on June 4, and we named him, Luke. Three days later, the agency had a service for all of us. The birth mother, Brianna, officially said goodbye to her son and we took him with us back home. 

Two years later, Tina got pregnant! That miracle brought us our second son whom we named Jesse, born February 19, 2000. He was a difficult delivery but he has been a blessing. On November 10, 2001, Tina delivered our third baby we named Leah. Our family was complete!

Ask for YOUR blessing and expect God to answer. At this Thanksgiving season, be thankful for what you have. God will honor your gratitude and will give you what you need. Be blessed!

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.