February 11, 2020

He Didn’t Know…

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Vienna, Austria, reflecting on the last couple of days with the 2020 group that came with us to Vienna. Our host, Dennis Jale, the Imperials, Glen D. Hardin, the Holladay Sisters, Donna Presley, Elvis’ cousin, and Paul Leim, one of the really great drummers still making it happen on stage. He’s here with his beautiful wife of 51 years, Jeannie. As we sat around the top floor of the Intercontinental Hotel, we shared stories, we listened to Glen D Hardin tell of his arranging history. He told us he developed an interest in orchestration long before working with Elvis. He went to the book store and bought a book for $1.25 on the instruments he would arrange and their ranges. He didn’t know what Coda or the D.S sign meant so he looked them up in that little book. After learning the definitions of the terms used, he went through the L.A. phone book looking for a musician who could help him. He finally found one. The man said I’ll teach you the basics in an hour. So one Saturday. He went to his home, they sat down, and this musician began giving him loads of information on chords, terms to be used for charting, and valuable points to consider when scoring a chart for orchestra. 

Glen D. Hardin

It wasn’t long after that, he began writing for orchestra and without one lesson from a university professor! I’m sure there would be one somewhere who might have been able to help, but Glen didn’t need a semester learning from a professor who knew the same things that little book had already told him. The best instruction you will ever have is sitting under or behind one who has done it well. Experience has always been a better teacher than a classroom professor who couldn’t make it in the real world of music. If you have the talent, you can take it from there. 

By the time he wound up with Elvis, he had already begun to do orchestrations for many artists. One of his first was for the First Edition where he arranged the song, “Ruby”. 

Glen playing for Elvis

We had been in rehearsals with Elvis for several weeks in Los Angeles before the big opening in Las Vegas.  Glen wasn’t in the first month with us. A man named Larry Muhoberac was our first pianist. Our second month-long stay in Vegas, Glen D came on board. We were hashing out a few mistakes in rehearsal and Elvis said to the band, “I sure would like to cut Let It Be Me. We don’t have a chart on it but maybe soon I’ll hire someone to write one out”. Glen told us he went up to his room, took out his pencil and manuscript paper, and wrote the arrangement to that song in four hours! The next night when Elvis came down for soundcheck before the show, Glen passed out his arrangement to the orchestra, and as Elvis walked into the showroom, Glen hit the downbeat to the song for Elvis to hear. IT WAS BEAUTIFUL! From that night on, Glen orchestrated all of Elvis’s songs. 

Glen D. Hardin is a very talented and humble man who merely decided he wanted to do something, so he did it! What a great lesson in that for all of us to learn. We are only limited by our minds. If we think we can do it, we probably can. You never know until you try. Study your craft and be the best you can be and you never know the doors God will open for you. 

September 26, 2019

The Imperials Travel

Exciting things are happening for the Imperials. In just a week we head to Bad Homburg, Germany for a great weekend of music. We will be there along with the Holladay Sisters, Elvis’ cousin, Donna Presley, Glen D. Hardin, Elvis’ pianist and arranger of many of Elvis’ greatest hits, drummer Paul Leim, one of the finest drummers you will ever hear, and our great host, Dennis Jale from Vienna, Austria, who put this all together. We will be staying at the Steigenberger Hotel, a place Elvis visited when he was stationed in the Army. Our last visit to the hotel we paid a visit to the same room Elvis was in and there’s memorabilia from the time he was there. We were there with James Burton, Ronnie Tutt, and Glen D Hardin, all from the original TCB band. This promises to be a memorable weekend with two shows headlining Dennis Jale along with his great band, the Jam Gang. The weekend will be capped off with a great gospel show on Sunday, October 6. There will be fans and friends from Austria, Switzerland, Germany and maybe even a few from the US.  I know of at least eight of us! 

I am including a few pictures of our first visit to this awesome hotel. We made photos in the same room Elvis occupied while there. We hope to see you there. 

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 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 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.  

January 31, 2019

The tour is almost over!

It’s January 30 and we are at our final destination before our return home on Saturday. Bregenz, Austria, is a beautiful city nestled by the Austrian/Swiss Alps and situated by Lake Bodensee. I’m told the lake is not the largest but the deepest in all of Europe.
Some amazing events have taken place since I last wrote. We were in Bonn, Germany, for two shows, and a lovely little hotel situated right on the main promenade. So many people came to the shows and yet, our afterglows and meeting with the fans and friends took prominence. Renewing acquaintances and meeting new friends allowed us to share our hearts with them. These lovely people here in Germany in many ways are just like us in the US. They are reaching out to find the reality and significance of their lives. We know what brings that about.  Jesus Christ has come to give us life abundantly and every night we sing, we share that abundant life through our songs and through the time spent with fans and friends. When we stood in the center of that crowd and sang “There’s a sweet spirit in this place”, we meant it! The spirit of the Lord came down in a gentle way and the people there responded. Tears were shed and hearts were encouraged. We have been in touch with many of them since that time, and their stories would thrill you. Yes, we are performing Elvis songs, but we are also singing the gospel, the GOOD NEWS that actually brought us to Elvis in the beginning. We remain true to that calling.
From Bonn, we were driven to the beautiful, historical city, Bad Homburg, and the same hotel where Elvis actually took up residence for a while. A press conference had been scheduled there for the German media and during that press conference, Dennis asked us to sing Sweet Spirit to reporters. A visit to Elvis’ hotel room was filmed for German TV and newspapers carried an in-depth story of our upcoming visit in October. You may see pictures from that visit on my Facebook page or the Imperial’s page as well. I would imagine Dennis Jale, James Burton, and Donna Tutt, Ronnie’s wife, have it on their Facebook pages too.
So we end this amazing month with grateful hearts. We didn’t do this; God did!  Dennis Jale has a vision of what appeals to the Europeans here and the TCB band and the Imperials fit into that vision. Why us? Because we were willing to go and share our music and our lives with these wonderful people.
We thank Dennis Jale for the opportunity to come here and we thank God for opening the door and making this trip possible.
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 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!

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!