June 14, 2018

We Knew We Had Something Special

I graduated from the University of Memphis in May of 1967 without a clue of what I would do. My first job was selling shoes in downtown Memphis. I was awful; I lasted two months. You learn very quickly what you’re NOT good at and at that point. If you don’t really enjoy the work, you quit, because it’s much better than getting fired! Then I got the call from the Imperials and they asked me if I was interested. I said yes, I was. They asked me to come to Nashville to sing with them. I did that. It must have gone well as they called me back and offered me the job. It took me a while to decide, as I knew it would change my life forever. I was comfortable at home with family and this would be a whole new world for me. I didn’t realize just how different it would be. After praying about it and dwelling on it I decided it was God’s will for me. I moved my meager belongings to Nashville where Roger Wiles and I decided to settle down together in an apartment on Harding Road. The rent was cheap, but the place was adequate. Roger was from California, where he had sung with his father in a group out there. I came from Memphis, where I had sung with my father. We immediately knew we had something special.

Jake Hess and the Imperials

 

The Imperials were working on a new LP and the songs were already selected. All Roger and I had to do was jump in and sing the parts. That first record became New Dimensions. It was an instant success with the fans and radio. However, the promoters didn’t appreciate not seeing Jake Hess and Gary McSpadden. After all, the group was called Jake Hess and the Imperials. Now, we were just the Imperials. We lost about 50 dates the first year. Even though we had a great sound, there was a time we almost gave up. We got just enough work to pay the bills. We never gave up. Finally, calls started coming in for the new contemporary group with the cute blond lead singer! Ok, I made that part up.

June 3, 2018

The Imperials Were the Talk of the Industry

Roger Wiles and I came to the Imperials at the same time. Jake Hess and Gary McSpadden had decided to leave. I think Jake’s doctor convinced him that he might die if he stayed on the road and Gary probably didn’t want to continue with the group after Jake had decided to leave. I’m sure the remaining guys thought long and hard about replacements for these two giants in the industry. Jake Hess and James Blackwood were both considered the greatest lead singers in gospel music at that time.

Both the Statesmen and the Blackwood Brothers Quartet were the two groups every gospel music fan wanted to see. They did hundreds of concerts together and always to packed auditoriums. Jake grew weary of the same songs every night so he decided he wanted to form his own group and do it HIS way. He hired what he considered the best singers for his group. Sherril Neilson on tenor, Gary McSpadden on baritone, Armond Morales on bass, and Henry Slaughter on piano completed this quartet.

The Imperials were a group everyone wanted to see and hear. Their style was very polished with much rehearsal. They NEVER did an encore, as most groups did often, and eventually employed a band on stage, a first for southern gospel music. Many promoters and churches rebelled against that band but Jake took the slings and arrows to do it.

After many months of disputes with fans and promoters, Jake proved he was right. He was a trend-setter and a trailblazer. For his bold leadership, the Imperials were the talk of the industry and a group to be reckoned with. That continues to be our goal. Though the musical styles have changed somewhat, the Imperials continue to strive for excellence, smooth harmonies, and great songs. Our Lord deserves our very best!

February 8, 2018

The Real Reason For Singing

I have returned home after a long three-week tour of Europe and there’s a mountain of catching up to do. Life is hectic and full of demands that never end. There’s pressure to meet deadlines and to be all that we can be so that no one will be disappointed in us. In truth, there’s only one whom I need to please. My Father in heaven watches everything I do and He hears everything I say. My greatest concern is that I don’t disappoint Him and that I never deny Him before the people to whom I sing. To be consistent and faithful in our walk with Christ is more valuable than achieving money and fame. By the way, if you are thinking of getting into the gospel music field because you’ve seen some guys on stage and you’d like to be there too, you had better reconsider. Make sure you have a calling from God on your life and the people to whom you sing affirm that, and He will make a way for you. If you consider it for any other reason, you will be disappointed and frustrated. I’ve seen many singers who don’t understand why the people they sing to don’t appreciate their talent. That’s a recipe for failure. Get your eyes off yourself and onto the real reason you should be singing; to glorify the God who made you and present that gift to your audience as an offering of praise and thanks to the Father who gave it to you…

The very first album we did with the new group in 1967 we named New Dimensions. Some of the songs had been sung by Jake Hess and Gary McSpadden with the group on stage, but never recorded, so we just put our vocals on tape. We added a few new songs that introduced both Roger and me, and we came out with a very good product that sold quite well. We included songs like The Impossible Dream, On The Other Side, Exodus, and tunes that you wouldn’t typically associate with southern gospel music. New Dimensions is available on my website at http://terryblackwood.com/store/. Our baritone was Roger Wiles who joined the group when I did in 1967. Roger had a big baritone voice with a lot of power when he sang. The blend with this group was amazing. My lead voice was big but thin when I got into a higher range and Roger’s voice was a bit lower and just as big all the way up. The sound of the four of us was amazing!

January 4, 2018

Windows of Opportunity

There are three types of people in the world, so I’m told. There are those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, and those who stand around, scratching their heads saying, “what happened”?  I have to admit I had no clue of what was happening in my life when I graduated from Memphis State University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a minor in music. I had made B’s and C’s in Business Administration and straight A’s in music but there were no signs of anyone interested in me upon graduation. So, my first job ever was selling ladies shoes in downtown Memphis. I can’t say I was very good at it. In fact, I was awful!  A lady would come in, I would greet her and she would show me the shoe she was interested in and tell me her size. The next step for me was to go to the back of the store where all the shoes were stored and find the shoe she wanted and her size. By the time I located the proper size and returned to the show room floor I had forgotten who I had spoken with!  The boss was very gracious with me and helped me through much of this but because I wasn’t cut out for this kind of work, I didn’t last very long.  After two months of agony for me and for my boss, I left the shoe business and waited for my new challenge that hopefully brought a better outcome.

I was at home, licking my wounds over my failure as a shoe salesman when Jake Hess of the Imperials called me and told me the doctors had ordered him to get off the road. He had a heart condition that required him to take his leave of the Imperials, the group he had founded in 1964. He had prided himself in selecting the best talent available and doing things differently on the stage than other groups. He had chosen Henry Slaughter on piano, Sheryl Neilson on tenor, Gary McSpadden on baritone and Armond Morales on bass. This group was built around Jake and he was an amazing singer/personality. I was a young, inexperienced shy young man without a clue what I wanted to do with my life. I was so confused that it took me a few weeks to even decide. I knew it was going to be a huge change in life for me and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it.  So, I did what we all should do when we don’t know what to do. I prayed about it and I acted upon my impressions that I now believe were from the Holy Spirit. We all have windows of opportunity that open for us and if we don’t seize the moment, they disappear. I think, looking back, God opened a door and I walked through it. My life took a dramatic turn from then on.