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.

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.