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.

August 9, 2018

One Thing You Can Count on in Life

The one thing you can count on in life is change. It happens whether you like it or not. You can adapt to those changes or you can let them affect your life negatively. You can grow from those changes or you can let them stunt your growth. As lead singer for the Imperials, we had to deal consistently with change. New releases meant putting our lives and hearts on trial for the public to decide if we were still worthy of a listen. Your last release might be your best, OR you might have a new crop of great material and arrangements that solidified your base and added new fans. We had the advantage now of having three albums done and they were all popular with our fans. We never compromised the message for popularity. When we got a chance to sing on national TV, we chose songs with an eternal message that would impact the TV audience for our Lord Jesus Christ.

The change came in 1970 when Roger Wiles left and Greg Gordon replaced him. The only album Greg was on was Time To Get It Together. I told you about it and you got the photo of him with us. Greg’s short span with us was unfortunate. He was a great singer and added much to the group. However, he was a little immature at the time. He liked to play tricks on us and got a real charge out of fooling us.  I can remember him crouching down in the well of the front of the bus and waiting patiently on the rest of us to come out to the bus after a meal. As we opened the door, he would jump out and yell like a little school boy. He was so much fun and yet unpredictable. To this day, I consider his contribution to the group to be significant and I miss his lighthearted, easy and comical approach to life. So if you want to pick up that cd of Time To Get It Together, it’s on my website at http://terryblackwood.com/store/

Have a great week.

July 26, 2018

Experiencing Growing Pains

In 1970, the Imperials were experiencing growing pains but also changes in personnel. Roger Wiles, our great baritone, decided he wanted to launch out into a solo ministry/career so he left. We were left scrambling for a replacement. This was not long after we had been to Houston for the big Elvis concert at the Astrodome. During our time there, we saw Larry Gatlin, who was singing at a local supper club and attending the University of Houston. As a replacement was needed quickly, we approached Larry about joining the group on an interim basis. He responded positively as he wanted out of what he was doing. Being raised in a family group that sang gospel music all the time, he was a quick study. He could hear harmonies and he blended right in. We used his services for two or three months. He was with us for a month with Elvis and he sang with us for a month at the Landmark Hotel, across the street from the Hilton the next month, with Jimmy Dean. The month with Jimmy was noteworthy because he had Dottie West as his special guest. She was a great addition to the show and we were sold out every night. It was during that month with Dottie that Larry got to know her and she invited him to move to Nashville to write for her publishing company. So Larry really got his big break after singing with us and following Dottie back to Nashville.

The Imperials with Greg Gordon, far right.

In the meantime, we were able to find a great singer in Greg Gordon. He is the son of Anna Gordon of the Chuck Wagon Gang and she was married to former Governor Jimmy Davis, who wrote You Are My Sunshine, along with many other great songs. Greg was much fun and so unpredictable. He had a thin, soulful voice that fit us very well. You can hear him on our next release we called Time To Get It Together. One song, in particular, that stands out to me was a song written by the producer of many songs on that LP. The song, Jesus Made Me Higher, was a wonderful song that addressed the dilemma that many young people were beginning to deal with, DRUGS! The gist of the song is clear; there is no high as high as the high that Jesus gives and there are no withdrawals! It’s only higher and higher as we follow Christ and the rewards are so much more in this life and especially in the life to come.