June 6, 2018

Vocal Arranging for the Imperials

When I graduated from Memphis State University with a BBA major and a music minor I didn’t have a clue what I would do with it. My grades in business were B’s and C’s and my grades in music were A’s. That gave me a small clue, but no open doors. Because of my 12 years of piano instruction, I had a good command of chords. In music theory, I excelled over the students with scholarships in violin or cello, all one-note instruments as they had never had to recognize intervals in the chords. That was very easy for me because of my piano lessons. So the kid who took music as a minor did pretty well in it. I also was in an opera while there, a little foreign for the son of a southern gospel quartet founding member. The opera was named Benjamin Britten and we rehearsed it for weeks before the actual date of the performances. The auditorium seated about 200 and we couldn’t even fill it. I guess ole Ben wasn’t very popular in Memphis.

So the knowledge I gained in piano for all those years playing classical piano, doing the scales and arpeggios I thought were so unnecessary and boring, allowed me to understand sharps and flats and was an invaluable tool later when I was given the opportunity to sing with the Imperials. I wasn’t hired for my music theory training but almost immediately I found that when Henry Slaughter left, the Imperials needed someone to do the vocal arranging. He was excellent at that but after his departure, Joe Moscheo came in to replace him. He became the emcee and was great at it, but vocal arranging was not a strength. I volunteered to do it after the first lp that was already arranged and ready to record. So on our second lp, Imperials Now, I became the resident arranger for many of our songs. It was ironic because I wasn’t hired for that but after three years of arranging for my father’s group, The Memphians, I was ready!  

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!

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.