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.

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!

September 6, 2018

That Song Gave Her Chicken Skin

Did I tell you about our Love is the Thing LP?  We were backing Jimmy Dean, the country singer, on a lot of dates all over the country. He had a conductor for the orchestra named John Miller, who was an amazing talent.  It turned out, he was a great arranger too. We were in discussions with our label about a new project and John Miller offered his services as arranger/producer on seven of the songs. His style was unlike anything we were used to but it worked very well. His vocal arrangements were unique and fresh for us. I had the opportunity to arrange God Speaking to You on that LP.

On that same project was the classic, Sweet, Sweet Spirit, which Harold Lane of the Speer Family arranged for us a cappella. The song was written by Doris Akers and she had it arranged in a slow rhythm with piano accompaniment.  We recorded our version and were so happy with it, we sang it for Elvis. He loved our arrangement.

Later, the Stamps picked up the song after we had left Elvis and they did their own a cappella version, almost like ours but slightly different. It worked out great for them as they were able to sing it on the Aloha Special from Hawaii where one billion people from around the world saw it. Our timing was terrible, as we left not long before the big show and the whole world thinks the Stamps recorded it and we covered it.

In truth, the Imperials version still is done in every show we do and it never fails to receive a great response.  An example; we were in Paris for a three-week show in the early 2000’s with a famous French singer, Frank Michael. We were a supporting act for him and every night, at the famed Olympia Theatre, in Paris, we had a segment in his show. One song we included in our set was Sweet Spirit. Those Parisians didn’t understand a word of English but as we sang that song, I could see tears in their eyes. After one show, a lady came up to me and pulled at the hair on her arm. She was able to say in her broken English, that song gave me “Chicken Skin”! Our translation would be, “goosebumps.” It was her way of saying “thank you” for the song.

August 1, 2018

You Can’t be a Christian and Work in Las Vegas

The year 1970 was a momentous year for the Imperials. We were singing with Jimmy Dean and Elvis and trying to juggle our gospel concerts in between. That year we were with Jimmy two full months and with Elvis for two full months, for a total of four months in Las Vegas. I’ve heard some say, “you can’t be a Christian and work in Las Vegas.” Ironically, we found a great church away from the Las Vegas strip and though I got to bed quite late on Saturday night, when I could, I made my way to that church on Sunday morning. Some really special friends were made there. Also, there was a chaplain who had a bible study every week right there in one of the hotels on the strip and though there were only 10-12 people, it was a very meaningful time for me. When you’re bombarded nightly with the “evils” of casinos, as a Christian, it was important for me to insulate myself from their attractions. Avoiding the gambling part was the easiest part because I HATE to throw away money that I could have kept in my wallet. Nightly I saw poor souls playing the one-armed bandit and the majority never won. You hear about the one or two that won big but you never hear how much it took for them to win, nor do you hear about the thousands who never win but keep trying because they are so deeply in the hole they have to try to get back to even. I never had an attraction for gambling.

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Because I looked like a teenager, I also had trouble being taken seriously. I actually got stopped one night walking through the casino after the second show on my way to my apartment. They were sure I was underage and because I was, in their mind, an unaccompanied minor, they checked my ID to see if they were right. Of course, they weren’t, but I was amused at their attempts to put me out of the casino. I am not perfect by a LONG shot, but if I had my way, I would NEVER darken the door of a casino. Think about it; they don’t build those huge, plush casinos by losing more than they take in.

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.

July 12, 2018

It Still Touches Lives

By the year 1969, the Imperials had established themselves in both the gospel markets and the secular markets. We were backing Jimmy Dean and had just agreed to work with Elvis. We came to the third album that we called Love Is the Thing. Our orchestra conductor for Jimmy Dean, John Miller, had become our good friend and we decided we wanted him to arrange vocals and orchestrate that record. This album contained some unique arrangements, unlike anything we had done before. This was our first true departure from the southern gospel stylings of the two previous releases.  John didn’t arrange every song but his influence on vocals was profound. A New World, A Quiet Place, Love Is the Thing, Love Like The Sun, For Once In My Life, and lastly, I Looked for Love, were John’s arrangements, vocally and instrumentally. Honestly, they were great on the album but didn’t translate at all to the stage. The other songs on that release became our stage songs. He Touched Me, God Speaking to You, (my arrangement), The Cross Medley, I’ve Got Confidence, Sweet Spirit were all songs that worked well on stage. In fact, Elvis heard this album and knowing he was about to do another gospel album, he asked us to cut He Touched Me with him, as well as I’ve Got Confidence.  He took two songs from our second album, Reach Out To Jesus and A Thing Called Love. That album won a Grammy for him, his third one and all three were his gospel releases. For us, our cut of He Touched Me was a powerful message of God’s reaching down to man and we shared it as many times as we could. Sweet Spirit became a standard on every Elvis show. I will tell you about that wonderful, anointed song, Sweet Spirit, next week. Just know that God was in the selection of that song and He knew it would touch many lives around the world. I’m so glad we chose that song for that album. It still touches lives today.

June 28, 2018

A Message That Resonated Loudly and Clearly

By this time in our careers and after the second release, Imperials Now, we had really begun to establish a reputation. That can be good and that can be bad! Fortunately, it was mostly good. Yes, we had long hair and were a bit unconventional in appearance but our music spoke to a wide variety of listeners. With every Imperial release, you didn’t know what you were going to get. I remember well, going to a very conservative Christian college which shall remain nameless. We were warmly welcomed by the students and tentatively accepted by the faculty. While the students loved us and our music, the faculty endured us. Though they didn’t understand the music, they couldn’t argue with the message contained in the songs. I think they couldn’t get past our clothes! No suits, no ties, but a message that resonated loudly and clearly to all the listeners.

We got the call from Colonel Parker’s office in the spring of 1969. We were singing with Jimmy Dean, working in huge venues around the country as a supporting act for Jimmy and getting great reviews. National television was opening up for us and it seemed that God was smiling on us. I think our appearance on the Merv Griffin Show when we got a chance to sing, we chose He Touched Me. We could have chosen a more contemporary song with a watered down message but we decided to go with our heart. It seemed that God smiled on us that night. Unsolicited positive responses from the actress, Greer Garson, only served to enhance our appearance. So, in June of 1969, we flew to LA to begin rehearsals with the TCB band and the Sweet Inspirations at Universal Studios in Hollywood. You can witness some of those rehearsals in Elvis’ movie, “That’s The Way It Is”. We would arrive in the morning and spend two to three hours on vocals and then Elvis would drive up either on his motorcycle or his Mercedes Benz. Elvis always made a statement when he walked in.

May 23, 2018

The Door of Opportunity

One major event for the Imperials occurred while Roger Wiles was still with us. Besides the television exposure we were getting with Jimmy Dean, and the work with Elvis, we got a chance to do something totally different for us.  Jimmy was a regular on the Daniel Boone show, starring Fess Parker. It was a weekly hour-long show and Jimmy was almost a regular on that show. Because we were working with him, he got wind that they were going to cut a new version of the theme song intro to the show. He recommended the Imperials for that opening. We were offered the job and we readily accepted.  

One hot summer morning we drove up to the studio in Hollywood where the show was recorded and as we walked in, the huge room was completely empty except for a giant screen before us. We had the vocal chart in front of us. We met the producer/director and were told what we needed to do. The intro to the show was thrown on the giant screen. We had to watch our producer and begin singing when he directed us. At a certain point at the beginning of the show, when Fess Parker’s image came on the screen, we began singing, “Daniel Boone was a man, what a big man, with an eye like an eagle and as tall as a mountain was he”. There were spots in that video intro where we were out but our intros and outros had to be perfect to make that video come alive.  If you go to YouTube and type in Daniel Boone theme song, you can hear the Imperials sing that intro. That was a day I won’t ever forget. Doors opened for us that I never dreamed possible. Always be ready and prepared for you never know when that door of opportunity will open for you.