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.

March 9, 2018

We Got a Call From Elvis

After a year with Jimmy Dean, we got a call from Elvis. He had decided to return to live performances as he was not enjoying the movies as much as he did when he started. When he decided to put together his group, he called James Burton, the greatest guitarist available at the time. He asked James to put together a band for him. James hired Ronnie Tutt on drums, Jerry Scheff on bass, John Wilkinson on rhythm guitar and Larry Muhoberac on piano. I’m told he originally wanted the Blossoms as his black female backup group but they turned him down. The Sweet Inspirations were available and the group that opened with Elvis consisted of Myrna Smith, Estelle Brown, Sylvia Shemwell, and Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney Houston. Elvis had called Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires for his male quartet. At that time, the Jordanaires were very busy in the studio recording backup for almost every country artist in the country music world. They feared that if they accepted his invitation and went to Las Vegas, these artists would find other backup singers and never call them again. They weren’t sure Elvis had a long-term plan for concerts and so they turned him down. The next call he made was to the Imperials. Joe Moscheo was the manager at that time and with very little persuasion, the Imperials said yes.

On July 31, 1969, Elvis came back to live performances to rave reviews at the Hilton International Hotel, the largest showroom by far in Las Vegas. The band named themselves the TCB Band, the Sweet Inspirations, the Imperials, Millie Kirkham on the soprano parts, and a huge 40 piece orchestra behind him. The original conductor of that orchestra was Bobby Morris.

The order of the show brought the Sweet Inspirations out for three songs.  Elvis had a comedian that came on next named Sammy Shore. I will never understand how he got there, but I think the Hilton had him under contract so they had to use him. There was a short intermission and then the one everyone was waiting to see walked onstage to the 2001 Theme song. It was electric every night, but especially opening night.

January 11, 2018

The First Jesus Festival

During those first three years with the Imperials, many doors were opened for us.  Joe Moscheo had gotten acquainted with Wayne Coombs, who managed several different artists outside our industry. He wanted to take us on and manage the Imperials. Since we weren’t strictly “southern gospel” he wanted to try to branch out and put us in venues that were a bit different. We were working with Elvis, with Jimmy Dean, and we were also striking out into new directions with music that might appeal to a wider audience. One of the first attempts was to place us at the very first “Jesus Festival” in Dallas, TX. We were doing a three-week stint at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas with Jimmy, and the festival occurred during that time frame. It was around 1971, in the summer, and we had a huge GMC Double Decker Scenic Cruiser bus with a double axle in the back. Jim Murray was driving and he pulled into the entrance of the luxurious Fairmont Hotel with our bus. There was a dip from the street to the hotel entrance and we got that bus stuck on concrete!  That dip in the pavement was just enough, that we got the front of the bus in fine, but the dip just happened to occur on the wheels that we needed for traction. The back end of the bus hit the pavement in the street and there we were – STUCK! The wheels that we needed for traction were unable to help us because we were dragging on the rear end. We had to get a tow truck to pull us out of the entrance of that hotel! How embarrassing!

The “Jesus Festival” was a huge success. It was an outdoor concert, much like a Christian Woodstock without the drugs. There were thousands of kids sitting on the ground enjoying the music. We were a headliner along with the likes of Andre Crouch and the Disciples, Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Nancy Honeytree, Keith Green, and many others. I will never forget seeing Larry Norman come on stage dressed in his tie-dyed t-shirt and funky tennis shoes, singing “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. It was a world all its own and we were experiencing that world with the younger, next generation of Christian music fans.