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.

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.