February 15, 2018

Are You Sure You Want to Sing in a Touring Group?

Not many people know about my life before the Imperials. I wanted to share that time with you now.

I had graduated from high school, and the next fall I enrolled in the University of Memphis, then known as Memphis State University. I commuted to and from school every day for a year.  I went from a relatively average sized high school to a large state school, which at the time had about 15,000 students. All of a sudden I was thrown into an environment totally foreign to me. Because I didn’t know what my major would be, I took the basic required subjects. All male students were at that time required to take ROTC and wear thick wool pants in the hot August sun, where we marched daily in the dusty ground. When you approached an officer, no matter how many books you were carrying, you were required to salute him. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with that one bit.

After one year of college, I had my chance to escape!  My uncle James Blackwood, cousin, Cecil Blackwood, and JD Sumner had bought the Stamps Quartet publishing company and they wanted to put a group together to travel on the road, singing songs that were in their catalog. They handpicked members to be in that group. Roger McDuff was chosen to sing lead, Jerry Redd was tenor, Big John Hall sang the bass, “Smilin” Joe Roper on piano and I was chosen to sing baritone. Jerry didn’t last a year and was replaced by Jim Hill on tenor. We were called The New Stamps Quartet because there had been a Stamps Quartet in the late 40’s that was very popular out of Texas.  The photo attached shows the group with Jim Hill. We had an amazing sound and appeal and we toured 40 days a month! At least three times a year, we toured west to California, up the west coast to Canada, and back east across western Canada and then back home. It wasn’t uncommon for that old bus, (we called it Old Purple) to break down at the end of a tour or in the middle of the tour. Some of our days off were spent in a garage waiting for bus repairs. Such is the “glamorous” and exciting life on the road. Are you SURE you want to sing in a touring group?  Pray before you answer!