June 14, 2018

We Knew We Had Something Special

I graduated from the University of Memphis in May of 1967 without a clue of what I would do. My first job was selling shoes in downtown Memphis. I was awful; I lasted two months. You learn very quickly what you’re NOT good at and at that point. If you don’t really enjoy the work, you quit, because it’s much better than getting fired! Then I got the call from the Imperials and they asked me if I was interested. I said yes, I was. They asked me to come to Nashville to sing with them. I did that. It must have gone well as they called me back and offered me the job. It took me a while to decide, as I knew it would change my life forever. I was comfortable at home with family and this would be a whole new world for me. I didn’t realize just how different it would be. After praying about it and dwelling on it I decided it was God’s will for me. I moved my meager belongings to Nashville where Roger Wiles and I decided to settle down together in an apartment on Harding Road. The rent was cheap, but the place was adequate. Roger was from California, where he had sung with his father in a group out there. I came from Memphis, where I had sung with my father. We immediately knew we had something special.

Jake Hess and the Imperials

 

The Imperials were working on a new LP and the songs were already selected. All Roger and I had to do was jump in and sing the parts. That first record became New Dimensions. It was an instant success with the fans and radio. However, the promoters didn’t appreciate not seeing Jake Hess and Gary McSpadden. After all, the group was called Jake Hess and the Imperials. Now, we were just the Imperials. We lost about 50 dates the first year. Even though we had a great sound, there was a time we almost gave up. We got just enough work to pay the bills. We never gave up. Finally, calls started coming in for the new contemporary group with the cute blond lead singer! Ok, I made that part up.

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!

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.

February 8, 2018

The Real Reason For Singing

I have returned home after a long three-week tour of Europe and there’s a mountain of catching up to do. Life is hectic and full of demands that never end. There’s pressure to meet deadlines and to be all that we can be so that no one will be disappointed in us. In truth, there’s only one whom I need to please. My Father in heaven watches everything I do and He hears everything I say. My greatest concern is that I don’t disappoint Him and that I never deny Him before the people to whom I sing. To be consistent and faithful in our walk with Christ is more valuable than achieving money and fame. By the way, if you are thinking of getting into the gospel music field because you’ve seen some guys on stage and you’d like to be there too, you had better reconsider. Make sure you have a calling from God on your life and the people to whom you sing affirm that, and He will make a way for you. If you consider it for any other reason, you will be disappointed and frustrated. I’ve seen many singers who don’t understand why the people they sing to don’t appreciate their talent. That’s a recipe for failure. Get your eyes off yourself and onto the real reason you should be singing; to glorify the God who made you and present that gift to your audience as an offering of praise and thanks to the Father who gave it to you…

The very first album we did with the new group in 1967 we named New Dimensions. Some of the songs had been sung by Jake Hess and Gary McSpadden with the group on stage, but never recorded, so we just put our vocals on tape. We added a few new songs that introduced both Roger and me, and we came out with a very good product that sold quite well. We included songs like The Impossible Dream, On The Other Side, Exodus, and tunes that you wouldn’t typically associate with southern gospel music. New Dimensions is available on my website at http://terryblackwood.com/store/. Our baritone was Roger Wiles who joined the group when I did in 1967. Roger had a big baritone voice with a lot of power when he sang. The blend with this group was amazing. My lead voice was big but thin when I got into a higher range and Roger’s voice was a bit lower and just as big all the way up. The sound of the four of us was amazing!

December 27, 2017

The Imperials and Exciting Opportunities with Jimmy Dean

The Imperials were exposed to many new and exciting opportunities with Jimmy Dean. He knew many in the television industry. One, in particular, was a man named Mike Douglas. His show was filmed out of Philadelphia, Pa, but was shown around the country on many different stations. It was like being on the network without actually being on the network. He was such a nice man and treated us with great respect. You can see him in this shot with Jimmy and the Imperials. We were singing on the set of his show and someone captured the shot. It had to be around 1969, the year we began working with Elvis at the Hilton International Hotel on July 31, 1969. The guy standing to my left is Roger Wiles. He came to the Imperials in 1967 when I joined. We actually rented an apartment together in Nashville since we weren’t making much money then. Roger was a great singer and our blend was the best with him on baritone.

Roger stayed with us three years. Not long after we went with Elvis, Roger decided to leave to pursue a solo career. We had to quickly find a replacement. We had been with Elvis at Houston’s Astrodome and while there we ran into Larry Gatlin. He was attending the University of Houston and singing in some in local venues there. We were frantically looking for a replacement and asked Larry if he would fill in for a while. He jumped at the chance to leave college. One of the first dates we did with Larry was at the Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas. Dottie West was the co-star and Jimmy Dean was the headliner. This was the beginning of our attempts to work with both Elvis and Jimmy and juggle the dates to accommodate both. Larry didn’t stay with us long as after meeting Dottie, he moved to Nashville to write songs for her publishing company. Not long after that, the Gatlin Brothers were organized.