October 18, 2018

A Whirlwind Tour of Rome

I know I missed last week’s blog. I was on a slow boat to Rome, Italy from a start in Barcelona, Spain, ending back in Barcelona, and had no internet. You can imagine how frustrated I was not being able to write and get it published in time. The cruise was the TCB Cruise with Dennis Jale as host. Priscilla Presley was on board, Jerry Schilling and his wife, Cindy, were there. James and Louise Burton, Ronnie and Donna Tutt, Glen D Hardin and were included in that lineup. We flew to Barcelona, Spain and did a concert there the first night. The next day, we boarded the ship and set sail for Naples, Italy as our first stop. We arrived there the next morning where we exited the ship and took a taxi to visit Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius. That was an amazing story. The city was hit with an earthquake in 62 AD and it did much damage to the city. As they were in the process of recovery, Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD and the eruption was so quick and complete that people were actually buried in volcanic ash before they had a chance to escape. There are actual corpses there to prove that. History records that the city had become very carnal and wicked and though they don’t link it to God’s judgment, for those of us who are Christians, it’s a distinct possibility this was from the hand of God. He’s slow to anger but if He is provoked long enough, He will act. Human nature without God in their plans always devolves to a lower state of moral depravity.  It seems Pompeii was just one more example of that. From the ruins of Pompeii, we took the cab back to Naples where we found a little pizza shop and got online for about an hour. I had so many emails I couldn’t even get to them all. And the pizza wasn’t even that good!

The next day we had a whirlwind tour of Rome. We took a bus to the train for an hour’s ride into Rome. From there we took a guided two-hour tour of the city. We passed the Vatican so quickly I didn’t even have time to say hello to the pope. The tour had to be fast as we had two shows to do that night so we had to get back on the train, and the bus back to the ship. Two shows that night and weary from a long day, we fell into bed that night. It seems the wind from the open touring bus caused problems for my sinuses and I got a very bad cold the next day. I was so sick I didn’t get to explore the next stop in Cannes, France. Tina got off and said it was the most beautiful spot of the tour. It must have been as she came back with several purchases.

The next stop was Palma de Mallorca, Spain. By this time I was better so Tina and I debarked and visited the shops. This town is known for its pearls and so we purchased a necklace for Tina and earrings for Leah, our daughter. We had to get back to the ship as that night was the gospel concert night for us. Priscilla came, Jerry Schilling was there, and James and Louise Burton were there. It was a great night.

Finally, after six days at sea, we arrived back in Barcelona, where we had to get off the boat at 6 am for the trip to the airport. We left Barcelona for JFK airport at 10 am and arrived in NYC just in time to miss our connecting flight home. AA rerouted us to Dulles in Washington and then we got to our final destination around 9 pm. After the luggage was retrieved, we arrived home about 11:30 pm. That meant, counting the time changes,  we had been up for 24 hours straight with no sleep! So how was YOUR week?

October 4, 2018

You Light up My Life

About the time we were working with Carol Channing, we did a few dates with Pat Boone, the 50’s teen idol. At the time he had his first hit, Elvis was also beginning to make his name known in the rock and roll field. Pat was famous for his clean-cut image and had a number of hits, such as Love Letters in the Sand, (1957), April Love, (1957), Moody River, (1961) and many more.

He and his wife, Shirley were,  and still are very outspoken Christians and they traveled at that time with their four daughters, Cherry, Debby, Linda, and Laurey. We traveled and toured with them for a number of dates in the early 1970’s. When we traveled by bus, I wound up sitting with Debby most of the time. Debby was the daughter who had the mega-hit, You Light Up My Life. You don’t hear it much these days, but “You Light up My Life” was actually the single biggest song of the 1970s. It spent 10 weeks at Number One, a record not beaten until 1991 when Boyz II Men stayed on top for 13 weeks in 1991. The song was written as a love song, but Pat Boone’s daughter Debby always interpreted it as a song about her devotion to God.

The song had been turned down by many famous singers and Debby wound up with it. They were a close-knit family and their mother, Shirley, kept a close watch over her daughters. We would go out first and do our set of gospel songs and then Pat Boone would come out and do a show with his girls. Shirley didn’t sing but she was always there to support the family. I have much respect for this family. They’ve been through much adversity but their devotion to each other and to God remain intact, so I am told. So in heaven’s eyes, Pat Boone has made a lot of money and a lot of fame as well, but his children still love and respect him. He’s truly lived a great life.

 

 

When it’s all said and done, and your name is placed in the history books, if you were fortunate enough to achieve a level of fame or notoriety, your legacy and your mark in the world is not how much money you made or how many “hits” you had. It will be what you did for the cause of Christ and the upbuilding of His kingdom and did it impact your family too.

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 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.

September 13, 2018

Know Your Audience

The Imperials were always out there blazing new trails and singing original arrangements for our fans. We had established ourselves as a group that was unpredictable and that made every new release an instant success. Young people loved our songs because they wanted to hear new expressions of their faith done in a unique way. So many groups played it safe. We didn’t do that. When Greg Gordon joined us in 1970 we were in the middle of the new recording of Time To Get It Together. We were working with a new producer, Michael Omartian, and he brought us some fresh ideas. He had written the song, Jesus Made Me Higher which debuted on this project. He also put together a great medley with Bridge Over Troubled Waters combined with Rock of Ages, My Sweet Lord, Let It Be (The Beatles), Amen, and ended with Sweet Song of Salvation. It was an amazing medley and a huge part of that great release. Other noteworthy songs on that release were Teach Your Children, first recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, This Train, featuring James Burton on guitar, and Everything is Beautiful, written by Ray Stevens.

The Imperials with Jimmy Dean and Mike Douglas

 

Our producer thought it would be a great idea to try these songs at the National Quartet Convention! This turned out to be a BIG mistake! We were too naïve to disagree, so we arrived in downtown Nashville at the Coliseum for the evening concert and we are dressed in the same blue and white jumpsuits we wore on the Mike Douglas Show. In a sea of conservative suits and ties for the men and dresses and pantsuits for the ladies in attendance, needless to say, the medley bombed! We bombed. They couldn’t get past the jumpsuits to listen to our music. We finished our songs to deafening silence! At the end of our stand, we left the stage in utter humiliation and learned a valuable lesson that night. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!!! Give them songs they want to hear and not what YOU think they should hear. They are the ultimate judge of what you do. Your validity and relevance lay in the acceptance of your presentation to the audience to whom you sing. We had come a long way since 1967 but sometimes you have to take a step back and remember from where you came. It was a valuable lesson for us; one we never forgot.

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 30, 2018

God Works in Mysterious Ways

We just returned from a two-week tour of Denmark and Poland and I am a bit weary of travel by air. I guess I could have gone by boat and been on the ocean for three weeks!  Then I would still have had to fly home from the east coast. Besides, I and the ocean don’t get along very well.

I don’t know why God chose us for this task. While I’m humbled and honored to be there, it is very tough on my body. Sleep doesn’t come easily for me even when I’m home and when I’m in a strange bed in a foreign country, seven hours earlier than my body clock thinks it is, I am clearly facing a difficult situation. I also realize the great responsibility God has placed on me to represent Him to people who don’t even go to church, or if they do, it’s usually Catholic. Our wonderful host in Poland is a devout Catholic, with six children and a very beautiful and supportive wife. I don’t know why he took to us except I think he sensed something in us that drew us to him. We did a show with him in January of this year and he decided he wanted to do a whole show of gospel in the town of Rzeszow. We sang with a 30 voice choir who knew every song we did, and a four-piece college band that was amazing! There’s so much talent in the world that goes undiscovered.

I wonder what will be the result of our trip halfway around the world to Poland? Why were we chosen? God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. We didn’t preach to anyone because we’re not preachers but shared our lives and our music to the Polish people. I got a chance on the night before to share my experiences with Elvis and I worked that invitation into a testimony of why I was there. God chose me to do this. Elvis was the vehicle through which God used. We were seed planters but it is God who gives the increase.  I pray our trip is fruitful for God’s kingdom and that we will hear of great things happening for months and years to come.

August 23, 2018

A Royal Welcome

I am sitting in a hotel room in Rzeszow, Poland tonight and amazed at what God is doing.  This singer of the gospel is offered the chance to sing and share a message of God’s grace and mercy to a group of people I have never known. How could this happen to me?  I am physically tired with many sleepless nights and I struggle to understand His mysteries. We are often tested and many times beyond our level of endurance but the bible says we are never tested above our ability to respond. I think God is about to do some really great things exceedingly abundantly above all we could ask or think. The Imperials, for some reason only God knows, were invited to Poland. We have been royally welcomed and have enjoyed our visit.

Recently, we were in Randers, Denmark, and sang to a crowd of Elvis fans who now have become Imperials fans. Many already were, but new ones were just added last weekend. Friday night, I will speak about my work with Elvis, how we met, and my involvement with him. I don’t know what I will say, but I pray it will speak to many hearts and encourage them to follow Christ and see what great things He has in store for those who trust Him. Please pray for me for the Friday night gathering and then on Saturday night, the Imperials will be in the public square singing with a 40 voice choir and a local band. Rehearsal is tomorrow night and I don’t have a clue how it will turn out – but we are here, God is here, so something great is going to happen. Thanks for your prayers and know that God is still in control of every situation here and in YOUR life as well.

 

We fly back to Denmark Sunday and return home on Monday. I am looking forward to sleeping again in my own bed, but really need relief for the rest of the week while over here. Blessings to you and thank you for your prayers.

August 17, 2018

Gospel Music Can Change Your Life

The Imperials Now LP was recorded in 1968 and it contained many great songs, but one of the best was a song called Reach Out to Jesus. The message contained in that song is powerful. The first verse says, “Is your burden heavy as you bear it all alone?  Does the road you travel harbor dangers yet unknown? Are you growing weary in the struggle of it all? Jesus will help you when on his name you call.” The chorus, “He is always there, hearing every prayer, faithful and true. Walking by your side, in his love we hide, all the day through. When you get discouraged, just remember what to do. Reach out to Jesus; he’s reaching out to you”. What a wonderful thought for those who are struggling in their lives. Is that you?  You can Reach Out to Jesus because He’s reaching out to YOU. That is what makes gospel music life-changing. Music can make you smile or it can make you cry. Gospel music can change your life!

Elvis heard this song and included it on his He Touched Me LP that was received so well. It will be the very next song we record and we will make it a part of our new program for 2019.

By the way, you can go to ImperialsLive.com  and find all of our cd’s. They would make a great addition to your library. Every month I have a 3 for $20 special. August special is Friends IV, One Voice, Terry Blackwood Anthology, and Time to Get it Together.  Get your order in before the end of August. You also can go to TerryBlackwood.com.  

August 9, 2018

One Thing You Can Count on in Life

The one thing you can count on in life is change. It happens whether you like it or not. You can adapt to those changes or you can let them affect your life negatively. You can grow from those changes or you can let them stunt your growth. As lead singer for the Imperials, we had to deal consistently with change. New releases meant putting our lives and hearts on trial for the public to decide if we were still worthy of a listen. Your last release might be your best, OR you might have a new crop of great material and arrangements that solidified your base and added new fans. We had the advantage now of having three albums done and they were all popular with our fans. We never compromised the message for popularity. When we got a chance to sing on national TV, we chose songs with an eternal message that would impact the TV audience for our Lord Jesus Christ.

The change came in 1970 when Roger Wiles left and Greg Gordon replaced him. The only album Greg was on was Time To Get It Together. I told you about it and you got the photo of him with us. Greg’s short span with us was unfortunate. He was a great singer and added much to the group. However, he was a little immature at the time. He liked to play tricks on us and got a real charge out of fooling us.  I can remember him crouching down in the well of the front of the bus and waiting patiently on the rest of us to come out to the bus after a meal. As we opened the door, he would jump out and yell like a little school boy. He was so much fun and yet unpredictable. To this day, I consider his contribution to the group to be significant and I miss his lighthearted, easy and comical approach to life. So if you want to pick up that cd of Time To Get It Together, it’s on my website at http://terryblackwood.com/store/

Have a great week.