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!

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!

January 25, 2018

A Good and Faithful Servant

I am sitting in the hotel in Vienna, Austria, thinking about how blessed I am.  At this point in my life I should be resting at home in retirement and yet God in His infinite mercy and grace has allowed me to continue to sing His songs and share His love to the world. I’m not worthy of this great blessing but I’m thankful for it. I have so many wonderful friends around the world who love what I do and it brings great blessing to them. I will continue to do what I’m doing as long as I’m able.

Many people go their entire lives not knowing what life is all about, why they are here, and where will it all end. I think I have found the purpose for my life and though it is tough, it is also rewarding and full of meaning and purpose as I share the life-giving grace that has been extended to me.  I’m not a preacher and am basically shy but I know this; There is a God who made us all, who loves me and you and He has a wonderful plan and purpose for everyone who will trust Him with their life.

We all take different roads because each one has distinctly different paths that they will take. To find your unique purpose, you must first find the one who gave you life, the one who knows you better than you know yourself. He formed you in your mother’s womb and He knows what will give you the greatest satisfaction.

The apostle Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. Paul found the ultimate purpose for his life; to follow his Lord in obedience. The greatest satisfaction you will ever enjoy is to know that God is leading you in your life and you are following Him. When thinking about the brevity of life, it’s where we will spend eternity that is the ultimate question. If we have 70+ years here, we are fortunate. Some live much longer and some have less time. It’s really not about the quantity of years you have but the quality of the years you have been given that measure your success in life.  Jesus had only a short period of time to complete His mission on earth but He was faithful to His calling until the end and He lived a perfect life without sin.

I have fallen many times and yet God has never given up on me because my heart’s desire is to be obedient to His will. My greatest joy will be realized when my life is over and I enter into the presence of God and hear Him say to me “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter now into the joys of the Lord”.  Eternal life forever with my Lord will be finally realized. Exciting!

January 18, 2018

Go Where you are Celebrated, Not Tolerated

When I talked about making things happen, we surely tried. Wayne Coombs, our manager, was trying to put us before a younger, hipper college audience because he felt that would open a lot of doors for us to tour America’s colleges. It was a nice idea and a worthy effort. We were very excited about that possibility and so we “bought in” and got the clothes and the songs we thought would make that happen. There was a major college showcase in Los Angeles and Wayne got us on that show. It was October of 1970. Many young, hip artists appeared, but we were the only gospel artists on the bill. We bought these black military suits with a black belt outside and a red turtleneck sweater. We thought we looked pretty good. Unfortunately, when you are singing to a secular crowd of students who didn’t like government intrusion into their lives at all, and you walk out there looking like Hitler’s Gestapo, you can imagine what happened. That secular crowd of young people didn’t like us one bit!  They didn’t boo, but they didn’t applaud much. Nothing was thrown at the stage but after 45 long and painful minutes we left the stage with our tails between our legs and wondering what we were doing there in the first place.

It taught us a great lesson that I will never forget. There’s a very appropriate saying, “Go where you are celebrated, not tolerated”.  Ricky Nelson had a tune he wrote for just such a situation as we endured. The song was called Garden Party. It talks of trying to be something you are not and getting shot down by the crowd because you tried to please a crowd that simply didn’t want to hear what you had to say. He wound up in that song saying, “If memories were all I’ve got, I’d rather drive a truck”.  So, stay true to your calling and be who God made you to be. Nobody can be you better than YOU. Yes, stretch your limits and try new things like we did. You will find your boundaries and your limits or the audience will do it for you.

January 4, 2018

Windows of Opportunity

There are three types of people in the world, so I’m told. There are those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, and those who stand around, scratching their heads saying, “what happened”?  I have to admit I had no clue of what was happening in my life when I graduated from Memphis State University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a minor in music. I had made B’s and C’s in Business Administration and straight A’s in music but there were no signs of anyone interested in me upon graduation. So, my first job ever was selling ladies shoes in downtown Memphis. I can’t say I was very good at it. In fact, I was awful!  A lady would come in, I would greet her and she would show me the shoe she was interested in and tell me her size. The next step for me was to go to the back of the store where all the shoes were stored and find the shoe she wanted and her size. By the time I located the proper size and returned to the show room floor I had forgotten who I had spoken with!  The boss was very gracious with me and helped me through much of this but because I wasn’t cut out for this kind of work, I didn’t last very long.  After two months of agony for me and for my boss, I left the shoe business and waited for my new challenge that hopefully brought a better outcome.

I was at home, licking my wounds over my failure as a shoe salesman when Jake Hess of the Imperials called me and told me the doctors had ordered him to get off the road. He had a heart condition that required him to take his leave of the Imperials, the group he had founded in 1964. He had prided himself in selecting the best talent available and doing things differently on the stage than other groups. He had chosen Henry Slaughter on piano, Sheryl Neilson on tenor, Gary McSpadden on baritone and Armond Morales on bass. This group was built around Jake and he was an amazing singer/personality. I was a young, inexperienced shy young man without a clue what I wanted to do with my life. I was so confused that it took me a few weeks to even decide. I knew it was going to be a huge change in life for me and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it.  So, I did what we all should do when we don’t know what to do. I prayed about it and I acted upon my impressions that I now believe were from the Holy Spirit. We all have windows of opportunity that open for us and if we don’t seize the moment, they disappear. I think, looking back, God opened a door and I walked through it. My life took a dramatic turn from then on.

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.

November 8, 2017

The Imperials and Jimmy Dean

In 1968, just when the Imperials were considering disbanding for lack of dates, we got a call from Jimmy Dean’s office in New York City. He had heard our recordings and decided to fly us up there for an audition. At that time, he had just come off a very successful ABC network show where he showcased many country music stars. He was now going to do tour dates and he was using 12 men from New York City as backup for him. They were called the Cimarron Singers. Each were highly educated in the music field and they were featured in his show, singing songs like “Maria” and “Shenandoah”. The sound with those male voices was amazing! We got to New York and into his offices. We met Willie, his personal assistant and Bob MuCulloch his manager. They placed music in front of us and had us read the vocal charts the male chorus sang. Fortunately, my piano lessons paid off and we were able to read the music they put in front of us.  We were hired to do one three week show at the Theater in the Round in West Covina, CA. The supporting artists were the Lennon Sisters from the Lawrence Welk show. We thought we had arrived!

We replaced four of the Cimarron Singers and during the show Jimmy had us singing with eight of them on their songs. Later in the show he would announce us and we would step out and sing a feature. We chose a dynamic gospel song, He Touched Me with Joe Moscheo on the piano. There were rave reviews on the show. The critics had never heard a group like this. The reporter spoke of us as that group with those  “shotgun voices”. I guess we sang pretty loud, especially on the last chorus of the song but the reviews in the papers were really flattering. It didn’t take long before Jimmy decided he didn’t need the Cimarron Singers anymore so he fired them and from that point on, the Imperials were Jimmy’s supporting act.

November 4, 2017

The Jimmy Dean Experience

From graduation at the University of Memphis to three months later, singing with one of the top gospel groups in the nation was a big adjustment. I commuted to and from school to home for four years and now I’m riding a bus cross-country for months at a time. Our schedule was heavy, but the crowds approved of the new sound. We had new songs, a young sounding group with fresh, contemporary arrangements, and we appealed to a broad range of fans. We sang in high school auditoriums, city auditoriums, churches, and anywhere we could get a crowd. One date in particular stood out to me. We found ourselves singing for a big local food market in Beckley, W. VA. that asked us to come and sing for their grand opening. So, when we got there, we were escorted to the area of the grocery store where we were to set up our sound. It wasn’t very prestigious but there we were, singing our songs to eager grocery shoppers on opening day from a small stage in front of the fruits and vegetable section of that store!  Were they trying to tell us something?  We’ll never know.

The Imperials at that time were singing anywhere and everywhere we could because the dates just weren’t coming. After our first year it was so bad we weren’t sure we would survive a second year. It was during that time, between album one, New Dimensions, and album two, Imperials Now, that we got a call from New York and the offices of Jimmy Dean. He was a huge gospel music fan and knew of our group. It was that call that turned it around for the Imperials. It’s a great story and one that merits more time.

 

August 23, 2017

Being raised in Mississippi

The little “shotgun” house in which I was born in Choctaw, Co, MS was very similar to the one you will find in Tupelo, MS where Elvis was raised.
 My parents, Doyle and Lavez,  were renting that little house at the time and didn’t have the money for a hospital visit. Can you imagine naming your daughter Lavez Carmen? I can safely say there were no other girls named Lavez in the whole state of Mississippi! Her maiden name was Hawkins. More about this family on my mother’s side in another post. These little houses consisted of a front living room, kitchen, one bath and one bedroom in the back. I went to see Elvis’ house in Tupelo one time and it seemed to fit that pattern. The irony of all this is that though I was told that was where I was born, by the time I knew about it, they had moved the house to Ackerman, MS. Later on, when I was older, I looked for it to get a picture for my scrapbook but never found it. I was told later that it got demolished for a larger, more impressive home in Ackerman.
I don’t remember much of my childhood but I do remember that I enjoyed much attention from cousins and family until my little sister, Kaye, came along. That’s when I learned I had to share that attention with someone smaller and cuter.  She had blond hair and deep blue eyes that sparkled at everyone who attended her. I was no longer the only one who got attention from family and friends. We had many good times together and she was the only girl in the Blackwood family.  All second generation Blackwoods were boys.
My first recollection of my childhood and life in the Blackwood family was when we lived in Shenandoah, IA. My father, Doyle, and the entire Blackwood family had moved there from Mississippi. Three brothers, Roy, Doyle, and James were born to Emmit and Carrie Blackwood. My uncle, Roy, was 11 years older than my father, Doyle. Then came James eight years later. So by the time my uncle James was born, uncle Roy had married and had a son they named RW. He was about the same age as his uncle James. Those four men made up the original Blackwood Brothers Quartet.
These men developed a huge following in MS and they wound up on the radio doing a live radio show every morning. At night they would travel around the state giving nightly concerts. Advertising those concerts consisted of fastening a loud speaker on the top of their car, driving around the town, and announcing their concert that night to the local citizens. Tickets sold for 10 cents!

 


August 9, 2017

The Story Begins

Welcome to my world! We will explore a past filled with unexpected twists and turns in my life I could never have planned.  I will start more at the end and we will resume the early days of my experiences in later chapters. I will go back to the beginning and tell you how I started out and how I know God had led me all the way to where I am today. As we approach Elvis week in Memphis, it’s noteworthy that I am still very active singing and sharing my life now more often with Elvis fans who loved him and because I sang behind him, that love has been transferred to those of us who sang with him.  I am humbled by it but I love the opportunity to meet and greet Elvis fans from all over the world. As a shy kid who never would have even considered singing in public before a crowd, I can truly say that God has brought me a mighty long way!

This week will be a seminal week for Elvis fans for we are celebrating the life of the man most would say affected the music world like no other. Knowing him and working with him, I can truly say I saw the real man with his amazing talent but the tentative little boy who always sought the approval of others to validate that talent. I saw many of the same traits in me though I never achieved his level of success. I saw a man who overcame many obstacles and in spite of them all, he did it HIS way. He changed the course of rock and roll music by his bold courage to be different. I always admired that. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he was a man of stunningly good looks. That charisma with the voice and the looks, the humble attitude that accompanied his talent, was wrapped in a package too big to contain. He exploded onto the music scene long before my involvement with him but his talents left an indelible mark on the world.

This week we will celebrate his life, his music and the man himself. The Imperials were very fortunate to have been there that opening night, July 31, 1969 at the Las Vegas Hilton International Hotel. It was a night I will never forget.e end and we will resume the early days of my experiences in later chapters. I will go back to the beginning and tell you how I started out and how I know God had led me all the way to where I am today. As we approach Elvis week in Memphis, it’s noteworthy that I am still very active singing and sharing my life now more often with Elvis fans who loved him and because I sang behind him, that love has been transferred to so many of us who worked with Elvis.. I am humbled by our fans, but I love the opportunity to meet and greet Elvis fans from all over the world. As a shy kid who never would have even considered singing in public before a crowd, I can truly say that God has brought me a mighty long way! This week will be a seminal week for Elvis fans for we are celebrating the life of the man most would say affected the music world like no other.

Knowing him and working with him, I can truly say I saw the real man with his amazing talent but the tentative little boy who always sought the approval of others to validate that talent. I saw many of the same traits in me though I never achieved his level of success. I saw a man who overcame many obstacles and in spite of them all, he did it His Way. He changed the course of rock and roll music by his bold courage to be different. I always admired that. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he was a man of stunningly good looks. That charisma with the voice and the looks, the humble attitude that accompanied his talent, was wrapped in a package too big to contain. He exploded onto the music scene long before my involvement with him but his talents left an indelible mark on the world. This week we will celebrate his life, his music and the man himself.

The Imperials were very fortunate to have been there that opening night, July 31, 1969 at the Las Vegas Hilton International Hotel. It was a night I will never forget.

Until next time,

Terry Blackwood