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 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.