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.

 

October 4, 2017

Bit by Bit, Note by Note

So how does a young, shy son of a gospel singer ever get to where I am today? Some call it luck. I call it God’s providence as He led me from very humble beginnings where singing in front of a crowd never was even a consideration. I was petrified of singing in public. Though my father was such a natural on stage, his son was quite the opposite. I was so shy that singing just wasn’t a consideration for me at that time. So at age 7, I began studying the piano.

 My teacher, Ms Pernie Wiley, was a disciplinarian who was quite old, very sweet but very strict.I don’t think she was ever married.  She saw I had talent and she wouldn’t let me get away with anything. If I didn’t practice, she knew it. I not only had to play the right notes, I had to hold my hand properly on the keys. I had one lesson a week and all we studied was classical music. She probably didn’t even know who Elvis was!  We would work on scales and arpeggios first and then the last 15 min I would play the song I had practiced that week. After three months, we would have a recital with all her students each playing the song they had learned and I would get to play my song. Being shy was hard enough. Being a perfectionist made it even worse! I might have played 99% of the right notes but I would remember those little mistakes I had made and that kept me frustrated. The encouragement I received from my family and my friends actually kept me motivated to continue my study of the piano. It has been an invaluable tool that I was later able to use as pianist and baritone singer for my father’s group, The Memphians, while I was a student at Memphis State University. Playing piano and singing at the same time is like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.  I stayed in that group while I finished school and paid for my education with the money we got from singing. Our group made two records and they both won awards. In 1965 the NEFF (National Evangelical Film Foundation) awarded us as best quartet of that year. We had a weekly television show in Memphis and toured all over the US in the summers and locally on the weekends when school wasn’t in session.  Later on, when I joined the Imperials, those 12 years of piano instruction served me well as I ultimately became vocal arranger for the group. That’s another story for another day.

So don’t despise the day of small beginnings because you never know where it will lead.

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September 27, 2017

My Parents: Doyle and Lavez Blackwood

The values instilled in me are a direct result of my wonderful parents, Doyle and Lavez Blackwood, both of whom are deceased now. Both were raised in church and it was a vital part of their lives. Church wasn’t just a Sunday morning where friends gathered to share stories of the previous week. Everything revolved around their church life. They had friends outside the church but their close friends shared their faith and their lives with one another. Baptisms occurred often in the creek behind the church often but mostly in the summertime. January baptisms in that cold creek were an exception.

Mother and Daddy met in the town of Jackson, MS. Daddy (that’s southern for Father and that’s what I called him) had moved from Kosciusko, MS where the quartet had a daily morning live radio broadcast to the big city of Jackson, MS and a larger radio station that reached more people. Mother had left her home of two brothers and two sisters, her mother and father (Emmett and Orrie Hawkins) and upon graduating from high school she moved to Jackson where she began her classes at business school to become a secretary. Both lived in the same boarding house. Mother was actually engaged to another man but didn’t have a ring. My father saw her in the hall and it was love at first sight. He knew of her engagement but he told her that he would win her from her love interest and that he did. Their courtship wasn’t like today. He would pass by her room each afternoon and throw a note through the transom over the door inviting her to go to the mailbox to get the mail with him. How exciting that must have been. That little 5 ft, 3 inch man won her heart and their courtship began. He was a captivating personality and she just couldn’t resist his country charm. Their marriage involved a double wedding as my father’s brother, James, had met his sweetheart, Miriam, at a local concert. Two weddings for the price of one; that was another trait we southerners still possess. In fact, the family was so frugal we were accused of being Scotch! However, a recent DNA test revealed we were actually from Northern England!  I was just “gobsmacked” when I learned that. And that’s a word I DIDN’T learn down south in Dixie!

September 12, 2017

My Grandmother Carrie Blackwood

So why am I spending so much time on my history in these blogs? Because our past is a great part of who we really are and why we do what we do. Our past serves as a foundation for shaping our views as to where we might be headed in the future and also helps determine our values as an individual. For me, the great legacy I received from the Blackwood family is significant because that family had several qualities that helped me get my start in music, and specifically gospel music. In the early 1900’s there was a Blackwood string band, made up of great uncles and cousins of theirs who just loved to sit around and play music until time for bed. They would spend their days in the fields, hoeing tobacco and picking cotton, and at night, since they had no television, they would assemble together and make music on guitar, banjo, harmonica and various other instruments. They weren’t polished or professional singers and musicians, but just played for the sheer enjoyment of playing. Their focus changed dramatically
when my little grandmother, Carrie Blackwood had a dramatic experience with Jesus Christ in a local revival there in Choctaw Co, MS one hot summer night.

The change in her life influenced the entire family. From a string band in the early 1900’s to a gospel quartet in 1934, the music was always sung and played with passion. That passion has never left me. Since that great revival that changed the lives of our family so much, it’s become more than just music to me. My faith in Jesus Christ is the prime motivator in what I do. Though my family had a gift to make music, it would have never taken me to where I am today because it was the gospel that transformed our lives and changed our focus from just making music to singing about the life
changing power found in gospel music.

September 6, 2017

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet Beginning

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet enjoyed much success in MS after their initial foray into radio. Their popularity soared locally in the area around their first radio show situated in Kosciusko, MS. I have to tell one story that started it all for this amazing quartet. They were raised dirt poor as share-croppers. That term meant the family worked the land, tilled the soil and raised the crops to share with the owner of the land. For their toil and labor, they were given some of the produce the land produced. It could have been cotton at the time as that commodity enjoyed much popularity as a crop that could be turned into apparel. It was hard work and no one who has ever picked cotton for a living would EVER go back to that back-breaking work. During this time in MS, times were hard and people were barely making it. The Blackwood’s were an example of just how hard it was at that time.

The story goes that there was a local singing school advertising about a week long singing school that was to be conducted in a local church near Ackerman, MS. Mr. Vardeman Ray was to lead the school for any and all locals who wanted to attend. The Blackwood’s mother, Carrie, knew her two boys, Doyle and James, wanted desperately to go to this school but the family didn’t have the money to attend the school. It was a week long nightly school and it cost 25 cents to attend. Because the fee to attend was unreachable for the family, the two boy’s mother did the only thing she knew she could do. They had one prize hen that was a great layer for the family. She sold that hen, and the money she received paid for the school for her two boys to attend.

It was at school they were first heard by Mr Ray. He asked them to join his quartet and they sang with him first. So the very first time the Blackwood boys ever sang together was my father, Doyle, and James, his younger brother. Their work with Mr. Ray gave them the experience they needed to branch out as a duo later where they incorporated a little comedy and small skits in between songs to make their program enjoyable to their audiences. They were gaining such a following, their older brother, Roy, who had already married and was pastoring a church in Alabama, had been blessed with a son, RW, they called him, and the family moved back to MS to join my father and James in the original quartet known as the Blackwood Brothers Quartet. So there were three brothers, with 20 years difference in their ages and the oldest brother’s son who made up the group. My father was the original emcee and he used to introduce them as the only quartet they would ever see that had three brothers, two uncles, two nephews, a father and a son!

P.S.

In these weeks of natural disasters and so many people facing difficulties, now more than ever is the time to be on our knees for our country.

 

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!

September 2017 Special 3 albums for $20
September 2017 Special 3 albums for $20
Special for September!!! Three CD's for $20 and I pay postage. My Hymns and Classics CD, A Blackwood Homecoming CD, with uncle James' last recording, and the latest release of Imperials CDs, New Dimensions. It was the first release I did with the group and I've shared a couple of great songs from that cd on here recently.

 


August 16, 2017

Happy Birthday Elvis

August 16, 1977 is a date that millions around the world still remember. Every year at Graceland, thousands of Elvis fans gather at his graveside, placing flowers and mementos by his grave as a thank you to their hero.  Many remember what they were doing when they heard the news of his death. It sent shock waves through the Elvis world and still brings sadness to those who remember him. I’ve been asked many times, “Do you really think Elvis is dead”? They want to believe it so strongly, they hold on to a lost sense of reality that Elvis just might have escaped death and is now living an obscure life in retirement somewhere. They can’t imagine an 82 year old Elvis, and that’s just as well. I can’t either. Elvis rocketed to Fame and Fortune at a young age and impacted so many lives that it’s inconceivable to think of him at any other age than at the height of his iconic success. Fortunately for me, as lead singer for the Imperials, we worked with him in some of his very best years.
Elvis was in great physical condition and many nights in the penthouse in Vegas, we witnessed karate demonstrations featuring him and his sparring side man, Charlie Hodge, who took the brunt of his pulled punches. Charlie was never hurt that I could tell but Elvis was proud of his accomplishments in karate and he wanted to show us some of the results of his training. For Charlie, it was just part of the job. Combining the workouts Elvis got in the penthouse with the workout he got onstage, after wearing a ten pound jump suit for two one hour shows nightly for a month, served to keep him in excellent physical condition. After two grueling shows a night, he should have been tired, but his adrenaline was pumping so high it took him several hours to unwind. The penthouse also served as a refuge for him to invite the Imperials, the TCB band, the Sweet Inspirations, and all the Memphis mafia, along with their wives or girlfriends for food, singing, and just good fellowship and laughs about what had happened that night. There might be a song that didn’t turn out the way he had intended on stage and we would have a good laugh about it. He was never so uptight and perfectionist that he couldn’t laugh about a mistake. That made easier for us all to laugh with him. And Charlie Hodge was the jokester. Every night he had a new joke to tell. He would get in your face and tell his joke to you. Before the punch line, he was ready to laugh out loud and he wanted YOU to laugh with him.  Charlie had been a frustrated gospel singer when he was a little younger, but then Elvis called and his life changed forever.
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

 

August 6, 2017

August 12th, 2017 Concert in Memphis

The Gospel Music of Elvis Presley Celebration Concert

8:00 PM. Graceland Soundstage A, Elvis Presley’s Memphis. $40
Enjoy a very special evening at the Graceland Soundstage to celebrate the gospel music of Elvis Presley. Hear the music that not only influenced Elvis, but that also earned him his only three Grammy Awards. Special guest performers for the evening include some who shared the stage with Elvis, plus those who have been inspired by his music: Bill Baize, Donnie Sumner, Larry Strickland and Jeff Sumner, former members of JD Sumner and the Stamps Quartet; Terry Blackwood, Darrell Toney and Lynn Royce Taylor of Terry Blackwood and The Imperials; plus musician Terry Mike Jeffrey. The show will feature Elvis imagery and videos on the big screen throughout the performance. Tickets for this event are on sale now individually through Graceland Reservations by calling 800-238-2000 or 901-332-3322 or online at Graceland.com.