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.