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A Brief History of Elvis’ Imperials

In 1963 Jake Hess began the process of forming a new Gospel Singing Group he wanted to call, ‘The Imperials’, the only problem… the name ‘Imperials’ wasn’t available, the ‘trademark’ was already taken and used by a group of R&B singers, ‘The Imperials’, later to be known as the very popular and successful, ‘Little Anthony & the Imperials’history_pic1

Jake thought the name was available to him, because he remembered in the 50’s that Marion Snyder and his Quartet of Gospel Singers, out of the Ft.Worth/Dallas area, were known as the Imperial Quartet (They took that name because they were sponsored by the Imperial Sugar Company on their daily radio program).

So Jake had to make a decision about the use of the name? He contacted Mr. Clarence Collins, who owned the name, and made a gentlemen’s agreement…

Mr. Collins agreed to allow Jake to use the name ‘Jake Hess and the Imperials’, because, they both agreed that R&B and the Gospel field were so far apart, that there would probably never be a conflict as to which group was which??…(to clarify, Jake Hess never owned the name, ‘The Imperials’, and neither did any other member of the group, in any configuration, who followed after Jake left the group in 1966.)

With the green light from Mr. Collins, Jake went about the business of forming, ‘Jake Hess and the Imperials’…he invited the best singers and a musician, he knew at that time to join him, Armond Morales, Gary Mc Spadden, Sherrill Neilsen, and Henry Slaughter…WOW, what talent, and what a sound they brought to the Gospel Music world…it was to revolutionize the industry…they were truly a dynamic and awesome singing machine!!

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After the first year, there were several changes in the line-up,… Sherrill left the group and was replaced by Jim Murray, who would become recognized as one of Gospel Music’s greatest Tenor voices, Henry then left, so Jake called Joe Moscheo for keyboards…Soon after that Jake had to leave the road because of his poor health, so Gary decided it was time for him to depart also…leaving Joe, Jim and Armond to re-organize and go on without their Founder, and the great voice of Jake Hess!

When Jake left, he suggested a call to Terry Blackwood to sing the ‘lead’ part, to replace him! Terry was just graduating from College, and had a deep heritage in Gospel music, because his Father, Doyle Blackwood was an original member of the World Famous, Blackwood Brothers Quartet…Terry was called, and he accepted…then the call went out to a baritone singer from San Diego, California to join the group, Roger Wiles…rounding out the new group, the new sound…No one knew it, but even Elvis was listening!!history_pic3

In 1969 the group was recognized with their first Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association as ‘Best Male Group’ of the year…the ‘New’ Imperials went on to record several albums for the Benson Company, and were granted their own imprint label, ‘Impact’…All the while going on as ‘the Imperials’…gaining attention and momentum, not only from the Gospel world, but the Music industry in general!!

In the Spring of that same year, ’69, a call came into the Imperials office from Col.Tom Parkers office, stating that Elvis would be opening in Las Vegas later that year, and they wanted the Imperials to make themselves available to open there with him… after thinking about it for about 43 seconds, the group shouted a big YES!! (little did they know at the time, that the Elvis camp had already asked the Jordanaires, and they turned it down, citing that they were too busy doing recording sessions in Nashville to leave for 5 weeks!) 

history_pic4The rest is history really, The Imperials stayed with Elvis until the end of 1971, when they recommended J.D. Sumner, and the Stamps Quartet to take their place…making them the third Gospel group to back Elvis…proving once again, how important Gospel Music was to Elvis, and how much he enjoyed having that ‘wall of sound’ of male voices behind him!!

…the only other changes in the group personnel came in the baritone position…Roger decided to leave the group and was replaced for a short time by Greg Gordon…then the group’s record Producer, Bob Mac Kenzie made a suggestion, he had heard of a singer, on the west coast, who had been with the award winning group, Andre Crouch and the Disciples, a voice that would add tothe groups potential, his style, and the overall impact he would have on the group was very appealing…his name Sherman Andrus. Now the group was ready to make it’s mark in the new CCM field that was developing…with that great tenor voice of Jim Murray on top…Terry and Sherman trading leads, and doing vocal gymnastics there in the middle, Armond, solid and smooth on the bass, and Joe at the piano, doing the MC work, and the groups representative/manager at that time! The Imperials welcomed the beginning of the Contemporary history_pic5Christian Music Movement with open arms, they were prepared, and found their nitch. God Blessed the group as they ventured out into the world of CCM!  That particular group, helped pave the way for many other singers,… their innovative style, and music to be recognized as some of best that Gospel Music has ever had to offer!! Winning many awards, and recording many songs that have gone on to become ‘standards’ in Contemporary Christian Music.

After several years, that present group of men, separated, and went in different directions, Joe went on to become a Nashville Music executive, Terry and Sherman, left to organize their own group, Andrus-Blackwood & Company, while Jim and Armond carried on the Gospel tradition as The Imperials, introducing new talent year after year, traveling and doing many concerts throughout the world.

history_pic6It wasn’t until Elvis Presley Enterprises, ‘EPE’, decided to do a ‘reunion’ concert in 1997, to commemorate the passing of Elvis, …20 years later! They called every one who had ever been on stage with Elvis to come to Memphis for a ‘Tribute Concert’, and to introduce the ‘Big Screen’ event…so, all of the Imperials who had sung with Elvis met in Memphis for the ‘Big’ show, at the Memphis Mid South Coliseum…This show rekindled interest in the ‘Imperial Group’,…so to respond to the numerous demands from Fan Clubs, promoters, and the annual events that take place in Memphis each year to celebrate Elvis’s Birthday Week, and Elvis Week in August, different members re-organized the group to satisfy these demands. At one time or another to include, Jim Murray, Roger Wiles, Armond Morales, Terry Blackwood, Sherman Andrus, and Joe Moscheo.

Jim Murray has since retired, Armond is still singing Gospel Music with his new group, Roger is in the Ministry in No. Carolina,… Terry, Joe and Sherman are still together, and have added the beautiful tenor voice of Gus Gaches, a very talented young man, who is a great addition to the groups sound…Now known as ‘Elvis’Imperials’ (recently sanctioned and licensed by EPE) they carry on that ‘Wall of sound’ that Elvis introduced to his audiences. Working mostly Elvis
events world wide, ( about 50 appearances per year) for the past four years, and enjoying the History, and the Memories of their time with Elvis. Who, but God, could have imagined that this group would still be singing, and ministering their ‘brand’ of Gospel, to a secular audience around the world!? To God be the Glory!! (thanx to Elvis too!)

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