TERRY BLACKWOOD INTERVIEW
THE FOLLOWING WAS A PHONE INTERVIEW WITH TERRY BLACKWOOD ON MAY 15 2007
JOE KREIN: can you tell me a little about yourself , your family and where you grew up?
TERRY BLACKWO i grew up in the blackwood brother family that was a gospel group out of Memphis , i was born in Mississippi and moved to Shenandoah . i grew up in memphis and that is where i first met elvis. elvis was a fan of my families group , before he was famous . actually we went to the same church , elvis in his late teens was still going to our church and just kind of got acquainted that way but i never thought i was going to sing with him while i was with the imperials.
when did you join the imperials?
1967 and in two years we did our own thing and we got a arrangement with jimmy dean we sang a lot with him before the invitation to work with elvis came along in 1969. that's when we went with elvis for three years , we opened in las vegas with him july 31 1969 at the international hotel.
were you an elvis fan?
i would say i probably wasn't until i worked with him , i became a elvis fan . especially if you came from memphis you knew all about him. he had hits right away and was becoming a big hit. i cant say that i was a big rock and roll fan . i like d a lot of the rock music from the fifties and sixties and elvis was one of them .i think just to meet him was a real treat and to work with him was a real memorable experience.
can you tell me a funny stories of working with elvis?
i would say nothing in particular , he was just a cut up , he was just unpredictable . he would always carry a bottle of water around , he would throw water on guys and just falling off of stools. he would do a lot of silly things , sing the wrong words in the songs and laugh at himself. he was just a real cut up.
do you think he was doing that just to breakup the monotony of it? because he did the same thing everyday?
no i just think that was him , he was a free spirit and just very unusual man . he was not predicable ,i think that was a lot of his mist eke. in high school back then if you had long hair and if it was kind of greasy you were not apart of the in crowd. i don't think you were consider really hip or cool with high school students. but i understand that when he sang for the high school assembly , i think that changed a lot of the perception about him. but he never really was excepted as one of the in crowd , he was an outsider. but that didn't seem to bother him , he would wear his color up and his hair long and just not doing things that were typical. most guys back then wore there hair short and he was doing his own thing even back them . he was an individual, he didn't march to any ones tune. he did his own thing.
look what it did for him
i think so , he is probably the most emulated singer of all time . some time i regret that . because some of these guys really don't need to try and dress like him and look like him. i think that's a shame that they lost there identity trying to look like elvis. but to each there own, but he was an individual , but no ones been copied more. that's because he was different , he stood out in a crowd. you have your frank Sinatra who really was a great singer but you don't see any frank Sinatra wanna be . Sinatra look a likes , i know i don't. so i mean there was something about him that was very special .
did you do anything special before a show? some people say they held hands and prayed.
yeah all of that was done from time to time , but we all had our own dressing room and elvis had his. but then a lot of times we would get into his dressing room before the show and we might sing a little bit just to get him warmed up or calmed down a liitle bit. a lot of times we would all go up the elevator with him to the showroom floor and walk across the back of the stage and just make small talk with him. all of that was done , he was very comfortable praying and comfortable talking about the bible. his mother was a very devout Christian, and he loved his mother probably more then any woman in his life. because he respected her and he new she loved him regardless of how famous he got . so i think that had a certain charm to him he could never get away from . i mean once he was famous he was never sure if that girl was with him because she wanted to be or because of who he was.
that has to be hard.
it was it was really a difficult place for him to be i felt for him. but he never dreamed that this is where he would be. he went in to make a record for his mother and suddenly he is famous. so many people now a days work to be famous and they scheme to be famous. i don't know if that was Elvis's goal , i think elvis loved to sing and when the music came on he just couldn't stand still. but i don't think he ever thought this would happen to him.
after the show would you go to elviss suite to party?
we would go to the penthouse but we are not partiers , we would go up and he would have finger food and what ever you wanted to drink. most of us was not drinkers , we would sit around the piano . one would play the rest of us would sing , we would sing gospel songs. elvis had every record that my family ever made and the statesmen quartet and all these groups. he knew every ones name and he also liked black gospel. like the harmonizing four , all those groups. lot of times we would listen to record and later we would sing. he loved to harmonize , he loved having a tenor a baritone and a base , he could sing along with us and i think that gave him great pleasure. he certainly didn't go up and sing rock and roll tunes. i think he knew that brought him there but when it got time to sing with us it was just gospel.
do you think a gospel concert would have worked?
i dont think the colonel would have allowed it , i think he wanted to do it many times but i dont think colonel parker would have allowed it. he really was a hard task master . i heard that elvis wanted to do it but the colonel said no. elvis was a very loyal guy , because deep down he really thought the colonel made him famous but really it was elvis that brought the colonel along as far as i am concerned.
it was his talent that made him famous.
i think the colonel made some smart moves like limited his appearances , doing things that really helped enhance Elvis's career , but elvis raw talent would always come through anyway . i think any other smart manager could have done the same thing with elvis.
do you remember any security problems
yeah there was a lot of jealous boy friends in the audience because there girl friends loved elvis so the guys hated elvis. so he carried around with him five or six tough guys , body guards. red and sonny west and they would go where elvis went and they would run interference and i remember when girls would jump up on the stage. they would stand on there seat and then run up the table and go for elvis. there were times that they were tackled before they got to him. they did this because you never knew what they had in there mind. but they would run interference and keep thses woman from getting to him. i never saw a man do that , there was one time that this guy was so angry at him that he said he was going to shoot him on stage. there was a song in the show called lovin feeling , the message that the guy sent was when he does that song and the spot light is on him . I'm going shoot elvis. so that night there was a lot of security in the audience. his body guards were walking thought the audience trying to find a man with a gun.
that must have really bothered elvis , thinking someone would try and do that . that someone hated him so.
well there s just crazy people in the world and they didn't like the fact that there girls were goggling over elvis. i guess it attacked there manhood .elvis was innocent in that regard he just wanted to go up there and sing his songs. he didn't have any designs on those woman. i think he thought it was funny. in fact he laughed about it a lot , how these woman were acting. after a while he started to play with it . he enjoyed the happening. he was just himself , he wasn't trying to hurt anybody , he was doing what he did.
i was told that everybody paid for there ticket, now if your family went to see you perform with elvis . did they pay for there tickets?
my family never went to see elvis , I'm sure there were some that could get comped if they were apart of the show. but my family didn't like the idea that i was singing in las vegas. so they understood but i don't think my family ever went to las vegas. if they did it wasn't to gamble. we were church going people. we had no interest in gambling . you don't build them huge hotels by giving away more money then you take in. i think people who cant control there gambling is very sad because its an addiction. what's sad is when they gamble food money and rent money. hoping to make it rich. i learned very quickly that was not the way to make money. you have to work you have to achieve and the your rewarded.
did you ever visit elvis at his home?
yes i did , i believe it was 1970. we just hung out . went out to eat.
what did you think of graceland?
i think it was very gaudy. but that's elvis. he was a country boy from Mississippi , and he got money . there was a lot of plastic and raw hide. he had a jungle room. (laughing)
he had the three TVs downstairs so he could watch every channel. but it was elvis, for him to have a designer come in and do his home would be unthinkable.
do you have any stories with the memphis mafia? did you get a long with them?
you don't want to mess with the memphis mafia! (laughing) they were always nice to us , they new we meant no harm. we were there to help him. we had good times with them , there wasn't any people that i thought was difficult.
even the colonel?
well probably for the record i can tell you that never in my life did i speak to the colonel. the colonel had a assistant named tom disken . if you had a question about something and you wanted a answer. you didn't ask the colonel you asked tom disken. tom was the go between and he was a real nice fellow. the colonel had a way about him that made you feel very small. so you didn't talk to the colonel , he just did his own thing and he didn't have anything to do with you. i think he had to be a very lonely man , elvis was totally opposite of that . you could approach him anytime. i don't think the colonel was liked by anybody , he had a very small circle of friends.
do you think anyone else could have managed elvis and done just as well?
yes i do . it would had taken a special guy , a guy that would understand elvis. the colonel did understand elvis. but any good manager could have managed elvis. management is all about what the colonel did. the colonel did a lot of right things, but he also did a lot of bad things for elvis. i think he could have improved Elvis's image , from what i considered more of a circus type atmosphere in the lobby of the hotel. he could had classed it up a little bit . it didn't have to be so cheap looking. there were cheap banners and plastic straw hats . that's just my opinion.
do you know if elvis ever complained about it?
no , elvis didn't complain about anything. he just went along. he made more money then he ever dreamed in his life. elvis just wanted to make music. he just wanted to sing and make people happy. that's what he did. the people that came they loved it , and at the time i didn't think anything of it. elvis was so charismatic that he could had pulled it off with just about anybody. any manager that was smart could have made elvis. I'm not saying that the colonel didn't , because he did . a lot of right decisions were made . so you have to say the colonel was valuable in a lot of ways.
when did the imperials stop with the elvis show? and why ?
1972 . they would call you three weeks before the concert , they would say we just booked such and such we need you to come. we were quite successful in our gospel field . in our field you worked with contracts and you agreed to show up in a certain place . you cat go against your word. so the colonel would say we need you here , we would have had to cancel. so we were finding it difficult reconciling all the realities of scheduling. we would schedule a year a head. sometimes the colonel would book something at the last minute and want us to be there. so we had to decide do we want to give up everything and hang around until the colonel called . we decided that there was long periods in between were nothing was happening and so we just decided. plus we were working jimmy dean. he was working vegas too. with jimmy he would let us sing a couple of hour songs . we were also making a lot of friends. we had just won group of the year in gospel so we were getting a lot of calls. to many irons in the fire , looking at it now . we should have stayed with elvis and dropped jimmy dean maybe we could have helped him you never know.
did you ever see him again.
he would come and see the show. even then he looked ok. then there was a span of four years . 1973 t0 77 when he died. i remember when they aired his last show and when i saw him i was completely shocked. i was amazing the change in him.
was there talk around town that elvis was sicK
not to us. you know i had never did drugs , so i think he started out taken pills to go to sleep and pills to get up. i don't think there was any pain involved there might have been at the end.
what a shame
i know that dr nick was giving him what ever he wanted . that was wrong .i am sure the dr was doing what elvis wanted to keep him happy.
how did you hear elvis had passed away.
i was in my car leaving memphis we were doing a date somewhere. it came on the radio ,
how did it make you feel
shocked , just shocked
how did it make you feel? you were not surprised?
i surprised you never expect a man 42 years old to die. he always said that he would not live long. he would say he would die close to the age of his mother.
he said that?
yeah he would say that . i am sure he knew he was sick . you can tell when your body is not right.
what do you think of the everlasting popularity of elvis presley?
i thinks its amazing , i don't think it will ever happen again.
so what are you doing now?
im singing with the imperials. we will be in memphis for the 30 anniversary . we will also be heading to Germany. they fly us over and take good care of us.
200) (V) (AS HIM SELF)