Forgotten Albums: Imperials – Gospel’s Alive And Well

These days, if you ask most people about the Imperials, they will immediately think of either the Terry Blackwood/Sherman Andrus lineup or the Russ Taff-Paul Smith/David Will era of the group.  However, I’ve always considered the lineup that preceded Terry and Sherman by a couple years as their best.  That group featured Jim Murray on tenor, Terry Blackwood on lead, Roger Wiles on baritone, Armond Morales on bass, and Joe Moscheo at the piano and serving as the group’s MC.

This album is a live album featuring the aforementioned iteration of the Imperials from 1970.  The very first song on the album, the quartet classic “First Day In Heaven”, showcases what an incredibly smooth blend the group possessed and how well the four voices fit with each other.  It’s amazingly difficult to distinguish between Terry Blackwood and Roger Wiles, they nearly sound like the same voice overdubbed.  It’s interesting to hear “The Old Rugged Cross Made The Difference” being introduced as “a new song”, and their version, while minus the vocal acrobatics of the Gaither Vocal Band’s later take, is incredible.  Harmony drenched in more harmony can be found in “Let There Be Peace On Earth”, “If That Isn’t Love” (with an arrangement like you’ve never heard before), “Sheltered In The Arms Of God”, and the album closing “Sweet Sweet Spirit.”  The group covers one of their recent hits, “God Speaking To You”, which was actually pulled from a Broadway play, if I’m not mistaken.  That’s not the only cut with a secular source, which is interesting since at this time the Imperials were still riding the Southern Gospel circuit.  If you’ve never heard Jim Murray tackle “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, you’ve missed out.  He gives a great performance on this album.

Making its first appearance on this album is the Joe Moscheo led “Oh Happy Day”, but in this incarnation it is the second song of a 2-song medley, and is immediately preceded by a stunning performance of “When We All Get Together With The Lord.”  This song is Exhibit A in my case that these four voices had the single most impressive blend that we’ve ever seen in Southern Gospel music, and the harmonies are impeccable.

When the question makes its rounds every once in a while about the all time greatest live albums, I always make sure to posit this album as belonging near the top of the list.  There isn’t even an average song on the album, the singing is without fault, the arrangements, while dated 41 years after the fact, were incredibly progressive for the time, the blend flawless, and Joe Moscheo is easily the most underrated and forgotten MC in SG history.  His self-deprecating, witty humor, and yet his ability to exude sincerity and humbleness when the concert turns more serious is amazing to behold.  If you’ve got a copy of this album, pull it out and spin it up.  If you don’t, this is one worth scouring flea markets, antique stores, and eBay to find.

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About Wes Burke
I'm a .NET developer and Southern Gospel music fan. Married with a wonderful family.

14 Responses to Forgotten Albums: Imperials – Gospel’s Alive And Well

  1. Progressive arrangements almost always become dated faster. The exceptions are when the genre changes to catch up – which is why some of the Statesmen 1960s and Gold City 1990s arrangements that were progressive for the time sound perfectly normal today, while other groups progressive arrangements do sound dated.

    (That would make a rather interesting blog post one of these days, for one or the other of us!)

    • burkesbrainwork says:

      It also explains why Contemporary Christian music changes so frequently. Since it is by definition keeping up with secular music trends, it by nature has to change along the same pace with pop/rock music.

  2. Gus Gaches says:

    This is truly an incredible album! Though they were still firmly rooted in Southern Gospel, they were also opening for Elvis at this point. I believe that is the influence you hear on the project as far as the song selection is concerned.
    The arrangement of “Let There Be Peace” is just incredible to listen to, and when the applause comes in at the end and you realize it is live, well let’s just say it is very humbling!
    As for Joe Moscheo, you could not be more right. I still get the joy of speaking with Joe every few weeks, and the knowledge that this man has is incredible! I really enjoyed your comments on what I have always considered one of my all time favorites!

    • burkesbrainwork says:

      Gus, thanks for reading and commenting! I actually did a “Hidden Gem” post on “Let There Be Peace” a while back. The multiple a cappella breaks in the middle of the song are absolutely stunning. I’ve always loved this album too. To me, this is what SG music is all about. Any idea how much, if any, sweetening was done in the studio on this album?

      • Gus Gaches says:

        Not near as much as you would think! Those guys were just so good! They could stand flat footed and out sing just about anyone. I was forever amazed when I traveled with Joe, Terry, and Sherman at how well they still could sing. I hope when I am in my 60’s and 70’s that I can sing half as well as those guys still can!

      • burkesbrainwork says:

        It actually wouldn’t have surprised me at all if you had said “None.” Those guys were just plain good.

  3. Dean Adkins says:

    Great album. I saw this group a number of times and they were outstanding.

  4. Janet B says:

    Thanks, Wes. Have the album…LOVE it. Their “If That Isn’t Love” is my favorite version ever. Am also particularly fond of another one of Dottie’s songs that they recorded, “Marvelous Grace” – although it’s not on here.
    It’s just a crying shame that so many of these songs…like “God Speaking To You” and “Come Along With Me”…have never been re-recorded…great songs that people should hear.
    The Imperials were my first love…and, you know, you just never get over that. 🙂

    • Mine too. I told Ian Owens that I can remember wearing out their records as a little kid. I remember being particularly taken with “Trumpet of Jesus.” I generally became a Pentecostal on the spot whenever that one rolled around!

  5. Ben Harris says:

    This is my favorite album of all time. “First Day In Heaven” sounds like one brain controlling 4 voices! This is a splendid album, recorded by my old friend Lee Hazen of Hendersonville, TN. Many people have asked me who my favorite lead singer is, and most have guessed wrong! It was and still is to this day, Terry Blackwood. I have had the opportunity to work with Terry many times in a recording studio situation, and he has never failed to amaze me. His ability to blend with ANYONE, and his uncanny pitch-perfect singing is without equal, anywhere, anytime. The Imperials of this era had the BEST blend that that has ever been in Southern Gospel, or for that matter, any other genre you wish to mention. Great music that still holds up today.

  6. Daniel Wade says:

    I agree with everyone on here. My CD copy of this album sounds great. I have said this before, but I still would like for Benson/Provident music to get off their backsides and retrieve the original masters of this lineup and digitally remaster them for us. I told Terry B. that this lineup is my all-time favorite lineup followed by Russ Taff and then Sherman Andrus. I get so irritated at record companies when they refuse to remaster the great recordings. I realize the economy plays a huge roll in this right now, but how many years did they have prior to the the economic downturn?
    I love this group during this time.

  7. Steve Kittle says:

    I literally wore this LP out as a teenager. IMO no other live project has ever come close to matching the sheer perfection of the vocals on this album. Which brings me to a question: Does anyone know if the band instruments (esp. the guitar, bass and drums) were live also, or were they added afterward? I’m sure there were some overdubs, but I have always wondered if those musicians were playing live.

  8. Dave Nuttall says:

    Recently a “young” Catholic priest told me that Jimmy Swaggart and the Imperials were his “anchor music” when he was a teen and struggling with his life’s work.

    I’d be extremely grateful if someone could point me to the SHEET MUSIC and/or the accompaniment track for the Imperials doing “Same Old Fashioned Way”. Research via Google indicates the Oak Ridge Boys may have recorded it as much as a decade before the Imperials, but I’ve not located digital versions of their album and the government copyright office doesn’t seem to show it registered by that title.

    TIA to anyone who can/will provide more details.
    Dave Nuttall
    South Texas Gospel Music Assn.
    San Antonio, TX

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