Joe Moscheo Remembers Elvis Presley
Source: Elvis Australia
October 22, 2019
A Conversation with Joe Moscheo
Joe Moscheo : 1970.
By Shannon Woodland and Scott Ross
CBN.com : It's estimated that Elvis Presley sold over one billion records worldwide. That's more than anyone in the history of the record industry. But he only won three Grammy awards, and those were for 'How Great Thou Art', and 'He Touched Me' - all Gospel performances.
Joe Moscheo, member of the hit Gospel group, The Imperials, who performed with Elvis for many years, knows another side of Elvis unknown to many Elvis aficionados. Recently, The 700 Club's very own Scott Ross sat down with Joe Moscheo to learn more about the King of Rock 'n' Roll's faith.
Scott Ross: My wife Nedra and I were listening to his Gospel albums and when you hear that man sing that music, he wasn't just singing songs. This was something coming from his heart. Was that real for him?
Joe Moscheo: Oh yeah, my favorite performance of Elvis is from the '68 special when he sings in this white suit, 'If I Can Dream'. But he sings 'If I Can Dream' of a better land. It's so convincing and it's so honest, and that's the real Elvis.
Scott Ross: You said people have talked enough about the negative side, so I want to emphasize another side. That's what the title says, The Gospel Side of Elvis, and story after story after story, he'd come off stage, and he'd work and work and work. He would literally call you guys together backstage or in the hotel room, to have Gospel sessions that went for hours--sometimes all night long.
Joe Moscheo: That's what he wanted to do. There were like two parts. There was Elvis, the superstar, and he went out on stage with his jumpsuits, and he was 'Elvis.' And then when he came off stage, he was Elvis Presley from Tupelo, Mississippi, that was brought up in the church, and he wanted to sing Gospel music.
The Imperials toured with Elvis from 1969 till 1972 and recorded two Gospel albums with him, including Elvis' final Grammy award-winning album, 'He Touched Me.' In 1998, the Imperials were inducted into the Gospel Music Association's Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Today, they still perform worldwide and have Elvis to thank for it.
Joe Moscheo: Elvis opened the door for us and so now, 30 years later after his death ... we're still singing around the world, and we're still singing Gospel music to an audience who has never really heard it before, and Elvis is the one who opened the door for us.
Scott Ross: As I understood it when Elvis died, he was reading a book about Jesus and the search for the historical Christ.
Joe Moscheo: Yeah, there's ...
Scott Ross: ... all sorts of stories.
Joe Moscheo: Yes, all sorts of stories ... but, I gave him a Bible. It's really hard for me to talk about it. I said, 'Elvis, I got something for you. I know you're really struggling, and I know you're having a hard time, but every answer you need is in this book. All you have to do is read it. It's real simple now, it's plain English. Read this book. And we hugged, and I left. And that's the last time I saw him.
Scott Ross: To use the terminology, to use the vernacular, was Elvis Presley saved? Did he know God? Did he know Jesus Christ?
Joe Moscheo: Well, of course I believe that he was. Now, I'm not the judge and I'm not the final word on this, but from my experience and from my being around him and from his attitude, you know he wasn't perfect, none of us are.
Scott Ross: I don't see any here.
Joe Moscheo: No. Thank you, yeah. He had demons. He had problems. It's really hard to imagine a guy that was Elvis Presley could be without that. But from all these indications and being around him in these intimate settings, I really feel that he was a Christian, I really do. And I felt he was trying as hard as he could and was holding on as hard as he could. And I hope to see him one day.
The Imperials are an American Christian music group that has been around for over 45 years. Originating as a southern gospel quartet, the innovative group would become pioneers of contemporary Christian music in the 1960s. There have been many changes for the band in membership and musical styles over the years. They would go on to win four Grammys and be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Jake Hess and the Imperials
The band had its genesis when long-time Statesmen Quartet member Jake Hess retired from that group on December 7, 1963. Hess wanted to start a new group recognized as 'king' of the Southern gospel field and thought the 'Imperials' would be a good moniker. After getting the go-ahead from Marion Snider for permission to use the name, (Snider had previously operated an Imperial Quartet named after its sponsor Imperial Sugar), he gathered together pianist Henry Slaughter from the Weatherford Quartet, ex-Oak Ridge Boys baritone Gary McSpadden, the Weatherford Quartet's bass singer Armond Morales and Speer Family tenor Sherrill (Shaun) Neilsen to join him. After signing with Benson Records in 1964, the group recorded their first of many albums on the Heart Warming Records label. The following year, the quartet organization moved from Atlanta to Nashville, Tennessee. After 2 years with the group, tenor Nielsen was first to go and Jim Murray would replace him. Murray's past included stints with the Stamps Trio, Inspirationals, and Orrell Quartet. About this time, Slaughter also departed with Joe Moscheo of the Harmoneers replacing him at the keyboard. Health issues also forced Hess to retire and McSpadden chose to leave as well.
Elvis Presley with the Imperials Quartet and Larry Gatlin
The Elvis years
In 1966, Hess turned the reins of the group over to Morales, Moscheo, and Murray. With new members: Roger Wiles (from family group the Melodaires) and ex-Stamps Quartet member Terry Blackwood, a new name (now simply known as The Imperials rather than 'Jake Hess and the Imperials'), along came a new, more contemporary sound on the 1967 album 'New Dimensions'. It also brought them their first of many awards: 'Male Quartet of the Year' in 1969 from the Gospel Music Association.
Elvis Presley had long harbored a love for gospel and Jake Hess in particular. The group recorded with Elvis in sessions from May 1966 to June 1971. This included his last two Grammy Award-winning albums: How Great Thou Art (featuring a duet with Hess on the classic Statesmen song 'If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side') and He Touched Me (which used many of the songs that the Imperials had recorded on their own albums). In 1969, Elvis hired the group to perform in concert with him after the Jordanaires had turned down Elvis' invitation to play Las Vegas and tour because, as studio singers, they did not feel they could afford to be away from Nashville that much. At the same time the Imperials appeared with Jimmy Dean, live and on his television show. In 1972, because of scheduling conflicts, they decided to stop performing with Elvis. The following year the group quit performing in concert with Jimmy Dean.
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