Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers to Play Tioga Downs

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Little Anthony and the Imperials will play Tioga Downs Friday, June 11 at 8:00 PM. Tickets begin at just $10 and can be purchased at the Tioga Downs Gift Shop and all Ticketmaster outlets. Here's a preview of the concert courtesy of the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin:

A couple of years ago, "Little Anthony" Gourdine had just about given up hope of being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The inspiring R&B harmonies of Little Anthony and the Imperials — famous for hits such as "Tears on My Pillow," "I'm On The Outside (Looking In)," "Take Me Back" and "Goin' Out Of My Head" — had been overlooked enough times by the powers that be that Gourdine didn't even think much about it anymore.

Until the group got the call in 2009.

"This time, people like Paul Shaffer, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, all of those people said, 'This is ridiculous!' They were on the committee," Gourdine said last week during an interview from Las Vegas. "When I asked one of the bigwigs up there how that works that we were never chosen, he said, 'Man, just an oversight, that's all. We got it, we caught it, and you're in.'"

So the Imperials finally had their day, inducted alongside Metallica, Run-D.M.C., Jeff Beck and Bobby Womack.

"It was the greatest time of my life, because now I'm up there with Elvis Presley and the Beatles and Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones," Gourdine said. "I got to meet so many wonderful people — Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones and Metallica — and we all hung out, eating dinner and laughing and talking to each other at breakfast."

Few could have foreseen such an honor when the Imperials first formed in Brooklyn's Fort Greene projects in 1958. In those days, it seemed like every street corner in New York City featured a vocal group trying to get attention.

"There were so many record companies that any kid could get a gig — anybody could get a record deal," Gourdine said. "You'd walk into a place and say, 'Hey, I want a record deal.' (They'd say) 'OK, kid, sing for me.' You actually auditioned. We were doing the 'American Idol' thing long before 'American Idol,' only we did it at the record companies."

What made "Tears" an instant smash was Gourdine's expressive falsetto, which prompted legendary DJ Alan Freed to dub him "Little Anthony" — a name that stuck and was added to the group's moniker.

Although the Imperials are often grouped with "doo wop" performers, Gourdine bristles at the label and rightly insists that their sound is not locked into any particular style. Their 2008 CD "You'll Never Know," which celebrated the group's 50th anniversary, shows not only that Gourdine's voice has not diminished over the decades but that the Imperials can deftly handle jazz, R&B ballads, even a couple of Latin numbers.

At concerts — such as the one Friday night at Tioga Downs — they not only serve up their best-known songs but also covers from Sting, Foreigner and whatever else they can make their own.

Many vocal groups that started during what Gourdine calls the "Stone Age of rock 'n' roll" now perform with only one original member remaining. Not so the Imperials, whose touring act boasts three singers from the hit-making years: Gourdine, Ernest Wright and group founder Clarence Collins, who are now joined by Harold Jenkins.

While the group changed lineups and labels over the years (with Gourdine leaving twice for a solo career), they have never stopped performing. Gourdine credits a higher power with guiding his 52-year journey as a professional singer.

"I had a plan laid out for me before I was born, man. I am doing what I'm supposed to do and I'm in the place where I'm supposed to be," he said. "I did everything in my power to mess up, but this wonderful God — and I realized it later in life — was the one who was orchestrating this whole deal."