In 57 years in the music business, Jerome Anthony Gourdine, better known as Little Anthony, has learned to embrace change.
As leader of vocal group Little Anthony and the Imperials, he steered the group to a slew of hit singles in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s — from their doo-wop beginnings with 1958 debut “Tears on My Pillow” to soulful ballads such as 1964’s “I’m on the Outside (Looking In).”
The band’s final charting single came in 1971 with “Help Me Find a Way (To Say I Love You),” and Gourdine left the group in 1975 to pursue a solo career.
In 1992, he reunited with the band’s classic lineup — Ernest Wright, Clarence Collins and Sammy Strain. For the past 20 years, the group has continued to tour, and has produced new records — their most recent studio album, 2008’s “You’ll Never Know,” combined jazzy versions of the group’s classic songs with new material.
Golden Oldies Spectacular
with Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Duprees, The Brooklyn Bridge, David Somerville of The Diamonds, LaLa Brooks of The Crystals
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
How Much: $51.75, $44.75, $36.75
More Info: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
But Gourdine knows that the secret to the group’s continued success with new and old audiences alike is in their ability to work the live circuit — and to do so creatively.
“We’re not recording stars anymore, but we have transitioned into performing stars,” he said recently from his home in Las Vegas.
“We performed with people like Redd Foxx, The Flamingos . . . a bevy of great performers, and one of the things I learned watching them — they were older, we were younger — is how well they did their craft. You can’t live on your records, and a lot of artists do. . . . For the sake of dropping names, Sammy Davis is one that really bestowed upon me to start thinking that way [with shows] — you start big, you end big and then there’s the middle of the show. You learn longevity. The reason Ella Fitzgerald lasted so long was because of that.”
Gourdine prides his group on being able to deliver shows that still surprise audiences. “One of the things that many people have told me [about our shows] is that they don’t know what we’re gonna do,” he said. “We have repeat people come back all the time, because we always do something different.”
The hardworking group will close out its year with a few one-off shows, including a headlining appearance at the Golden Oldies Spectacular at Proctors on Saturday, which also features The Duprees, The Brooklyn Bridge, David Somerville of The Diamonds and LaLa Brooks of The Crystals. The Imperials were last at Proctors in February of 2009.
Not a farewell
This may be the last chance for Capital Region audiences to see the group live for some time. Next year, with Collins retiring (Strain retired in 2004 — since 2010, Robert DeBlanc has filled his place), The Imperials are embarking on a goodbye tour, although Gourdine wouldn’t rule out possible Imperials reunions at later dates.
“I don’t call it the farewell tour — that sounds like you’re dying, like after this we’re all dying,” he said. “No, I call it the goodbye tour — in Hawaii, ‘aloha’ means both [goodbye and hello]. When you have members like Clarence, who have been with us since the beginning, retiring, and Sandy Strain, who already retired in 2004, you start realizing that time stretches out. One thing I tell people is that my best years are ahead of me, and I believe that.”
For now, Gourdine is looking forward to future solo recording projects.
“It gives me the freedom to do things — like, to do something recording-wise, just with me. And then, if something huge comes up, I’m sure the guys will get together and do it,” he said.
He hasn’t settled on a specific recording project yet. But those that know him know that he doesn’t like to rest on his laurels. Whatever comes next, he will make sure he finds something that speaks to him creatively, as he’s always done with both solo and Imperials recordings.
“You find something interesting, a project that is very interesting, and you relate yourself to that project,” he said. “When you can relate to a project it becomes your own, and people going to shows sense it. It’s not always about singing the old tunes all the time, although that’s OK. . . . Once you start accepting the fact that, OK, I’m going to lay on my laurels and do what I always did — you’re gonna look up at the audience that came up with you for 56 years, and they’ll be dying and gone.”
The Imperials first formed in 1957 as The Chesters, featuring Collins, Tracy Lord, Nathaniel Rodgers and Ronald Ross. When Gourdine joined the group, they became the Imperials, releasing “Tears on My Pillow” to instant success. The “Little Anthony” was added later by DJ Alan Freed.
After a lull in 1961, Gourdine left the group for a failed attempt at a solo career, but by 1963 he had returned and the classic lineup of Collins, Wright, Strain and Gourdine was in place. The group began moving towards a more soulful and ballad-driven sound, scoring hits throughout the late ’60s despite lineup changes.
By the time Gourdine left the group a second time in 1975, Strain and Wright were both gone, having left for the O’Jays and The Platters, respectively. Bobby Wade, Wright’s replacement, continued to lead a version of the Imperials, with Collins on board, until the classic lineup’s reunion in 1992.
“During that time we broke up, but people don’t realize — they see us now and they’re like, wow, it’s like we never left,” Gourdine said. “In order to do that, you have to be talented. It’s not a guess thing, not a luck thing, nothing to do with that — it has to do with being professionals and understanding the business, understanding the craft — just like if you’re a doctor. It doesn’t matter how old you are — when you get out on that stage, you have to be so confident, so you know the audience knows you’re confident, and they know they’ll get their money’s worth. Then you’ll be around for a while.”