MY INTERVIEW WITH LITTLE ANTHONY
AND CLARENCE COLLINS
OF THE IMPERIALS
TWO OF THE CLASSIEST GUYS IN THE BIZ ANTHONY AND CLARENCE
In 1957, a doo-wop group known as the Chesters existed with members Clarence Collins, Tracy Lord, Nathaniel Rodgers, and Ronald Ross. Anthony Gourdine, a former member of the Duponts, joined as lead vocalist. Ernest Wright took over from Ross, and the group recorded briefly for Apollo Records.
Little Anthony and the Imperials in 2005, New York City
Changing their name to the Imperials, they signed with End Records in 1958. Their first single was "Tears on My Pillow", which was an instant hit. (While playing this song, D.J. Alan Freed came up with the name "Little Anthony".) The B-side, "Two Kinds of People", was also a hit. The group followed up with "Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko Ko Bop" in 1960. When their success dwindled in 1961, Little Anthony left to attempt a solo career. Some members left, and the line-up then became Collins, Wright, Sammy Strain, and George Kerr. Kerr was replaced by Kenny Seymour after a short time. This line-up had little success.
Little Anthony returned in 1963, replacing Seymour. The group's classic line-up – Gourdine, Ernest Wright, Clarence Collins, and Sammy Strain – was now complete. With the help of record producer/songwriter Teddy Randazzo (a childhood friend of the group), the Imperials found success on the new DCP (Don Costa Productions) label with the dramatic pop-soul records "I'm On The Outside (Looking In)" (1964), "Goin' Out Of My Head" (1964), "Hurt So Bad" (1965), "I Miss You So" (1965), "Take Me Back" (1965), "Hurt" (1966), and "Out of Sight, Out Of Mind" (1969). In 1965, the Imperials appeared on the CBS-TV special Murray The K - It's What's Happening, Baby, where they performed "I'm Alright" before a live audience in New York. The Imperials then joined United Artists Records and were assigned to its Veep Records subsidiary, and then to the parent label itself, where they recorded "World Of Darkness", "Better Use Your Head", "If I Remember To Forget", "Yesterday Has Gone" and the Thom Bell-produced "Help Me Find A Way (To Say I Love You").
Albums from this era include: Reflections, Payin' Our Dues, Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (named after their hit cover of The Five Keys song), and Movie Grabbers, which included a rendition of "You Only Live Twice", the James Bond motion picture theme.
They recorded the one-off single "Father Father" for Janus Records, which they later performed on the Merv Griffin Show. Then they went to Avco Records in the early 1970s and recorded "On A New Street" , and charted with the songs "La La La (At the End)", and "I'm Falling In Love With You". This album was produced by both Bell and Randazzo. A second LP for Avco Records entitled Hold On was withdrawn from sale in the USA after the failure of the title track to sell and AVCO's subsequent financial difficulties. The group appeared on Soul Train on May 26, 1973. Sammy Strain and Ernest Wright left the group, although both would eventually return.
Ernest Wright left in 1971 to join Tony Williams' Platters. He was replaced by Kenny Seymour, who was again replaced after a short time by Bobby Wade. Strain left in 1972 to join the O'Jays, and was replaced by Harold Jenkins (who had already been functioning as the group's choreographer). Jenkins and Seymour had previously performed together in the Impacts. Little Anthony left for a second (more successful) attempt at a solo career. The trio of Collins, Wade, and Jenkins continued as "the Imperials". Clarence Collins left in 1988, and was replaced by Sherman James. They then toured as "Bobby Wade's Imperials". James left in 1992, and was replaced by Ron Stevenson.
That same year, Collins, Wright, Strain, and Little Anthony reunited for a concert at Madison Square Garden. This reunion proved to be a success. When the decision was made for the foursome to tour together again, Wade relinquished the Imperials name, with his group becoming "Bobby Wade's Emperors". They became the house band at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. At this point Sammy Strain left the O'Jays, and permanently returned to the Imperials. 1992, the year of the group's reformation, just happened to also be the 40th anniversary of Dick Clark's American Bandstand, and he invited the Imperials to appear as part of the televised special celebration.
On August 30, 1997, the group was featured on NBC's Today show as part of that show's "Summer Concert Series", and appeared on two popular PBS specials; Rock, Rhythm, and Doo-Wop, and Soul Spectacular: 40 Years Of R&B in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Also, during this period, they recorded two new CDs: Little Anthony & the Imperials – Live: Up Close & Personal (the group's first ever live album), and Pure Acapella,  an all a capella CD showcasing the group's vocal talents on several classic 50's doo-wop songs, including their own hit, "Two People In The World", which was written by Imperials member Ernest Wright. These two recordings marked the first time that the classic line-up had recorded together in over 30 years.
Anthony, Collins, Wright, and Strain continued touring as "Little Anthony and the Imperials", until Strain retired in 2004, and Harold Jenkins returned to take his place. As of 2009[update], the Imperials are (along with the Dells), one of few 1950s-era R&B groups still touring with the great majority of their original members (Gourdine, Collins and Wright). They are also one of the very few late 1950s-based groups to successfully re-invent themselves and go on to maintain consistent recording success well into the 1960s/1970s.
Little Anthony and the Imperials released their first new LP in several years in October 2008, entitled "You'll Never Know", and they performed on the Late Show With David Letterman on August 26, 2008. On their Discovery album, the electronic music duo Daft Punk sampled Little Anthony and the Imperials' 1977 recording of "Can You Imagine" for the track "Crescendolls".
Their Top 20 Pop hit, "Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop" was sung by young actors Jared Rushton and David Moscow in a scene in the 1988 Tom Hanks hit movie Big.
Little Anthony and the Imperials were inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on October 15, 2006, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, and received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award in 1993. On January 14, 2009, it was announced that Little Anthony and the Imperials had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to Anthony, Ernest, Clarence, and Sammy, Original Imperials member Nathaniel "Nate" Rogers was also present to be honored. The group was inducted by longtime friend, Miracles member Smokey Robinson.
Imperials member Sammy Strain is one of the few artists in popular music history that is a double RRHOF inductee, having been inducted with the O'Jays in 2005, and the Imperials in 2009. Anthony and the Imperials were recently inducted into Mohegan Sun's Wolf Den Hall of Fame, on January 8, 2011, Anthony's 70th birthday.
 Hit singles
* "Tears On My Pillow / Two People In the World". End 1027 (July 1958) - POP #4, R&B #2
Original pressings shown as by "The Imperials", later changed to "Little Anthony and the Imperials"
* "So Much / Oh Yeah". End 1036 (December 1958) - POP #87, R&B #2
* "Wishful Thinking / When You Wish Upon A Star". End 1039 (March 1959) - POP #79
* "A Prayer And A Juke Box / River Path". End 1047 (June 1959) - POP #81
* "Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop / I'm Still In Love With You". End 1060 (November 1959) - POP #24, R&B #14
* "My Empty Room / Bayou, Bayou, Baby". End 1067 (April 1960) - POP #86
* "Please Say You Want Me / So Near Yet So Far". End 1086 (February 1961) - POP #104
* "I'm On The Outside (Looking In) / Please Go". DCP 1104 (August 1964) - POP #15, R&B #8
Re-released in 1966 on Veep 1240
* "Goin' Out Of My Head / Make It Easy On Yourself". DCP 1119 (October 1964) - POP #6, R&B #6
Re-released in 1966 on Veep 1241
* "Hurt So Bad / Reputation". DCP 1128 (January 1965) - POP #10, R&B #3
Re-released in 1966 on Veep 1242
* "Take Me Back / Our Song". DCP 1136 (June 1965) - POP #16, R&B #15
Re-released in 1966 on Veep 1243
* "I Miss You So / Get Out Of My Life". DCP 1149 (September 1965) - POP #34, R&B #23
Re-released in 1966 on Veep 1244
* "Hurt / Never Again". DCP 1154 (December 1965) - POP #51
Re-released in 1966 on Veep 1245
* "Better Use Your Head / The Wonder Of It All". Veep 1228 (April 1966) - POP #54; UK #42
* "You Better Take It Easy Baby / Gonna Fix You Good (Every Time You're Bad)". Veep 1233 (August 1966) - POP #125
* "It's Not The Same / Down On Love", a/ANTHONY & The IMPERIALS. Veep 1248 (October 1966) - POP #92
* "Don't Tie Me Down / Where There's A Will There's A Way To Forget You", a/ANTHONY & The IMPERIALS. Veep 1255 (February 1967) - POP #123
* "I'm Hypnotized / Hungry Heart", a/ANTHONY & The IMPERIALS. Veep 1278 (February 1968) - POP #98
* "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind / Summers's Comin'In". United Artists 50552 (July 1969) - POP #52, R&B #38
* "The Ten Commandments Of Love / Let The Sunshine In". United Artists 50598 (October 1969) - POP #82
* "Don't Get Close / It'll Never Be The Same Again". United Artists 50625 (January 1970) - POP #116
* "World Of Darkness / The Change". United Artists 50677 (June 1970) - POP #121
* "Help Me Find A Way (To Say I Love You) / If I Love You". United Artists 50720 (November 1970) - POP #92, R&B #32
* "I'm Falling In Love With You / What Good Am I Without You". Avco 4635 (April 1974) - POP #86, R&B #25
* "Hold On (Just A Little Bit Longer) / I've Got To Let You Go (Part 1)", a/ANTHONY & The IMPERIALS. Avco 4651 (March 1975) - POP #106, R&B #79
* "Who's Gonna Love Me / Better Take Time To Love", a/The IMPERIALS. Omni 5501 (May 1978) - R&B #73
* We Are The Imperials, featuring Little Anthony -- End LP 303 (1959)
* Shades of the 40's -- End LP 311 (1960)
The above two albums were issued only in mono
* I'm On The Outside Looking In -- DCP DCL-3801 (Mono)/DCS-6801 (Stereo) (1964) -- Pop #135
Re-released in 1966 on Veep VP 13510 (Mono)/VPS 16510 (Stereo)
* Goin' Out Of My Head -- DCP DCL-3808/DCS-6808 (1965) -- Pop #74
Re-released in 1966 on Veep VP 13511/VPS 16511
* The Best Of Little Anthony & The Imperials -- DCP DCL-3809/DCS-6809 (1965) -- Pop #97
Re-released in 1966 on Veep VP 13512/VPS 16512
* Payin' Our Dues -- Veep VP 13513/VPS 16513 (1966)
* Reflections -- Veep VP 13514/VPS 16514 (1967)
* Movie Grabbers -- Veep VP 13516/VPS 16516 (1967)
* The Best of Anthony & The Imperials, Volume 2 -- Veep VPS 16519 (1968)
The above four albums shown as by "Anthony & The Imperials"
* Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind -- United Artists UAS 6720 (1969) -- Pop #172
* On A New Street -- Avco AV-11012 (1973)
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Paulette and Anthony
Mike with Anthony and Clarence
Anthony Promo for The Harmony Street Show
Clarence Collins Promo for The Harmony Street Show