It was one of the all-time great birthday gifts, though "Little" Anthony Gourdine had nothing to unwrap.
Last Thursday, Gourdine turned 69, and his best present came in the form of a conference call.
During it, he learned that the group he has fronted since he was a teenager, R&B staples Little Anthony & the Imperials, had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2009, which was announced Wednesday.
"It was a heck of a birthday present," Gourdine said with much relish Wednesday afternoon, the words lingering on his tongue as if they came coated in honey.
The group had been eligible for the honor for some time before finally getting the nod this year along with heavy metallers Metallica, rappers Run-DMC, guitarist Jeff Beck and soul singer Bobby Womack.
"A lot of people were really lobbying for us," Gourdine said, breathing hard on a power walk before hitting the gym shortly thereafter. "Paul Shaffer, Billy Joel and Paul Simon, who we worked with, they were all lobbying."
The Imperials are rounded out by Ernest Wright, founder Clarence Collins and Harold Jenkins (who replaced singer Sammy Strain upon his retirement), the latter three of whom also live in Las Vegas.
Beginning in the late ’50s, the group notched a slew of hits such as "Tears on My Pillow," "Goin’ Out of My Head," "I’m on the Outside (Looking In)" and "Hurt So Bad," driven by Gourdine’s high-pitched, boyish lilt and the group’s chocolate-rich harmonies. Though one of their signature songs is doo-wop novelty standard "Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop," Gourdine feels like the Imperials quickly outgrew the doo-wop tag and doesn’t appreciate being labeled as such today. "We’ve always been a group that’s been a bit different. That’s why I always tell people, ‘Do not call us a doo-wop group,’" Gourdine said emphatically. "We are an R&B/pop group. Listen to our music. It would disrespect all these great producers and great writers (that the Imperials worked with over the years) to say that we’re a doo-wop group. I don’t like that."
As his words suggest, Gourdine remains a lively, animated presence, and he still performs regularly with the Imperials, who’ve remained a solid draw in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
In the past couple of years, the group has played in town with some frequency at The Cannery and the Tropicana, as well as the Aquarius in Laughlin.
"We’re really well-entrenched here," said Gourdine, who notes that the group might partake in semiregular gigs at The Orleans in the near future. "That’s why I live here."
The Imperials still tour every year, and the group recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with a performance on "The Late Show With David Letterman."
Unlike many of their peers, Little Anthony & the Imperials continue to boast most of their classic lineup, even after five decades.
From boys to men, the group has managed to grow up together without growing old.
"We’re the real deal. We never really lost it," Gourdine said proudly. "We weren’t cut out of the same cloth that everybody else came out of. We knew how to sing, we knew how to make harmony and we knew how to make it sound good. That’s what’s kept us together these 50 years, more than anything else."
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476.