Let’s talk about live performances and especially emcees…and the ‘live’ feeling on audio projects.
The Kingsmen from Asheville are well-known for putting out a string of live recordings that had that ‘special’ feel..the excitement, the buzz, the humor. Lot of the magic of The Kingsmen legendary live recordings can be attributed to the great band, the all but smooth singing, and the amazing emcee skills of Big Jim Hamill. Hamill had a great commanding speaking voice, and had he not been a singer first, he could have been a professional comedian. He had great timing, and dared to say things that would now be called politically incorrect. For instance on the Live in Dayton Oh. album he’s talking about a phenomenon called Earthday, “Now that earthday business everybody is talking about, worrying about the ozonlayer in the next couple of centuries” he said, or something like that….. he then continued and said; ‘None of us are gonna be here, I will make a hole in that thing, you can drive a truck through“. That was Jim..selfmockery and a kind of redneck- humor,what a guy!
Other live albums that are counted among the best in Southern Gospel are the Blackwood Brothers ‘On Stage‘ and The Statesmen’s ‘A Gospel Concert‘. Of course ‘Live and Alive‘ by The Singing Americans, ‘Live in Atlanta‘ by the Cathedrals don’t stink either. The latter is one of my personal favorites..not because of the music..but the feel..the respons of the audience, the funny and emotional emcee work of George Younce. Younce like Hamill had a great sense of humor, Younce could tell a joke like non other, even the most corny joke would crack you up. Younce didn’t take himself too seriously obviously…and that’s what’s made it wonderful. Hovie Lister was also a great emcee, so was James Blackwood though they were more of a serious vain. J.D.Sumner was also a superb emcee, his dry wit, the interaction with the audiences, remember J.D. asking a lady who’s walking out during a concert ‘where you’re going honey?..and after a while says; ‘when you got to go….you got to go‘. Or when someone was acting up in the audience he asked the culprit if he just had an epileptic fit…now I loved that. J.D. could be very profound too, the only thing i disliked was that growling low voice, that made him hard to follow at times. Those kind of things make a live album great, like someone once said ‘it’s more than the music’
Speaking of that someone, one who’s rarely mentioned in discussions about great emcees is Bill Gaither. Now Bill had a career before the Homecoming phenomena…really he did. The Gaither Trio had the best live recordings ever put out in Southern Gospel music, and you can debate if the Gaither Trio was counted as Southern Gospel back then (before the Homecoming series). Nonetheless they had great songs now sung and accepted by every Southern Gospel lover out there, great stories, humor…and yes, even great voices…Gaither himself had a fabulous distinct tone, and Gloria added so much to their sound, and the content of their message. Danny Gaither one of the smoothest voices in the industry..and was kinda the cream on the cake. But Bill Gaither was an emcee extraordinaire, who had (and still has) a boyish charm when he spoke. You can hear he enjoys what he’s doing, and sometimes he’s even enjoying the anticipation of the punchline on one of his jokes. The friendly husband and wife banter between Bill and Gloria,and her insightful readings, the stories about everyday life at the Gaither homeplace. They sort of gave you, or at least suggested they did, a peek into their lives, hearts, minds and souls. They just had something over any group in the industry…and that was intimacy. Their Live album from 1972 is one of my favorite live albums, because of the intimacy…it’s truthfully actually like you are there. Produced by Bob MacKenzie “The Bill Gaither Trio ‘Live‘ on Heartwarming R3178 is something beautiful. Get a copy….if you can…..