Trio’s a crowd #1

Southern Gospel music is originally built on 4 part harmony. 4 singers  a bass, baritone, lead (2nd tenor) and a first tenor! A quartet has that full sound,  a blend with a firm foundation.

All these guys sing different parts, all but one! In four-part harmony , you have the chord (triad) which is made up of a ‘one’, a ‘three’ and a ‘five’ (notes). The bass in four-part harmony/straightforward harmony, usually doubles the ‘one’ …. just an octave lower. But there’s just three individual notes/parts! What is it with SGM and four and not being that? My son recently asked me why a certain quartet was five guys in awful looking clothes calling themselves a quartet? I told him that the quartet were the singers, and the piano player was the fifth guy, on which my son replied with…‘see? piano playing sucks! Well couldn’t argue with that…well i could have,  but he cracked me up,  so I let that one slide. But seriously why call it 4 part harmony, when in fact it is really just three-part harmony? There is in fact such a thing as real four part harmony, but some culture club decided that they would call that ‘Modern Harmony’, just to make matters worse. In modern harmony, that’s where the bass sing a unique part without doubling a note’. Can you follow? He’ll put in a seventh or a sixth note, so you would have a one, three, five and a seventh. Well some may find this still confusing. Important is that I get it it, and its one  of those things that is kinda hard to explain to stupid people!

So to keep it simple let’s talk about trio’s…not 5, not 4, but 3 guys…who are actually accurate as far as the number of guys go! So its really three guys and they sing! Question rises.. who plays the piano? I don’t care as long as someone does!

There were,  and still are some great trio’s…most popular male trio’s today,  are without a doubt these two! Greater Vision and The Booth Brothers! The latter make a hefty contribution to the legacy of SGM. The first group is the legacy, and that’s none other than Greater Vision…a great group! Especially the original group…Mark Trammell baritone, Chris Allman tenor, and lead Gerald Wolfe! Wolfe is also an extremely gifted pianoplayer….and vocally one of the all-time great lead voices in SGM…that voice is solid, its classy, it’s penetrating, and rich in texture…wonderful, wonderful voice! Listen to Gerald sing “The Eyes of Jesus” here:

The Booth Brothers did their version of it, and it was great…but Greater Vision owns this song! So the Booth’s took notes while listening to Greater Vision, Greater Vision took notes from guys like these;

The Couriers were amazing….truly one of the finest trio’s ever to sing The Good News….unwavering in faith, and rock solid in harmony! True ministers! Lovely, lovely group. I’m always feeling real solemn when I listen to The Couriers…they speak to my heart Big time!

Another trio that I loved was the Smitty Gatlin Trio…I loved Smitty Gatlin’s voice for so long….when he was with the Oak Ridge Quartet he was soooo fine, and with this trio he really made some unbelievable tasteful and fine recordings. The Trio was Bill Baize on tenor, Smitty on lead and another guy named Bill Monroe singing the baritone. Listen to Smitty sing in this clip:

Smitty Gatlin has to be my favorite leadsinger…it’s a tie between him and Glen Payne…speaking of which,  Glen sang in a trio before the Cathedral Quartet was formed. And what a trio! Danny Coker playing piano, and singing a wonderful baritone…one of the very best voices in the baritone field! And a wonderful arranger, and musician. Bobby Clark on the tenor you can’t get any better than that! Bobby Clark on these Cathedral Quartet albums….soaring and haunting notes….he came in like a jetfighter….and knocked the wind right out of you! A real lyrical tenor! And Glen Weldon Payne on lead….. amazing singer, and such a gracious and kind soul! So…before George Younce came and ruined the whole thing (just kidding) they (the Cathedral Trio)  made two recordings and they were fabulous…or perhaps bloody marvelous…go on, bloody marvel for yourself:

And just when you thought it could not possibly get any better than that….. I give you! Higher Faith! A wonderful promising trio…that somehow didn’t quite hit it big…and why? It’s beyond me…maybe you got a clue? Let me help you to decide for yourself:

That soloist has a heavenly tembre….hasn’t?……well? It seems I may have lost some of y’all …granted that, going from early 60’s into the millennium seems a giant leap.And it is, but not too big! It’s actually the ancient paradox ‘same, yet different’ .

But to satisfy the old people who read this blog, here’s a group that had a great sound  the wonderful Rangers Trio…

Just like the number 4 has a weird ring to it in Southern Gospel…..the same thing was going on with the inclusion of the word ‘brothers’ in group names. The Statler Brothers? There’s just two of them brothers, and none of those two guys last name is Statler! Weird….and there’s probably more…but they they don’t come to mind, and now I’m thinking ‘mmmmhh maybe not a problem afterall’. Let’s not be hindered by my brainfart..and continue to talk about trio’s! There was a trio made up by real blood brothers…the real deal….as in next of kin! The McDuff Brothers were absolutely beautiful! They had a robust, and very melodic sound! They had a certain ‘drama‘ to their sound…something classical…maybe even a little operatic!

I just realized that this trio blog will be getting very long if I wanna write about all my favorite trio’s, so I promise I will write another one soon, consider this part one, of three!

But before I go, I wanna share one of my favorite trio’s of all time! Holm, Sheppard and Johnson was made up by Dallas Holm, Tim Sheppard, and Phil Johnson. All true artists in their own right! Complimenting each other so well…seamlessy driftin’. Holm and Sheppard especially had the tightest vocal knit ever! They would have been a great duet too! Not true Southern Gospel perhaps…maybe it’s different, and yet the same.



4 thoughts on “Trio’s a crowd #1

  1. I don’t know where you got your info regarding the bass singer doubling the lead singer but it’s wrong !!! I ‘ve been singing in quartets for nearly fifty years and every bass singer I ever sang with sang his individual part of four part harmony . I’m talking about real true four part harmony , not someone who just doesnt know when or what four part harmony truly is . Teddy Ray Price

    • Dear Teddy Ray Price, I have my info first hand as a singer and from guys like Bob Terrell who mentions this in his book the Music Men. Also David L.Taylor mentions this in his book on The Statesmen “Happy Rhythm” on pages 84-85. I quote a part of the explaination of the difference between four part harmony, and modern harmony. In the book it says; “In straightforward four-part harmony, there are three notes in the traid chord, the ‘one’ the ‘three’ and the ‘five’. To add a fourth part the quartet has to double one of the notes. Therefore the bass singer doubles a ‘one’. Taylor continues then explaining ‘modern harmony’ by quoting Bill Gaither who said; “there were the Modernaires who, everytime they started a song, if they had a one in the chord, and the three and the five, they would put in the sixth, and if they were moving to another chord, they might put in a diminished chord. Which would mean that you could have a five and a three, and in the middle a one sharp, and a sixth sharp or seventh flat. That meant nobody was doubling anybody’s part”. Hovie Lister said on this subject the following about modern harmony “you’re more or less inverting the parts. You’re bringing the bass up, and giving him a fourth part. It gives you a more modern sound so to speak, like The Manhattan Transfer. It gives a song flair.It’s so much different than the Do-Mi-Sol-Do, or regular straightforward harmony”. Hope I shed some light on this.

  2. You mention “another guy named Bill Monroe” who sang with Smitty Gatlin. That guy is my father. He started a church in Florence, SC in 1969 and since then, has built it to an average attendance of around 2000 on the average Sunday. Just FYI.

    • Steve Weatherford pointed that out to me when I was in Florence last summer. I was just passing through and wasn’t there on a sunday to begin with. Let me tell you that your dead was one of the smoothest baritone to ever walk! Very underrated, and I guess i subconsiously attributed to that in this post. For that in retrospect i apologize!

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