‘Lord I get so weary…on this rough old road’ no one sang this line so superb as Gary McSpadden. This is the opening line of the great song “At Last”, that McSpadden recorded with The Oak Ridge Quartet. The Oak Ridge were; McSpadden on baritone, Smitty Gatlin lead, Herman Harper  bass and the incomparable Willie Wynn on tenor. One of my kids walked on in me…while I was listening to Willie sing “Help me not to complain”…and asked politely “how old is that woman singing? And before I could answer she said “she’s probably already dead too! I tried to tell her that the old woman was the most distinctive singer in any field…and no tenor made a Quartet prettier in the blend. Tried to add that Willie was a guy, and was alive and well. Not that my little princess cared,  she was in the other room on her phone texting some BFF of hers that her father listened to crap music. Music no one listens to…at least not in my neck of the woods. Oh Lord help me not to complain.

But this song, with which opening line, I opened this entry….“At Last”. I know Hovie Lister mentioned the writer of this wonderful song on an old live recording of the Statesmen Quartet but that I forgot..I’m thinking Vep Ellis but am not sure. Anyway Jake Hess sang it and did a fine job…but not like Gary and Smitty sing this one! What a quartet….the very best lead singer ever….had he have had a more ‘commercial’ look, and the desire to go solo, and secular…he would have become one of the nation’s great singers. To me he is…like Glen Payne one of the finest singers to ever walk…in all of music. No one in popular music back then could hold a candle to Gatlin when it came to his phrasing, his tone, diction and amazing control. Changing gears…high to low, low to high….seamlessy!

McSpadden proves here why he was such an amazing addition to this quartet….able to sing Gatlin’s swooning crooning style. Great ability, a wonderful voice, with a faint hint of rawness on those velvet smooth parts…unique! Exceptional in the blend…Gary McSpadden one of the finest baritones…that rank up there with guys like Delmar Tillman, Mark Trammell, Doy Ott, George Amon Webster, Ron Page and some others. As I get older I realize that the Oak Ridge Quartet is probably my favorite quartet.  Herman Harper the best heavy bass there was….and a spot on soloist…one of the classier bass singers in my opinion. I know a lot of people love J.D.Sumner, George Younce, Chief, Tim Riley and some of the other usual suspects. And I love ’em all dearly. But Herman Harper like Big John Hall, Armond Morales, Big Chief and Lee Gaines do….keeps on inspiring, and continuous to move me.

So when you have guys like Harper hooking up with the likes like Gatlin, McSpadden, and Wynn…how can you lose? You can’t! And to top it off…they add a piano player that gave them that sound! Tommy Fairchild…who played with them from 1957 till 1972…with a hiatus in the early sixties I believe. Great player who went on to play for the Blackwood Brothers and gave them a sound too! So let it be established and I’m going on record there was never a better (all male) quartet when Harper, Wynn and Gatlin was with them. No matter what talented baritone they had with them at any given time, whether it was Jim Hamill, Ron Page or Golden….they were always superb! I always found it quite ironic that the most important part there is,  the one that gives flight to harmony…the baritone part…is also the most interchangeable part. When a baritone leaves it usually doesn’t do much for the superficial sound of a quartet. Unless you are following in the footsteps of a good baritone of course! You know one that is just the worst to single out in the harmony. Basically you are pretty much doing a good job when your voice isn’t heard in the blend. That is what it basically boils down to. Guys like Mark Trammell, Mark Lowry and Doy Ott had such great voices they could sing your tax-return form for all you care they are that good as a soloist! But there’s a lot of baritones who are not to pleasant to listen to in a solo setting….not gonna name them…but those are the real heroes! One that doesn’t belong to that type of baritones is one  I recently discovered. A  guy named Delmar Tillman featured on a live recording by The Dixie Melody Boys. Tillman the baritone for the group sang the ultimate southern gospel song “I Never Knew How it Felt”.  What a singer….a true song salesman! Delmar could sell a song, the boy could flat-out sing!

One of my other favorite baritones is Hugh Bryant. Bryant sang with The Delta Rhythm Boys an African-American quartet….to me the finest of them all. But Bryant is another example of a guy who could make your tax-return read like a beautiful poem. If one of you discovers him through this entry I have made a new disciple for the Bryant cult I’m starting. Long story short…..wonderful singing is wonderful singing…no matter how I look at it.

Review: Steve Ladd ‘A Christmas Hymn’


Leonardo Da Vinci once said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” that quote was the first thing that came to mind when I played this new album of collection of Christmas songs.  Pair a virtuoso pianist with an exceptional singer and you get sophistication. Steve Ladd is that exceptional singer, and the Gaither Vocal Band’s piano player Matthew Holt is that virtuoso! Holt arranged every song on this album. The recording produced by Ladd and Steve Allen.


The album starts out with ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ and the piano introduction is so wonderful, tasteful and to the point. When Steve Ladd joins the already great music, it instantaneously becomes stellar! Just Steve with a piano….is heavenly! What a voice this wonderful brother has! Matthew Holt’s piano playing reminds me of John Pantry’s piano playing….very nice!

My favorite Christmas song is next ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’. Again just that voice and those ivory’s. Christmas songs are the ultimate opportunity for group singing, for harmonizing, the melodies lend themselves to all that, and of course the ‘together‘ oriented holiday attributes to that feeling. Not once throughout the album have I noticed the absence of background vocals…not once. Steve’s voice has such clarity and the semblance of innocence. Such a pristine tone….he don’t need no other singers.

‘El’ is the hebrew word for God and No means birth, NO-EL….birth God. ‘The First Noel’ what an awesome tune this is. In its current form, it is of Cornish origin, and it was first published in 1823. It is usually performed in a four-part hymn arrangement by the English composer John Stainer, first published in his Carols, New and Old in 1871. Steve totally nails this magnificent song.

An album with the title ‘A Christmas Hymn’ could not be considered complete without ‘Silent Night’. To me Gold City’s version of this evergreen was the best ever! And in a group setting they still are, but solo this position goes to Steve Ladd! Wonderful playing and singing, can’t say it enough, you will have to listen for yourself. Like Walt Whitman said; “simplicity is the glory of expression”….my writing is anything but simple,  and therefore can not accurately express the brilliance of this recording.

‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ opens with a ridiculously good piano intro…wow…this is the best I’ve heard Matthew Holt play! This song was never my favorite, I could stand The Cathedral Quartet singing it, but all other renditions I usually skipped. The credits for this rendition’s captivating quality goes to Holt!

Next is another personal favorite Christmas tune, again Gold City held the favorite spot for nearly twenty years (that’s when I first heard their rendition), and now there’s Steve Ladd knocking ‘Away in a Manger’ out of the park. It’s all about the respect for the original melody. And the lyrics are so easily understood due to Ladd’s great diction. Tasteful and accurate piano playing embraces the voice, this isn’t just great accompanying, this is the song, it’s not about the guys’s inexpressible. And the inexpressible which  can only be expressed by two things……music, or silence!

‘What Child is This? Composer William Chatterton Dix was an insurance salesman. At age 29, he was bedridden for months due to a near fatal illness. During this trying time Dix began to write hymns. The most memorable of his songs is What Child is This? Beautiful song set to the melody of an old English folksong. This rendition is truly one of the best I ever heard!

‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’ again a treasure to my tiny Christmas music collection, I only enjoyed the following Christmas albums. Here’s that shortlist Gold City (Parker/Free era) Elvis (with Imperials) The Imperials (Taff era) Harry Connick Jr. And now Steve Ladd is added.  It is getting boring….I know…but I’m excited by this album!

What a joy this album is! Brought joy to my world, a world that can use some. ‘Joy to the World’ . Steve Ladd is a singer, his voice never is boring, he’s one of those tenors that you can listen to all day! There’s not many that I can stand listening to for the length of an entire album!

Knowing Steve personally I can sense the integrity and love this guy has for music, singing and his fellow-man. I know he is the real deal! That sincerity is reflected by his pure voice. He lives by a simple standard, he loves his Lord, and lives that to the fullest! If one quote is fitting for this album and it’s artist Leo Tolstoy said it best; ” There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness and truth”.


Mark 02:35

youll_never_walk_aloneI never appreciated the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone”…because I associated it with a certain Dutch soccer team,  and it’s supporters who sing it in the stadiums.On that same note a dutch singer by the name of Lee Towers sang it in stadiums too. Lee was consistent in raping the song …he kinda ruined my enjoyment of this tune for years. Even though I heard Elvis, Sinatra, Judy Garland and Mario Lanza sing it. I couldn’t seem to shake the negative feelings I experienced when hearing this song.  The song was composed by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II in 1945 for a musical entitled “Carousel”.  So I heard all of these legendary artist sing it….yet none could make me think of other things than a huge number of people having a brain fart all at the same time, while they were watching 22 guys chasing a ball!  Soccer fans, hooligans ‘singing’ on the top of their lungs…‘YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE!!! it’s just the worst!!  So why write a blog about a song you don’t care for, one might ask? A legitimate question I grant you! The answer might well be that I actually do care for the song. Huh?! I hear some of you think. Does he care? Or doesn’t he? Well it is quite obvious that I do, I mean, I must…gotta face it…if it annoys me that much, it seems I have to care..right?!

Seemingly the old love and hate & thin line principle applies here once more.  I generally do like the occasional pompous, marching, bombastic, anthem type of song. All of the before qualifications are present in this particular one. It’s  sturdy and solemn music paired with lofty and nobel lyrics, what a combo! Words about comfort,  endurance, friendship and hope! Something beautiful about hope. Hope! Everybody can relate to hope…religious or not!  There are more songs that have that type of  thing going on…not per se gospel songs, and maybe they are. Songs like “You’ve Got A Friend”  “If I Can Dream”and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. are some who come to mind. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is on top of that list of let’s call them cross-over songs!

My association with things I really dislike, like mass hysteria, and people who vandalise other people’s property because their team has gotten their butt kicked was killing me! What I fail to grasp is how they think they can marry that state of mind (if they have one) with all these  wonderful principles. To butcher a song that truly stands for the opposite what they represent,  just pisses me off .

However the rendition of this tune by the Oak Ridge Quartet made me forget all that crap. Recorded in the early sixties, when the group consisted of  Tommy Fairchild piano, Herman Harper bass, Ron Page baritone, Smitty Gatlin lead, and the incomparable Willie Wynn on tenor! Why did this cut make me think different about the song? First of all….the stellar blend this Quartet had, was nothing short of perfect!  Tight, full, solid, and all around pleasing to the ears! These gentlemen knew how to sing pretty, and convincingly. The song is sung in a straightforward manner on the choruses. A harmoniously subtle, and vigorous bunch they were! Smitty Gatlin is featured of the verse…and this could well be his finest performance. But what really makes the song happens on the very last line of the song. On the word ‘never Willy Wynn does something fantastic, on the second syllable of the word ‘ne-ver‘ he taps straight into my soul! Listen for it on the 02:35 mark;    



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 Continue reading

Gaither: The X-Files

The X-files? Gaither? Gaither has X-files? Yes he does! He’s got this video that was never released to unknown reasons…or reasons never confirmed by anyone high-ranking in the gospel music conglomerate. ‘Ok?! some of you say, so what?! He’s put so many videos out there already, who needs this one tape? One tape? No actually two tapes…full of black gospel legends. People like Albertina Walker, Danibelle Hall, Dorothy Norwood,James Lennox, and Doris Akers!

My first encounter with Doris her music was through hearing Elvis sing ‘Lead Me, Guide Me’. And later seeing Elvis inviting The Stamps Quartet to sing ‘Sweet Sweet Spirit’ live in concert somewhere in Virginia I believe.
That that footage didn’t end on the editors cutting floor is remarkable at itself.  I mean it was a film about the King not about ‘the help‘. But I like to believe that the director of the film felt that Sweet,Sweet Spirit, and choose to keep it. The entire  concert-tour was filmed and released in edited form. The movie was titled as ‘On Tour’ and it won a Golden Globe award in 1972 for best documentary! The only award Elvis ever won for his movie work.  Back from the King of Rock and Roll to the King of Gospel music. Bill Gaither….or more appropriate King William! Gaither had his complete studio filled with the brothers and sisters who know how to sing, and play!
And basically kept it to himself! Listen to the great Herbert ‘Pee Wee’ Pickard longtime piano player for the Gospel Harmonettes tickle the ivory of ‘Jesus Will Fix It’.  Pickard played with Lionel Hampton at the age of eleven! Anyway these folks on those tapes are not only thankful for walking in The Light, but enjoying every freaking minute of it.
They are not just being all spiritual and all, they are spiritual! They sing the song, and they are the song! They lived it!  Whether a song of praise, or a song about what it means to be weak and so damn human all the time! They own every word it, and suffer just like the rest of us!
Yet they raise their hands, weeping and moaning and groaning! Still pressing the upward way! As the reverend Jaspar Williams said while he was introducing the song ‘Higher Ground’ on a Aretha Franklin record. ‘These are dark day we’re living in’. And they are, back like they were in the 80’s , when it was recorded. It was released under the title ‘One Lord One Faith One Baptism’ on Arista records. If you don’t have it, buy it! It’s amazing, it’s a power station. You’ll get energyzed…food for the soul. Just like these Gaither X-files could charge your batteries so you may be able to continue to share that Light to the world!!!

Gaither had his studio filled to capacity with guys like Billy Preston, Donald Vails, Ralph Goodpasteur, and the amazing Richard Smallwood a.k.a. Quincy Jones of black gospel music.

The videos were not released because of what? Management issues? Financial stuff…c’mon what?? Yeah what?! You heard it! What in the world could be so important that this treasure was kept from the public? Money issues…????  What? Or was the ‘host‘ of this event putting the competition to bed early? Real early! I mean I love, love white gospel too….believest thou me. Can’t believe I’m still explaining myself. Nothing gets me fired up as black gospel…there I said it!

Only take one look at them sing!

I love to watch Afro-Americans sing…it’s fysical meets’s dynamic. George Younce stated on the legendary ‘Live in Atlanta’ album when he introduced the song ‘Rivers of Joy’  ‘they just got something white folks ain’t got, when it comes to singing’.  He said they heard a black group sing this song, and that they (the Cathedral Quartet) would not be able to sing it like them. Here’s the version George most likely referred to 
  These X-file videos are filled with the most wonderful singing ever captured on tape and need to be released. It will do great things for Bill’s retirement fund, and for the world’s spiritual life…it would be a true Homecoming.
If that last addition to that previous line wasn’t so compelling, I’d be real worried if they ever will be published/released. But Bill, or master William will come to his senses soon and very soon,and will choose to pull the necessary strings to share these videos with the world, in High Definition! Because this is the high definiton of Gospel! It’s Good news, Good News!Good news may never be deemed as  ‘classified’. After you’ve seen these clips, you will find you go visit them frequently…they become a comfort and joy!