‘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.

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;    



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!


The oddball #2

From a vintage 1993 southern gospel album ‘Southern Classics’ comes the oddball in this blog..or should I say ‘Vlog? Does anyone still use that term?? Vlog….sounds kind of raunchy. Video-blog or vlog? I opt for video-blog for an apparent arguable reason. Back to the actual oddball…it’s a song from an album that is titled “Southern Classics”. A record of the world-renowned Gaither Vocal Band. A record that I regard as the ‘benchmark’ in the recent history of SGM. Why? Because it is not a tribute to classic Southern Gospel but an attribute…it added a legendary album to a genre that is on freaking life-support since The Imperials! This record set the bar… really did! The line up in ’93 was Bill on bass, Mark Lowry on baritone, Michael English on lead, and the magnificent Terry Franklin on tenor! Not gonna say anything on Michael because I don’t wanna sound like a teeny bopper! But man is he awesome on this album…enough already!!! I want to spotlight two guys, out of this line up. Bill being the backbone of this quartet, and Mark Lowry being the spinal chord…Mark  is what makes this body of voices function! Without Mark the baritone, it’s just two guys with amazing voices, and a big checkbook with fuzzy hair! Speaking of Bill, his bass is very underrated…and I don’t care if he is stacked to high heaven in live concerts, heck he might be the snappiest lip-syncher ever…I DON’T CARE! On this record he nailed it! But the absolute star on this here record is Terry (I hate you) Franklin!!! The best first tenor ever in the Vocal Band, and the best tenor in any quartet! If you don’t believe me, ask Glen Payne if you run into that fine gentleman up there, he’ll tell you the same thing! On this oddball Terry sings wonderful solo’s, with a rare kind of control, diction and amazing tone! Why is this an oddball? Well the title of the album suggest that all these songs are classic southern gospel songs. Songs like ‘I Bowed On My Knees’, ‘There is a River’ and other SGM favorites. Well those are on there, and this one is the only song on it, that breaks that mold. I don’t vividly remember who wrote it…but if memory is like the  friend he mostly is, I’d say that Terry and his lovely wife Barbi wrote it. But I could be wrong…hey give me a break! It’s not like I know everything!  I’m just human. Yes! just like you, a sinner saved by grace…‘put your hand down now, they might think you’re pentecostal! Amen!

Here’s the link to the oddball….enjoy! And really listen to these guys, and pick out each part…superb is the word you’re looking for.

So let’s dance, let’s dance…..tooooonniiiigghhhhhttt!!!

Class action…?

‘Style? Not a style as in ”that’s a great style of music” no I mean in the personal sense of the word. Of course personal style is a rare asset these days. Who possesses style? In fashion there are some style icons, some world-renowned, some more obscure. For instance Gianni Agneli CEO of the Italian car company Fiat out of Turin Italy had great style, he wore hiking boots with his beautiful cut suits. He wore them everywhere…and he didn’t care….if they molested the elegance of the suit. He wore them, he added the rough rugged footwear, to fine woolens and the most delicate silks….and we saw it was good! His grandson..  who is the archetype of machismo tries to add odd items to his ensembles. But is not half as stylish as the average cable guy, or gospel singer. The world style should never be placed in one sentence with gospel singer, one might argue.  But ole Gianni had style! Other style guys were Chuck Yeager, Dean Martin. One of the few guys in Gospel music that had that swagger was James S.Weatherington. Bass singer of the Statesmen Quartet. Those spectator-shoes (two toned wingtips)  he wore, the pinstriped wool suits, and that wicked grin…very very stylish. Another guy who is quite stylish in Gospel music as far as wardrobe goes is Buddy Greene. With his Oxford button-down shirts, bow-ties, and corduroys…and his simple wire-framed glasses. Like Weatherington his art is right in step with his personal appearance. Greene’s choice of words, songs, and other musicians/singers were consistently classy, anyway which way you look at it…poetic.  Even folks who might not like Buddy’s kind of music recognize the modest genius that Greene is. A true craftsman!

Robert Redford had style, JFK had it, and so did Sidney Poitier. The recently passed Nelson Mandela had style that was inside of him, he had commanding dignity….or natural grace. Glen Payne a typical Texas dresser had style, not one I would try to emulate ever..but to me it made Glen even better, and wouldn’t have had it any other way!  Glen’s real style and strength was like Mandela’s….a gentle grace that came from within, that overshadowed his Texas-styled suits. What a wonderful gracious man, Glen is on my  ‘wanna see in Heaven list (yeah yeah I know last time I’m mentioning that list) but Glen’s almost on top of that list. The Obvious Marvelous holds the number one spot of course, cause He’s the one who got me in, in the first place! But Glen I gotta meet too! Wanna sing with him, in perfect voice… Glen must sound even greater up there…imagine that!

Style has always been a scarce thing, but never seemed there to be such shortage on style as today. Style has rapidly become a synonym for ‘weird’. Style, real class is a rare thing…not only in the entertainment world, its rare in general. How many people you meet these days that have a class, or style of their own? I’m not talking of people who wear weird clothing, and want to stand out, or want to be different. No…I’m talking about men and women that are different, that have ‘something’ that few got. People who quietly walk into a room, and do get noticed immediately! People who stand on stage, and have a such a commanding presence that it doesn’t matter if the lighting is not right, or the sound is too loud .People that make your ears pop open, and you are able to listen through the imperfections of the audio/visual framework. People who make you focus on their performance, their soul. Take Elvis Presley for instance, not really a bespoke dresser. But rather a flashy loud awful dresser. Wearing preposterous and ridiculous clothes, on and off stage.Yet the clothes didn’t matter. Glen’ suits were quite awful too…but I still am blown away by his powerful voice, humble spirit and gentle grace. Glen, like Elvis’s singing and presence were so special. Which shows that ultimately the inside is more important than the outside. So style, real class must come from within…style and class are never self-seeking. They quietly serve with dignity, it’s like love.

John Madden once said that ‘self-praise is for losers. Be a winner. Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble’. Humbleness…not many people have that virtuous trade anymore. No it’s ME first, and to hell with all the rest. I was first, I’ve got a right, I’m entitled to…..and so on. A string of words, a chain reaction, repetitious like machine-gun fire ‘he does it, she does it, why wouldn’t  I? We all know what we want. But fail to notice the drink of water a despairing African kid longs for so much.  Yet we sing ‘There is a River”…we are that river….let us quench the thirsty while while it flows. Instead we defend our homes with guns,  but really don’t give a damn about the neighbours! We almost religiously defend the right to own fire-arms, but bypass the core message of our faith like ‘love your enemies’. Why? Because it’s inconvenient, it goes against our sinful nature, and as God as our witness we’ve got a right! Wrong! You heard it right! Wrong…it’s all arrogance….we are all wrong! Thinking you are right is just arrogance…plain and simple. And I know what I’m talking about…I’m usually right!

Francis of Assisi said; ” Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self”. He knew it…and I bet Francis had style and grace! Grace….did you know that, that word was the origin of the word ‘Charisma’?  It came from Church Latin, from Greek; [kharisma, which originates from kharis = grace, favour].

Charisma can not be faked, summoned, or even be taught, it’s a gift that transcends the perfect pitch, the highest note, the finest cottons, or the sweetest score of music. It’s divine….a God-given thing….some have that…and some don’t.  While I’m writing this I’m thinking, would I like southern gospel music as much as I do, if they all dressed real good? I think I would, but probably would have been less fun. I mean you need a good laugh once in a while don’t you? My lord did SGM ever serve that purpose? It kind of did, and abundantly so. Glad for a Grace greater than our wardrobes..ain’t you?

When Elvis Presley was asked by a female reporter what his political views were he answered “Honey, I’d just soon to keep my own personal opinions about that to myself? Cause I’m just an entertainer and I’d rather not say.” I would love if folks in the southern gospel music industry would not post their political views, and personal preferences there in. If I’m interested at all I will ask you! This has been the greatest turn-off for yours truly on some of the ‘artists‘ since stacks and tracks. Of course they are entitled to their opinion, and God bless ’em! But I don’t wanna read you stand with Phil Robertson, or you vote for candidate number 1 or number 2! I simply don’t care….some stuff you just don’t want to be ‘in the know’. I don’t want to read/hear where you stand. I wanna hear you sing like I did, carefree.Just like before I knew you were obviously experiencing a series of brain-farts at some point in your life. Or the endless Facebook pitches of your products, especially those package deals do piss me off. Why? Because a lot of times I buy a new album before anyone else does (against better judgment) and I pay the highest price for a mediocre (at best) album that usually lacks any kind of creativity and originality. And then a few months later you guys come up with some lame package deal so you can make room in the storehouse of your love.

The only real innovation in Southern Gospel music has taken place on the technology front. The sound,  recordings have improved..and even that is arguable. There are few last decade that have added style to SGM. Show some style! Quit the ‘kickstarter’ projects when you are a fulltime group! This trend is quite despicable really…you entice somebody into committing to the fact that there’s obviously a lack of commitment of the record label to it’s artist(s) . You’re feeding of people’s loyalty. It’s like a car manufacturer asking you to make monthly payments in advance on a car that you never seen, has yet to be designed, and you have zero influence on the final product. You just trust that it most likely will look and drive like the car you had for years…and pray for a tiny little upgrade! But if you like it that way, having an irrational sense of safety and familiarity, let me not be the one to cramp your style! Who am I?

‘We only live once, but once is enough if we do it right. Live your life with class, dignity, and style so that an exclamation, rather than a question mark signifies it!
(G. R. Blair)