Catching Up

I was out of town on business last week, so there were a few things that came out then and in the time since that I wanted to mention:

  • Jeff Steele is recovering from a serious fall and possible stroke. Be in prayer for Jeff and his family.
  • Gordon Mote is leaving the Gaither Tour as tour pianist.  The GVB is currently seeking a new pianist.  Mote had the unenviable position of following the late Anthony Burger, who was larger than life as a pianist.  Mote did so by carving his own niche and he will be missed on the tour, though he will be appearing on Gaither special events.
  • I’m working on new reviews for the Nelons, Mercy’s Well, and the Dills, so be watching for those coming soon.
  • There’s a video making rounds of the Kingsmen with Chris Jenkins singing “The Judgement.”  It’s a very promising sound…
  • I’d appreciate your prayers tomorrow, May 30, as my wife heads in for surgery to remove about half of her thyroid.  I’ll be out of pocket for the next 2 days at least, as the surgery requires at least an overnight stay in the hospital.  If all goes well, we should be home on Thursday, but she has a recovery period of 2-3 weeks, during which time I will have to be Mr. Mom.  Prayers for my sanity will be much appreciated!  🙂

Classics Corner: Oak Ridge Boys – Performance

Released in 1972 at the height of the Oak Ridge Boys’ popularity in Southern Gospel music, this is a live album made up mostly of songs from the International LP.  Personnel on this album are Willie Wynn – Tenor, Duane Allen – Lead, William Lee Golden – Baritone, Noel Fox – Bass, Tommy Fairchild – Piano, Mark Ellerbee – Drums, Don Breland – Bass Guitar.

Tracks:

  1. Jesus Walked All The Way – This is a uptempo tune that really gets the concert started off right.  There’s a nice trio with Allen, Golden, and Fox on the second verse before Wynn takes the lead on the chorus.  Noel Fox really shines on his step out line in the chorus.  A repeat of the chorus after a key change and tag end a short, but great track.
  2. The Coming Of The Lord – This is another great track.  It’s a more midtempo cut that features Noel Fox on the first verse before Duane Allen takes the melody on the chorus.  Fox had a terrific bass voice, with smoothness and range both.  William Golden sings the second verse.  There’s a key change that if my ears don’t deceive me goes up a whole step instead of the more typical half step and a repeat of the chorus leading to a tag.  Paid In Full did a really nice cover of this song a few years back that was pretty true to the Oaks’ arrangement here.
  3. The Holy Hills Of Heaven Call Me – This one will likely make it into my “Definitives” series as Duane Allen and the rest of the quartet really shine on this Dottie Rambo classic.  It’s always interesting to hear recordings of these classic songs from when they were new.  It’s a tremendous performance, and I love the walking bass guitar line on the beginning of the second verse.  Classic Oak Ridge Boys.
  4. He Did It All For Me – This may be my favorite ballad done by the Oak Ridge Boys.  After group vocals on the first verse, the key modulates up, the tempo slows and Duane Allen proceeds to sing the absolute fire out of the second verse.  The key changes again and Willie Wynn takes the melody leading into the chorus.  Duane and Willie trade off the melody and build to a high power tag.  After a testimony from Duane, they encore the song starting with the second verse.  Wow.  A true highlight of the album.
  5. Heaven – The second side of the LP starts off with this classic tune.  I love the way Duane Allen introduces this song by saying “We might not do it too good, but we don’t know it too loud yet.”  There is a scorching hot piano introduction from Tommy Fairchild that is one of my all time favorite intros.  Allen takes the melody with the other 3 vocals arranged like a male trio behind Allen’s ad libbed lead vocal.  Fairchild gets a chance to repeat his intro work as a break in the middle of the song.  This song is the early 70s Oaks in their comfort zone, and this song packs quite a punch.
  6. You’ll Never Walk Alone – It’s amazing how long this song stayed a part of the Oaks’ repertoire, as this was the title cut to an early 60s Skylite album from the group.  In fact, Willie Wynn is the only vocalist on this version who also recorded the previous version.  Duane Allen again takes the lead and it’s a very nice performance of the inspirational classic.
  7. I Wish We’d All Been Ready – Larry Norman’s classic song that was one of the first hits in what would later become Contemporary Christian Music gets covered here by the Oaks.  It’s a unique performance in that the Oaks’ drummer, Mark Ellerbee, lends his lead vocals to the song, with fairly sparse backing vocals from the rest of the quartet on the last chorus.  Ellerbee’s vocal style lends itself very well to this song.  It was obviously a hit with the audience.
  8. Jesus Is Coming Soon – In what will be another “Definitive” performance, Duane Allen launches straight into his solo second verse on what was a monster hit for the group around this time, and it’s obvious by the crowd’s reaction.  There’s a different rhythm on this performance of the song, that I’ve never heard duplicated, but is absolutely the best instrumental arrangement I’ve ever heard of the song.  Willie Wynn shatters glass on the ending of the song.  It’s only about a minute of actual singing time, but wow, what a performance in a concentrated performance.
  9. I Know – Another current monster smash for the group at the time, the album closes out with one of the group’s best known songs.  Duane Allen has a hard time getting the song started from the crowd response to the first line.  The crowd goes wild for the song and again the group has to encore it.  It’s a great way to end the concert.

Summary:  While The Kingsmen are typically recognized as the kings (pun intended, of course) of the live album, when a list is made of the greatest Southern Gospel live albums of all time, this album deserves a spot in the top 10, if not the top 5.  It’s an enthralling capture of one of the most popular groups in the history of the genre at the height of their popularity.  The performances are all high energy, and the intensity is such that you don’t realize there are only 9 tracks on the album, or that “Jesus Is Coming Soon” is such an abbreviated version.  The Oaks hook you in from the first few notes of “Jesus Walked All The Way”, and you don’t feel like you can hardly catch a breath until the final cutoff on the encore to “I Know.”  One thing that I mentioned briefly in the comments on “Heaven” but that I wanted to be sure to highlight is Tommy Fairchild’s piano playing.  He is an absolute wizard on the piano on this album, and displays just the right touch and the sense of when to “show out” with some nice piano licks and when to stay subdued and give the vocals the spotlight.  This album would be SG Piano Accompaniment 101 Exhibit A.  It really is a masterful job.

I looked long and hard for this album.  Growing up listening to my dad’s LPs, he would always mention this “incredible live album from the Oak Ridge Boys called Performance” and said it had the best version of “Jesus Is Coming Soon” that he’d ever heard.  He had a copy, but it had been lost or borrowed on a permanent basis long before I was old enough to listen to it.  I was absolutely thrilled the day I finally located a copy as a college student, and I will never forget putting needle to vinyl for the first time after having heard so much about this LP growing up.  All I can say is this: Dad was right.

Prayer Needed For Kyle Boreing

Please be in prayer for fellow SG blogger Kyle Boreing.  Kyle’s father passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly yesterday morning.  Kyle currently writes for Musicscribe, but had his own blog prior and is one of our best bloggers.  Over the past few years he and I have communicated fairly frequently, and Kyle is a great guy with a heart for SG music.  Please be much in prayer for him and his family as they go through this very trying time.

Kingsmen Name New Tenor

The Kingsmen have named their new tenor to replace the departed Harold Reed: Chris Jenkins, formerly of the Vintage Quartet.  Jenkins has been filling in with the group for the past several weeks, after previous fill-in Ernie Phillips came back off the road.  Here is the text of the press release:

The Kingsmen are pleased to announce the addition of Chris Jenkins as their new tenor vocalist.Chris, 25, has been singing in various ministries and groups since his teenage years. Most recently he was the tenor vocalist for The Vintage Quartet, joining that group in 2010. Prior to joining The Kingsmen, Chris worked as a loan officer and banking manager for the last six years.”I am so thankful that God has allowed me to do what I have always loved to do,” says Chris. “I could not be more excited about joining a group with such a legacy and rich history as The Kingsmen.  I have been a fan of The Kingsmen since I was very young. I look forward to seeing what the future holds with this great quartet, especially this line-up of individuals as they are top-notch vocalists. It is a real honor to follow in the footsteps of some of my heroes who have passed through the ranks of The Kingsmen.”Chris will begin touring with the group immediately. In fact he has been filling in for them in recent weeks. Chris, his wife Kimberly, and two children make their home right outside of Greensboro, in the piedmont area of North Carolina.

I will admit to not being familiar with Jenkins, but the input from other bloggers has been very positive.  I’m looking forward to hearing him with the group!  Congratulations to both Chris Jenkins and the Kingsmen!

Chris Allman Joins The Blogging World

Chris Allman, Greater Vision’s tenor, has thrown his hat into the blogging ring with his blog entitled Like I Wish I’d Lived.  Taken from the GV song of the same name, it’s more a blog from his heart as a former pastor than it is a SG music blog.  It is well worth your time to visit and read some insights from Chris, he has a very readable writing style and his posts are very poignant.  So click on over and read, and welcome him (back) to the blogging world.

Stewart Varnado To Depart Dixie Echoes

In what is most certainly one of the most shocking departures in SG in quite a while, long time Dixie Echoes pianist Stewart Varnado has announced his departure from the group via his Facebook page (hat tip, DM).  Varnado states:

I’d like to thank the Dixie Echoes for allowing me the opportunity to live out my dream for the past 14 years. I joined the group when I was 17 years old. Randy and Scoot Shelnut have became like family to me, and it’s been a blast traveling with some great guys through the years. I realize that when people put out statements saying they want to spend more time at home, it seems to be a cover for unhappiness within the group. That is not the case here. I simply have the desire to come off the road for a while. I wish nothing but the best for the Dixie Echoes, and pray that one day, if it’s God’s will, I can return to Gospel music. I have no future plans at the moment and will be filling in for the group until a replacement has been found. Thanks also to the many friends that I have made while traveling! It has been an honor to get to meet so many fine people. I will still be active behind the scenes promoting the music that I love. Anyone interested in auditioning should contact Randy Jr. at scoot@dixieechoes.com.

Varnado has become a fixture in the SG community, and especially in the online SG community.  His playing is top notch, though that really goes without saying, and we as a genre are losing quite a talent with Stewart leaving the road.  His statement regarding promoting seems to mean we will still see and hear more from him, just in a different fashion.  Best wishes to you, Stewart, you are a class act.  Please be in prayer for both Stewart and the Dixie Echoes as they embark on a search for a new pianist.

Forgotten Albums: Won By One – Bold And Unashamed

Won By One started in the mid 1990s as a trio some time after Clayton Inman departed from the Kingdom Heirs.  The original trio was Inman singing lead, Greg Shockley singing tenor, and David Jenkins singing baritone.  After a few years and some decent success, including a Singing News #1 single (a remake of the Oak Ridge Boys’ classic “King Jesus”), the group added Bob Caldwell as bass singer and became a quartet.  While Caldwell went to the studio and cut bass vocals for the prior trio album, this was the first full fledged quartet album by the group, and it is a very good album.

The CD starts of with a couple of very strong mid-tempo tunes.  The first, called “When I Reached Up”, featured Caldwell right off the bat.  The second “Somewhere In Gloryland” was a radio single that fared fairly well to the best of my recollection.  Inman really shone on the verses.  The third track was a standout power ballad that Inman sang to perfection called “It Took A Lamb.”  This one is worthy of a Hidden Gem post, and I may just do that sometime.  The title track has neat Middle Eastern feel to the verses that are in a minor key that transitions to a major key and straight SG feel for the chorus.  It’s a unique, interesting standout tune.  They also cover “In Gloryland” that made it’s most famous appearance on the Singing Americans’ iconic Live and Alive album.  It’s almost note for note, except for the tag, and I actually prefer Won By One’s ending to the Singing Americans.  Having been released around the same time by Legacy Five, they also cut “I Stand Redeemed”, but did so as a bass solo for Bob Caldwell.  It works, and not in any small part due to Caldwell’s vocal talent.  It may not quite have quite the power or charisma of Cobb’s performance with L5, but it’s a very good rendition, and it’s neat to hear the difference in the song as a bass feature.  The album closes with “There But By”, a slow ballad that features some nice lyrics and smooth harmonies.

Won By One holds a bit of a special place with me, as they were the first pro group we ever hosted at our church.  We ended up booking them for several consecutive years, and always enjoyed our time with them.  They were always a solid group vocally that put on an enjoyable concert.  I consider Bold and Unashamed to be the pinnacle of their recording career.  It’s a great album that if you have a copy and haven’t listened in a while, it’s worth pulling back out and giving another spin.  You’ll be glad you did.

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