More Changes For The Dixie Echoes

According to Daniel Mount’s blog, big changes are coming the Dixie Echoes’ way.  Michael Helwig and Mike Jennings have both resigned from the group.  Coupled with Stewart Varnado’s recent departure, effectively the Echoes are left with just the father-son Shelnut tandem of Randy and Scoot (Randy, Jr.).  Helwig’s statement on his departure is very intriguing, to say the least.  Daniel states in the comments of the posts that he has been in contact with Scoot Shelnut, and the group will find fill-ins and will not cancel any dates.  Please be in prayer for Jennings, Helwig, and the Dixie Echoes as they all transition to new endeavors.

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

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.

SG Quartets: Walking In Memphis

As was announced on Daniel Mount’s blog today, plans are moving along for an all male quartet event called the “J.D. Sumner Quartet Show” in Memphis, TN to be held June 19-22, 2013.  This is the brainchild of several quartet leaders and concert promoters, and is being held in conjunction with the 15 year anniversary of Sumner’s death, in the city where he and James Blackwood started the National Quartet Convention in 1957.  James’ son Jimmy is one of the organizers of this event, along with Stewart Varnado of the Dixie Echoes.

I was just in the auditorium of the Cook Convention Center, known as the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, for a business meeting a couple of weeks ago and it’s a beautiful facility that seats about 2,100 people, give or take.  There is also an exhibit hall attached to the facility that should rival Freedom Hall’s in Louisville.  The facility sits on the north side of Downtown Memphis with entrances on both Main St., and Front St. overlooking the Mississippi River.

The event has a website here, and a Facebook page here.  The initial lineup of groups already committed is extremely strong, with names like Brian Free and Assurance, Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, Gold City, The Kingsmen, The Dixie Echoes, and Triumphant Quartet, among others.  Also, there are plans underway to add more “up and coming” type quartets to the lineup as well.

If you can’t tell, I’m very excited about the possibilities of this event coming to my hometown, and I’ll see you all there!

Wesley Smith Leaves Dixie Echoes

According to their Facebook page, Wesley Smith has turned in his resignation to the Dixie Echoes.  This follows closely on the heels of bass singer Trent Adams departure, leaving the group needing to fill both the tenor and bass positions.  The Dixie Echoes have become something unique in the industry, as they are a throwback to the golden era of quartets.  No tracks, no stacks, just piano, bass, and four voices.  Hopefully they will be able to fill both positions fairly quickly and smoothly.

Singing News Curse 2010

One of the common jokes about SG is that we have our own version of the NFL’s “Madden Curse”, the “Singing News Curse.”  With just one cover left for the year, let’s review the status of the curse for the year, shall we?

  • January: Dixie Echoes (Pat Barker departs)
  • February: Crist Family (no changes)
  • March: Brian Free & Assurance (Randy Crawford departs)
  • April: Greater Vision (Jacob Kitson departs)
  • May: Hoppers (no changes)
  • June: McKameys (no changes)
  • July: Mark Trammell Quartet (no changes)
  • August: Gold City (Roy Webb, Josh Cobb depart)
  • September: Blackwood Brothers (no changes)
  • October: Kingdom Heirs (Billy Hodges departs)
  • November: Booth Brothers (no changes)
  • December: ????

Unless my math skills have dulled over the years, that’s 5 out of 11.  It’s interesting to note of the groups that haven’t had changes, 3 are primarily family based groups, which tend to experience less turnover by nature, and one has been in existence less than a year (Mark Trammell Quartet).  That leaves us with two established non-family groups that have been stable since their cover appearance, and 5 that have experienced changes.  I’d say the curse is still alive and well!

NOTE:  This post is solely intended to be read in a good-natured, tongue-in-cheek manner.  If you have not read it as such, please check the batteries in your sarcasm meter.  🙂

SN Cover Trivia

Nate brought something interesting to my attention this morning via email.  The Singing News cover artist for July is the Mark Trammell Quartet.  This means that Pat Barker has now been on the SN cover twice this year, but with two different groups (Dixie Echoes in January, MTQ in July).  Off the top of my head, I can’t come up with another singer who has graced the cover of the magazine with multiple groups in the same year.  Can any of you?

Mansion Releases Sing Out America DVDs

In the early 80s, Bill Traylor had a TV show called “Sing Out America!” (thanks Kyle!).  Last night after running some errands down around the mall, I told my wife I’d like to head over to Lifeway and just look around a while.  I must say that while their selection of SG CDs was decent, but fairly picked over, they did have a pretty nice selection of SG DVDs.  There were a couple of Crabb Family DVDs, Brian Free & Assurance’s latest DVD (with the songs from Real Faith), and several other non-Gaither DVDs.  As I was looking through, I came across several DVDs that were labeled “Sing Out America” from Mansion Entertainment.  Volume 5 was labeled “Gold City Quartet.”

I bought the DVD for $12.98 and took it home.  There were 10 songs on it, 8 of which were from the short lived Brian Free/Bill Crittendon/Jerry Ritchie/Tim Riley lineup.  The other two were the classic Free/Parker/Lefevre/Riley lineup.  It’s interesting to note that while a full band accompanies both eras, the earlier performances are obviously done live, while the Parker/Lefevre songs (“Cool Drink Of Water” and “After I Bow”!!) are pretty obviously lip-synched to the Double Take recording.  Still, it’s a great video to watch, as it documents the early days of Gold City, as well as being a very rare lineup.

I checked Mansion’s website this morning, and there are 10 volumes.

  • Volume 1: A Classic Collection
  • Volume 2:  The Blackwood Brothers with Guests, The Speer Family, The Dixie Echoes
  • Volume 3: The Speer Family
  • Volume 4: Florida Boys
  • Volume 5: Gold City Quartet
  • Volume 6: Rusty Goodman Family
  • Volume 7: The Hoppers
  • Volume 8: The Hinsons
  • Volume 9: The McKameys
  • Volume 10: Wendy Bagwell and The Sunliters

The video and audio are of pretty good quality, and definitely better than the Gospel Singing Jubilee DVDs I found a while back at Dollar General.  They’re not quite Gaither quality, but they’re definitely worth watching.  Though they aren’t credited as such, The Cathedrals do appear on both Volumes 1 and 2 of the collection.  One minor glitch, at least on the Gold City DVD, is that the song listing on the back of the DVD case is incorrect, and not a complete list.  “After I Bow” was not listed at all, but was instead a VERY pleasant surprise, as it’s one of my all time favorite Gold City songs.

Be watching out for these.  I know Lifeway has them, and you can get them Direct from Mansion’s website.

Billy Todd Passes Away

News broke yesterday that Billy Todd, longtime bass singer for the Florida Boys and most recently, the Dixie Echoes, passed away after a battle with Alzheimer’s.  Billy Todd was one of the most underrated bass singers that SG has ever had.  Todd sang with class and dignity, and had a tremendous bass voice that was deep, full, and rich.  We have truly lost another legend from our midst, but as always our loss is Heaven’s gain.  Condolences go to his family, it’s especially hard to lose someone during this time of year.  Funeral arrangements are posted on the  Sinigng News site.

Concert Review: Dixie Echoes

We did manage to make it to the Dixie Echoes concert last night.  We arrived a few minutes late (give me a break, i have a 3 year old and an 18 month old!), but I’m guessing that the DE’s were singing their opening tune.  The church was fairly small, but I would guess the crowd was around 100-150, not bad for a Thursday night with school in session.

Here’s the setlist (I had to guess at some song titles):

  • I’ll Be Ready
  • Miracles Will Happen
  • Newborn Feeling
  • House Of The Lord
  • How Big Is God
  • Just A Little While – Piano solo
  • Until You Find The Lord
  • On The Other Side Of Jordan
  • Devil And His Old Suitcase
  • Walk With Me
  • I’m Going To Move To The Sky
  • If We Never Meet Again (with the hymnal)
  • Little Is Much


  • Welcome Home My Child
  • Just A Little Talk With Jesus
  • So Many Reasons
  • River Of Jordan
  • Who Am I
  • It Is No Secret

This was a very enjoyable concert, as the entire concert was performed with two microphones, piano, and bass on a little more than half of the songs.  These guys have a really good sound.  Much is made about the Dixie Echoes doing the whole “vintage quartet” experience instead of the normal 4 mics, tracks, stacks, and what have you, but the thing that gets lost in the stylistic discussion is this: to pull of a concert like this, you have to be REALLY good musically.  There is no orchestration or stack to hide behind vocally.  The Dixie Echoes pull this off marvelously, and do a lot of tight modern harmony.  “Welcome Home My Child” sounded really good, I’ve always liked that song.  Wesley Smith was very impressive last night, he isn’t the highest tenor on the circuit, but he sang with a suprising amount of power, and he has a very pleasing tone.  Pat Barker does a fine job, especially on songs where he sings the higher bass lines and includes the modern harmonies.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard “Who Am I” as a bass solo, but he did a wonderful job with it.  Randy Sr. did his usual fine job singing lead, and still has some incredible range, especially showcased on the spiritual “Devil And His Old Suitcase”.  He also does a great job as MC, with the right balance of humor, yet knows how to turn the concert to a more serious, spiritual tone at the right times.   Scoot handled the baritone line admirably, and really has the most difficult part to sing, as he had a lot of the actual modern harmony notes, with Barker on one of the basic chord notes and Scoot right next to him adding in a 6th, 9th or the like.  The group’s ability to pull the tight harmonies off is very, very impressive.  Stewart Varnado displayed his perfect grasp of how to accompany a group.  His piano playing was spectacular, and provided the ideal backing for the vocals.  I actually missed most of his piano solo, as I had to tend to my son, which was disappointing, as what I did hear sounded great.  This was a very enjoyable night with some great singing.  Be sure to go see the Dixie Echoes if you have the chance.  You’ll be glad you did.

Upcoming Concert Review

I’m going to try and make it to a Dixie Echoes concert tonight at a church in the area.  If we make it, I’ll have a concert review coming up in the next few days.  I’m excited about getting to see them, I’ve actually never seen them live.  Keep your eye out for the concert review.

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