Skylite Albums To Be Digitally Remastered, Released

In what is huge news for fans of classic Southern Gospel like myself, Syntax Distribution has announced that they have secured the rights to digitally release the vintage Skylite records catalog (hat tip, DJM).  These releases will be retouched and remastered, so I am hoping for fantastic sound quality on these albums.  Skylite has a rich history, being founded by the Statesmen and the Blackwood Brothers, then splitting off from those groups and becoming a fairly major label.  Artist like the Statesmen, Blackwood Brothers, Masters V, Speers, Oak Ridge Boys, Kingsmen, and others have all released albums on Skylite.  This is really exciting news and something to be watching for in the coming days, there are some great Skylite releases.  Here are a few albums I can’t wait to see released:

Statesmen – Hymns By The Statesmen
Statesmen – Get Away Jordan
Speer Family – Songs You’ve Requested
Oak Ridge Boys – I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ For My Journey Now
Jake Hess & The Imperials
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Forgotten Albums: Statesmen – O’ My Lord What A Time

One of the big stories of 1992 in the SG world was the reformation of the Statesmen with Johnny Cook, Biney English, Jake Hess, Bob Caldwell, and Hovie Lister.  The story of the genesis of the revival of the group was well publicized as coming out of the Homecoming video by Gaither.  There was a huge buildup to the release of the new group’s debut CD, Revival.

This album was released the next year, in 1993, to much less buildup.  In fact, Cook and English may have even departed in the time between the recording and release of the CD.  That being said, this is still a pretty enjoyable disc.  The CD starts with the best version of the Nancy Harmon classic “Blood Bought Church” I’ve heard, and follows it up with a strong version of “What A Lovely Name” featuring Cook reliving his Goodman days.  There is an early versions of a song that would become more popular in subsequent years, namely “Forgiven Again” (EHSS).  Biney English is featured on the Statesmen cut, and while still a ballad, it’s quite different from the more widely known EHSS version.  The title track is a nice balance between the very stripped down version released by Perfect Heart on their Command Performance album around the same time, and the uber-slick version recorded by the Gaither Vocal Band a few years later.  Cook does well with it, and though his voice shows his age, it’s nice to hear Hovie singing on it as well.

“Just A Little While” and Hess’ standard “Faith Unlocks The Door” are found in more than credible versions, with Caldwell turning a very nice performance on the former, and the disc ends with a very pretty acoustic ballad called “More Of You.”  This later album sees Jake Hess serving less as the group’s billed lead singer, and fitting much more comfortably into a baritone role with the higher ranges of English and Cook above him.  Overall, this was a much more versatile sound for the group that played better to their respective strengths.  Cook still had the chops to tackle a few nice tenor notes with English stacked right underneath him.  If you have a copy of this album, pull it back out.  If not, see if you can find a copy somewhere.  It’s an intriguing piece of history as it is Jake Hess’s last recording as a member of the Statesmen.  Above all else, it’s just a good solid CD!

Classics Corner: The Statesmen – On Stage

statesmen-onstage2Recorded in late 1959, this RCA Victor album captures the Statesmen Quartet in a live concert at the Ryman Auditorium with their still fairly new tenor, Rosie Rozell.  Jake Hess, Doy Ott, “Big Chief” Jim Wetherington, and Hovie Lister round out the personnel on this particular recording.

Tracks:

  1. I Wanna – The album gets off to a rousing start with this popular uptempo song that features Chief.  This song has become a classic, being redone many times, but none measuring up to Chief here.  Some have said that Chief goes a bit overboard here, but the performance is impeccable, especially the last chorus when the Statesmen kick in the modern harmony.  It went over well enough to demand an encore.
  2. Thanks To Calvary – This is Vep Ellis’ classic, not the Gaither song that the Cathedrals made so popular.  This is a midtempo song that features Jake Hess and Chief in the chorus.  Jake sings the verses with some magnificent background harmonies from the rest of the group.  For those who are only familiar with Jake through his Gaither video appearances, this is a great song to show what a great lead singer he was in his prime.  The last chorus features some harmony inversions with Rosie taking the lead occasionally.
  3. Something Within – Another song that has been covered by everyone from Take 6 to the Dove Brothers.  This song features each of the Statesmen, starting with Jake, then moving to Big Chief.  Doy Ott steps up for the next feature, followed by Rosie.  They set a pretty bouncy tempo for this song, and Rosie skies on the tag.  This is a great song to introduce each of the members of the group.
  4. Room At The Cross – This hymn is, according to Hovie’s introduction, the most requested song the Statesmen sing.  Rosie sings the melody on this very pretty version of the timeless hymn.  The song is done slowly, but not so slow that it drags, which is a big plus.  The Statesmen show that they can slow the tempo down just as well as they sing the uptempo numbers.
  5. The Amen Corner – One of Rosie’s signature songs comes up next as he gets a chance to show off his ability to sing the spirituals.  Chief does a lot of vocal bass guitar runs during the song that I personally love.  The crowd absolutely eats this up, as a song that barely clocks in at a minute is encored several times, so much that Rosie’s voice falters a bit on the last time through.  Even the host of the concert “persuades” Hovie to encore it “one more time.”  Of course, the crowd eats up the whole thing.
  6. He’s Already Done – This song starts off with Chief singing a slow, broad intro with the quartet behind him, and smacks a nice low note on the end of the intro.  Jake Hess then takes the lead on a slow, methodical verse that you just know is building up to something else.  This is a great example of Jake’s stylistic means of singing lead.   At the end of the verse, Rosie takes the lead and the tempo picks up and begins to swing in a typical spiritual rhythm.  This is a great song for the Statesmen.  Jake reclaims the lead for the tag.
  7. Wade On Out – An incredibly fast paced song from Mosie Lister’s pen that features the quartet on the first verse, Doy on the chorus, then  a key change and Jake on the second verse.  Chief sings the melody on the second chorus until the end where Rosie takes the melody for the tag and hits an incredibly high note at the end.  One of my favorites on the album.
  8. Gonna Open Up All The Doors – Sometimes called “Light Of Love”, the Statesmen go right into this song with no introduction.  This is quintessential Statesmen and is encored.  Another one of my favorite cuts on the album.  This again has been redone many times, but no one can match the Statesmen.
  9. It’s Worth More – Slower paced song that features Jake Hess, and features some nice modern harmony in it as well, which showcases the immense talent of the Statesmen.  Hess’s performance is great, and the harmony behind him is spot on.  The last couple lines Jake inverts up for a nice powerful section.  Rosie takes the tag and brings it back down with some nice harmony.
  10. He Set Me Free – This isn’t the same song that was redone by Greater Vision in the 90s.  This one features Jake singing some nice vocal embellishments.  A lot of lead singers should listen to Jake’s performance here to learn how to embellish a song without going overboard.  Jake was a master stylist as a lead singer and this song definitely shows off that ability.
  11. Hymn Medley – Each one of the Statesmen step up and sing a verse and chorus or so of their favorite hymns.  Chief starts off singing “O How Much He Cares For Me”, then Doy steps up with “He’s My Friend.”  Jake then sings “Jesus Is The Sweetest Name I Know” and Rosie sings “Standing Somewhere In The Shadows” very sweetly.  Hovie then sings “Jesus Is The One” and the group builds up to a power tag.  Hovie encores his part after the rousing applause.  This is Southern Gospel music at its best.  Classic.
  12. Get Away Jordan – After the slow paced hymn medley, Hovie then sets the stage on fire to end the album with the Statesmen’s (arguably) most popular song.  This is THE version of this song by which all others are judged.  As has been pointed out, this is a much faster version than the studio recordings of the song.  If you were to ask the average SG fan about the Statesmen, this is probably one of the songs that comes to their mind first, along with Rosie’s “Oh What A Savior.”  At the end of this song, as the audience is applauding, you can hear some laughter rippling through the audience.  Maybe one of our resident historians can shed some light on what the laughter was about.

If you ask me what my favorite Statesmen album is, depending on the day I’ll either say Through The States or this album.  This really captures the Statesmen in their heyday.  Hovie’s MC work is masterful, and he has the crowd in the palm of his hand practically from the first notes of “I Wanna” and leaves them standing with “Get Away Jordan.”  The concert is paced very well, and there are some classic moments on this album that every true SG fan needs to hear.  Obviously this album is not commercially available, but it’s worth scouring yard sales, record stores, and the internet to find a copy.  This is one of the Statesmen’s finest LPs and a must listen for any SG fan.  Quartet fans will most likely fight each other over a nice copy of this one.

Sometimes It Needs To Be Live, Not Memorex

Gold City’s version of “Greatest Of All Miracles” from Double Take came up on iTunes recently.  This is the definitive version of the song, though it was previously recorded on 1983’s I Think I’ll Read It Again.  When I began to think about the fact that the later, live version was by far the better version (though the original is good as well), I came up with some others that fit the same criteria:

  • Gold City: “Oh What A Day” – Originally recorded on Portrait, this song was basically album filler.  With its subsequent release as a live cut on Indiana Live, the song sounds brand new, and a great live mid-tempo cut.  Ivan Parker sings the fire out of the second verse on the live version, and Brian Free’s tenor lead on the key change is spectacular.  The live cut is much better.
  • Statesmen: “Get Away Jordan” – The studio version of this song, on the Skylite album by the same name, is paced much slower.  The live version, on On Stage, has gone down as one of the greatest cuts in SG history.  Nothing more to be said here.
  • Collingsworth Family: “I Can Trust Jesus” – The studio version of this song is found on We Still Believe.  On the group’s live album from last year, Your Ticket To Music Hall, the song is performed live, and comes across much more powerfully, especially with an acappella encore of the chorus with Kim coming in with light piano accompaniment.  The live version takes a good song and makes it a great song.

Can you readers come up with other songs that had been released on a studio album, but their subsequent release on a live album far outshines the original studio cut?

More Info About Daywind/Skylite Releases

After Nate posted yesterday on the Daywind/Skylite releases, I got a call last night from a good friend (hat tip, BS) with some more information on the releases.  These are actually two complete Skylite albums being released on a single CD.  My friend had actually found a couple of copies, even though they are supposed to release on Feb. 24, according to Amazon, and they are of very good quality.  He picked up copies of the Statesmen, Blackwood Brothers, Masters V, and Oak Ridge Quartet, and also saw a Speer Family CD.  I did a little digging on Amazon.com, and found them listed. Here’s the link to a few.

Statesmen

Blackwood Brothers

Masters V

Oak Ridge Quartet

This is great, I’m glad to see that Daywind is releasing full albums instead of just compilations of Skylite era stuff.  I believe that the ORQ Sing and Shout was released while Skylite was still owned by the Blackwoods and Statesmen, so the possibility for Jake and Rosie era Statesmen and JD era Blackwood Brothers releases seem to be pretty high for future rereleases.   Keep an eye out for these!

Daywind to release Skylite Recordings?

I got the following email from a friend of mine last week (hat tip, DP).  I was hoping Singing News would have their March issue online before I posted this but as of a few minutes ago they haven’t.

Daywind is Releasing a double CD of the old Skylite Recordings. Blackwood Brothers, Statesmen, Speer Family, Masters V, Oak Ridge QT and JD Stamps.

This would be great!  I’d love to see them release these older records as Canaan has.  It would be even better, in my opinion, if they were releasing the complete albums.

Swapping Parts

With the return of Perfect Heart, I was reminded of a routine they did when I saw them in concert once.  The personnel was tenor Garry Sheppard, lead Dale Shipley, baritone Darren (?), bass Mike Presnell, and pianist Jeff Stice.  Garry starts out saying he always wanted to be a bass singer or how singing bass was easy and he wanted to do it so they all swapped around.  Garry moved to bass, Presnell moved to lead, Dale moved to baritone, Darren moved to piano (had a funny joke asking if the sustain pedal was a gas pedal) and Stice moved to tenor.  They sang “Have a Little Talk with Jesus.”  Instead of singing the low bass notes, Shep would blow a raspberry.  It was pretty hilarious!

The Perrys did something similar when they first went to the 3 male/1 female lineup.  They did a male quartet where their lead singer Loren Harris went to bass, bass singer Tracy Stuffle went to tenor, baritone Curt Davis went to the piano, pianist Dennis Horton sang lead, and the bass player Jamie Bramlett sang baritone and played bass.

I’ve seen on some Statesmen videos where Doy Ott would go to the piano and Hovie would join the other vocalists mid song.

Does anyone else have any examples?

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