Almost Statesmen, Part 3: An Interview with Bobby Clark

The glory days of the Statesmen are now the stuff of legend. We play back the voices of Big Chief, Jake, Rosie, Denver, Doy, and Hovie on old LPs, and watch the few grainy black-and-white video clips that have survived on YouTube. Yet to this day, there are men still alive who had to turn down a bunk on the Statesmen bus.

You’ve met the first two, Asbury Adkins and Ben Harris. This week, let’s meet…

Bobby Clark

After Denver Crumpler died, Hovie Lister also tried to hire Bobby Clark. At the time, Clark was singing tenor for the Rangers. In his 2009 autobiography The Cathedral Quartet: The Early Years, he relates the incident with remarkable candor:

I flew to Atlanta to audition with the quartet and was awarded the position. My wife was pregnant with our first son, and she told me that if I took the job with Hovie, she would divorce me. After first telling Hovie that I would accept the job, I reluctantly declined, seeing the tremendous burden this would place on my marriage and my family. In spite of the many telegrams which Hovie sent asking me to reconsider my position, I remained with the Rangers and Hovie hired Rosie Rozell.

In a recent interview with SouthernGospelBlog.com, Clark graciously agreed to elaborate further. “God had called me to preach,” he recalls; “I’m an ordained Baptist preacher.” He was studying for the operatic stage and in seminary at the same time. After a year at Bob Jones, he switched to a seminary; at the same time, he says, “I was studying with a very fine voice teacher in Detroit, Michigan at Wayne State University.”

He was a good friend and classmate of Bryan Jones, pianist for the Toney Brothers. Jones invited Clark to a concert which the Toney Brothers and Statesmen did in Detroit, Michigan at the Gilead Baptist Church, “one of the biggest independent churches in the country at the time.” At dinner afterwards, Jones introduced Clark to Denver Crumpler.

Clark has fond recollections of Crumpler, noting that “I was a fan of his,” and that “Denver was a very fine gentleman – he looked the part of a riverboat gambler, but he was very classy. Denver just stood and sang. I was tought that way; opera singers don’t move around on the stage that Gospel singers do. They concentrate on correct tone placement and on getting everything right, as they were taught.”

Shortly afterward, Jones invited Clark to another concert at the same church, this time with the Blackwood Brothers Quartet. It was a singing revival, where they would sing for forty-five minutes to an hour and fifteen minutes, before handing the program over to Bob Barr to give an invitation.

After the concert, Jones took Clark backstage, and told Blackwood Brothers pianist Jackie Marshall that he wanted him to hear Clark sing. Marshall asked, “Bobby, would you like to get into the quartet business?”

Clark said, “I don’t know anything about the quartet business.”

Marshall said, “I know a quartet [looking] right now—a good quartet with fine personnel. If you’d be interested, I’d be happy to go ahead and tell them [about you].”

Marshall contacted Jimmie Jones, manager of the Deep South Quartet. Jones called Clark to ask for a tape. He indicated that they had just lost Kermit Jameson, and that he’d heard that Clark came highly recommended by Denver Crumpler and Jackie Marshall. So Clark sent Jones a recording of “How Great Thou Art,” which Clark had made on a wire recorder. Once Jones received it, he called Clark and asked, “How quickly can you get here?”

Clark ended up becoming close friends with Denver Crumpler; he recalls staying in Crumpler’s home when in Atlanta, adding: “We were close friends. He helped me with many things about singing in quartets.”

“Crump came to me one time when I went to hear them sing,” Clark continues; “he said, ‘Hovie’s paying attention to what you do vocally.’

Clark indicates that Crumpler knew his health was not the greatest; “Denver was a diabetic and had a bad heart. He said ‘I’ve told Hovie that if I ever pass away [to call you].'”

So, several years later, Clark was singing with the Rangers in Akron, Ohio, with Dave Reece, Roy McNeal, David Ingles, and Warren Holmes, when Hovie gave him a call.

Clark still recalls the conversation distinctly. “I’ve tried out 15 tenors,” Hovie told him. He doesn’t recall all their names, but does know that Lister told him that Jim Hill, Willie Wynn, and even Rosie Rozell had tried out at that point. Lister told him that they had done the tryouts “in order to give the genuine constituents of Gospel music, especially tenors, a chance to try out,” but that “we called you because you’re the one we want.”

Lister arranged for a round trip ticket to Atlanta for Clark; it was the first time he’d ever traveled on a big jet. At the time, Lister rented the entire seventh floor of the Briarcliff Hotel on Ponce De Leon Avenue in Atlanta. He lived there, ran the quartet’s offices from there, and had a rehearsal area there.

Clark recalls the audition clearly. “I happened to know every song the Statesmen did, in the keys they did it, and the arrangements that they used.” The rehearsal went well; “I rehearsed with them for four hours, the first part of the day. Hovie said, ‘We’ll break, have dinner, come back, and rehearse a little more. But as far as we’re concerned, every man in this quartet wants you. You sing a whole lot like Crump—you have a natural tenor range in which you sing.”

His wife was unwilling to leave her family and move to Georgia, so Clark decided he had to turn the offer down. But Lister didn’t give up easily, sending multiple telegrams urging him to change his mind.

Though Clark doesn’t clearly recall the order in which events transpired, what they told him indicates that he was likely the first person offered the job; Asbury Adkins was probably offered the job after him but before Rosie Rozell.

“Rosie was a great tenor and a good friend,” Clark remembers. “His singing wasn’t like mine”; Rozell would slide into notes and do other flourishes which operatically trained tenors would avoid. “We used to talk occasionally on the phone.” The last time Clark saw Rozell was at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion where Charlie Waller orchestrated a reunion of the original Cathedrals lineup. Rozell was seated out front; when Clark went over to talk with him afterwards, Rozell could barely talk due to a recent stroke.

After Clark had told the Statesmen story, the interview discussion drifted across a broad variety of topics. Clark is a veritable fount of fascinating information—details that only an insider would remember but few are alive to tell. These anecdotes are diverse:

  • He sang with the Oak Ridge Quartet for a while, but left because he “couldn’t make a living” there.
  • When he was with the Weatherfords, they would record a 15 minute TV program segment for Rex Humbard every Monday. Peter Jennings, who had a news program in Cleveland at the time, would drop by the studio to watch and listen—he greatly enjoyed the Weatherfords’ music.
  • He believes that the best quartet he ever sang with was the original Cathedrals.
  • He has performed with two opera companies, the Lyric Theater in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Orlando Opera Company in Orlando, Florida. The latter was while he pastored a church in Orlando; a highlight of his time with them was performing alongside soprano Roberta Peters during the first act of La Boheme with the Orlando Orchestra.

And naturally, he had some fascinating Cathedrals recollections:

  • When the time came to expand the Cathedral Trio into the Cathedral Quartet, Bobby, Glen, and Danny’s first choice was George Younce. (We knew that part.) But if they couldn’t get him, their second choice was Noel Fox.
  • The Original Cathedral Quartet recorded a number of jingles (which Danny Koker would arrange)—among these were ads for Republic Steel and the Ford Motor Company.
  • On the With Strings session, Armond Morales and members of the Imperials were there, in a monitor room, watching the recording process.

Recording The Cathedral Quartet With Strings was a landmark event in Bobby Clark’s career. On that session, he recalls, they recorded the entire album in two three-hour sessions. Bill Purcell played organ. Charlie McCoy brought his suitcase full of harmonicas. Buddy Harmon, Elvis’s drummer, played drums. Players from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s string section provided the strings. Heartwarming’s Bob McKenzie wrote the symphony orchestra parts. In those days, the musicians and vocalists would all record at the same time.

The Cathedrals walked in knowing the music so well that, on several of the songs, including “Hide Thou Me,” there were no re-takes. “We got a standing ovation from the orchestra,” Clark recalls; “they’d never seen that happen before.”

Clark also shared a number of general insights into the industry. Perhaps most fascinating: “Success for quartets is measured by the longevity of singers who stay with a group and don’t seek greener grass with another group.”

That said, Clark recalled that he has never focused on the external indicators of success. He has never sought “to be number one, at the top of the heap. All I sought to do was sing with the voice God gave me and for the cause of Christ.”

 


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37 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Great interview Daniel! Bobby Clark is great. Can you still find his book that he wrote about his time with the Cathedrals?

    • I bought it directly from him at an NQC a year or two back. So I have an autographed copy on my shelf. 🙂 I imagine he’s still selling it at his concerts, but I’m not sure if it’s available anywhere else.

      • I got mine and CDs through the mail through his wife. He is on Facebook. I would say you could contact him there and make arrangements to get one.

  2. This as well as the other two were really fun and informative to read. With that said, I presume you meant Peter Jennings had a news program and not new. Or was it a new news program? 😉

    Noel Fox was a real good bass. He didn’t have the cut that Harper (and Sterban did after joining the Oaks for a while), but he had soul, the ability to sing leads in a higher range and helped mold the Oaks more contemporary sound in the late sixties to the early seventies. It is interesting though wondering how the Cathedrals would have sounded as he was a different type of bass. Harper would have been closer to Younce, but of course he was off the road and working in booking.

    • Typo fixed – thanks!

      I don’t think I’d actually have an instant recognition of Noel’s voice. Fascinating observations!

      • Daniel, check this out: If you won’t buy the mp3, at least play the sample.

        http://www.amazon.com/Through-It-All/dp/B001KO7CM4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1303135208&sr=8-1

      • That was Noel? Yes, definitely a different tone, but I can at the same time see how a group coming off of an Armond Morales stint would have him on a short list.

      • Yes and exactly. Noel had more cut and maybe a few low notes on Armond, but is cut from a similar cloth. (No pun intended). You should really get that whole cut. It is the best version of the song I have heard and Noel really out does himself. He also sings around a middle C I believe (I am not sure of the key offhand). As far as low notes, Noel could sing probably around an A or maybe Ab.

      • That’s a very solid range for a bass.

        I actually have a couple of Oak Ridge Quartet albums – I should go back to check if he’s on any of them.

      • I just remembered this was there:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kKszzANmeA

      • By the way, on the recording the drums start with a cool riff after where this ends and they do a reprise that is nice. Also, I ended up (not on purpose) sitting in front of Noel in William Lee Golden’s church in Hendersonville, TN back in 2001 for a church service. Good thing I noticed after singing bass on some hymns. 😉 He was with his family and I must say, his daughters (I presume) were lovely. 😀 I really wanted to talk with him, but didn’t want to bother him inside church. He then left before I could catch him and talk with him in the parking lot, but I wouldn’t have wanted to keep his family either. He passed away a couple years later or actually not even quite two years since I was there later in the year.

      • Yeah. He joined in 1968 (round abouts) and was with them until Sterban joined in 1972. Sterban was on the Street Gospel album and part of the Lighthouse album. Other than that, any full Heartwarming lps (non compilation) without Harper would be Noel.

      • If your Albums are “Oak Ridge Quartet” albums, they would likely have Harper (although some compilations call them that even when they changed their name to Boys. Those generally use the Skylite masters that were with Harper.

    • Nonsense. Heresy. Don’t even think about how the Cathedrals would have sounded without George. :solemn face & head shaking:

      It was more than the sound.

      • I’m not saying I wanted Noel there. George was the man for the job. However, it is interesting to imagine the difference and trust me there would have been.

      • I think hypothetical “what if?” discussions can be incredibly fascinating.

      • Thanks, me too. Of course as far as I am concerned Glen and George were irreplaceable, but no harm comes out of imagining “what might have been.”

      • In fact, in some ways this series of articles is doing just that.

      • Yes, exactly. I’m not saying the Statesmen sounded bad with Rosie, but I’m fascinated to contemplate what they would have sounded like with Bobby Clark or Asbury Adkins instead. I think I might have even preferred that sound.

        (To this day, my favorite Statesmen lineup would be with Crumpler.)

      • Yeah, you guys know I was just joking. Well, kinda.

    • I should clarify that Harper was off the road and booking when Noel joined the Oaks, but when the Cathedrals were looking for a bass, Harper was in the Oaks and Noel was probably with the Harvesters.

  3. I received a call in the early part of 1996 from a member of the newly forming Men of Music. They were interseted in having me sing bass with them so my wife and I flew to Austin Tx to meet the guys and do a little singing. Bobby was going to be the tenor for the group. As we stood around a keyboard and sang I was absolutely amazed at the power of his voice. His years of training and opera work were obvious. Pretty impressive.

    • One comment he made in the course of the interview, which I don’t think made it into my final edit above, was an opinion which derived from his opera training. He commented how many of today’s tenors (and other singers) couldn’t be heard past the fifth row without amplification, and said that, in his opinion, if you were well trained, you should be able to fill the room with your voice without amplification! 🙂

      • That would depend on the size of the room, but yes, he’s generally correct.

        I was hoping Bobby Clark would work in some mention of “pagan piano riffs” (decade long running joke that some long time message board readers may remember)!

      • Lol, I remember. You had it as your signature for a long time. In fact, that is where I first saw it. As far as the other topic, I think there are other factors. Lung capacity is one. Sex is another. Type of voice yet another.

        I think even if you get training, support with your diaphragm, get your air built up etc. someone with a voice like Kelly Nelon Clark (whose sweet voice I like) would not be able to probably do what Clark is saying. Certainly not as much as he.

      • David, if you hadn’t mentioned it, I would have! Has it really been a decade?

      • Not quite a decade…it was 2003.

        The original quote is still online.

        http://john.sogospelnews.com/index/content/articles/my-first-dove-awards-program/

        See comment number 10. LOL

  4. Daniel, We talked about that same thing the day I met him. He could definitely fill a large house without amplification. The rest of us could have mimed our parts and it would have sounded about the same. ha ha

  5. “Success for quartets is measured by the longevity of singers who stay with a group and don’t seek greener grass with another group.”

    Fascinating comment! I wonder how the current top groups rank on “fewest group changes”

    The corollary might be that success could also be measured by members who DO leave not joining/finding success with another group?

    On the “non-amplification” point, I wonder does Ernie rate tops. He lets go sparingly in middle age [ :-)] now, but when he does the mic seems an irrelevance!

    A very classy interview with a very classy tenor. A great series and a good catch Daniel!

    • On non-amplification: Check out one of the first posts I ever made on this site, in 2006:

      http://www.southerngospeljournal.com/archives/8

      That I was still green around the edges as a writer in this genre is somewhat of an understatement, but there’s an interesting and pertinent reference about 3/4 of the way down.

      • You know another way too of looking at things is those who carry on and start their own groups. Due at least in part to Glen and George’s tutelage, there have been other groups started: Greater Vision, Legacy Five, EHSS, Mark Trammell Quartet. Granted, I would prefer winning combinations of groups stay together, but if Roger hadn’t left for a few years, we might not have Greater Vision or Gerald Wolfe (at least not to the degree). Had Funderburk not left, what would Ernie be doing now? Where would Fowler be had Trammell stuck around? Don’t get me wrong, I hate the high turnover and I have when my favorite members leave (at least in part), but good can come out of it.

      • I actually have already written a post, set to go up later this week if news stories do not interfere to bump it later, delving into these two topics, and a few related ones, in detail (sparked by Clark’s comment here.)

      • Just my opinion – Your earlier posts here have a decicidedly different tone, but it doesn’t strike me so much as a green writer as one who is conscious of a different audience. A few years ago, you were much more conversational. I think now you certainly weigh your words with much more care and consideration of who might be reading.

      • Well, thank you for the kind words!

        There’s an extent to which I see your point: Since I was finishing up a book that had been accepted by a mid-tier Christian book publisher (released the following spring), I certainly knew the rules of grammar by that point. I think it’s just that I’m a little less green writing for this audience now – which, I guess comes out to your point exactly. 🙂

  6. Thank you for posting this Daniel. I really enjoyed reading about Bobby Clark!!

  7. I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Clark’s comment about being able to fill the room with your sound with proper training. Some people have it, and some don’t. My wife’s cousin is a perfect example, having studied music/voice for years, performing in a wide range of venues. However, at the local concert hall recently, as beautiful a voice as she has, she couldn’t fill the space. She has lots of training…..training is only part of it.

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  1. Almost Statesmen, Part 2: An Interview with Ben Harris | SouthernGospelBlog.com - [...] next week: Bobby Clark! For more about the Statesmen—and other Southern Gospel news and commentary—follow our [...]
  2. How do we measure success? | SouthernGospelBlog.com - [...] stability. In our recent Bobby Clark interview, he shared a fascinating insight: “Success for quartets is measured by the…