Trios and Personnel Stability

Something I’ve noticed is that the top trios tend to have a greater personnel stability than the top quartets. I don’t really know why. I guess it’s just the case that the more people you add into the mix, the more likely you will find two who will rub one another wrong.

Several things got me thinking about this, one of which was the recent meltdown¬†of CCM trio Second Mile. Of course, this typically wouldn’t be Southern Gospel news, but Donny Henderson’s years with Poet Voices and Channing Eleton’s years with Gold City have given the group a somewhat peripheral “where are they now?” interest to their Southern Gospel fans. At any rate, Eleton and Buddy Mullins both left the group, Eleton taking the bus with him, and Henderson is considering re-starting from scratch.

But Second Mile is a CCM trio, not a Southern Gospel trio, and even if it was a Southern Gospel trio, it would be the exception.

Take the Couriers. Dave Kyllonen, Neil Enloe, and Duane Nicholson have been together since the 1950s. They originally formed a quartet with another vocalist and a pianist, who both eventually left the group, but these three have been together for somewhere around fifty years. Though they are now mostly retired and have passed the Couriers name on to a new generation, they still sing together occasionally.

Of course, this might be an extreme example. But long-lasting trio lineups are relatively common in Southern Gospel.

Take the Bishops. Kenny, Mark, and Kenneth Bishop sang together from 1984 through 2001. They added various musicians over time, but the same three vocalists stayed together for the whole time the group toured.

Brian Free & Assurance was a trio for the first two or three years it was together, and didn’t have any personnel changes during that time.

The Greenes maintained a steady lineup with Tony, Tim, and Kim Greene, until Kim married into and joined the Hoppers. They had several female vocalists until became a Hopper and joined the Hoppers. Then Taranda Greene married into the family and has stayed.

To digress completely: When I listened to CCM, which was before I discovered Southern Gospel, I used to complain about the number of Green people who sang CCM: Steve Green, Keith Green, Janny Grein (pronounced Green), et cetera. Then I came over to Southern Gospel and found even more Green people! Back to topic…

The Martins kept the same lineup for years. Though Jonathan left when he got divorced, and was replaced by Paul Lancaster, he has come back this year.

The Rambos maintained the same personnel–Buck, Dottie, and Reba Rambo–throughout their years in the spotlight.

The Talleys maintained the same personnel until disbanding; the Talley Trio has maintained the same lineup since it started.

The Mark Trammell Trio has had one lineup change in the four years it has been on the road. But at the same point they replaced lead vocalist Joseph Smith with Dustin Sweatman, they also added a pianist, Steve Hurst.

The Booth Brothers maintained the same members for several years, and have only had one tenor, one baritone, and three lead singers in the 15+ years they have been on the road.

But of course, the current poster child of the success that comes from maintaining a consistent lineup is Greater Vision. The current lineup has been together since 1995, or for eleven years. Due in part to the songwriting aptitude of Rodney Griffin and in part to maintaining a consistent lineup, Greater Vision has gotten to the place where, in all likelihood, they would win the overarching “Favorite Group” fan award if there was one.

Will Greater Vision be like the Couriers and maintain this lineup as long as they are on the road, or will they face personnel changes? If they face personnel changes, will they be able to find singers who would put them back on top? Only time will tell.
But to return to my point once more, it seems as though Southern Gospel trios have less turnover than quartets, even taking into account the fact that quartets have one (or two!) more members than a trio has.

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7 Letters to the Editor

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  1. I don’t follow trios as closely as quartets, so I didn’t have any idea about their personnel stability. Thanks for the insight.

  2. Very interesting blog, Daniel. It is my hope and prayer that Greater Vision will stay together until they’re ALL VERY OLD MEN! And with Jason only turning 30 next month, that’s a LONG TIME!

  3. It seems that a lot of the trios were true family groups – Martins, Greenes, Talleys, Rambos and that lends itself to fewer personnell changes. How many quartets are made up of “family” ? That makes Greater Vision stand out even more. I agree with Donna – I hope they are still singing together 30 to 35 years from now. (and I hope my ears are still good enough to hear them)

  4. The way Gerald communicate with the people sounds like GV is family. You can’t get any closer to family when you have one of your singers live next door to Gerald and Rodney living down the street.

  5. Actually Brian Free & Assurance had a lead singer change while they were still a trio. Not long after Kevin McCaw came on board, Brian hired Bob Caldwell and they became a quartet.

  6. Most of the trios you mentioned are family groups. The same can be said about the vocal positions quartets that are predominately family. Hoppers, McKameys, etc.

  7. Natesings stole my observation. Family groups naturally have a better chance to stay together than a group of individuals not related. Unfortunately, history tells us that change (especially in SG groups) happens. I, too, would love to see groups stay together for the long haul. It results in a group chemistry, stage performance, and blend not able to be matched by groups breaking in new members.

    By the way, Legacy Five is past their breaking in of Frank. We sang with them last night and I have to tell you they are sounding better today than they ever have. Their song selection, stage presentation, and obvious camaraderie resulted in the best L5 concert I’ve ever attended (out of 10 or 12 concerts). This is a group that I hope stays together for a long, long time.