Song Snapshots #1: I’m the Lamb

Song Snapshots is a column featuring new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview legendary songwriter Neil Enloe about his songs. We discussed songs like “Statue of Liberty,” “The Joy of Knowing Jesus,” and “Give Me Jesus”—all of which you will read about in coming weeks.

But the conversation took an unexpected turn when I mentioned the song “I’m the Lamb (That the Shepherd Left the Flock For).”

“Now here’s where the story really turns unique,” he said.

He paused for effect.

“I did not write that song.”

He proceeded to explain that they recorded the song on their 1975 Kinda Country album. The album was released by Tempo Records in Kansas City, Missouri. The album cover designers, he said, “knew I had written some songs.” Though they didn’t know who wrote “I’m the Lamb,” he said, “they assumed I did, and they put my name on it. Ever since then, it’s been my song!”

The song was actually written by Phil Armenia, a producer and engineer who lived in Staten Island, New York—as Neil Enloe likes to joke, “it was written by a guy who’s never seen a sheep in his life!”

Armenia relates that the song was inspired by a picture: “The inspiration came from a picture I received for perfect attendance in Sunday School when I was in third grade. I always loved that picture and as a young boy I hung it over my bed.”

“Some years later,” he continues, “I was in Macy’s Department Store on 34th Street in New York City buying my wife a gift… I saw the very same picture in the Home Furnishings Department and something happened to my heart. It seemed like it was my face on the lamb that Jesus was holding.

“It began to inspire me on my commute home to Staten Island. On the Staten Island Ferry, all the words and all the music came in the 30 minutes it took to get from Manhattan to Staten Island. I wrote the words down on the paper bag that my wife’s gift was in.”

The irony of the contrast between the setting of the song and its origins is not lost on either Enloe or Armenia. Enloe notes, “I often say it was written by a guy who’s never seen a sheep in his life!”

Armenia adds: “It’s ironic that a New York City boy would write a song on the Staten Island Ferry in the middle of New York City that would have such a country music flavor. But I always loved and sang Southern Gospel flavor.”

Armenia moved from New York to Pennsylvania in 1974; that is when the Couriers heard the song and decided to record it. He has nothing but the highest praise for the Couriers: “I have known and loved Dave, Duane and Neil since I was a teenager. Their music and their testimony have been a great example of three Godly men.” He says it was “the highest honor” that they would be the ones to introduce his song.

Enloe notes that there is another side to the story. Phil and Marie Armenia perform as a duet, and recorded a song that Enloe actually did write,”I Will Live For Jesus.” He comments: “Brooklyn Tabernacle had them back time and time again, would not let them come without singing that song, and so everyone thinks they wrote that one. So we kind have a joking deal that we traded songs!”

Though the song never became one of the most frequently recorded Southern Gospel songs, it has maintained a steady presence in the genre, with renditions in every decade since its release. Willie Wynn and the Tennesseans recorded it the same year it came out, in 1975, on Presenting. The Hoppers did it two years later, on their 1977 album Collectors Edition. In the 1980s, Ken Turner recorded it with his family, on their 1985 album Ken Turner of the Blackwood Brothers Presents the Multi-Talented Turner Family. The Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet included it on their 2005 Restoration album.

The most notable renditions, though, since the original Couriers rendition were the two Booth Brothers renditions. The original Booth Brothers lineup—Ron Booth, Ronnie Booth, and Michael Booth—cut the song on their 1996 album Praise God Anyhow. Today’s lineup—Michael Booth, Ronnie Booth, and Jim Brady—recently revisited the song on their 2009 album 09.

Videos

The Couriers (Dave, Duane, and Neil):

The Booth Brothers:


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9 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Thanks for the article, Daniel. You told the story well. What a song! We Couriers have sung it since the 1970s and still get a lot of requests for it. Phil Armenia is a dear friend and one incredible human being whose Godly life principles run deep. Phil’s wife Marie is the sister of Nick Bruno. Both Phil and Marie are talented and devoted writers.

    As seen from the camera angles of both videos it would appear that throngs of people stayed home from our appearances. The video shows that we Couriers had only a handful of people, but the Booth Brothers only had two in their audience . . . uh, perhaps three . . . two ladies and a plaid shirt. Our video was shot in Toronto; don’t know where the Booths shot theirs.

    Daniel, keep up your informed, skilled and sensitive coverage of the genre. We need men like you who will set high the bar of excellence.

    • Thank you both for your kind words and for sharing the story with me!

      I would have to disagree, though, as to the audience attendance in the video; granted, it wasn’t an every-seat-filled performance, but I’m sure that everyone who was there sat front and center to catch as much of the experience as they possibly could. 🙂

  2. Good posting sir. Just one small correction. The record company referred to was Tempo, not Temple. We recorded numerous albums with this fine company. Lamb is one of my all time favorite gospel songs. It makes the gospel a personal story. Duane

    • Thank you! I mis-heard. I have a copy of that album, though, so I really should have thought to check.

  3. What a thrill to once again hear the story of how Phil wrote that powerful song. Actually Phil started writing songs as a teenager singing with our group, “Charisma” out of our church on Staten Island. What a dedicated man and talent that God has, and is using after all these years of faithfulness. He and his lovely wife Marie are two of the most dedicated Christians I know, and am so grateful that their ministry goes on. Marie is a writer and songwriter in her own right. Some of their new songs are speaking to issues that are pressing today. I hope and pray they keep writing until Jesus comes, which I believe must be soon!

    • That is neat! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Great article about my all time favorite song, “I’m The Lamb”. Every time I hear it, I am beyond blessed. Love the Couriers and Phil and Marie! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great stuff about great people. Thanks, Dan, for posting. I too – “am that lamb that the shepherd left the flock for”… I’m also long-time friends with the Enloes, Armenias, and just about every one else who responded here! I LOVE THEM ALL. And I thank God for their consistency in leading the way, with integrity, spirituality and music.

    • It is so cool to hear from different friends of the families! 🙂