Where are the live bands?

Many of today’s top-tier Southern Gospel artists tour with just soundtracks, or just a piano player and soundtracks. But there are still groups carrying great live bands. Who are some of the Southern Gospel groups with at least three live musicians?

Four or more:

  • Akins
  • Brotherhood Quartet
  • Browders
  • Dove Brothers
  • Ernie Haase & Signature Sound
  • Freemans
  • Gaither Vocal Band
  • Garms Family from Braham, MN
  • Jason Crabb
  • Knox Brothers
  • New Jerusalem Singers from Springfield, IL (hat tip, Cindy S)

Three piece:

  • Atonement Quartet from Westfield, IN (piano / bass / drums)
  • Bowlings (piano / drums / on select songs, bass)
  • Collingsworth (but only in a sense, since there are generally only three going simultaneously on some of the instrumentals)
  • Diplomats (piano / bass / drums)
  • Dixie Echoes (piano / bass / on select songs, guitar)
  • Edwards Family from Spruce Pine, NC (piano / bass / guitar)
  • Inspirations (piano / bass / utility player)
  • Jeff & Sheri Easter
  • Kingdom Heirs (piano / bass / drums)
  • Singing Cookes (piano / bass / drums)

Of course, there also bluegrass bands like Dailey & Vincent, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, the Isaacs, and the Primitive Quartet; these naturally have four or move live instrumentalists.

For these lists, I’m not particularly concerned whether a group is national, regional, or local. What other Southern Gospel groups have great live bands?

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86 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Diplomats?

    • I’m not sure, either. I had them in the draft, but then I couldn’t remember if they had a two-piece band right now, (piano and Corey on bass), or if they had three or more.

      • Just checked their site, and it appears they do have a drummer.

      • Cool – thanks!

  2. The Isaacs and Jeff & Sheri Easter

    • The Isaacs were already listed under bluegrass groups. I just added Jeff & Sheri. Thanks!

      That also reminded me to add The Freemans. I’m thinking they have a four-piece band; I hope someone notices and comments if they only have three.

      • They are a four piece band.

      • OK, thanks!

  3. The Bowlings are now carrying live Piano and Drums with tracks I do believe, and Troy Peach can be seen playing Bass some on several all Live songs
    Of course, with the exception of the Doves and The Inspos. All of these listed above use tracks as well as live players.

    • I know that the Garms Family is all-live, and I’m thinking that the Freemans and Jason Crabb are also all-live or mostly-live.

      • We’re glad that we’re all-live! It’s better than being all-dead! πŸ™‚

        It’s similar to Caleb being in four states alive! Ha! πŸ™‚


      • You know what I meant, but still … πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    • Dixie Echoes do not use tracks.

  4. I’m not sure The Primitive Quartet would be classified as bluegrass.

    • I know. Bluegrass purists won’t claim them . . . but then, they won’t claim the Isaacs, either, and they wouldn’t even claim Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver for about two years recently when he carried a drummer!

      Their band is structured around a bluegrass band structure, rather than a Southern Gospel piano / drums / bass guitar structure. (They don’t have any of those three!)

      • The Primitives sound is structured around pure quartet singing with simple instrumental backing. They are not bluegrass. Chuck Wagon gang and Swanee River Boys neither had pianos.

    • I haven’t the foggiest idea what about the Primitives would make them anything but bluegrass.

      • I would classify them as Acoustic Southern Gospel. πŸ™‚

      • Why?

        (Genuinely curious here. I know they don’t do much on the bluegrass festival circuit, but I’m thinking stylistically here.)

      • We just did our annual concert with them this past Sunday and after years of being around the guys and their music, it’s easy to see that the emphasis of their music is primarily on their vocals and not necessarily the music accompaniment. They might break down one instrumental per program, but their styling just isn’t bluegrass, where the primary focus is on instrumentation with long turnarounds, lead-ins and song endings. The Primitives generally keep these short and sweet and let the words of the songs have the emphasis.

      • Bluegrass music has a clear ancestry with Bill Monroe, and others such as Flatt and Scruggs or the Stanley brothers. The Primitives music originated around a quartet with sparse instrumentation. As was availible, other musicians were added without a change in singing.

  5. Yes, well that is true. Doyle Lawson and The Isaacs are bluegrass whether anyone claims them or not though. πŸ˜€

    • As an SG fan, I’m inclined to agree. But if you’d talked to the hardcore bluegrass fans I’ve talked to, and seen the look of horror on their face when I ask if they consider the Isaacs to be bluegrass … well, you being you, you’d probably keep saying it just to see the looks on their faces. πŸ˜› πŸ™‚

      • Yes! Absolutely!! πŸ™‚

  6. New Jerusalem Singers from Springfield Illinois has a live band. Keyboard,Bass, lead and Rhythm guitars and sometimes drums

  7. Since you specifically mentioned local groups, I’ll bring up one of the groups my dad sings with, the Brotherhood Quartet. They have a six piece band: piano, bass guitar, drums, lead guitar, steel guitar, and rhythm guitar. I have a concert posted on youtube from several years ago with them playing. This concert features the current lineup except the piano player. Joe Lane, who left the Dove Brothers a couple of months ago, is playing on these videos.

    • Link above did not work above. If interested, copy and paste link below or search you tube for Brotherhood Quartet.


    • Thanks! Yes, I’m specifically fine with local and regional groups here. Judging from an increasing surge in reader comments about soundtrack burnout, I’m suspecting that I have a fair number of readers who would rather go out to see a local group with a live band than a professional group with soundtracks.

      I’m not completely in that camp, since I can appreciate a largely track-based concert, hopefully with at least a live pianist, if it’s done well.

      Even so, the single best concert I’ve attended all year was one by the Garms Family. They’re remarkably versatile; they’ll do the four-piece (piano / drums / bass / acoustic guitar) SG band when they want to. And when they want to, they’ll switch gears and become a bluegrass band! The piano player goes over to mandolin, the (female) lead singer plays dobro, one of the two guitarists switches to banjo, and one of their soprano singers plays fiddle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else stage a full SG band and a full bluegrass band in a single concert.

  8. I know the Old Paths do a few songs now with a live band (I think I saw where they just released a “band” cd). They have a drummer (Jeremy Chupp – soundman ), bass player, Jeremy peace plays piano, and Daniel plays sax.

    On the local level- I get to play piano with a group that has a 3 piece live band. Crowds definitely love having the live band.

    In its own way, its sad that so many people don’t get to experience a live band and its only a “special treat” when a group has one.

    • On your conclusion: Totally agreed.

      I would’ve listed the Old Paths if their band played more of the program. I’m under the impression that most of their program is track-only, and I don’t want to leave the wrong impression. Let me know if I’m wrong!

  9. Regarding the Primitive Quartet, they’re Bluegrass Gospel only in a general sort of way, but much closer to what is known as “Mountain Gospel” . The clincher for bluegrass is that it almost always features a banjo with manic fiddle, and also that most of the vocals are of the Bill Monroe variety, i.e. with a somewhat harsher, and overtly nasal vocal attack. As far as the Primitives themselves, there is often a sweetness to their music and delivery that is rarely seen any more.
    Old-Time Gospel and Country Gospel are also related genres to this general discussion. With all of them, there is overlap with no set boundaries.

    • Tom – very interesting. Thanks!

    • Mountain Gospel is good terminology for the Primitives. The McKameys, though not totally a “live insturments” group, and Tony McGee & New Covanent (haven’t heard anything out of them for awhile) can fit into that description also.

  10. There is a difference between HAVING a four-plus piece live band and USING that band exclusively. In the case of the GVB, the band mostly augments the performance trax. Even in the last decade of the Band of Gold, they were a three-piece rhythm section that was backed by pre-recorded studio trax.

    If a group is going to have a live band, then let the band do the playing. And yes, I know part of the reason for keeping the trax in the live mix is because they usually have vocal stax as well, but to that I say the same thing….let the live singers do the singing and the live players do the playing.

    • It would be fascinating to see this list segmented out into live SG bands that only use live music/vocals, and live augmentary bands. The only reason I haven’t done it is that I’m just not sure in a number of cases.

    • “…let the live singers do the singing and the live players do the playing.”

      BUT, what if you sing AND play at the same time? Is that O.K.? πŸ™‚


      • If you’re a singer and a player, have at it!! I’ve always wanted to see a modern gospel quartet who also made up a modern four-piece band….kinda like if Brian Free & Assurance were their own band.

      • Well lets give it a shot!

        Tenor / Drums – Michael Booth
        Lead / Guitar – Jason Crabb
        Baritone / Bass Guitar – Mark Trammell
        Bass / Saxophone – Daniel Ashmore

        5th part / Keyboard – Wayne Haun

    • It was really fascinating to watch what happens when a track fails and an “augmentation” band goes “exclusive”. Last month in Gainesville, GA, in the second half of their concert at Free Chapel Church, the GVB had real problems with their tracks (or the connection between their tracks and the Church’s sound system). The band went from “augmenting” to seriously accompanying in about 3 beats. As best I recall it, I heard the track fail on one beat, live guitar the next, heard the drum and bass the next, and heard a new piano line the next. I was impressed, anyway. πŸ™‚

      • That’s really neat! Of course, now, the Gaither Vocal Band has a live band so incredibly strong that you just have to wonder why they don’t use it moreβ€”why they cover it up with what Gerald Wolfe calls, in one of his stage routines, “all that racket”! πŸ™‚

  11. I know they don’t do the full concert that way, but the Dixie Echoes go to three-piece when Sr. starts pickin’. And, obviously, no soundtracks.

    • Good point. I think of them as a two-piece band, but if the Bowlings deserve a spot on that list, then the Dixie Echoes certainly do, too!

  12. Knox Brothers. They’re four-piece.

    • Great one! That’s one I should have thought of. I knew I was missing some decently obvious ones.

  13. Rebels have a one piece band, Barry Patrick.

  14. The Singing Cookes come to mind and also a couple more with a Bluegrass tinge,The rochesters and the Marksmen Qt.

    • Thanks! How many pieces is the Singing Cookes’ band?

      • Three,bass guitar,piano,and drums,played by their sons.

      • Thanks!

  15. Southern Raised from Springfield, MO are Bluegrass Gospel, but they sing some Southern Gospel songs.

    • Thanks! I haven’t been making a complete list of the Bluegrass Gospel groups, since they’re too many to name!

    • I don’t think so, but it sure is fun! πŸ™‚

  16. We use only a live band…..tried tracks but there was no liberty and freedom to make adjustments in a live setting. We didn’t like being tied down with a track.

    We generally have a 3-piece band, with Piano, Guitar and Bass. We do have ‘part-time’ players that join us occasionally, which include drums, mandolin, banjo, and additional electric and acoustic guitar players. There’s nothing like having live music…

  17. I don’t get the argument for a live band at all. Every live band I have heard struggles with the house mix, ie how to get the vocals above the drums are the bass guitar, or the electric guitar. In smaller venues, such as the average church of 200-500 seating, it is very difficult to get the vocals over the band without blowing out every one in the venue. We use live piano over tracks and some songs, only piano. We have never been accused of being too loud. I’ll take that any day. Now years ago I traveled with 4 guys singing and a 4 piece band, and it was fun. But it was also expensive, and the logistics of getting every to agree on something as simple as where to have lunch, was at times overwhelming. When SG promoters and churchs bring their flats into reality maybe we can justify bands again, but even then it would not be for a musical reason, it would be simply for the thought process of having “live” musicians. Very few live musicians can match studio quality plaers for taste and tightness.

    • Well said Ben!!

    • @ Ben,

      From a fan’s perspective your reasons for not having a live band seem more like a lack of knowledge (on the groups part) on how to mix a venue rather than a legitimate reason for not having a band. I remember seeing the Kingsmen in concert with the four piece band and no tracks. To me that is what a SG group is supposed to sound like. Live music, live vocals, not tracks or stacks. You may be right that today there are few group musicians that can match the quality of studio players, but again we only receive what we expect. I loved those moments in a Kingsmen concert when the piano player would do a different run during a song or the other musicians would add their own flourishes to the music, that’s what made it going to a concert versus listening to a cd and staring at their picture. The closest I have heard to that today is the Dove Bothers Band. When I heard their Live cd it took me back to those “good old days”.

      • It is far from a lack of knowledge on how to mix a live band it is more to the point of sheer physics. Drums alone are acoustically loud, being most of the time on the order of 110-120 db spl. Most smaller venues want levels on the order of 85db – 95db spl. Just a quick lesson here in the physics of sound……sound decreases in level 3db every time the distance is doubled ( inside a venue, not outside) . So, lets say the drums are the average 110db at 3 feet. At 6 feet they will be 107 db, then at 12 feet they will be 104db, and at 24 feet, 101db, and at 48 feet 98db, and at 96 feet 95dbspl….and this is not counting the increased amplitude one would get with 3-4 vocal mics open on the same stage. This little physics scene is sheer acoustic, with no amplification considered in the equation. We have sang at MANY venues where the promoter has a sound level meter (and most don’t know how to use them) and they keep tabs on how loud you are. I know one who demands no more than 85 db spl. Try that with a live band! As with the Kingsmen, you probably had a good experience in a larger venue like a concert hall, etc.

      • Mr. Harris,

        A good way to keep live drums within a comfortable sound pressure level is to use an electronic drum kit. Electronic kits nowadays are of very good quality, and our family has been using one for about a year now. You control the volume with your mixer’s fader, and the portability can’t be beat (don’t mind the pun!). We have even had people come up to us after a performance and ask if we could turn up the drums a bit more! πŸ™‚

        Previously we would set-up an entire acoustic drum kit, and during that time we never received complaints that the drums were too loud. But the drummers in the family took care not to play too loudly either. πŸ™‚

        Our family band takes the time to make sure our sound pressure levels are comfortable for the entire room, from the back to the front. When our family band’s spl has been tracked at our concerts by venue promoters, the volume level has been between the 72-87 spl range. We also take the time in our performances to ask the audience if they are comfortable with the volume level, which 99% of the time they are. (Of course, every once in a while there is someone you can’t please… πŸ˜€ )

        It is very do-able to have a live band AND be at a 85 dB range. (It is also do-able to get the vocals to stand above the instruments at the 85 dB range.) We have done it many times without complaints of being too loud; it just takes thought, care, and the willing cooperation of everyone.

        There’s nothing like being a live band; it was definitely the Lord’s plan for our family that we would be, and we are grateful for the fun opportunity to minister with live music. πŸ™‚

        -Ben for TGF

      • Ben, why does a “live band” automatically have to use drums? Piano and Bass are good enough to do anything a group needs. Gospel music will never be right with tracks and stacks

    • Ben, back to your original post: Would it be a logical next step to argue that pre-recorded vocals are also easier to mix and to amplify, and that they are also far more pristine and perfect? πŸ™‚

      • Silliness alert:
        Mute the inputs of the mixer, and they’ll be no feedback. The recorded vocals will carry the song’s message, so the singers can dance around and lip-sync.
        But, when a singer starts to speak in-between songs, it’ll be hard, if not impossible, to hear everything they say.
        Carry a soundman with you to turn on the mics when they start to say something.
        While we’re at it, everyone can go back to singing on one mic this way, it can save groups hundreds – thousands of dollars.

      • Daniel, I am not sure I am following your question…but…..

        Studio vocals do not have the possibility of feedback since there is no open loop, as Quaid so “elequently” and tongue n cheek, stated above. And to reply to his comment, I do know of several groups using Pro Tools for live performance and are essentially lip syncing most of the vocals. I will not however, give that info out as to who. I will tell you this, if you hear us sing, you will hear LIVE vocals, period!

        And Daniel, yes studio vocals are more pristine for many reasons. Huge studio micswould be impossible to hand hold, and the lack of stage monitors makes the overall enviroment less acoustically cluttered. So yeah, they are more pristine, and usually more perfect for they have tuned, and timed to death in some cases. And, being able to select the best performances from several vocal tracks to end up with a comp master vocal track, allows for a better performance than one could do live. But I still don’t get the question totally….hope that helps!

      • Well, I was employing some mild and hopefully humorous sarcasm. Put into simpler terms, I was asking: Couldn’t the same arguments be used to make the case for just playing a CD of the group through the sound system instead of going to the trouble of having live vocalists travel across the country to appear? πŸ™‚

      • Electronic drums are far better than acoustic drums for controlling spl level. It is an idea I have floated to several groups and churchs I have consulted with thru the years. The down side I have seen is some drummers don’t like playing “pads” as they don’t have the same feedback as do real drums. I personally think it is a compromise worth making. Congrats to the Garm Family for having the good sense to see the issue and work around the problem.

    • i like piano only for quartets and trios. i do not particularly care for sound tracs. sometimes they overpower the singers and you do not know a thing they are singing. i know the tracs are cheaper than paying a piano player. dont like the bands unless it is like the Isaacs. also while i have the floor LOL all of the groups are not SOUTHERN GOSPEL. i have been following this since the early 50s, those were true SOUTHERN GOSPEL. thanks for listening to me

  18. Atonement Quartet, based out of Westfield, IN, has a three piece band. Drums, bass, and piano.

  19. I’m wondering who the “Samuel” is who mentioned Oregon’s Willamette Valley’s Knox Brothers; I have a feeling that I have likely seen him multiple times at KB concerts! I was going to mention them myself, but he beat me to it (not difficult to do, as I seem to have appeared on the scene a day and a half late)! In fact, I was on the phone with the wife of one of the KB about 2.5 hours ago. Yes, The Knox Brothers are a four-piece band (keyboard, bass, lead, and drums), played by four biological brothers who simultaneously sing, along with two more biological brothers who sing and play non-instrumental roles (sound equipment and product table). They use live instruments exclusively; I have never heard them use soundtracks, and I’ve been there since the beginning of their group more than 40 years ago. They actually started out a cappella.

  20. I didn’t see my. Favorite group, Greater Vision.

    • Well, that would be because they don’t carry a live band! They do have Gerald playing piano and Rodney playing bass on a few songs in most concerts, but their programs are mostly soundtrack-only.

  21. I am so glad that the great groups of the 50’s, Blackwood Bros., statesmen, Jake’s Imperials, etc., did not
    have live bands covering up their fabulous voices.

    • AMEN!

  22. I have been going to concerts since the late 1970’s. I miss the live bands so much. Tracks just do not cut it for me. To me when you’ve a bass going through the floor, a tenor through the roof and two guys in the middle kickin’ it, a piano player poundin’ the keyboard, a couple of guitarists and the drummer goin’ nuts with cymbals toms and such, it creates a very exciting energy. An energy that can not be duplicated with tracks. I would rather a group show up with a piano player and a baritone playing bass guitar than be tracked to death the way we are now. Tracks do have their place sometimes. Champion of Love just would not have worked without the tracks even in a live setting. But for me, that is the exception. There are a few others. I agree with the above comment about the Dove Brothers live album. Best live album I’ve heard in years. It just didn’t have that manufactured sound to it. It sounded “real”.

  23. My wife & I went to the Jubilee Christmas in Lancaster on December 1. Being our first time seeing any of the three groups we were looking forward to it, especially the Booth Brothers.

    To be clear, they were great! We enjoyed the evening, but our biggest dissapointment was the lack of a live band. We’ve been to Gaither concerts, EHHS concerts and other Sothern Gospel & CCM concerts with the live bands and something is missing when everything is through the stacks! I guess when going to an event of that size, I was just expecting to see them go “Gaither” on us and do it right. They have some of the best groups in SG & it would put it over the top to put the band up there. As it was, I don’t expect to go to a Jubilee concert again (I’ll buy the cd instead) unless that would change, then I’d definately be there again!

    *Daniel, this isn’t meant to be negative against those three groups, just expressing my dissapointment. If you see it that way feel free to delete it.

    • Much of the Gaither concerts is pre-recorded and many times the musicians are there for the image. Not 100%, but enough! Things are not always as they seem.

      • So true! And that’s not just picking on Mr. Gaither. Pre-recorded music exists in just about every corner of the music industry. It has been that way for years.

  24. With the discussion of the sound issues that come with using live bands, I have to put a good word in for the Dove Brothers Band. With a band as big as theirs, you’d think there’d be all kinds of complaints, but any remarks on the sounds I’ve heard/read have been positive. I have yet to see or hear anybody complain about them being too loud or the vocals being ‘”hidden” behind the band. Somebody in that organization must know what they’re doing when it comes to getting the sound right.

  25. I just thought of another group that uses a band. The Browders use 4 instruments – keys, acoustic, bass, and electric. I believe they supplement with tracks as well – but at least it’s 4 live instruments!

  26. Comment

  27. Do away with live music and the next thing will be to do away with singers and just show a DVD. The Inspirations have a wonderful group of people and they are not too loud. The program is not pre-set and they sing what ever comes to Martin’s mind at the time. You miss many blessings when the program is “Canned”. The Primitives have several instruments and would not be the same with out them. The McKameys have a mixture with Roger and Eli and they do a wonderful job and always have a spirit filled
    Not to mention tthe jobs it provides for these young people they want to be in gospel music. If The Inspirations ever go to sound tracks, I would not support them any longer.
    ‘Thelma Thomas

  28. I’m from the “Old days” I guess, but I still PREFER piano and 4 part harmony. Bands are good as long as they DO NOT overwhelm the singers with what they band calls Music and I call NOISE-just in some cases. If that’s the case, ie:too loud or noise, then a soundtrack is much better than a live band because it ‘s volume can be more controlled.