Duane Allen on Signature Sound
Duane Allen of the Oak Ridge Boys posted this comment on their message board; [EDIT, 2/21/13. Broken link removed] I found it fascinating:
IT IS EASY FOR ME TO SEE WHAT THEY ARE DOING. IT IS ALSO NOT SURPRISING TO SEE THAT THE PEOPLE ARE EATING IT UP. THAT IS WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO US IN THE EARLY ’70’S. … I SEE A LOT OF WHAT WE WERE TRYING TO DO, YEARS AGO, IN THEM, AND I THINK THAT THEY ARE GONNA DO JUST GREAT.
THE BIG CHANGE IS TWO WORDS, BILL GAITHER. BILL HAS DONE MORE FOR SOUTHERN STYLE GOSPEL MUSIC, AND THE GROUPS THAT SING IT, THAN ANY OTHER PERSON IN THE HISTORY OF THE BUSINESS. HIS SHOWS HAVE GIVEN NEW LIFE TO SOME OF THE OLD GOSPEL GREATS WHOSE CAREERS HAD BEEN DEAD FOR YEARS. … SIGNATURE SOUND IS REAPING THE HARVEST OF THE HOMECOMING SERIES OF TV SHOWS. THEY CAME ALONG AT THE RIGHT TIME, WITH ALL OF THE RIGHT KIND OF SUPPORT THAT THEY NEED. THE PUBLIC WILL BE THE TEST, AND IF THAT STILL IS THE MAIN THING, WHICH I BELIEVE IT IS, SIGNATURE SOUND WILL CONTINUE TO OPEN NEW DOORS AND BE VERY SUCCESSFUL, AS WILL BILL GAITHER. EITHER WAY, I AM VERY PROUD OF BOTH OF THEM. I LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING ALL OF THEM THE NEXT TWO DAYS. ALL PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN OR ARE STILL IN GOSPEL MUSIC HAVE A SPECIAL BROTHERHOOD. IT IS UNSPOKEN, BUT IT IS THERE. THERE USE TO BE ALL THIS JEALOUS STUFF. I ALWAYS HATED THAT PART OF GOSPEL MUSIC. I NEVER FEEL THAT WHEN I AM DOING THE HOMECOMING TAPINGS WITH GAITHER. I KNOW WE WILL HAVE FUN……DUANE
Now the first part that obviously jumps out is Duane’s comparison of Signature Sound to the 1970s Oak Ridge Boys, back when they were still singing Southern Gospel.
But the second part that jumped out is what prompted this post. The Oak Ridge Boys left Southern Gospel in part because they wanted secular success, no question about it. But another part of that decision was because they had grown weary of the backbiting and attacks from other groups that ran rampant at the time. Whether or not it was intended, the message they got was that if they did things a little different, they weren’t welcome in this genre.
This leads me back to Signature Sound. Much as I would like to think it otherwise, there is still some of that dog-eat-dog survival-of-the-fittest mentality in Southern Gospel. You know the mentality: It’s the idea that prompts one group owner to think that for his group to be more successful, another (more popular) group has to be less successful. The mindset is unfortunate, but it’s there.
Signature Sound is facing some of this criticism. The combination of their unorthodox clothing choices with their wildly successful music has apparently led certain other group owners to think that if Signature Sound stood out less from the pack, just perhaps their group would be more successful.
The members of Gold City have gone on record saying this was all a joke in good humor, but their much-discussed video clip on Signature Sound could easily be interpreted by an average fan to be such a criticism. (I refer especially to the part where Jonathan Wilburn says he loves Ernie, and Aaron McCune replies that he doesn’t.) In fact, that was my initial reaction when I saw it, though I have been glad to read their public statements since that it was all in good humor. But whatever you may make of this particular video clip, which may have indeed been in good humor, Signature Sound has drawn quite a bit of criticism from their peers–and from people who wish they were their peers.
Ernie Haase has gone on record saying that he wants to stay in Southern Gospel for the rest of his life. As long as he is able to find common ground with a part of the SG performing community, I have no doubt that he will. But the future of this group–and, in a way, the future of Southern Gospel as we know it–might hinge on this question: Will this genre be capable of holding those who would introduce slight innovations while remaining true to the historical definitions of what constitutes four-part quartet harmony? Or will we banish our best to the oblivion of the land of what could have been?