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?


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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. Amen!!! I guess this blog really makes you think. Most people think that ORB left gospel music only because of the $$$. Obviously that’s not the only factor. Good story.

  2. Don’t worry about the Gold City thing. I know Jonathan and it was all in good fun!!

  3. As we are preparing to re-launch Ed Hill’s Prophets Qt, all this talk makes me wonder what to expect. My background is the ministry…both Crusade Evangelism and Pastoring in a local church…I may not be prepared for the SG world, because everyone knows “there’s no jealousy or back-biting in the Ministry”…Right?…Amen?

    Paul Jackson / The Prophets
    http://www.pauljacksongroup.com
    http://www.prophetsquartet.com

  4. Tremendous post, Daniel.

    I can testify to back-biting in gospel music as I witnessed it as a child in the 50’s. Even among local non-professional groups, the jealousy was evident from the intentionally missed turn at the singing convention to the non-invitation to certain events. I overheard my father tell a fellow quartet operator, “Don’t make a record, because if you do, you’ll have to fight the other groups.”

    Maybe the secret is to not be very successful, don’t stand out from the crowd, and barely get by. That way, no one is jealous of you. I hope Gaither and SSQ continue to do what they’re doing.

  5. As I posted on another site. I’m still puzzled by the jealously in this industry. If SSQ is successful, why can’t other groups be happy for them instead of trying to find fault with them. They are trying to win souls to Christ. Some people drive, or fly, or take a bus to get to their destination. The goal is to get there. SSQ is using a different mode than other groups and it appears to be working. Just leave them alone and be happy for them.

  6. I believe when groups backbite one another, it reveals a lot about their motives. The Apostle Paul did not care if it was friends or foes preaching Jesus, as long as Jesus was preached.

    With all of that said, however, I honestly feel that the Gold City clip was done in good fun.

  7. I’m surprised that more people haven’t compared EHSS to the old Imperials. Musically speaking, they’re way closer to that group than they are to ORB, even though they talk more about ORB. But I think there’s a huge similarity there. The Imperials were another group that was viewed as “edgy” back in the day, but as Aaron Swain once put it, they were really just “SG with a kick.”

    Same deal with EHSS. At heart very traditional, but with a bit of a pop/rock influence in places (you can hear this especially on Get Away Jordan). Also, I hear a *huge* similarity in the vocals—prominent bass, ultra-clear tenor, smooth blend. Just listen to “Do You Want to Be Forgiven” and you’ll see what I mean—the resemblance is downright uncanny. It makes me wonder why EHSS hasn’t covered more old Imperials stuff. I could hear them doing bang-up versions of songs like “First Morning In Heaven” (not to be confused with “First Day In Heaven”), “Heed the Call,” “Sail On,” etc. Timmy could be a dead ringer for Armand.

    So am I the only one who’s noticed this, or does anybody else think this would be a cool idea for the group?

  8. In searching for something else, this post came up. Fascinating! This is the first I’ve seen this post. But I had seen the video back when it was first posted. Even as a huge EHSS fan, I never took their comments as being serious. I can tell sarcasm/joking fairly easily, and they were definitely joking.

    As for the rest of the actual post about trending away from traditional SG music causing controversy within the genre, it is especially interesting to read that after the release of “Here We Are Again.” I’m curious as to how the project is being received within the industry. From reading comments on various blogs, it certainly seems that a number of fans share that thought.

    It is likely not related at all, but I find it interesting that this year EHSS will not be at NQC this year. However, they will be in Australia over the Easter holiday with artists like MercyMe, Michael W. Smith, P.O.D., and Hawk Nelson at Easterfest 2012. I view this as a great opportunity for EHSS, but I wonder if industry members feel the same way.

  9. Fascinating indeed!

    I scrolled back to the top once or twice to check that Duane really was commenting in 2007!

    From where we are at now, the ’07 EHSS repertoire was pretty mainstream was it not? Even “Get Away Jordan” is a SGM mainstay now 🙂

    Perhaps – if we get to see it – in 2017 “Here We Are Again” [that title really resonates] will be mainstream as well…………Or, maybe EHSS, like the OAKS will be by then SGM outsiders?

    One would hope not. Listening to Duane sometimes it is not hard to imagine a wistful tone, “I wish we had stayed…” A superbly gifted quartet, mostly lost to SGM for 20 years. Another loss would be a bit careless, and even more damaging to the genre.

    I trust not.