Guest Post: Encore Series #5: I Just Can’t Make It By Myself

This is a guest post from NewSoGoFan.

I’m not really sure how this one slipped through, from the Cathedrals’ 1986 release Master Builder. It’s a cleverly crafted, beautifully executed up-tempo piece with a bit of a bluegrass flavor. Die-hard Cathedrals fans probably know the song. The production is driven by banjo and fiddles, giving it that country/western air. It’s tough to write an up-tempo SG song that manages to be substantial and meaningful at the same time, but this one is.  It uses vivid metaphors to describe how much we need God—we are the man in the desert thirsty for a cool drink, the cold child longing for a fire to warm him. And we are the prodigal who tried to tackle life on his own and lost everything he had. Indeed, we cannot “make it by ourselves.” Here’s my favorite couplet:

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do

But he doesn’t have to do it alone.

It seems that “I Just Can’t Make It” got lost in the shadow of more popular up-tempo numbers like “Can He, Could He, Would He?” This is a shame, because I like it even better than some of those more instantly recognizable tunes. Because it’s a forgotten gem, I’m not going to advocate a radical re-working of the arrangement here. If someone were to bring this back “like new” while sticking pretty close to the original, I wouldn’t complain.

So who should do it? Well, Signature Sound would have been a natural fit, but understandably this one didn’t make it onto their tribute project. My first thought was actually the Booth Brothers when I heard this song, but ultimately, I settled on the Mark Trammell Quartet. Who better to revive it now than MTQ, since the song even featured Mark originally? Pat Barker could handle George’s bass step-outs capitally, and Mark could take the lead. Who agrees with me that this is an obvious candidate for being dusted off and that the MTQ is the obvious group to do it?

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33 Letters to the Editor

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  1. I always liked that song. I remember when bought that cassette of that project back in the 80’s. I found it at a little gospel book store, and anything with Cathedrals , i would buy. I was driving cab back then, and i played that tape till it wore out.

    • For your passengers?

      • LOL! Funny. “Uh, hey mister, what’s that group’s name anyway, cuz like I never heard of ’em??” 😆

  2. I’ve never heard this. Grrrr!! I saw the song title and thought you were talking about a catchy song the Homeland Quartet did that I also enjoyed. Now I have to figure out how to get this song!

    • Definitely look for a way—this is an unbelievable gem, one that it’s simply hard to believe has been forgotten.

    • You can just listen to it on Youtube here. The sound quality isn’t optimal, but it’s a lot better than nothing!

      • No matter how many times I listened to it, there was a couple lines in the chorus I couldn’t understand.

      • I need you Lord like a man in the desert
        Needs a drink just to help him survive
        I need you Lord like a fire in the winter
        Makes a little cold child come alive

        I need you Lord when I’m tired of the struggle
        And it’s too tough to walk all alone
        Cuz I just can’t make it by myself, by myself
        I just can’t make it by myself.

      • Thanks. I learned how to play that song. It was just that fourth line.

  3. The first group I thought of was Triumphant Quartet. I think their thick blend would work on a song like this. The other logical thing to do is to make it into a pure bluegrass number…it already leans that way. So my first two picks to cover this song are Triumphant Quartet and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Interesting contrast!

    • You know, I’m inclined to agree with you that those might be the two best picks for it.

    • Yeah, a bluegrass group could certainly do a great job with it.

      I also like your idea of Triumphant, because a good thick blend makes this already meaty song that much juicier for the listener to sink his teeth into. 🙂

  4. Daniel, when I saw this song title, I thought immediately of a great old quartet song written by Clara Ward with the same title which I dearly love. But from the lyrics, I don’t believe it’s the same song. I need to get out my “Master Builder” album (yes, I still have a turntable!) and play this song you’re talking about. Bet I love them both! And I second your motion about Markie and his boys bringing back ANY quartet song. They will always do it justice! And that is a totally objective opinion. 🙂

    • Actually, my friend NewSoGoFan’s name is in the writer’s credits up above. (Well, not NSF’s name strictly speaking, since NSF is anonymous!)

      No, it wouldn’t be the same song.

      Yes, I still have a turntable, too!

    • Aaaaah, this is great! First Mark Trammell comments on my Gold City encore entry, now Dianne on my Cathedrals encore. Suh-weet! I think I’ll start collecting ’em. 😀

  5. I actually think this would be a good opening song for a live album by Triumphant, Kingdom Heirs, or Gold City.

  6. I have to agree with the Booth Brothers suggestion, or since the song was (I believe) co-written by Bill & Gloria’s daughter, Suzanne, maybe even the GVB?

    • It would’ve been a better fit for Guy Penrod than for any of the current vocalists.

      • Yeah, I’m not hearing the new GVB lineup doing it at all, definitely doesn’t fit with their current style/sound. But Guy Penrod would have been perfect!

      • I don’t know….I’ll bet Wes Hampton and Mark Lowry could tear it up trading off lead lines….

      • Well, I could hear them doing a decent job – just not tearing it up like Guy could have.

      • It’s just a “Guy” sound. The young, clear, bell-like tenor of Wes and the silky-smooth baritone of Mark are wonderful in their own ways, but it’s not what this song needs.

  7. The song can be found on Bill Gaither’s Irish Homecoming. I forget the entire lineup, but Mike Allen has a part in it. I think Reggie and Lady Love Smith sing part of it too. It sounds great.

  8. Yeah, it’s got Triumphant written all over it, but Guy Penrod would do it justice. I like the MTQ idea, just hear Clayton on the second verse.

    • Yeah, actually Clayton would fit this to a T. It could be a feature for him similar to “Old White Flag.”

  9. Mark Trammell Quartet should do it, for the obvious reason, that Mark was on the original. I think his treatment of it, would have the most substance. His connection to the original version, plus his approach to songs/producing would be the right fit. Think of “It’s Almost Over”. Whether they want to do more classics, I don’t know. They’d be welcomed by this Cathedral fan for sure.

    • That was the very reason I suggested MTQ in the first place.

      The more I’ve thought about the various suggestions people have made, the more I think that it could actually be covered successfully by a variety of groups. But I still think MTQ would be the most obvious choice because of Mark’s connection with the song.

  10. this sounds a lot like a tune Greater Vision could do very well! I’m shocked they haven’t yet! I’m really shocked Rodney didn’t write it! 🙂 Who did?? Jennings, and who else?

    • Bill & Gloria Gaither

  11. oh ok! thanks Brian!

  12. Actually, if I get into the GloryBound Quartet this year at Heartland, maybe I could get them to do this song. I’ve played my piano for this song just by myself, and it’d be perfect. It’s is a fun song.