Song Snapshots #8: Glory to God (The Talleys)

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

In the late 1990s, Southern Gospel songwriter Ray Scarbrough hosted Holy Land tours. He wrote “Glory to God in the Highest” on a hotel room balcony on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Eastern Gate of the Old City.

“One morning,” he recalls, “I woke up on the Mount of Olives in the hotel that I was staying in, going out on my balcony before dawn. Later that day, we were actually supposed to be visiting the shepherds’ field in Bethlehem. I was pondering what actually happened at that place.”

His songs have a recognizable fingerprint. “The way that I learned how to write is to have a Biblical message in the first verse and a practical message in the second verse. The chorus always has this nice little bow that ties everything together.”

But he had an idea that would make the song unique: “While I was there in Jerusalem, my intent was to actually find somebody to actually translate a chorus of it into Aramaic. The problem is, given the fact that it’s an ancient language, if you can find somebody who actually speaks Aramaic, they likely as not couldn’t write it or translate it for you. So the easiest thing for me to do was have someone translate a chorus of it into Hebrew.”

The Talleys recorded it on their 2000 It’s Christmas album. Roger Talley discovered the song when he produced an album for a group Scarbrough ran, Lion Heart. “I knew I had Roger coming in to produce,” Scarbrough recalls. “I was trying to draw from his strength as a producer in writing the songs. I was aiming for material that that more progressive Southern type material like the Talleys would do.” It worked; the Talleys ended up cutting two other songs from that Lion Heart album, “Pray” and “There’s Not a Cry.”

Scarbrough recalls that the Talleys recorded the track with the specific purpose of including it on a Gaither Christmas video taping (Christmas: A Time For Joy, released in 2001). Bill Gaither, as he recalls, prompted a change in the song’s title. “The original title was actually ‘What I Had Been.’ I think it was Gaither’s idea to title it ‘Glory to God’ and make it sound more Christmasy.’” (“What I Had Been” is the chorus’s closing line; “Glory to God” is its opening line.)

Mike Speck also released the song as a Christmas choral arrangement.

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Song Snapshots #7: I’m Saved (The Wilburns, The Old Paths)

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

Ray Scarbrough began writing songs when he was singing with a Tennessee-based quartet, The Supernals. The group competed in the 1989 National Quartet Convention talent show, singing “I’m Saved,” and placed second.

Winning that competition spurred Ray to become an active songwriter. “Up to that point,” he recalls, “we sang top 40 hits. That provided us with a little more national exposure, so that we were going to need some original material. I felt like I could do that, and I started to write from there.”

After placing second, they also signed with Sonlite Records. Ray recalls that he had already been friends with Sonlite Preisdent Chris White for years: “He actually produced my very first album when I was nine years old. I was singing with my mom and sister at the time. He owned a little recording studio, Angel Recording Studio, in a double-wide trailer in Maryville, Tennessee. He’s been family ever since.”

“I’m Saved” was Ray’s first cut by a major group. The Wilburns cut it on their 1994 album Some Things Never Change. (It was one of the last recordings Jonathan Wilburn would make with the Wilburns before leaving for Gold City.)

At the time the Wilburns recorded the song, they were still with MorningStar. Ray recalls that MorningStar executive Davie Wilcox “was making a strong push for my publishing. And I’ve been like, ‘No, I’m loyal to Chris.’ My career relationship is on a handshake; there are no contracts.” He is a Chris White Music Publishing writer to this day; dozens of his songs can be heard here.

The song was recently brought back by The Old Paths, who recorded it on their 2012 album Right Now.

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Song Snapshots #6: I Want To Be That Man (Brian Free & Assurance)

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

Brian Free & Assurance’s current radio single, “I Want to Be That Man,” was co-written by Ricky Free and Lee Black. Neither are newcomers to the group’s music; Free is tenor/manager Brian Free’s son, while Black co-wrote a song that was on the group’s debut project. In fact, that song, “Flood the Altar,” was Lee Black’s first professional cut. He co-wrote the song with Sue Smith and David Moffit—both of whom remain good friends and co-writing partners to this day.

Lee Black co-wrote “I Want to Be That Man” with Brian’s son, Ricky Free, last summer. Brian’s father (Ricky’s grandfather) had passed away several months ago. Black and Free started talking about that loss and about their own families. Ricky and Kelly Free were expecting their own first child in a month or two. “I was just thinking about my own kids,” Black adds,” wanting to pass on to them things that had been handed down to me. We were thinking about these things, talking about heritage and leaving a legacy. I don’t remember how it happened or how that title even popped out, but it started from that standpoint.”

When Brian Free first heard the song demo, he didn’t know who wrote the song. The song’s message of faithful fatherhood stirred his heart, and he knew he had to record it. As he says when introducing the song live:

When I first heard this song, I immediately thought of my father. My father passed away almost two years ago. My mom passed away a few months after that. But Dad was a great example for me, growing up, and my brothers—a wonderful Christian man that I’ll never forget, and I know I’ll see again. In this day and time, men, fathers, and husbands—more than ever, it’s so important that we understand the legacy we leave behind, and what we do on a daily basis with our children—the things they see, the things they hear. The things that we do, how we respond. I’m far from perfect; I make many mistakes. I’m a work under progress. But tonight I can truly stand here and tell you that I want to be a man that would be an example to my sons.

When he checked the lyric and found out that one of the co-writers was his own son, he was even more deeply moved.

Brian Free & Assurance picked the song as the debut radio single from their current record, Nothing But Love. “It really surprised me,” Black recalls, “because it feels so much like a Father’s Day or Promise Keepers kind of song.”

Cross and Heaven songs are always safe picks for Southern Gospel radio singles, Black observes. “My wife kids me that I’ve written ‘Settled at the Cross,’ ‘Beneath the Cross,’ ‘At the Cross’—you name the preposition and I’ve written it! There’ll never be enough cross songs.”

A song about faithful fatherhood is an unusual pick for Southern Gospel radio, but early feedback indicates the song is resonating with listeners and reviewers as deeply as it did with Brian Free. It has only been on the chart for two months, and is already at #13 (December 2012 chart).

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Song Snapshots #5: I Stand Redeemed (Legacy Five)

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

Inspiration for songs can come from unlikely places—but the inspiration for Legacy Five’s first mega-hit, “I Stand Redeemed,” would have to be one of the most unusual places ever.

One day, Belinda Smith dropped by Kelly Garner’s house. Christina DeGazio, a Canadian songwriter, was also there; she had come down to Nashville to write with Kelly. All three wrote for Niles Borop’s Centergy Music at the time.

When Belinda arrived, Kelly and Christina were talking about a song they had recently written and submitted to Niles. They said, “Our publisher totally hated this line in our song.”

“Which line?” she asked.

They replied, “I stand redeemed.”

Now Belinda makes it clear that she absolutely loves Niles Borop. But, she says, “You have to know, I’ll just do something to aggravate you, if it will be funny, and I think you’ll get the joke.”

So, she said, “We should write an entire song called ‘I Stand Redeemed,’ just because there’s no way he could throw out the line. If that’s the title, he can’t make us change it.”

“They were like, ‘Oh, let’s do it! It will aggravate him!’”

“It wasn’t to make him mad,” she clarifies, “just to goad him, because we really loved that man! It was just be like mm-hmm, and what about that line? Because who knew that we would sit down and the I Stand Redeemed would come out?”

Belinda got down at Kelly’s baby grand piano. “I just started playing,” she recalls, “and the whole first verse came out.”

When I think of all my faults and my failures
When I consider all the times I’ve let God down
I am humbled by the grace He has extended
I’m amazed at the mercy I have found
I could never earn this love on my own
But every time I come before His throne
I stand redeemed… 

“It was so weird,” she says. “We were all like, ‘Oh dear. What do you do?’ We were just trying to aggravate Niles, and now it was really serious!”

They worked together on the chorus. They had a big discussion over whether to use the word “liberty.” Kelly and Belinda were against the idea, thinking it was a “fourth of July word,” but Christina—the Canadian of the writing trio—held out until they left the word in. “So that’s the international influence on the chorus!”

By this point, it was 9:30 in the evening. Belinda, who lived forty-five minutes away in Franklin, had gotten up at 5:00 that morning for her day job, and had to get up at 5:00 the next morning. So she called it a night and headed for home; Christina and Kelly finished the second verse.

One day, after a demo had been made for the song, Kelly saw Roger Bennett’s wife Debbie in Staples. “I don’t know why she had the cassette,” Belinda recalls, “but she gave it to Debbie. Debbie took it home, and it became the first Legacy Five single. Only in Nashville!”

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Song Snapshots #4: He’s My Song

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

The Old Paths recorded “He’s My Song” on their latest recording (Right Now, 2012). The song dates back to the mid-1990s, when its writer, Ray Scarbrough, recorded it with his group, The Supernals.

The Supernals sent the song to radio stations in their region of Tennessee. (Scarbrough recalls, “It didn’t do a lot of good to send it out to Seattle, Washington, when we’re not working out there.”)

One night, the Supernals were singing at a little country church in Tennessee, and sang the song. After the service was over, the church pianist approached Scarbrough, saying, “I want to talk to you about that song you all did tonight, ‘He’s My Song.’ My husband was the pastor at this church. Here a couple of months ago, he takes off with another woman. He left me here with these kids.”

“As I pulled in the parking lot, I could just feel every eye looking at me. I’d slide in on the piano bench, and I’d just feel everyone staring. It was just tough.

On Saturday nights, she would dread going to church the following morning, and would contemplate ending her life. One Saturday night, she recalled, “I got myself a pistol, and I loaded it, and I put it on the nightstand. I told myself, ‘I’ll put this pistol on the nightstand. And when I wake up in the morning, I’ll reach over before I have a chance to talk myself out of it, get the barrel to my head, pull the trigger, and it’ll all be over with.’”

The following morning, her alarm clock radio woke her up. The song the station was playing was “He’s My Song.” After hearing it, she decided against committing suicide.

“In the end,” Ray Scarbrough comments, “I just want to reach as many hearts and lives for Christ as possible. The songs filter through me first; if they help others like they help me, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be able to do it.”

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Song Snapshots #3: But For the Blood

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

Belinda Smith, who co-wrote “But For the Blood” with Joel Lindsey, grew up in a church her grandfather pastored. After her grandfather died, the church shut down, and she bought the church piano.

One day, co-writer Joel Lindsey had come over to Belinda’s house in Nashville. They were sitting at this piano when they decided to write a straight-up Southern Gospel song. “Whenever you tell me straight-up Southern Gospel,” Smith recalls, “I immediately think of the Blood, the Cross, the tempter, and Salvation. Those would be the things where I go immediately.”

“I was trying to write a song that my grandpa would like,” she adds, something that would “get my grandpa to say amen out loud.”

After they had been working on the song for a while, Joel asked, “What if we did a chorus that was like, ‘But for the mercy, but for the blood’?”

“It was one of those moments where it was like the ceiling opened up, and the light of Heaven came down,” Smith said, “and I’m like, ‘Yes, Yes!’”

After that chorus idea, they finished the song in about ten minutes.

The Hoppers recorded it on their 2002 album Steppin’ Out and selected it as a radio single. Though the song didn’t hit #1, it got so much radio airplay that BMI gave Smith and Lindsay an award for the song being one of the most-played Southern Gospel hits of the year.

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Song Snapshots #2: I’m Not Ashamed

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

Although “I’m Not Ashamed” only came to national attention when the Inspirations recorded it seven years ago, the song was already twenty years old. It was written by Leonard Fletcher of the Fletcher Family, a group that sings at church concerts and evangelistic events throughout the Southeast.

The Fletcher Family started singing twenty-nine years ago. Leonard, who has written many of the songs the group sings, wrote “I’m Not Ashamed” about two years later.“It was one of the first songs I ever wrote,” he recalls, adding that it “is really the song that has defined our ministry.”

He still vividly remembers the day he wrote the song. He was working a full-time job at a supermarket. He was saved as a young boy, but drifted spiritually in his teens, and had recently rededicated his life to the Lord. He recalls:

The day I wrote “I’m Not Ashamed,” I was at work, and I was very spiritually discouraged. We had been singing a little locally in churches, but it seemed that the devil was really fighting. I was stocking groceries that day on the pet food aisle and it seemed that the dark clouds would not go away.

It was then it seemed that Satan himself was there with me that day, doing what he does best, accusing the brethren. It was almost like I could hear him say, “You are unworthy to sing or do anything else for God after some of the things you have done, and some of the places you have been. You should be ashamed of yourself!!”

It was then that something rose up in me that began to talk back to the devil, and I said in my mind, “Devil, you are right, I am ashamed of some of the things I have done, but I’m Not Ashamed to stand and say that I love Jesus!”

As I said that, suddenly words began to flow. I grabbed a piece of cardboard and began to write these words: “I’m not ashamed to stand and say that I love Jesus / I’m not ashamed to say I’m trusting in his word / I’m not ashamed in lifting high that blood stained banner / Because I’m saved, I’m not ashamed.”

I went home later that day and told my wife, I said, “I think I have written a song.” I asked her to go to the piano and help me put music to it. We began singing it shortly thereafter, and everywhere we sang it people responded in a great way.

They introduced the song in a Wednesday Night prayer meeting service in North Carolina. Though there were only fifteen or twenty people there, the song got such a strong response that they ended up singing it three times before the night ended.

They sang it for the next twenty years in their area. Choirs and local groups picked it up, and it became known in the area.

Not long after writing the song, Leonard surrendered to the call of the ministry; today, he preaches around forty weeks each year throughout the southeast. The Fletcher Family appears at some of those meetings. He also pastors Dyson Grove Baptist Church, an independent Baptist Church in Butler, Tennessee.

In the mid-2000s, evangelist Dr. Joe Arthur heard the Fletcher Family sing it at an evangelistic meeting. He told Leonard that he could just hear the Inspirations sing it, and asked permission to pitch the song to them. Leonard said he would be honored.

The rest is history. The Inspirations recorded it on their 2005 album From the Smokies, and it quickly became one of their signature songs. It was a top ten nominee for Song of the Year in the 2006 Singing News Fan Awards.

“…and it all started with a discouraged child of God on the dog food aisle.”

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The Fletcher Family:

The Inspirations:

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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.

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The Couriers (Dave, Duane, and Neil):

The Booth Brothers:

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