An Interview with Paul Heil

SouthernGospelBlog.com Interviews

I recently had the opportunity to interview Paul Heil, a legend in the world of Southern Gospel radio. For thirty-four years, he has run a syndicated program called The Gospel Greats.

Daniel J. Mount: I thought I would start by asking a little bit about your background, both how you came to a faith in Christ, and how you came to an interest in this genre of music.

Paul Heil: Well my dad was a pastor as I grew up, and because of that, we were involved all the time in church. The old hymns of the church always caught my attention. I was in the junior choir, believe it or not, and we sang there every now and then.

Because my dad was a pastor, of course I was quite familiar from early years with the fundamentals of the faith; however, I was about eight years old when a visiting evangelist came in for a special series of services at our church. I don’t remember the message he gave, but I remember what happened; that’s when I went up front, and gave my heart to the Lord. I could take you to that church even now and show you pretty much exactly where I was sitting when I felt the urge to do this, and where I knelt down on the altar up there. I may have only been eight years old, but it certainly stuck, and I’m glad of that.

Daniel: Now did you actually grow up in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania?

Paul: Close by. My childhood was mostly in York, Pennsylvania, which is about twenty-four miles to the west. My dad had a church there, and I was there through eighth grade; he was moved to Lancaster when I was in ninth grade to pastor a church here. And of course I came along, being only of ninth grade age. But I have been here ever since.

Daniel: How did you first become exposed to this genre of music; and I’m also curious: did you love it immediately, or did the love grow on you over time?

Paul: That’s hard to say! I was just always exposed to it. My dad had old Blackwood Brothers, Chuck Wagon Gang, and Statesmen LPs in the house, and recordings always intrigued me.  He even had some old 78s at the time. I was intrigued by the music.

In this area, we were very blessed to have the Couriers; they had big events up at Harrisburg. A couple of times, our church youth group went to those big sings. Of course that just sort of sealed the deal. I loved the music, and I loved what it was saying. Of course the music was just a little bit different back then, as you well know, but I loved it anyway. It just stuck.

Daniel: At these Courier sings, who were some of the major groups you saw at some of your first concerts?

Paul: There were some of the big groups of the day—the Happy Goodman Family, the Blackwood Brothers, and others. The Couriers, of course, always were there.

Daniel: How did you get involved in radio?

Paul: I’d always been interested in news, primarily, and that sort of opened the door. When I was just a kid, I enjoyed newspapers. I would get my hands on whatever newspapers I could; if we ever took a vacation somewhere, I would always be sure to get a copy of the local newspaper to see what they were doing and how they did it.

That sort of grew into a love of media in general, and broadcast media. The TV, of course, was not really brand new, but it was quite an interesting thing back there. We lived in an area where there was a radio station that was really dominant in setting some trends for stations nationwide. Because of that, I got to enjoy formatting; I got to enjoy just the way things flowed together on the air and how they were doing it. They also had quite a news department. So all my interests sort of came together in what I was interested in then, and also, of course, what I’m doing now!

When in high school, I built a little neighborhood radio station using a part 15 transmitter. When I got into college, of course there was a college radio station. All four years of college I was there at the college radio station, the first three as program director and the fourth year as station manager.

Even before all of that, when I was in my senior year of high school, I got a job at the local radio station, WGAL radio in Lancaster. I was weekend announcer from my senior year in high school. That’s where I wound up staying when I was out of college. They were just beginning to form a news department at that time. They’d always had local news, of course, but they were interested right then in setting up a local news department. So that appealed to me because of my interest in news and also production, because a good newscast has some production in it.

I started part-time work from school in 1965. I began to work there full-time at the end of 1969, after I graduated from college. I became news director, and stayed there till ’77. Fortunately, we were blessed with all kinds of awards from the Associated Press and other organizations, because of the work we were doing. We had an excellent team that we assembled to do the news.

Daniel: So how did you move from news into merging that with your other love of Gospel music?

Paul: From ’77 till ’79, I actually was a TV news director, instead of a radio news director. But all of this time, I’d been wanting to do syndication. Network syndication had always appealed to me, even during my college years. I had formed a college network; I had actually about a dozen college radio stations throughout southeastern Pennsylvania. Every night, at seven o’clock, we’d have a half hour news block. And this half hour news block would be fed to all of these college radio stations using broadcast telephone lines, which is the way it was done back then. We actually had a live network. We had a ten minute national news cast; we had a ten minute sports cast, which was contributed by a local college radio station here; and then we had about a nine minute news cast about things happening on college campuses. And those were the turbulent ’60s when there was a lot of news going on on college campuses around the country.

And then from there, even while I was at the TV station, I still had that love for syndicated radio, for network radio, for syndicated radio, and had been looking for something that I could do to syndicate a program. I’d always been intrigued by the likes of Casey Kasem; his “American Top 40” program had been a big success at that point for about ten years in network syndication. I wondered, “What is it that we could do like that that would be of interest to people?”

My brother had a local Gospel group. He showed me a Singing News magazine (well, it was a newspaper back then). Lo and behold, they had a Top 40 chart. I thought, “Well, you know, I could use this Top 40 chart to do a countdown type of program. But, because the chart only changed once a month, I could do the countdown once a month, and the rest of the month would be open to do other kinds of features which wouldn’t be possible with a weekly countdown.

So that’s the direction I went. I started building a radio studio, in my house. It was to the point in 1979 when I thought, “This is the time.” So I left my job at the TV station, and I began to devote myself to preparing this particular idea of doing a program called “The Gospel Greats.”

I don’t know the specific background of that name, it was just one on a very long list of possibilities. But there seemed to be a certain alliteration there, it seemed to be catchy, so that’s what we went with.

Daniel: How long was it from ’79, from when you left the TV station, to when you were able to put out the first program?

Paul: It was about three months.

Daniel: I’m curious: how many radio stations did you start out with?

Paul: Oh, it was just a handful on the very first program. About five or six as I recall.

Daniel: Were they largely in your area?

Paul: No, actually they were not in my area. [Laughs] You couldn’t even hear it here in Lancaster! The first station that signed up for us was in Roanoke, Virginia, WRIS. We set up a booth at the NRB (National Religious Broadcasters) Convention, which was in Washington D.C. at that time. A fellow from WRIS seemed interested in this, and signed up. He was the very first one, and we had some others shortly thereafter. It just grew from there.

The first program was in February of 1980. It was actually late summer or so before it was heard on a Lancaster station.

Daniel: So you were doing the countdown, and other features, from the early days of the program? Were you doing “Artist Spotlights” like you do now…were they there from pretty much the beginning?

Paul: You know, this is interesting, at least it is to me. From the very beginning, from the very beginning, we did everything pretty much like we are doing it now.

Daniel: Really!

Paul: The features, the “Artist Spotlights” features, the “Featured Artist” features, even to the point of where they appear in the program; the “Headline Update” feature, even to the point of where it appears in the program. Almost everything is done very much like it was back then the very first year.

Daniel: Do you have any recollections of who your first “Artist Spotlight” was?

Paul: Well, the first featured artist was the Happy Goodman Family. They were the very first “Featured Artist” that we had on the program, and of course, like all of our featured artist, they were an in-person interview. We have always done it that way.

That was very special. I had no idea at the time how special that would be looking back on it in years to come, because it was very special to me to do that.

Daniel: In the early years, was there an “Artist Spotlight” that you were like, “It’s a really big deal for us to be able to interview this artist”? Were there any particularly momentous things in the first years of “The Gospel Greats” that really helped build it? Or were you pretty much interviewing the largest artists like the Happy Goodmans from day one?

Paul: Actually, that’s the case. We tried to base the program on dealing with primarily the top artists.

This is probably a good time to mention an interesting point about the title, “The Gospel Greats.” Despite what a lot of people think, it does not refer to the singers. I use it to refer to the songs, and, of course, the message in the songs. I have a little slogan I use now for the last couple years to try to set that record straight: “The Gospel Greats, the greatest songs about the greatest message: the Gospel.”

But, having said that, we do try to focus primarily, and always have since the very beginning, on the top artists. That sort-of went along with the idea of the “Top 20 Countdown” that did each month. We wanted to spotlight the very best of Southern Gospel music, as reflected in the charts.

Daniel: I know you have recorded through the years many of the interviews at your office, or at NQC. Have you ever driven across the country to do an interview? Have you ever had to do a lot of traveling to do an interview?

Paul: Actually, we don’t have to do a lot of traveling. We have been extremely blessed in our home area here to have had a lot of the groups come through this area. When they do, we can go to the concert and find a backstage room somewhere, and do an interview. We have been blessed by Garden Spot Promotions, which has been headquartered here in Lancaster for many, many years. Because of the groups they brought through here, we could do a lot of the interviews locally. Now we do go to the NQC and to some other events, but not nearly as often as a lot of people think we do.

Something that’s developed in recent years is that some of the groups that come through our area en route to somewhere else will stop by the office here, and we’ll do the interview right here. It’s interesting to see how that works out.

All the audio material on the program outside of the “Headline Update” is in-person interview. And it’s been like that since the very beginning. That’s sort of the hallmark of the sound of the program.

Daniel: Your website mentions that the program is airing on around 200 hundred radio stations right now.

Paul: It’s close to 200. Of course, it fluctuates, and it’s down a little bit from that here. Over the past couple years, as you are well aware, things have tightened up in the radio market. What we found to be so helpful in years past was the local ownership of radio stations. When you get the chance to talk to a local station manager or owner, who knows his market, it actually is a whole lot easier to convince him to put on a program like ours than it is when the station is owned and controlled by some conglomerate a thousand miles away. So it has had an impact on us from that standpoint.

Daniel: Now my curiosity was less about the exact number and more in the makeup of those stations. Are most of the stations stations that play a fair amount of Southern Gospel every day of the week? Or do a  significant percentage of the stations air news or another genre of music, and have you as perhaps a Sunday morning feature?

Paul: It is about half and half. I don’t have exact numbers on this, but about half the stations I would consider Southern Gospel radio stations. Ever since day one, some of these very first radio stations were Country stations. Of course, remember back then, a lot of the Country stations would have a Sunday morning Gospel time. So our program fit right in with that on Country stations. We were on a lot of big Country stations right from day one. We were on WSM in Nashville for twelve years.

Daniel: Really! I did not know that!

Paul: Yeah. You mentioned news talk stations; I think we do have a news talk station, but that’s just one or two. There are some other forms of music; it’s all over the spectrum. If we can convince a station that the program will be something their listeners will like, and if the listeners like it, the station can sell it; and if the station can sell it, and make some money on it, that’s to their advantage to put it on.

Daniel: And by selling it, I assume you mean persuade advertisers?

Paul: Yes, exactly.

Daniel: Could you share a little about the founding of Springside?

Paul: We’ve been doing Springside (www.springside.com) since 1986. It was started as a response to all the people who kept writing into the radio program saying, “I love your music, where can I get it?” Now back in those days, a lot of Christian book stores carried a lot of Southern Gospel records. But there wasn’t always a very good selection. They quite often had just older material, or things which might not be considered Southern Gospel. So we started out on a small basis, providing the service as a mail order supplier, and it just grew over the years to what it is now.

Daniel: A couple of general questions about the genre past and future: I was curious if you have any reflections about changes that you’ve seen in the music over the 30-some years you have been doing this, both for the better, and for the worse; just curious, things you notice are different than when you started.

Paul: Well, it is different; there’s no doubt about it. Of course, what isn’t? [Laughs] Everything has changed in 34 years. The music itself, of course there will always be in Southern Gospel music, it will always pay homage, you might say, to the traditional Southern Gospel quartet music; which I think, in some respects, is still the heritage of Southern Gospel music.

The music itself has changed a little bit over the years. For the most part, it’s necessary; for the most part, it’s a good thing. I am a little reluctant sometimes when there’s a particular song that sort-of stretches the limits of the genre. Of course, this is all subjective; it’s not an objective matter to say what is and what is not Southern Gospel music. Perhaps it is more true than it ever has been.

Musically, the nice part about it is the improved technology that has allowed recording process to be so much more polished than it was at one time. The flip side of that is that I think some groups, and I’m speaking here in very general terms, rely more on the ability to make those corrections with technology, then they do on doing it in a quality way to begin with. The groups way back then had one take at it, and that was it! So that’s both the good news and the bad.

Daniel: Looking forward to the future: You know, the genre has changed a lot in the last ten or fifteen years, since the retirement of the Cathedrals—that’s probably a good milestone. Since about the year 2000, there have been many changes on many fronts…

Paul: I think the retirement of the Cathedrals, back at the end of 1999 was a good milestone. Because during that period of time, shortly before and after that, there was a whole generational change in Southern Gospel music. And I think that is probable the biggest thing that has changed over the years. You lost all the people like Brock Speer, J.D. Sumner, Hovie Lister, George Younce, and Glen Payne, who had been so fundamental to Southern Gospel music for so long. To their credit, they left people behind that they worked with who were a part of their groups, and they trained, and who learned from them.

Daniel: Yes, and looking ahead to the future, whether it’s from a stand point of good business practices, material in songs, stage presentation, how groups promote themselves, whatever the area might be, are there things that have stood out to you that groups are doing right right now, or need to do differently; in your thought process is, “this what Southern Gospel needs to do to be strong 10 or 20 years from now”?

Paul: Well, I think Southern Gospel music, like any form of Christian music, needs to focus on the message; needs to focus on the ministry aspects of the music. I mean, the Gospel is for everyone, the Gospel has the answer to all of life’s questions. And if we’re out there trying to spread the Gospel through Southern Gospel music, that is exactly what we need to focus on.

Now some singers so much of an emphasis on their style of singing. They try to be hyper-emotive, if you could use that word. What we don’t want is somebody leaving a concert saying, “Oh, what a singer!” What we do want is someone leaving a concert saying, “Oh, what a Savior!” And I think that is the key to the ministry of Southern Gospel music.

Daniel: Very neat, and thank you. Well, how about a fun question. Did you do any exercises or voice training either to lower your vocal range, to have more of a radio broadcaster range, or to improve your voice quality?

Paul: Nothing formally, no. As I said, I’d been involved with radio since high school days, and I always found that the more I used my voice, the stronger it became. In fact, I used to work Sunday nights at the radio station during high school, I’d work Sunday nights; and I’d found out that if I, in church on Sunday morning, if I sang vigorously as we had the congregational singing, my voice would be stronger that night. Aside from that, no, there wasn’t any formal exercises or anything to do that.

You know, I think if the Lord calls you to do something, He equips you to do it. And that’s not always something you can see immediately, sometimes it’s something you can only see in hindsight. But never the less, it’s right there, and that is a lesson to be learned that whatever we are going through today, if we can see that in our past, and know that He has done that, there’s no reason to think He won’t do that again.

Daniel: Finally, how can people hear “The Gospel Greats”?

Paul: The website address for the “Gospel Greats” program is www.thegospelgreats.com. And if you go to that website, up in the upper left hand corner, we have what we call “Station Finder.” Click on that, and you can put in your zip code, and it will tell you if there is any station within 50 miles.

There is also a link there that says, “Listen on the Web”; a lot of stations carry our program on the internet. It would be easy enough to find a station that carries the program at a time when it would be convenient for you to listen.

There’s also information there about where the program is on Sirius XM, which means anybody anywhere in North America who has a Sirius XM radio can listen to the program. So there a lot of options to listen.

Daniel: Thank you!

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CD Interviews: Jeremy Peace (The Old Paths) on These Truths

CD Interviews with Jeremy Peace

Daniel introduced this special CD Interview series with Gerald Wolfe and “A Jubilee Christmas A Capella” two weeks ago. He asked our family if we would contribute in this unique series, and we agreed. We have taken the structure and turned it into a 8-1 format: eight questions from each member of our family for one singer. Sitting in the interview chair for this post is Jeremy Peace of The Old Paths to discuss their recent release, These Truths.

David: In light of increasing national awareness, such as winning “New Quartet of the Year,” are you guys, Old Paths, ever feeling pressured to pick songs that might catch the industry’s attention but don’t share the message you want to sing about?

Jeremy: We’ve not felt pressured to do that. The songs that we have selected in the past and currently today, always represent Christ, the message of Christ. That is one of our strong points as a group; we’ve always made sure that our songs are scripturally sound and lyrically strong. We like some happy-go-lucky songs, some fun songs, but we want to make sure they’re correct before we release it.

Kris: Was there a specific reason you chose “We Hold These Truths” as your title song?

Jeremy: We’ve never recorded a patriotic song or even staged a patriotic song. There are many patriotic songs — wonderful patriotic songs — and we didn’t want to pick a song that had already been done, that is a crowd pleaser. So when we were presented with this song… because of our stance on the patriotic numbers, and singing that type of song, the Lord had to really show us within the song that He wanted us to do it. We gave it to our baritone singer Doug Roark to sing, and he just did an amazing job with it. We felt very safe that we could release that song onto a CD and it would show our heart that we’re still selective on the songs about Christ, and we can still show our respect to our country.

Ben: In Daniel’s review of the album, he highlighted the strong vocal performances on your project. What in your opinion defines a strong vocal performance for a CD?

Jeremy: Oh, now you’re going to get me into trouble. I teach and coach voice. There are many answers to this question, and mine isn’t necessarily the only one, but I personally believe that less is more, especially in recording. When you are singing your solo lines and doing your verse, you can add your character, add your own twist, express yourself vocally. But when you’re singing as a group, cut out a lot of the licks, and some of the “cool” moves. Sure, they sound good, but our average listener is listening to the message. So I’ve been making sure that each person is saying the word the same way, pronouncing the vowel sounds the same way, singing at the same time, coming in, coming out at the same time, those things create one voice during the chorus. Just keeping it simple and picking the places where the music builds, you build; where the music’s not building, don’t build. Follow what the music is doing. I think that creates a great vocal performance for a project. It’s easy for people to listen to, they can enjoy the harmony, they can enjoy the solo-work, and they can enjoy the unity of the group, and be able to understand the message of the song on the CD.

Taylor: Now that your project has been out several months, how have your audiences been responding to the songs you have been singing off the project?

Jeremy: So far the response has been really good. We’re singing “Love Them to Jesus,” “God Said I Love You,” “If It Weren’t For Grace,” and “We Are Those Children,” the first one off the album — that’s a fast, upbeat song; it’s fun, people really get into that one. “God Said I Love You” has really hit home for a lot of people; the first time I sang it, I could hardly get through it. I’m tearing up, the people in the audience are crying. And then we started singing “If It Were Not for Grace” two weeks ago. We were in South Carolina and people started flooding the altars. It’s kind of a huge song for Doug. It’s become a spiritually emotional song for people to look back and realize, “If it weren’t for grace, where would I be?”

Leesha: Your radio single, “Long Live the King,” is a powerful song. What were your thoughts when you first heard it?

Jeremy: Oh, I’m glad you asked that question. I’m not a cry-baby, but I had tears flowing down my face as I listened for the first time. We were all crying when we heard the song. Dianne Wilkinson wrote it, her and Chris Binion — they co-write together. They sent the song to us, and we knew as soon as we heard it — it’s one of those things that when you hear a song like The Midnight Cry or any huge, huge hit song, well, you just know that that’s one of those songs. So we’re sitting in the vehicle and listening to the song, and we’re like, “We could be completely wrong, but this could be the song of the century for us or for whatever group records it, if we don’t record it. It’s a huge song.” Obviously, we wanted to record it, whether it was a huge song or not. We were blown away just by the lyrics: “Long live the King / Where there’s no future / There is no past / He’ll reign supreme / As long as everlasting lasts.” It’s an amazing lyric, amazing song. That’s probably — not us singing it, but the song itself — it is probably my favorite song of all time. The greatest song I’ve ever heard.

Sam: Were there any different styles you tried on any of the other songs on this album?

Jeremy: To answer your question, yes, there was. What we’ve done is take several different styles of music and incorporate them into songs that we sing. We did do that on this album; like “Long Live the King” has a majestic sound. “If It Were Not For Grace” we kind of kept it more of a nice country feel. “God Said I Love You” and “We Hold These Truths” have an 80s feel to them. But we still stay true to the Southern Gospel mix as far as the quality and the overall feel of the sound of our style of music. The song, “We Are Those Children”— that’s pure Southern Gospel; we upgraded, obviously, the guitars and the piano licks and other stuff, but it’s a Heaven Bound song from the 80’s. The song, “Love Them To Jesus,” is more of a — not really an old-style country feel — it’s kind of like a Gatlin Brothers.

Jayme: How did you guys go about finding your songs, especially your solos?

Jeremy: Now that is also a really good question. We are still considered a new group. As we begin to grow into this side of the music business, more songwriters begin to send us songs. Crossroads Music has a lot of songwriters that send them songs for their groups that record with them, and so they pass their songs through us. And we have people that we know personally that send us songs. So we get a whole lot of songs that we have to go through and review throughout the year. And some we might pick for this particular album or we might wait for the next album to record.

But let’s say we already have nine songs, and we’re looking for one great fast one, or we’re looking for a good solo song, or a ballad or slow song. We might go through a hundred songs till we find that song we feel like the Lord wants us to sing. And it’s fun. We usually listen to songs together and are like, “That’s a great song. Daniel could probably sing that one.” Or, “Tim could sing this one.” We’re not very selective as far as “Oh, that’s my song, I’m going to sing that one.”

So we pick songs from great songwriters, and we take songs from songwriters that people have never heard, as long as the message is strong and is scripturally sound, and the words work together. We’ll pick those songs and we’ll rearrange them for the person that’s going to do that song.

Caleb: My question is: on “God Said I Love You,” you hit a really high note . . . [Jeremy: I knew this was coming. (Laughs)] We kept rewinding the song to figure out what note it was. Who’s idea was it to sing that note?

Jeremy: That was actually my idea. [Caleb: It was a good idea!] Why thank you! Generally it would have not been; I’m not one to push the limits on things like that, especially on a recording. Now I would do it live: When I was with the Kingsmen, I would go for just about any high note, because that was their style from the 70s and 80s; they were always known to have a real high tenor singer who would hit high notes. And so when I left there and went with the Old Paths… well, they kept wanting me to do it. I said, “No, I don’t want to do it anymore,” but they wanted me to do it. So I continued.

We recorded a song several years ago called “The I Of the Storm,” and it was just going to be a praise ballad basically. We got done with the song, and at Doug’s suggestion, I went back and, on the last chorus, I recorded an overdub and sang an octave higher, and then hit a high note right in the middle of the last chorus. So that has kind of become a signature thing with the audiences. On our last CD called Right Now, I didn’t do any of that, and I had a lot of people ask me, “Why didn’t you hit any high notes on this CD?”

So this time, I went in and said, “Okay, so obviously some people want to hear it.” On “God Said I Love You,” I went in and recorded three different takes on that particular end of that bridge where the really high note is at. There were three different takes of that section, and I picked the highest one, of course. That’s the one I liked, so I thought, “I’m going to do it and push the limits, and it will be the highest note I’ve ever recorded.” That’s why we did it; it was my fault, so I’ll take the blame for it. [Laughs]

David: Well, you know that makes the eight questions for us, however, Sam is standing next to me, he is just chomping at the bit to have the opportunity to ask a bonus question. Are you up for it?

Jeremy: I’m up for it.

Click “read more” to see the bonus question!

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CD Interviews: Gerald Wolfe on A Jubilee Christmas A Cappella (Booth Brothers, Greater Vision, Legacy Five)

interviews-cd

CD Interviews feature artist insight into their own new releases. Gerald Wolfe was gracious enough to share some insight into A Jubilee Christmas A Cappella, a new EP from the Booth Brothers, Greater Vision, and Legacy Five. (EP is an abbreviation for Extended Play, which, ironically, refers to a release that contains more music than a single but not enough to count as a full release.)

Daniel: Has this acapella project been planned for a while, or was it a relatively spur-of-the-moment idea?

Gerald: Actually, the idea for the A’Cappella project came about in much the same way as the original “Jubilee” recording. During last year’s Tour, we did “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” every night. It was one of the major highlights of the first half of the program. One night, during intermission, Michael Booth said “we should do a whole project of A’Cappella Christmas stuff.” That’s all it took!

Earlier this year, I contacted Lari Goss, set up the studio time, and told Michael and the rest of the guys when to show up. We spent two, very long days in the studio, bringing the project to life, in time to get it finished for this year’s Tour.

Daniel: Was the song selection a pretty collaborative process, or did each of the member groups bring a couple of favorites?

Gerald: Honestly, because of our schedules, it’s very difficult to get all of us together for pre-production meetings, so all the guys trusted Scott Fowler and I with picking the songs.

Daniel: Who did the vocal arrangements?

Gerald: Lari Goss did vocal arrangements, and Trey Ivey transcribed all the parts into print for us, plus he made a “rehearsal track” for each vocal part. There’s no way we could have recorded these difficult arrangements in two days, without Trey. He’s developing into a great Producer/Arranger with a great future.

Daniel: Most top five or ten all-time Southern Gospel a capella album lists include The Cathedrals’ A Cappella Christmas. Seeing the song selection and sequence, and hearing the arrangements, it seems as though there may have been a few little tributes to that landmark recording. Were these intentional?

Gerald: Of course! All of us agree the Cathedrals’ A’Cappella Christmas recording was one of, if not the best, Christmas recordings ever put together by a Gospel group. It would be futile to attempt a recording like this, without acknowledging and paying tribute to one or two of their masterful arrangements.

Daniel: Are there any plans for non-Christmas acapella material from the Jubilee team?

Gerald: We haven’t discussed anything like that, but if history has taught us anything, it’s taught us to be ready to try something different. After all, that’s how the whole “Jubilee thing” came about in the first place.

Daniel: How can this recording be purchased?

Gerald: The CD is available on any of the Jubilee Gang’s websites, and for a limited time, is FREE with the purchased of the new “Jubilee Christmas” DVD! It can also be purchased separately. It won’t be available on iTunes, or any other digital download site this year… at least it won’t be available that way legally. If someone sees it offered in digital format, it’s most assuredly pirated.

Daniel: Thank you for doing this!

Here’s a video preview with sound clips from the EP:

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Introducing CD Interviews

Several months ago, I did a reader survey. One of the questions was which columns you found most useful, and which you found least useful. There was a general consensus that most of the columns are interesting and useful. The one column that received a mixed reaction was CD reviews. Many readers don’t find them all that useful.

If you step back for a moment and think it over, it makes sense. In other genres of music, artists are coming and going constantly. This genre’s headliners are often constant for decades. When an artists comes out with a new recording, you don’t need a review to help in making a decision whether to purchase it.

One reader (hat tip, Dustin) suggested an interesting alternative: CD Interviews. These would feature an artist’s own insight into a particular recording—to quote from his comment, “an inside track on how groups select songs for their albums, why they chose them, what they were trying to accomplish, what they envisioned their music to do both creatively, spiritually, or if it was just time to bust out another project.”

This was too good an idea to let it slip by. So the column will launch tomorrow, with Gerald Wolfe’s insights into the new Jubilee Christmas A Cappella EP.

There is still merit to occasional CD reviews, perhaps to provide historical context for a new release or to highlight the significance of a landmark recording. There is also merit to a review when there has been a significant stylistic or personnel change in a group. So the CD Reviews column will not entirely disappear; reviews will just be less frequent.

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An Interview with myself

SouthernGospelBlog.com: Why on earth are you interviewing yourself, instead of someone far more interesting?

Daniel: I want to be able to ask a question like that, but I don’t dare to anyone besides myself! More seriously, I thought this would be an interesting vehicle to mention a number of things that I hadn’t found a way to insert into the regular programming.

Since I write over 300 posts per year, it’s not like one post of this nature is much of a distraction from the regular programming.

SGB: What is the single most surprising thing that you’ve heard an artist or industry professional say?

Daniel: That one’s easy: “I don’t actually like convention songs.” At first, I thought this person was kidding!

SGB: What’s the single funniest thing that you’ve heard during a soundcheck?

Daniel: “That’s a local opening act.” The speaker pauses when, as if on cue, a singer tries to imitate Michael English and fails. “Very local.”

SGB: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of running the site?

Daniel: That’s easy! My favorite part is reading a particularly insightful comment from a reader. My least favorite part is writing CD reviews.

SGB: Why?

Daniel: I am an optimist, but I feel responsible to write an accurate review. Unless the CD is absolutely spectacular, my sense of responsibility will clash with my personality, and I end up drained.

SGB: Outside of Southern Gospel, what keeps you busy?

Daniel: I launched and help run www.freehymnal.com, a site with free sheet music for public domain hymns. I’ve spent a lot of time exercising this year. I love songwriting. And I’ve also been spending a lot of time thinking and writing about how Christians should use vocabulary in a way that reflects a Biblical worldview and glorifies God. I’m hoping to turn that into a book eventually, but with everything else I have going right now, it surely won’t be done any time soon!

SGB: So how rich have you gotten from all those books you’ve written?

Daniel: Truth be told, I would be several times richer today if I had spent the same number of hours flipping burgers at McDonalds! But of the kind of riches that really matter—friendships—I’m a wealthy, wealthy man. 🙂

SGB: So between all these books and blog posts—how many blog posts now?—

Daniel: 3,037 personally, 3,285 on the site—

SGB: Surely you’ve become a decent writer.

Daniel: No, I’m just an average writer. I would have been below average in 1950. But looking around at the average level of communication skills today, I think that anyone who can construct a grammatical sentence is probably above average now!

I don’t think readers come here for brilliant prose. I think readers come for the daily posts and their content. I try to be comprehensive enough that, even if this is the only Southern Gospel news website they read, they won’t miss out on any significant news stories.

SGB: Well, have you written any above-average posts?

Daniel: Three, I think:

Here’s a funny thing: My siblings are so used to average that when I wrote the most recent decent one, “Farewell, Louisville,” they said it didn’t sound like me and wondered who really wrote it!

SGB: What motivates someone to write over 3,000 posts about this genre of music?

Daniel: Southern Gospel has a rich heritage and an enduring value. I don’t want this genre to die on my watch. If I’m the last Southern Gospel journalist standing, the day I retire and turn out the lights is the day I have failed.

I’m not going to be the person to inspire the next generation of singers, songwriters, and journalists to love this music. New fans are brought in by a singer and a song. But once that happens, I want to play a role in expanding their horizons from that first artist to others, and in deepening their love for this music.

Whenever I retire, if there’s still a vibrant Southern Gospel scene—if lives are still being changed through Biblically solid lyrics—then this will have been a success.

SGB: What are—

Daniel: Oh, good grief, that’s enough about me. Let’s get back to the regularly scheduled programming. 🙂

But if you all want to add your own questions in the comments, go for it! I won’t promise to answer everything, but I’m sure I’ll answer some of them!

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An Interview with Robert Fulton

I recently had the opportunity to interview new Gold City tenor Robert Fulton.

Daniel: What sparked your love for and desire to sing Southern Gospel music?

Robert: I’ve always loved music in general for as long as I can remember. In January of 2001, when I was 15, My family moved to an area with a southern gospel radio station. That’s what I really started to fall in love with it. My first Quartet especially will tell you that I knew almost none of what most consider to be classic Southern Gospel. I learned quickly though. It was also around age 15 when I really began singing and quickly discovered that it was all I wanted to do.

Daniel: What groups, local and national, have you sung with prior to joining Gold City?

Robert: My first group was a Quartet based in Gallipolis, Ohio called Forgiven 4. I spent about four years as their tenor, after joining them in March of 2005. With the exception of a couple of long trips, we sang mostly in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In January 2009, I joined the Palmetto State Quartet. I sang with them for 2 1/2 years, until I came off the road in July 2011.

In the interim between Palmetto State and Gold City, I led worship at a church and sang various solo concerts throughout my region.

In February of this year, I began singing with Gold City.

Daniel: What do you consider to be Gold City’s all-time three greatest albums?

Robert: This is such a hard question for me! Pillars of Faith and the acapella album for sure, but after that its kind of a toss up. The group has had so many great songs and projects.

Daniel: Any hobbies outside of music?

Robert: Most of my friends will tell you that I am a trivia nut, And that’s absolutely true. I love game shows and quiz shows because of that. LOL.

I love to read, and had become something of a student of a lot of great theologians and thinkers. CS Lewis and NT Wright, as well as apologists like Ravi Zacharias, and Dr. John Lennox. Brilliant men of God!

Less seriously, I love baseball, and am just about the biggest Cincinnati Reds fan on the face of the planet.

I’m also a podcaster now! Me, my brother, and our good friend Terry host a podcast called “Uncommon”. We talked about a little bit of everything, from music and theology to movies to sports. It sort of gives us all a chance to flex our inner geek, for the whole world to hear. Ha ha

Daniel: What motivates you to get out on the road every weekend – to face all the challenges of road life, like the crazy hours and time away from family?

Robert: The gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ve heard it said often that with in the Gospel, there is an impelling “go”. The world desperately needs to hear what it is that we seeing and say every night, And to be transformed by the power of Christ. I can imagine no higher calling than to carry the gospel in whatever way it is that God has given you to carry it. For me that is music. I’m incredibly grateful to be able to take the good news by using a medium that I love so much, and to be a part of this amazing group, with some awesome men.

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An Interview with Glenn Couch

SouthernGospelBlog.com Interviews

I recently had the opportunity to interview Glenn Couch, who sang lead for the Weatherfords for around three years in the 1960s.

Daniel: Did you grow up around Gospel Music? If not, what was your first exposure to this music?

Glenn: I was born into a Gospel singing family in that pop (C. G. Couch) was a song-writing, singin’ school teacher when he met my mom at one of his schools in Japton, Arkansas (maybe a population of 50 in 1932) so I attended my first singin’ school at 10 days of age and began singing with mom & pop at around 4.

Daniel: What groups did you sing with, if any, prior to the Weatherfords?

Glenn: My dad had a quartet called the Mel-O-Diers that sang all around Northeast Oklahoma and Southeast Kansas and had a 15 min. program on KGGF in Coffeyville, Kansas for many years, so when I was 15 I was drafted into the group as bass singer. The Couch Family was also on KGGF until I left for the University of Colorado in 1954. The picture is the family in the KGGF studio with Caroline Coday ( a classmate of mine) at the piano and my kid brother Duncan who I think was our alto at the time. A year later when Duncan and I joined David Ingles in The Gospel Stars Duncan was our 14 (later 15) year old bass singer. Duncan went on to get his PHD in music education and had a successful career as a university choral director.

Couch Family

Daniel: How did you get the job with the Weatherfords?

Glenn: After CU, a couple of years with Uncle Sam, and a couple of years teaching high school music; I landed a job with The Olinger Quartet in Denver. I was with them for 5 years when I got the call from Earl Weatherford saying he needed a lead singer. I had first heard them on Los Angeles radio several years before and loved the sounds I heard.

The Weatherfords

Daniel: What have you been doing, personally and professionally, in the years since your experiences on the full-time Southern Gospel circuit?

Glenn: I was with Earl & Lily for about 3 years when I took a job as engineer with Mark Records in Hollywood. I had no more than started there when David Ingles began calling me to move to Tulsa and sing with his group The Vanguards. We sang together from late 1967 until 2000; although the last 15 or 20 years of that was pretty off and on because David was busy putting together his Oasis Radio Network and the rest of us were also busy with our day jobs as well.

The Vanguards

I moved here to Fayetteville, Arkansas to work at a radio announcing job…driving over to Tulsa when we had singing date. In Fayetteville I sang with Bobby Moore and Johney Boles in a group we called Jubilee.

I guess that pretty much wraps up my singing career, since I haven’t had too many calls from quartets needing someone.

Daniel: Thank you!

(Photos courtesy Glenn Couch.)

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An Interview with Jon Epley

SouthernGospelBlog.com Interviews

Jon Epley

SouthernGospelBlog.com recently had an opportunity to interview Inspirations baritone Jon Epley.

Daniel: At what age did you first hear an Inspirations song or album? At what age did you first see them live?

Jon: As far back as I can remember, my grandmother was a record (vinyl) collector. We would go visit her, and as a small boy I would sit and listen to The Inspirations, The Happy Goodmans, The Hinsons, Florida Boys, Oak Ridge Boys, and many more. My family picked up many of the Inspirations’ songs and sang them in church, and later across the country when we went on the road full time. So I would say I have been hearing The Inspirations’ music my whole life.

The first time I ever saw The Inspirations live; I was 29 years old and standing on stage with them singing as a member of the group! 🙂 I met David Ragan in September, 2010 at NQC but didn’t get to hear them perform. Then I met the other members of the group in December 2010, standing in the Inspirations’ office, where we sang the chorus of Beulah Land as my audition. The next time I saw them was December 31st in South Carolina and I was singing my first concert as an official “Inspiration”!

Daniel: For readers who are newer to this site: What groups did you sing with before joining the Inspirations? And do I understand correctly that you sang with new Inspirations lead singer Stephen Srein in one of these groups?

Jon: Besides traveling and singing with my family growing up, and then traveling full time with my wife, Tiffany, for about 2 years, I sang with several groups that traveled a limited amount mostly singing in churches. These groups were The Marion Avenue Boys, The Brothers, and Sacred Heritage.

The first time I met Steve Srein, he was a member of Sacred Heritage, and they were coming to sing at our church. At the last minute their piano player had to back out of coming, and so they showed up on Sunday morning, I sat down at a piano with them during the Sunday School hour, learned all of their songs, and played for their concert that morning. Haha; I joined the group shortly after as their piano player.

Daniel: The Inspirations have a new album, No Two Ways About It, that released a couple of weeks ago. Have any songs from this CD been getting a particularly strong response live? What songs are you most personally excited about?

Jon: We have been hearing great response from all of our new songs. People enjoy hearing the older recuts as well, but there is just something about fresh, new songs. Our newest radio release is called “I’ll Never Get Over,” and it is getting great response. Our title track is “No Two Ways,” and that is a very strong song. We then have two new Jim Brady songs which are working wonderfully for us, “He Made a Change” and “You Can Still Find Forgiveness.” And one of Mike Holcomb’s features is a fast moving new song by Rodney Griffin, “Saved, Sealed and Going.” I really think I like each new song as much as the next, and am very excited about how they turned out!

Daniel: This year brought a new top half of the Inspirations’ vocal lineup, with Srein on lead and Mark Clark on tenor. What are some of the strengths that Srein and Clark bring to the group, as singers and as people?

Jon: Both are, of course, great singers as well as great people.

Steve Srein has a powerhouse voice and a great demeanor on stage. He has a distinct style that our fans are already falling in love with and commenting on favorably.

Mark Clark brings that “Inspirations style” tenor to the table, hitting the high notes with full voice and power. He is also a familiar face to most of our fans from his years of singing with and for Archie Watkins as Archie neared retirement. Change is never easy, but I believe that God had just the right people in line to fill these positions, and am excited to be singing alongside these fellas every night.

Daniel: Next year is pretty significant for the Inspirations, as it will mark the group’s 50-year anniversary. Are any special commemorations in the works – or, at least, anything you can talk about yet?

Jon: Truthfully, I haven’t heard anything mentioned about special commemorations or anything along those lines. From what I have read and learned about The Inspirations’ history, we will be starting our 50th year in April of 2014. (I suggested massive pay raises to commemorate the 50 years and indelibly imprint the moment in the mind of the group members, but I haven’t received confirmation of this yet.)

On a serious note, it will be a great milestone for the group, and whether or not a lot of hoopla is made about it or not, it will be an honor to be a part of the group during this legendary time.

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Past the Press Release: An Interview with Aaron Dishman

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Aaron Dishman

Past the Press Release is an interview series featuring a new member of a professional Southern Gospel group. It’s a chance to look past the standard “excited to be here” press release comment and learn a little more about them. A little over a week ago, the Dixie Melody Boys announced Aaron Dishman as their new baritone/pianist. Let’s get to know him a little better!

Daniel: What prompted your love for Southern Gospel? Did you grow up around it, or is it a more recent discovery?

Aaron: I grew up around Gospel Music. When I was 12 years old my family took a trip Dollywood. A family friend wanted to go in and hear the Kingdom Heirs and I didn’t want to go. All I wanted to do was ride rides and have fun. I’m glad I went in with them. I heard Arthur Rice sing and I have loved Southern Gospel ever since.

Daniel: Have you performed with any groups prior to joining the Dixie Melody Boys?

Aaron: At 18 I played piano for the Disciples Quartet. For over four years I have sang in a group called Freedom Road with my wife Erica.

Daniel: Do you think of yourself as a baritone who can play piano or a pianist who can sing baritone?

Aaron: I guess if I had to classify myself I would say I’m a baritone who also plays piano.

Daniel: I understand you’ve filled in for the Dixie Melody Boys before. How long ago was that, and who was with the group at the time?

Aaron: I went with the Dixie Melody boys for a weekend about 5 years ago and the group consisted of Andrew King, Bryan Walker Dan Keeton and Ed O’Neal. I really enjoyed getting to know the guys. Little did I know that filling in that weekend would lead to a job with the group years later.

Daniel: Whether as a performer or as an audience member, what have been your all-time favorite Southern Gospel moments that you have experienced?

Aaron: My first Gaither Concert in Thompson Boiling Arena in Knoxville, TN and being at NQC the first night Triumphant Quartet sang on main stage.

Daniel: Thank you!

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Past the Press Release: An Interview with Stephen Srein

Stephen SreinPast the Press Release is an interview series featuring a new member of a professional Southern Gospel group. It’s a chance to look past the standard “excited to be here” press release comment and learn a little more about them. In this case, the column title is somewhat of a misnomer, because the Inspirations’ official announcement that Stephen Srein is their new lead singer is coming a little later today on Facebook. So watch for that, but meanwhile, let’s get to know Stephen a little better!

Daniel: Which artists were your first exposure to Southern Gospel and sparked a desire to sing it yourself?

Stephen: My very first exposure was the Gaither Vocal Band album I Do Believe. It was given to me by a great friend and helped encourage me through some rough times as a teenager. I then began to be introduced to groups such as The Kingdom Heirs. At a Kingdom Heirs concert, Arthur Rice took about twenty-five minutes to talk to me about singing. It was that conversation that sparked the desire to sing in quartets. (especially the lead part)

Daniel: Have you sung in any groups prior to joining the Inspirations?

Stephen: I sang in some regional groups while I was in college: Sacred Heritage Quartet (with Jon Epley and current Promise tenor T.J. Evans) and also a group called Committed Quartet.

Daniel: Is this solo project yours? http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/stephensrein

Stephen: Yes, that is my solo album. I am still working with cdbaby on some issues with this link though as far as purchasing Etc…

Daniel: What was your first exposure to the Inspirations?

Stephen: My first exposure was two years ago when I first learned that Jon was with the group. I knew of the Inspirations but had never really listened to any of their music before then.

Daniel: Looking back through their history, what are some of your all-time favorite Inspirations songs and albums/CDs?

Stephen: The I Know record is very strong. Also, the Southern Gospel Treasury Series is one of my favorites.

Daniel: From when I first met you earlier this week, your name sounded quite familiar, and I’ve been trying to place it since. Are you the same Stephen S. we see around here on occasion? 🙂

I have been known to interact occasionally on sgblog. 🙂 I thoroughly enjoy the site and also enjoy interacting with fans of Southern Gospel music.

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