Past the Press Release: Meet Mike Jennings (Dixie Echoes)

Past the Press Release is an interview series featuring a new member of a professional Southern Gospel groups. It’s a chance to look past the “excited to be here” comment standard to every new hire press release and learn a little more about them. Meet the Dixie Echoes’ new bass singer, Mike Jennings!

Daniel: Could you start by telling us a little about your background – where you grew up, when you became a Christian, et cetera? I notice you attended Liberty; did you grow up in a Christian family?

Mike: I grew up in a very good Christian home in Westminster, Maryland. I was saved at the age of 12 at Clearfield Bible Church after a summer movie on the grounds. I was baptized the following week. I attended Liberty University but joined the Military following my freshman year. While at Liberty I sang in the university choir and the chamber choir.

Daniel: I notice that you served in the Navy. How many years were you in the Navy, and what was your specialty?

Mike: I spent four years in the Navy and was involved in Naval Security.

Daniel: Did you serve during peacetime, or were you deployed during any major conflicts or wars?

Mike: I joined the military during Desert Storm but was on delayed entry. The conflict had ended by the time I started basic training. So, the time I was in was relatively peaceful.

Daniel: Did you grow up around Southern Gospel, or was it a later discovery?

Mike: I have been around great music my whole life. My parents sang in a quartet together. I used to love going to church and listening to them practice. They had such a beautiful blend. I’m the eldest of four kids and we have been blessed to sing together as a family for many years. My parents and all of my siblings are still involved in their church music ministries.

I was blessed to sit between my dad and grandpap in the bass section of our church choir for many years as well.

Daniel: Which groups got you interested in this style of music, and thinking that you would really like to be singing it yourself?

Mike: Westminster had a great southern gospel promotion called Reflections of Light Ministries. I started attending those in early 2000 and saw Palmetto State, The Dixie Echoes and Brian Free and Assurance and started listening to their music almost exclusively. I would sit in the auditorium after these concerts and think to myself that I wanted to do this. I would always feel uplifted and blessed after concerts by these groups and I wanted to be a part of a ministry like this.

Daniel: Did you know that you could sing bass from the time your voice changed, or was it a later discovery?

Mike: I grew up listening to the Cathedrals and trying to sing like my dad and George Younce. I enjoyed the Statler Brothers and Oak Ridge Boys as well

Daniel: I have already heard some high praise regarding your tone, pitch, and overall delivery. What did you do to train and develop your talent, and do you have any tips and suggestions for aspiring bass singers? (I’m not a bass, but I have readers who are!)

Mike: Thank you! I am always singing! I have been singing all of my life and there is nothing that I would rather do. My wife and son are also singers and it’s something we enjoy doing together. I have never taken formal voice lessons. I have been fortunate to have very good choir directors throughout my life and I always learned as much as I could from them.

The advice I would give any aspiring bass singer is to practice as much as you possibly can. Learn to breath properly, project and sing properly in order to preserve your voice. Most importantly of all remember who we’re singing about and the rest is easy.

Daniel: In the post where I announced your hire, quite a discussion broke out as to whether Marylanders are Southerners or Northerners. Readers as far away as Minnesota wanted to claim you as a Northerner, while Southerners like me thought we could claim Maryland! So, just for fun: I know you’re moving to Florida, but during the time you were in Maryland, did you consider yourself a Northerner or a Southerner?

Mike: Southerner at heart, and officially by about 25 miles!

God Bless.

Daniel: Thank you, and God Bless you, too!

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Past the Press Release: Meet Philip Batton (Liberty Quartet)

Phil Batton

Phil Batton

Past the Press Release is a new interview series, featuring people who have recently joined their first professional Southern Gospel groups. It’s a chance to look past the “excited to be here” comment standard to every new hire press release and learn a little more about them.

Daniel: Are you an Idaho native? If so (or if not), how did you discover Southern Gospel?

Philip: No, I am not an Idaho native. I was born in Phoenix, AZ and have lived in a few States since then. My Dad pastored a few churches across the country. My Mother was an Idaho native, and that’s where I get my Idaho roots.

Daniel: What is your musical background – both any training and any previous groups?

Philip: I was born into a singing family. My Parents sang at many church camps and revivals and at our home churches while I was growing up. I sang in Bible College in the Choir and a Quartet. The first real southern gospel quartet I started singing with was called Joyful Sound, in which I was one of the founding members. Then I moved on to Homeland Harmony Quartet, in which I was also a founding member. While I was with them I filled in for Liberty, I believe, around five times, singing every part except the bass!!

Daniel: Which Southern Gospel groups (in general) and tenors (in particular) inspired you to want to sing this style of music?

Philip: I grew up listening to the Cathedrals, Gold City, Happy Goodmans, Gaithers, my favorite was the Cathedrals. I guess you could say the tenors I listened to the most were Cathedral tenors, Kirk Talley, Danny Funderburk, Ernie Haase. I also loved to listen to Steve Green!!

Daniel: Now that you’ve been singing for at least a few years, who are some of the current voices in our genre who inspire you today?

Philip: I loved Frank Seamans’ tenor voice as well as David Phelps, Guy Penrod, Chris Allman has an amazing voice as well. I would have to say though some of my favorite singers are Kim Hopper, Chrysta Beene and Shari Easter!!

Daniel: In your opinion, what makes a song great? What makes you say, “This is a song I really want to sing”?

Philip: When I know it’s something I can sing from my heart, when I can relate to it. I love to sing some of those older songs and hymns, they have such depth and meaning to them, but I love the songs that will be on our new CD coming out in Sept, they are some of the greatest songs out there today written by a number of different artist that obviously know what and Who they are writing about!!

Daniel: What do you think Southern Gospel needs to do to make it another generation?

Philip: Keeping true to the roots of Southern Gospel will keep it another generation, I believe!!

Daniel: What do you think Southern Gospel needs to do to expand its presence in the West and Northwest?

Philip: Whatever Liberty is doing seems to work pretty well lol!!

Daniel: When did you first hear Liberty Quartet? How long have you known them, now?

Philip: I first heard Liberty Quartet about ten years ago when they opened for L5 here in Meridian Idaho. As far as really knowing them, though, I would have to say about four years now!!

Daniel: Do you have a family? If so, could you tell us about them?

Philip: Yes I am married to a wonderful Lady named Susie and lets just say I married way above my level.. we have been married almost 5 years now and live in Caldwell Idaho, I also have a 16 year old boy named Philip Guess Batton, He lives in England for now with his Mother!!

Daniel: I know other group members have shared this here before, but for any new readers: What are the best ways to find out more about Liberty, and to keep up with your road adventures?

Philip: We are on Facebook, we have an e-mail newsletter people can sign up for, and also our regular mail letter, you can also go to our website www.libertyquartet.com and see our schedule there!! I will also be taking lots of pictures and posting them on facebook as well!!

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Brian Alvey joins The Talleys: An Interview with Roger Talley

At a concert last night, Roger Talley mentioned that, following Lauren’s recent wedding to Brian Alvey, Brian will be joining the group (hat tip, DBM). [EDIT, 3/16/13: Broken link removed.] I caught up with him this afternoon:

Daniel: I heard you mentioned earlier this week that Brian Alvey will be joining the group. Is this true?

Roger: We’ve known for a long time that Brian is an extremely talented individual. He has been working with us for the past year, behind the scenes, doing marketing and promotion, and helping with a lot of things that we’re involved in. Now that he and Lauren are married, we’ve decided that we’re going to take advantage of his talents and have him join us in the road, on stage. We feel that he has real calling to share not only singing and playing, but through his songwriting and his speaking ability as well. We’re going to be having him fill a wide variety of roles. We are anxious and excited about what he will bring to our team.

Daniel: With four people on stage, will you continue to go by the Talley Trio?

Roger: We will just be The Talleys. Some songs will be trios, and some will be four-part, but it will not just be the Talley Trio.

Daniel: Brian is a tenor singer; will you be singing bass?

Roger: Now, obviously, I’m not going not to suddenly become a bass singer. There are a lot of parts that I can sing, but bass is not one of them! So don’t look for a traditional quartet sound.

Daniel: Could you tell us a little about Brian’s background in Southern Gospel?

Roger: He has sung with Southern Sound, Beyond the Ashes, and Tribute Quartet. He has played instruments on stage with Southern Sound and Tribute Quartet, and written several songs for Tribute Quartet, including the hit single “That’s Why I Love Him So.”

Daniel: Will Brian be playing instruments on stage with the Talleys?

Roger: Yes. He plays a wide variety of instruments, including piano, bass, and acoustic and electric guitars, and we’ll be doing more live music with him playing some. On some songs, we’ll do four-part harmony, and different trios on others. We’ll just have a much bigger variety on stage.

Daniel: And for the question everyone’s wondering, by this point: When will he start?

Roger: We have had a rehearsal or two already. We’re working on some of the songs that we are currently singing. We hope to be ready to debut this new sound by September 1st. This fall, we will begin work on a new recording with the four of us.

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Question of the Week: Dianne Wilkinson

The Kingsmen’s brand-new album, Grace Says, comes out on July 16th. Its closing track is “Loving Shepherd, Gracious God,” a mellow song featuring bass singer Ray Dean Reese. Though it might not jump out on first listen, the lyric and melody quietly keep drawing me back, time after time—to the point that it is now already the single song I have played more than any other this year.

I recently caught up with the song’s author, Dianne Wilkinson, and asked her what inspired the song. She said:

David is one of the people I just long to sit with in Heaven. I want to hear him play! I want to hear him talk! I want to know what kind of mood he was in when he wrote the 23rd Psalm!

The truth of that psalm was preached out to me a little over a year ago. Brother Don Savell,  a long-time friend of mine and my preacher brother, is an amazing preacher; people, including other preachers, come from all over the country to hear him. He preached a revival at my church, and he preached from the 23rd Psalm every night.

There’s more meat in this psalm than people know; let me put it that way…and I didn’t know it until this revival meeting!  Brothe Don said that that psalm was written from the perspective of an old sheep. And that’s exactly right; it’s a sheep looking back on the journey. It’s not a young sheep; it’s an old sheep. It’s just unbelievable the way he laid all that out. I could talk about this a long time, ’cause I am an old sheep, and He’s led me past the green pastures, and He’s provided for me for a long time. Now I know how David felt when he wrote those magnificent words…after the Lord had been his Shepherd for many years.

There’s a tag at the end where the music fades out, and they sing these words acapella:

There’s a loving shepherd leading me
Where the older sheep have trod
He is guiding, guarding, feeding me
Loving shepherd, gracious God.

Those words were inspired by a great man of God, preaching a very familiar Scripture passage, in a totally unique way that touched me deeply.

You can hear sound clips and pre-order here.

 

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An Interview with Anthony Facello

I recently had the opportunity to interview Beyond the Ashes’ tenor/manager, Anthony Facello:

DJM: Your website bio mentions that you listened to Paul Heil’s The Gospel Greats as a child. Was that your first exposure to Southern Gospel music, or just one of the strongest early influences?

Anthony: Actually I was exposed to Southern Gospel by my family. My Dad and Uncle had a part-time Southern Gospel group that traveled and sang and that is where I started. Paul Heil was a very strong influence for me growing up. I remember taping Paul’s program and I would listen to them over and over. I am thankful for all of the radio DJ’s that get this music out so we all can be influenced.

DJM: What groups were particularly influential in sparking your desire to sing?

Anthony: Growing up Gold City was a huge influence on my career. It was a dream come true when I started singing full-time with Heaven Bound that my second night singing with them we were in concert with no other than Gold City (Brian, Ivan, Steve, Tim and Garry.) Daniel needless to say I was a nervous little kid!

DJM: Your stint with the Journeymen was probably your first introduction to many Southern Gospel fans. Was that the first professional group you were with? (Side note: I asked this question before coming across this video several weeks ago!)

Anthony: Actually, Heaven Bound was the first professional group I was ever with back in the early 90’s and they were a very popular group back then. I was only a kid of 18 years and I was living my dream and calling.

DJM: What were some of the highlights of your time with the Journeymen? Do any particularly moving or funny memories come to mind?

Anthony: My time with the Journeymen was a wonderful experience and I’m so thankful for the opportunity. I remember the very first time we sang on the NQC stage. Larry Goss had just produced some of our CD and the big song at that time was “We Will Not Fail.” The electricity in the convention hall was so thick and the spirit fell that night for us.

DJM: My first exposure to you was through Mercy’s Mark—and the first time I heard your voice, to my knowledge, was on the magnificent acapella rendition of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” that opened their self-titled debut project. “His Response,” from that same album, has become somewhat of a signature song for you. What was your thought the first time you heard the song? And—having sung it for nearly a decade since—what does it mean to you today?

Anthony: “His Response” is a Kyla Rowland song so that in itself speaks volumes. I remember when we got the demo from Daywind. I will be honest, we actually passed on it at first but then came back to it and said “yes this is for us.” This song has always spoke to me personally and that is why I sing still today occasionally. “What a sinner was I, what a lost hungry soul when I approached calvary to see, if the story I heard was true to God’s word could Jesus pardon a sinner like me? His response was redemptive, His answer was love oh how could I ever be sad. Looking back to Mt. Calvary, looking back from where He brought me. His response was redeemed and I’m glad.” Daniel, this lyric speaks for itself.

DJM: You’ve been in professional Southern Gospel for nearly twenty years—most of that time, touring full-time. Honestly, most tenors don’t make it that long. Now I’m not a tenor, but probably about half of my male readers either are or wish they were! What have you done—from a standpoint of technique, of pacing yourself, or whatever else might come to mind—to preserve your voice this long?

Anthony: That is a very interesting and great question. Being a tenor is not easy all the time and can be very taxing on a voice especially as we get older. I am always conscience of my vocals and I focus on vocal and physical health. I have been fortunate to have studied under great vocal coaches such as Brett Manning and Steve Hurst. Your voice is a muscle and just like an athlete trains to become better and sustain we need to do the same for our voice.

DJM: What are some of your favorite Southern Gospel songs—current or classic—which you count as personal favorites but would never think of performing yourself?

Anthony: I would have to say current is The Greenes “When God Has Another Plan.” The lyric in this song is so powerful and Taranda’s delivery is awesome and I could never attempt to sing it after her. I love songs like this that speak to us and honestly that is just good music.

DJM: Why did you start your own group instead of finding an open position with another? What is the mission of Beyond the Ashes?

Anthony: Honestly I feel like this is what God wanted me to do. I would have never taken on the enormous responsibility if it wasn’t for that. I have a vision for BTA being a group that will cross some genre’ barriers and attract new audiences to this music. We want to touch lives and do great music.

DJM: You recently released your first major-label project, Treasures Unseen, with Vine. What’s your personal favorite track from the project?

Anthony: We are so excited about this new CD produced by Wayne Haun. I has been a long dream to work with Wayne on a full project and God totally worked this out. I would have to say my personal favorite is “Tough As Nails” written by Wayne Haun and Joel Lindsey. Not only is the production and orchestration amazing on this track, the lyric hits home for me personally.

DJM: How can fans get in touch with you?

Anthony: The best way to find out more about Beyond The Ashes or keep up with us is through our website at www.beyondtheashesonline.com.

For Scheduling BTA:

Adoration Agency
615-590-7453
www.adorationagency.com

Thank you, Daniel, for everything you do for Southern Gospel music, it is people like you that help keep this music alive.

DJM: Thank you! Writing about it is the easy part! Driving hundreds of miles every weekend, set-ups, late-night tear-downs, and bus payments—now that’s the hard part!

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An Interview with Jason and Missy Waldroup

With last week’s news that former Greater Vision tenor Jason Waldroup is getting back on the road as a duo with his wife, Missy, I thought that this would be a great time to re-introduce him to you with an interview.

DJM: Jason and Missy, I recently noticed that you have released a duo CD and have started to accept bookings. What prompted you to get back on the road?
Jason: I left Greater Vision to go to Bible school and do church music ministry. After serving two years in Houston, Texas I tried to give up ministry all together. I was completely burnt out. I took a regular job working in a factory. My job required me to stoop over all day. After two weeks of work and months of kicking against what God was leading me to do, my back went out. I couldn’t walk. Riding in an ambulance, staring up at the lights going by, I broke and said to the Lord ‘Ok, God what do you want me to do?’. After being released from the hospital, I told Missy’s mom to make some calls to see if anyone wanted to hear us sing. People began to say ‘yes’ and the rest is history.

DJM: Are you still involved in church ministry? (If so, where?)
Jason and Missy: We are involved in ministry through our home church, North Point Baptist in Carrollton, GA. They have been a great encouragement to us. We help when we’re home and they support us when we are ministering elsewhere.

DJM: Do you plan to accept dates outside of Texas, or only in Texas?
Jason and Missy: We relocated to a house and land that Missy inherited from her dad. (he’s still alive but gifted it early-she’s an only child) We live on 250 acres with all of Missy’s aunts, uncles and cousins. We love it! They can cook! To answer your question, we are accepting bookings from anywhere. We don’t have a bus, and the kids are in school, but we’ll try to make anything possible.

DJM: What will we be able to expect from a typical concert? Will Jason sing any of his Greater Vision-era hits?
Jason: We have sung a few of my solos from my Greater Vision days in concert where they are called for in a program. One Greater Vision song that really merges well with our new songs is ‘I will glorify the Lord.’. That’s the style we are singing. The songs on the CD will be mostly new to Southern Gospel fans and will stay in that church music sound. The good thing about us is that because of our backgrounds, we can adapt to any church.

DJM: Do your children appear on the CD, and are you anticipating that they will be taking part in your programs?
Jason and Missy: Our kids can sing us under the table! They are great! Abbie has been praying for years that her family could sing together as a gospel group. Abbie sings a song on the project and all three kids have a song they sing sometimes in concert.

DJM: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the project?
Jason and Missy: The CD should be released sometime in May. We’re in the mixing process now. More than anything, we really want to encourage people, saved and unsaved, that Christ still redeems! He still rescues those of us that get confused and lose our way. God has a plan for each of us and sometimes we don’t understand things that happen in our lives, but He is still in control!

DJM: For more about Jason and Missy, and to book them for a concert, visit www.jasonandmissy.org. Thank you!

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Question of the Week: Dianne Wilkinson

The Kingdom Heirs’ new project, We Will Stand Our Ground, releases today. It’s available from the record company, the artist, and any Christian bookstore smart enough to carry Southern Gospel!

Dianne Wilkinson wrote or co-wrote ten of the twelve tracks. One of them is the title track, “We Will Stand Our Ground.” When I first heard the project, this song blew me away. So I decided to ask Miss Dianne if she’d be willing to share the story of the song with us.

Daniel: We Will Stand Our Ground” is one of the most timely and relevant songs you’ve written. Was it inspired by the general direction events are going, or by something specific?

Dianne: One Sunday morning, my dear brother (Rev. James Branscum) preached a sermon about the fundementals of our faith and the importance of preserving them. I began to think about a phrase we have used a lot in talking about this subject…”contending for the faith.” I recognized my thought process as one that was leading to writing a song. I found this passage that expressed my feelings so well, from Jude 1:3: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto, and exhort you that ye should earnestly CONTEND FOR THE FAITH which was once delivered unto the saints”. He goes on to describe ungodly men who were “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness and denying the ONLY LORD GOD and OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST (capitals are mine).

That afternoon, all I could think about was how very true that is TODAY, with so many false religions in the world which are gaining in strength and numbers, and even getting converts from Christianity. We’ve always known that in the last days the Church would be under attack; but I don’t know that Christians where I live for instance, West Tennessee, ever thought we might actually have to be Christian SOLDIERS. But I think we do indeed have to be…because there are things worth holding on to at all cost. I wanted to write this as encouragement and as a clarion call to the people of God.

Daniel: Could you let us in on the writing process? How did the song take shape – did the chorus come first?

Dianne: As often happens with songs that are coming to me, the words and music came together, and in this case, the first verse came first. In the crafting process, I wanted to be sure and state clearly the things that WERE worth fighting for, and never compromising about…so they are in the chorus: The Book, the Blood, the Rugged Cross. I wanted the song to be able to speak to people everywhere who either believe in a false religion, or a false “gospel” such as Paul spoke about, which means any gospel besides GRACE. Yes, I’m a fundementalist…and I’m prepared to take the heat for that. The title of the song says what I feel the most passionate about these days relating to my faith: We Will Stand Our Ground. And as God told Elijah, He will always have a remnant of folks who WILL…even if it’s a small remnant in comparison to how many people there are in the world!

Daniel: Could you tell us about the song’s journey from when it left your pen through when it got cut? Any thoughts on the rendition?

Dianne: I had a stunning demo on the song, thanks to the good folks at Daywind, with the brilliant Tim Parton doing the music track and the incomparable Terry Franklin doing vocals. I sent it to one of the quartets with whom I have a huge track record, and they put it on hold, but passed on it. I was surprised, because as we writers say, it “sounded just like them.”

Later on, when the Kingdom Heirs were looking for songs, I almost didn’t send this one, because they just don’t do ballads. They make a few exceptions (my “When You Look at Me” was such an exception). But I felt the Lord was leading me to send it to Arthur, and he put it on hold. Later on when he notified me of final song selections, this song was on the list.

When Steve French talked to me about the songs, he said this one was on the list to record from the first time they heard it, because they felt it was a message the Church needed to hear. I was thrilled, because they sing to huge numbers of people every year, and I knew…as He always does…that God gets the right songs to the right groups. When I heard the final mix of the song with the beautiful orchestration, and the perfection of the vocals…just the whole performance…it was very moving to me, and I prayed right then that the Lord would use this song to encourage believers in these perilous times in which we live.

As to the way the Kingdom Heirs sing my songs, I am ALWAYS delighted with the finished recording, because I know how high their standards are when they get ready to go into the studio, and how hard they work to “get it right”. They’re great singers and musicians, and they have a genius at the creative helm in Arthur Rice as producer. As always, I have talked too long, Daniel…but that’s the risk you take when you ask a songwriter to talk about one of her songs! Thank you for the chance to allow me to talk about this one.

Daniel: Ah, thank YOU! It’s always an honor!

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Almost Statesmen, Part 3: An Interview with Bobby Clark

The glory days of the Statesmen are now the stuff of legend. We play back the voices of Big Chief, Jake, Rosie, Denver, Doy, and Hovie on old LPs, and watch the few grainy black-and-white video clips that have survived on YouTube. Yet to this day, there are men still alive who had to turn down a bunk on the Statesmen bus.

You’ve met the first two, Asbury Adkins and Ben Harris. This week, let’s meet…

Bobby Clark

After Denver Crumpler died, Hovie Lister also tried to hire Bobby Clark. At the time, Clark was singing tenor for the Rangers. In his 2009 autobiography The Cathedral Quartet: The Early Years, he relates the incident with remarkable candor:

I flew to Atlanta to audition with the quartet and was awarded the position. My wife was pregnant with our first son, and she told me that if I took the job with Hovie, she would divorce me. After first telling Hovie that I would accept the job, I reluctantly declined, seeing the tremendous burden this would place on my marriage and my family. In spite of the many telegrams which Hovie sent asking me to reconsider my position, I remained with the Rangers and Hovie hired Rosie Rozell.

In a recent interview with SouthernGospelBlog.com, Clark graciously agreed to elaborate further. “God had called me to preach,” he recalls; “I’m an ordained Baptist preacher.” He was studying for the operatic stage and in seminary at the same time. After a year at Bob Jones, he switched to a seminary; at the same time, he says, “I was studying with a very fine voice teacher in Detroit, Michigan at Wayne State University.”

He was a good friend and classmate of Bryan Jones, pianist for the Toney Brothers. Jones invited Clark to a concert which the Toney Brothers and Statesmen did in Detroit, Michigan at the Gilead Baptist Church, “one of the biggest independent churches in the country at the time.” At dinner afterwards, Jones introduced Clark to Denver Crumpler.

Clark has fond recollections of Crumpler, noting that “I was a fan of his,” and that “Denver was a very fine gentleman – he looked the part of a riverboat gambler, but he was very classy. Denver just stood and sang. I was tought that way; opera singers don’t move around on the stage that Gospel singers do. They concentrate on correct tone placement and on getting everything right, as they were taught.”

Shortly afterward, Jones invited Clark to another concert at the same church, this time with the Blackwood Brothers Quartet. It was a singing revival, where they would sing for forty-five minutes to an hour and fifteen minutes, before handing the program over to Bob Barr to give an invitation.

After the concert, Jones took Clark backstage, and told Blackwood Brothers pianist Jackie Marshall that he wanted him to hear Clark sing. Marshall asked, “Bobby, would you like to get into the quartet business?”

Clark said, “I don’t know anything about the quartet business.”

Marshall said, “I know a quartet [looking] right now—a good quartet with fine personnel. If you’d be interested, I’d be happy to go ahead and tell them [about you].”

Marshall contacted Jimmie Jones, manager of the Deep South Quartet. Jones called Clark to ask for a tape. He indicated that they had just lost Kermit Jameson, and that he’d heard that Clark came highly recommended by Denver Crumpler and Jackie Marshall. So Clark sent Jones a recording of “How Great Thou Art,” which Clark had made on a wire recorder. Once Jones received it, he called Clark and asked, “How quickly can you get here?”

Clark ended up becoming close friends with Denver Crumpler; he recalls staying in Crumpler’s home when in Atlanta, adding: “We were close friends. He helped me with many things about singing in quartets.”

“Crump came to me one time when I went to hear them sing,” Clark continues; “he said, ‘Hovie’s paying attention to what you do vocally.’

Clark indicates that Crumpler knew his health was not the greatest; “Denver was a diabetic and had a bad heart. He said ‘I’ve told Hovie that if I ever pass away [to call you].'”

So, several years later, Clark was singing with the Rangers in Akron, Ohio, with Dave Reece, Roy McNeal, David Ingles, and Warren Holmes, when Hovie gave him a call.

Clark still recalls the conversation distinctly. “I’ve tried out 15 tenors,” Hovie told him. He doesn’t recall all their names, but does know that Lister told him that Jim Hill, Willie Wynn, and even Rosie Rozell had tried out at that point. Lister told him that they had done the tryouts “in order to give the genuine constituents of Gospel music, especially tenors, a chance to try out,” but that “we called you because you’re the one we want.”

Lister arranged for a round trip ticket to Atlanta for Clark; it was the first time he’d ever traveled on a big jet. At the time, Lister rented the entire seventh floor of the Briarcliff Hotel on Ponce De Leon Avenue in Atlanta. He lived there, ran the quartet’s offices from there, and had a rehearsal area there.

Clark recalls the audition clearly. “I happened to know every song the Statesmen did, in the keys they did it, and the arrangements that they used.” The rehearsal went well; “I rehearsed with them for four hours, the first part of the day. Hovie said, ‘We’ll break, have dinner, come back, and rehearse a little more. But as far as we’re concerned, every man in this quartet wants you. You sing a whole lot like Crump—you have a natural tenor range in which you sing.”

His wife was unwilling to leave her family and move to Georgia, so Clark decided he had to turn the offer down. But Lister didn’t give up easily, sending multiple telegrams urging him to change his mind.

Though Clark doesn’t clearly recall the order in which events transpired, what they told him indicates that he was likely the first person offered the job; Asbury Adkins was probably offered the job after him but before Rosie Rozell.

“Rosie was a great tenor and a good friend,” Clark remembers. “His singing wasn’t like mine”; Rozell would slide into notes and do other flourishes which operatically trained tenors would avoid. “We used to talk occasionally on the phone.” The last time Clark saw Rozell was at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion where Charlie Waller orchestrated a reunion of the original Cathedrals lineup. Rozell was seated out front; when Clark went over to talk with him afterwards, Rozell could barely talk due to a recent stroke.

After Clark had told the Statesmen story, the interview discussion drifted across a broad variety of topics. Clark is a veritable fount of fascinating information—details that only an insider would remember but few are alive to tell. These anecdotes are diverse:

  • He sang with the Oak Ridge Quartet for a while, but left because he “couldn’t make a living” there.
  • When he was with the Weatherfords, they would record a 15 minute TV program segment for Rex Humbard every Monday. Peter Jennings, who had a news program in Cleveland at the time, would drop by the studio to watch and listen—he greatly enjoyed the Weatherfords’ music.
  • He believes that the best quartet he ever sang with was the original Cathedrals.
  • He has performed with two opera companies, the Lyric Theater in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Orlando Opera Company in Orlando, Florida. The latter was while he pastored a church in Orlando; a highlight of his time with them was performing alongside soprano Roberta Peters during the first act of La Boheme with the Orlando Orchestra.

And naturally, he had some fascinating Cathedrals recollections:

  • When the time came to expand the Cathedral Trio into the Cathedral Quartet, Bobby, Glen, and Danny’s first choice was George Younce. (We knew that part.) But if they couldn’t get him, their second choice was Noel Fox.
  • The Original Cathedral Quartet recorded a number of jingles (which Danny Koker would arrange)—among these were ads for Republic Steel and the Ford Motor Company.
  • On the With Strings session, Armond Morales and members of the Imperials were there, in a monitor room, watching the recording process.

Recording The Cathedral Quartet With Strings was a landmark event in Bobby Clark’s career. On that session, he recalls, they recorded the entire album in two three-hour sessions. Bill Purcell played organ. Charlie McCoy brought his suitcase full of harmonicas. Buddy Harmon, Elvis’s drummer, played drums. Players from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s string section provided the strings. Heartwarming’s Bob McKenzie wrote the symphony orchestra parts. In those days, the musicians and vocalists would all record at the same time.

The Cathedrals walked in knowing the music so well that, on several of the songs, including “Hide Thou Me,” there were no re-takes. “We got a standing ovation from the orchestra,” Clark recalls; “they’d never seen that happen before.”

Clark also shared a number of general insights into the industry. Perhaps most fascinating: “Success for quartets is measured by the longevity of singers who stay with a group and don’t seek greener grass with another group.”

That said, Clark recalled that he has never focused on the external indicators of success. He has never sought “to be number one, at the top of the heap. All I sought to do was sing with the voice God gave me and for the cause of Christ.”

 

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Greater Vision launches YouTube channel

In the past, Gerald Wolfe, lead singer of Greater Vision, has expressed his concerns with video footage of his group being posted on YouTube. Noting that Greater Vision recently launched their own YouTube channel, I recently inquired about his current views.

Today, as in the past, he does not want fans posting footage from his professionally produced videos. He says: “Over the years, our initial capital outlay to produce a good video has continued to increase, so to have it uploaded to the web by someone, without asking permission, is very frustrating. I’ve come to realize a lot of ‘video posters’ take the ‘it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission’ approach, and they don’t consider the copyright issues before they ‘rip and post.’ If they asked, they would discover that we love the publicity that comes from video clips being available on the web, but having the opportunity to pick and choose what’s ‘out there,’ while staying within the guidelines of copyright and privacy laws is very important to me…as it should be to every individual. I’m sure there are video clips of you, and anyone else reading this, that you would rather not have posted on the internet, without your approval.”

Since Greater Vision’s new channel includes some amateur live concert footage, I asked him if he was now comfortable with fans posting handheld camera live concert videos. He replied: “Not really. I’m never really satisfied with the quality of most of the You Tube recordings I see. However, I’ve learned you can put all the signs on the doors you want, but people are gonna do what they’re gonna do. … Having said that, I do see the value in having those ‘candid cameras’ in the audience, in case one of those ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ things happens. I just wish people would let us see the videos before they post them.”

“I strongly believe in the promotional value of You Tube,” he continues. “That’s why we created our own channel, where we post video clips from the road, recording sessions, and promotional clips. In a perfect world, fans (I really don’t like that word) would send us their GV clips to post on our channel. A ‘one-stop-shop,’ if you will.”

If you have Greater Vision concert footage you’d like to see on YouTube, you can contact the group regarding submitting it for their channel at contact@greatervisionmusic.com.

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Almost Statesmen, Part 2: An Interview with Ben Harris

The glory days of the Statesmen are now the stuff of legend. We play back the voices of Big Chief, Jake, Rosie, Denver, Doy, and Hovie on old LPs, and watch the few grainy black-and-white video clips that have survived on YouTube. Yet to this day, there are men still alive who had to turn down a bunk on the Statesmen bus.

In this series, we’re visiting with three of them. You met Asbury Adkins last time. This week, let’s meet…

Ben Harris

Daniel: I seem to recall a post on the old SoGospelLovers message board where you mentioned that you once had to turn down a job with the Statesmen. Would you be willing to share this story with my readers?

Ben: In 1972, I was 21 years of age, singing lead for a contemporary Christian quartet known as the Impressions from Paducah, KY. We had opened for Jake Hess (another story) some months before, and apparently Jake saw something in me I did not see in myself. In July of that same year Doy Ott of the Statesmen Quartet, called my home one evening. He announced who he was and that Jake had given him my name. I thought it was one of my buddies playing a practical joke on me, so I kept asking him, “Who is this really?” Doy finally said, “Can we get past the part where you don’t think this call is real and discuss why I called?”

It seems they were going to be at the Massac County Park in Southern IL in a couple of weeks and Doy wanted me to show up for an interview and maybe a “tryout”. The Massac County Park was just across the river from Paducah and just a few short miles from my home in Kentucky. So, I made my way to Massac County Park Fair Grounds on the proper night, and found Doy, told him who I was, and why I was there. He told me to “Stay right here and I’ll go get Hovie.” Doy came back a few minutes later with Hovie and Big Chief. Doy gestured toward me and said to Hovie, “This the guy that Jake told us about.”

Hovie then walked up to me and asked me, “Young man what can I do for you?” To which I answered, “I heard you’re looking for a lead singer.” Hovie moved back a step or two and said, “I have a lead singer”. To which I replied, pointing to Doy, “Then why did he call me?”

Hovie made a little chuckle and told Doy, “Take him out to the bus, I’ll make sure Jim (Jim Hill their lead singer at the time) works the table. A few minutes later I was standing in the front of the Statesmen’s Flex bus, chatting nervously with Doy, Sherrill Neilson and Chief. O’Neil Terry, their long time bus driver, was sitting in the driver’s seat. More on him later.

Now, ever since Doy had called me I had been working day and night on every song they were doing at the time, and I thought I had them down pretty well. But when Hovie finally came onto the bus I found out all my work was for naught.

With no accompainment at all Doy hummed a note and told me to sing the lead on “Do you know my Jesus” which I did. Then he told me to sing the baritone part while he sung the lead, which I also did to the best of my ability. Next, he told Sherrill to sing the lead, and he pivoted toward me and told me to sing the tenor line. Eventually he asked me to sing the 6th on the last chord of the chorus. I did not have a clue what a 6th was, but I had been taught the moveable “Do” system as a kid, so I counted up in my head, from the Do and landed on the La. I sang the “La” on the end of the chorus and Doy told me I was right. I remember being totally surprised at being right.

Doy then asked Hovie what he thought, and for the longest time, Hovie said nothing. Finally, breaking the silence for what seemed like an eternity, Hovie said this to me, “Young man, come to Atlanta and spend 3 weeks with us. If we like you after that, we’ll buy you a suit.”

I was on cloud nine, walking about a foot or so above the ground. I drove home that evening and told my spouse that I was going to be the new lead singer for the Statesmen Quartet. But after I told her the entire story of the “3 weeks in Atlanta”, and the “we’ll buy you a suit” line, she put my feet right back on the ground, and pulled all the air right out of my sails.

She said. “You don’t have the job, you have a 3 week trial, and maybe a job if they think you’re good enough. That’s a big chance to take.”

She, of course, was right. So now I had to decide to either quit my job and head to Atlanta to give this a try, or turn Doy down and remain employed with the Civil Engineering division of the KY Department of Highways. My daughter had just been born into this world and over the next few days I finally came to the conclusion that I would accept the position if they would guarantee me the job, and If I could get no guarantee, then I would have to turn them down. Doy could not give me the guarantee I wanted, although he did pressure me to do the 3 weeks in Atlanta. But in the end, my daughter Sheila was more important to me than singing lead in any quartet.

Now, I would be lying if I told you I have never had regrets, for I have had many, virtually every day of my life since. But, I still believe that the decision I made was the best one for my situation at the time. Who knows, maybe I would have made it, and then again, maybe not.

Sheila is now a grown woman with a child of her own. She teaches English in a school system just about 40 miles south of Massac County Park, and not far from Paducah, KY. She is the light of my life!

An interesting side note here…….Jake and I became wonderful friends through the years, and when I moved to Nashville to go to work for Ronnie Milsap as his chief engineer, Jake and I attended the same church for many years. When Jake passed away a few years back, I went to his funeral and also the visitation the evening before. When I walked in I talked with Jake’s children, Becky and Chris for several minutes, and while we were talking, I noticed a man sitting to the right of Jake’s casket. It was O’Neil Terry, the Statesmen’s long time bus driver. I walked over to shake his hand, and even though he did not remember my name, he told me almost instantly, “You tried out for the Statesmen in that park in IL several years ago. I remember.” I was amazed he remembered after so many years. We talked a few minutes and he and I both mentioned how we were going to miss Jake.

Daniel: Fascinating! Where has your life gone since? And could you tell us about the group you’re with now, Southern Sound?

Ben: Through the years Jake gave my name to several quartets looking for a lead or baritone. And for some reason, none of those ever worked out. It was as if God had a different plan for me. One of those groups was the Dixie Melody Boys. As requested, I sent a demo tape to Ed. A few days later Ed called me and asked “Is this actually you on this tape?” Needless to say I never got the job and to this day I wonder what on earth he meant by that.

My “tryout” for the Statesmen is a wonderful memory I will cherish the rest of my days. I was blown away by the sheer ability of Sherrill Neilson. I was amazed at the great ear of Doy Ott, and relieved that the Chief was as friendly to me as he was. I was very intimidated, that’s for sure. But it was also a great experience, and although it never went further, it taught me more that evening than I thought possible.

When the opportunity came along to sing with a new group forming, I was very reluctant to say yes. But eventually I did, and that was the beginning of Southern Sound Quartet. It was intended to be a weekend per month kind of thing, just to scratch the itch a little. Well, it has become a bit more than that.

We now have the finest quartet we have ever had with Mike Young on tenor, David Fair on baritone, Rick Fair on bass, and Barry Patrick playing piano. We have had several name groups to copy our songs and arrangements, and this is flattering to say the least. But most of all, we just try to be the singers and Christians that God expects us to be. We don’t play the politics of Southern Gospel very well, nor do we inspire to do so. But we do intend on continuing on with what we feel God has led us to do. It has been a very tough road, but a very rewarding one as well.

One evening at a modest church in Richmond, VA, an elderly lady in a wheel chair came down for prayer while we were singing. I assumed she was praying for her health. When her prayer concluded she said, “I have resisted the Lord for 80 plus years, and tonight, I got saved.” That, folks, is the reason!

Daniel: Thank you very much! Readers can find more about Southern Sound—and hear sound clips of Ben’s voice today—at www.southernsoundquartet.com.

Coming next week: Bobby Clark!

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