Almost Statesmen, Part 1: An Interview with Asbury Adkins

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’ll visit with three of them and listen to their stories.

Asbury Adkins

Asbury Adkins grew up in Wayne, West Virginia. It was a highly musical region—he was a cousin of the original Toney Brothers, a distant cousin of Rebels tenor and Booth Brothers founder Ron Booth, and a distant cousin of Harold Lane—all of whom lived in that area.

In Huntington, West Virginia, he sang with the Dixie Melody Boys, the Gospel Harmony Boys, and the Reporters. (This Dixie Melody Boys was the group from which Ed O’Neal’s group got its name). He also sang briefly with the Suwanee River Boys.

After Denver Crumpler suddenly died, Cat Freeman came back briefly. Hovie Lister wanted a tenor along the same lines as Crumpler. “I sounded like Crumpler,” Adkins recalled in an interview with SouthernGospelBlog.com, “so Hovie offered me the job. Before he got Rosie [Rozell], a few of us tried out. But I wasn’t able to take it because of family issues.”

“I would have given my eyeteeth to sing with them,” he recalls, with a touch of wistfulness and nostalgia in his voice.

Here is a video of him singing decades later—long after the prime of most tenors:

After singing with his brothers for several years in the Adkins Brothers Quartet, he co-founded the Colonial City Quartet with baritone Tim Campbell and bass Ralph Linkous. He now sings with his sons in the re-formed Adkins Brothers Quartet. “I still sing the top tenor at 81,” he said, and he’s going strong—”I can still hit the high notes when I want to.”

Coming up: Part 2 (Ben Harris) and Part 3 (Bobby Clark)!

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Son of a Gospel Singer, Part 2

The son of a member of one of Southern Gospel’s all-time most awarded and beloved groups shares this inside look at what it’s like to grow up as the son of a Gospel singer. We agreed that he would remain anonymous so that he could discuss the ups and downs with full candor. We shared part 1, last week, here.

You don’t really see the effects of your dad never being there until you get a little bit older.

It starts to sink in. When discipline is required in the home, mom usually took care of it. If it was bad enough, she would warn me that she was telling dad when he got home. You know the last thing he wants to do when he gets home is to whip you. But he usually did. There were some cases in which maybe mom forgot to tell dad, or he simply forgot after a particularly long road trip…but that was rare. I always thanked God for those “forgetful” grace moments. But it puzzles you in a way. Here’s a guy who I see only a couple of days a week and when I do see him, he’s just disciplining me, grounding me, spanking me, yelling at me (this was my thought process, at least). You see in the credits sometimes, “we want to thank our kids for understanding why their dads are always gone.” Well, at certain ages, you really don’t understand.

You may say you understand, just because you don’t want to cause particular problems, such as re-thinking their careers, or feeling an unnecessary burden, but you can hear, “Well, I’m out to sing the Gospel, to tell people about Jesus through song.”

You think, “Can’t you do that here? At home?”

But if you ask any further, you might get the classic, “Son, do you like to eat? Do you like that nintendo?” The thought of no food or nintendo practically shuts you up, but the question still lingers.

You have to get the neighbors and teammates to take you to baseball or football practice because you have a bunch of brothers and sisters rambling around that mom needs to take care of. Your personal feats on the ball field are many times only witnessed by the other fathers. I would count up my stats and share all of the game circumstances with my father over a telephone or replay it in the front yard when he got back home. I’m not saying he was never there, but there sure were a lot of games and practices I would have liked him to be there for. Those times we did have to throw the ball around are unforgettable to me, because they are so rare. But even in those small amounts of time, he taught me how to catch a ball, hit a ball, how to tackle, how to dribble, how to ride a bike, i before e, except after c, and so on.

Most importantly, he taught me how to have faith. He activated his faith in the Son of God and His provision for me, and the salvation that is there for me to attain because of a sacrificial death on a cross. He taught me how to have a relationship with Christ, led me to the Lord, and taught me to how to love a woman, even when you’re not always there physically. Those are hard things to do correctly when you’re home an average of 2 days a week. That is the essence of selfless.

One of the things that Southern Gospel has had no shortage in is group changes. Sometimes we think of it as “promotions and demotions” (although, many of us would not be publicly state that). That’s something else you can’t quite figure out when you are so young. Your dad sings with a guy for so many years and then you find out he’s gone. You’re never given a precise reason, but you hear things. Call me a realist, but most of the time it’s not because “the Lord is leading me in another direction.” That is not to say that I deny God is in complete control nor does He provide another avenue of ministry “after things went sour.” I do believe those things wholeheartedly. His plans are perfect.

But sometimes group members are people. They fail. When you put an artist’s life in the spotlight, are rarely with their family, and they travel hundreds of thousands of miles every year, putting on a suit and a smile, with a stage to sing on in front of crowds of hundreds, sometimes thousands, singing encouraging songs about God’s love, who you really are can be overshadowed by what you’re doing. Sometimes you forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. I don’t mean that every artist does this, but from time to time, accountability is in order. It’s important to have that Christian fellowship on the bus to be real and authentic. It’s more than a road trip. Be careful to judge certain incidents when rumors occur of a group member’s activity. Realize the context in which they live their lives.

And sometimes, personalities clash. I’ve heard and seen many great groups with great harmony. Sometimes a specific group just has “it”. Or so you think. As I mentioned above, Christian fellowship is key to a group’s success sometimes. You need to like one another, or rather, get along very well. All individuals are different obviously, but a solid connection with the ability to respect, forgive, sacrifice, willing to listen, and tolerate each other goes further than what the average fan might perceive. Even things such as having a similar sense of humor is more important than we would initially want to point out. “Does he talk too much, does he always seem to want attention, does he even understand what sarcasm is, is he OCD about everything” are some common questions group members may ask when hiring (or firing) someone. The next time speculation occurs as to why someone leaves your favorite group, it may not be because of their voice or a better job.

There is also the business side. Group members leave for business reasons. It’s not always easy balancing business, ministry, and friendships. Given the fact that many just go from one group to another, their paths will cross again at some point and usually all will be forgiven. Oh, the revolving door of southern gospel. But from a kid’s standpoint, rarely do you understand the gravity of this perspective. It absolutely becomes real to you when it’s not other guys leaving, but when people are calling your dad to come sing and with them. We’re talking top notch groups… To the point where you even consider, “Wow, that would be awesome if you sang with them!” But then you realize you’d have to move again. Immediately, the idea is no longer so awesome.

Southern Gospel does indeed have very real, genuine, and humble people. Jim Brady, Rodney Griffin, Jason Crabb, Steve Lacey, Roger Talley, George Younce, Jeff Stice, Michael Lord, Tony Greene, Scott Fowler, and even Bill Gaither are some of the most humble people I’ve ever met. There are many, many others that would take forever for me to name. But their testimonies are in who they really are. Not just in what they do. It’s easy for fans to put them on pedestals, and they realize that. But let’s not be disappointed when they only spend 30 minutes at the table after a concert or immediately begin to take down their sound equipment after they change clothes and don’t notice you hanging around, waiting for them to talk to you. They might just be missing their wife and kids after not seeing them for 2 straight weeks and want to give them a call after a concert. Maybe their wife is at home with 3 kids and is pregnant again. maybe their son or daughter may have just come down with a terrible sickness or had a horrible accident and their minds are consumed.  They sing because it’s their dream or it’s the calling on their life, not about the money, and they don’t know how they’re going to pay for hospital bills.

It’s easy to criticize your favorite artist or group for not singing the song you requested at their recent concert. It’s harder to truly pray for them and their families. Which road are you going to take? I’ve taken so many aspects for granted, but these are very talented people who love Jesus Christ and want to share His Gospel to the world. That alone, is something I never want to forget or take for granted. The journey of the Gospel through music must travel worldwide. I am grateful that God has decided to use men such as my father.

Thank you for your candor and insight—and for sharing your father with us all these years!

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Son of a Gospel Singer, Part 1

The son of a member of one of Southern Gospel’s all-time most awarded and beloved groups shares this inside look at what it’s like to grow up as the son of a Gospel singer. We agreed that he would remain anonymous so that he could discuss the ups and downs with full candor.

Being the child of a Southern Gospel artist is honestly like being the child of a pilot. They have a cool job that a small minority of others aspires to be or look up to and respect, go to cool places in their travels, and you hardly ever see them. Some consider them heroes. Others consider it a job, maybe a job in ministry. There’s really elements of all three aspects in SG, but the perspective of what you grow up experiencing as a child is not always what the outside world may perceive. Satan can still attack those in ministry, who have set up a solid, Christian structure at home, whether they’re on the road or not. In the midst of continuous traveling it becomes easy for things at home to get bitter, frustrating, or in some cases, merely apathetic. I was very blessed to have one of those solid structures, but that doesn’t always mean I recognized what my father’s mission truly was while on the road. Nor does it mean that things were always perfect and glamorous. The core of a SG artist’s life is much like the core of anyone else (presumably Christian). They still have failures, emotional struggles, and a vast array of blessings, which they may sometimes take for granted, and sometimes be wholeheartedly thankful for. There is another dimension of all the “hoopla” that does excite and invigorate you, in the most relevant ways. And the older I get, the more I appreciate the memories.

Growing up, SG was about the only type of music that I knew, aside from the Beach Boys. One day, you’re going to school, enjoying your friends and family, go to sleep, and the next day you wake up in another state in a furnished new apartment. I don’t really remember the events leading up to the move. I know my parents told me we were moving, obviously, but when you’re so young, not everything registers accordingly. I probably just assumed I was going for a long visit. It’s as if you really don’t believe you’re going to be hours (and another state) away from everything you’ve ever known and been familiar with. Then you begin to try make sense of it all. You see your dad on stage one night, singing with other men about Christ. I remember my first experience at their concert. That night, I realized this venture was a special thing, even if I didn’t exactly know what it was or what it meant. But there’s my father on stage, chasing his dream.

It was quite fascinating to see your dad’s face on the cover of an album, open it up, and hear him singing. Not everyone could understand what pride a kid, barely in elementary school, takes in that. Then of course, you bring it to school to show all your classmates and the only ones that seem to care or even know who they are, are your teachers. And boy, is that a catch-22. Some teachers let you off the hook because they enjoy your dad’s music. Others don’t let you off the hook because they know who your dad is and know you’re being raised better to know and distinguish right and wrong. So the whole PK type thing became a part of my life at an early age. On music day, kids are bringing in TLC, Billy Ray Cyrus, and New Kids On The Block. I have my Cathedrals, Gaither, Greater Vision, Florida Boys, Talleys, Kingsmen gear ready to show off. The only reason you promote the group your dad sings for is because after a series of concerts you’ve been privileged to attend, you see flocks of people wanting to speak to him at the table and autograph their albums and photos. You stand with your father behind the record table, yet again with a sense of pride, yet a lingering uncertainty about what your father’s job is all about. You come to the conclusion that the only conclusion you have embarked upon is that what he does is simply, special.

I’ve been on many buses. In fact, a very popular manager/singer taught me how to tie my shoes on a bus. Gold City, Kingsmen, Legacy Five, Greater Vision, Talleys, But there is one I remember best, since it was the first time I ever remember being on a bus… my first time on the Cathedrals bus. I probably wasn’t even in elementary school yet and when I was invited me on the bus to meet everybody and given a handful of cookies. It was my first meeting with the current members, but it would certainly not be the last. Fred Privett actually played a very important role in my elevating interest in SG, but more on that later. I would never say that I ever became super close with these gentlemen, but not every kid gets the access to hop on a bus, watch cartoons, and eat cookies before a concert. Considering these were the “giants” of SG, they didn’t really seem any different to me, at the time. It would not be until years later, that I realized just how important their legacy was and would be. Still, in that moment, I never considered SG artists to be intimidating. They were just like my dad and the guys my dad sang with. The only time I ever felt intimidated by someone in the industry, was when Dale Shipley (former lead singer of Perfect Heart) told me to quit throwing the football around his bus. I never threw a football around their bus again. I decided to take my talents elsewhere that night—besides, The Inspirations and Karen Peck and New River didn’t seem to mind I played around their bus.

One of the things that made the biggest impact on me was the studio. There is nothing like sitting in a studio and hearing brand new songs for the first time that no one else has ever heard, thinking to yourself which ones are going to be huge hits. Hearing the tracks, then the vocals ,watching the engineers hard at work, adding things, musicians coming back to do overdubs. There is just something special about the recording process that has always intrigued me. One of the neatest things is getting to spend that time in the studio listening to your dad and their group singing songs yet heard by the audiences.

Another of the perks was every year at the NQC. When I wasn’t able to go, I would have a list of new or old projects that I wanted. Some of them were classic favorites of dad’s that he would listen to as a kid. Naturally, he would usually get them for me and bring them back in a big bag. Enough new music for a week!! Whenever the Cathedrals were around, I’d hang around the table and talk Fred Privett into giving me free cassettes, which also usually happened. He’s largely responsible for 1/3 of my Cathedral projects. And so was the case with many groups that found their way around my area. I seemed to use that “oh, I’m so and so’s son” and ask about a particular project, which they would give me. I know that seems very bratty of me. But I just figured my dad was important enough, that they’d do it. But I got older.

You don’t really see the effects of your dad never being there until you get a little bit older.

…to be continued, next week!

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Question of the Week: Gerald Wolfe

Daniel: I recently featured a video of the original Greater Vision, plus Pat Barker, singing “Wedding Music.” You posted a comment that there was an interesting backstory involving Greater Vision. Any chance you could elaborate on that?

Gerald: In March of 1991, we were on an In Touch Bible Study Cruise, with Dr. Charles Stanley.  The Talleys were also one of the groups on the cruise.

One afternoon, I was sitting at a table on the Pool Deck, and Kirk came walking up and said “let me sing you this new song I’ve just finished with Phil [Cross].” He proceeded to sing “Wedding Music,” and I immediately knew it was a “hit.”  I told him “we’ll do it!”, and asked him to hold it for us, since we wouldn’t be going into the studio for several months, having just released our first Riversong CD, On A Journey.

A few months later, we were on a concert date with the Cathedrals, and Roger asked me to come to their bus to listen to their new recording…they were in the “final mix” stage of finishing it up.  You can imagine how surprised I was to hear the now-classic version of “Wedding Music”, with George’s signature voice singing the second verse.  Of course, it was immediately obvious to me they did a better job with it than we ever could have, but I was still a little bit surprised that Kirk had sent it to them, without letting me know.

When I called Kirk to “rake him over the coals” about the song being “on hold”, his response was short, to-the-point, typically sarcastic, and very true… “they’ll sell more CDs than you will.”

I replied, “you’ve got a good point”, and we both laughed.  Thankfully, they did record “Wedding Music”, and it became one of the most-requested songs of their final decade of touring.

Looking back, I’m glad I got to be one of the first to hear what would become another “Cathedral Quartet Classic.”  Nobody can sing it like they did!

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Interview with Lee Black and Ben Storie

Ben Storie

Ben Storie

I recently had the chance to catch up with Lee Black and Ben Storie, co-authors of the Talley Trio’s latest single, “Applause.”

DJM: What inspired the song Applause?

Lee: Ben and I met at a writers retreat a few years ago but didn’t have the chance to hook up and write together there. I left that retreat thinking, “I would really like to write with this guy. He’s a great writer. I think we could turn out some good stuff.” Then several months later, Ben contacted me, said he had an idea for a song, and asked if I would be interested in writing it with him. I thought it was a great idea and told him I would love to co-write it. He had most of the first verse and chorus lyric written and emailed them to me. We set a date to meet up via Skype to work on the idea some more. For whatever reason, technology failed us that night and we ended up pretty much finishing the lyric over the phone.

After a first verse on an obvious “well done, thou good and faithful servant” kind of believer, we decided to write a verse about an average Joe living for the Lord. This was just the guy who demonstrated his faith by loving his wife and kids, serving his neighbor, and never really drawing any attention to himself. I think sometimes people get this crazy idea that if you really want to please the Lord, you’ve got to be a pastor or missionary or some other full time vocational minister. So we kind of wanted to paint a picture of someone not in the ministry who’s living a God honoring life.

Then… how long was it, Ben? A couple of months later? We got together at Daywind to work on the melody. That was a good night… because we tweaked the lyric for Applause and wrote the melody. Then we wrote this fun bluegrassy, Christmas song that I really love. So if anybody’s cutting a Christmas record… CALL US! Have we got a song for you! Ha ha!

Ben: My wife and I used to be big fans of Extreme Home Makeover. We’d record it on Sunday nights and watch it after church. I don’t even know how many times we’d both break down and cry hearing these folks who had come through such adversity as they told their stories. Then the Extreme crew would come in and build them a mansion far beyond what they could have ever imagined. And the best part is the big reveal. The family drives up (in a limousine, no less) and are received by this huge crowd of people who are wildly cheering and holding up “welcome home” signs. They’re excited because they have already seen the house. They know what’s in store for these precious people who have been through so much loss, so much hurt, so much tragedy.

Isn’t that picture a shadow of what’s to come when we enter into eternity? The heartache will be behind us. The tears will by long dried. Our faith is no longer needed. Because we are finally seeing heaven. Finally strolling on golden pavement. Finally beholding Jesus. And there’s an multitude who have gone before us. And they’re beside themselves to welcome us home… with deafening applause.
How could I not write that song?

P.S. I think that Heaven should have about ten thousand teenage girls (Justin Bieber fans, maybe?) standing at the gate to scream for us as we enter that city. Because everyone, at one point or another in their life, should hear that ridiculous level of applause in their honor!

I wrote the song’s first draft but it wasn’t special enough. So I called Lee Black. I’d been wanting to write with him so we worked on it some long-distance and then met at Daywind to knock it out. It was like Extreme Makeover – Song Edition. We cut and rewrote and composed and recomposed. I think we even decomposed a little at one point. Writing with Lee was a great experience. By the way, we’ve written quite a few other great, great tunes since then. Most of them are looking for a good home right now. So call us! I’m not kidding. I think we’ve written at least 2 or 3 other number one songs. Takers?

Regarding other cuts I’m excited about? I just heard that a song I wrote called “Evidence of Love” for an artist named Chris Hester will chart at 26 on the SN Top 80 for the month of March. That’s only the second month on the chart for that song so that’s exciting for me and for Chris. I’ve got some other placements in the works, but I won’t jinx them by announcing them publicly until it’s official.

DJM: Were your characters general, or modeled on real-life characters?

Lee: Ben, was the missionary based on somebody you knew???

Ben: We didn’t have anyone in particular in mind when we started. I think we talked about a missionary named Lottie Moon at one point as kind of a reference, but these are just fictional folks.

DJM: Was it one of those songs where you knew immediately you had something special on your hands, or was it one where you had the feeling, “I hope this is good. and that people will like it”?

Lee: I guess with every song I finish, there’s this immediate high of thinking “OK… this is great!” Then the buzz goes away and I end up at “Nobody will ever cut this.” Just kidding… sort of… not really. But with this one, I honestly felt like we might have hit on something special. It’s just an amazing thought that Almighty God could welcome someone into heaven and say, “Well done…” I thought this song was a cool way to say that.

Ben: I thought the inspiration of the song was something special. As for whether I knew it was a hit? No clue. My mom and my mother-in-law have been convinced since day one.

Lee: The only thing I would add is that I have been a fan of the Talleys – and I mean back to the Roger, Debra, and Kirk days – for YEARS! I’ve pitched them songs for several years and have never gotten a cut. So to have three songs on this project and the first single is a huge thrill. Melissa and I drove up to NQC ’10 for an afternoon to visit with some artists who had cut songs of mine during the past year. When Roger played me a close-to-final mix on Applause, I just bawled… tears of joy. I am grateful for every cut I get, but when an artist that you really love cuts something and gets it right… man, there’s just nothing better. I LOVE what they did with this song. I hope it ministers to a lot of people. I hope it comforts people who have lost loved ones. I hope it challenges people to live lives worthy of hearing “Well done…” when they finally see Jesus face to face.

Ben: I’m a big, big fan of Lee Black’s.  Huge.  And I hope that one day he doesn’t realize that I’m just a hack and ditch me.  The guy’s awesome.

DJM: Applause is on the Talley Trio’s latest project, Stories and Songs, available from their website and (digitally and physically) from their label.

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Question of the Week: Josh Cobb

Daniel: I noticed on Facebook that you recently moved to Cincinnati, and will be doing solo concerts. What can we expect from a Josh Cobb solo concert? Will it be just you with tracks, or will there be any live accompanists? How can you be contacted for a booking?

Josh: Expect to hear some great gospel songs with unique and original arrangements. Don’t expect a lot of comedy or for me to preach. I’m a singer. I believe that music opens people up and then the Holy Spirit can be felt and faith is validated in a real way, enabling Christians to gain confidence and grow. That is what I expect to happen at a Josh Cobb concert. I’ll be singing along with tracks unless the concert is within driving distance of Cincinnati. In that case, my wife Beth will play the piano for me. We have been performing together for almost fourteen years and have a really special program of hymns and southern gospel standards. You can contact me through my website, www.joshcobb.net.  I look forward to seeing all of you really soon. Pray for me. Please.

Daniel: Thanks, Josh!

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Question of the Week: J.D. Miller

One of the most delightful aspects of blogging in this industry is the opportunity to come across people who have shaped our genre in one way or another but either were never recognized for their efforts or have been forgotten. One such individual is J.D. Miller, a songwriter and pianist who commented on a recent post of the J.D.s of Southern Gospel music that mentioned him.

Daniel: How did you get involved with Christian music, and what led to you becoming pianist for the Gaither tour for five years?

J.D.: Thank you for your email and for the inquiries regarding my history with Gospel Music. I would be delighted to try and answer your questions, but I am doubtful that it will be that interesting to your readers. They would probably prefer to hear more about the “Legends of Gospel Music” than some obscure pianist/songwriter.

My primary recognition in Gospel Music circles is only through my association with the Gaithers. Prior to writing with them I wrote and produced jingles for Corporate clients such as”Nationwide Insurance, McDonald’s, KFC, American Airlines, Valvoline, Humana, Hyatt Regency, and many more. I did that for 22 years. I also had songs recorded by country artist like Kenny Rogers, and J P Pennington, and co-wrote with over 60 other artists. Then one day Jim Hill (of Stamps Quartet and Golden Keys fame) was kind enough to take a cassette of some of my Christian song demos to Bill Gaither and made him ride in his car out through the Indiana back woods until he had listened to the entire cassette. Bill called me soon after that and invited me to write with him and Gloria. After we had written several songs together, Bill invited me to travel with the Trio and the GVB , helping his Dad with the product sales and playing keyboard so we would have more time on the road to write and work on song ideas.

For the record, we never wrote any songs on the road!

I have been an admirer of Bill and Gloria and their contribution to the church through their creative writing and productions since I was a young man playing for church for my Dad, who has been preaching now for over 55 years!

Daniel: You co-wrote a number of songs with the Gaithers; two of the most enduring classics you helped write, that are still being played and sung in our genre, are “I Just Can’t Make it By Myself” and “I’ll Worship Only at the Feet of Jesus.” Could you shed any light on the writing of those songs—when they were written, who had the original idea, and what inspired them?

J.D.: Each of the song I co-wrote with the Gaithers were ideas they initiated. Sometimes Bill would show me a beautiful lyric that Gloria had written that didn’t resonate with him musically. He would ask me to show him how i might treat they lyric with a melody. Then he would contribute his directions and very quickly we would record a piano version of the melody line with chords. Then Bill would send those rough demoes to some of the most successful producers in the industry and get them recorded. I was always amazed to hear the final releases!

“Peace Be Still” is a great example of how things would begin. The Gaithers had taken a tour of the Holy Land with some of their GM friends, singing at each famous spot on the tour. When they got to the Sea of Galilee, they found it difficult to come up with a song that was appropriate for that place and experience. The peacefulness of the Sea, the reminder that God was in control even through the storm… Bill wanted to capture that feeling in a song. So when they returned, Bill invited me to contribute music to the words, “Peace, Be Still”. Gloria added her beautiful lyrics after she heard the melody we created. It is still one of my favorite memories of writing with Bill!

“Old Friends” was an idea Bill had right after he began producing the now famous Gaither Video Series. He wanted a song that captured the warmth and nostalgia that he felt when his ‘Old Friends” gathered around a piano and sang the “shape notes”, or got together for Fried Chicken dinner. We created that melody at the Gaither’s studio in 15 minutes in between a recording session I was producing there at the time.

Daniel: You’ve written or co-written probably a dozen other songs which many Southern Gospel fans would recognize, with 86 total listed by BMI. Are there any other songs you’ve written—whether or not it would be one we’re likely to have heard—that have special meaning for you, or that you would count to be among your finest work?

J.D.: There are some songs I have written by myself that have been recorded by other artists. Steve Green recorded “Let Us Praise The Almighty.” The Stone Brothers recorded “They Sing Glory” (with a little help of a bridge Lari Goss added after the original song was written). Scott Fowler and the Johnson Family Quartet both recorded “Yesterday’s Preacher,” a song I wrote about memories of my Dad preaching when I was just a kid. Wade Hammond recorded “He Whispered” and “A Soldier Volunteers”, all songs that I wrote alone. Others are out there but these come to mind.

Daniel: What have you been doing in your years since being a pianist on the Gaither tour?

J.D.: Since leaving the Gaithers I have continued to produce recordings for Christian artists such as Gordon Jensen, Larry Orrell, Jerry Trammell, Roy Tremble and others. Like Bill, I have a deep respect for those Gospel artist that contributed to the recognition of quality Christian music, and want to do all I can to support and encourage them. I take at least two “mission trips” each year, taking Christian performers to places like China, Russia, Ukraine, Honduras, India, Jamaica and Mexico. I also have served full-time or part time as music director for local churches here in Kentucky.

Between the productions, writing, trips, local ministry and activities with my children and grandchildren, I stay quite busy! I am blessed to be so active!

Daniel: Thank you!

J.D.: Thank you for the opportunity to share some of the details behind the creations. I appreciate your forum and your interest.

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Another Interview with Ernie Haase

Slightly over four years ago, in December 2006, we ran a longer-than-feature-length interview with Ernie Haase. He recently graciously set aside the time to do another—and even went to the extra trouble of taping audio answers to each question!

Special thanks to NewSoGoFan, Josh, Ethan, DavidMac, and sourceofpower, and everyone else who submitted questions, (mostly) as part of our Ask Ernie post.

Ernie’s Intro: [audio:/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Intro.mp3|titles=Intro]

1. Recent press information about the record company you are launching with Wayne Haun, Stow Town Records, mentions that this is a fulfillment of a dream George Younce had. Could you tell us more about that dream? When did he start thinking and talking about it, and what was his vision for the label? (Daniel)

[audio:/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Q1.mp3|titles=Q1]

Well, the back story goes like this….

When George and I were doing the Old Friends Quartet thing with Jake Hess and Wesley Pritchard we had to improvise. George was so sick he could not record in Nashville so we made a little makeshift studio in the back of his garage. After that, every time we would pass this old office building in our hometown of Stow, Ohio, George would mention, “That would be a good place for a studio, Ernie.”

So, a label was not in the vision as much as a “place” that would make great music. He told me that if we had a place to make great music that people would come from all over to record with us. He went on to say that you and I could put all our awards and plaques in there so people could see the history.

So, out of those talks and out of two years of dreaming with Wayne Haun, we finally found the right way to bring the dream alive and make great music. So, the name StowTown Records came from those experiences and was a way to pay tribute to George and to the town that was the home to the great Cathedrals for their entire career.

2. I understand that one of the label’s first releases will be a Doug Anderson solo project. Is he leaving EHSS to launch a solo career, and if not, will he be staging these songs at EHSS concerts? (Daniel)

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Doug Anderson has been a vital part of EHSS since day one. I met Doug while I was still with the Cathedrals. I heard him sing in a group called “Lighthouse” and we struck up a friendship. He went with me on many solo dates just to hang and help. (By the way, so did David Griffith, who was in Lighthouse singing bass.)

I told Doug (and David) way back then that if I ever started a quartet I would call them first to be a part of it. Both guys quit good jobs to be apart of EHSS. So, to be able to give back to Doug in other ways than just setting him up each night as a member of EHSS is very fitting. He has earned it! Plus, he is that good. His solo record will blow folks away with the heart and voice that is so Doug Anderson. It will release in May 2011.

Doug is working a few solo dates just like I did the last five years with The Cathedrals. So, the answer is “NO,” Doug is not going anywhere!

But I will add this, if Doug skyrockets (a solo career like Carman or a young Michael English) and has no choice but to follow the doors that are opening him I know what will happen. He will sacrifice himself to stay with me and “if” that day happens I will be the first to tell him HE OWES ME NOTHING! I will cheer him on more than anyone else. He is a loyal bird 🙂 And I don’t forget anything. Bottom line … I love Doug Anderson!

3. One of StowTown’s first releases will be a George Younce project with EHSS singing background vocals. Could you tell us the vision for this project, how you selected material, and how you worked (with Wayne Haun, I assume) on the vocal arrangements? (Daniel)

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Wayne and I just signed a exclusive distribution agreement with Sony/Provident-Integrity. We shared with the distribution team our vision and the projects we want to release in the next 12 months. At first I thought they would shy away from the George Younce solo project altogether. But when the contract came back to us, they asked us to release George’s first! WOW, George would have loved that. His project “launched” the label. (StowTown Records)

The project consist of old masters we have held on to for many years. George recorded 4 solo records in the mid-90s. We transfered them from 2 inch tape to a hard drive so they would not lose quality and have been storing them in my basement for the last 5 years. Wayne and I decided on 10 songs (one of which was never released) and extracted George’s voice from the original track. Only his voice remained. We then took Nashville’s finest musicians and recorded 10 new tracks. The new tracks are out of this world! We then placed George’s voice back over the new tracks. Then, EHSS went in and sang background vocal with George … HOW COOL! It’s much like the Jordanaires did with Elvis on his early Gospel records. We didn’t just ooh and ahh. You can tell it is a quartet—which is exactly what George would have wanted! He was a quartet man to the bone. Wayne produced the vocals and the tracks … it is very special and there is nothing else like it in the Gospel music world.

4. Will all of EHSS’s future releases be released through StowTown, or will you still be working with Gaither Music Group on your mainline releases? (Daniel)

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EHSS is a separate organization from StowTown Records. We (EHSS) will be a big part of the marketing side of StowTown. However, when it comes to recording and distributing EHSS we have a great relationship with the Gaither Organization. We will always be available to Bill. So, having said that, we really have not made any plans for the next EHSS project; we are just in the dream stages now. EHSS & the Gaithers will always do business as long as I have anything to say about it.

5. Are there any other upcoming StowTown releases that you’re ready to talk about yet? (Daniel)

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We are negotiating with other SG artist and will make a Press Release when each one is signed. Right now George and Doug are the first releases. Stay tuned ….. More news to follow.

6. How do you balance being prepared and on your game with avoiding the trap of artificiality—in other words, how do you keep it professional but natural and unforced? (from NewSoGoFan)

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That is something that can only happen in your private time. If I don’t have time alone to read, pray, meditate, fellowship, and just be still then the stage can trick you into thinking that is your time with God. THAT IS A TRAP! My time with God has never been on stage. I have felt God’s Spirit and have seen Him do many wonderful things from our time on stage but He and I are tight because of what we do together off the stage.

So, with that in mind, when I do go on stage I feel like I’m making my Father smile and say, “Angels, check out my boy Ernie … he is doing his thing again … that kid makes me smile.” I hope it is something like that 🙂

7. A few years ago, you said in an interview that you tell your guys not to listen to the praise or the criticism, because they’re both poison—straight ahead, no left or right. That’s great advice for maintaining focus in what you do, but how do you balance that with listening to what people have to say and potentially profiting from their criticism? (from NewSoGoFan)

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Well, there is some profit from both. I guess what I do is consider the source. There are those who want to just get close and be a name dropper so they praise you. They praise EVERYTHING. Trust me, I know when I’m bad and when the group is not up to par. So, I don’t listen. In the same way, there are also seem to be a few dissenters out there who find it hard to be happy for anyone. So, I don’t listen to them either.

What I “do” listen to is the praise and criticism of those who care and want God to use us. I can tell pretty quick who cares and who is just digging or dropping names. I don’t judge these people. I do hope that in time they all can see that our hearts are good and we are trying our best to add to this industry and not take away.

8. You guys started out with a real sharp, classic look and feel, then moved to something more hip in later years. Now you seem to be “coming full circle.” To what extent can we expect to watch this trend continue in future years? (You can touch on everything from wardrobe to haircuts to “choreography” here.) (from NewSoGoFan)

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Thanks for noticing 🙂

I hope we always stay sharp and relevant. But as I grow old I’m not quite as bold as I once was. That’s O.K. I’ve seen some pictures of things I’ve worn and of my hair and said to myself, “What was I thinking?” But, like I said, that’s ok. At least I was trying to make people smile and forget about their problems. I have the rest of my life to be mature!

However, I love my suits!!!! I will never look like someone else … I just love fashion and have fun putting clothes together. I know that may not have any eternal value to some but to me it is what I like and I’m don’t think we are hurting anyone either. I love God and I don’t think you prove your love for God by shopping at Goodwill. As in anything, it’s all about moderation. As for future fashion, I have no idea … I guess those who are curious will have to come to a concert and see. 🙂

9. The group’s “signature sound” has not changed much through the years, but the stage presence and choreography has. How do you keep your audiences focused on the signature sound and the message without letting the choreography and stage presence become a distraction? (from Josh)

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Good question, Josh. Well, it starts with feeling natural. There are tons of things we have tried at sound check and even in a show that just does not feel natural. So, in time, the things that people see us do are what we feel natural doing.

There have been nights that we have looked at each other and modified a move on the fly because of space or spirit. When all is said and done, we want to bring home the lyric and we want people to remember great performances too. For EHSS they both seem to work. However, my knees hurt real bad some days, and the older I get the less I may be able to do. I’m holding on as long as I can though.

10. You guys have done some great ballads, and people who go to your concerts will definitely see and hear that. But someone could take a big-picture view of your repertoire and see that on the whole, you’ve generally relied on light, upbeat material. Last year there was a push from several artists towards “meatier” spiritual content in their songs, most notably the Booth Brothers with Declaration. As a fellow artist, what’s your reaction to that? (from NewSoGoFan)

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About four years ago, I had an artist tell me—and they weren’t being mean—they just said, “I think if you’re going to be able to make it”—and I think they meant by that, was have longevity—we had to get serious. I guess we’re just not on the same page on that. I thought “Then Came the Morning”and “I Then Shall Live” and “Reason Enough” were some pretty good, serious theology. I don’t listen to our stuff, and I don’t really listen to other Southern Gospel artists’ material.

I just don’t see it as competition, or as competitors. I see us all as co-laborers. So, what we do is that I just try to pick the songs that I feel that our fans want to hear. That’s what I have done with help of our producers and with Gaither. Pick the songs that Signature Sound fans want to hear Signature Sound sing. And then we arrange them in a style that they want to hear. I think one pitfall in this business—’cause it is a small business—everybody knows everybody—we try to please those who are not buying our CDs. If you do that, that’s gonna alienate you from your fan base pretty quick. So I hope that answers your question.

11. You’ve taken a break from main-line projects of new material for the last three albums. I’d like to know, and I think everybody would like to know, what do you have in mind for the group’s next chapter in terms of sound and song selection? (from NewSoGoFan)

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We have been writing and listening a bunch over the last 2 years. So, I think you will hear some really good original songs from EHSS on the next project. But, there has been a paradigm shift since the Homecoming videos hit in the mid 90’s. And that is, people want to hear what they know. So, we will always grab from the vast catalog of hits from our wonderful SG industry and try our best to recreate the familiar into a new EHSS song. Much like Get Away Jordan. That makes the older fans happy and enlightens the younger fans to the history of SG Music.

12. Fans tend to either count Dream On as your strongest release to date or your weakest. What were you trying to accomplish with the project—and might we see these factors make a reappearance on future projects? (Daniel)

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I can see that … and they are both right. It did not sell as much as Get Away Jordan did (but it was close), but it did have more penetration. The songs like “Reason Enough,” “A Good Heart,” “We Need Each Other,” “Dream On,” and “Out Of Bondage” have all been used outside of EHSS. From baby dedications and bedside prayers to choral arrangements to prison ministries to motion pictures, Dream On has given EHSS more traction than a normal release would give. We are even talking now to a movie company who wants to use some of the material for a motion picture. We have even had the mayor of Chicago give us praise from highlighting the kids in both Chicago and in Evansville, Indiana, bringing awareness to their plight. Much money has been raised not only for the Dream Center in Evansville but for the American Kidney Foundation in the name of George Younce. We put our Dream On banner on eBay, and raised money that way.

So, the hard core SG fans may not have liked some of Dream On project, BUT the Dream On project is one of my favorites, and I’m so proud of what has been accomplished outside of the sound-scan numbers. These kind of projects have a long shelf life. They open our group and our industry to the secular media and this is good for all of us. Therefore, Dream On!

13. Stand By Me Live is still one of the best recordings EHSS has released. Are there any plans to release a live cd in the future? (from Ethan)

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No real concrete plan but since we do have a live 4 piece band I really want to do a live record one day soon.

14. Has there been an consideration of putting together either a hymns project or an a capella project? Or maybe combine both into one? (from Josh)

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Yes, and Yes. 🙂 It is on the list of things to do.

15. Do you consider, on balance, the quartet pianist as a) the fifth member of the group , or b) part of the backing band? (David Mac)

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Most groups since Hovie Lister have included their piano player as the fifth member. I made the choice when Wayne came to the group to make it all about the four guys for all marketing, since that is what a quartet really is by definition. Having said this, I consider anyone on my bus a part of the quartet. I really mean that! And if you ask anyone of the 12 guys traveling on my bus they will tell you I treat them the same as the singers.

16. Ernie, would you tell us how you found out about the Cathedrals job, the audition, and the events leading to your joining as their last tenor? I’ll bet you were nervous at the beginning and on cloud nine when you got the job. (quartet-man)

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George gave me his number a couple of years before I got the job. =He heard me sing while I was with Squire Parson on a Singing At Sea Cruise. That would have been around 1986. He told me to keep working and to never lose my desire. He said he could look in my eyes and see desire oozing out of me.

When Danny Funderburk left the group in January 1990, I called George and told him that I wish I’d known the job was available. (They had hired another tenor at that time) I told him all I wanted was a chance the next time. He said he would keep my number in his shaving kit.

Well, about six weeks later I opened up for the Cats. I sang Oh What A Savior. I did not have a track; Roger Bennett played piano, and Mark Trammell played the bass.

The next week, I got a call from George at my mom and dad’s house. (This was before the days of cell phones.) I thought someone was playing a trick on me when my dad said George Younce was on the phone. To my surprise it was really him.

He asked if by chance I was coming tonight to their show that night. (They were about 20 minutes away)

I said “Yeah, I’m already dressed to go.”

He said, “Come straight to the bus when you get here.”

When I pulled in the parking lot, George was waiting in the well of the bus in his suit and cowboy boots. He smelled great! Looked like a million, but man, was he on a mission. No joking around! He said, “Do you still want this job?”

I said “YES, SIR!”

He said, “GOOD. Go see the old man” (which meant, “go see Glen.”)

When I came in the building Glen took me to another room and said that they had to make a change, and it was breaking their heart but it had to be done. He wanted to know if I could start next week.

I said, “YES, SIR.”

He said, “Pray about it.

I said, “I don’t have to. I have prayed about this for 10 years, and God said YES!”

That was on a Sunday … three days later, on a Wednesday night, I was on the Cathedral bus leaving for Nashville to sing with the Gaithers … wow, what a ride!

17. Ernie could you tell us how you met Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? I would love to hear your testimony, of where, and who led you to the Lord! (sourceofpower)

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I was in church around, age 5. Don’t remember much, but I do remember that after that day I have always wanted to sing for Jesus. So, I’m still doing what God laid on my young heart to do. I may be 41 yrs older, but I have the same young heart and calling. My Grandpa, called me a good heart.

18a. Have you ever had a night where you absolutely flubbed “Oh What a Savior?” (from NewSoGoFan)

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“Flubbed”—I don’t think I’ve ever flubbed it, as far as forgetting words, or just blowing it. But I’ve had nights when I was sick, and my voice would crack here and there. But no, that song I’ve been able to sing when I just couldn’t sing other songs. That song is just a part of me; I always want to sing that song. Thank God for that song—it’s a career-making song.

18b. To follow that up, you’ve said that you’d like to continue singing that song as much as possible, but how do you deal with the various road-blocks that could hinder you in really nailing it or even getting through it, e.g. sickness, fatigue? Do you see yourself continuing to sing it 10 years from now? (from NewSoGoFan)

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I really do. I could see myself doing another 10, 20 years . . . like I said, even when I’m sick, too sick to do other songs, that song’s just a part of me. As far as singing when I’m older and nailing it every night … it’s always in the back of my mind, but it’s in the back of my mind. I trust that if I take care of my body and my voice (which I try to do both), then God will preserve me until He is done with me in the quartet business.

19. Everyone knows your favorite song is “Oh What a Savior,” but do you have a favorite non-SG song that’s really had an impact on you? (from NewSoGoFan)

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Janet Paschal’s song “I Am Not Ashamed Of The Gospel” has been a favorite of mine. When it first came out that was considered MOR (Middle Of The Road), but it could now be done by any SG group including EHSS. Come to think of it, we should.

20. If you could pick four young up-and-comers and put together a “quartet of tomorrow,” who would you pick? (from NewSoGoFan)

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Jeremie Hudson -Tenor
Joseph Habedank- Lead / Baritone
Andrew Goldman – Lead / Baritone
Ian Owens – Bass

21. A lot of people have claimed that gospel music is going the way of the dodo because artists are not willing to “progress.” They’re “stuck” in the past, and the music will only “grow” if they come into the present and the future. As somebody who’s managed to fuse some fresh stylings with a simultaneously “rooted” approach in your own group, what is your reaction to this perspective? (from NewSoGoFan)

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It will never die! This music has its faults just like other art forms, but this music is great and has been around longer than rock and roll and hip hop. It will always be around, and EHSS is trying our best to help the cause. Not just for the genre, but for the glory of the Lord!

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Ask Ernie

It has been slightly over four years since the first time I interviewed Ernie Haase. While we have had briefer Question-of-the-Week style interviews since then, we haven’t done another feature interview until now.

He has graciously agreed to do another interview, with an interesting twist: About five of the questions (and perhaps a few more) will come from you.

Submit one question per comment, and not as replies to other comments—that way replies to each comment can be used to express support for a particular question—that you think a given question is one of the best submitted so far. While I will make the final decision, taking into account other factors such overlap with the questions I’ve already prepared, I will place as much weight as I can on the submitted questions you feel are the strongest.

Naturally, I will not select any comment that I view as too personal, too combative, or similarly not fitting the mold of a SouthernGospelBlog.com interview question. If any question goes too far in that direction, it may be deleted. But with that necessary disclaimer out of the way, I am looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

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