Song Snapshots #32: He’s More than Just a Swear Word (Couriers, Blackwood Brothers, Collingsworth Family)

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

Neil Enloe’s father was a barber. He describes him as a “fun-loving, happy guy, who never had a sad day in his life.” But, Enloe recalls, “He loved his Lord, and he was dead serious about God. He was a great role model.”

“In his barber shop,” Enloe continues, “he could not stand to have the name of Jesus berated or blasphemed. In his shop, one wall had a sign, ‘No swearing, please.’ Another wall had a sign that said, ‘No profane language, please.’ My dad was a very crude person when it comes to design; he tore the flap off a cardboard box, and with a child’s crayon, he wrote a sign and thumb-tacked it to a third wall. And it said, and this one he made up, ‘A feller’s tougher who is not a cusser.’”

Enloe recalls the impact of his father’s stand: “So here I am, and going into my dad’s barber shop. In front of his customers, when they would blaspheme the name of the Lord, he would stop, mid-stroke, whether it was shaving, or cutting hair, or whatever, and he’d say, ‘Look, this is my Lord and my Savior, we don’t talk like that here.’ So at the expense of losing business, my dad stood up for his Lord, and that deeply impressed me as a little guy. So in the years that followed, I just decided to make a statement, too, and that’s where that song really came from, my childhood.”

The song was one of the most popular songs the Couriers ever introduced. It made the rounds in the 1970s; the Blackwood Brothers, Cathedrals, Dixie Echoes, Dixie Melody Boys, Downings, Florida Boys, Kingsmen, and Sego Brothers were among the groups who recorded it. After receiving little attention for decades, the song was recently brought back by the Collingsworth Family on their 2007 We Believe CD.

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Song Snapshots #29: The Joy of Serving Jesus (Couriers, Blackwood Brothers)

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

“The Joy of Knowing Jesus” is one of Neil Enloe’s best-remembered songs. But when he’s asked about the song’s inspiration, he answers, “This is not that interesting.” But then he clarifies: “I mean, it’s interesting, but it’s not inspirational.”

He elaborates: “We did missions for years in the West Indies. We were in Barbados one year for ten or twelve days. We had an outdoor crusade every night, in a park, and huge crowds. But during the day, I had an occasion to go back to the church, and on the platform, they had an old upright piano. I was sitting at the piano musing about Jim Hill’s songs ‘What a Day That Will Be’ and ‘For God So Loved,’ his two big songs.”

He thought, These songs are so simple. There’s a lot of songs in Southern Gospel that are just really ultra-simple. But simplicity is very, very powerful.” And as he was thinking about those songs, he thought, “Well, I could do that. I could write a song that simple!”

“So I wrote ‘The Joy of Knowing Jesus,’ and little did I know that it would connect! It’s not an inspiring story at all, and it wasn’t meant to be funny, but that’s just the way it happened!”

Within a decade, many of Southern Gospel’s leading groups, including the Blackwood Brothers, the Hoppers, the Inspirations, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Rebels, and the Singing Americans had recorded versions of the song. In recent years, the Dixie Melody Boys and the Blackwood Brothers both brought the song back with their 2007 and 2010 versions, respectively.

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Saturday News Roundup #194

Worth Knowing

  • Jimmy and Mona Blackwood celebrated their 50th Anniversary this week.
  • Southern Sound announced that their former bass singer Alan Brewster, who left in 2010, has returned.

Worth Watching

Here’s a video of Marcy Kelsey Beckett singing “God Walks the Dark Hills,” with backup harmonies by Tribute Quartet. She was a member of The Songmasters in the 1970s and 1980s; they were the first full-time group to cut a Dianne Wilkinson song, and they were also the group to discover and introduce a young, talented soprano named Debbie Spraggs. Spraggs, of course, would go on to marry a dashing young Hoppers pianist by the name of Roger Talley.

Worth Discussing

It’s open thread Saturday—you decide!

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The Statesmen and The Blackwood Brothers

Yesterday, reader Bryan Round left a fascinating comment with extensive first-hand observations on life as a Canadian Southern Gospel fan in the 1960s and 1970s. His comparison of Blackwood Brothers and Statesmen sets contained some surprising observations:

The Blackwoods, I seem to recall, were ‘Southern Gospel’ with a few ‘hymn-type’ songs thrown in. . . . The Statesmen, I felt, were also Southern Gospel but rather than appeal to the sausage-fingered, hand-clappers, they catered to the more sophisticated, slicked-back, finger-snappers. . . . Where the Blackwood’s singing was powerful, the Statesmen’s was refined.

But this mixture of groups worked well. Travelling and appearing in pairs meant the Blackwood/Statesmen combo sang to twice as many people than if they performed alone; those of the audience who would curl their lip at J.D.’s swaggering low notes might sit smiling, their heads tilted slightly, as the Statesmen sang. On the other hand, the Statesmen’s intricate harmonies would be totally wasted on the foot-stompin’, hand-clappin’ set. But there would always be a spillover.

As the Statesmen did their finely-tuned material, some of the foot-stompers would start to look at each other, their raised eyebrows saying “not bad”. Similarly, some of those ‘artsy’ uptown folks would be momentarily shocked then amused to find not only their own hands but those of their friends clapping along with a classic Blackwood’s number.

This perspective intrigues me, as all the descriptions I have heard to date comparing the two sets were that the Statesmen were the exciting, energetic showmen who whipped live audiences into a frenzy. Meanwhile, the Blackwood Brothers certainly could do energetic convention songs, but their RCA Victor recordings of the early-to-mid-’60s contain quite a few numbers that suggest sacred music or high church influences. In other words, Bryan’s perspective is diametrically opposed from most previous descriptions I have heard.

Perhaps there is a way to balance or harmonize the perspectives, or perhaps some fans could look at the same experience and draw completely opposite conclusions. Would any of our readers who experienced those days care to shed a little light on the question? (Second-hand observations from those who have discussed this question with older fans are also welcome!)

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Saturday News Roundup #168

Worth Knowing

  • The Southern Gospel Music Association has announced the 2013 inductees to the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame. They are John T. Benson, Jr. (deceased), Thomas A. Dorsey (deceased), Polly Lewis Copsey, “Little” Roy Lewis, Duane Nicholson, and Tim Riley.

Worth Watching

What do children in a Southern Gospel group do as they spend hours upon hours on the road? Well, if you’re the children of the Mylon Hayes Family, you might just make a video about the funny things you see on the road!

Here’s a video of Michael Helwig in his (relatively) new role as Blackwood Brothers lead singer:

Diana Brantley, who took that video, has posted more videos and a concert review here.

Meanwhile, Ellen Gerig—the Diana Brantley of the West Coast—has posted a number of videos taken last weekend of Liberty Quartet, with Tim Parton filling in on baritone and piano.

A number of other videos from that concert are visible on her YouTube channel.

Finally, here’s a video of Robert Fulton singing tenor with Gold City (hat tip, Aaron).

Worth Discussing

It’s open thread Saturday—you decide!

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Saturday News Roundup #134

Worth Knowing

  • Following the Melody Boys Quartet’s retirement at the end of the year, two to-be alumni, lead singer Jason Tapley and baritone singer Chris Walton, will be launching Next Chapter Quartet. [EDIT, 2/21/13. Broken link removed.] They will release two recordings in or around next January, a mainline project titled God’s Not Finished and a project called Tribute to Gerald Williams and the Melody Boys.
  • Pianist Mike Hammontree has returned to the Blackwood Brothers, after recovery from a quadruple-bypass heart surgery.

Worth Reading

Worth Watching

  • The Dills have a video taken underneath their bus, amidst an air valve repair.
  • Aaron Swain has videos of the new Blackwood Brothers lineup live in concert.
  • The Mark Trammell Quartet had a homecoming celebrating their 10th Anniversary on the road last weekend. Here’s a video of Mark, tenor Eric Phillips, and Eric’s daughter Carli; Carli is singing “I Love to Tell the Story.”
  • SGConcerts’ Diana Brantley posted a concert review with videos of a recent concert featuring the Old Paths, Gold City, and a new group called Resurrection. [EDIT, 3/16/13: Broken link removed.] Resurrection is a trio consisting of Inspirations alumni Matt Dibler, Melton Campbell, and Mike Clark. (Clark filled in for Archie Watkins.) Here’s one of the Resurrection videos:
Also, here’s a video of the Old Paths delivering the classic Kingsmen arrangement of “Love Lifted Me”: (Don’t miss the big ending!) 

Worth Discussing

It’s open thread Saturday—you decide!

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3:1 CD Review: Sweet Songs About Heaven (Blackwood Brothers)

Sweet Songs About Heaven - Blackwood Brothers3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

1: Musical Balance: Groups which have been on the road for decades often struggle to transition the distinctives that made them great into the modern era. Sweet Songs About Heaven does a remarkably solid job at striking the right balance between modern recording techniques and the classic Blackwood Brothers sound. 

2: “Sweet Songs About Heaven”: This song is easily the album’s standout track (and to skeptical observers on the sidelines, I’d already made up my mind on this point prior to knowing that it was a Dianne Wilkinson / Rebecca Peck co-write). Blackwood Brothers fans aren’t looking for the passionate intensity of a Kyla Rowland testimony song. Many current fans have followed the group for decades and gravitate toward songs in exactly this vein: Mid-tempo songs where they can lean back, tap their toes, and reminisce about the good old days.

3: Songs that fit the Blackwood Brothers’ sound: Few writers still employ the musical and lyrical idioms that distinguish the greatest hits in the Blackwood Brothers’ repertoire. Group members have told me that it is actually quite hard to find new songs that have that classic sound and would fit alongside the songs they already stage. For Sweet Songs About Heaven, they have found several songs—“I’ve Heard About a City,” “That’s What Was Good About the Good Old Days,” and “That’s What Heaven Will Be”—that would have been right at home on one of their 1960s RCA Victor records. Of course, there are remakes, like “Swing Down Chariot,” “Someone to Care,” and “The Devil Can’t Harm a Praying Man,” but the new songs are strong enough to be the star of the show.

:1: Song Selection: It’s not that the song selection was poor; tenor Wayne Little, in particular, had a strong handful of solos—”Sweet Songs About Heaven,” “That’s What Heaven Will Be,” and a remake of the Ernie Haase & Signature Sound song “Goodbye Egypt (Hello Canaanland).” (Sadly, that last track is a straight solo, losing the tenor/bass duet that made the original so fun.) It’s hardly that the rest of the songs were weak; it’s more that, had each member been featured on three songs that strong, the album would have been a five-star project.

Traditional or Progressive: Rather traditional (but with Nashville studio-quality instrumentation).

Rating: 4 stars. (Average song rating: 3.7 stars.)

Credits: Group members: Wayne Little (tenor), Jimmy Blackwood (lead), Billy Blackwood (baritone), Butch Owens (bass). Produced by Billy Blackwood.

Song List: Goodbye Egypt (Hello Canaanland); Swing Low Sweet Chariot / Swing Down Chariot; Sweet Songs about Heaven; That’s What Was Good About the Good Old Days; It Is No Secret; I’ve Heard About a City / Walk Dem Golden Stairs; That’s What Heaven Will Be; Declaration of Dependence; Someone to Care; The Devil Can’t Harm a Prayin’ Man.

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Butch Owens joins Blackwood Brothers

The Blackwood Brothers announced the hire of Butch Owens as their new bass singer. [EDIT, 6/18/12: Broken link removed.] Owens commented:

I am excited to be a part of The Blackwood Brothers Quartet. It is a dream come true for me. The Blackwood Brothers Quartet is the most well-known name in gospel music with a great history of pioneering and influence in this industry. I am so proud to be able to help continue that great tradition. I look forward to meeting many new friends as we travel around the country and around the world.

Owens has performed with the Stamps Quartet, Anchormen, and Florida Boys, and is the father of Signature Sound bass singer Ian Owens. He has already spent two days in the studio, recording vocals for the group’s upcoming release. His first live concert with the group will be next Saturday, June 9.

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Sony’s Thoughts: A Heart for God

“How about your heart? Is it right with God? That’s the thing that counts today.”  ~ The Blackwood Brothers

This weekend, we were at a convention and I had the blessing of talking with a man who had a heart for God. Instead of assuming he was where he needed to be, he was asking God to show him the areas in his life that needed to change. He wanted to make sure there was nothing that would keep him from eternal fellowship with his Creator. I rarely meet people who understand the importance of this but this Brother’s at the place that all Believers should be.

I’ve been at a place lately where I’m asking God to show me the things in my life that displease him or that hinder the closeness I could have but I don’t always take time to listen. Come to think of it, that would be a good place to start. I need not to talk to God just to hear myself talk or to make myself feel like I have a relationship with Him. I need to listen so that I KNOW I have a good relationship.

When my Father looks at me, I want Him to see a daughter listening and ready to hear His voice and to obey anything He desires to speak. I want a heart totally open to Him where nothing matters but His pleasure. When His pleasure becomes my pleasure, true fellowship begins and, when that happens, my life becomes so intertwined with His so that it’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.

How about YOUR heart? Is it right with God? THAT’s the thing that counts today.

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Randy Byrd leaves the Blackwood Brothers

Randy ByrdThe Blackwood Brothers just announced:

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet announces that Randy Byrd, bass singer for the last seven years, is leaving the group.  Jimmy Blackwood said, “Randy’s personality has won him many friends across the country. He was a good friend, a hard worker and we will miss him. We wish him well in his future endeavors.” Auditions are underway and you can get in touch with the quartet at:

I grew up in the world of Contemporary Christian Music, where stars were off at unapproachable distances. Randy was the first Southern Gospel performer to reach out to me and start to build a friendship. He convinced me that Southern Gospel singers are real people, and his graciousness played a role in starting me down the path that led to launching this website. He will be missed!

(UPDATE, 3/21/12) Randy Byrd commented on Facebook:

I want to thank the Blackwood Brothers Quartet for letting me live my dream for the last 7 yrs. I hope and pray that God will work it all out so that maybe one day I can return to doing what I love to do with guys that I love! Praying God’s richest blessings on the ministry.

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