The Power of Simplicity

The Southern Gospel songwriters of the 1970s produced a decade of enduring classics that has never been matched. The decade’s greatest writers, including Bill & Gloria Gaither, Rusty Goodman, Dottie Rambo, Ronny Hinson, and Squire Parsons, all hit a creative peak at about the same time (~1967-77), and what a time it was.

Each of these writers kept writing into the 1980s and beyond. But we would all say that their strongest output was in the 1970s. Why is this? Why would so many of the greatest writers of their generation hit their peak at the same time?

It’s quite an odd phenomenon. I’ve been pondering it for several months. And I think I have found the answer: Simplicity.

To a man (or woman), each of these writers’ great songs from the 1970s had a distinct simplicity: Simple message, simple lyric, simple melody.

But about the time the calendar rolled over to the next decade, each of these writers shifted to a more intricate and involved style of songwriting. One of Dottie Rambo’s finest songs from the 1980s is “When His Kingdom Comes“; compare that to, say, “The Holy Hills.” For Bill & Gloria Gaither, compare “I’ve Just Seen Jesus” to “Because He Lives.” For Rusty Goodman, compare “Only For His Eyes” or “Standing In The Presence Of The King” to “Had It Not Been.” The difference is simplicity.

Let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with intricate songs. Sometimes songs need to explore complex topics. In fact, those are often my personal favorites. When it comes to Squire Parsons, I’ll take “Crown of Bright Glory” over “Sweet Beulah Land” any day. But at the same time, I know which of the two pretty much any Christian in the South can sing by heart, and I think I know why.

There’s always a time and a place for songs that explore complex topics. Our genre has plenty of those right now—plenty excellent ones.

But it’s time to bring the simple songs back.

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Song Snapshots #33: Ask Me Why

Jason Cox and Kenna Turner West co-wrote “Ask Me Why.” Cox brought an idea to their co-writing session called “It’s Love,” with the idea of structuring a chorus around questions someone was asking—“ask me why,” “ask me where.”

They decided to structure the song as a story around someone coming to Christ. “Our original version was about a guy,” West recalls; “He slipped through the door / sat on the last pew.” West released a solo project with that version of the lyric.

One day, she was at Daywind, where an engineer was mixing her version of “Ask Me Why.” Steve Mauldin contacted her; he was producing Legacy Five’s A Wonderful Life project, and said they were looking for a fast song and a song with a 6/8 signature. “Ask Me Why” has a 6/8 signature, so she immediately wondered if it might be the right fit.

“So I sent it over to Terry Franklin to do a male vocal, so they could hear it as a guy doing it,” she recalls.

She had never heard a story Scott Fowler had started sharing in concerts, about how Patty Bahour, a Muslim lady, had accidentally purchased tickets to a Legacy Five concert, and had eventually come to know the Lord. But when Scott heard the song, he immediately thought of Patty’s story. So he emailed Kenna, asking if it would be okay if he turned the “he” into a “she.”

“It was very thoughtful of him to ask,” West said; “I was completely fine with that. As songwriters, we’re just trying to equip singers with songs that they can share. I had no idea that changing a pronoun would make the song fit such a significant story in their ministry.”

West pitched the song one week, and Legacy Five recorded it the following week. But there was even more: Steve Mauldin’s email came on a Wednesday. The next day, West, Lee Black, and Jason Cox were sitting in a writer’s room at BMI. West commented, “Hey, Legacy Five needs a fast song. Let’s write a fast song!” They wrote “I’m Still Amazed” on Thursday, recorded and submitted a demo on Friday, and Legacy Five recorded it the next Monday!

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Jeff Stice leaves Triumphant Quartet

Triumphant Quartet announced this afternoon that Jeff Stice has left the group. The press release states: “After taking a personal leave of absence to reflect on God’s best for his life and the life of his family, Jeff Stice has made a decision to end his tenure with the Triumphant Quartet.  He will be focusing his energies on joining his sisters in helping to care for their parents. While he may pursue other interests in the future, he feels his family and their needs must be the priority in this season of life.”

Bass singer and emcee Eric Bennett commented, “I speak for all the guys in the group when I say that we wish Jeff well in his future endeavors.  He and his family will definitely remain in our prayers.”
The press release added that “the decision to hire a piano player for the group remains uncertain at this time.”
Triumphant started twelve years ago and had a remarkable twelve-year run with the same lineup prior to this change.
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Friday News Roundup #222

Worth Knowing

  • Former Brian Free & Assurance drummer Ricky Free, son of group skipper Brian Free, has accepted a position as drummer for Dove Award®-winning CCM artist Matthew West.
  • Songwriter Daryl Williams has announced the return of the Daryl Williams Trio. He will be joined by lead singer Shannon Knight and tenor Brent Mitchell. (This configuration has already been performing together for several months, so it’s not exactly new news, but an official announcement is at least worth a News Roundup mention.)
  • Songwriter Ricky Atkinson & Compassion announced that he will be going on tour with two different Ricky Atkinson & Compassion lineups this year. The official current lineup is Atkinson, Greg Cook, and Loren Harris. He will also do some dates with a second lineup, consisting of pianist Nathan Rogers and returning members Samuel & LaBreeska Atkinson.
  • The Allen Family will be the focus of a new reality TV series on TLC.
  • Worth Reading: Danny Jones’ column, If You Really Want To Do Something (Pray).

Worth Watching

This “Confused Quartet” features every member out of their usual position: Triumphant Quartet baritone Scott Inman on tenor, Legacy Five pianist Trey Ivey on lead, Greater Vision tenor Chris Allman on baritone, Legacy Five baritone Scott Howard on bass, Hoppers alto Connie Hopper on piano, Legacy Five lead singer Scott Fowler on bass, and Greater Vision lead/pianist Gerald Wolfe on drums.

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