SOUTHERN GOSPEL MUSIC:
40 GREATEST LIVE ALBUMS
(From the West They Came) Live and On Stage
Calvary Records (STAV5135), 1976
Producer: Nelson Parkerson
Location: Warner Theater - Fresno, CA
Personnel: Ronny, Kenny, Larry, Chris Hawkins, with band members Ronnie Moore, Greg Taylor, DeWayne Wheaton, Tracy Richardson
If Lift the Roof Off captured the Hinsons at the professional peak of their career, Live and On Stage features them during their remarkable musical ascent. The Hinsons of this period seemed all things to all lovers of gospel music...a traditional sound, a country sound, a group with the ability to have the audience on their feet clapping their hands one minute, only to have them in tears the next. They were also deemed "radical" by some of their more conservative critics, due to their charismatic ministry approach from the stage. This hardly mattered by 1976 though, as The Hinsons were one of the top mixed groups as determined by the fans of gospel music. All of the early Hinsons hits are featured in this live performance...including "He Is Leading the Way", "I'm So Glad He Found Me", "Ain't That What It's All About", "Sea Walker", "Hallelujah Meetin'", "I Won't Walk Without Jesus", and of course, "The Lighthouse".
RCA Victor (LPM-2137), 1960
Producer: Neely Plumb
Location: Embassy Auditorium - Los Angeles, CA
Personnel: JD Sumner, Cecil Blackwood, James Blackwood, Bill Shaw, Wally Varner
On July 18, 1959, at Embassy Auditorium in Los Angeles, RCA producer Neely Plumb recorded what would be, as best as this historian can gather, the first live long play album by a gospel quartet. Some of the Blackwoods’ greatest performances were captured on this record, including “The Devil Can’t Harm a Praying Man”, “He’s All That I Need”, “How Great Thou Art”, “Hide Me Rock of Ages”, “I Get Happy”, and Bill Shaw’s classic, “I’m Thankful”. Equally noted for what appears on this album should be what DOESN’T appear on this album, as none of James Blackwood’s introductions nor any encores appear. In addition, more than 30 songs were recorded from this concert, and after numerous conferences with Plumb, James Blackwood finally narrowed the list of songs included to twelve. Collectors have clamored for decades for the full unedited concert to be released from the RCA archives. Perhaps the omissions from this record are what hinder In Concert from being the top live record of all time, for the quality, spirit, and authenticity of these performances indeed feature the Blackwoods at their very best.
Heart Warming Records (2R3734), 1981
Producers: Eldridge Fox & Jim Hamill
Location: Mount Vernon, IL
Personnel: Ray Dean Reese, Eldridge Fox, Wayne Maynard, Jim Hamill, Ernie Phillips, Anthony Burger, Jim McCauley, Greg Fox, Sam Crowe
Gospel music has possibly never known a more “real” live record than the so aptly-titled Live Naturally, for it literally provides everything about a Kingsmen concert that made them so memorable during the 1980s. If the entire evening’s concert wasn’t recorded for the album, at least most of it was. The dual album features mostly new songs during the first half, plus the second half of the concert featuring audience requests and Kingsmen standards. New Kingsmen baritone Wayne Maynard showcased his dynamic personality on “Nearing the Shore”, Big Jim Hamill sings and shouts as much as ever, Ernie Phillips hits an impressive Double High B flat on “Love Lifted Me”, and Ray Dean Reese anchors the low notes on the group’s major hit of the day, “Shake Hands with a Poor Boy”. Eighteen-year-old Anthony Burger’s virtuoso hand at the piano is already evident even in his earliest days with the Kingsmen. His instrumentals would be a vital part of his following six Kingsmen live album appearances. And who can forget “Excuses”? This novelty took the quartet to a level of success that far exceeded anything they would have ever envisioned at the time, providing them with their first number one hit on the Singing News Charts. Southern gospel artists rarely keep track of sales figures, but The Benson Company stated that if southern gospel music ever had a gold record during the 80s, it would no doubt be Live Naturally.
RCA Records (LPM-2300), 1961
Producer: Darol Rice
Location: Municipal Auditorium - Long Beach, CA
Personnel: JD Sumner, Cecil Blackwood, James Blackwood, Bill Shaw, Wally Varner
Four words - “The Old Country Church”. This JD-Sumner-arranged medley became the Blackwoods' anthem song over the next two decades. Only the massive chart hit from 1976, “Learning to Lean” would compete with a song of such mammoth impact. Fortunately, the remainder of On Tour offered many more treats for its listeners. Sumner penned “Crossing Chilly Jordan”, “Because of Him”, “The Prodigal Son”, and one of tenor vocalist Bill Shaw's greatest performances, “Some Wonderful Day”. Pianist Wally Varner had written “Bell of Joy Keep Ringing” some ten years earlier while with the Homeland Harmony Quartet, and resurrected the convention tune with a little extra Blackwood flair. And Bill Shaw contributed the unique lyric, “Pablo”, as well as “Because of the Love of the Lord for Me”. The album was named a choice favorite by writers of Billboard Magazine, and while record executives did not keep track of sales numbers in 1961 as they do today, RCA Victor seemed certain that the Blackwood Brothers sold near one million copies with On Tour.
Canaan Records (CAS-9705), 1971
Producer: Marvin Norcross
Location: Kiel Opera House - St. Louis, MO
Personnel: Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Rick, Bobby, Eddie Crook, Jack Smith
Wanted Live was business as usual for the Happy Goodman Family. Yet, as mentioned in a previous writing, such an approach is not always a bad thing when recording a live record. Wanted remains a fan favorite more than forty years later. Everything that fans of the Happy Goodman Family had come to expect from them appear on Wanted Live - convention sounds, heart tugging country-style ballads, and cornball self-depreciating humor courtesy of Brother Sam. Goodman staples such as “God Walks the Dark Hills”, “Living in Canaan”, “The Sweetest Song I Know”, “Shoutin' Sounds”, and “I'm Too Near Home” all rang loudly and proudly from the Kiel Opra House in St. Louis. It was nothing new for the Goodmans, yet Canaan Records had embraced the prime opportunity of capturing their magic on stage, simply for pure posterity. For the Goodmans and their legion of fans, it was a win-win situation.
Heart Warming Records (R3477), 1977
Producer: Joe Huffman and Eldridge Fox
Location: Municipal Auditorium - Chattanooga, TN
Personnel: Ray Dean Reese, Eldridge Fox, Squire Parsons, Jim Hamill, Ernie Phillips, Nick Bruno, Jim McCauley, Gary Dillard, Greg Fox
Gospel music pianist, writer, and legend Jack Clark perhaps gave the most accurate description of the Kingsmen of the 1970s:
“When the Kingsmen strolled out on stage, they calmly took their respective places and then, 'boom', you were assaulted with an over-powering rendition of whatever song Jim Hamill chose for an opener. They would make you laugh and they would make you cry; most of all they would cause you to love the Lord and would make you love The Kingsmen. And, though they gave the appearance of being totally disorganized, they all knew their jobs and did them well. Sargeant Hamill saw to it.” - Jack Clark
Chattanooga Live is a favorite among Kingsmen fans. Hamill gave a memorable introduction to beloved tenor Ernie Phillips, who had joined the quartet in January of that year. Phillips could be compared to no one. The 5'2 vocalist rose tall among his peers with “We Do Not Die” and “When They Call My Name”. Squire Parsons penned and performed one of his most memorable songs, “The Lovely Name of Jesus”, and Phillips and Ray Dean Reese shared memorable features on one of the Kingsmen's greatest classics, “The Old Ship of Zion”.
JD Sumner and the Stamps
Live at Murray State University
Heart Warming Records (2R3365), 1975
Producer: Joe Huffman
Location: Lovett Auditorium at Murray State University - Murray, KY
Personnel: JD Sumner, Ed Hill, Ed Enoch, Bill Baize, Ronnie Mabe
For many fans of gospel quartet singing, Live at Murray State with JD Sumner and the Stamps is the ultimate sample for fine, flat-footed, traditional quartet music. Lead singer Ed Enoch gave some of his greatest performances, particularly with what was perhaps JD Sumner's best-written song, “I Can Feel the Touch of His Hand”. Naturally, Sumner's deep bass vocals were showcased in grand form with “Give the World a Smile” and “Rainbow of Love”, plus his touching recitation of “The Twenty-Third Psalm”. Bill Baize rendered his signature solo “You'll Never Walk Alone”, Ed Hill's smooth baritone vocals shown brightly on “A Soul Such As I”, and the Gaither-penned “I Just Feel Like Something Good is About to Happen” never sounded better. There was something for everyone on this double album, even including about twenty minutes of JD Sumner's (ahem) “wit and wisdom”.
Live in Atlanta
Riversong Records (R8302), 1983
Producer: Bill Traylor
Location: Cobb County Civic Center - Marietta, GA
Personnel: George Younce, Glen Payne, Mark Trammell, Kirk Talley, Roger Bennett, with guest musicians Joe Huffman, Steve Mauldin, Alan Kerr
Decades of the hard work and dedication of Glen Payne and George Younce had finally paid off by the early 1980s, as the Cathedral Quartet ascended to the top of the gospel music industry. With albums such as Something Special and Voices in Praise – A Capella under their belt, the Cathedrals were on a roll, and Live in Atlanta would only add to their powerful impact on the music world. Glen Payne found his signature classic with “We Shall See Jesus”, and Dianne Wilkinson became one of gospel music's most sought-after composers. “The Old Professor”, Lee Roy Abernathy, enjoyed new success with his self-penned classic, “Movin' Up to Gloryland”, which achieved almost as iconic status as his multi-million seller, “Wonderful Time Up There”. Tenor Kirk Talley, featured prominently on the album with “You Can Walk on the Water”, “I'm Going Home Someday”, “Rivers of Joy”, and “Lord I Want to Love You More”, gave his final recorded performance with the Cathedrals before forming the Talleys.
Big and Live
Canaan Records (CAS-9749), 1973
Producer: Convention Center - Gadsden, AL
Personnel: Ray Dean Reese, Eldridge Fox, Jim Hamill, Johnny Parrack, Nick Bruno, Jim McCauley, John Broom, Leonard Hollifield
Big and Live marked a turning point not only for the mighty Kingsmen, but for gospel music in general. Previous live records had offered fans a unique take on quartet barn-burners, adding audience applause and a chance to hear group emcees at work, yet the Kingsmen took the live record in a whole new direction. Whether clapping hands and stomping feet to "When I Wake Up to Sleep No More" and "I'd Rather Be An Old Time Christian", reflecting upon lead singer and emcee Jim Hamill's brief testimonies, or rejoicing at the "hallelujahs" and "amens" ringing through the audience, Big and Live signified a listening experience that would forever change the concept of the live album. The Kingsmen and their audiences literally "had church" together.
Upon playing back the recording of this night in Gadsden, Alabama, record executives and engineers were uncertain about releasing such a raw live sound to the public. They initially felt that the shouts of praise and spontaneous applause should not be included on a national release. Eldridge Fox advised that if they struck the "amens and the hallelujahs" from the record, then the Kingsmen would step away from their recording contract. This bold stance paid off in dividends, and the Kingsmen thrived from the album's release.
Big and Live won the Dove Award the following year for Favorite Album. Hamill's recitation, "The Apple Tree Story" was one of Singing News's top charting songs for the year 1973. And several newly-introduced favorites including "Glory Road", "Look for Me At Jesus' Feet", "Love Lifted Me", and "When I Wake Up" are performed by the Kingsmen even today. Undoubtedly one of the most important albums of gospel music history.
Hovie Lister and the Statesmen
RCA Victor (LPM/LSP-2188), 1960
Producer: Chet Atkins
Location: Ryman Auditorium - Nashville, TN
Personnel: Hovie Lister, Big Chief, Doy Ott, Jake Hess, Rosie Rozell, with guest musicians Brock Speer on guitar and Ben Speer on upright bass
Gospel music's greatest live album set the standard for all live records to follow. Captured on November 6, 1959, during the 11th Anniversary of the Wally Fowler All-Nite Sing, the Statesmen performed the ultimate set list – songs that remain classics six decades later, including “I Wanna Know”, “Room at the Cross”, “He's Already Done What He Said He Would Do”, “Gonna Open Up All My Doors”, and “Something Within”. Rosie Rozell had been with the quartet for less than a year at this point, but already proved himself a mighty force among gospel tenor vocalists. The dynamic, rollicking arrangement of “The Amen Chorus” lifted the roof of the Ryman Auditorium five times.
One of the group's most requested arrangements was introduced on this record. Rather than ask each member of the Statesmen to share their testimony, pianist and emcee Hovie Lister requested that each man share his favorite hymn about Jesus. The “Statesmen Testimonial Medley” struck a chord with all generations, keeping the once-controversial quartet nearer to the roots of its more conservative listeners. Yet the only thing that could encore such a spirited-yet-reverent arrangement was the high-octane “Get Away Jordan”. The final response was both authentic and long. Such response allows the listener to understand what titans the Statesmen Quartet were in the music world.