Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.

Archive for the ‘SG History’

The Inspirations Post-Holcomb

October 07, 2013 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG History, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Inspirations

Last week, it was announced that longtime Inspirations bass singer Mike Holcomb has resigned the group after 42 years to become a full-time evangelist. Obviously, after such a lengthy tenure for any singer, the group’s sound would be easily identified by that vocalist. The big question is, what does the future hold for the Inspirations?

While this is almost assuredly not what the final sound will be, here’s an interesting look at how the group is filling the gap. Tenor Mark Clark is the only one here in his usual spot; lead singer Steve Srein had the weekend off, so former lead singer Matt Dibler filling in there, multi-instrumentalist Luke Vaught is holding down the baritone, and usual baritone Jon Epley is standing in at bass. Here are a few clips of a recent concert featuring this lineup. For a mostly shuffled quartet, they fit together pretty well!

With the advent of sites like Youtube, fans are afforded a peek at a page of a group’s long history that they may not be able to see otherwise.


The Rebels Quartet: Revived

March 28, 2012 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG History, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Rebels Quartet

Longtime fans of the Southern Gospel genre may remember a quartet called The Rebels. Active in the 50s and 60s, this quartet saw several of the more well-known names of this music’s history, including Ron Booth, Sr., Jim Hamill, London Parris, and Nick Bruno. They are the quartet that is featured on one of my favorite “vintage SG” clips on Youtube:


Former Statesmen/Palmetto State Quartet baritone Rick Fair even started his career with the group. Now, he’s helping to bring the name back. The lineup for the “revived Rebels” is tenor Mike Young, lead Alan Kendall, baritone David Fair, bass Rick Fair, and pianist Barry Patrick.


If this group has a sound that’s familiar to you, the reason may be that everyone except the lead singer was most recently heard together in the Southern Sound Quartet with Ben Harris. With the addition of Alan Kendall, who has a very “classic Southern Gospel lead” quality to his voice, this group has the potential to go far with their music. I appreciate the fact that a former vocalist for the group has brought back the Rebels name with the blessing of former members and a quality lineup that will match what fans of the original quartet might expect.

The group is traveling on a limited schedule, but I hope to catch them in my area some time soon, if not at NQC. You can find out more about them at their website.

Ernie Phillips With The Kingsmen…. 2012?

January 29, 2012 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG History, SG Music, The Kingsmen, Youtube

Ever wonder how some of the legends of yesterday that are no longer “in the spotlight” sound today on a more modern song? Here’s one of those legends: Ernie Phillips. One of the more famous tenors to come along in the history of the Kingsmen, and Southern Gospel in general (remember his big ending on “Love Lifted Me” on Live… Naturally?), and the father of Mark Trammell Quartet tenor Eric Phillips. Since the departure of Harold Reed for the LeFevre Quartet, Phillips has been filling in for The Kingsmen. Here he is taking one of Reed’s signature songs while with the group, “God Saw A Cross.”

If this doesn’t make the case for why The Kingsmen should try their hardest to get Phillips out there with them full-time, I don’t know what does. (Well, this and the fact that, from what I hear, he can still do those sky-high endings!)

Update: Daniel Mount informed me this morning that there had been more videos from this concert uploaded since this post went up. I’ll post a few more, some of which also highlight new lead singer Bob Sellers. Even if Ernie Phillips doesn’t turn out to be the man for the job, this is still an interesting look at one of the legends still toting the mail!







The Melody Boys Ending The Song

January 24, 2012 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG History, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Melody Boys

I came across this surprising news article on the Singing News website this morning: the Melody Boys Quartet is retiring at the end of this year. The press release from the group:

The Melody Boys Quartet (TMBQ), one of America’s longest operating male quartets in gospel music, makes their official retirement announcement, effective New Year’s Eve, 2012.

Says Gerald Williams, who began his position as bass singer for TMBQ in 1949 at the age of 16, “We know there is a time and a season for all things. This is the right time. 63 years is a good season.”

TMBQ’s heritage goes all the way back to the late 1930’s when they performed three live radio programs daily as well as a healthy concert schedule. They were gospel music pioneers when they were the first gospel music group in Arkansas to move into the, then young, television market. They were among the groups that performed at the first National Quartet convention in 1957. At the death of owner, manager and bass vocalist, Herschel Foshee in 1949, pianist and song writer, ‘Smilin’ Joe Roper reorganized the group as The Melody Boys Quartet and introduced a new. young bass singer to the nation. Gerald Williams a Southern Gospel Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole’ Gospel Living Legend now his 63rd year as a professional vocalist.

Generation after generation of fans that love quartet music have labeled TMBQ’s sound as a touch of the past and a taste of the future. Quality sound and ministry integrity, tastefully mixed with family entertainment, is TMBQ’s trademark.

Beginning in March, TMBQ will embark on their ‘Exit 63’ Tour, which will run through the end of 2012. Mike Franklin, first tenor with TMBQ for over 19 years says, “We are still booking dates for this, our final year. If you’ve ever considered having The Melody Boys Quartet at your gospel sing or your church, NOW is the time to schedule.”

While it is saddening to see a long-time name end its run, I’m glad that Mr. Williams decided to do so before the TMBQ name became a caricature of its former self. I would like to see the group get some kind of nod at NQC this year, but since they haven’t been on main stage in a couple years, I’m not counting on it. I am interested to see what the other members of the group will do after the group shuts its doors; Gerald has surrounded himself with very capable vocalists that could either start another group together or be picked up by other groups separately, whatever the case may be.

Join me in saluting Gerald Williams and The Melody Boys Quartet for 63 years of great gospel music!

Afterthought: I got to thinking about it after I posted this, and somebody should really organize a Melody Boys Quartet reunion concert, possibly as a grand finale, and definitely taped. I’d personally love to see all the different lineups (that could be there) together again one last time, particularly that of Mike Franklin, Jonathan Sawrie, Jeremy Raines, and Gerald Williams. What say ye?

Online Concerts: Flash In The Pan, or Starting A Trend?

December 17, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Booth Brothers, Concert Reviews, SG Artists, SG History, SG Music

Last week, I won a ticket to a Booth Brothers concert in a giveaway on SouthernGospelBlog.com. Big deal, you might say. Here’s the catch: the concert was not in a church, a concert hall, or even outdoors. No, the concert was held in the living/dining room area of a recording studio (I believe it was Homeland), and the audience consisted of myself and many others across the United States, and even in foreign countries, if I remember correctly. This wonder was accomplished with a relatively new technology that has found its way to our genre of music. Thanks to the American Society of Gospel Music (ASGM), that concert was one of the first to be held in a new venue: online.

To be clear, musical events being broadcast online is surely not a new event. National Quartet Convention has had a live stream on the web for several years, and the Singing News Fan Awards are also available to watch online, as well as other events throughout the year.  What separates these events from what the Booth Brothers did last night is the fact that these events have a live audience and just happen to be available for online viewing. The Booth Brothers sang to zero live audience; the concertgoers were all watching from computers. The dynamic of audience participation was absent, and there was no applause. In a live concert setting, they also don’t have to deal with the concert completely going out (at least, I’d hope not!). I was impressed with the class with which the Booth Brothers handled all the technical difficulties, giving the full music and Q&A section as promised.

The question here is whether or not this will become a more regular thing. This concept of using technology usually reserved for “webinars” to hold an online concert is certainly an interesting one, and the ASGM, by all indications, is planning on conducting more. Before the BB concert, there was a full schedule being displayed of other groups doing online concerts in the coming months.

I would say that this will catch on, but only if they can work to bring the technical issues down to a minimum (which is certainly not their fault; technology can be fickle). There are enough SG fans with an Internet connection these days that the idea of paying for a ticket to watch your favorite group do a concert for you online would be appealing, especially if they don’t come to your area very much. However, if half the concert experience is spent waiting for the thing to come back online, the advent of concerts on the Internet will go on a fast decline.

Pondering On Gaither Homecoming

November 29, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Gaither, SG Artists, SG History, SG Industry News, SG Music

Author’s Note: Yes, folks, I’m still here! As usual when there’s long periods of bloggerly silence on here, that “real world” stuff just got in the way! To be honest, I had hoped to get something up while on break from college last week, but in the midst of moving to a new house and having the Internet inaccessible until the latter part of the week, that didn’t happen. I hope to get back into the routine of commentary and project reviews soon.

While perusing Youtube yesterday for something totally unrelated to Southern Gospel, I happened to notice a new post from the official Gaither channel in my subscription feed. The description started with, “Look what Bill Gaither found in his Homecoming video vault!” That’s all it took to pique my interest; I had thought it would be a short clip of a special moment from older tapings that was previously unreleased, but as it turns out, it’s a full-fledged trailer for an upcoming video:

I can honestly say that I have not had this level of excitement for a Gaither Homecoming video in quite a while, and from observing the chatter around the SG corners of the web, many others are sharing this fresh anticipation. It got me to thinking; why is that? Why has there been a relative lack of excitement for recent Homecoming releases? The entire Homecoming franchise is certainly successful, and the concert tour is arguably the highest quality SG concert experience out there. The quality of recent videos is far from bad, as well.

Perhaps it’s because the original Homecoming releases featured the legends mixing with the “up-and-comings,” and now that most of the legends are no longer with us, the videos have become an “NQC lite” of sorts, gathering a lineup of artists not unlike what you would see on main stage. Count me in the number that got chills when Howard and Vestal came up in that trailer singing “I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ For My Journey Now,” and was thrilled to hear Jake Hess sing again (I’d forgotten just how…. GOOD he was!).

My prediction is that sales for this video will surpass the recent ones, and that’s because they have that “spark” that made the franchise as big as it is today. Gaither will start to find more and more of these treasures from the vault and release them. I believe I read somewhere that they have hours of material that was never released from the tapings, so it is possible. In the meantime, I think I know a good use for an extra $15-$20 I may have laying around come January 24.

The Blackwood Quartet and The Toney Brothers Merge

October 04, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Quartet, SG Artists, SG History, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Toney Brothers

When a change hit the Toney Brothers earlier this year that left bass singer and group owner Terry Toney as the sole full-time member, many wondered what the future held for the long-standing quartet. Over the past couple of months, I’ve observed some movements taking place in that regard, but tonight, an official statement was released from Mark Blackwood and Terry Toney about the situation:

Blackwood Quartet and Toney Brothers have joined forces!

The history of the Blackwood family and the Toney family goes all the way back to the 1940’s, when Alden Toney joined the Blackwood Brothers to sing tenor when the group was based in Shenandoah, IA. He stayed as tenor through the move to Memphis, TN in 1951 and together they introduced great songs such as, “Lead me to that rock”.

Some 30 years ago, Mark Blackwood and Terry Toney became friends and for many years have had a close working relationship. They have filled in for each other’s group in times of need, helped each other in scheduling, and have lended moral support to each other. Mark and Terry have often discussed the possibility of merging these two groups. The timing just was not right, until recently.

Effective immediately, the Toney Brothers and the Blackwood Quartet have merged. Mark Blackwood and Terry Toney will now bring their collective talents together as the Blackwood Quartet. Terry Toney says “Mark is a good businessman, strong vocalist, and great stage manager. I am really excited to join forces with him.” Mark says “Terry brings not only his strong bass voice, but 39 years of experience to the stage. Terry has a winning personality and provides great comic relief”.

A new project is underway. Be sure to check the group’s schedule so you can come see them soon.

As expected, the group is filling both dates that the Blackwood Quartet had already scheduled and dates from the Toney Brothers’ calendar. The current lineup is: tenor Derrick Boyd, lead/baritone Mark Blackwood, baritone Roger Robinson, and bass Terry Toney. This sounds like a strong enough group that I am looking forward to hearing the new project.

I wonder if Toney will bring over some songs from his group’s repertoire to sing. I, for one, would like to hear this quartet cover “Just As He Is,” a song recorded by the Toney Brothers that was never released on a project but is a strong enough song that it would provide good radio presence to the group if they singled it. You can still hear it at the Toney Brothers webpage, and interestingly enough, it features Blackwood Quartet members Derrick Boyd and Terry Toney, giving a preview of sorts for the new Blackwood Quartet sound.

Charles Burke, 1936-2011

September 23, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Charles Burke, SG Artists, SG History, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Singing Americans

Came across this article on the Singing News website:

Singing News has learned that Charles Burke has passed away today (Friday, Sept. 23) at around 7 a.m. at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Early indications suggest that Mr. Burke suffered a brain aneurysm late last night at his home near Maiden, North Carolina. He had just celebrated his 75th birthday Sunday, Sept. 18.

Mr. Burke is generally regarded as a “behind-the-scenes” guiding force of Southern Gospel music. Among his numerous contributions to music in bringing life harmony are his distinguished service as a Board Member of the Southern Gospel Music Association and the Southern Gospel Music Hall Of Fame. An entrepreneur with several diversified businesses to his credit, including partial ownership of the National Quartet Convention, Mr. Burke was a driving force behind the outstanding quartet, The Singing Americans, and, with his son Michael, owned Tape Corporation Of America.

A tremendous discoverer and encourager of new musical talent, Mr. Burke was instrumental in the careers of such persons as Clayton Inman and David Sutton of The Triumphant Quartet, Ivan Parker, Danny Funderburk, as well as such groups as The Whisnants, The Reggie Saddler Family and The Dove Brothers.

In a conversation this morning with Michael Burke, Michael says that the family appreciates all the prayers during this time. He further states that funeral arrangements are pending, but will be shared as soon as they are finalized.

Mr. Burke made an indelible mark on Southern Gospel music; one that is, sadly, often overlooked. I suppose that is part of being “behind the scenes,” but the list mentioned in the press release is only a part of his many accomplishments and influences on this music.

I couldn’t find the original version of the song from when Michael English was singing lead, but here is a song from the Singing Americans featuring Clayton Inman that is a fitting tribute for Mr. Burke. Listen to the words that he heard early this morning: “Welcome to Heaven, my child.”


Bring ‘Em Back: “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Reach For The Sky”

September 05, 2011 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG History, SG Music

I’m the type that likes to have music playing while I’m working on something, like homework or a blog post, for example. Recently, I had my iTunes library on shuffle, and two songs came up that I had heard several times before, but this time around, they really grabbed my attention. The first one is the third track on the Singing Americans’ highly popular Black and White project. It’s a ballad that starts out soft with the whole group harmonizing, with Rick Strickland’s tenor coming out front a little on the first chorus. Michael English takes the second verse, and it really kicks off. Strickland turns on the after-burners and seems to sing in the stratosphere after the key change on the final chorus.

Here’s a clip of the second verse and chorus:

They Can’t Take That Away From Me

For a group that could bring this one back, I nominate Gold City. I think Dan Keeton has the power and range to handle the demanding tenor part, and giving the English solo to Craig West is a no-brainer. Plus, having Tim Riley play around with the bass part on it would be worth hearing! Other possible groups: Triumphant Quartet, The Old Paths, The Inspirations. (an Inspirations arrangement would be VERY interesting.)

The other song that got me was “Reach For The Sky.” The opening track for Palmetto State Quartet’s Thank God For A Song project, it was one of the strongest songs, and let PSQ fans know that Burman Porter’s succession to Aaron McCune’s spot was a great fit. The whole song features Porter with some of the lowest bass singing I believe I have ever heard him do. He was a solid bass with the Dove Brothers, but something about his sound with Palmetto State was a lot more robust and had more depth, and this song is a perfect example. Check out the first two choruses and a verse:

Reach For The Sky

The obvious choice for this one? The Dove Brothers. With the recent rehiring of Porter to the group, they would be the group that would bring this song back best. I’m sure that they’d have a killer arrangement, especially with the live band. Other possible groups: Gold City, Kingdom Heirs.

Feel free to share other groups you think could bring these back!

Gold City with Chris West

January 17, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Gold City, SG Artists, SG History, SG Music

When I went to Youtube this morning to search for something, I got a pleasant surprise in my subscription bar; a video entitled “GOLD CITY’S NEW BASS SINGER 1-16-2011” (caps not mine.)

I had heard rumors that Chris West, former Mercy’s Mark bass singer and current sound man for Gold City, was being called up to sing several songs every night with the group, but this video was the first true evidence I had seen of it. It starts off with Tim Riley (who sounds like he’s channeling JD Sumner in this clip!) talking about Chris and their friendship, and then bringing him on stage as “After A While” begins playing. He then steps off to one of the wings and West proceeds to nail the song with a bass voice that has all the depth and power to it that Riley has now.

This video, I think, is solid proof that Riley is prepping West to take his place after his eventual second retirement. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on this blog or not, but I have a feeling that is the most prudent method. With Bill Lawrence, and even Aaron McCune, it was almost a case of Tim up and retired, hired another bass singer, and rode off into the sunset. The problem with that is this: fans of Gold City immediately think of Riley and his singing when Gold City is mentioned. All of a sudden, they’re left with a new bass to get used to. That didn’t go over too well, and neither Lawrence nor McCune, unfortunately, were ever really accepted as “Gold City’s bass” by many of its fans.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that none of that was meant as an offense to either of those singers. They are both fine basses and I enjoyed both of them with Gold City, but I just observed over those time periods what the general response was from the fan base.

The beauty of this method of transition is this: it is already known that Tim is coming off the road again eventually. Bringing Chris up on stage every night and introducing him saying that he has been working with him gives fans a concrete image of Tim giving this young man the thumbs-up as his replacement, which is something that did not happen with the other two. If fans can physically see the passing of the torch, they will more readily accept him. It also helps that West sounds like a young Riley, anyway.

And so, dear readers, here’s a preview of the next generation of Gold City: