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

Archive for the ‘The Dixie Echoes’

The Dixie Echoes Hire The Utech Brothers

July 31, 2013 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

At long last, the lineup is finalized for the Dixie Echoes after the departures of tenor Craig Thomas and bass Jordan James. Earlier this8m5e_bioimgmainalexandrew year, the group hired George Shelton, Jr. as tenor, but they have taken their time in hiring a new bass. Now, they have gotten a bass singer, along with a new musician and driver!

The Dixie Echoes are proud to announce the addition of Alex Utech, from Scottsboro, Al, as the bass singer for the quartet. In addition, Alex’ twin brother, Andrew, will also be a part of the group as a musician and driver. These young men are 20 years old, and are extremely talented. They have been singing sing the age of 8, and used to travel and sing with their grandfather, and were quite popular at the Grand Ol’ Gospel Reunion. Be sure to come and meet Alex and Andrew at a concert soon!

Alex Utech was a name I knew I’d heard before, so I took to Youtube for answers. As it turns out, he has filled in for Mike Holcomb with The Inspirations a few times. Here he is around 18:

And here he is again about three months ago:

The Dixie Echoes’ bass singer hires lately have been guys in their early twenties with loads of potential. I am excited to hear Alex as he settles in with the group, as well as hearing his brother add to the sound as a musician.

New Tenor For The Dixie Echoes

March 20, 2013 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

Since the departure of Craig Thomas and Jordan James a couple of weeks ago, the Dixie Echoes have been seeking a new tenor and bass singer. Part one of their search is complete, as evidenced by this announcement posted last night on the group’s Facebook page:

The Dixie Echoes are pleased to announce the hiring of George Shelton, Jr. as our new tenor singer. George is one of the greatest tenor singers, and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. We are so proud to have George and his lovely wife, Gail, as part of the Dixie Echoes family!

We are still in the audition process for the bass singer position, so If you have a demo, or a Youtube clip, we would love to hear you! Email a short resume’ and demo to scoot@dixieechoes.com.

Shelton filled in with the group two separate times: last summer, when the group was searching for a tenor after Michael Helwig’s departure, and in the past couple of weeks. He was present with the group at a recent date at Lake Gibson Nazarene Church, and I commented to some friends that I thought he’d be a perfect fit if he was interested in the job, which I had thought over the summer as well.

Here are some clips from his fill-in stint this past summer:

Since the Dixie Echoes are still looking for a bass singer, Mark Cates (the fill-in bass from the first three clips above) may be worth a call.

This & That 7/7/12

July 07, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, Dixie Melody Boys, Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

Here’s a few items of interest from the past week:

1. The Dixie Melody Boys are offering a limited edition CD of Ed O’Neal’s first ever recording. A copy of the Gospel Harmony Quartet’s debut recording has been found and re-mastered, and is the first of many recordings with O’Neal’s bass vocals. This is being offered in a limited supply of one hundred CDs at the DMB website.

2. Promise has announced that their tenor search is over. Michael Helwig will be joining David Mann and TJ Evans in the trio. Helwig has been with groups like The Torchmen, The Stamps The Homesteaders (Williamsons), The Blackwood Quartet, and most recently filled the tenor position for the Dixie Echoes. I am looking forward to hearing the sound with this new vocalist.

3. Speaking of the Dixie Echoes, a number of videos have surfaced with fill-in members. It is unclear at this point if these men have gotten the job, since no announcement has been made, but here are a couple of those clips:

Those two videos feature Mark Cates on bass and Junior Shelton on tenor. Cates has been on every video uploaded, but Shelton was only at this particular date as far as videos are concerned. This was also one of Stewart Varnado’s last concerts with the group. A video entitled “Dixie Echoes’ new pianist” has popped up, featuring a guy named Ben Hart:

4. Finally, here’s a clip of the Blackwood Brothers featuring new bass singer Butch Owens:

Dixie Echoes Group Shakeup

June 05, 2012 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

The Dixie Echoes announced a while ago that longtime pianist Stewart Varnado is leaving the group. Two separate announcements made on Facebook today bring further change to the lineup of the quartet. Tenor Michael Helwig posted this status this morning (Facebook login required):

I would like to announce that my tenure with the dixie echoes has come to an end. I would like to thank Stewart Varnado for the leadership he showed in the group and the element of professionalism he brought to the stage and to the business end of things.

A short while later, bass singer Mike Jennings posted this status (Facebook login required):

I would like to let everyone know that my time with the Dixie Echoes has come to an end. The Lord is blessing our family with another little one and I’ll be heading home to take care of them. I have met many wonderful people across the country this year, fans and fellow singers alike. I hope to see many of you again. I would like to thank my family for their love, support and selflessness this past year. Please keep our family in your prayers as we make this transition. God Bless.

To refresh our collective memories, it was roughly a year ago that the Dixie Echoes were looking for a bass singer and tenor at the same time, and that’s when Jennings and Helwig were hired. Now, both have departed, on top of the group still looking to fill the piano position. You hate to see such a shakeup all happen at once, at it often leads to a lot of extra speculation by fans of the group. Added to that is the fact that the age of social media often finds news being told before a press release is given by the group itself. It will be interesting to watch what may end up being the biggest “reconstruction” of the Dixie Echoes to come along in years.

Michael Helwig’s future plans will be announced shortly, and congratulations to Mike Jennings and his wife on their expected baby!

Update: For what it’s worth, Stewart Varnado left this comment at SouthernGospelBlog.com:

I’m not starting a group with anyone. I am simply coming off the road. Been very busy this week selling tickets for the Memphis Quartet Show. I look forward to time at home. I do wish Randy & Scoot the best. I had no idea when I turned in my notice that they would be losing more members. However, I will still be with the group thru June 16, at the Suwannee River Jubilee.

I am still in business with Scoot on the Gospel Jubilee Cruise. All is well between me and the Shelnut’s. I don’t want any speculation there. I’ve grew up with them and they are like family to me. They know that if they ever need a fill-in in a pinch, I’ll hop on the bus anytime.

Further update: There has been speculation around the various SG sites as to whether the Dixie Echoes will continue since they are tasked with filling so many vacant positions, and even if they will remain a male quartet. Their Facebook status clears up those questions:

The Dixie Echoes are now accepting auditions for the bass and tenor positions with the group. If you would like to try out, please send a demo and short resume to scoot@dixieechoes.com.

Please pray for the group during this time of transition. Dad and I will continue to give our fans the great quality quartet music they’re used to. In 52 years of ministry, God has never failed us, and I KNOW He never will!

Stewart Varnado Leaves The Dixie Echoes

May 07, 2012 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

Any time that there is a lull in the stream of news in Southern Gospel music, you can be sure that it is the calm before the storm. We’re already waiting on the announcement of a new Kingsmen tenor (more on that later, but it’s gonna be good!), but another lineup change has hit and is making shockwaves. In a Facebook post yesterday, Dixie Echoes pianist Stewart Varnado made this announcement:

I’d like to thank the Dixie Echoes for allowing me the opportunity to live out my dream for the past 14 years. I joined the group when I was 17 years old. Randy and Scoot Shelnut have became like family to me, and it’s been a blast traveling with some great guys through the years. I realize that when people put out statements saying they want to spend more time at home, it seems to be a cover for unhappiness within the group. That is not the case here. I simply have the desire to come off the road for a while. I wish nothing but the best for the Dixie Echoes, and pray that one day, if it’s God’s will, I can return to Gospel music.

I have no future plans at the moment and will be filling in for the group until a replacement has been found. Thanks also to the many friends that I have made while traveling! It has been an honor to get to meet so many fine people. I will still be active behind the scenes promoting the music that I love. Anyone interested in auditioning should contact Randy Jr. at scoot@dixieechoes.com

In a later update, Stewart also confirmed that he will still be involved with promoting events like the Memphis Quartet Show and the Gospel Jubilee Cruise.

Remaining for fourteen years with one group is no small feat, and I appreciate Varnado’s longevity and commitment, qualities that are arguably a rare find in the revolving door of SG group changes. While I’m certainly shocked by this announcement and am sad to see him go, I’m sure that he’s probably ready to rest after being on the road for so long! Perhaps we’ll see him back playing again in a few years.

As far as a replacement… the return of Andrew Ishee, anyone?

First Look: Dixie Echoes 2011

August 14, 2011 By: Aaron Category: First Look, SG Artists, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes, Youtube

Stewart Varnado just posted this clip of the new lineup of the Dixie Echoes, featuring new additions Michael Helwig on tenor and Mike Jennings singing bass. This standard for tenor singers features Helwig, although Jennings can be heard on the chorus. This clip is a great show of the potential that this new combination of singers has. It is worth noting that this is their first full concert together, and the first time that they have sung this song.

Update: Another video has just been posted from the same concert, this one featuring Mike Jennings. He is singing a song I don’t believe the group has staged since Pat Barker’s time with them: “How Big Is God.” This both gives a better insight to Jennings’ voice, and gives Helwig some of Wesley Smith’s higher notes to hit. Check it out:

Dixie Echoes Hire New Vocalists

August 10, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Quartet, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

Last week, the news broke that the Dixie Echoes had filled the vacancy left by departing bass singer Trent Adams with a relative newcomer: Mike Jennings. See Daniel Mount’s post about the hire, which includes videos highlighting his sound, here.

Today, the announcement was made about a new tenor for the group following Wesley Smith’s move to the Palmetto State Quartet. In a surprising move, the group has hired a lead/baritone singer: Michael Helwig. You may remember him from groups such as The Wilburns, The Stamps, and The Williamsons (formerly The Homesteaders.) In all of those groups, he sang lead or baritone. Most recently, Helwig was the lead singer for the Blackwood Quartet. I was at the concert where he debuted with the group, though interestingly enough, he was the quartet’s new tenor, coming in after Dale Evans left. He did a fantastic job, but moved down to lead when David Mann went to Statement of Faith. Here are some videos of Helwig with the Blackwood Quartet:




Daniel Mount has linked to another video in his post about the move which highlights Michael’s tenor singing. Needless to say, Helwig has quite a range. I have been impressed with his vocal ability for quite a while and will be looking forward to hearing him as a Dixie Echo. I agree with Daniel: look for this lineup of the Dixie Echoes to generate buzz soon.

Dixie Echoes Seeking Tenor & Bass

July 07, 2011 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that Dixie Echoes bass singer Trent Adams had turned in his notice, and the group was taking auditions for a new bass. Now, the group is seeking to fill the tenor position after Wesley Smith has left the group. To quell any rumors before they start, here is the announcement from the group’s Facebook page last night:

“The Dixie Echoes are now seeking a Tenor & Bass 🙂 Just to answer any questions, nothing is going on here. Nobody has been fired, nobody is on bad terms, just unfortunately Wesley has turned in his notice, leaving us with two open positions. Interested singers can email demos to stewart@dixieechoes.com. We appreciate your prayers through this transition.”

Update: Right after I hit the publish button, I noticed that Daniel Mount had posted an update to his post about this, in which Stewart Varnado commented on the current plans of the group. To sum it up, the group is traveling as a trio this weekend, and former Dixie Echoes tenors will be filling in until a new tenor is found. There should be a bass announced within the month. Wesley Smith has joined a group much closer to his home, and an announcement is forthcoming.

Dixie Echoes Hire New Bass Singer

February 01, 2010 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

The Dixie Echoes have a bass singer once again, and they’ve hired nineteen year old Trent Adams. (h/t, Daniel Mount) Here’s the press release from the Singing News:

Pensacola, FL – The Dixie Echoes are pleased to announce their new bass vocalist, Trent Adams. Trent, 19, hails from Ashland, Alabama. His first concert will be on February 11, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We believe that Trent is one of the best young bass singers and we are excited that he has accepted the offer to become part of the Dixie Echoes. Trent is an exceptional young bass singer, and we feel that our fans will love his smooth bass voice and friendly personality.
Since the announcement of the departure of Pat Barker, we have been overwhelmed with the response we have received. While we auditioned several fantastic bass singers for the position, we truly feel the addition of Trent to the Dixie Echoes is the right choice. We would like to thank everyone for their interest.
Joining the Dixie Echoes family along with Trent will be his wife, Jessica, and their daughter, Anzlee. Please join us in welcoming this young family. We are excited to see what the Lord has in store for the Dixie Echoes in our 50th year of ministry. Please remember to keep us in your prayers.

Adams is one of the best up-and-coming basses in the business, and the Dixie Echoes have made an excellent hire here. He has a good amount of experience as well, singing stints with groups such as Hope’s Journey, The Old Paths, and Ron Blackwood & The Blackwood Quartet. Looking forward to hearing his sound with the Dixie Echoes.

This & That

January 16, 2010 By: Aaron Category: Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, Mark Trammell Quartet, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes, The Toney Brothers

Here are a couple of news items from the week:

1. Devin McGlamery’s first concert with Ernie Haase & Signature Sound was last night, and here’s the first video clip from the night. The song is “Climbing Higher & Higher.”

2. In case you’ve been under a rock, the Dixie Echoes are seeking a new bass singer after Pat Barker’s departure to join the Mark Trammell Quartet. Here is the official press release from the Dixie Echoes at the Singing News:

Pensacola, FL – This year marks a milestone in the Dixie Echoes career. We are celebrating our 50th Anniversary in Gospel music. Through the years, many great quartet men have carried a suitcase on the Dixie Echoes bus. It is with a heavy heart that we announce the departure of our bass singer, Pat Barker. Pat joined the Dixie Echoes in September 2007 and has been a vital part of the groups’ sound.
Pat shares, “My years with the Dixie Echoes have been some of the greatest years I’ve known in ministry. I have met some of the most wonderful people on the Planet. No one has shown me more kindness than Randy, Scoot, Stewart, Wesley, and the Gospel Music family as a whole. I am very sad to be leaving, but excited about the new ministry opportunities that await me. My prayer is that God will bless the Dixie Echoes more this coming year than He has in all 50 years combined. I never imagined my time with the Dixie Echoes would have been so short, but I also never imagined almost 3 years ago that I would get back on the road, leave my hometown, and start a new life in Pensacola, Florida. The Lord moves in mysterious ways. I love you all. Continue to lift up the Dixie Echoes in your prayers. And please say a prayer for me and my family as we continue to follow God wherever He leads.”
“Members come and go in every group. This was an unexpected change for us, but I know Pat’s heart, and if there’s one thing that I can tell anyone about him, it is that he lives what he sings about,” shares Stewart. “We will miss Pat, his wife Kesha, son Andy, and daughter Breelyn. They have become our extended family, and I wish him the best. Mark Trammell and I have been friends for many years and I know that Pat will be working with a great guy.”
We appreciate your prayers for both the Dixie Echoes and Pat Barker. We invite serious parties to send their information to auditions@dixieechoes.com or mail to: Dixie Echoes, 481 Ronda Street, Pensacola, FL 32534.

3. This may be old news to some, but speaking of open singing positions, the Toney Brothers are currently seeking a new vocalist as well, following the departure of lead singer Joe Kitson. All serious applicants can send submissions to toneybrothersbooking@gmail.com. The position is open to either lead singers or tenors, because their current tenor, Daniel Childs, can sing either part, and it is a full-time position.