Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.
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First Look: Michael Helwig with The Blackwood Brothers

October 10, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, First Look, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, Youtube

In the course of the week, Youtube user MannaAcres posted several videos of the new lineup of the Blackwood Brothers in concert. These are the first videos of the group since Jimmy Blackwood’s recent retirement. You can go to the link above to see the rest of the videos, but I’ll just post a few that highlight what Helwig brings to the table:

What strikes me about these clips is how seamlessly the transition has been pulled off. Michael stepped into a huge void left by Jimmy Blackwood, but has brought a voice that is very similar to a Blackwood lead, while being unique enough to carve his own niche. Fans of the group that lamented the Blackwood Brothers sound being completely changed will find a lot to enjoy with this lineup.

The Blackwood Brothers Announce Changes

September 28, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

This group may not have been at NQC, but here’s a lineup change that may herald the start of the “NQC Turnover” season. The Blackwood Brothers made this announcement early this morning on their Facebook page:

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet announced the retirement of lead singer, Jimmy Blackwood tonight at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center. New singer is Mike Helwig. He has a great voice and will be a great asset to the quartet.

Jimmy Blackwood has a long history in Southern Gospel music, starting with JD Sumner and the Stamps in the 1960s, as well as with his father James Blackwood’s group, the Blackwood Brothers, in the 70s and 80s. When I saw the group in concert a few weeks ago, I was struck with the energy and power with which he sang. While seeing an announcement about his retirement is somewhat of a shock, I wish him all the best, and am glad to know that the group will be carrying on under the leadership of his brother (and group baritone singer), Billy Blackwood.

That leads us to the new addition: Mike Helwig. Fans of Southern Gospel music will recognize him as the recent tenor of The Dixie Echoes, but his résumé also includes The Torchmen, The Stamps, The Wilburns, The Williamsons, The Blackwood Quartet, and, most recently, Promise. Helwig is leaving the tenor position with Promise to take the lead singing job for this quartet, and the group has picked a vocalist that fits their style and direction very well.

But why take my word for it? Hear for yourself! Here are two videos of the same song: “Jesus Is Coming Soon.” The first features Jimmy Blackwood with the current lineup of the Blackwood Brothers, and the second features incoming lead Mike Helwig during his time with the Blackwood Quartet (especially on the encore).

Youtube Spotlight: The Anchormen

August 20, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Concert Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music, The Anchormen, Youtube

I had the opportunity to drive only a little way from my house to a concert last Saturday night in my home area of Lynchburg, VA. The Warren Smoot Benefit Concert is held every year by the Central Virginia Angel Hearts organization, and the proceeds benefit some in need in the area. This was the event’s twelfth year, and the lineup was headlined by The Anchormen and Aaron Wilburn. While I didn’t video any of Wilburn’s set (which is just as well; my laughter would have ruined any audio on the video!), I did manage to get most of what The Anchormen sang.

This was an especially interesting night to see the group, as it was only their second concert since Paul Harkey’s departure for the LeFevre Quartet. As has been reported on various sites, Randy Byrd, formerly of the Blackwood Brothers, is the group’s new bass singer. The group has also seen the departure of lead singer Dale Forbes to go back into the pastorate, so this concert was also the second one featuring Anchormen alumnus Corey Wilson filling in on the lead part. Check out the videos of the night:

Hearing this one makes me wish that Corey wasn’t just back for a fill-in!

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:

Blackwood Brothers Hire Butch Owens

May 31, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Jimmy Blackwood and the Blackwood Brothers made the announcement of their new bass singer following weeks of fill-ins and auditions. Butch Owens is stepping into the bass position following the departure of Randy Byrd. He has already been in the studio working on the quartet’s next Daywind release. Owens is no stranger to Southern Gospel music, having sung with groups such as The Stamps Quartet, The Anchormen, The Florida Boys, The Blackwood Quartet, and, most recently, a second stint with The Songfellows Quartet. His son is Ian Owens, bass singer for Ernie Haase & Signature Sound.

Here are a couple clips of Butch singing with The Blackwood Quartet (Mark Blackwood’s group) a while back: