Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.
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Mark Lowry, Michael English Leaving The Gaither Vocal Band

October 28, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Gaither Vocal Band, Michael English, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Talk started late last week that there may be changes for the GVB when it was noted that Mark Lowry was not listed on the roster for concerts in Spring 2014. This morning, Lowry posted a video announcing that he is departing the group, citing the reason as being a desire to slow down and focus on solo dates more. He says a press release will be sent out today and that he will remain with the group through the rest of this year, and will still appear at events like Family Fest.

Later update: I have updated the title of the post to reflect the news that just hit. Apparently, Mark is not the only one leaving the GVB. A press release has been posted on the Gaither website saying that Michael English is also leaving, effective immediately:

Nearly five years ago, when Bill Gaither created an all-star version of the Gaither Vocal Band, the returning GVB members were managing solo careers and added the Gaither Vocal Band’s tour dates, video tapings and recordings to their existing schedules.  Now, after trying to manage both solo careers and Gaither Vocal Band responsibilities, Mark Lowry and Michael English are ready for a new season of life that is not so demanding.

“When I rejoined the Gaither Vocal Band in 2009, I figured it wouldn’t be a long-term commitment since Bill was over 70 years old,” Mark says, adding, “That was nearly five years ago and Bill’s bucket list is wearing me out!  But the Vocal Band is a family.  We come and we go, but we never REALLY leave.  I could pop up anywhere at any time!”

Mark Lowry will fulfill his Gaither Vocal Band concert commitments through the end of 2013. Michael English has already concluded his last regular Gaither Vocal Band concert as the lead singer, but we look forward to having him join us for Gaither Fest in Myrtle Beach and other future events. We have confirmed Mark Lowry for the 2014 Caribbean Cruise and Family Fest 2014.  Besides those two events, if you want to hear the Gaither Vocal Band with Mark Lowry singing baritone, the concerts remaining in 2013 will be your last opportunity! Check www.gaither.com for upcoming tour dates and ticket information.  Check Michael’s website,www.michaelenglishmusic.com, for solo concerts in a city near you.  And check for Mark Lowry’s solo dates at www.marklowry.com.

Bill Gaither states, “I am grateful that we have had five bonus years with these incredibly talented artists. Thank you, thank you to Michael and Mark.  For those of you who have followed the Vocal Band for the past 25 years, you know that I have worked with some of the most talented male vocalists in our field, and I promise you we are not going to let that standard down in this transition. I am sad to see Michael and Mark leaving, yet I am so excited about the new possibilities we are considering.  So stay tuned for an exciting voyage in 2014!  We will update you when we have made final decisions.”

At this point, the future personnel of the GVB is anyone’s guess. While this chapter of the group’s history is drawing to a close, the “all-star five-man group” was an awesome period that I’m glad to have witnessed.

Update: Here’s a statement from Michael English:

Want everyone to know I appreciate all your love and support over the years. The last 5 years with the GVB have been very enjoyable for me and I will miss the guys.
Like Mark this was a very difficult decision but one I feel at peace with. I will be enjoying more time off and able to pursue other opportunities. It will be a new day for Michael English but one I am very excited about. Hope to see many of you at solo shows in the future!

Thoughts on NQC 2010: Friday Night

September 18, 2010 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

1. Cut it out with the picture-taking already! I hate to start out my report with a grievance, but honestly, it needs to be addressed. I was sitting at about the second row back at the Gaither Sing-A-Long this afternoon, and there were several times that people came up to take pictures and just stood there for five minutes. They took maybe three pictures. Total. I would have asked them to move, but the nice gentleman across the aisle beat me to the punch.

C’mon folks! I’m not against taking pictures, but at least kneel or position yourself to where you’re not blocking the view of others trying to enjoy the show. Or, if it’s necessary to stand and take the picture, take it and go. DO NOT stand there for five minutes, take one picture, and continue standing there. LEAVE! Nobody can see past you. What makes it worse is when you do it multiple times a set. Just sit down and watch!

2. Most memorable moment goes to Ernie Haase & Signature Sound tonight. On the final chorus of “We Shall See Jesus” and an encore of “Boundless Love,” Ernie brought up Scott Fowler, Gerald Wolfe, Mark Trammell, and Danny Funderburk. This mini-Cathedrals reunion made the whole “tribute” atmosphere of Signature Sound’s set come full-circle.

3. Who is the Todd Allen Family, and why have we not heard of them sooner? Though their NQC-themed parody of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” was as cheesy as they come, the harmony was delightful. More, please!

4. I noticed something interesting today in both the Gaither afternoon event and the GVB’s set tonight. Both times, on the final song, Bill brought up Gene McDonald to sing with the Vocal Band, giving him his mic and not singing while McDonald was doing so. Could this be a glimpse into the future? We shall see; it’s conceivable that Bill could semi-retire and still travel with the Homecoming Tour, and even sing the occasional song, but hire McDonald as the new GVB bass. Oh, what could be…

Concert Review: Gaither Homecoming – Lovin’ Life Tour 2009, Charlottesville, VA

May 12, 2009 By: Aaron Category: Bill Gaither, Concert Reviews, Gaither Vocal Band, SG Artists, SG Music

I had the privilege of attending this April 26 concert. I call it a privilege simply because it was an awesome night.

The concert opened up with Bill Gaither singing “Old Friends” and interacting with the audience. He then introduced Sue Dodge, a native of Northern VA and has been featured on many of the Homecoming videos. She was followed by a three-song set by Gordon Mote consisting of “All That Noise,” “Mercy Walked In,” and “Don’t Let Me Miss The Glory.” The videos that went with Mote’s songs really added to the performances.

Ben Speer was featured on one song. It is good to see a legend like that still chugging along at such an advanced age. Janet Paschal did a two-song set to follow.

Ernie Haase & Signature Sound charged the crowd up with their energetic song list. They brought David Griffith with them to play bass guitar, giving them a complete live band with Kevin Williams on guitar, Grit on bass, Greg Ritchie on drums, and Wayne Haun at piano. The crowd ate it up, warranting several completely live encores of “Get Away Jordan,” in one particular instance. Judging by the response, it is a pretty safe bet that EH&SS will carry out what they mentioned a while ago about adding a live band to their solo concerts. (Side note: Since the time of this writing, they’ve announced that they are adding a three-piece band for their 2009 Summer Tour, at least.)

Another thing I have noticed with EH&SS lately (and this concert further confirmed it) is that their stage presence has definitely matured over time. It’s not all about the choreography and dancing around anymore; rather, that’s become a small part of their set, and they are now more of a throwback to the old quartets. Most of their set was done around two mics, even throwing in an impressively tight-harmony a capella rendition of “Wonderful Grace Of Jesus.” Sure, the energy is very much still there, but they’re giving the naysayers a whole lot less to complain about.

Lynda Randle followed up with two songs, the latter in tribute to a couple that happened to be in the arena that helped her into a Christian school. Bill Gaither encored it a couple times, and then the lights went completely out. If you’ve read recent concert reviews and kept an eye on Youtube, you can guess what happened next; the new GVB started into “Alpha & Omega,” with the lights progressing up as the song went on.

I came to the concert not knowing what to expect from the new GVB. I’d heard they were incredible, and I’d seen the Youtube clips, but unless you hear something like that for yourself, it’s all talk.

All those who are unsure about the new lineup, go catch a concert soon. I have heard every lineup the GVB has ever had, and I can honestly say that this one is the best. The blend is superb, and each singer is impressive in his own right. David Phelps and Wes Hampton alternating on tenor makes for a great high range. Michael English is sounding more and more like his old self again, and is clearly having the time of his life. Mark Lowry has matured in both voice and stage presence. Sure, he’s still the clown, but his serious side has developed a whole lot since he went off on his own. Even Bill, at the ripe old age of 73, is still sounding good. I was particularly impressed at his bass slide on the end of “He Touched Me.” Tim Duncan was nowhere to be seen, so I was surprised that something that low could come out of Bill Gaither.

The second half was a typical Homecoming gathering, with different singers singing old songs. The concert closed with a powerful version of “Because He Lives,” followed by “Holy Highway.” All in all, it was a fantastic night, and one that showed a bright future for the GVB. I am eagerly awaiting the two projects that they are currently at work on.

My friend Jeremy Bell over at VA Southern Gospel was in attendance and took many pictures, which can be viewed here, here, and here.

Update On Guy Penrod’s Hiatus

October 11, 2008 By: Aaron Category: Bill Gaither, Gaither Vocal Band, Gene McDonald, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Reports from attenders of a recent GVB concert suggest that Penrod’s sabbatical will be three months instead of three weeks. They’re saying that Bill Gaither distinctly said “three months” when mentioning Guy’s break, and I don’t think it was a slip up; it makes sense, three months would be a much more effective rest period than only three weeks.

As you probably expect, the rumors have flown all around the Web. Averyfineline.com has a nice little thread going about it, with different theories popping up. The most prominent of these is this: What if this hiatus becomes permanent?

One guy at Averyfineline suggested Scott Allen, saying that he sounds much like a young Michael English. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Scott had been filling in on the lead singer slot with The Imperials ever since Shannon Smith left the group, and he took the full-time position a couple months ago. I hope that lasts for a long time, but I do agree that he would be a great fit should Guy ever leave the GVB.

I will say that if Bill decides to retire, he should snag Gene McDonald to take his place. The man’s range would fit great with the GVB’s arrangements; not only could he sing the “high bass” stuff, but he could also add some powerful, deep bass in it as well. All without the aid from the sound system that everyone likes to accuse Bill of (and apparently, they accuse truthfully).

I guess my “dream lineup” of the GVB would be this:

Tenor: David Phelps – nobody can touch this guy. Period. And with rumblings of him being dropped by Word Records after seven albums, it could happen. Just switch Wes Hampton to lead.

Lead: Guy Penrod, Mike English, or Scott Allen – Guy and Mike are (or have been) absolutely steller vocalists, Scott has already been mentioned.

Baritone: Mark Lowry or Marshall Hall – Both great baritones and vocalists in their own right.

Bass: Gene McDonald – see above.