Lari Goss: The Brilliance of a Man About Music
The Gospel music circuit of Producers/Arrangers is a short, narrow list. It’s not too hard to find an Eddie Crook or Wesley Pritchard, although relatively simple-minded and adequate, much of most Producers’ work is inside a little box. And inside that that little box is an envelope. The envelope is sealed. And in that envelope, a note that reads… “Keep it old. Keep it simple. If your great-grandmother wouldn’t like it, don’t play it”. And that is fine for some. Good producers/arrangers are not always a dime a dozen. What truly compels the soul of a hearer is a so pure and majestic, awe-like case of a mortal being in love with music. A person who opened the box long ago, and proceeded to break the envelope’s seal, leaving the note untouched, but glancing back every now and then, with a strange contradiction of thrill for rebelliousness, yet respect and awareness for heritage. Many come to mind within our current southern gospel industry, that are very close or even on par in this aspect of brilliant musical arrangement that I’m trying with words to convey: Jeff Collins, Garry Jones, Roger Talley, Gerald Wolfe, Milton Smith, Stan Whitmire, Shannon Childress (RIP), Russell Mauldin, as well as several others, both historically and currently.
And there is also Lari Goss. While scaling years back to his roots with the Goss brothers, the man at this point should be more myth than legend. But the creative fusion dwelling within him seems to have almost dried out. And I do not mean that as a slight. 15-20-30 years ago, if Lari Goss was your producer/arranger, your project was about to be the stuff of legend from the man of myth. I think it’s a valid point to believe he’s still doing great, quality arranging…he’s just applying the same principles and techniques and styles that he did twenty years ago, with some minor tweakage. And it still works. But listening to his more recent session work as a pianist indicates that he’s a bit hesitant to “go all out” in his piano artistry. Age is most definitely a factor. When artists pay for Goss, they pay for quality. And quality production is what they’ll get. But what more is there left to do? Hasn’t he created or had a part in some of Gospel music’s finest work? He’s already done everything! I would argue that without Lari Goss, we would have no Wayne Haun. At least not the Haun significance we’ve come to expect and admire over the last 10-12 years. There may be as many differences as similarities, but it seems clear that Haun is both a contemporary and successor of Goss’ work. And right now, Haun is as good as it gets. What Goss has already done, twenty years from now new hot-shot producers will be trying to imitate. The groundwork has been laid.
One aspect of the southern gospel industry that has always intrigued me is the recorded “project”. This generation of Gospel music is obviously lacking in recording “projects”. It is mostly been diluted as a collection of the best 10 songs we could find or Diane Wilkinson (obviously an incredible writer) could write. That doesn’t always mean that a lack of quality songs exist, but sometimes I feel that the art-form of a recording project has been lost in the shuffle of the industry. There are many valid factors that lead to this bit of evidence, including but not limited to, a) group turnover, b) economics, c) demographics, d) “competition”, e) lack of creativity, f) purist politicking, etc. But thinking of some of the most monumental recordings since the 80’s, Goss’ work and life is in many notable ones…
1) The Cathedrals; “Symphony of Praise”
2) Singing Americans; “Live and Alive”
3) The Cathedrals; “Voices in Praise – A Capella”
4) Singing Americans; “Black & White”
5) The Cathedrals; “High & Lifted Up”
6) Greater Vision; “Take Him At His Word” (rather obscure choice, but if you don’t own it, get it. It was their first collaboration, afterall.)
I could probably bundle up everything The Cathedrals did with Lari Goss in the 80’s till their retirement and it would be qualified as notable, “Goin’ In Style”, “I’ve Just Started Living”, “Climbing Higher and Higher”, as well as The Singing Americans’, “Hearts of Praise, Songs of Majesty” (excellent orchestration and vocal arrangements, but lacked the “kick” due to the departure of Michael English), and then there is his work with the Goodmans, The Hoppers, and The Brooklyn Tabernacle (I fully admit, I don’t have every piece of Goss’ work) and other choral arrangements that will be forever be remembered.
It’s obvious that I’m missing some great and obvious choices of artists he’s worked with and projects he’s helped establish, but the first few should get the point across. Goss is a genius. While most of these selections, if not all of them would be worthy of a retro-album review, these albums could best depict Goss’ mojo and the craft that he so impeccably carved out in the Gospel Music world. These projects have already stood the test of time in one capacity or another. While teamed with The Cathedrals, he helped mold the top-tier group of our lifetime into something more. Without Goss, The Cathedrals were pure. All Class. Talented in style and skill. Masters of song selection. Tantalizing in character. Solid in integrity. And ministry led on stage. Legends then, even if there was no Lari Goss that existed in their vernacular architecture of music. Goss helped push them into southern gospel mythology, as if they wrote their own “Iliad of Gospel Music”. You can argue all day on which Cathedrals line-up was the greater (although you know Mark Trammell was a part of it), but what you or I cannot deny is that The Cathedrals were “greatest” when teamed with Lari Goss. He kept it traditional, yet rich and not opposed to opening up the box a little bit. The music lover in the southern gospel fan was left hearing everything they had ever dreamed about, yet surpassed. How could The Cathedrals make an acapella album being mentioned among “the all-time classics” among its peers? Lari Goss is how. Only to do something similar 3 years later with “SOP”. Half acapella, half London Philarhomic. Sheer brilliance. “Champion of Love” was said to be “too contemporary” by Glen and George initially. But a good producer pushed and insisted they do it. And to think, it has taken us 25 years to finally get tired of “Champion of Love”. Thank Goss.
The relationship with The Singing Americans was a bit different of an animal. The Singing Americans legacy has always fascinated me, to a degree in which it deserves its very own post. But with Michael English, they were nothing short of dynamite. Obviously two albums come to mind, both of which Goss played a part. “Live and Alive” was more of an introductory role, adding some piano/keyboard overdubs, and some minor arrangements. Fast forward to the next calendar year… “Black and White”. I recall David Bruce Murray on Burke’s Brainwork mentioning, “Black And White was way ahead of its time in terms of production and performance style. Twenty-five years later, this album still sounds like it could have been recorded recently”, article here:http://burkesbrainwork.wordpress.com/category/top-5-sg-albums/ . Needless to say, I agree with DBM. When I talk to artists and friends in the industry and The Singing Americans come to conversation, we don’t talk much about the Shockley, Whitener, Barker years. Conversation is focused on English, the albums English appeared on, or the majesty of Lari Goss and how he advised to let Michael English loose. With The Cathedrals, he opened the box. With The Singing Americans, he broke the seal to the envelope and stared at the note. It’s not like a Rick Strickland or Ed Hill was anything to sneeze at. That is not my point. They were quality vocalists in their own right. But English was featured on at least 7 or 8 of the 10 songs, if I’m not mistaken. It’s not like Charles Burke didn’t know what he had in Michael. But he hired Lari Goss. And we were left wondering what might have been with The Singing Americans. The nostalgia and experience of that project firmly left its imprint in the very core of our soul. It was more than an album, it was a ride. An artist(s) alone cannot usually do such a thing. It’s The Beatles without George Martin, albeit a very short lived version.
The brilliance of Lari Goss is unmatched. The current legacy of Lari Goss is found at an odd crosspoint. Some circles believe him to be overrated (or possibly over-priced), pin-pointing the rise of Wayne Haun as his competitor (though, not in a realistic sense) in the production world. Other circles believe his genius is still unchanging and he is currently found to be underrated. Others like me, may not question his excellence or past creativity, but his current creativity. It’s obviously still quality music, but we’ve mostly heard it before. Or maybe it’s simply a case similar of the film mogul, James Cameron. He’s had “Avatar” in his back pocket for years. Cameron’s only problem was the technology to create such a magnificent visual film was not even invented at the time. Could Goss’ vision in his mind not adequately transmit to the southern gospel genre? Far-fetched I know, but his acute awareness of jazz and classical taste and influence, trickling down the spine of a traditional southern gospel recording certainly made for some spectacular music, but as aging occurs on everyone, hesitance takes its place, as we are not quite as able to do what we once could do. The crux of my argument is really not an argument at all. It’s laying out the format in a very general sense that without Lari Goss, we would not have had the many captivating moments in our very own southern gospel history. We would be without the so many tasteful arrangements, creative ideas, orchestral explosions (when they were cool), and piano artistry of a mind in accord with his soul. It’s like cinema without Scorsese. I once heard Sting say, “I don’t need to make music for anyone. I make music for myself and something much bigger than myself” (I advise you to read this on Shannon Childress, http://sogospelnews.com/index/features/comments/6154/.). I like to think of Goss’ work this way. I wonder how many unheard pieces he has written and arranged in his prime of creativity, maybe some left unfinished, that would leave us speechless. I wonder about The Cathedrals without Goss. I wonder what it’s like to love music this way. I wish I could write a detailed summary of every Goss contribution that could come to my mind, but the depths of my mind could not express what Goss has expressed in so many ways with his music. Without him, many nights of music would have been left in the box, with a sealed envelope inside, black ink preserved on a piece of paper. Lari Goss is quite simply, a man of music.