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Lari Goss: The Brilliance of a Man About Music

May 31, 2011

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.

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28 Comments
  1. That’s funny. It took me around a minute to get tired of “Champion of Love…” But that’s no fault of Larry’s. Blame whoever wrote that appalling lyric (I think it was Phil Cross).

    Welcome to the blogosphere. If you’re interested, shoot me a note and I think I can give you some writing tips, but all in all, nice work and I look forward to reading more.

    • Yes, Phil Cross. And, yes, I, probably, use, too, many, commas,

      • Actually, I didn’t notice the commas particularly. I just had some general comments about style, grammar, usage, etc. But I suppose that’s just the budding teacher in me… somewhat like Napoleon with a throne, whenever I see a long piece of writing, I feel an urge to mark it up with red ink. 🙂

  2. Welcome to the blogosphere! I’m looking forward to your insights!

  3. Oh . . . have you heard Goss’ arrangement of “A Greater Throne,” kicking off the Booth Brothers’ Declaration album? I thought it was the most creatively musical setting for a lyric he’s done in a decade. Tying the lyrical reference(s) to trumpets with a trumpet solo intro blew me away!

    • Nate Stainbrook permalink

      Welcome to the blogging world… (I abhor “blogosphere”) 🙂 Excellent post on a true musical genius in every sense of the word…

      And Daniel that song is “A Higher Throne” not “A Greater Throne” 😉

      • Nate – oops!

        I didn’t know you abhorred that word. I will do my best to never use it on your site or in a conversation with you!

      • Nate,
        Thanks for abhorring the word “blogosphere.” It deserves to be abhorred. It ranks right up there with flip flops…not the phrase, but the actual product.

        Regarding this new blog…
        Whoever the author is must be a wise person. It’s never a bad move to kick things off by agreeing with something I’ve written in the past. I look forward to reading more of your articles.

    • Indeed I have. It was quite remarkable. Even his touch on Legacy Five’s “Just Stand” was in my opinion, great stuff. I do not think he has “lost it”. As I stated, he’s created some of the most classic material ever recorded in Gospel music. He’s clearly a pioneer in this genre. I just believe his later work has been much more subdued. And hopefully, I tried my best to mesh that out.

      • Great, and I understand your point better now.

        I’d agree that some of his Just Stand arrangements were among his best in recent years. And yes, some of his work has been more subdued lately.

      • Nate Stainbrook permalink

        Its okay Daniel, I won’t hold it against you if you forget! 🙂

  4. quartet-man permalink

    I enjoyed this post. The Cathedrals were great and one of my all time favorites. The talent was evermore there, but Goss took it basically to another level.

    • Thanks Q man. I always enjoy reading your comments. As great as they already were, it is hard to imagine The Cathedrals without Goss’ influence.

  5. Larry is quite an arranging genius. Sometimes I think his songs can be just a tad overdone, but he is still a master!! Has anyone heard how Larry’s health is?

    BTW – I’d really love to know who you are, fridaynightrevival!! Congrats on the new blog.

  6. burkesbrainwork permalink

    Great initial post! Thanks for the mention of my blog as well. We are in agreement on Lari Goss. When it comes to artistry and creativity in SG, we’ve never seen anyone else the like of Goss. I’d recommend checking out his work with Friends IV too. Their “One Voice” project is first class all the way.

    Another note, Goss co-produced “Pillars of Faith” with Garry Jones for Gold City as well.

    • Epic fail. I knew that full well. And even meant to mention it, then slipped my mind. And we all know that Pillars is hard to top. But you helped solidify my point that much more. The man has been cutting diamonds all his life. I’ll need to check on Friends IV. Thanks for the info.

      • quartet-man permalink

        I meant to mention Pillars last night too. That, Symphony, Black and White are the elite products of that time frame.

  7. Gaithermusicaddict permalink

    Nice post, nice blog! I find your use of English to be very well crafted and complex such that it took me a minute to understand one sentence. Well, its probably because I’m not American. But I read it all and loved it!

  8. Maybe that’s because his sentences are too long and he needs to break them up. 😛

    Just kidding…kinda. 😉

    • Gaitheraddict: it’s probably because there was a sentence or two that didn’t make sense. Yankeegospelgirl could tell you better than I could. Maybe, I’m more abstract with my sentences…YGG is evidently more Bob Ross. Paint those happy trees in the right place girl!

  9. I’m just teasing, don’t mind me. Take any pokings/proddings I may offer with a pinch or two of salt and lots of smilies. 🙂

    In all seriousness, I actually think you have a great imagination, and you’re very creative. It just needs to be “tamed” a little bit. Being creative is cool, but it’s good to be understood as well. Moderation in all things, etc., etc., etc…

    • I’m taking with salt. I’ve lived much of my life not being understood. And my life in moderation… I’m not an English professor, but I get out what I want in the best way I know how at the time. If I think about it too much, I won’t create the picture I have in my mind, and how I really feel will be dismissed in favor of what is more socially acceptable, traditionally polished, and what people want to read about and could read about in many other places. I don’t think I’m defying every single law of writing structure and I’ll try better next time. But I never want my structure to take precedent over my content.

      That being said, I do appreciate your participation and do hope to hear more from you.

      • We only have one English prof. around here, and we’d sort of rather he wasn’t around here. English profs. are overrated.

        Structure absolutely shouldn’t take precedence over content, and vice versa. Like the Greeks, we strive for the golden mean, the perfect balance. Lord knows only a gifted few have ever found the exact middle, but that shouldn’t deter us mere mortals from doing our feeble best. 🙂

  10. Welcome to the SGM Blogosphere, fridaynightrevival! We look forward to reading more of your thoughts about the greatest genre in the entire world! 🙂

    Blessings and Joy in the Journey!
    The Garms Family (TGF)

  11. DisneyGator permalink

    You’ve got a great blog here! Enjoyed this article. I’m with you that Wayne Haun is THE BEST producer in SG today. Love his stuff. As far as Larry goes, he’s great when it comes to orchestration – probably the best. However, I’ve grown weary of what I call the “inserted-classic-in-the-middle-of-the-song-interlude”. Sometimes it works, but a lot of the time it doesn’t. Example: the Greenes final project was fantastic…until the very end. Taranda is helping me find religion through “I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked”, when right at the end in goes into an entire chorus of “In the Garden.” Ruined the song for me and a lot of other people. If he can learn to control that aspect a little bit, he’d be back on top for me.

    Chris

  12. Chaz permalink

    Lari…. not Larry… C’mon folks, get with it. L.A.R.I.—-
    (ght:YGG)

  13. Tad Kirkland permalink

    I have read your entire blog within the last hour. Not since I discovered averyfineline.com have I enjoyed and agreed with someone’s writing on SG. I must say The Nelons’ “Thanks” should be considered among Lari Goss’ finest. It created a new sound for mixed groups that moved SG into a new era. I believe it has the same effect as Black and White. Still sounds current and innovative to this day.

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