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1990: The Unfortunate End of an Era & How The Cathedral Quartet Still Changed Gospel Music Forever “Part I”

June 7, 2011

The year was 1990.  New decade.  New expectations.  Things in our world were about to change. Michael Jordan was a year away from an NBA title, the year’s highest grossing film was Ghost (starring Patrick Swayze), and Hair Metal was on the decline.  And somewhere in a blue-collar Ohio town, Southern Gospel music was about to change too.

21 -ish years ago we would have figured one of the world’s most beloved groups would have some obstacles to deal with. Enduring the not-always so delicate rumor mill, there arose a platonic shift in the music we had fallen in love with.  More specifically, we thought we lost so much of what became so endearing, so uncommon, exhilarating, so surreal.

Posing for a picture in 1985 for their upcoming gem of a Christmas album, they were just 5 short years away from changing the course of Southern Gospel Music forever...

Going into the year of 1990, it’s hard to argue that The Cathedrals weren’t among the two hottest groups in Southern Gospel music.  Danny Funderburk, noted for the power and fullness of emotion he seemingly put into every single song (a style all his own and never since duplicated) was leaving Ohio to organize a “super-group”, soon to be named.  Granted, singing “Somebody Touched Me” and “I’ve Just Started Living” every night put some pressure on his vocal chords…but he played such a vital role in helping The Cathedrals burst into their glory years. To replace such a unique, explosive, and commanding talent that could and would bring out his entire arsenal from the woodshed for any ballad, the man was leaving.  Funderburk was a lot of things to that Cathedral sound of the mid-to late eighties, but the essence of who he was, reflected something rarely tamed.  He was more like an All-American wild horse, roaming the Atlantic Ocean islands in freedom, searching for the greenest pastures,  glorious and riveting, causing spectators to gaze upon the natural wonders of this land.  He was our own, in our landscape, but too distant to touch (overboard with the imagery, I know…I couldn’t stop).  How do you find something that even comes to close to equalizing that precious, mesmerizing sound.  Unfortunately, one guy couldn’t cut it.  This would be quite the task and dream job for a certain individual.  But on the surface, was the ship in the process of sinking before our eyes, as the old men began to age?

When we think of the classic quartet baritone, we immediately think of Josh Groban and Bervin Kendrick.  I mean, Mark Trammell.  We all know the history of the “best quartet man in the business” remarks by George Younce and echoed by virtually every other artist in the genre.  When I think of glue, I don’t think of Elmer’s.  And I don’t think of wild horses for that matter.  I think of Trammell.  The man supplied the part that completed the eloquence of that four man vocal band of the 80’s, in which the majority of us were so arrested by.  Trammell was everything that Funderburk was not.  Controlled… always in place, never elusive or surprising…a steady but subtle force.  A legend of his own in the making.  He was/is a master of the harmony.  His sense of timing was near perfect, when he was singing or slapping the bass guitar, causing the older generation to liken him in the mold of a Glen Allred.  In 1990, if you and I were to create a super-group, Trammell would probably get one of the first calls.  The Cathedral Quartet was as great of a job as there was in southern gospel music.  It would be crazy to leave, even a bit risky.

But it happened.  At some point, it had to happen.  Even though God aligns the stars all into place, He also allows hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes.  Within a year, Funderburk and Trammell were gone.  The Cathedral Quartet were probably hit the hardest they ever had been over a one-year span, in terms of personnel since 1979…when Tremble, Webster, and Matthews gave birth to “The Brothers”.  “The sound” was gone. All good things must come to an end.

Now, what I am not saying is that anyone left on bad terms.  Glen and George were business minded, but gracious gentlemen, and usually always supportive of a departing member’s future endeavor.  They were the rocks of the Cathedral enterprise, grooming men musically, managerially, spiritually.  They took Matthew 28 very literally.  And they made disciples in the industry.  The events that ended one dynasty, led to another, cementing the last chapter of a venture forever prestigious.  What has proven to be one of their biggest legacies, their resolve.

So in 1990, the Cathedral tree was sprouting new branches.  Even though many were saddened and some of the 80’s era loyalists were leaning towards slight apathy, gospel music was about to change in spite of it, in the face of it.  Kirk Talley was now singing with his brother Roger and Debbie and in 1990, “The Talley’s” were the hottest family group in gospel music, even drawing a narrow bridge to contemporary fans.  Gerald Wolfe and Mark Trammell were now organizing something rare in gospel music…an all male trio, who would soon become one of the genre’s most awarded and influential groups, known as Greater Vision.  Most male trios had found little success in southern gospel music until GV changed the way the game was supposed to be played and has maintained great success, paving the way for other trios to find a home in southern gospel music.  Funderburk had established Perfect Heart with some of the top southern gospel affiliated talent in the country.  Although it was short-lived, they hit the ground running in the business and carved out a sound that embodied the former Cathedral tenor…exciting, entertaining, and mostly, untamed.  Dubbed the “Million Dollar Quartet”, they never looked back…well, until they had to.  But when it came to quartets, they were top of the line during Funderburk’s tenure. Even more under the radar and less known, Cathedral baritone alumni George Amon Webster and Steve Lee were in the process of launching “The Heartland Boys” and “Crimson River” (with former Singing Americans tenor, Phil Barker), respectively, and both groups had some success in the early 90’s.

I can almost see Funderburk, walking into Glen’s office to meet with the two gospel music pioneers…his voice, a bit naturally raspy, higher pitched a hint, saying farewell to what had been home.  Thinking and praying for weeks now, how things would turn out for him.  Trammell, a ten year member of the group, and a stout disciple of “The Cathedral Way”, talking to his wife about the opportunity to help create something else, something new, and equally special in its own way in the little east Tennessee town.  Maybe he missed the warmer weather…maybe his friendship with Gerald Wolfe had missed out on some cherished fun and fellowship.  Certainly, with the talent of “the little giant” and the baritone extraordinaire, a sound and style would scream out in a Cathedral fashion, with an added dose of uniqueness and youthfulness. What were those last concerts like?  What were George and Glen truly thinking?  Their last time on the stage with Funderburk.  Their last time on the stage with Trammell.  Was a tear shed?  Had they already been shed?  One day they are all on the bus together.  One day they are not.  Men that travel in southern gospel music are sometimes as close to their fellow employees as they are their families.

George and Glen call Roger to come over.  The men sitting in the office, strategically discussing the next step in each specific case.

Funderburk leaves around early ’90…what kind of sound are we wanting to look for?  How is his spiritual life?  Is he okay with being away from his family?  Is his relationship with his wife solid?  Was he even married?  What kind of testimony will he be?

Trammell leaves before ’90 is over…are we going to look for the same kind of blend?  Are we sure he can play the bass guitar well?  Is he used to the spotlight…does he mind playing a bit of the background for a while?

Remember this: “Danny was the sound, George was the show, Mark, the glue, and Glen was the dough”….or something like that.  That was real.  “That sound” was ubiquitous.

Oh, the irony of the gospel music shuffle.

In the middle of the whirlwind, stood Ernie Haase, Roger Bennett, and Scott Fowler.  Bennett was already an industry staple, but Haase and Fowler hadn’t been around too long.  Haase had done some singing with The Dixie Melody Boys and Squire Parsons…Fowler was singing lead with an excellent, but relatively smaller market quartet, The Sound.

Obstacles became opportunities.  The aftermath would open new doors.  George and Glen wouldn’t see it unfold any other way.  A glorious era had ended.  And with it…a new legacy would soon be established.

Stay tuned next week…for Part II.

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38 Comments
  1. quartet-man permalink

    Funderburk was actually there until early 1990 (at least until sometime in January) and I believe Trammell stayed until December of 1990, so there was nearly a year between the two departures. One of the two (Glen or George) made the comment (my words) that they had hoped that Mark would stay until Ernie was less green (so to speak), but it didn’t turn out that way,

    I have to say I loved things with Wolfe, Haase, and Fowler, but to me the group of Funderburk, Trammell, Payne, Younce and Bennett is my favorite version. Anyone who followed Funderburk (the one who first caught my ear in the Cathedrals) or Trammell wouldn’t satisfy me fully. To make matters worse, my first exposure to Young’s singing was the Dove Awards program.

    Fowler did some good stuff with the Sound, but I always consider the first group, THE group. As I recall, Haase had worked with Fowler in college and recommended him to Glen and George for the Cats. Trammell spent about a month “training” him.

    I never got into Perfect Heart as much. I did like some, but as edfu nd E rbved Funderburk, the other guys in the Cathedrals added to the group. Also, as much as I loved Ernie and Younce, I couldn’t really get into Old Friends.

    • Right…hence the opening line, “The year was 1990”. I’m aiming at the year as a whole, not exact time periods or months. and as far as Fowler and Haase, singing in college…don’t spoil part II Q-man!

  2. quartet-man permalink

    Sorry, computer browser problems: “As much as I loved Funderburk”

  3. quartet-man permalink

    I was referring to this quote: “Funderburk leaves before ’90…”

    • there ya go…edited. thanks.

      • quartet-man permalink

        I only found out in recent years for sure when I saw a You Tube clip from I believe January 1990. I remember seeing about the change in Singing News at the time, but with print being delayed in getting the news out, it was hard to say. 🙂

  4. No mention of Kurt Young?

    • yes…there was mention of him.

    • quartet-man permalink

      I did in passing. Until You Tube, my only exposure was the Dove Awards performance which I saw live (and recorded it) as well as a mention in Singing News. That, the fact he was with them maybe 4 months and that he recorded nothing with them (as well as the fact I have little info on him) is all I thought was germane to the conversation. He was a blip there, but was reminiscent to Talley. It is okay after someone like Funderburk to go another direction (especially when Funderburk was one of a kind), but they continued to stage those types of songs which was really unfair to his strengths. I mean, I am not sure he was of the level needed for a top act like the Cats, but he wasn’t the type needed if they wanted to continue with the high, power type of songs.

      • Josh, I’m fully aware of Kurt Young. I liked him. I just didn’t want to mention the details of the short tenure. No need to bang that drum since it doesn’t connect with Part II.

      • Young had a Michael Booth-type voice. Smooth, but not a power tenor. Imagine forcing Booth to fill Danny’s shoes, and you might get a decent picture of how the Cats looked with Young.

  5. Well the last lineup is my favorite (with all due respect to Funderburk and Trammell), so I’m looking forward to Part II! 🙂

    • quartet-man permalink

      Well, you’re still young and just don’t know any better (both with this, and artists like English and Phelps). 😉

      • Well… I’ve got a whole lot more love for the Funderburk/Trammell lineup of the Cats than I do for English or Phelps. 😉

        In all seriousness though, the miracle of digital media allows me to dig back through a lot. And I’ve always had an old soul. I frown with suspicion at the mention of words like “new” and “mold-shattering” and think “Remind me what was wrong with the old again?” So I don’t think it’s an age thing at all. With English and Phelps especially, it’s a particular style of singing that gets under my skin, from anybody in any genre. Although Phelps never did figure out what genre he was anyway.

      • #1

        Right on Q man.

      • quartet-man permalink

        I know, YGG. I was just joshing you. You and some other fans have a good foundation in the history (at least more recently) and singers. We just have differences in tastes and I do think part is who is in a group when we discover them (because that is what catches our ears and likes). However, that isn’t always true. I discovered the GVB with Mohr, McSpadden and Harris (New Point of View). After listening to that demo, I listened to the previous two (which I did like, just not as much). I didn’t discover English until when the OneX1 album came out. I liked some things, but not as much. The Wings album was better (at least in part). By the time A Few Good Men came out, the more pop sound was a good one too.

      • Yes you were. As usual. 🙂

  6. JSR permalink

    Are you guys saying Funderburk has a better voice than Phelps or that you prefer Funderburk’s style over Phelps? To be honest David Phelps is the reason I’ve been drawn into SG. I like the fact you can listen to him singing a high note and know its a male singer. Funderburke and other tenor of his style always made me question if I was hearing a bad female singer singing with men.

    I’m sure this comment will make me an outcast, but I’m a little different in a lot of ways so that’s ok.

    FNR: really enjoyed this post and can’t wait to read part 2. Love George Younce.

    • For me personally, Funderburk isn’t one of my absolute favorites either. However, I do prefer his style to Phelps’s.

      • Alright everybody, back on topic. Phelps has very little to do with this. Funderburk was essential to the Cathedral sound. Continue…

    • quartet-man permalink

      YGG, close your eyes, you have seen much of what I am about to say more than once (but I do think I am telling more of the story this time). 😛 Funderburk was a refreshing tenor to me because he DIDN’T sound like a girl. I had heard part of the Cathedrals “Goin In Style CD playing in the local Christian bookstore in 1988. I wasn’t paying attention until I heard Daystar. I knew the song because I had the GVB Wings CD with English singing lead on it. To this day, although I love the Cathedrals and Gerald Wolfe, I consider that version of the song a sleepy-time one. So, let’s just say that I wasn’t impressed with the Cathedrals (although I think I wanted to know who did it out of curiosity. I probably heard other songs after that, but I really wasn’t into the more bluegrassy (almost) sound of that CD at the time (although I do like some songs later).

      At some point a person sang “Champion of Love” at my brother’s church and he played it for me on a cassette. I liked the song, and I might have heard the Cathedrals had originally done it. Fast forward to Jubilate’ ’88 and the Cathedrals are doing “This Ol’ House”. Bennett had just come back with them and Lowry had joined the GVB.Funderburk’s voice caught my ear because finally here was an SG tenor singing up in the high C area that didn’t sound like a woman or chipmunk on helium, Armed with that song and Champion of Love, I went to the same bookstore and found both on the same CD (the original CD release of “Symphony of Praise”. Now, granted, depending on how he sings, Funderburk could sound feminine in places (“Movin’ Up to Gloryland” and certain places where he used what Younce called his “sweet voice”. But his power tenor doesn’t sound feminine,

      With that said, when I was really pressed to choose between the two very different singers and vote for one, I reluctantly voted for Phelps. I say reluctantly because it was hard to vote against Danny and I like them both. I just had to give it to Phelps who is a freak of nature. Baize is another tenor who sings it the way I like it. There are others I like, but as far as tenors singing in that range, these are the three I usually mention.

      • Thanks for getting us back on track Q man. Funderburk was no feminine tenor. A little raspy maybe, not not feminine. He had fullness and command. But we don’t need to compare him and Phelps. Two different styles. And we truly know Phelps is so good that it’s ridiculous. Carry on…

  7. JSR permalink

    Sorry for straying off topic.

    • No my friend. Just giving everyone a hard time. And if I was serious, it wouldn’t be your fault anyways.

      • quartet-man permalink

        That’s right. I say blame YGG. If she had the good taste to know this version of the Cats was the best, I wouldn’t have had to bring up her lack of poor taste in other areas (Phelps and English) thus drifting away from the original topic a little (although connected somewhat). 😉

      • FNR: Well that’s a relief. For a moment I was worried you were beginning to follow in Daniel Mount’s footsteps! 😉

  8. quartet-man permalink

    *lack of good taste, my bad. 😀

  9. good post. Although this era was over before i was coherent enough to process the music, I was told my mom took me to see that lineup 2-3 times a month as a YOUNG child. Wish I remembered it. Agreed 200% on Mark Trammell being “the Cathedral way”…there’s an essence he carries about himself as being “that Cathedral guy”, but yet being super approchable, and even better, being super real and genuine. Personally, I would love to see a DVD of former members get together to share stories of that time. i have the Remember the Music DVD/CD, and it’s phenomenal. A CD of stories would be icing on the cake. If there were a SG college, freshmen would watch Cats live videos and listen to Cats vinyl records for the entire first yr of college, lol..anybody remember that 25th Anniversary tape they did? Had like a 15 song medley on the first side…loved it. They helped give us a reason to “love old people”.

    • quartet-man permalink

      The 25th. Anniversary CD and video weren’t really my cup of tea. The medley was neat as it covered a lot of area, but the arrangements seemed to choral-like and not so much Cathedral-like. It was also obvious on the video they were lip-synching in at least places as I recall. or had overdubs. Granted that would be a tough one to learn and memorize.

      I love the GVB, Gold City, Hoppers, Perrys, Talleys and others out there, but the SG community took a HUGE loss with the Cathedrals and it hasn’t been the same. We are fortunate that Trammell, Fowler, Haase, Wolfe etc. are out there carrying on the banner, but the Cathedrals were special and pretty much a once in a lifetime group. Sure they had different configurations and this lineup was a huge loss, but they did manage to regroup and still put out some really good music. In some ways it is hard to believe they have been gone nearly 12 years, but in other ways it seems like forever. We are blessed that they and they through Gaither put out quite a bit of music and videos which we are still able to enjoy. That is part of why it might seem less at times.

      I love the idea of a video with the different members giving memories, road stories and I think details on how they joined (Ernie was kind enough to share some additional info on Daniel’s blog (one of my questions). 🙂 In fact, FNR, I re-read that just now and Ernie said Funderburk left in January 1990. The video I saw was what first tipped me off. I don’t know if Ernie got the info from that too, or remembers it himself. Anyhow, I find behind the scenes and historical things like that interesting. Knowing how they got there and hearing stories would be interesting and I would sit through a whole DVD of just that.

      I also wish they would re-release Land of Living on CD, Travelin’ Live on CD, possibly re-do Especially You (the re-issues by Cathedral Records weren’t done well) and of course put their videos on DVD. (Not just the Travelin’ Live or Gaither stuff).

      Thanks for this post, FNR. As much as I enjoyed what you have done prior to this, the Cathedrals posts (I am including upcoming ones by faith 😉 )are even better. 🙂

      • Thanks Q Man. It is a very common thing for guys to leave to “officially” leave in December, since they get a lot of that month off and many times don’t sing again till Dec 31 or whatever but thanks for the small tip. And yes, those that don’t have Land of Living or Travelin’ Live are really missing something. Actually along with “Prestigious”, those 2 were my other favorites from that era and NEED to be re-mastered and re-released!

      • Interestingly, I stumbled across Prestigious in perfect condition on filestube (!)

      • hey now…i don’t associate with illegal downloaders, at least not in the southern gospel world.

      • quartet-man permalink

        I have each of the projects. I have Land of Living on a brand new cassette that has been played very little (to transfer to a listening copy) as well as MAYBE album form, Prestigious as part of a two on one CD thing (Prestigious / Old Convention Song. Not only was “Old Convention Song” (which appeared on both albums) not on the CD twice (which makes sense) as I recall the last two songs from Old Convention Song weren’t on there either due to lack of space. So, it would be nice to have those last two in better form than the Cathedral Records reissue. (I might have them on comps). I believe I have those on lps too and maybe cassettes. I have Travelin’ Live on all three formats.

        Basically, I grabbed up a bunch of Cathedrals stuff new from the Bookstore when I fell in love with them (cassettes and CDs) and found some lps elsewhere.

      • Well, I suppose one could always buy the DVD of Travelin’ Live, rip the DVD onto your computer, record the audio, and burn it onto a CD. In fact, I think I saw some people discussing that very option.

      • quartet-man permalink

        Oh, I have it on CD, but I made it myself. The audio from the DVD is different than some of the album.

  10. JSR permalink

    Staying tuned in for part II. Can’t wait to see it.

  11. David J. Stuart permalink

    I found a site on the internet that makes CDs out of albums. It states you must already own the album , which i do, or did. I later gave it to a friend of mine. But i had the album ..Land of living transferred to CD. They did a wonderful job with it. Now, that i gave the album away, and my cassette of it is worn out, i can listen to the CD in great quality!

  12. Quaid permalink

    Good dicussion.
    I read that, in the April 1990 Singing News, Gwen Eddy writes of seeing The Cathedrals on Saturday, February 10th, 1990, at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. She says that Kurt’s first outing with the guys was the previous night, Friday, February 9th.

    Looking at the February 1990 Singing News, the Cathedrals’ previous booking was February 4th, at First Baptist Church, in Snellville, Georgia.
    So, it appears that Danny’s last booking was the 4th, since Kurt’s first was on the 9th.
    So, the million dollar question, Did Danny stay to finish the February 4th booking, or was there a fill in?

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