Gaither Vocal Band – “The New Gaither Vocal Band” – Project Debut #3
In the early 80s, 2 significant things happened in the world of southern gospel that Bill Gaither played a historical part in. Well, many things probably happened. But there are 2 I want to focus on.
1) Bill Gaither got involved with The Cathedral Quartet. I may have said before that “Something Special” was the 2nd Cats album I ever heard, but it was. There’s no arguing that it was a classic album that virtually propelled the quartet manned by Glen & George. Had Gaither not got involved, The Cats still would’ve been great and historic. But by the end of 1982, there’s no doubt…they were top shelf. However, one could argue that the partnership of the prestigious quartet also launched Gaither just a little bit further, as would provide more evident by the next decade.
2) The story goes that 4 guys were sitting around backstage, messing around on a piano before a Bill Gaither Trio concert, and decided to take it to the stage. Well, it was a hit. They soon pumped out an album of stellar songs, arranged in a more contemporary fashion, and somewhat set out on an Imperial brand of style.
Bill Gaither and Gary McSpadden (an original Imperial member) set out to do something different in a world where “different” wasn’t always so successful, especially on an evangelical platform. I’d say that the result has been quite successful.
To be honest, I don’t know all the credits to this project. If anyone knows anything about finding rare stuff, this particular project would be high on the list. A guy at my church had a copy of this laying around his house. I saw it laying on his garage shelf and immediately thought I’d ask for a selling price. But I didn’t want to be rude. We were talking about “personal” stuff and figured interrupting the conversation to let him know how serious I was about buying this cassette from him. So I let him talk. And when we were ending, I mentioned, “hey…you know that album is pretty rare! A lot of people are paying high prices for the real old GVB stuff” or something of the sorts. He asked me if I had it. I said no. He gave it to me. I gave him the “aww no way…that’s a keepsake, I just couldn’t take it off your hands…” routine. He insisted. He told me his wife had a copy too somewhere (I mean, it was in a garage…and I know they still don’t listen to cassettes). When they could finally afford two cars, they had 2 copies for each person because GVB was the “new big thing”. I converted this very quickly.
Unfortunately there was no cover for it, but I didn’t care too much. The lineage of GVB is made up of arguably some of the most talented individuals ever to come along in Christian music, period. The New GVB would later drop the “New” and scale back a tad on the contemporary arrangements. I guess this was a case in which Bill Gaither saw into the future and realized an all male quartet playing no instruments wouldn’t fare well in the pop/contemporary scene for too much longer (except for a brief NKOTB or Backstreet comeback if dancing and making little girls scream would be deemed “successful”). The Christian world had yet to see Petra or Stryper. So bridging the gap was a wise move. Gather up the best singers you can find, sing great songs, and push to an older audience…and young audiences will find contentment and fascination.
1. He Came Down To My Level: So the New Gaither Vocal Band started out doing progressive stuff, eh? Yeah, and they still are. While the more recent GVB groups have been extremely talented, these early years were embodied by a smooth sound. The Green/McSpadden duo were to their genre what Tremble/Webster may have been to the Cats. “Easy On the Ears”. Phelps and Penrod and English can nail it and bring power, but Green and McSpadden provided a delicately efficient and laid back touch for this cut. Really, this will be the only of bass singer Lee Young you will hear, so get your fill on the first track and enjoy. Which version do I prefer? Call me crazy…this one, the original. Maybe it’s the cool track, reminding me of 80s easy listening/soft rock.
2. Living Sacrifice: Nothing over the top here. We haven’t surged to a Larnelle Harris/Michael English tandem. But this is a beautiful song, and beautifully performed. I even remember in the early 90s, this song was making its rounds in the churches, as evidenced by the youth department of our local First Baptist Church. At that point in my life, I didn’t realize I was singing a GVB song, but it all makes sense now. I had forgotten how pleasant of a voice McSpadden truly had and it shows out in these more slowly arranged numbers, although by this point in his career he was headed to the baritone role, which ultimately enhanced the Gaither arsenal. Green takes the 2nd verse and eases right along, making this a fantastic mellow ballad.
3. Don’t Play With The Devil: I mean…definitely got tossed into the cheesy 80s songs category. But I’m sure it was cool way back when. It’s certainly no match with “To Hell With The Devil”. It semi reminds me of an Ambrosia groove.
4. Because Of Whose I Am: All of the songs on this recording are solid. But this is one of those standouts. Thanks to DBM’s site, this is a Dony McGuire/Reba Rambo song. These lyrics speak an astounding truth and McSpadden brings some enthusiasm and a solid performance. The song grooves, even set at a slow pace. I couldn’t find a GVB version, but here’s Reba doing it, very well. Somebody, bring it back!
5. Abide In Me: Another relaxing, mellow song lending the voice of Green in an extremely vocally innovative arrangement. Everything else about it is pretty simple. This song is not to be mistaken with “Abide With Me”.
6. Have You Made Your Reservation: A jazzy Gospel infused cut featuring McSpadden. Once again, the background vocal arrangement is clearly ahead of its time. This wasn’t just a classic 4 man quartet doing the classic quartet thing. They put some thought and creativity in HOW they were going to accommodate the contemporary style they were going for.
7. Not By Might: “You may have bombs enough to blow all the earth, harm a million volunteers and keep them all alert”.
At least that’s what I thought I heard. I’m thinking this may have been a shot at Russia, since Reagan had just entered office. If you’ve read anything about Reagan, his clear passion and mission was to fight the Cold War…even when he was in Hollywood. He was consumed by it. With the uprise of “The Moral Majority”, I’m sure this seemed like a good song at the time, combining an Evangelical message, with a hint of Americanism. Besides the line above, the best thing about this song is that Green is doing some stellar improv in the background.
8. It Won’t Rain Always: The inculpable Bill Gaither takes his only lead of the project on this one, and leaves his standard Gaither imprint, half singing-half talking.
9. If I Didn’t Have You: I like this song, I do. Maybe the majority of the reason is that it reminds me of a theme song from a 70s or 80s TV theme song like “Different Strokes” or “The Growing Pains” , which alone is delightful.
“If I didn’t have you to bring everything to…you’ve never been more than a single breath away”.
This cut contains some very personally emotional lyrics. God is God, but my, He really is a friend. Green shows us why he was one of the best, most consistent singers in his era. He is completely versatile, with the ability to sing almost anything. I’m beginning to see how others would liken him to Gus Gaches.
10. I’m Yours, Lord: Enter GVB meets reggae. Well reggae in a very limited arena. The styling is more compatible with something along the lines of “Build An Ark”. What I appreciate about it is that even in the early stages Gaither was never afraid to step outside of the box and try new things. The only verse is spoken by Gaither, so it’s not without its faults. But its another one of those songs I believe I sang in children’s church.
11. First Day In Heaven: This was supposedly the song rehearsed that ignited the idea of GVB. We’ve probably heard about 10 different versions of this song, and half of them being in the 80s. And honestly, maybe the only thing to separate this one from those is this one has a saxophone played throughout. I think including something like this allowed listeners to realize that the concept was grounded in classic southern gospel fashion.
12. Every Eye Shall See: Here, we have crickets in the background. But seriously, there are crickets. I guess that added something different to music back then. I can understand it in an instrumental, with a waterfall or river in the background, but we have no waterfall or river. My feelings are that this is a Gaither penned tune. This is a typical chorus, no verses…just a simple song of praise, which the Gaither team was known to do so well. And again, for what it is, it’s a splendid arrangement. (Edit…I did realize that I have this on “Revival” by The Statesmen. I like that version better. No crickets.) [[Re-edit – Same song title, same authors, almost identical choruses lyrically, but NOT the same song, different melodies. Must have re-worked the whole thing years later…my mistake. I don’t know what’s going on!]]
While there may have been some Imperial influence (McSpadden, Murray, and later Pierce) to the aim of what the group would continue to do, I believe in the context of the culture and the era that it was done in, proved to be entirely efficient. Efficient enough to minimize the role of the Bill Gaither Trio. But the bar was set, and something special was completely established. And then with some highly talented additions a few years later in Larnelle, Murray, English, Franklin, and Lowry, there wasn’t much that could stand in the way of the Gaither train.
Gaither was (and still is) an exceptional and innovative businessman and writer. What I think is sometimes overshadowed is his keen ear for production, recognizing talent, and getting the chemistry to work. I think this project, possibly more than any other, puts that on full display. As I said, I don’t have liner notes or an album cover, but if I were a betting man, I’d put money on McSpadden assisting Gaither in all of this. McSpadden is a talented individual in his own right in terms of production and writing. And boy, Steve Green was smooth. The blend sounded pretty tight, but it almost sounded too doctored and the music at times too distracting for me to properly analyze just how good it would have sounded live.
Nonetheless, the bar was set, the goal was upright, and the journey just beginning in 1981. Now, they’re probably the only southern gospel act that could charge $50 for a ticket and sell out a 2, 000 plus auditorium. I think it worked out just fine.
P.S. If you have any more info on this album, please feel free to comment.