Oh, The Wonders of a Common Problem!
With the recent departure of Joel Wood of the Mark Trammell Quartet, I was not exactly surprised. People come and go. The music stays the same. And the industry takes a while to catch up with the rest of the world, as southern gospel primarily remains over-saturated. But three things dawned upon my reasoning, which shook previously influenced and sometimes conflicted thoughts.
1) For the majority of artists, the pay is peanuts, and the schedule grueling…especially with a family. Families are separated for 4 to 5 days a week, yet the opportunity to sing full-time, whether one is good or not, is the sacrifice of doing what you love. And that is where I rest. In a genre often criticized, without low pay, sacrificing family relationships, and doing what one loves to do, and added dose of the occasional ego, we would not have as much to talk about it. Actually, it leaves less to criticize. People can speculate, and a lot of times the truth is smothered, but in the end, if a person leaves like Wood did…I’ve recognized it’s easier to let it go and enjoy what you heard and saw for the time you did. I can never criticize a family man.
2) And when these times occur, cherish it. If artists could make more without leaving their families behind, we wouldn’t have as much to talk about. And we wouldn’t have those special groups. 80s Gold City, 70s Kingsmen, 80s Singing Americans, 2000 GVB (joking). The history of Southern Gospel would not be as important, intriguing, controversial, and glorious as it really is. They create those moments, and we capture them in our minds and hearts. And we sit around like 60 year olds, talking about their old football games, naming specific situations, opponents, and reliving them in our discussion, laughing at how “good” it was. For the industry, the only consistent changes from year to year are personnel changes. And we may take that for granted. Low pay, sacrificing families, and personality conflict creates a strange paradox for enjoying what we experienced and talking about what was.
3) Leads and Baritones are common to find. Sometimes interchangeable, and sometimes not so much. It’s the more natural tone among men. Some baritones can’t sing a lead vocal to save their life. But that same baritone can provide a harmony so surreal and pure, that it doesn’t matter. What is hard to find, are tenors and basses. One that is consistent from night to night. One that can hit their notes and hold them with conviction and passion, pursuing something more than “singing the ladies part”, or simply “the bass is booming tonight”. Good tenors are rare. A good bass is even more rare.
And when their families are on the line, never over-simplify the issue. Your favorite group may end up with a gem of a replacement. Or they may not. It may not be what you want or like. You can talk about it. But don’t judge it. That’s the nature of the beast. It’s hard to find those quality voices. A group has to make a hire, and usually speedily. I’m not saying you have to continue to buy their music or attend their concerts. But they haven’t failed you. Those voices are out there. But in many cases, they aren’t interested in coming back. Enjoy it while it was. And maybe you can enjoy what will become.
God bless Joel as he tends to his flock. I hope to see him back one day.