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Trading In The Tenor Singer For An Acoustic; Citizen’s Arrest Now Void

December 6, 2011

I’m sure you’ve heard of the news on the return of former tenor singer Eric Phillips to the MTQ.  Because I have. 

There’s been a lot of this going around the last couple of years.  Former singers or musicans, back with the same groups.  The Kingsmen, Brian Free & Assurance, Greater Vision, Anchormen, Gaither Vocal Band, Dove Brothers, and so on and so on.  Fans love it.  Group owners probably love it.  And at a certain level, so do I. 

But could it be that there is simply a lack of talent in the southern gospel pool?  I’m not talking about a complete lack of talent out there in our Churches.  But a lack of talent in aspiring southern gospel singers.  Truth is, as much as I love the music, my emotions are hardly renewed by most of it.  Some artists talk of an over-saturation of groups trying to make it.  These days, a lot of good folks believe they can sing.  28 people tried out for MTQ?  And Eric Phillips is back.  In no way is that a knock on Phillips or Burman Porter or Chris Allman or Randy Crawford, or David Phelps, or whoever.  And in some of those cases, tryouts may have not even been necessary.  A call was made and a job was taken.  Life on the road ain’t always glitz and glamour.  Most of us would agree about that.  And there are some young, talented groups.  Tribute Quartet comes to mind.  And a couple others. 

But is the interested youth in our genre slipping?  Or the talent pool in our genre? Maybe a case of both.  I believe that is a fair question.  The talent in our local Churches back in the 70s and 80s have traded southern gospel for an acoustic to lead Worship part-time in our Churches now, stay at home, and work another job.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But how is that trend reversed?  Does the genre need to pick up the pace a little bit in making the music a tad more relevant to our current culture, while maintaining a distinctively traditional direction?  That question is not aimed at change for the sake of change.  That question is aimed at the quality of music and the quality of singers.   I don’t think the music is dying.  I think it is merely surviving, and will for a long time, but at what level of quality or mediocrity?  There are talented vocalists in southern gospel who could outsing many of the pop, country, and CCM artists. But how many of those are under the age of 30?  That’s a relative question, so you don’t have to try to stand me up.  Simply for the sake of argument.  While there are a few, I can’t name that many.  It just befuddles me to a degree that the best replacement has for a group has taken on the pattern of a former member, some of which may even be begged back. 

Or maybe the current groups and “elders” of southern gospel aren’t all doing their part in encouraging the young guns trying to break into the industry.  Maybe an enchancement of exhortation and critiquing is what is needed.  I know for a fact that the Booth Brothers are trying to do that now with “Declaration” who sometimes tours with them.  At another level, Greater Vision has also helped some with “Promise”.  If that were tobe  a more acceptable and widely used route of ensuring youth , would it eventually lead to a more quality product? 

Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.  I’m okay with the old guys coming back.  It does add excitement.  But is it sustaining?  I’m simply looking at the big picture.  Feel free to talk amongst yourselves and add your own thoughts.  This isn’t an argument, just an observation. 

But nonetheless, I too, am glad to see Phillips back around, trading in his pistol for a microphone.  Citizen’s Arrest no longer needed.

  1. If Eric Phillips is past thirty, it can’t be by more than a year or two. (Just checked. He’s 32.) Dustin Sweatman is also under thirty, I do believe. Pat Barker has a few years on them, but he’s under forty.

    It would not be hard at all to imagine all three still singing, and still among the best in the genre, forty years from now.

    And as to more young talent … Collingsworths, anyone? Try finding another family group with that much vocal talent in one place, not to mention instrumental talent.

    While I doubt it is the case here, I think the return of some of these singers to the road may be influenced by the economy and the unemployment percentages in other occupations.

    • Collingsworths are fantastic and certainly qualify as quality. I know there are SOME. But in comparison to other decades, the QUALITY of talent among the younger artists seem less. There are others, Trey Ivey, Amber Nelon-Thompson, Riley Clark, Jordan Wilburn. Overall, just seems to have slacked off.

      • Fair enough. Yes, I suppose our genre has seen less new, incredible, young talent in the last few years.

  2. quartet-man permalink

    Interesting post and questions. I do think that the P&W trend has hurt SG. SG is not considered cool, in fact quite to the contrary sadly. So many churches have taken hymnbooks out and harmony singing is all but gone. Harmony has been the bread and butter of SG singing. Without it in churches training the next generation and giving them a love for harmony singing versus unison singing, SG suffers.

  3. Heres a thought, what if the owners of these groups never wanted Allman, Phillips, or Porter to leave in the first place? All 3 of them are returning and are just as good or better than when they left their respective groups. I don’t think there is a lack of young talent, but I do believe many churches are embracing P&W and other Contemporary forms of Christian Music, and reject Southern Gospel all together. I understand this is a very deep subject, but it boggles my mind that churches who will tell their people to support a Christian movie will not support Gospel Music concerts by posting flyers or announcing it in their bulletin. Not trying to be judgemental, just stating the facts.

  4. DisneyGator permalink

    There’s no youth in the industry because youth don’t want to be a part of it. My dad tells me of the old days (60s) when he would take his girlfriend to the city to catch the Imperials or the Statesmen, and so would his friends. These days, the college kids are taking their girlfriends to see Red, SC Chapman, Kutless, and other hard edge groups. Kids go for what’s cool. In the 60s, the Imperials and the Oak Ridge Boys were cool. They’re not anymore. There are groups that appeal to a younger audience, but that is still a “churched” audience. How many “churched” kids do you know these days? A lot less than there used to be.

    • Yeah Gardener, I think that’s really sad but probably quite true. (Though I do genuinely enjoy other music besides SG.)

    • Another good point. I’m an oddball. The Imperials are still cool. Kutless, not so much anymore. Chapman will always be cool.

  5. By the way, I just couldn’t help thinking of Gomer Pyle:

  6. If the “old guys” can still deliver on a equal level or in some cases (Allman, Porter) better than they did on their first stint, I’d say it’s preferable to bring them back. It didn’t hurt that Allman’s “God On The Mountain” YouTube video created a nice buzz for him a year or so before he rejoined Greater Vision.

    Now, Michael English doesn’t quite have the cut he used to have, but he’s as inventive as ever. Plus, Bill had the wisdom to change the format of the group at the same time he brought English, Phelps and Lowry back, so fans got something new along with something old.

    • Oh they can still deliver, no doubt. And bringing back old members who are as good or better than before is a fan pleaser. I’m just observing if it’s usually best for the long run. As always though, not every situation is the same.

  7. Maybe part of the reason that talent is lacking us because no one want to tell a young singer they’re not good enough. If a 20 something is burping out a fake bass part, an audience would rather smile and encourage them rather than call them out and say, “Ya know, you need some work before you start your George Younce impression.”

    Which leads me to my next point….all the young kids today are trying to copy the greats rather than be themselves. I know of several young kids who copy everything from vocal trucks to stage mannerisms (imagine a young ‘un shuffling across the stage just because their favorite singer did later in life….I’ve seen it!!). Influenced? Fine, but don’t just rip off.

    Part of the reason people wont call young people out is the risk of “questioning their heart.” A group may be horrible, but for every non-glowing remark, someone close to them (often Mommy) will lash out in defense, saying, “How dare you say they’re no good? You don’t know their hearts. They are men/boys of God, so sweet and kind.” Ok, they’ve got a heart for God, but that doesn’t mean they have been called to sing…..

    • You’re right on the mark Kyle.

    • Well, it’s not really the job of the audience to explain to the “professional” the finer arts of the craft. It’s not even the job of self-proclaimed critics like us bloggers…not saying there’s anything wrong with what we do…but it often falls on deaf ears, or generates a defensive response rather than being taken as the challenge it was intended to be.

      A singer who truly wants to hone their craft will seek out training from a skilled coach and/or other singers whose abilities they respect. So many are self-taught and some are quite stuck on themselves, thinking they have nothing else to learn. For those singers, rendering a rote memorized stage presence is all they’ll ever be able to do.

    • Kyle’s probably got a point. I made a comment once to the effect that a young regional trio wasn’t good enough to deserve two spots on NQC mainstage, even though I didn’t think they were bad, and some friend of theirs came and ripped me up one side and down the other. I really knocked myself out trying to calm her down. I didn’t think I was unduly harsh in my initial criticism, but you can’t please everyone.

  8. Lead Singer permalink

    The old country adage comes to mind: Better to be an imi-tater than no tater at all.

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