As my past posts have hinted at, my record buying habits have taken on a heavy gospel bent of late. Not sure what instigated the ramp up…I’ve been picking up pieces here and there for years now but not in such a concerted way.
My taste in gospel has both evolved and refined itself over the years; the only common consistencies is that I’m certainly drawn to gospel with a strong soul and/or funk aesthetic but given how remarkably broad and diverse those styles are, it’s not as if there’s a particular “gospel sound” that appeals to me. I suppose I’m working “backwards,” filtering my tastes in gospel through the sonic sieve of soul/funk rather than letting gospel and its unique aesthetics lead me but this is an on-going exploration so I don’t put much faith (pun intended) into assuming that I’m reached some kind of well-refined conclusions as to what I’m into.
Regardless, hope folks enjoy this week’s set of gospel inspired posts.
The Daytonians: Shelter
From Jesus Will Work It Out (Church Door, 197?)
J.J. Farley and the Original Soul Stirrers: Count On Me
From Time Has Made a Change (HSE, 196?)
The Soulful Sons of Zion: Pray For Peace
From Peace N the Valley (Su-Ann/HSE, 197?)
The Art Reynolds Singers: Every Now and Then
From Tellin’ It Like It Is! (Capitol/EMI, 1966)
I was first turned onto the Daytonians’ LP through Kid Inquisitive, whose gospel mix put me on the path for any number of must haves. This album, by the Dayton OH based band was one of the toughest to come by and while I wouldn’t necessarily call it a (har har) holy grail, it should at least qualify for white whale status given its rarity. 1
The sound of the Daytonians LP shares much in common with other gospel bands you’ll be hearing today and this week: a handful of players, working with relatively simple arrangements, with a lead soloists and a couple of back-up singers…and that’s it. I really love the minimalism of it all – it’s like the inverse of some super-lush Curtis Mayfield production but it’s not any less soulful or affecting for it. 2 With the Daytonians in particular, their band seems to have a bassist, a guitarist and drummer, plus their vocalists and that’s it. And I love how effective they are with just that. 3. This was one of the first LPs released on Atlanta’s Church Door imprint, supposedly in the late 1970s though the sound of it seems at least a decade earlier (perhaps owning to the no-frills production).
The Soul Stirrers have a giant, storied history as a gospel outfit, dating all the way back to the 1930s. For secular folks, the name might ring a bell because Sam Cooke spent a spell with them, as did Johnnie Taylor but what’s extraordinary is that Jessie James (J.J.) Farley wasn’t just a founding member, but was still an integral member some 30-40 years later. They recorded for many different labels though this LP appears on HSE, the Tennessee imprint that was one of the powerhouse independent gospel labels.4 So far, this is the only LP I have by them though the other recordings I’ve heard from them in this era suggests there’s much more to their catalog worth exploring. I’m digging on the dual guitar style of “Count On Me,” plus the driving rhythm section. The lead here – I’m assuming Martin Jacow – is a gritty soul shouter/screaming and goes in on the back half of the song.
The Soulful Sons of Zion were a local Oakland outfit (though they recorded this LP for HSE’s subsidiary, Su-Ann) from what I’m guessing is the mid/late 1970s based on the production style of the recording. In contrast to the starkness of the Daytonians and Soul Stirrers, the Soulful Sons have a fuller sound, including that dramatic string accompaniment that opens the song.
As for the Art Reynolds Singers…I posted up two of their songs before and I was revisiting the album and realize I had totally overlooked this awesome gospel soul ballad. One thing I especially adore about it – besides how the vocalist crushes this in a Ruth Brown/Etta James way – is how the lyrics could so clearly be tweaked with minimal changes to turn this from a song celebrating Jesus to a song celebrating, well, a different kind of man who comes by and touches you. I can’t tell if this is a cover of an R&B song that’s been remade into a gospel tune but it certainly sounds that way. Bonus points for how heavy the vibes are in this mix.
- Side note on collecting gospel: One thing I’ve learned fairly quickly is that while many gospel recordings may sound like soul records, they certainly don’t circulate like soul records. The most popular gospel recording of all time is
Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace which sold 2 million copiesKirk Franklin’s 1997 album, God’s Property which sold over 3 million – a huge number but compare that with the best selling soul, rock or funk albums: gospel isn’t mainstream music no matter how much it may be in conversation with it.
It’s a niche genre that moves along niche networks, with it own labels, distributors and retail outlets. As such, I would argue that unit-by-unit, it’s easier to find, say, a 1000-unit pressing of a soul recording than a 2000-unit pressing of a gospel recording. Both are legitimately rare but the soul record at least is more likely to circulate within a better developed network of record commerce that specialize in rare items: boutique stores, collector/dealers and of course, eBay. The gospel that enters into those same routes usually are able to do so because they’re “known” by what you could call “secular music” collectors (an ill-fitting term but I think you catch my meaning) but I’d say the crossover between those two social worlds is small (far smaller, in my estimation, that for, say, Latin or Brazilian record nerds). ↩
- In fact, this is a total theory in progress and I’d happily have someone punch a dozen holes in it, but it strikes me that it’s not as easy to find post-1966 soul recordings that are as minimalist in arrangement and production as gospel but, I suspect I may think this partially because I own very few private press soul albums to compare with the private/small press gospel LPs I have. ↩
- Alas, I want to give credit to the singers here but I’m writing this away from home and will have to get home before I can check the liners to see who’s singing ↩
- Small note but my version of this LP does not have the title on the cover (unlike the version whose image is above. Same cover image though). ↩