Hillbilly Gospel

Hickman AiresT and I are not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but that has never stopped us from enjoying a good gospel tune. In our thrift store vinyl hunts, we find an overabundance of Jesus music. Most of it is mediocre (like anything else, right?), but we do come across some gems. Here are a few such items from our collection of hillbilly gospel, most of them purchased in one late fall 2010 trip to northeastern Tennessee, and especially in Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia, aka The Birthplace of Country Music. The songs here vary in style from the near shape-note singing of the Coffee Family, to the bluegrass gospel of Ed Samons and the Kentucky Mountain Boys, and Marion Brock’s rockabilly praisings. There aren’t any dates on any of the recordings, but it is safe to say that most are from the 1960s and ’70s. You may listen to what we’ve embedded below, or download everything, zipped in one folder right here. At the end of this post you’ll find a pdf containing cover reproductions of the albums from which we’ve pulled the music.

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The Coffee Family, who are fantastic, have already been featured in one of our earlier posts. The following represents the remaining Coffee record we possess. Both records (that is, two 45 rpm singles) were found in a thrift store outside of Sylva, North Carolina, in the Smoky Mountains. Here the Coffees and their power-lung child give us their renditions of “Will the Angel Let Me Play” and “Perfect Joy.” (Scott S-45-201) (As usual, it is best to play these files using Chrome or Safari.)

CoffeeFamily.45-201

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The Grace Trio of Bluff City, Tennessee features Gail Ealey (accordion), Tom Ealey (rhythm guitar), and Mildred Helbert (bass guitar). Their music has a gentleness we like. Here they perform “God’s Seasons” (from the album The Grace Trio Sings Their Compositions) and “Today is Tomorrow’s Yesterday” (from the album A Song the Angels Can’t Sing). (Gospeltone Records GT-122-LPS, and Gospel Recording Studio GRS 118)

The Grace Trio, l-r: Gail Ealey, Mildred Helbert, Tom Ealey:
The Grace Trio

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Paul Walker & Southern Gospel Singers’ album Come Morning I’ll Have a New Life is kinda punk in its rawness. This entire album deserves its own post, but until then here are two tracks, “Almost Home” and “I Can’t Even Walk Without You Holding My Hand.” The band consists of Walker on lead guitar, Radis Hixson on fiddle, Harold Hixson on banjo, and Howard Levi on bass. No information on where PW&SGS are from, but the internet says there is a Radis Hixson buried in Pikeville, Kentucky. That seems a likely place. (disc manufacturer unindicated, but numbered: 36280)

Paul and Loretta Walker, Radis Hixson with mother, Verna:Paul Walker, et al

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Nellie Bentley and son Sherman belt “Banks of Jordan” with great aplomb, and Ms. Bentley’s solo vocal on “Troublesome Waters” is a thing of beauty. Nellie’s got some beautiful high lonesome pipes, and Sherman’s adolescent voice well complements hers. The Bentleys hail from Jenkins, Kentucky. Their album is titled Nellie Bentley and son Sherman sing The Answer’s on the Way. (Rite Records 24375)

Sherman and Nellie Bentley:
Nellie & Sherman

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The Gospel Four Quartet, also from Pikeville, Kentucky, consists of Avonelle Damron, Troy Ed Damron, Crit Justice, and Noble Howell. According to the group’s album liner notes, they “started singing about eight years ago, but due to a lot of difficulty, were unable to continue singing regularly until about a year ago.” Presented here from the album The Gospel Four Says Climb the Mountain with Us are the Quartet’s “Call on Jesus,” “Climbing the Mountain,” and “Nearing the Shore.” I’m glad they could get it together to begin singing regularly, because the Gospel Four Quartet rocks. And “Call on Jesus” reminds me just a bit of the Beach Boys’ “409,” except that it’s way better. (TRV’s Records 26791)

The Gospel Four Quartet, plus musicians:Gospel Four Quartet

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Avonelle and the Royal Heirs are a later permutation of the above Gospel Four Quartet, featuring Avonelle and Troy Ed Damron, their children Rhonda and Ricky, and another guy named James (sorry – no last name on the album for James). “Don’t Let the Ship Sail Without Me” from the album The Song Will Never End features a male vocal (Troy Ed, perhaps?) that is full of vulnerability. It just kills us. (Trail Records TSRC-6516)

Troy Ed and Avonelle Damron:Troy and Avonelle

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We found the following track, “I’ll Make Jesus My Choice,” by Dollie Poole, in Kingsport, Tennessee, the first time we went to the South in the summer of 2008. It is on a 7″ 45 rpm acetate disc with a typewritten label. We digitized the song in 2008, and since cannot find the disc, so there is no image to accompany the song.

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Brother Bill Rose and Family, of Berea, KY, are fine purveyors of the high lonesome sound, on display in the beautifully mournful “Mother is Old.” Their “I’d Tell the World,” on the other hand, is a tight little rockabilly bop song. From the album Mother is Old. (Rose Records LP-1)

l-r: Brother Bill and Christine Rose; Marvin, Marsha, Marlene, Alfreda, and Billy Keith Rose:The Rose Family

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The next three songs come from an album of various artists featured on the Tri-State Recording Company label, Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord. They are: “Satan is Real,” by the Crusaders for Christ Quartet, “Weapon of Prayer,” by J.W. Depew and the Bible Way Trio, and “I’ve Just Got to Heaven,” by the Duck Creek Quartet. (Tri-State Recording Company TSRC-69339)

tri-state02

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Here’s Ed Samons and the Kentucky Mountain Boys doing “High Water,” the most rollicking number on their album Sacred Sounds of Blue Grass. Ed, “born and raised in the hills of eastern Kentucky,” sings lead and plays mandolin. Leslie Gilliam of Paintsville, KY, plays Mastertone banjo. Eldom Allen of Clendenin, WV plays fiddle, and Megs County, Ohio’s Starr Orr plays upright bass. Joe Martin of Martin, KY, plays D-35 Martin guitar! (Our friend Greg Martin is also a Martin from Martin, KY. Wonder how he’s related to Joe?) (Gloryland G-103)

Ed Samons and the Kentucky Mountain Boys:samons

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The Clark Sisters‘ instrumental “My Home, Sweet Home” from their album Remind Me Dear Lord reminds me of the style in which my grandfather used to play the one piano tune he knew: rambling, 2/4 (except for the 3/4 break!), a little offset from the beat. That’s Janice Davis on piano. The remaining Clark Sisters (not appearing on this track) are Judy Pitcock, Rebecca Street, and Alice Birchfield, of Hampton, TN, and the Woodby Hill Free Will Baptist Church, both near Roan Mountain. (True Gospel TGLP-120)

The Clark Sisters:clark-sisterstrue-gospel-label

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“The Sun’s Coming Up in the Morning” features Nadine Rexroat’s clear, strong voice, accompanied by husband Johnny’s harmonies. The band on The Singing Rexroats‘ album It’s Not What You See is very tight, Nashville-like. That may be attributed to this album’s production and release by Cincinnati’s Jewel Records. The Rexroats hail from Jamestown, TN. (Records JRC-931)

The Singing Rexroats:

rexroats

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Here are two versions of the same song “When I Get Home” and “When I Reach Home,” respectively. “When I Get Home” is performed by the Travelers Quartet, featured on the Tri-State album mentioned above. “When I Reach Home” is performed by Paul Walker and Southern Gospel Singers, and is from their album also mentioned above.

The Travelers Quartet, and Paul Walker, Loretta Walker, Dorothy Swafford, Dwayne Swafford:

travelers-gospelsingers

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Here is The McKamey Family of Clinton, TN, doing the old standard “Way Down Deep in My Soul” from their album, The McKamey Family Sings the Family Prayer. (Tri-State TSRC-685088)

The McKamey Family:

mckameys

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This version of the standard “Wait a Little Longer Please, Jesus” is performed by one Sister Jewell Comberston, and is from a battered 78 rpm acetate disc we found on our trip through the Ozarks this past July 2012. The recording is featured in a video made for an earlier post on Joplin, MO. We’re putting it here, too, because we like it so much.SisterJewell

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Deliverance Church of God‘s “He’s the Savior of My Soul” from the album Dear God, is dirge-like and repetitive, recalling the Old Regular Baptist style, except that it’s much more poppy. The song features a long preaching interlude by Reverend Hazel Forrester, who performs her task using hypnotic, repetitious cadences. Apparently Reverend Hazel is still with us, and she has written a book. (Casey NR 1949)

Cathy, Reverend Hazel, and Hobert Forrester:

forresters

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Finally, we leave you with southeastern Kentucky-born Marion Brock‘s rocking “Good Bye,” from his album Songs of Inspiration. When we purchased this somewhere in the Ozarks this past summer, we noticed that the album cover and disc didn’t match (same artist, though). Bought it anyway because of the compelling back cover photo (below). Good thing.

There’s more Marion Brock available at Mark Betcher’s The Good, Bad & Ugly Gospel Record Barn. Brock’s “After While” — featured on that site — is stunning. (Sacred 1127)Marion Brock

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Album covers:

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