The Herald Bulletin

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May 25, 2013

Jim Bailey: Gospel historian hangs onto his roots in Alexandria

At the edge of Alexandria, a new sign proclaims: “Welcome to Alexandria, Home of Bill and Gloria Gaither.” It’s where Bill has lived his whole lifetime, and they’ve lived in the same house for half a century.

Bill has long regaled his audiences, whether live or watching the Homecoming videos, of his boyhood days on the farm when he rose early to milk the cows and tuned in an old radio to stations that carried Southern gospel artists. Or his regular trips to Joe’s Record Shop in Anderson to pick up specially ordered records of his favorite quartets.

In a storage closet in the Gaither Music Co. warehouse just north of Alexandria, many of those old 78 rpm records are stacked high among more recent vintage masters and leftover long-play records of the Bill Gaither Trio from the ’60s and ’70s. A few of those old 78s are cracked or broken as those brittle 10-inch discs were wont to do if not handled carefully. But even among those, the labels still list the names of singing groups long dead or disbanded, singing songs that have become classics in the gospel music field.

“Get Away Jordan” by the Statesmen more recently was revived by Ernie Haase and Signature Sound. Another Statesmen recording was “If God Didn’t Care.”

Then comes an album by the Stamps Quartet, the original V.O. and Frank Stamps singers rendering numbers such as “If We Never Meet Again” and “God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds.”

There’s a record by Leroy Abernathy and the Homeland Harmony Quartet, “Everybody Ought to Know Something.” The Harmoneers with “Lord Build Me a Cabin in Glory.” The Wally Fowler Quartet with “Dig a Little Deeper in God’s Love.” Red Foley with the Jordanaires singing “He’ll Understand and Say Well Done.”

A LeFevre Trio record contains “I’m Feeling Fine.” The original Blackwood Brothers – James, Roy, Doyle and Roy’s son R.W. – do “My Journey to the Sky” and “That Glad Reunion Day.” The Jordanaires sing “The Old Ship of Zion.” Stuart Hamblen renders “These Things Shall Pass.” The Sunshine Boys are heard on “Go Down to the Jordan.” V.B. “Vep” Ellis sings “I’m On the Battlefield.” And the Humming Birds, a black gospel group, sing “Wonderful Time Up There.”

I even have a copy of one of those old records, the Dixie Four singing “He’ll Understand and Say Well Done.”

Those individuals and most of the groups are long gone. But if you follow Gaither’s Homecoming videos you’ve heard most of those songs revived.

For Gaither, an incurable historian, these songs tell a story of a craft that has carried the gospel to the masses for a couple of centuries.

“Not all of them were good songs,” he admitted. “Some were pretty bad, just like pop and other fields.”

But it’s a piece of Americana that he’s glad to hang onto.

Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.

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