As Bill Gaither intones in the song “Something to Say” on his recently released solo project, “I’ve sung along with some pretty good singers.” Now it’s his turn.

“I’ve always concentrated on being a platform for other singers,” explained the lifelong Alexandria resident and member of at least a couple of gospel music hall of fame rosters. “After being in the field for more than 40 years, I realize it’s about more than singing – it’s about communicating. I’ve worked with some fantastic voices and some like mine that are pretty ordinary.”

Gaither’s characteristic modesty likely reflects reality in a field where people display a variety of talents. The late Howard Goodman, for example, was a lot more style than substance musically. Roger Talley, producer, musician and emcee for the Talley Trio, keeps the spotlight on the extraordinary voices of wife Debra and daughter Lauren. And Claude Hopper, patriarch of the Hoppers and naturally a soft-voiced baritone, drops down to the bass part simply to fill out the harmony in the family group.

Gaither tells the story of the time he and his parents traveled home from the airport and his mother prevailed on him to sing for her. By the time they reached home he had sung virtually every song he knew. A typical mother, Lela Gaither urged her son to make a solo record.

That was a few years ago, and Lela Gaither has since died. Now he’s finally done it.

“I felt as though the time was right,” he explained. “I’m a producer and an arranger. I never took myself seriously as a singer. I’ve sung with some great singers.”

Indeed, he has shined the spotlight on others throughout his career, from his brother Danny to such names as Doug Oldham, Sandi Patty, Steve Green, Larnelle Harris, Guy Penrod, David Phelps and the array of gospel music’s finest singers who appear in the popular Homecoming series.

In a medium where a wag might say a typical Southern gospel quartet consists of three guys screaming and one guy growling, Gaither’s easygoing slice-of-life presentation on his solo CD, titled simply “Bill Gaither,” strikes a chord with those of us struggling with the day-to-day tasks of living in a fast-paced world. And I like it because it’s easy to sing along with. “I’m a singer for all the bathtub singers in the world,” Gaither cracked.

Sales have taken off, and Gaither finds the response to the project pretty gratifying.

Starting with some of the songs he and wife Gloria have written over the years, Gaither has added others of like genre: “But For the Grace of God,” “I Wish You,” “The Family of God,” “Though Autumn’s Coming On,” “I Believe, Help Thou My Unbelief,” “Day By Day,” “We Have This Moment Today,” “These Things Shall Pass,” “You Might Forget the Singer (But You Won’t Forget the Song),” “Some Things I Must Tell the Children,” “Make It Real,” “The Longer I Serve Him” and “Something to Say.”

“It’s about everyday life,” Gaither observed. “It speaks to how we get out of Sunday into Monday and Tuesday. And there’s also some pretty spiritual stuff there.”

A number of those songs were written by Stuart Hamblen, a cowboy singer from the 1950s after whom Gaither confesses he has to some degree patterned his style.

“I always loved his style,” Bill explained. “It’s in your face. He’d tell your story and you had to listen. It’s everyday stuff where the gospel hits the road.”

Of course there are elements of such singers as Oldham and Jake Hess throughout his renditions as well. “I’ve heard that we are all a composite of all the influences we’ve had down the road,” he admitted.

After the project got started, Gaither realized some of the songs were more serious than he thought.

“I thought it might help people get a little perspective,” he said of his goals for the project.

What comes next? “I’ll let other folks make that call,” he said.

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Sunday. He can be reached by e-mail at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.

 











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