You Don't Have To Ride - Gospel Records from My Collection
March 20, 2015 3:20 PM   Subscribe

You Don't Have To Ride - Gospel Records from My Collection
I've been collecting gospel records for a little while now and figured it was time that I share. Every day I post at least one track from my collection. Most of these tracks are from the late sixties through the early eighties and clearly influenced by secular black American music, but with a twist. For various reasons the vast majority of gospel music has never been reissued and isn't available digitally, so this is the first time these songs are available without tracking down the original releases in most cases.

Though there were excellent gospel ensembles in every part of America with a significant black population, the majority of this music is from the south, particularly Tennessee and the Carolinas. Most gospel was released on small regional labels with limited distribution and is consequently scarce today.

I only post stuff that I think is well worth listening to, but you can check the #house favorite tag for songs I find especially astonishing. I've also made the last several posts a cross section of several different prominent styles in anticipation of posting this here.
Role: creator
posted by vathek (9 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This project was posted to MetaFilter by Anonymous on April 11, 2015: You Don't Have to Ride

This is great!
posted by cortex at 3:24 PM on March 20, 2015

Good stuff. I can't get the titular song to play, however; the player works, but there's no sound.

You Don't Have To Ride
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:05 AM on March 21, 2015

Ooops. Should be fixed now.
posted by vathek at 9:40 AM on March 21, 2015

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:36 PM on March 21, 2015

passed this along to a family member who is enjoying it.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:19 PM on March 24, 2015

This is probably too belated to reach many people. I wrote most of this several days ago to contextualize this music a bit more and suggest where to find it but then some things that needed my attention happened and I forgot about it. Anyway, even though there's no clear demand for this exhausting run down of the state of forgotten gospel music and my own thoughts/knowledge on the subject, I thought I might finish it.

The so-called golden age of gospel ended around 1960. In the next few decades, the industry really fragmented. You can count the number of well-distributed gospel labels on your hands (Nashboro, Peacock, Savoy, HOB, Jewel, HSE, Song Bird). At the same time, just as in secular music, the period saw a huge proliferation of local labels and privately pressed records. Groups everywhere cut singles and albums, thousands of them, most pressed in very small quantities and sold locally.

What follows is mostly a discussion of the current state of gospel collecting and reissuing. I feel pretty self-conscious about the fact that I know so much more about record sales than the artists themselves. My impression is that many of these artists were very obscure even in their own time. There were hundreds of professional gospel groups out there, but there were also many who only performed regionally or in their own churches. It's true that many secular groups also were purely local, of course, but most bands serious enough to cut records aspire to greater success. Many gospel artists sought to spread the good word, but it's easy to see how celebrating God within one's own congregation could be an end in itself, an end compatible with the refusal of worldly success.

My impression - note that here I'm relying more on informed guesses than solid info - is that many records were sold within the congregation and sent to radio stations. Perhaps a few copies went up for sale with little fanfare at local record shops. Without public shows or significant radio play and largely distant from cultural centers, most probably sold very few copies. Designer Records was one of the most established gospel vanity labels. Their session guitarist says that the records were purchased from the label twenty five at a time - a ridiculously limited run by any standard. That sounds like a possible exaggeration to me, but it's clear that self-released gospel was often pressed in very low quantities. Given the natural attrition of records in the hands of those who aren't specifically seeking to preserve them, it wouldn't surprise me at all if many self-released 45s now exist in single digit numbers.

Major gospel acts from the first three of above-mentioned labels have been frequently comped and reissued. However, for reasons that aren't all that clear to me, small label gospel music was ignored for decades, though I'm sure that if one lived in the right places there were superb gospel radio shows. The gospel show with the best web presence is WFMU's wonderful Sinner's Crossroad, which began in 2001. However, I can't find any reissues that include even a single song from small gospel labels prior to 2006, when Numero Group put out Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal. Like most Numero releases, it's pretty excellent. The floodgates haven't exactly opened, but there have been a handful of decent reissues. My favorite is The Soul of Designer Records. The selection leaves off many of the most in-demand Designer songs (such as the unreal Heavenly Bound Travelers Gospel Singers or the sweet soul genius of The Harps of Zion), but almost everything Designer released is fantastic. Gospel Funk compiles songs from HOB. Say Amen! The Gospel Funk of Jewel Records is an uneven selection from the least of the prominent gospel labels (also it's largely not funk), but still well worth the price of admission. Two comps by Mike McGonigal for Tompkins Square, Fire In My Bones and This May Be My Last Time Singing, follow the same "great but mostly not rare or in demand gospel at random" logic as my blog. Tompkins Square has also released a judiciously chosen selection of Nashboro sides and a particularly good selection of early gospel. The much beloved Mississippi Records has released several gospel comps, but largely pre-war stuff and blues (nothing wrong with it, but with many exceptions it just doesn't appeal to me as strongly as later soul inflected material). Some of their tape releases are more in line with my interests. Numero has three more releases in their Good God! series. Apocryphal Hymns is my pick for pound-for-pound champion out of all these reissues. If you want to dip your feet in the Numero comps are absolutely the place to start.

Posting audio on the internet is, of course, the cheapest and most modern form of reissuing there is. Greg Belson's Divine Chord Gospel Show and its Youtube channel are consistently amazing. Belson has great taste and a lot of very expensive 45s. Deep Gospel Sounds is a similarly impeccable Youtube channel. Aaron Bushman's channel is legit, though not exclusively gospel. Gospel Explosion and Gospel Nostalgia are packed with excellent music, though not as obscure or selectively picked, and almost entirely from LPs. On their sidebars they have some links to a few similar Youtube channels.

Some of the real MVPs here are record dealers. Jason Perlmutter, Jason Koenig, and Chris Carnahan stand head and shoulders above anybody else. All three of them are major dealers on eBay who list several hundred records of a single genre every week, a constant stream of jawdropping records. I'm not sure quite how they do it, but these guys have clearly been turning the south inside out in search of new gospel records and every few months each of them have sales that make my collection look really paltry.

Of course, it would be a conspicuous omission if I said nothing on the topic of race. It's definitely true that the visible faces of the new interest in obscure gospel music are overwhelmingly white (like me) and much more interested in the music than the message (like me). It's clearly right to think about how to approach gospel music without moving into bad forms of cultural appropriation.

There are three main issues. One is that commercial reissues ought to be appropriately licensed. I believe all the ones I list above are, except the one from Mississippi Records. The second is an unfortunate tendency to exoticize the musicians, similar to the embarrassing way that pre-war blues artists are often treated as absolutely other. The Tompkins Square reissues, subtitled as "raw," "otherworldly," and "unearthly," are particularly guilty of this. It's not to say that gospel isn't sometimes raw or otherworldly, but at the very least such descriptions toe the line between fair praise and racial troping. Finally, I've always been a bit uncomfortable with the pervasive language of discovery around rare records. There is a real sense of discovery one has in hearing a neat song for the first time, and of course the inaccessibility of so much gospel music amplifies that sense, but there's a dubious tendency to venerate the curator rather than the artists - or to be narcissistically impressed with one's own taste as much as the music itself - that I find myself increasingly critical of. That's part of why I've chosen to present the blog with almost no comment beyond some basic descriptions in the tags. It's something I have to continue to think about and be self-critical about.

A hearty cheers to anyone who actually made it through this post.
posted by vathek at 8:01 PM on March 29, 2015 [8 favorites]

Oh, geez, somehow I forgot Dust-to-Digital's great 2003 box set Goodbye, Babylon, which is really the first great reissue of obscure gospel. Trikont's Overcome comps have some lesser known material as well. The Rev. Louis Overstreet track on there was the first gospel song that really caught my fancy. It still stands out as one of the most remarkably intense tracks I've ever heard. The T.L. Barrett selection on the second Trikont comp is a bit of an odd pick. Barrett's first album has been comped by Numero and reissued by Light in the Attic. It's a little uneven, but the title track is brilliant.
posted by vathek at 10:48 AM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Goodbye, Babylon, which is really the first great reissue of obscure gospel.

I'm not necessarily thrilled to be the kind of person that splits hairs over obscure-gospel reissues, but, while Goodbye Babylon is indeed great, American Primitive came out in 1997.
posted by box at 12:31 PM on April 11, 2015

(Also, your blog is awesome and you are wonderful.)
posted by box at 12:33 PM on April 11, 2015

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