This series has a dual purpose—to prove that southern gospel can stand on its own two feet next to some of the best artists mainstream music can offer, and to expose strictly southern gospel listeners to some music that might fall outside their regular rotation. So what better way to continue the column than by pairing up the most influential duo in country/rock-and-roll with arguably the most popular southern gospel artist at this time? Of course I have my opinion, but I’ll let you readers decide. One thing I will say is I consider it a compliment to both groups for me to compare each to the other. So, let the history lesson/rambling commence!
It’s hard to convey the impact of the Everly Brothers, but here’s one way to put it: Simon & Garfunkel probably wouldn’t exist without them. In fact, most rock acts that rely on harmony wouldn’t have developed the same way without them. True, their songs were essentially the 60s equivalent of Justin Bieber’s “Baby, Baby,” but then a lot of love songs are. What was distinctive about them was their sound. It was a blend you couldn’t possibly mistake for anyone else. Though their artistic lifespan was fairly short, they left an indelible mark on popular music, fusing sharp country vocals with a rock and roll beat. In some ways they were ahead of their time. And when they caught the ear of two young schoolmates in Queens, younger than the Everlys themselves in this early clip, they ignited a new flame. The influence is undeniable:
The groundwork is already there—not yet fully formed, a bit green and nasal, but very professional.
The Everlys polished their sound further through incessant practice and became very popular with young listeners, though even their upbeat songs had that country sting to them. Presley did country tongue in cheek, but this was less self-conscious and hence more biting. (Witness the irony of “Gone Gone Gone,” another cynical “done me wrong song” disguised as a dance number that kept teens obliviously rocking out on the floor.) But they could also tug heart-strings with the best of them on a tender ballad (see “Crying In the Rain” ). My favorite of the latter is this middle-aged TV appearance with Johnny Cash on “Silver-Haired Daddy.” You can tell the blend is richer, more assured, yet somehow the same. The slight mis-match in closing consonants and brief lyrics slip are the only indicators that this isn’t a pre-recorded vocal. It’s so simple, but the effortless perfection on display here just leaves me gobsmacked:
Here are two more favorites from their in-between years. Come to think of it, the Booth Brothers should really cover “Ebony Eyes.”
Unfortunately, private discord and shifting music styles caused the brothers to part ways before the decade was out. Ironically, their inter-personal squabbles have become almost as legendary as those of the iconic duo they inspired. Though humorously enough, Paul Simon coaxed them out of retirement in 2003, and all four musicians did a reunion tour together! The experience seems to have been a good one for all concerned.
Now the Booth Brothers don’t need much introduction to regular readers, but for any newbies who are perchance not familiar with them, here’s a thumbnail sketch: The Booth Brothers are currently composed of two actual brothers and a “third wheel” (Jim Brady) who blends like one. Harmony runs in the Booth family. In fact, the original lineup consisted of brothers Michael, Ronnie, and their father Ron Sr., who sang with a quartet called the Rebels. Although current tenor Michael Booth is the group’s front-man today, he used to be afraid to sing at all and learned gradually how to harmonize from the ground up. It’s a testament to his talent and work ethic that he now blends so effortlessly with the others.
The Booth Brothers’ sound is tight, gorgeous and tremendously easy on the ears without being saccharine. The easy warmth of their vocals, combined with their personal likability, have been two key factors in their success. Getting picked up by Bill Gaither probably also helped. A little. Stylistically I would classify them as straight-forward country/gospel, but early recordings also show some rockabilly influences, and baritone Jim Brady now brings a light pop touch to the group. In the old days, papa sang tenor while Michael sang baritone. Check out this vintage clip of “What a Happy Day.”
One of my favorite country numbers of theirs is this cover of “If We Never Meet Again.” In fact, this was one of the very first Booth Brothers songs I ever heard:
The number “I’m Going Back” is one of the more challenging harmonies they’ve tackled, but they rise to the challenge seemingly without trying.
However, the ballad form brings out their very best. These two examples need no introductions:
Okay, it’s getting late so now I yield the floor to you. Assuming you made it through all my ramblings, leave your thoughts in the comments!