Thoughts On Brian Free, Facebook, and Toilet Paper

A short while back, Brian Free posted the following on Assurance’s facebook page:

Many of you told me to let you know when we were getting low on supplies on the bus, well we are getting low. You will never know how much we appreciate you keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. I’ll list the things we need in one minute…

(Next post)

Paper towels, RV toilet paper, PAPER plates, Plastic cups, Paper bowls, 9 volt batteries (Duracell or Energizer), AA batteries, AAA batteries and anything else you would like to bring. I can’t thank you enough, you are supporting us more than you know. Love you ALL! Brian

Well. That got people riled up. We had the trolls on Avery chortling to high heaven. “Ah yes, the prima donna artist bilking his adoring fans for toilet paper. How quaint. How droll.” Though not quite in those terms, but you get the gist. As far as they’re concerned, the emoticon says it all…

Then we had some smoother sneering. Though it was still sneering, and frankly if this guy is a former Cathedral as he claims in the comments thread there, I’ve got a little less respect for whoever that former Cathedral may be. (Though since it’s come out now that it’s a group deal, I don’t know what else, if anything, he’s contributed to the blog. [EDIT: And, it has been brought to my attention that when he said “working with the Cathedrals,” he actually most likely did not mean to convey that he actually sang as a member of the group, but worked with them in another group. My apologies to any former Cathedral who may be reading this. I guess it’s possible that you happen to agree with AAP, but you probably didn’t write it. I hope you understand it was an honest mistake.]) Anyway, whoever he actually is, I don’t particularly care if he thought he was doing Brian a favor. He’s not. It basically boiled down to, “Well, Brian’s a good chap, but this is rather embarrassing, don’t you know?”

No, I don’t know. Explain to me again just what is supposed to be so embarrassing about somebody who runs a music ministry telling fans, many of whom have asked how they can help… how they can help? I thought the most classless bit of AAP’s critique was when he said he doesn’t “fall for” the “many have asked” part. So let me try to get this straight: You “like Brian and think he’s a good guy,” except of course you think he’s a liar? I also found this bit unintentionally humorous in a comment: “Seriously, if you want to make any singer happy, they will smile a lot bigger if they had a Applebee’s (etc) gift card as opposed to a roll of toilet paper.” Except Brian is a singer, and he’s already told us what he really wants. Oops. And as for the people arguing “Well look at their nice bus, look at his nice house, he should sacrifice himself instead of twisting the arms of people who may have less than he does…” give me a break. Number one, Brian’s personal bank account is one thing and the group’s account is another. He probably has a mortgage on that nice house. You think he could afford to support the group single-handedly out of his own pocket? And number two, he’s not twisting anybody’s arm. People can freely choose to give or not. Some people are thrilled to do so. Some people choose to let others do it. It’s up to them. Nobody’s being forced to do anything here. Also, people are saying it’s cheesy to ask for specific items, but would they rather he asked for money instead? Then they’d be complaining that was tacky because fans would just be donating with no idea where the money goes. So the truth is it’s a lose-lose.

This is my best shot at trying to understand where AAP and the rest who agree with him are coming from: Brian Free is a businessman running a business. His group sells product, fans pay. Whatever needs they have should be paid for by the business they do. So asking fans for supplies is  un-businesslike and hence tacky and unprofessional.

But here’s the thing: Brian’s not just running a business. He’s running a ministry. And so is every artist in the industry. They’re preaching the gospel through song. That’s a form of ministry. And many groups (including Brian Free and Assurance, I might add) choose not even to charge per ticket for many of their concerts. As a result, there is a natural desire from friends of the ministry to want to be involved in supporting it. The people who have asked Brian how they can help made the offer in friendship, and he is responding in friendship. It’s not merely a provider/consumer relationship, and that’s what makes southern gospel unique and special. I know some people think that’s the reason southern gospel is dying, but I submit that it would die a different kind of death if they had their way.

There you have my two cents. For what they are worth.


Saturday Survey #2

Hilariously, this is only my second survey/open thread in the life of the blog. I guess I’m generally too lazy to go around collecting newsy tidbits, especially since everybody else is so good at it. But a few things caught my eye this week. In no particular order:

* Former Tribute tenor Brian Alvey has joined the Talleys. As I’ve said elsewhere, this thrills me to no end. Brian is a fabulous and (IMO) underrated singer, and I can’t wait to see what Roger cooks up for the new sound. Some of us were wondering where Lauren would take her career when she and Brian got married last month, but this is certainly a pleasant surprise. Expect some impressive vocal interplay between Brian and Lauren in the group’s future.

* It came out in the comments section of this blog post of mine that Terry Franklin won’t be participating in this year’s live Gaither Vocal Band Reunion at NQC due to various scheduling conflicts. He will definitely be missed. I don’t know how many other GVB tenors will make an appearance, but I sure hope Steve Green makes it.

* Yet another SG blogger has launched, at His latest post is a convicting message to southern gospel groups about paying songwriter royalties.

* Chris Allman’s son Dustin proposed to his sweetheart, and she said yes. Way to go, D! You’re a great guy, and I’m confident you and Amanda will have a sweet marriage.

* Photo of the week: This priceless shot of Brian Free with his new grandson, born July 20. Isn’t that beautiful? Of course, the newsworthy aspect of this photo is that it appears Brian has grown a goatee. And here we were laying bets on when he would shave his soul patch. Who’da thunk it? Personally, I think his sharp, classic features have always lent themselves best to the clean-shaven look, but that’s just my .02.

* Video of the week: Hat tip to Josh for posting this video of the Garms family’s “Little Adventurers” performing an acapella number (with a little last-minute backup from big brother Ben). Little Caleb is singing lead, sister Jayme is singing high harmony, and Sam is singing low harmony while providing a few comedic movements with Caleb. Sammy is turning into a miniature Michael Booth—look out world! He even plays drums! (Not shown in this video.)

The thread is yours.

Lost Nuggets: “Beneath This Armor” by Gold City

[Apologies to Wes Burke for blatantly ripping off his “hidden gems” series. Sorry Wes… but it’s just such a good idea I had to get a piece of the pie!]

Somebody has posted Gold City’s entire Pillars of Faith concert video to Youtube in five parts. A thousand blessings on his head, because that most excellent video has sadly been long OOP. [Update: I’m wrong! Thanks to Steven and Brandon for informing me that this video has been made available as part of a box set here.] Recently I had the chance to sit down and enjoy the concert piece by piece. It was all excellent, but there was one song in particular that really moved me in a way it hadn’t before.

I first heard the song “Beneath This Armor” on Brian Free & Assurance’s At Your Request project of Gold City covers. At the time, I thought it was nice, but it didn’t really stick and struck me as less well composed than Twila Paris’s very similar classic “Warrior is a Child” (which could easily be covered by someone in SG, by the way). Some time passed until I found Brian’s live performance of the song from Pillars of Faith. When he began setting it up, I was deeply affected by what he had to say about putting our trust in human beings who can fail, something I coincidentally had just been writing about myself. The concert was taped in 1992, just after the Michael English and Sandi Patty scandals had broken. Brian refers to them without mentioning their names and talks about the great tragedy of all the people who were let down as a result of their heroes’ fall. [My goof. I didn’t make sure of the dates and just assumed those were the scandals he was referring to because they were so well known. Perhaps he had somebody like Marsha Stevens in mind.] But from there he moves to point out that the human race as a whole is frail and broken, and the mere fact that he stands behind a microphone doesn’t render him any less susceptible to temptation than the people in his audience.

When I realized he was setting up “Beneath This Armor,” I decided to give it another shot. I found myself nearly on the verge of tears by the time the song was over. “Warrior Is a Child” is definitely catchier and flows better, especially the music. But lyrically, “Beneath This Armor” digs more deeply into the same theme. The chorus alone is remarkable. And Brian sings it all with such incredible poignancy that I hang on every word. I think you hear a real maturity in his voice on this song. Watch the video. It includes the setup and the song, as well as the number they did right after it. (I couldn’t find a video with just “Beneath This Armor,” so forgive the extra song. It’s a fun toe-tapper, but it kind of ruins the mood, so I recommend just stopping the vid at that point.)

Perfect Tenor Performances #1: Brian Free

When it comes to critiquing tenor singers, I can be a stinker. In fact, sometimes I can be downright evil. However, you may all rest assured that I will withhold some of my more bitingly sarcastic remarks from this context, because some things just shouldn’t see the light of day. 🙂 But the fact remains that I am mercilessly tough on tenors. To illustrate, I didn’t even like Ernie Haase when I first heard him, and you all know how I feel about Ernie Haase now (!)

I don’t know why, but I’m much more easy-going on baritones and leads, and it’s hard for a bass singer to do wrong in my eyes. Perhaps it’s because the tenor is my favorite part.

You say, “How’s that?”

Well you see, tenor singers are a bit like the little girl in the old rhyme: “And when she was good, she was very, very good/But when she was bad, she was ‘ORRID!” That’s the southern gospel tenor for you.

This little series will showcase some tenors being very, very good. I will take some favorites, some perhaps not as “favorite favorites” but still good, and find a live performance from each of them that is, in my opinion, absolutely perfect. It may or may not be a performance of one of their signature songs, but whatever it is, there are no flaws in it whatsoever. An important requirement is that the song be rather difficult in terms of the range and power needed to deliver it.

It’s entirely possible and in fact likely that for the best tenors, flawless performances are not rarities. So there may well be cases where I will pick out a performance, and someone else will come along and say, “Wait a minute, this one is flawless too!” And maybe they’re right. But this series is simply highlighting one piece that stood out to me as particularly good.

I was inspired to do this by watching Brian Free the other day, so I’ll kick it off with him. Though I love his voice, he’s not my absolute favorite, but he can do some terrific singing, and I’ve always appreciated the clarity with which he delivers a lyric. (Besides which he is also a humble, genuine guy and a class act, and anybody can quote me on that!) Today I’ll share with my readers his solo rendition of “The Old Gospel Ship.” An old classic, but the way Brian sings it is, to me, simply addictive. From the first note to the last, this is a flawless and thoroughly enjoyable performance:

I ask you, how can you not be hooked just in those first few seconds? When he steps out and simply sends those long notes soaring, “I have good news to bring,” I for one am all ears…and I haven’t always been a raving Free-ite. He doesn’t crack or squeak once all the way through, but delivers a relentlessly clear tone with no real effort to speak of. As Billy Hodges once said, “If Brian has a break, he doesn’t know where it is.” But even though the song’s range is demanding, it doesn’t reach the ear-piercing levels of “Looking For a City” and hence remains within more comfortable and pleasing boundaries. The less “through the roof” Brian gets, the less noticeable his somewhat nasal tone is. There’s a pure, clean quality to it that shines best when he doesn’t try to go beyond the sky (as it were). As I’ll discuss more later, I’ve lately been experiencing something of a conversion over Brian Free’s voice, and I think this performance is a big part of what turned me from being an occasionally appreciative listener to being an official Brian Free fan.

Part of what I’m looking for in this series are moments of such technical perfection that even people who might not regularly listen to a certain tenor have to admit, “This singer isn’t my personal cup of tea, but that was a really good performance.” I’ll be posting similar entries on Danny Funderburk and David Phelps, two more highly-respected tenors whom I wouldn’t generally go for.

It’s the Chipmunks!

Yesterday while trawling Youtube, I came across a video I had forgotten about, and it made me laugh all over again. It’s from the 1992 team-up of Gold City and the Kingsmen, captured on live video and named King’s Gold. (The videos were OOP for a long time but have recently been re-released on DVD.)

So naturally they had to include a bit of dueling on “Looking For a City.” Neither Brian Free nor Gary Shepherd attempts to go as high as Johnny Cook (thank God!) but things still get pretty ear-piercing towards the end. It’s pretty funny to watch Ivan Parker rubbing each of them down while the other one has his “turn.” Brian puts on some great facial expressions as he watches Gary disdainfully and prepares to “up” him. And I have to admit…I have never been the world’s biggest Free fan, but listening to Gary always reminds me that it could be a lot worse. As somebody in the comments put it, “I think he sounds like he sucked helium, but hey, he made Brian look awesome sooo…”

And when they both come together at the end… well, look out! It’s the Chipmunks! 😀