I’m excited to post the first article in this series of the Top 10 Quartets of All Time. I’ve been delighted by all the comments posted and glad to see everyone’s excitement. I just want to make a statement that I hope will be acknowledged. This is a list of the Top 10 Quartets in my opinion. I am certain that there will be those who disagree with my selections, whether it be where the group is slated in my countdown, or their very presence. Nevertheless, its my opinion, and I hope it will be a great conversation starter among all of us. So with that said, let get this party started!
The group kicking off our countdown at #10 accomplished something significant that no gospel group had done prior or since their formation. Perfect Heart was formed in 1990, and was dubbed “The Million Dollar Quartet”. The lineup consisted of former Cathedral tenor & fan favorite Danny Funderburk, powerhouse lead singer Dale Shipley (The Song Masters Quartet, Bob Wills & The Inspirationals), dynamic baritone & skilled songwriter Mark Lanier (Bibletones and later Poet Voices), and a solid bass vocalist Mike Presnell (The Sound). The group was further complimented by pianist Jeff Stice & bass guitarist Aubrey Stephens, who both came from The Nelons.
Perfect Heart’s first single, “Somebody Touched The Lord”, raced to the top of the charts, making them the first group to debut with a #1 song, and also was voted Song Of The Year in the 1991 Singing News Fan Awards. The groups early albums were some of the finest material recorded by any group in Gospel Music. Their blend was superb, and the team of Funderburk & Shipley was one of the most powerful lead/tenor combinations in history. Add a tremendous baritone in Lanier & Presnell’s smooth bass, and it was a dynamite sound. This clip of the group performing “They That Sow”, from their first live project, Perfect Heart Live, showcases that sound.
With Funderburk, the group also recorded 3 exceptional live projects (Perfect Heart Live, Command Performance, Live At The Forum), and continued to record solid studio albums. Looking For The Wounded in 1992 and I Hold A Clear Title in 1993 were fantastic as well. However the group would encounter their first big personnel change, when Funderburk left the group in 1994. In losing their most recognizable member, and a fan favorite, the next tenor of Perfect Heart would have large shoes to fill, and nobody would have expected the group to hire the man that they did.
Garry Sheppard, formerly of the Kingsmen and known to the Southern Gospel world as “Squeaky” (thanks Jim Hamill), replaced Funderburk in the summer of 1994, and the rest would be history. The group would release their first mainline album with Sheppard, 1995’s On Time God, which I reviewed here a few weeks ago. This album is a classic, and should be in the library of anyone who loves Southern Gospel Music. Some of Sheppard’s best recorded work is on On Time God. The group also score with a great song from that project, Theres A King On The Way, which was a radio favorite.
This lineup would record another fine project together, Turning Point, which gave them another great song, Because He Is (written by Lanier).The winds of change would blow again in 97, when Lanier left to begin a solo ministry, and was replaced by Darren Doyle. However Doyle did not possess a baritone voice, and was incapable of singing Lanier’s solos, which were in turn sang by Shipley. I must honestly say that I was never a fan of Doyle’s singing and still am not. Doyle would take over the lead position when Dale Shipley departed the group (leaving Presnell & Stice as the only charter members).
With Doyle moving up to lead, the group hired Joseph Smith (then known as Joey, who would go on to sing with the Booth Brothers & Mark Trammell Trio) to fill the baritone spot. Joseph was a great hire and in my opinion one of the finest singers I’ve ever heard. The group now had a balance of experience (Stice, Sheppard, Presnell) and youth (Doyle, Smith, and drummer Jonathan Presnell, who is also Mike’s son).
The lineup of Sheppard, Doyle, Smith, Presnell, Stice recorded one album, 1998’s Keepin The Faith, which would be the groups final album. Although the album did not measure up to the groups previous work, it had a few bright spots on it. Below is a rare video of that group, performing ‘Walk, Talk, Serve”, featuring Smith.
The following year would see the group disband. Stice would move on to become pianist for the Kingdom Heirs, then later help start the Triumphant Quartet, where he is currently the groups pianist, arranger, and producer. Presnell sang briefly with a quartet Safe Harbor, and did some solo work. Sheppard has also done some solo work, and in recent years sang tenor with the Songfellows Quartet. Doyle is involved in studio work back home in Kentucky.
There have been a couple attempts at reforming the group, one in the early 2000’s, which featured tenor Jodi Hosterman (Inspirations), and one a few years ago, with Mike Presnell and tenor Matt Felts. While its sad that the group disbanded, and talentled men, such Dale Shipley & Mike Presnell are not on the road, they can be proud of their accomplishments. From 1990-1996, Perfect Heart was one of the elite quartets in the industry, and in my opinion, their accomplishments land them a place in my top 10.
If you’ve never heard any of the groups projects, heres some of my recommendations, that I call Required Listening.
Perfect Heart: Required Listening
1992 Looking For The Wounded or Command Performance
1995 On Time God
1996 Turning Point
I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk down memory lane, and my recollections of this great group. Be watching for the post, #9, in the coming days. I look forward to reading your comments!