My Top 10 Quartets of All Time: #10 Perfect Heart

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!

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6 thoughts on “My Top 10 Quartets of All Time: #10 Perfect Heart

  1. Interesting that Perfect Heart makes your top 10 list because they were relativly short lived. However, I agree that they had a great sound and produced some great recordings during their short life span.

    Another group from the same time period that I include among my all time favorites is Poet Voices. Although they were short lived also, I think Poet Voices’ lineup in the mid to late 90’s was one of the best of all time.

    I look forward to reading the rest of your top 10 list!

    • Thanks for stopping by Brad. I agree with you about Poet Voices. Even though they had alot of personnel change in that lineup, they recorded some wonderful music. I love both Trust The Truth & This Changes Everything, great projects!

  2. I’d have put Perfect Heart at #1.
    I’d say the only way the original lineup could have been better was to have Tim Riley.
    Their music was extremley fresh, unique. A strong breath of fresh air.
    “Command Performance” is the best live album I’ve ever heard.

    I got an unopened copy of “Turning Point” last week. While listening to it on the dive home, to my disappointment, I realized that I would not be playing this album often.
    It seems to me, by the time this album came around, they had lost the special “it” factor that had set them apart from the rest of the genre.
    No, it’s not exclusivley Danny, although he was a major key to their early rise to sucess in the industry.
    What I mean is that, their style had changed. They had chosen brass, strings, and orchestration, a Jazzy and “Big Band” sound on some songs, and a country sound on others.
    As far as the “country gospel” songs go, I couldn’t help thinking how much they sounded like the Kingsmen lineup of Sheppard, Rice, Crawford, and Reese. Both arrangement wise AND vocally.
    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the Kingsmen. I’m just saying that Perfect Heart wasn’t the Kingsmen. It didn’t seem right that they took a stylistic turn in the direction that they did.
    The sound they had when they started suited them better than the latter.
    Good article. Enjoyed it.

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