It’s been the most talked about news item on Southern Gospel social media for the last week, and I’m not talking about Reggie Smith’s addition to the Gaither Vocal Band. The Inspirations announced a monumental change in their group, as founder/pianist/group co-owner Martin Cook resigned all of his roles last Wednesday. Taking over for Cook is another fouding member of the group, former tenor Archie Watkins. A link to the news story can be found here.
Watkins left the group in 2009, ending a 45 year career with the group.Non only was he an original member (along with Jack Laws, Ron Hutchins, Troy Burns and Cook) but his voice was a huge part of The Inspirations sound. He and Mike Holcomb had been anchoring the bass and tenor since 1972, an unprecedented feat for any group in the Gospel Music industry. His retirement was a huge blow to the group, and if you don’t believe that explain to me why 6 different men in the last 8 years (Dallas Rogers, Jodi Hosterman, Darrin Osborne, Mark Clark, Harold Reed, and now Casey Johnson)have tried to fill that position. In that time, Watkins recorded several solo projects and started a group, Smoky Mountain Reunion, with some of his friends and former Inspirations, Marlin Shubert, Eddie Dietz, Burns, and Laws (before his passing). Archie was the sound of The Inspirations, he deserves to be with the group again and I for one am glad he is back in his rightful place.
Cook’s “retirement” while although sudden, is very much deserved. For 53 years, Cook has been the only pianist the group has ever had. Not only was he a great musician, but he was a dynamic emcee and did a marvelous job leading the group onstage. For over 30 plus years, his son Myron accompanied his father on the upright bass. Unfortunately, the past several years have been challenging for Cook as he has had to deal with personnel issues in addition to his health. The trademark logevity that had been a staple of The Inspirations seemed to now be foreign. But he kept the group on the road and still deserves credit for his years of service.
With Watkins return to the group, personnel issues continue to be the hot topic. The first group picture that was released on social media saw Watkins, Burns, Dietz, and Shubert together with the current lineup of Matt Dibler, Roland Kesterson, Casey Johnson and Luke Vaught, who will be taking over on the piano. Absent from the photo was the group’s bass vocalist Joe Brown, no announcement has been made on whether Brown will return. While it is unfortunate that the group hasn’t released a statement about its members yet (Cook stopped making announcements the past few years as well), its even more unfortunate the behavior thats been displayed in the comments on Facebook posts related to the incident, which is another post for another time.
Only time will tell if The Inspirations will be successful, but I’m liking their chances so far. Archie will bring back the sound that has been missing since his exit and Luke Vaught will compliment the group’s sound in a way fans haven’t heard in years. But what remains to be seen is if the group membership will remain the same. For the most part, we never knew when it did over the past 9 years anyway so it’s not much different. I wish the group all the best and thank Martin Cook for his contributions to Gospel Music in the last 50 years.