Farewell Martin Cook, Welcome Back Archie!

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. 

The Old Paths RETURN!

In one of the first major announcements of 2017, The Old Paths have announced they will be reforming. The lineup will include founding members lead singer Tim Rackley and baritone Douglas Roark, and long time bass vocalist Daniel Ashmore. Joining the group as tenor vocalist will be Steve Ladd. The addition of Ladd, a fan favorite from his years with the Anchormen and Gold City, guarantees this group will be just as dynamic vocally as they were previously.

The Old Paths of 2017 Back Row – Douglas Roark, Steve Ladd Front Row – Tim Rackley, Daniel Ashmore

In a press release posted by Crossroads Entertainment Tuesday morning, Rackley shared the following. “When extenuating family circumstances warranted our departure from the road last December, we didn’t know exactly what God had planned. After much prayer and with our families faring much better—along with their support—we have made the decision to come back on the road for select dates as a group. We are thankful that God has opened this door for us, and we are honored to be able to minister as The Old Paths once again. We appreciate the continuing support of the Crossroads family and Harper Agency that has helped make this return happen. We feel very blessed to share this new phase of The Old Paths with Steve and are excited to see so many of our friends back on the road.”

Ladd states, “I was excited when approached to be a part of The Old Paths return to Gospel music. I have always loved four-part harmony, and these guys are some of the best! I am so thankful for what God has done in my solo ministry. So, to be able to have a solo career still AND sing with these guys on select dates was a no-brainer for me”.

Crossroads boss Chris White shares in the excitement, “What a wonderful opportunity it is to re-unite with The Old Paths. Sonlite Records has had a great relationship with them and certainly look forward to continuing our partnership with them.  With the addition of one of the industry’s most prolific tenor singers, Steve Ladd, we feel the group will be stronger than ever.  We can’t wait to get started and be able to service their loyal fan base once again with more great music and performances.”

And the news gets even better, the guys are working on a new project to be released this Summer. It’s no secret to longtime readers of this blog that I was a huge fan of The Old Paths, there is no one more thrilled & excited about their reforming than me. The Old Paths have been sorely missed by the Southern Gospel industry; I absolutely cannot wait to hear the new sound with Steve and I believe they will quickly regain their position as one of the elite quartets in our field. Welcome back, guys!

Kingdom Heirs Announce New Baritone Vocalist

The Kingdom Heirs released an official statement today, the following reads,

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-11-42-35-amWith the sudden departure of former baritone Brian Alvey, the Kingdom Heirs were in search of a new baritone.  Andy Stringfield, piano player extraordinaire, 
stepped in vocally and has done an exceptional job doing double duty on the piano and the baritone part as we searched for just the right man for the job.
We are so proud and excited to announce that Loren Harris has accepted the position as the Kingdom Heirs baritone!  We welcome Loren, his wife Cindy, and their children Cameron and Kenidy to the Kingdom Heir family.  Help us make them welcome and show our love and support to this wonderful family.

It took a year and a half, but I’m glad to see The Kingdom Heirs hire the right guy. Loren is an incredible singer, he took part in the group’s audition process and seemed to be the best fit of those who auditioned. So needless to say, I was surprised when the group hired Alvey. Unlike his predecessor, Harris has a record of longevity with the groups he has sang with. He is best known to Gospel Music fans from his tenures with The Wilburns and The Perrys. I am very excited to hear The Kingdom Heirs with Loren, his addition makes this group even better!

RIP Steve French 1959-2016

EDITORS NOTE: As of July 2nd, the a news story was posted here by a North Carolina radio station. 

Former Kingdom Heirs co-owner, baritone and emcee Steve French has passed away at the age of 56. The following statement was released today by The Kingdom Heirs on their Facebook page,

Steve-FrenchIt is with heavy hearts that we regret to inform, former co-owner, baritone and emcee, Steve French has passed away. We are praying for comfort and Gods grace. We ask you to please respect the families privacy during this difficult time.”

We here at Fuson’s Findings join the Kingdom Heirs and Gospel Music fans around the country in prayer for Steve’s family and loved ones, and encourage you to do likewise.

In December of 2014 I wrote regarding Steve’s retirement and career, which can be read here. Though he was never recognized for being a great singer, French was a tremendous part of the success of the Kingdom Heirs. Certainly our music would be much different the influence of Steve French and the Kingdom Heirs. Thanks Steve for the great music and memories you’ve given Gospel Music fans, rest in peace sir.

 

Kingsmen Announce New Tenor

The Kingsmen announced the hiring of Joshua Horrell as their new tenor singer. Horrell replaces Chris Jenkins, who departed the group a few months ago to spend more time at home and is now with The Anchormen. The group released the following statement.

13344578_10154312416438939_6062694955053074696_n“Ray Dean Reese of The Kingsmen Quartet would like to welcome Josh Horrell of Rose Hill, North Carolina, to the Kingsmen family as the new tenor vocalist. Josh, age 24, is no stranger to Southern Gospel, coming from a family with a strong musical history. He has been traveling with the Kingsmen for the past month and will transition to a permanent member immediately. He has been received enthusiastically at concerts across the country. The Kingsmen would like to thank all who applied for this position and want to express gratitude to the “Little Giant,” Ernie Phillips for traveling with them and bringing back many old memories while the audition process was taking place.”

I’m familiar with Horrell from his days with Declaration (now Allegiance Trio) and Adoration Quartet, and this move is very surprising to me. In comparison to his predecessor, Horrell is not in the same ballpark as Jenkins as far as range is concerned; but in all actuality not many tenors are. Truth is, Jenkins set the bar incredibly high for the Kingsmen, as it should be in regards to a group of their stature in the industry, and whoever replaced him would have mighty big shoes to fill. I personally would liked to have seen The Kingsmen hire a more proven, veteran tenor with more range, but Horrell is the guy.

With the widespread acclaim that the group’s previous recording “Battle Cry” received from fans and the industry alike (including myself), it will be very intriguing to see what the group will do with their sound now. Here’s a taste of The Kingsmen with Horrell from a recent concert.

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News & Notes for April 26th

News

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Allegiance Trio L-R Jake Sammons, Kasey Kemp, Heath Pannell

Allegiance Trio announced the addition Heath Pannell as their new tenor singer. Pannell joins the group, replacing TJ Evans. Pannell, 32, is a native of Ripley, MS. Heath’s first performance with Allegiance was on the Praise The Lord program on TBN hosted by David Rives. Allegiance joined David Rives as well as Bass Singer Gene McDonald, Cheri Keaggy and Pastor Ben Graham. Allegiance sang and discussed their upcoming “I WILL STAND TOUR” and Jake joined Pastor Ben Graham to talk about the upcoming “I Will Stand Movie.”

The Crossroads Music Group has announced that their online music store is closing, all of their recordings can be purchased digitally on iTunes. They have also announced all of their performance soundtracks can be purchased at their new website, http://www.crossroadsperformancetracks.com

We wish to express our condolences to the families of Gold City. The group was been dealing with the passing of Barbara Riley, wife of Tim and mother of Danny, passed away on April 20th. Just 2 days later, Sammy West, father of the groups bass vocalist Chris & and grandfather of sound engineer Dillan, passed away. Please pray for both the Riley & West families during this time of grieving.

In the wake of Mrs. Riley’s passing, here is a song that was dedicated to her on Gold City’s 1997 recording, “What A Great Lifestyle“. I hope you enjoy “Between Me And The Storm“.

 

 

 

Jon Epley Departs The Ball Brothers, Joins Lefevre Quartet

21303_912944842083720_787004317313100336_nThe Lefevre Quartet have announced their new bass vocalist will be Jon Epley. Epley replaces Brandon Berry who left the group a few weeks prior. Epley first came to prominence as the baritone for Statement of Faith, a trio with brothers Jacob & Joe Kitson, and The Inspirations. Epley moved from baritone to bass, to fill the void left by Mike Holcomb. Epley left the Inspirations to join the Ball Brothers in early 2015, and did a remarkably good job there. Epley joins a great lineup already with tenor Jeremy Peace and the father & son combo of Jordan (lead) and Mike (baritone) Lefevre, along with pianist Michael Lott.

Group owner Mike Lefevre issued the following statement in a press release, “We are thrilled to have Jon joining The LeFevre Quartet. He brings not only years of experience, but a beautiful bass voice and a sincere heart for God.

Jon issued the following statement about joining the Lefevres, ” I am so excited to be joining The LeFevre Quartet. I have been a fan of Mike LeFevre for many years, and feel that joining the vocal lineup of Mike, Jordan, and Jeremy can yield great things for the glory of the Lord. The guys and their families have welcomed my wife Tiffany and myself with open arms, and that means the world to us! Their heart for the Lord, ministry, and family is an inspiration. We are looking forward to what is in store, and are extremely grateful for this opportunity.”

Meanwhile, The Ball Brothers issued the following statement regarding Epley’s departure.

We want to let everyone know that Jon Epley is leaving the Ball Brothers to join the LeFevre Quartet. We love Jon and Tiffany and want to thank them for the time that they spent with us. We’re sad to see them go, but want them to be where God wants them. Please go out and support Jon and the LeFevre Quartet. At this time, we are not soliciting auditions. We plan to announce a new bass vocalist soon.

God Bless,
Andrew, Daniel and Chad

Epley also commented on his time with the Ball Brothers, “In my time with The Ball Brothers, we went from being friends to brothers. The entire Ball family welcomed my wife and I into their hearts, and we will never forget that. The Ball Brothers took great care of my family and I. Although God is moving us to a different ministry, the Ball Brothers and the Ball Family will always have a special place in our hearts, and we will always count them dear friends. I learned a lot about music and about myself through my tenure with the group. There are big things happening now and upcoming in the Ball Brothers’ ministry, and I wish them all the success in the world. I encourage everyone to check their schedule and go see them any chance you get. To the guys I say this: Daniel, Andrew, Chad, I love you guys. We had some amazing times, and saw God do some great things. Thank you for everything. I’ll see you down the road.

Sincerely,
Jon Epley”

I’ll be completely honest and tell you that this move took me by surprise, I would have never imagined Epley to be a fit with The Lefevre Quartet, but anything can happen. Jon is without a doubt one of the most talented and versatile vocalists in our genre. I am very curious to see what the future holds for this lineup. Make sure you go see The Lefevre Quartet when they’re in your area, and welcome Jon to the group!