Music has always been important to our family. From my earliest memories we had music in the house. Since I have been in church my entire life, I have always been surrounded with church music.
I started playing my grandmother’s piano when I was five years old. I began taking lessons when I was seven. Slowly but surely, I began to learn how to play, but very early, frustration set in because I couldn’t play the kind of music that I loved.
My parents used to attend what was called the “all night sings”. They didn’t really last all night, but almost. The performers were Southern Gospel quartets. During those days it was usually just four singers and a piano player. No drums, guitars, or synthesizers. Just a guy on the piano who could really play. My dad bought records every time they went, and I listened to them for hours and would try to play what I heard.
The Blackwood Brothers Quartet was one of the earliest groups I heard. Another group that was very popular during the 1960s was The Statesmen Quartet with Hovie Lister. Hovie Lister was a fantastic pianist and I wanted to play just like him. I had the privilege of meeting him in person at a Christian Booksellers Convention in Atlanta many years ago. I wish I had taken the time to sit and talk with him for a while. He has since passed away.
The church we attended at the time used to invite Southern Gospel quartets in periodically for concerts. The Weatherford Quartet was one of the earliest groups I heard. In the video, the man standing on the far right, the bass singer, is a very young Armond Morales. Many years later, Armond would have a very successful career including Grammy Awards with The Imperials. The man standing on the far left is Glenn Payne, who sang for many years with The Cathedral Quartet which began its long career at the Cathedral of Tomorrow in Akron, Ohio.
As the years past, my frustration continued. Even as I was learning to play better and do more on the keys, I just wasn’t where I wanted to be. I spent hours and hours copying what I heard, note for note. While I was in college I mastered a song by The Oakridge Boys back when Tommy Fairchild was their pianist before the group became stars in Country music.
After my wife and I were married we began performing concerts together. During the late 60s and early 70s, the Jesus People movement was gaining numbers very rapidly. Andre Crouch and the Disciples quickly became a favorite, and Andre’s piano playing captured my attention. In fact, his playing, even though he passed away five years ago, still fascinates me. For many years my wife and I performed his songs including, “Oh, I Need Him”, “The Blood Will Never Lose It’s Power”, “My Tribute”, “I Don’t Know Why Jesus Loved Me”, and others. Of course, that meant, in my mind anyway, I had to play Andre’s songs just like him. I did my best.
In all of our concerts and performing in churches throughout the years, the songwriter who’s music we used most often was Bill Gaither. He has written hundreds of songs and his music is known throughout the world.
When I was very young I said one day I would play for a Southern Gospel quartet. Well, I never had that privilege. But I have had the honor of playing for my wife and I, for choirs, churches large and small, in concerts, old-fashioned campmeetings, and we have literally performed in front of nearly ten thousand people in huge conferences. All of the people I copied over all these years have helped me tremendously. They say imitation is the highest form of compliment.
Here I am, many years ago, rehearsing on a nine-foot Steinway concert grand piano at the Omni Center in Atlanta, Georgia before a conference. Six degrees of separation came pretty close when I got to accompany a Grammy winning artist, and also a famous TV preacher, both of whom will remain nameless. It was fun.
Music has been good to us, and actually still is. We don’t perform as often as we used to but we still enjoy it. My struggles with essential tremors make it very difficult for me to play in public. I miss it.
Music has been with us all these years. So has coffee. In fact, I need some now.