Because my education background is in music theory, I’ve always been interested in “I Know,” Southern Gospel’s most popular song in 1971. There aren’t many songs that manage to change keys several times, while only using three chords. Assuming the song begins in the key of D, the verses alternate between the D and A chords; the choruses shift to the key of G and use the G and D chords. For each verse, the key shifts back to D.
The Blue Ridge Quartet and the Oak Ridge Boys were the first groups to record “I Know.” They shared the number one spot on the Singing News airplay chart for ten months beginning in February of 1971 and ending in November of 1971. Both groups had recorded the song in 1970, but the Blue Ridge Quartet’s version was recorded first, according to their piano player, Kenny Gates:
“I Know” was on our “Rise And Shine” album and released in 1970. Our Blue Ridge Quartet was the first to record it, and the Oak Ridge released it later the same year.
It makes sense that the Blue Ridge Quartet had the first opportunity to record the song. Their lead singer at the time, LaVerne Tripp, is the songwriter, or to be more correct I should say, he was initially credited as the only songwriter. I’ll explain why below. But first, take a listen to the Blue Ridge Quartet’s original version of “I Know.”
Many Southern Gospel fans may not realize that the melody of “I Know” had existed for at least 20 years before the lyric. During the 1940s, Ervin Thomas Rouse wrote a song titled “Sweeter Than The Flowers.” It features a “Mama” lyric with a brief tip of the hat to a Gospel message tacked on at the very end: “Someday we’ll meet you up there.”
When LaVerne Tripp wrote “I Know,” he used the melody and rhythm of “Sweeter Than The Flowers.” He also used the distinctive verse/chorus key transitions I mentioned in my first paragraph. On initial printings of the sheet music, Tripp is credited as the only songwriter. A lawsuit ultimately ensued (pun intended). After it was all over, “I Know” was listed with co-writers Ervin Thomas Rouse, Lois Mann, Aubrey W Mullican and Tripp. Publishing is shared by Fort Knox Music, Inc., Trio Music Company, and Mark Four Music.
“Sweeter Than The Flowers” was first recorded by honky-tonk piano player Moon Mullican in 1948. Since 1948, most recordings of “Sweeter Than The Flowers” have been by bluegrass and country artists as you’d expect from the lyric. Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Emmylou Harris collaborated on a version in 1988. The Stanley Brothers, Roy Acuff and George Jones are a few examples of others who have recorded “Sweeter Than The Flowers” over the years.
Here is Mullican’s recording:
A number of Gospel artists recorded “I Know” after the Blue Ridge Quartet and the Oak Ridge Boys including several in 1971, the year it dominated the number one position on the airplay chart. Click here to see a list at SGHistory.com, but please note that at this point, we haven’t separated the Rouse/Mullican/Mann/Tripp “I Know” from other songs by other writers that share the same title. (The Oak Ridge Boys’ recording of “I Know” in 1966, for example, is obviously a different song.)