I thought it might be fun to turn the clock back about 38 years and review a popular live album from that era.
Hovie Lister and JD Sumner formed The Masters V in 1980. Joining them were Rosie Rozell, James Blackwood, and Jake Hess. Each man was a well-established star in gospel music by 1980. Rozell, Hess, and Lister had traveled together as members of the Statesmen for many years. Blackwood and Sumner had similarly worked together in the Blackwood Brothers and launched a number of business ventures including the National Quartet Convention. By 1983, Rosie Rozell had left the group. He was replaced by Shaun Nielsen who was the original tenor singer for the Imperials when Jake Hess formed that group in 1964.
The Joyful Noise was a Christian supper club with a 30-foot buffet located in East Point, Georgia. The owner Bill Flurry operated the club from the mid-1970s through 1994. Gospel concerts were included in the price of admission and more than one group recorded a live album there. This is the venue the Masters V chose for their first live recording. I believe I am correct in saying it was the only live recording issued while they were actively touring. (Three or four more live recordings were issued after they retired.)
The LP jacket for Live At The Joyful Noise features a photo on the front cover of The Masters V sporting tuxedos. On the back is a letter from The Statler Brothers expressing their appreciation to this collective group of legends for inspiring a group of teenagers to pursue a career in music. The album was produced for Skylite Records by Joel Gentry and recorded by Prestige Studios of Birmingham, Alabama. The credits make no mention of the musicians. Because the musicians are similarly not acknowledged on the recording itself, my guess is that the actual performance only included Lister’s piano. I suspect the drums, guitars, etc. were overdubbed later in the studio.
The introduction of the group is brief, but there is excitement and anticipation when we drop the needle on the record and hear, “From the Joyful Noise live, here is the Masters V.” (Hey, it rhymes…)
The first song is a fast romp through the Mosie Lister quartet standard, “Goodbye, World, Goodbye.” Jake Hess sings the first verse, then JD Sumner takes the lead line going into the chorus. You can hear Hovie Lister cheering the guys on in the background. Shaun Nielsen takes the melody on the second verse after the key change and then it goes back to Hess on the chorus. After about 2 minutes going 90 miles an hour, the song ends with Nielsen going out the roof and JD Sumner dive-bombing into the basement.
“Thank you so very much,” declares Hovie as he launches into “How About Your Heart.” During the course of this song, all four singers get a moment to be featured on the melody. If you listen closely to the background vocals as Shaun Nielsen sings the second verse, you’ll gain an appreciation for the tone quality James Blackwood was able to produce way up in a tenor range at the age of 64.
The next six to seven minutes are spent introducing the individual group members. Hovie lists the credentials of Shaun Nielsen in a fairly straightforward manner. He then has some fun at the expense of James Blackwood, saying, “My mother used to take me to hear him when I was a little bitty boy.” Hovie mentions that Blackwood recently received an honorary doctorate degree from Golden State University, which is true, but it’s also a setup for a JD Sumner joke to come later. Jake Hess is not spared either as Hovie incorporates a wig joke into his introduction before listing Hess’ various professional accomplishments.
Hovie then turns his attention to JD Sumner, explaining to the people that they “have the honor of looking at, listening to, and sitting in the presence of the absolute world’s undisputed lowest bass singer.”
JD responds in mock modesty, “And he’s telling you the truth. Tell ’em more, Hovie!”
Hovie then piles it on, saying JD is also the world’s greatest bass singer.” JD says, “I am…I am…I most certainly am.”
After Hovie completes the introduction of JD, JD in turn introduces Hovie. Where Hovie’s introductions were driven by humor, JD instead takes a more formal approach. He renders a brief but eloquent biography of Hovie’s life like it’s one of his recitation’s: “Hovie Lister was born in heart of Gospel music in an era when professional quartets were just coming into their own, and as a boy, his every thought was that one day he would be in a major quartet…”
The change of pace is a stroke of brilliance that keeps the listener engaged.
Up next is “Walking And Talking With My Lord” featuring JD Sumner, but it’s not the song by the same title that Sumner wrote as you might expect. This song was written by Barbara Miller.
As Hovie introduces “Gonna Shout Hallelujah,” he mentions that the song was written by Shaun Nielsen and “features Shaun, just like JD’s song features JD.”
Sumner’s “The Old Country Church” is the final song on side one. Years after writing this song, Sumner realized that in addition to intentionally borrowing a different famous chorus to use after each verse, he’d also unintentionally borrowed the melody for his verses from “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart.”
Most of the songs on side one are up-tempo. That trend continues on side two with “Happy Rhythm” followed by “I’ll Fly Away.” The two songs fill less than four minutes including Lister’s spoken introduction of “I’ll Fly Away.” Jake Hess sings melody on the first verse and chorus of “I’ll Fly Away,” then Nielsen takes the melody after the key changes and keeps it as it changes key again. After James Blackwood is featured on “His Amazing Love,” JD Sumner reminds the audience that Blackwood is now a doctor. Sumner says he hasn’t been singing long enough to be a doctor, “but this coming Sunday at the Dalton grammar school, they’re making me a nurse’s aide.”
The album concludes with “He’s A Personal Savior” and a patriotic medley.
There are three reasons why Live At The Joyful Noise is one of my favorite live recordings:
1. The songs are generally happy and fast,
2. There’s a healthy dose of humor created by Lister and Sumner that reflected their respective personalities, and
3. There’s a loose, spontaneous excitement throughout this album.
One thing that could have made the album even better is the addition of another song or even two. Side one is nearly five minutes longer than side two, and the entire album is just under 35 minutes.
Producer: Joel Gentry
Label: Skylite Records
Song Titles: Goodbye, World, Goodbye; How About Your Heart; Introduction of Masters and Walking And Talking With My Lord; Gonna Shout Hallelujah; The Old Country Church; Happy Rhythm; I’ll Fly Away; His Amazing Love; He’s A Personal Savior; God And Country Medley
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars