Produced by Ron Drake, Mike Payne, Keith Payne, and Mark Payne
Windchime Records (Initial Release); Eagle One Records (Reissue)
Format (currently out of print): Vinyl, Cassette, CD (multipack)
Release Date: 1985
SONG TITLES: The Race (Ronald Michael Payne) / If God Be For Us (Mike Payne) / Out Of This World (Ronald Michael Payne) / I’ve Got A Right To Pray (Mike Payne/Milton Ostrander) / Who But God (Mike Payne/Ronnie Hinson) / Once And For All (Mike Payne/Milton Ostrander) / Angels Step Back (Ronald Michael Payne) / The Conversation (Ronald Michael Payne) / I’m A Jesus Fan (Ronald Michael Payne) / King of Glory / (Ronald Michael Payne)
When it comes to live albums, I would argue that gospel music has some of the best ever recorded. Many have gone on to become landmark albums, both for the artists and for the genre as a whole.
Case in point: Fire On Stage, the 1985 live album released by the Paynes.
The Paynes date back to the mid-70’s, but really came into their own in the early 80’s, thanks in part to founder Mike Payne’s songwriting. Some of his hits that would be recorded by other artists include “God Delivers Again,” “Who But God,” and “When He Was On The Cross (I Was On His Mind),” the latter two co-written by Ronnie Hinson. The group established their own hits, as well, with “Angels Step Back,” “The Conversation,” and their best-known hit, “I’m A Jesus Fan.” By the time Fire On Stage came around, the group had been enjoying a steady rise in popularity, allowing them to capitalize on some of the aforementioned hits and some new selections recorded live at the Dayton Memorial Hall (the same location where Charles Johnson & The Revivers would record their One Night Revival album).
Right away, the easiest comparison to make in terms of sound and presentation is between the Paynes and the Hinsons (which is no surprise, given that the two groups were friends). Both are family groups with a quartet arrangement and a charismatic background, and both benefit from having a prolific songwriter in-house (in fact, two compositions on this album were co-written by Payne and Ronny Hinson, and it shows). “Angels Step Back” (especially on the encore), “The Race,” and “If God Be For Us” have a definite Hinson-esque quality to them in terms of both writing and arrangement. The main difference between the two groups (in my opinion, anyway) is that the Paynes seemed to have a bit of a polish to their sound that the Hinsons lacked. Indeed, there are several vocal moves and arrangements pulled off with ease by the Paynes that I don’t think would’ve fit within the Hinsons style.
From a songwriting standpoint, Mike Payne brings that Hinsons influence, but also a creativity and willingness to play with the standard SG formula. A prime example is “The Conversation,” in which Mike and brother Keith take on the roles of Satan and Death as they hypothetically speak to each other about the death of Jesus and their supposed victory. I would love to see a current group bring this song back with an epic arrangement, especially toward the end of the song.
Another Hinsons influence came in the album’s title. The group told Ronny Hinson they were looking for a title, and “Fire On Stage” was the first thing that popped in his head, which the group ran with.
One thing I appreciate about this album is that, while many of the songs here had been previously recorded on studio albums, they are given a new energy with a live band. The Paynes used their own stage band rather than studio musicians on this project, and according to Mike Payne, that was by design. “Normally we would use studio musicians on the studio projects, so for this project I sent [the new songs] to Nashville to get their take on arrangements, and they sent back the the tracks and our band used their arrangements.”
Mike has very fond memories of the album. In reaching out to him for a little bit of history, Mike was very gracious and gave lots of interesting information.
I have to speak with fondness of the “Fire on Stage” project because this project definitely escalated our Ministry. (…) This was an interesting project for sure. I wanted to add some new songs and yet still do some of the older classics, so I wrote “Angels Step Back”, “Once and For All”, “Who but God?” that I co-wrote with Ronny Hinson, and a song I wrote with Big Mo, “Gonna Pray Anyway.” (…) We used a sound company from here in Cleveland called Beachwood Studios for the project. The engineer worked on a lot of projects in the secular world including being 2nd engineer on The Eagles “Hotel California.” It was an amazing night. The late Norm Livingston promoted it and introduced us. Before we did the live project we sent Norm and Tim Livingston a pre-release of Angels Step Back and he saturated the song on the air from the radio station he owned and operated. The concert was a complete sellout. “Angels Step Back” debuted on the Singing News Chart at #8, the highest debut ever, and was the most played song of the year. We ended up selling over 50,000 units in the life the project. At the time we didn’t think we were doing that good because it seemed that travelling and finances were a struggle, but in hindsight, according to all Southern Gospel standards, it was a success.– Mike Payne, 4/19/2021
The group continued to tour and record for labels such as Eagle One and Riversong throughout the decade. In 1992, this lineup staged a farewell concert with Finale. Four years later, the Paynes would evolve from a mixed quartet to a trio, with Mike, wife Loreen, and their daughter, Sandra. This lineup would often capitalize on some of the older Paynes hits with updated recordings and arrangements (including a new take on “The Conversation” that recruited Tim Riley on bass). The original members would come together (again at Dayton Memorial Hall) in 2000 for a live reunion album, showcasing once again why this group remains a fan favorite.
From a personal standpoint, this album is a favorite of mine. We found a copy of it on vinyl in the early 90’s, and got LOTS of play out of it on Dad’s “new” component stereo. Recently, thanks to some fellow southern gospel fans, I’ve been able to track down fresh copies of this album (which have been getting just as many plays as that old LP did on that same stereo!). If you come across
I’d like to thank Mike Payne for his contributions to this retrospect/review. You can visit his website for the Paynes at http://paynesmusic.com/.