The Happy Goodman Family – What a Happy Time! (1966)

The Happy Goodman Family – What a Happy Time! (1966)

The Goodmans had a lot going on between 1965 and 1966. They signed with Canaan Records in 1965 and by this time, they were appearing across the nation each week on the Gospel Singing Jubilee television show along with the Florida Boys, Dixie Echoes and Couriers. Before the group recorded their first full album with Canaan, they had already appeared on the 2 Jubilee Cast albums, the first volume was released sometime in 1965 and featured the Goodmans singing “You’ve Got to Move” and “I Need No Mansion” (Vestal has a wonderful testimony centered around that song). The group was still under contract with Sims Records at that time, so though the album was released on Canaan, they appeared courtesy of Sims Records. This record also features Rusty being backed by the whole Jubilee Choir rendering an outstanding version of “How Great Thou Art”. In early 1966, Canaan released Volume 2 and it featured the Goodmans singing “Don’t Try to Tell Me” (one of my favorite Vestal features), “This World is Not My Home” and “If You Know the Lord”. Vestal is also featured with the Jubilee Choir on a rousing rendition of “Down By The Riverside”. Both Jubilee albums are outstanding and feature all the cast artists on songs not heard on other recordings. I grew up with Volume 2 burned into every part of my being (this album ranks as one of my all-time favorite albums), but I had never heard Volume 1 until I was in college in the early 1990s.

Now that we’re caught up, the group finally released their first album on Canaan around October 1966. Aptly titled, “What a Happy Time”, the title and lead off song comes straight out of the old Church of God hymnbook, often referred to as the Red Back Hymnal. Throughout the Goodmans storied history, they constantly recorded songs from that hymnbook, and many of their most popular songs came from there. On their first 3 albums, they had recorded 7 treasures from the Red Back Hymnal, and on this first Canaan release the group recorded 3 more.

After the exciting title song, we come to Rusty’s masterpiece, “Who am I”. Arguably the greatest song he ever wrote, the song came during a dark season in his life and it has been recorded by a virtual who’s who including Elvis Presley, Statesmen, Blackwood Brothers, Cathedrals, Jason Crabb, Oak Ridge Boys, JD Sumner & The Stamps, Perrys, Kingsmen and countless others. It would be one of those songs that remained in the Goodmans performance repertoire for the remainder of their existence. You can never get away from powerful songs like this one and it was a true masterpiece!

Vestal steps up to sing the popular, “There’s a Light Guiding Me” and it fits her like a glove. The song never really belonged to any one group, as it was one of those oft recorded tunes at the time, and just about every other group recorded it too. Here the Goodmans put their spin on it and made it their own. Like I said, it fits Vestal to a “T”.

Known for his stirring recitations, Sam steps up to deliver the emotionally tinged, “I Wonder”. One of the few songs that he wrote, with the classic hymn “Never Grow Old” as a backdrop, it’s a memorable piece that pulls on the heartstrings. Once the spoken part is complete, Sam does a super job singing the verse before the group joins in on the final chorus of “Never Grow Old”. Vestal then steps back up to sing one of my favorite Little David Young pieces, “Homecoming”.

Side 1 closes with the rollicking Rusty Goodman penned tune, “It’ll All Be Over But the Shoutin’”. Here the Goodmans are totally in their Pentecostal element and it’s a rousing close to the first half. Rusty shines on this song and the charisma he generates is unparalleled. Vestal would later take the song and record her own rendition of it on her 1971 solo album, “Hallelujah!”.

Side 2 starts with a wonderful story-song entitled, “Something Got a Hold of Me”. Howard turns in a masterful performance on the song before Vestal steps back up and renders a stellar delivery on yet another Rusty Goodman penned tune, “Until You’ve Known the Love of God”. In Vestal’s own dynamic delivery, she is preaching this song as she is singing it, and it’s a highlight of the recording. Always one of my personal favorites, the group recorded an updated version of this song in the early 70s with Rusty taking the verses instead of Vestal, and it’s just as powerful as this early version. Rusty always knew how to pen a song and the group always delivered them flawlessly.

Bobby steps up to sing his self-penned tune, “Most of All” before Howard lays into the LeeRoy Abernathy classic, “The Master Locksmith”, and he does a wonderful job with this cleverly written tune.

Vestal delivers the goods on another song from the Red Back Hymnal, “Our Lord’s Return”. This is one of those arrangements I had mentioned before where they slow down the verses and pick up the tempo on the chorus. It works very well with this tune and adds to the anticipation depicted in the lyric of the song.

The recording closes with one more song from the Red Back Hymnal, “The Gloryland Way”. Using a similar arrangement like they had used a couple of albums ago with “The Old Gospel Ship”, the song features Rusty, then Sam and then Vestal, and on the last chorus Rusty does the call-backs, and the song features all the excitement and energy the group can muster for a grand finish to their first Canaan record.

This record was a tremendous notch in their belt and was highly successful for the group. The group’s success literally exploded at this point and there was just no stopping them! To show how successful this album was, it was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1966. This was a tremendous feat for the group, but they didn’t win that year, as the award went to the Blackwood Brothers and Porter Wagner for their collaborative album, “The Grand Old Gospel”. Eventually the group would go on to win 2 Grammy Awards for their music; one in 1968 and another one in 1978.

This was an exciting and happy album. Even the cover pic of them smiling and singing depicts the joyful mood of this recording. “What a Happy Time” yielded several popular songs for the group that showcased them in their element and was an excellent representation of the group. I imagine though, it may have been difficult to musically duplicate what was on the record in concert, with just Howard at the piano and Bobby on bass, as the album featured lots of guitar work that added to the exciting feel of the record. Vocally, they could tote the mail and project that same excitement in concert with no problem. Eventually, the Goodmans would boast a full band that COULD duplicate that sound and then some! Many more exciting days were just ahead for the group as this record barely scratched the surface of what was to come!

Next week we’ll visit their follow-up album, “Bigger ‘N’ Better”, which they recorded just a mere 3 months after this one was released.

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Category LP Review, Reviews

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  1. Reply February 02, 21:36 #1 Robin

    James, I always enjoy your reviews on the Goodmans’ work. I was not familiar with the Abernathy song “The Master Locksmith”, and immediately went to YouTube to hear the cut. That’s some of the best singing I’ve ever heard Howard do. Keep up the good work.

    • Reply February 02, 21:41 James Hales Author

      Thank you so much! The more I listen to that song, the more I love it. One of Howard’s best vocal performances. It’s such a cleverly written song too.

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