The Happy Goodman Family – Good Times with the Happy Goodmans (1970)

by James Hales | March 16, 2022 11:25 AM

Following the success of “This Happy House”, the Goodmans began to take more of an active role in the production aspects of their music. Since their relationship with Canaan Records began, Canaan head, Marvin Norcross, was always listed as the sole producer. With “Good Times with the Happy Goodmans”, Rusty Goodman is listed as co-producer, along with Norcross, their faithful friend and mentor. This collaboration created one of the Goodmans most iconic albums. Much like “This Happy House”, this recording produced several more of their most popular songs; 3 of which would become signature songs that would dominate their live performances for years to come!

As with all their previous Canaan albums, the title alone, “Good Times with the Happy Goodmans”, exudes happiness, joy and, well… “Good Times”! I love the individual shots on the cover, and I always wondered where these stage shots were taken. You see Vestal’s hair, in all its glory; and you have to wonder, how does she manage all that hair? In an interview I did with her several years ago, I asked her if her wig ever fell over. She said, “I never lost my wig, but it did get wet and go flat one time!” Oh, the stories her wigs could tell! Anyway, back to the music…

With this album, the Goodmans went back to the tried-and-true formula that worked so well for them on their earlier albums, by starting off with an energetic, up-tempo convention song. Pulling a song out of the old Redback Hymnal, they bolt out of the gate with the convention favorite, “Living in Canaan Now”. This song would become a Goodman standard for many years to come. They would leave the stage many nights with this song, completely tearing the place apart and leaving the audience in an absolute frenzy! Oh, how I wish I had been around to experience this song back then.

Up next, Rusty slows the tempo down with the plaintive, “Born to Die”. Written by Linda Stalls, this was the first of several songs the group would record that she wrote. Linda sang with her husband, John Stalls, in the John Stalls Family, and John would also eventually serve as pastor of the Goodman’s church from around 1974 to 1983. John also served as the host of their late 70s TV show, “Down Home with the Happy Goodman Family”.

Next, Howard steps up to sing another tune from the Redback Hymnal, “I Don’t Want to Get Adjusted”. Starting out slow as Howard takes his time with the first verse (another tried and true method they used a lot on their earlier records), the tempo picks up as they transition to the chorus. This song was a popular one for the group during this time period as well, and it’s one of Howard’s best songs.

Vestal then slows the tempo back down with “The Life Boat”, another song from the Redback Hymnal. While the song is never listed as one of their most popular tunes, it’s one of my personal favorite Vestal features, and is one of the first times we hear the use of stacked vocals by the group. It creates a unique dynamic in the song and it’s my favorite rendition of this classic tune.

Picking up the tempo, side 1 closes out with another favorite from the Redback Hymnal, “He Set Me Free”, which features Vestal on the second verse and a few step out lines by Sam on the chorus.

With guitars blazing, side 2 is off and running as Rusty tears into the popular Jerry Reed tune, “Talk About the Good Times”. This invigorating tune isn’t normal Goodman fare, but Rusty shines on this delightful tune and yet again, showcases his innate ability to enthusiastically deliver the goods on this fun and infectious tune. Also, it should be noted that Jerry Reed is the one who is actually playing guitar on this song, which only adds to the excitement that is felt in the song.

With one of the most iconic musical intros in gospel music, those familiar strikes of the steel guitar pave the way for Vestal to deliver her most popular song, “God Walks the Dark Hills”. The song remained on the Singing News Top 20 chart for over 2 years, peaking at #2 in June 1972. This song would be a testimony song for Vestal, who within just a few short years, would walk through some pretty dark hills of her own, as she faces heart trouble that would keep her off the road for nearly a year.

Bobby steps up next to sing one of my personal favorites from this album, “Without Christ”. Here he performs the song solo, with no assistance from the group, and he does a terrific job on the song. There are actually two versions of this song out there. Sometime after the album was released, it appears they went back into the studio and completely re-did the song. One version isn’t near as robust as the other, as one version is pretty simple and the other is saturated with the organ and guitar; while I do not know which version came first, my assumption is they figured they could do a better job and they went back and recut the song with more instrumentation and put the organ more at the forefront, and put that version on subsequent pressings of the album, which also included a new vocal track by Bobby as well. Personally, I loved the bigger sound of the alternate version and thought it fit the overall feel of the album better.

Vestal steps back up to sing yet another song from the Redback Hymnal, “The Eastern Gate”. This was another huge hit from this album, remaining on the Top 20 chart for almost 2 years, peaking at #4. I always liked the upbeat version found on this album, but it is quite a bit faster than what we normally heard in concert. In talking with Eddie Crook, he mentioned to me that Howard wanted to slow the tempo down on the song. I think it went over better at a slower tempo, which allowed Vestal to involve herself in the lyric of the song, which essentially “sold” the song to audiences everywhere.

Sam closes out the recording with a heartfelt recitation entitled, “The Beauty of a Child”. This is his first recitation since their first Canaan album 4 years earlier (Can you believe it was only 4 years ago?), and it’s one of my favorite recitations of his.

With classics like “Living in Canaan Now”, “The Eastern Gate” and “God Walks the Dark Hills”, as well as other concert favorites, there’s no denying the impact this album made on gospel music. It’s truly a legendary and classic album. This album went on to win “Album of the Year” in the 1971 Singing News Fan Awards. Along with “Album of the Year” honors in 1971, between 1970 and 1971, the group would win a total of 6 Singing News Fan Awards including “Queen of Gospel Music” (two times for Vestal), “Favorite Group”, “Favorite Male Singer” (Rusty) and “Favorite Musician” (Howard). Another interesting statistic, this album has the most songs from the Redback Hymnal than any other album, totaling 5 songs (half the album!) There is definitely something to be said about reviving those old songs in that unmistakable Goodman style!

This would be the last album with Ernie Maxwell. By the fall of 1970, the group hired Jack Smith to play steel guitar and Eddie Crook to play piano, and by the end of 1970/very early 1971, Ernie left the group. Jack Smith played a huge role in the sound of the group during his tenure, as the steel guitar would become a hallmark of their sound during most of the 70s. Eddie Crook had already played for such groups as the Tennesseans, Plainsmen Quartet (the same group Rusty was with prior to the restart of the Happy Goodmans, though Eddie and Rusty were not in the group at the same time) and the Sego Brothers & Naomi. Much like Jack, Eddie would play an integral part of the Goodman sound during the 70s, as Eddie would play the role of “Band Leader” and would be the primary arranger of their music. Within the next year or two, the Goodmans would build a band that would rival any band in gospel music…ever! Stay tuned for next week, as well as the following weeks, as we dive into some more fantastic music by the Happy Goodman Family!

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