The Happy Goodman Family – Wanted Live (1971)

The Happy Goodman Family – Wanted Live (1971)

I am excited about this weeks’ album, “Wanted Live”, as this is truly one of the greatest albums of all time! The 70s and 80s was the golden age of the live album, and this iconic live album was one of the first great live albums of the 70s. This album featured the Goodmans in their element, live and on stage from the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis, Missouri. Since the emcee references the International Song Festival as being “last month” (it was held in July), I am guessing the album was recorded in August 1971. Along with its iconic cover, this live album became a standard whereby many other live albums were measured by, as it contained all the elements needed…exciting music, exciting crowd, exciting vocals and even an iconic introduction (“We’re reinforcing the stage!”) that made this album such a treasure. Even the cover is iconic with the drawing of the Goodmans on stage under the heading, “Wanted Live”, much like those old “Wanted Dead or Alive” signs from the old wild west. Once again, Rusty is co-producing with Marvin Norcross, and this is the first album recorded by the newly created, Goodman Sound Studios, with Larry Maglinger engineering. What a classic and historic performance he caught on tape that summer night!

For the opening song, the group went all the way back to the beginning as they hit the stage with their first big song, “I’m Too Near Home”, much to the crowd’s delight! Next, Howard takes the lead on the hugely popular, “The Sweetest Song I Know”. For the encore, Howard steps away from piano, and Eddie Crook takes the stage to relieve Howard at the piano and the song is a definite crowd pleaser!

After some hilarious banter between Howard and Sam as they go back and forth over the weight of the group, airplanes, and doggie bags, it’s a classic comedic exchange that will leave you in stitches. After which, Howard takes on a more serious tone as he introduces Vestal and her iconic song, “God Walks the Dark Hills”. Vestal delivers an impassioned performance as the crowd demands an encore, which she gladly gives. There’s something to be said about hearing this song live back during its heyday…the song is fresh and exciting to all those involved, fans and artist alike, and it’s a powerful moment. I am so glad it was captured here for posterity.

Sam then takes a moment to introduce “Living in Canaan Now” and the group gives it everything they’ve got, and you can tell the crowd is begging for more, and the Goodmans oblige with an encore, and before you know it, side one is over. As exciting as it is, I don’t know if this album truly captured the excitement contained in this song, but I’m pretty sure it was utter pandemonium in the auditorium that night!

As side 2 begins, Sam calms the crowd down as he brings Bobby center stage to sing his immensely popular tune, “I Want to Stroll Over Heaven”. Bobby and the group give an excellent performance on the song before Howard steps up to introduce the future Song of the Year, “The Lighthouse”. Before Eddie and Jack give their iconic, dramatic musical intro, Howard preaches a mini sermon, “There’s Nothing New About Jesus” and you can’t help but feel the spirit captured on tape before they deliver this historic performance. During the encore, the entire group is simply overcome with emotion, which just adds to the magic of the moment. Like I stated earlier, there’s just something special about hearing a song performed as a new song during its heyday…the raw emotion is genuine and the atmosphere in the place is palpable. Written by Ronny Hinson, the song goes down in history as one of Southern Gospel’s biggest hits. It was voted “Song of the Year” by Singing News subscribers for 1972, and by July of 1972, the song was #1 across the nation and would hold the #1 position for a total of 8 months between July 1972 and June 1973, as it remained in the Top 20 for almost 2 years straight. I confirmed with Rick Goodman that a studio version of “The Lighthouse” was sent to radio before they recorded the song that night, so it was already hitting radio and was catching on like wildfire by the time they hit the stage in St. Louis that night.

Rusty steps back up to deliver an electrifying performance on the Linda Stalls penned, “Shoutin’ Sounds”. This is an exciting number that has seen a bit of a resurgence lately as some groups have brought back this happy song, namely the Perrys and the Guardians. By the encore, you can hear the audience is clapping along with the song, drinking in the exhilaration of the moment. An interesting note…there is a slightly different version of this song by the group from the Gospel Singing Jubilee where they slowed the tempo down and put the song in a nice groove, and I actually like that version better than the performance from the live album. If you’ve never heard it, check it out on You Tube.

As the crowd is on their feet giving a standing ovation, Sam tells the crowd to sit down as he brings Vestal center stage to deliver a poignant solo performance on the old hymn from the Redback Hymnal, “Sweet Hour of Prayer”. After singing the first verse, Vestal pleads with lost souls who may be in the audience to accept Jesus, then she delivers a fervent performance on the last verse. Sam then asks the crowd to stand and sing along as he leads the audience to sing along with her. As the album fades away to silence, you’re left a little breathless as you’re absolutely caught up in the moment.

The liner notes, written by Marvin Norcross, did a superb job conveying the excitement on this live album, even divulging some behind the scenes info…such as Rick Goodman nailing the bass drum to the floor, and the mic capturing the hammering noises which starts off the album; hence the iconic opening line of the album, “We’re reinforcing the stage!” by the emcee, in which the crowd erupts into laughter.

Around this time, Howard and Vestal’s daughter was singing with the group, and that is her standing between Vestal and Sam on the cover. She is not on the album though, so I am assuming it was around the time of this album that she stopped traveling with the group. I’ve seen a couple video clips of her singing with the group on the Gospel Singing Jubilee, and it would have been interesting to see how the group’s sound would have evolved had she stayed in the group, as she was quite a good singer. It’s a shame she never recorded with the family.

From a personal perspective, I would have loved to have heard them do “Thank God I’m Free” and “The Eastern Gate”, or maybe even “What Heaven Means to Me” on this live album. Not sure if they sang those songs that night, as the album is edited into 5 different bands, or segments, so there could be more from the concert that was edited out of the album. But a fan can wish, can’t he? Also of note, the Galileans recorded a live album that night as well, and Rick assisted on the drums for that album.

“Wanted Live” is arguably the Goodmans most popular album, and I believe this was their biggest selling album. Reason being, Canaan Records originally released the album on the old red label which they used throughout the 60s until around 1972. Future pressings of the album were on the black label, which Canaan used from 1972 until around 1982. Around 1982, Canaan changed to the colorful oasis label. I have personally seen “Wanted Live” pressed on all three labels (in fact, my personal copy of this album that I originally bought in August 1983 was on the oasis label), which means the record company was still pressing “Wanted Live” over 10 years later! The stats nerd inside me would love to know sales figures for each of their albums, especially for “Wanted Live”. But I do know they surpassed 1,000,000 units in total sales at some point in 1975, which is a staggering number for Southern Gospel music at the time.

There is so much to be said about this album; I wish I was there to experience it! (I wasn’t even born yet…I came along 11 months after this album was recorded) To this day, fans and industry leaders alike talk about this album and its impact to gospel music, and it is consistently listed as one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. While it’s not my personal all-time favorite Goodman album (that’s coming up in a few weeks), I completely agree that it’s one of the greatest albums of all time!


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